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in our schools. ethics versus religion a group of NSW parents Eight years ago for children not attending scripture asked if it would be possible instead. to participate in ethics classes introduced in ten schools Now a trial program has blown up a storm of controversy. attack on God and religion Some see it as a lightly veiled why the church hierarchy while others want to know not choosing to go to scripture. seems to be so threatened by kids in Sydney, At a feisty IQ Squared debate religious leaders. ethicists were pitted against (Applause) Thank you. and non-faith that I know Many people of faith why we are here tonight. cannot understand for children A philosophical ethics class instead of non-scripture - children in non-scripture classes let's be clear about that - it's for the world around them, where they get to question ask what is the right way to behave, to do. what is the morally courageous thing Who could argue with that? Some churches do. in a public school, In a secular society, the churches get a say. instead of non-scripture I'm not a professional lobbyist. Now I'm not an ethicist. I am not a catechist or a bishop.

I'm just a mum. But that seems pretty unfair to me, an education landscape especially amid over the past 20 years, that has been transformed in school funding from drastic changes to what is offered on the curriculum

to the MySchool website, and most recently

more information about schools. dedicated to providing in the name of one thing - All of that has happened parental choice. Except in one area -

known as faith-based scripture. religious education, more commonly can be dedicated to reflection And in that area, where up to an hour each week, in a public school, for whatever reason the parents and children, who, have rejected scripture, have no choice. a minority here. We're not talking about At the school where my son goes, 60% of children do non-scripture have no choice. which means the majority of parents on the grounds of non-religion I'd call that discrimination but I'm just a mum. in a secular society. I don't think it's allowed, though, Is it?

of semantics on the notion of choice. Now there will be an issue a choice, and, to be fair, there is. The churches will say that there is The choice is scripture or non-scripture. But here is why it's not a choice - because some churches believe to approve what happens that they have the right in non-scripture, during that time of reflection in a secular, democratic society. In a public school in 2010 the church wants the right to decide at my son's school, what 60% of children for whatever reasons, do. who have walked away from scripture And it is the church's decision in non-scripture spend that time that the most meaningful way children is reading in the library. the discriminatory situation Now, moving beyond in a public school where a church in a secular society during non-scripture gets a say in what children can do there are a number of objections that I and many parents like me of meaningful. have to the church's definition I send my son to school to learn in a structured environment,

not to sit in the library reading or, as what often happens at my son's school, sitting in the dark watching a DVD that he might have seen many times before. But he's lucky, and his friends, because at other public schools, children in non-scripture are forced to sit in the corridor outside the principal's office. They're not allowed to colour in or knit, because that's not deemed 'meaningful' by the churches. They're tidying shelves in classrooms with teachers, they're on litter duty in the playground cleaning it up, which sounds suspiciously like making non-scripture so bad

that there is no choice but to attend scripture. Secular society, public education, and educational landscape transformed in the last 20 years in the name of parental choice. Not surprisingly, parents are ropeable with the situation. And they've been ropeable for many years. You may think that the ethics trial that was conducted in schools this year was a new thing. It's not.

Eight years ago parents first approached the Department of Education with the idea of a philosophical ethics class, a class that would allow children to question the world around them and work out what is the right thing to do, what is the morally courageous thing to do. Who could argue with that? The churches. They said no. Well, via the Department of Education who said that it was against the law. No such law exists in a secular society, nor could it, nor should it. It's not possible to have a law against a philosophical, ethical class in a secular society. My son is in year 2. When he first started going to school there was no Muslim scripture. But parents of Muslim faith asked for Muslim scripture. The school rightly said yes, when there are enough parents interested. And it was introduced this year. I think that's great. I have no problem with scripture. And just to be absolutely clear, we don't want an ethics class in replace of scripture. What I don't think is great is that I don't have the same rights as the parents of the Muslim faith or any other faith. Eight years. Eight years to get a trial up. It's just happened this year in schools around the State. Everyone loved it.

We've satisfied the criteria and produced meaningful outcomes for our children. We've got a book to prove it. How much jargon do I have to give you to illustrate the hoops we've jumped, had to jump, while teaching SRE in the inner west this year. This is an intolerable injustice that ought to be deplored by all concerned parents and educators. A solution needs to be found and found immediately.

But for students not attending SRE, is special ethics education the only or appropriate solution to the problem? Is it possible to address the legitimate concerns

of non-SRE parents without raising the ire of SRE providers? I say it is. I propose the following multi-part solution - ethics, because of its importance as a sub-group of philosophy, should be available and taught to all students in the mainstream curriculum. There is already ample provision within the HSIE and PDHPE syllabi for the teaching of values and informed decision-making.

However, I would like it to go further. The author of the present ethics trial curriculum - Professor Philip Cam - has, in recent years, worked on a project to integrate philosophy into the teaching program of year 7 and 9 at Ashfield Boys High. And was involved in a philosothon at Ascham High, involving year 9, 10 and 11 students from 12 schools.

In addition UNSW YouTube commissioned a clip on primary school philosophy featuring staff and students at Stanmore Public School

with Professor Cam present. Furthermore, Rozelle Public School during this year ran a philosophy course for primary students in their mainstream curriculum. By all reports, all have highly been successful. Furthermore, Professor Cam and Dr Sue Knight, the author of the recently released final report into the ethics trial - both assisted in a working party that submitted in October 2009 a proposal to the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority - ACARA for short - arguing for philosophy, one hour per week, to be included in the proposed national curriculum (K-12) in Civics and Citizenship. Such a course would have the advantage of being taught by qualified professionals, rather than well-meaning volunteers with just two days training. Let us introduce philosophy and ethics to everyone through the front door, not the back door to non-SRE students only. If a K-12 philosophy/ethics course were ever to be implemented as part of the new national curriculum,

any special ethics course taught during SRE time would be superseded and become an unnecessary duplication, leading undoubtedly to a drop in parent-student interest in the latter. It should be a philosophical ethics course,

not simply lessons in values clarification without a moral compass, a concern raised by some school principals and acknowledged by Dr Sue Knight on page 12 and in recommendation 3 of her final report. Nor should it be a course simply committed to developing rational processes of argument and justification where peer acceptance is the sole measure of what is right. Value neutrality is impossible. Students should be taught the consequences of ideas. But true compliment to SRE is general religious education or GRE, as recognised by the Rawlinson Report, way back in 1980. As Malcolm Knox acknowledged in his essay 'Religion is fundamental to a child's development,'

published in the Sydney Morning Herald just ten days ago - it makes no sense to 'blinker children to the formative stories and rituals of their world, let alone worldwide religious traditions that are now prevalent in our multicultural Australia.' Knowledge gained through GRE will only assist with tolerance and understanding of the other. P&Cs can work with the NSW Association for Studies of Religion to identify and coordinate potential volunteers. For those students whose parents do not wish either SRE or GRE, the following are examples of what are currently or should be allowed by the DET policy guidelines to ensure that students use their time to further their education and/or social justice sense. Rostered supervision of active student-centred learning, consisting of reading, study, homework, research, etcetera. This would include reading for the Premier's Reading Challenge. Reading Recovery or hurdle help, social justice action groups eg, Knitting for Africa, knitting for charity, school environmental corps, school community gardens, school community water watch groups. These examples are all meaningful activities as well and remind us that education is no longer just instructional in a 1950s sense. All that is needed is a commitment by all schools to properly abide by the already existing DET implementation policy for SRE, as most do. There is no excuse for the continued abuse by a minority of schools whereby non-SRE students are sadly left to watch videos in the naughty room, or in the dark or assigned to do clean-up duty. In the end, there is no single or simple solution to how to properly engage non-SRE students. A variety of options must be available to cater for all parental wishes, while the obligation on schools to properly manage this time remains paramount. The premise for introducing special ethics education was to solve the twiddling of thumbs problem by providing an option of educational worth. However, according to Dr Sue Knight's final report, page 40,

'One third of non-SRE students still did not take up the offer to enrol in ethics, not to mention those who dropped out during the course of the trial.' (Bell dings) The introduction of special ethics education therefore, failed to provide the desired comprehensive solution. We return to the original core of the injustice problem - student management. Again, schools can and should no longer be allowed to ignore the DET's implementation policy for managing such students. In summary, no. Special ethics education should not be allowed for children not attending scripture classes. Why? Because it is more appropriate that philosophy and ethics be included in the proposed national curriculum (K-12) in Civics and Citizenship, and be available to all students whether or not they attend scripture classes. During SRE time, the available options should be one - SRE. (Bell dings) Two. Its true complement - GRE.

Or three - a choice of any number of valuable educational social justice activities, examples of which I mentioned earlier. All properly managed by schools within the DET's existing implementation guidelines.

Thank you. (Applause) In this morning's Sydney Morning Herald Bishop Glenn Davis, is quoted as saying that parents who believe their children would benefit from the ethics program, were victims of a populist and uninformed debate. To which I would want to respond that he's correct. There is a populist and uninformed debate going on around this issue -

you can see it in the chat room comments beneath many of the online stories. It's clear there are many people who are confused about what separation of Church and State means in this country. Many people who think State schools should be religion-free zones and many people who'd like to drive special religious education out of public schools. There is no-one on the affirmative tonight making that argument. I recently heard Cardinal Pell referring to the volunteer catechists who provide religious instruction in State schools in this city, as one of the glories of Sydney Catholicism. And I can only agree. It represents a huge mobilisation of people of goodwill volunteering their time. State schools in NSW have never been religion-free zones. In fact, such is the growing complexity of Australian society, that more and more children of no faith are going to religious schools these days and more and more children of faith are attending public schools. And we are talking about a great variety of faith groups - Buddhist, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Copts and Mormons. So it's wrong to turn this into an argument between people of faith and people of no faith. The truth is, many faith groups are supportive of the secular ethics idea. Some, no-doubt, because they simply don't have the resources or manpower

to provide an SRE program of their own. But there's another populist and uninformed and I would say deliberately misleading debate going on around this issue - and that's the one being driven by the Catholics and Anglicans in particular. The Sydney Anglicans have been running a scare campaign, arguing that the aim of the trial is not only to remove Jesus Christ from the State school system but from the consciousness of the next generation. Now that is hysterical and wrong. The truth is that SRE is protected by legislation. Times have changed. Few of the parents whose kids are involved in this debate at the moment would be aware that there was a time when the Catholic Church did not cooperate with the SRE program. My grandfather was a Catholic primary school principal in a dozen public primary schools around NSW in the '40s and '50s. And it was rare, in those days, in practice, for a representative of the Catholic Church to go into public schools to give religious instruction, at least not in suburbs and towns where a Catholic school was available. It was not uncommon for Catholic parents who sent their children to public schools in those towns and suburbs to be denied the sacraments. The Catholic Church didn't really begin to throw its full support behind the program until later, when there simply weren't enough places available anymore in their own schools and Catholic kids were being forced to go to the State school system. So to the hard-line secularists in the audience I would say it's in the public interest to go on not merely providing but supporting SRE in public schools to prevent a re-ghettoisation of the kind I have been describing from the 1940s. For example, this is why Islamic SRE in public schools needs to be supported. Times have indeed changed. Ever since the mid-19th Century, the number of children choosing not to attend scripture classes has been growing and growing. At first it happened gradually. In the late 1950s in most State schools, there wouldn't have been many kids on the roll whose religion wasn't quoted alongside their name. Now it's a flood. And when you have a significant group in any school, sitting on their hands with no meaningful alternative to SRE, it becomes harder and harder to deny that this is a justice issue. People are offended, they find it insulting, and what it offends is Australia's live and let live ethos. Now, to those churches opposing the idea, I would say this -

we all know that the State education system in NSW has always been permeated by strong anti-religious sentiment coming from some quarters but I don't think the bishops fully comprehend the extent to which the current special religious education arrangements are fuelling that anti-religious sentiment. I'd argue that a more sensible and less defensive response to the recent ethics trial on the part of the Catholic and Anglican bishops would have been to embrace secular ethics as something valuable and to be encouraged, perhaps even recognising that secular ethics may even help ensure the long-term survival of SRE by providing an escape valve for all the negative secularist pressure. Surely it's in everyone's interests that kids learn ethics? It's in society's long-term interest. And for bishops of any church to come out and say they want to deny these kids ethics classes - I can't understand that. Some church leaders are speaking as if the churches have a right to offer SRE in public schools. What the law says is that children have a right to obtain religious instruction in public schools and the various approved faith groups have an opportunity to provide it.

The secular ethics trial has done nothing to take away the rights of kids who want to attend SRE and every step has been taken to limit any unintended damage to SRE. Now, in the time I've got left I've been asked to address some of the specific claims being levelled against the secular ethics proposal. The first is that the ethics trial was somehow unethical because all parents in the schools that took part in the trial were informed. That's a frankly bizarre argument to be running in an open society. And the truth is

that the Education Department insisted that all parents be informed consistent with their usual policy. The second is that the ethics classes will be actively competing with SRE and that SRE risks being driven out of public schools. Unlike some of the proponents of the new scheme, I have no qualms about using the word 'competition.' We live in a society where competition is usually regarded as a good thing, in part, because lack of competition leads to complacency and poor performance. Churches that are opposed to SRE

are basically arguing for a closed shop. And there is no doubt that a closed shop protectionism - a cartel even - is what they have enjoyed. Despite all their bluster, you sometimes get the feeling that the most strident champions of the gospel in this town are actually fragile hothouse flowers that only flourish in an artificially regulated environment.

(Laughter and applause) The new ethics curriculum is not going to be something that is hidden away in a cupboard. It can be made available to all. There is nothing to stop the churches and other religious groups making use of it. In fact, they can have it to use as a resource

and might even choose to introduce a fair proportion of it and teach it in their own classes. Then there's the allegation that secular ethics equals moral relativism. The idea, in other words, that one viewpoint is as good as another,

that there's no capacity here to try and say that some arguments are better than others. But that suggests they don't really understand what ethics is all about. Socrates demonstrated that ethics was all about using reason to demonstrate that some arguments are better than others. I think perhaps some people are confusing a commitment to examining a range of perspectives with a commitment to not having a view about anything at all. It's the unexamined life that leads to relativism. Ethics is about a commitment to the examined life, to the idea that not just any kind of life will do. The whole world is seeing an extraordinary example of the examined life this week with the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, in Burma. If ever there was an examined life in these times, it's hers. She's had plenty of time - like Mandela - to think about who she is, what she stands for and where she is going. And as we saw, her moral commitment was turned into action the moment she was let free. She came straight out front to her letter box and took up where she left off. (Bell dings twice) Some people have said that's about Buddhism,

I think that clarity comes from something else. And it's moral, philosophical reflection. Thank you, very much. (Applause) Well, good evening.

It seems that the Government just doesn't get it, do they, because we've made it really clear that our position is that we are not against ethics classes but we agree with the review that was done at the ethics trial that there needs to be some changes to what's proposed in the curriculum. And we believe that it should be available to everyone, we think it's so good in concept. I was in Africa last month and while I was there an African delegate to the conference I was at told a story - it was about a fellow who lived in the country where the law said you were not allowed to eat porcupine. But he got hungry and he went off and hunted porcupine. His friend said, 'You can't go and do that. The law says you can't eat porcupine.' He said, 'The law says I can't eat it. It doesn't say I can't hunt it.' So he went off and hunted it and he found one and he bound it up and they said, 'You can't do that. The law says you can't eat porcupine.' He said, 'It doesn't say you can't bind it.' He took it back to the fire, he put it on the fire. They said, 'You can't do that.' He said, 'It doesn't say you can't cook it.' And so then he started eating it. They said, 'Now, it definitely says you can't eat it.' He said, 'I'm not eating it, I'm tasting it. The law doesn't say you can't taste it.' The problem was he tasted the whole porcupine. Now the point of this man's story and my point of telling it tonight is that ethics is a fraught and complex issue. Relativism does raise its head. I think it's true to say that the St James Ethics Centre has found it a bit of an ethical minefield as it has tried to implement the course. We've seen just 4% of the course run and yet we've had issues with designer babies,

terrorist hijacks, as whether or not these issues are appropriate for the actual curriculum - 4% of the curriculum. And if that's the case for the professionals - and I acknowledge the professionalism of the St James Ethics Centre in this - but if that is the case for the professionals then what chance is there for the volunteers who are going to come in and implement this down at the classroom level?

We've had the review of the trial saying that we need to have a deeper philosophical content. How are we going to give these volunteers who come in to give this course that deeper philosophical understanding to be able to place what they're teaching in ethics into a philosophical context. How are we going to make up or compensate for the fact, that, as many principals pointed out, there is a moral vacuum There is no moral compass in which this ethics is operating. So when we have all these volunteers come in, we're going to have to accept that they're going to have a whole lot of different moral compasses. How are we going to control where that takes ethics because, I tell you, they won't all be pointing true north. Like Robert, I would never, as I've said, and our side would not be against ethics training but, Lisa, we do not have a historic - a hysterical response - to the idea of it. We like it but we want it to be implemented by professionals. That means to us the teaching staff and within - or mainly the teaching staff -

and within the curriculum. We want to have teachers who are trained in what they're teaching and know the boundaries - are kept to a professional code of boundaries

as to where they take this thing called ethics. Now you might think that I'm sitting here thinking that maybe the church should run this - no, I don't. We all go to church on Sunday because we know we shouldn't. We know we go to church because we need it. But I would like to address just two issues that I think have been misrepresented in the debate between SRE and ethics. A false debate, I might say. First of all there's the claim very much in the report, right up front in the report, that it is discriminatory that some students receive SRE and therefore an ethical basis for life and those non-SRE students don't. Well, let me make it clear

that providing an ethical basis for decisions and for life is not the prime purpose of SRE. SRE goes back to a time when the churches ran education and when they ran education they were aiming at educating the whole person. This addresses, I believe, to a large degree, what Stephen's been talking about. He wants to examine life or he wants examined life. Well, the church was all about educating the whole person and so it included a spiritual content in that.

Even today, for all the time that Lisa tells us has passed and everything's changed, even today, if you look up definitions of the whole person, you will invariably not see the spiritual deleted. It's still there. Contemporary definitions contain things like the physical, the intellectual, the emotional, but still the spiritual. What SRE is providing is a window to young people's spirituality, to addressing the whole person. Now surely if we accept, and I would think Lisa, in particular, would acknowledge this, that if we expect that sport, the physical, takes up 1.5 to 2.5 hours a week in our current curriculum that surely it's fair that SRE get not the hour, Lisa, but what is actually on the ground usually allocated, very much usually the case with SRE, 0.5 of an hour. If we're going to address education to the whole person isn't that legitimate? Now the second assertion that has been made very much in the report of the trial or the review of the trial is this use of the word 'complementary'. It says that ethics training is complementary to SRE. Now, what a nonsense! How can something that people don't receive be complementary to them. How can ethics training be complementary to what students are receiving if they're not receiving it.

It's a clear nonsense. If it's going to be complementary, ethics training needs to be taught within the curriculum to all the students, including the SRE students, and that is very much our position. How is SRE - or sorry, ethics training complementary to that one-third of those non-SRE students who showed that they weren't going to attend ethics classes. Clearly it's not complementary and it's a false assertion. It's interesting that as we look at the importance of SRE and people have not demeaned SRE

but tried to suggest that SRE maybe isn't as important today. But it's interesting that our own Prime Minister, a declared atheist, has said as late as the 14th and 15th August, or was reported in SMH in the 14th, 15th August this year, to have said that understanding the Bible is one of the keys to Western culture and if you don't have that key,

it can be very, very difficult to unlock. Our position is that there is a place for SRE and it's about addressing the education of the whole person as it always has been. We believe, too, that ethics training, if the curriculum responds to some of the comments in the review team, is appropriate to everybody. But it needs to be taught by professionals. It needs to be taught to everybody.

And that these assertions that it is discriminatory to have the current arrangement

where SRE students - sorry, non-SRE students are not given ethics training is a false one. It is also false to try to suggest

that ethics training is complementary to SRE students when they don't even receive it. Thanks very much. (Applause) Simon Longstaff. Well, good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

Jim Wallace has posed a number of important questions

and made a number of assertions about what it is that we're trying to argue and I'd like to begin by seeking to answer some of those.

Jim, there is no disagreement, at least on our side, about the importance of SRE. We don't think it's something that should be diminished. We accept that the spiritual dimension in life is an important element

in every person's growing and existing. I personally would encourage it, I would love to see it flourish, but not at the expense of children who, at the moment, are required

to miss out on any meaningful engagement during the period where they are not attending SRE. I remind everybody here, the debate is only about what we do for children who are not attending SRE. Now, in terms of your claim, and Robert's put this too, about the desirability of ethics being made available to everybody. Well, we have tried to consider this. I've taken much more seriously than perhaps Jim has the claims made by catechists and others who teach SRE that although the sole purpose of scripture is not to develop an ethical capacity amongst young people, it is certainly part of it. I've heard too many people who teach SRE who have invoked the way they go about their business. They've been outraged at the suggestion made by some that there is no ethics in SRE and they've been at pains to suggest just how much work they do draw on in their own traditions to try and encourage an understanding of what would constitute a good life. And it's because of those claims, Jim, that ethics is being taught within SRE as part of a much larger program that's being offered, that it is, in fact, sensible to talk about the program that's been proposed as being a complement. It complements those parts of the curriculum offered in SRE that deal with ethics. It doesn't aim to be everything, it doesn't seek to be a replacement for it, it merely wishes to complement what's done within SRE and, I should say, also already within the school curriculum. It's not as if our state schools are ethics-free zones. The normal part of the curriculum and the work that teachers are doing is an important contribution to the development of each child's values and principles. But there is room within our curriculum to extend the capacity of children to develop an ethical sensibility,

to understand the quality of argument they bring to bear and to adopt some of the processes associated with truly living an examined life. That's the sense in which we mean to say that it is complementary. So how do we ensure that ethics is available for every child? Well, short of it being part of the national curriculum which wouldn't actually solve the justice problem in itself, our approach has been to say first of all acknowledge that that ethics is a component within SRE but let's do something more. Let's take any material that might be developed for a course, should it be approved, and make it available to everybody. Let's freely provide it to faith groups throughout the State of NSW and let them adjust it, amend it, as they see fit, to bring their own particular religious perspective to bear so that there is no child who's either drawn away from SRE because they might think that there's a more exciting alternative in an ethics class or that will miss out on the quality of instruction that could be incorporated into the faith groups already into their offerings. Now, Robert Haddad made a similar kind of argument. He said, 'We're all for ethics. We want to have it in every kind of classroom.' I think we've been able to show how that's possible while still addressing this question of justice by producing an alternative to not doing anything, which is the current option before children. But then Robert said, 'There are better sorts of alternatives of what you could do.' He says, 'The natural complement to SRE is GRE,' and then he said, 'And there are lots of other things.'

What struck me was that Robert was prepared to say that there was almost anything you could do as an alternative to SRE as long as it wasn't the ethics classes. (Audience laughs) And I want to know, why this? (Applause) Why is it that some children going to SRE

can have an introduction to ethics within those traditions but not others, within that time that's been allocated. Now, this debate tonight, it's always been about one thing. It's always been about the children. It's not about St James Ethics Centre, it's not about the churches, it's certainly not about that or other faith groups. This is squarely about the children and it has been ever since the middle of the 19th century when Henry Parkes first took his steps towards introducing public education within this State. Why did he do it? Because back then there was competition that existed

between the churches,

competing to see who could capture enough children for their particular belief system. In introducing the bill, Susan Ryan observes when speaking about this on the anniversary of Parkes's life, 'Parkes declared that while more than half the children in the colony received no education at all, there were 26 places where two or more schools existed to serve fewer than 100 pupils. He blamed then the clergy of all denominations for this disparity of provision. Why were there these places where two or more schools existed to serve fewer than 100 pupils? Because they were competing, at that time, for souls.' Parkes's response was to say that the sectarianism which had existed throughout the 19th century and before that in Australia ought to be brought to an end, and part of his vision for a secular state

in which all religions, all belief systems, could flourish was to propose a number of acts, ultimately giving rise to the Public Instruction Act. And it was in that Public Instruction Act of 1880 that the deal was done. The State took over responsibility for what had previously been the provision of education by the churches and the churches said we must insist on the right of children to continue to have the kind of development that Jim talked about, their spiritual development. This was never a right conferred upon churches. It was a right conferred upon children and no-one on our side of the debate since it started eight years ago has ever suggested that that right be tampered with. All we have wanted to do is to support those parents who want to provide a meaningful alternative for those children who do not attend SRE, whatever the reason might be. Now, you've heard Stephen Crittenden make the point that this is not a contest between people of faith and those of no faith. I myself am a Christian. In fact, I've been baptised twice, just for tonight, it was, probably in my history. I was once baptised a Catholic, and once baptised again as an Anglican,

just so that I'd be ready for an occasion such as this. (Laughter) But no priest and no prelate speaks in my name if they seek to prefer the interests of their own institutions over that of any child. Nor do they speak for hundreds of thousands of others. (Applause) They don't speak for Christians. They don't speak for the Uniting Church or for the Baptists. They don't speak for the Jews. They don't speak for the Hindus. They don't speak for many Muslims. They don't speak for parents of all faith and no faith around this State. Now, we have made every effort we can in the proposals to try and preserve the position of SRE. Just so you understand when you come to vote, the actual proposal we've put is that parents would be given two choices - the first choice is between any kind of faith group that's being offered where ethics will not even appear on the line. It's only after parents have made a decision, if they do so, not to actually send their children to SRE that they will be offered ethics as an alternative to nothing or to the supervision, or whatever happens to be developed in the policy response to this issue. (Bell dings) This is not relativism.

Let me ask you this. Do you want your children in these classes to be able to draw on a tradition

rooted in the deepest part of Western civilisation founded in the idea that an unexamined life is not worth living? This is linked to the abiding interests of children to have the moral courage

to engage in and then to carry forth commitments explored in the course of their lessons. To find a respect for truth because there's no place for falsehood or dissembling in ethical inquiry. To find a respect for others, for their intrinsic dignity, as contributors to the examined life which cannot be pursued alone. To find respect for a diversity of ideas and points of view, including the religious world view that is bound to be present in every one of these classes. Ladies and gentlemen, 2,500 years ago, the Western foundations of ethics were laid down by Socrates.

He did so by engaging with the youth of democratic Athens... (Bell rings) ..and by inviting them to think

and to learn to live the examined life. He was tried and convicted of two offences, impiety and corrupting the youth,

and sentenced to death by a vote of his peers. Your vote tonight - (Audience laughs) Please vote to support the vision of people like Socrates and Parkes. Vote for the children, vote for a valuable period for all. Thank you. (Tumultuous applause) Well, what an engaging debate we've had tonight. I was moved by - I feel a little bit underdone having only been baptised once!

(Laughter) There's still time, Glenn! There's still time, yes, I know. I might add that Henry Parkes was successful, you might notice, because the sectarianism which was absolutely certainly right - it wasn't right, but it happened in the 19th Century, between particularly Roman Catholics and Church of England as it was then known. But Henry Parkes has been successful. Look, here I am with Robert Haddad. George Pell couldn't come! (Applause) So, in a sense, it is happening at that level. And I'm all against that kind of sectarianism. No doubt about that. But we need to reflect on what this debate's about. There's a lot of debate out there - there's a populist debate, as Stephen mentioned, and it's nice to be commended for at least part of my quote this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald. I don't always trust the Herald - oh, sorry, it's a sponsor! Um... (Laughter) But nonetheless, what we find here is that what the debate is - 'Special ethics education should be allowed for children not attending scripture classes.' You see, there's a whole range of problems here in the history of this. Yes, of course, all parents were informed in the trial. But their children were invited. It wasn't just information. It was invitation. That's a very big difference. I have no doubt that Simon and the St James Ethics Centre

had the best intentions in the world. Of course, sometimes when you put that in the hands of politicians things go somewhat awry. It's the outcome of that - so a number of people swapped from SRE, special religious education, into the trial, because it's exciting, it's new, it was a 10-week program. and, of course, children love something which is new and exciting. But the situation we find before us is that we live in a multicultural society. We all recognise that. I think the history of the 1880 Public Instruction Act and the 1990 Public Education Act

indicates that. It says secular instruction includes religious education. Many of the statements made by the team on my right I agree with. I don't think they're trying to get rid of SRE. There may be others in our society trying to do so. I don't doubt that. But this debate's not about that. The debate, rather, is about should special ethics education be given to those not attending scripture classes? If I was to ask you, 'Should special maths be given to those not attending SRE?' what would your answer be to that? Should special geography be given? If ethics is such an excellent program - and I don't doubt the quality and the significance of the program

that's been developed by Professor Cam and through the St James Ethics Centre - it ought to be for the whole class, and let me explain why. If you just have an ethics class where you've got your non-SRE students only, you've truncated your class. It no longer represents all their peers. They're now going to be discussing ethical issues and it's a philosophical ethics which is being discussed, it's not the courageous decision-making that Lisa referred us to. Professor Cam says, 'It's not moral instruction.

No, it's thinking about right and wrong, but it's not giving an answer as to what's right or wrong.' In fact, even that statement has something wrong with it. If it's not right or wrong, is that a true statement?

Is that statement right, or is it wrong? Here we find that those who have a faith, who are engaged in the SRE, have no chance to hear the non-SRE students listen to the debate about ethics. Neither do the non-SRE students have a chance to hear the input from the SRE students. If, for example, I can take two minor religions in Australia, but not minor in the world, Buddhism and Hinduism. You may have an ethical issue - a Hindu may think in terms of one of the gods that might influence a decision but Buddhism has no god. And the way in which that child might come to a decision will be informed, and that child's mind will be open to hear another perspective. But if you lump all the, shall I say, non-religious or non-SRE students in one class, you've truncated the sample and you haven't really achieved what you want to. We're not against ethics. I don't know what some bishops do say. I can't understand why a bishop would deny ethics. Well, this bishop doesn't deny ethics. I don't know which denomination it was. But nonetheless, no, ethics is important. Ethics is part of our life. You know, you've all had some ethical instruction tonight, at some level. You know, you were given a voting thing. In fact, you were told to vote early and vote often,

you're told how to vote,

you're told you couldn't come into the hall until such a certain time, in fact, you were told 6:00, then it was 6:10. Anyhow you were told all those things, you'll be told how to leave in an orderly fashion, you were even given a subtle reminder...(Laughs)... to be civilised - did you notice that? Or perhaps it was to us? (Panelist laughs) But what we have here is in a school there are rules. You can't go into the playground at a certain time. Ethics pervades. Moral instruction pervades. Understanding how you get on pervades a school environment.

And then to come to philosophical reasoning, to think through, I'm all in favour of that - think through how you're gonna make decisions. I personally want to have a framework of what is right and what is wrong. And yes, there is ethics in SRE at the level of because you're looking at the revelation of the scripture, whether it's the Jewish scripture, the Islamic scripture,

the Christian scriptures, or the Hindu scriptures. The Anglican Bishop of North Sydney, the Reverend Dr Glenn Davies, winding up the case for the negative in that IQ Squared debate over whether ethics education should be allowed for children not attending scripture classes. Well, that's all from Big Ideas for today but for more rabble-rousing thinkers head to our website at the address on your screen. I'm Tony Jones. Till next time. Closed Captions by CSI This Program Is Captioned

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