Opposition mounts to ‘political’ ethics move

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Read the full statement from Archbishop Jensen

Church leaders, including Archbishop Peter Jensen, have criticised the government’s ethics classes, as the NSW Coalition joined opposition to their introduction.

Premier Kristina Keneally announced the move, saying the majority of feedback after a review by Dr Sue Knight, was favourable.

However, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Monday that many of the submissions in support came via a form letter organised by the lobby group parents4ethics.

According to the government news release, from next year, schools will have the option of offering ethics courses following consultation with their school community.

It says classes will commence from Term 1, 2011 and will initially be offered to Years 5 and 6 and be progressively rolled out to Years K-6.

The St James Ethics Centre will continue to provide the course and will be responsible for all aspects of its delivery, including providing trained volunteer teachers and resources.

Church leaders were quick to question the move, with Archbishop Peter Jensen calling it “a bad decision, made under political pressure, which will impoverish the education of many NSW public schoolchildren."

"Philosophical ethics is not a real alternative to the study of religion and it is unfair to confront parents with the dilemma of having them both taught at the same time. The "examined life' starts with a well-rounded education." Dr Jensen said.

"Our concerns are for the children who now will be denied an introduction to the great questions posed by the faith-traditions. For example, even though the ethics lesson plans were not publicly released, it is apparent that they did not include clear guidance on right and wrong." he said.

Monday’s SMH report referred to the political nature of the issue “reflecting Ms Firth’s struggle to retain her seat of Balmain against the Greens at next year’s election.”

The President of the NSW Council of Churches, Rev Richard Quadrio called the government's plan speculative and unworkable.

"How are the St James Ethics centre going to recruit the hundreds if not thousands of volunteers needed to teach these classes if they are to begin in 2011". said Mr Quadrio.

"Is the government going to fund the St James ethics centre who admitted that their resources were stretched by teaching only two grades in ten schools during the trial?"

This was also mentioned in a statement from Catholic Bishop Peter Ingham.

“Criticism of the failure of lessons to provide clear direction about right or wrong, or to give a moral compass, stand out as clear issues in Dr Knight's report on the trial. Additionally, the questions raised by Dr Sue Knight about the sources of funding for the course and the volunteers to teach it, have not been adequately addressed.” he said.

During a Parliamentary debate on Tuesday afternoon, the coalition revealed it will oppose the classes.

Shadow Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said “While the NSW Liberals & Nationals understand the importance of ethics we do not believe it should be positioned as an alternative to Special Religious Education. We don’t think that students should have to choose between Special Religious Education (or scripture) and ethics classes.”

“We are sceptical of the real reason behind NSW Labor's sudden decision on this issue. Like a range of social issues brought on at the end the four-year parliamentary term, it appears to be driven by political considerations and not the best interest of children” he continued.

The Australian Christian Lobby state Director David Hutt said "I would like to congratulate the NSW Opposition for showing leadership on this issue.”

"This decision guarantees a bright future for SRE " an important part of the NSW education system.” he said.
Archbishop Jensen also congratulated the Opposition for “their commitment to take seriously the other solutions the Premier and the Minister declined to consider."

Dr Jensen finished his statement with a tribute to scripture teachers.

"The Anglican Church is committed to the future of public education. The thousands of volunteer scripture teachers and helpers will continue to do their utmost to deliver an orderly, challenging and educationally-rich program in schools, week by week, for all ages." he said.




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