ACL has cautiously welcomed recent comments by NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell that he does not personally support the NSW Government’s trialled ethics classes. Speaking on ABC’s Stateline programme last Friday, Mr O’Farrell said he would not commit a Coalition Government to supporting the ethics classes.

Mr O’Farrell said that, “I don't favour ethics classes being an alternative to special religious education classes”.

In a follow up interview, Mr O’Farrell clarified that he was expressing his personal views on the subject and that this did not necessarily reflect Liberal/National Party policy. 

Mr O’Farrell said the Coalition would wait until the government’s review of the trial ethics classes had been released before making a judgement about whether to proceed with a state-wide roll out. This is certainly encouraging news.

As reported in ACL’s E-News several months back, the Coalition has given ACL a written guarantee that if elected, a Coalition Government would not make any changes to the sections of the NSW Education Act that allow for Special Religious Education (SRE) classes – guaranteeing their future under an O’Farrell Government.

ACL is concerned however that the review of the ethics classes will not be independent. Mr O’Farrell has expressed a similar concern saying that documents obtained by the Coalition under Freedom of Information law reveal serious concerns about how the trial and the review have been conducted.

The NSW Government conducted a 10-week trial of secular ethics classes for students who opt-out of scripture in Term 2 this year. The curriculum, developed by the St James Ethics Centre in consultation with NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations, was trialled in 10 schools.

ACL supports the teaching of ethics in NSW public schools but believes classes should not be scheduled in competition with SRE. Children should have the opportunity to study both SRE and ethics instead of being forced to choose one or the other.

ACL will continue to make the case to both the Government and the Opposition that the current arrangements for teaching SRE in public schools do not need to be changed. Supporters can also inform their elected members on this issue through our ‘Save our Scripture’ campaign at www.makeastand.org.au.