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Senator Bacik speaking on Protestant and Multi-denominational Schools

08 October 2009

Senator Ivana Bacik: I thank Senator Norris who, as always, puts his case with great eloquence. I echo his words and share his disquiet about speaking on behalf of this sector in the first place because I have a fundamental disagreement with the basis of our education system and the sectarian basis on which it is divided. I have criticised very strongly and will continue to do so the fact that children may be discriminated against in seeking admission to both primary and secondary schools on the basis of the religious affiliation of their parents. That is a rotten basis for our schooling system. I favour a system in which all schools would be multidenominational and welcome children of all creeds and none simply on the basis of geographic catchment areas.

However, that is not the system in which we work. Given that we work with a system in which the Equal Status Act allows schools to opt-out, thereby allowing them to discriminate on religious grounds, it is important there should be a choice available to parents, not only to Protestant parents but also to parents like me. I am an atheist and would like my children to attend an Educate Together secondary school but that is not possible because there are no multidenominational Educate Together secondary schools in the State.

For parents in my position, therefore, who do not wish their children to be educated within the Catholic ethos there must a choice of schools with a different ethos, whether it be Protestant or, ideally, multidenominational. Currently, Protestant schools offer less inculcation in religious doctrine than most Catholic schools.

The other point is that for Catholic parents there are choices between fee paying and non fee paying Catholic schools. In many areas there are multiple choices which are not available to parents of the Protestant or minority religions or none, given the small numbers of schools which are not Catholic at secondary level. In this context, I am happy to support Senator Norris. It is important that the ethos of the schools be maintained, as I would be fearful that the change in status proposed would affect it.

I should declare my own interest as somebody who went to a fee paying Protestant school but as a Catholic girl on a full scholarship to Alexandra College. Senator Norris said - I am proud to say it was also Senator Norris's mother's school - As Senator Norris said, in many Protestant schools there is a wider diversity of class backgrounds than in their Catholic fee paying counterparts. For that reason too, there is a case to be made for treating them differently from Catholic schools.