Labor policy platform drops support for “universal, free, secular” schooling

Si Gladman / 02 June 2023

The federal Labor Party has removed the word ‘secular’ from the section about education in its new draft national policy platform.

The draft National Platform – released this week to party members as part of a consultation process, and viewed by the Rationalist Society of Australia – describes public schools as “among our nation’s most important institutions” and says they need to be “fully and fairly funded to deliver excellent education that meets the needs of every child”.

However, the new draft has removed the reference to “universal, free and secular” public education – a significant change, abandoning Labor’s long-held express commitment to secular public education in Australia.

Page 32 of the previous National Platform, released in 2021, stated that the party “believe every Australian child in every community should have access to high-quality, universal, free, secular government schooling”.

The 111-page draft policy document now does not include any mention of the word ‘secular’. 

Labor members have until 23 June to provide feedback on the draft National Platform, with further revisions expected before it is presented to the National Conference in August.

Rationalist Society of Australia president Meredith Doig said grassroots Labor members would be alarmed by the party’s walking away from ‘secular’ public education.

“I think Labor members across Australia would overwhelmingly want the Labor Party to stand up and defend secular public education. And we know many MPs in the party also value secularism and secular public education in particular. So it’s concerning that the party looks set to ditch its support for universal, free, secular government schooling,” Dr Doig said.

“The public school system should be secular. Yet it has been under sustained attack in recent decades, with the federal government funding religious agents under the guise of the chaplaincy program to go into public schools and with states such as Queensland and New South Wales continuing to segregate children along religious lines during class time to allow missionaries to deliver scripture lessons.

“We urge Labor MPs and party members to stand up for secular public education and make sure secularism is returned to the party’s national platform.”

Dr Doig also said federal Labor needed to start “walking the talk” on multiculturalism.

The draft National Platform claims the party “is the party for, and of, multiculturalism” and pledges to “secure inclusive institutions to ensure no-one is left behind”.

“At the same time as claiming to support multiculturalism and inclusion, each day in the federal parliament and in state parliaments across the country, the Labor party requires elected representatives to observe exclusively Christian acts of worship – that is, the prayer recitals that open each session of parliament,” said Dr Doig.

“Many Labor MPs are not Christian or are from other faiths, yet the party seems to have little interest in modernising the parliament to make it more inclusive and reflective of Australia’s multicultural diversity.

“Indeed, when the new president of the Senate, Sue Lines, called for reform last year, saying that, as an atheist, she didn’t want to have to recite prayers, senior people in the Labor party said that she had to.” 

In 2021, then Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said it was important for Australia to have “a separation between church and state”.

LBGTIQ advocates have also raised concerns that the new National Platform winds back commitments to protecting LGBTIQ people.

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Image: Anthony Albanese (Facebook)

All the more reason.