This is the testimony given in front of Fred Nile by Cathy Byrne – someone should make a movie out of this!
Read as she tears Nile a new one and sets this inquiry right about why this whole hearing is a pathetic example of specialist dealing in our schools.
CATHERINE JANE BYRNE, affirmed and examined:
CHAIR: Ms Byrne, would you like to make an opening statement? You are entitled to, but it is not
Ms BYRNE: I guess I would like to start with an observation and then a question back, if I may? This
inquiry has very limited terms of reference. From the fact that the ethics classes operate under a broader system
of access privilege and from the kind of questioning that was happening late last week it appears to me, and to
many others, that the outcome of this inquiry is predetermined. My question to the Committee is: Why are we
wasting our time on half an inquiry when really this inquiry should be looking at the broader scope of the entire
access privilege and not just ethics classes?
Dr JOHN KAYE: Very intuitive.
CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Byrne, the inquiry, or terms of reference, are set by the Parliament. That is
indicative of the views of the majority of my colleagues. With all due respect, you can ask questions of us but
we represent our core constituents. We believe that this particular inquiry will bring forth recommendations that
may be much broader and this is what we are hoping for in taking testimony from witnesses. That is my stand
Can I lead off and say I found your particular submission incredibly inflammatory, and incredibly
accusing without proof or certainty. You make observations and give certain examples of what you regard as
Dr JOHN KAYE: Point of order.
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: Is there a question?
Dr JOHN KAYE: With all due respect, I understand you are the Chair, but I am not really convinced
that attacking a witness in that fashion is in the best interests of this inquiry. I would ask you to think about how
you frame such things. The witness did have a strong submission, I agree with that.
CHAIR: I am aware of how I have to frame a question.
I am stating there is no example given when you make accusations of extremist teaching—I am
flipping over all your pages—there is no real addendum and you do not attach details of who, where, when, but
make these allegations. Can I ask: Have you got proof of any of these allegations that you have made about
Ms BYRNE: I appreciate the question because most of the detailed proof which I do have I am not
prepared to release at this point because many people who have come forward to me in formal and informal
surveys are frightened. Yes, I have proof of everything I have got in my submission but I have not attached it
because to do so would put various people in very difficult positions.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: Point of order: Chair, I wish to support your opening remarks.
Looking at these submissions it does not seem to be relevant to this inquiry. It seems to be a submission
submitted to an inquiry into special religious education [SRE] and this inquiry is not into SRE.
Ms BYRNE: Then I would refer to the opening part of the submission which states very clearly that
the ethics classes run under the same legislative privileges as SRE, or what I refer to as religious instruction,
therefore, this submission is about those same privileges.
CHAIR: To the point of order: We all have our different views on the quality of your submission but
we will keep that to ourselves.
Dr JOHN KAYE: I do not think you did, actually.
CHAIR: Can I take you to item number five on page 6 of your submission?
General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 10 Monday 27 February 2012
Dr JOHN KAYE: I do not think you did at all.
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL: It is the way they run it. It is disgraceful.
CHAIR: You have a title there, “Primary ethics demands full police checks whilst other religious
organisations do not”. On what do you base that? We have submissions from the Department of Education that
do not concur with that.
Dr JOHN KAYE: That is not true.
CHAIR: Where do you get that idea? Thank you, Dr John Kaye, but I am asking the question.
Ms BYRNE: Thank you for that question. The claim is made from my own research and from
discussions with religious instructors from various faith traditions with whom I undertook training and
investigated their vetting procedure. As far as I am aware, in my own investigations, which is what I have said
in my submission, Primary Ethics is the only organisation that demanded of me, when I was undertaking
training or asking about the vetting process, that demanded a police check.
CHAIR: I do not think you are correct. We will ask that of the department.
Dr JOHN KAYE: Point of order: I do not think calling a witness a liar is a sensible thing to do.
CHAIR: I said I do not believe it is correct.
Dr JOHN KAYE: She said in her own evidence it was true.
CHAIR: It is recorded in Hansard. It is up to me and that is my opinion. The Hon. Sarah Mitchell has
The Hon. SARAH MITCHELL: In your submission you expressed concern about the fact that
volunteers were not professional educators for both SEE and SRE, and that teachers are not present in the
classroom. Do you want that for both SEE and SRE teaching?
Ms BYRNE: I think both streams of teaching need to be developed and taught by professional
teachers. I do not think this is an area for volunteers at all.
The Hon. SARAH MITCHELL: You talk also in some detail about wanting to move towards more of
a general religious education. On page 4 of your submission you say you conducted a study that showed that 69
per cent of parents and educators were in favour of that. Would you tell us about that study and what else you
found as a result of that process?
Ms BYRNE: The study to which I am referring there is a formal study through Macquarie University
which drew on 123 formal surveys that went to various schools in New South Wales, some regional and some
metropolitan. It asked religious instructors, principals, teachers and parents about the kinds of religious
education that they would prefer. The result of that survey was that 69 per cent of the responders would have
preferred a general education approach rather than a segregated approach, which is the current process.
The Hon. SARAH MITCHELL: You said also on page 5 that some parents are confused because
they are not quite sure what is involved in either SRE or SEE, and other witnesses have raised the possibility of
having the curriculum or the syllabus for both classes released on a more public level so that parents can make a
more informed decision based on what is happening currently. Do you support that?
Ms BYRNE: As I mentioned, this is such an important area for children’s education that I do not think
volunteers should be running it and that the curriculum should be developed in an unprofessional manner by
interested third parties. I think any curriculum should be incorporated into a professionally developed and
delivered curriculum that covers both ethics and religion and, in deference to Professor Cam, philosophy as
well. This entire voluntary curriculum development, some of which in religious instruction comes directly out of
the evangelical churches in the United States of America into New South Wales public primary schools I think
is a sham.
General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 11 Monday 27 February 2012
The Hon. SARAH MITCHELL: In a sense you are not happy with the current curriculum provided in
ethics classes? Is that what you are saying?
Ms BYRNE: I did not say that. I would not support the current curriculum that is provided in some
SRE classes. As far as I am aware the current ethics course is a suitable thing, given the very limited nature of
the process for delivering an alternative.
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE: I see that you have a forthcoming article entitled “Compulsory free and
not secular: the failed idea in Australian education.” Keeping in mind our time limits, would you tell the
Committee what you believe is the failed idea in Australian education?
Ms BYRNE: The term “secular” describes a kind of governance in which the State and the church is
separate and in which the State controls the delivery mechanism. That has never really occurred in New South
Wales public schools in the area of religion. A general religious and ethics education is what is required by a
secular approach but that approach has never been taken and it is high time that it was. That is a short and sweet
summary of my article.
CHAIR: Do you have any recommendations that you wish to put to this inquiry?
Ms BYRNE: This inquiry should be immediately abolished and a new inquiry that explores the entire
access privilege should be begun immediately. In addition, a general religious and ethics education should be a
high priority for public schools and should be taken as probably the most important aspect of public education in
CHAIR: Do you think many educationalists share your viewpoint or are you a lone rider?
Ms BYRNE: I would say I have many allies. I think many of them are frightened. Some school
principals feel that they cannot change the system. Some schools feel that they are being manipulated into
continuing their support for RI. I know there are a lot of issues related to the provision of RI that make it
difficult for change but other countries, the most developed nations in the world, are delivering a combined nonsegregated
general religious and ethics—some call it belief and some call it philosophies—program from
kindergarten through to senior high school and they have been doing this for decades. I do not know why
Australia has its head in the sand and continues to support Christian privileging and segregated instruction on
ethics or religion.
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE: You said some people are frightened. Does that include academic
authorities who you believe are frightened and who do not wish to speak up in support of the general thesis that
you are putting?
Ms BYRNE: I am not aware of any academic who is frightened. I know that there are many minority
faith groups that feel they would like to support a general approach to religions and education but who feel that
their voice will be lost and that they have to play the game that is currently provided. I know definitely there are
many, parents, some teachers and some school principals who are fearful to let the information out that they
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE: You say that there are many academic authorities who would support
your general contention in this area?
Ms BYRNE: Absolutely. The world’s most renowned scholar in religion in public education would
support this view. There are many scholars in Australia that would support this view. There are many parents
and community groups that will support this view. I would be surprised if the Department of Education and
Communities did not have some people inside it who would support this view.
The Hon. SARAH MITCHELL: The Act very clearly stipulates, and we have heard from evidence
that the Committee has taken, that some students and parents opt for their children not to go to SRE or SEE and
they still have the opportunity not to receive any religious or ethical instruction. If a general religious course was
introduced would you still be happy to see that opportunity for parents, if they did not want any religious or
ethical instruction in their child’s schooling through primary school, to still opt out?
General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 12 Monday 27 February 2012
Ms BYRNE: That is currently a matter of debate even in international circles with scholars and human
rights lawyers. Some nations have removed the opt-out option in the interests of social inclusion and a more
secure and cohesive society. In other nations they retain the opt-out option on human rights grounds. That is a
matter for discussion and I would be open to that discussion.
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: I enjoyed reading your interesting and challenging
submission. You said that you think this inquiry is a waste of time and should not proceed. Why did you come
this morning? Why are interested in making your views known?
Ms BYRNE: Every child, whether or not they are religious or come from a religious family or culture,
has the right to be exposed to and to be encouraged to explore the big questions, whether they are philosophical,
ethical or religious questions. Therefore, public education has a responsibility to step up to that demand and the
desire of children, especially young children, to explore those questions. So, given that the rest of the developed
world is doing this in a manner that is a general broad approach to religion and ethics in public schools I think it
is critically important that Australia lift its game, and so I have come.
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: We are told that Australia is a Christian country and it has
been teaching Christian religions for the past century. What has changed?
Ms BYRNE: There are many good Christians in Australia who would like to see a general religions
and ethics approach in public schools. There are many non-Christians in Australia—Confucian Chinese, for
example, Buddhists and Sikhs and Jains and Hindus and atheists and humanists, who would like to see a general
approach, even including all of those religions, in public schools. What has changed is that Australia is a
changing nation and we are a multicultural society and public education specifically has an obligation to address
those things in a way that is fair.
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: But the Department of Education has not set any
parameters or programs or curriculum to address these other areas that you have just listed. What
recommendation would you have to the New South Wales Department of Education?
Ms BYRNE: To take a look at what is happening around the world for a start and to begin to engage
and re-prioritise the general religions and ethics that they do offer. The current offering in New South Wales
gets about less than one-sixth of the time that religious instruction gets. So rebalancing curriculum time would
be a start and then to engage with various faith communities and different belief system communities—the
Humanists Society, the Buddhist Council, the various minority faith communities, for example—and develop a
curriculum that is an appropriate look at various religious and belief systems around the world so that children
can engage with each other, so that children understand the differences between the Muslims that live down the
street and the Buddhists and Hindus and the humanists at their school so that they are less ignorant and less
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: I refer to page 2 of your submission. You referred to an
example of children being threatened with burning in hell. Is that a prevalent example of what was happening or
was it just an odd example, not a real example of what the education system is?
Ms BYRNE: The most common conversation I have with parents is around threats of burning in hell—
some directed to children, some directed vicariously to parents through children. It is a very frequent kind of
teaching and the remarkable thing is that no-one knows how frequent this is because no-one is looking at what is
happening in scripture classes because there are no professional teachers there. My survey was only to 123
people in a formal survey plus conversations with maybe 50 to 100 others informally, and the amount of time
that I heard “My kid was told they will burn in hell” or “Our family has been told that they are bad because we
do not believe in God or read the Bible every day” was so frequent it is frightening. If that was found on a very
small sample of 200 to 250, what is going on in the other schools in New South Wales?
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: I take it you have answered part of this question before
but I would like you to elaborate a little bit more. You say that parents and many educators feel pressured and
powerless. Why do you say that and what evidence can you present to this Committee?
Ms BYRNE: There is one piece of evidence, which the department is well aware of, where a complaint
was made by a father of a child who was in a religious instruction class and the class was told that God gets
angry at men who marry foreign women, that foreign nations have disgusting customs and that worshipping
General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 13 Monday 27 February 2012
false or foreign gods other than the God of Israel is evil. This parent made a complaint on behalf of the child,
who had a Hindu mother, and in that classroom a Bangladeshi student was asked to do a role-play and play the
part of the evil Jezebel. The child went home to their parents and was shocked and could not believe what was
happening. This child had actually been placed in Anglican religious instruction without the permission of the
parent, despite the fact that that parent had requested that the child not be placed in any religious instruction.
A complaint was made to the Department of Education and the person responsible at that time
responded that the department has no responsibility for the content of religious instruction classes. They directed
the parent back to the principal to deal with the fact that he had been moved from non-scripture to this scripture
class, and it was not the first time that the child had been moved back into scripture classes. The parent followed
up with this conversation and was told by the department and by the school to take their issues up with the
religious instruction provider because, “hey, it is not the department’s responsibility”.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: Point of order. We seem to be now conducting an inquiry into SRE.
As I said at the opening of this particular witness, this material is not relevant to this inquiry. We could have
1,000 witnesses—we could have a whole range of witnesses attacking what goes on in scripture.
CHAIR: It is true that the quality of SRE is not within the terms of reference, but I will allow
generality. However, I remind witnesses and members of the Committee to stick within the terms of reference.
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: You have mentioned a lot throughout your submission
about the role of chaplaincy and their work into the education system. In one example you give—
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: Point of order: This is more serious. Chaplaincy is not remotely
connected with this inquiry.
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: But, Madam Chair, I am asking questions from the
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: The submission is not based on the terms of reference.
Dr JOHN KAYE: To the point of order: The witness has made a suggestion in her written submission
that there is a direct connection between the chaplaincies, SRE and SEE. She establishes a direct line. This is an
inquiry into the effectiveness of SEE.
CHAIR: I understand the point of order. If you connect it to the terms of reference it is applicable. So
connect your question to the terms of reference.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: It is a Federal matter; it is not a State matter.
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: You refer to chaplaincy and you give one example of
Dapto High School and the use of the hall. You say that it is planting the church within the school community.
Can you elaborate little bit more on that? It is on page 4, the last paragraph.
Ms BYRNE: The connection between what is happening here and ethics is the unaccountability, and
the fact that a church can establish as its place of worship a public school and thereby have a particular and
special relationship with that school and thereby, particularly in relation to either ethics or religious instruction,
control and act as a gatekeeper on what information goes to parents and whether or not ethics will ever be
offered at such a school and what kind of controls are in place on the delivery of religious instruction, for
example, is astounding.
The facts are laid out there. I have no further comment on the facts other than that there is a connection
between how ethics is delivered in an unaccountable, unprofessional process in the same way that religious
instruction is delivered, and given that chaplaincy has direct connections to religious instruction by providing
paid religious instruction people, then how can you not look at all of this together?
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: Why are there police checks for Primary Ethics and not
police checks for any of the other teaching programs?
General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 14 Monday 27 February 2012
Ms BYRNE: I am not sure exactly the process or the demands made of every religious instruction
organisation. However, I am aware of the various groups that I have done training with or that I have asked
questions of, particularly about the vetting process. Primary Ethics does demand it, but various other faith
traditions do not. I am not sure what all the different religious groups do, but do I know that the Department of
Education and Training sees none of this as its responsibility. It has no follow up, so who knows what is actually
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: This has obviously been raised with the department. What
has been its response?
Ms BYRNE: Religious instruction is not its responsibility.
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: Even police checks on teachers or volunteers?
Ms BYRNE: The policy is that it asks the religious instruction provider to present a form.
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: The Working With Children Check form?
Ms BYRNE: Yes, but that does not require a full police check; it is simply a form signed by the person
who wants to give scripture or ethics classes.
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: Do you recommend that police checks be done?
Ms BYRNE: Of course. Any other person who enters a public school has to have a police check or a
blue card in Queensland. What is the difference between that and a religious instruction provider, particularly
since a religious instruction provider or a chaplain can request one-on-one interviews in private?
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: You are critical of the ethics course in your submission. At page 6
The addition of Ethics as another segregated option … is not the answer.
Can you explain that criticism? In other words, would you support the repeal of the Act?
Ms BYRNE: I would support the repeal of any volunteerism in New South Wales public primary
schools because of the problems in religious instruction. Adding ethics to a segregated model does not change
the problems of non-accountability.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: On page 8 you state:
A general, desegregated approach to religion and ethics education can immunize children against the manipulations of extreme
relativism and dogmatic fundamentalism.
Can you explain your concern about extreme relativism? I assume that is a reference to the ethics course.
Ms BYRNE: No, it is not a reference to the ethics course. Good try. In fact, it is definitely not a
reference to the ethics course. My experience and understanding of the ethics course is that it encourages
children to understand different points of view, but to dig deeply and to find a position for themselves on what is
right and what is wrong. Relativism does not give a hoot about what is right or wrong. In answer to the question,
my concern would be that if anyone from a volunteering background wanted to enter a public primary school
and teach either extreme relativism or dogmatic fundamentalism, as currently happens in religious instruction
classes, there is nothing to stop them. No-one knows what is happening; no-one is looking.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: To help me understand the background to your submission, what do
you think the term “secular” means in regard to our New South Wales education system?
Ms BYRNE: The problem with the term “secular” in New South Wales is that historically it has never
been honoured. The term “secular” refers to a system of governance or a type of process for separating church
from state. When the free compulsory and secular clause was raised as the next thing for public education it was
sacrificed at the beginning because religious instruction and Bible classes were kept in the curriculum. It has
never been secular in New South Wales.
General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 15 Monday 27 February 2012
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: It was never meant to be. You do not understand the word
“secular”. Secular means non-denominational.
Dr JOHN KAYE: Point of order: Reverend Nile is on the record with his view of the meaning of the
word “secular”, and he is entitled to that.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: I am stating what it means in the Education Act.
Dr JOHN KAYE: This witness is giving her evidence.
CHAIR: You can phrase a question about what the witness thinks the word means. However, there
must be no reflection on whether you agree with her.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: I want to clarify your understanding. What denominations and
religions currently conduct SRE classes in New South Wales? You speak as though only Christian classes are
held. In fact, the Hindu, Muslim and Sheikh and other faiths have access to the SRE periods.
Ms BYRNE: That is correct. There are many different minority faith groups as well as many different
Christian groups that undertake religious instruction in New South Wales. However, I believe that about 80 per
cent are Christian classes.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: But you do not seem to acknowledge that these other religions have
access to SRE instruction. You criticise it as though it is only Christians.
Ms BYRNE: In that case, I will correct myself. There are similar problems with extreme teaching in
minority faith groups as well. There is an example in my published work about one scripture teacher referring to
Hindus as cows. I know that there are issues in some schools with some minority faith groups delivering
extremist teachings that are not Christian teachings. The problem is not Christianity or scripture teachers with a
broad bush; the problem is that there is no oversight of any of it.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: You repeatedly state in your submission that 69 per cent of parents
and professional educators would prefer a focus on general religious and ethics education. How did you arrive at
that figure? Is it based on a survey of 200 people that you conducted?
Ms BYRNE: Yes, that is from my survey.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: Do you feel that that is an authoritative survey on which to base
your whole argument?
Ms BYRNE: Absolutely not. Many more surveys should be conducted to establish the level of support.
This is the only information I have to go on. It was a survey done through Macquarie University. I think the
support would be there. In addition, the information that Primary Ethics got through the Sydney Morning Herald
reader poll, which was more like 90-odd per cent—I do not have the figures in front of me—indicated very
strong support for ethics teaching.
Dr JOHN KAYE: I will begin with the issue of curriculum and access to curriculum documents. You
have been studying SRE and SEE in schools for some time. Is that correct?
Ms BYRNE: Yes.
Dr JOHN KAYE: When and how did you first get access to the special religious education curriculum
for various providers?
Ms BYRNE: I went to different schools as part of my research as an observer. Many of the religious
instruction providers would show me what they were handing out in classes. That is how I came across the
Dr JOHN KAYE: But short of going to the classroom, it was not available on the web.
General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 16 Monday 27 February 2012
Ms BYRNE: Not all of it is available on the web, and sometimes when it is available you cannot get
access to the full version that is given to teachers. It is sometimes very difficult to access all of the material.
However, I also undertook training in different religious faith groups to see what they were using in the
classrooms and how they were trained.
Dr JOHN KAYE: Can you comment on the age appropriateness of some of the materials that you
found in SRE? I raise this because a previous witness suggested that there was an issue of age appropriateness in
the ethics classes. I want to contrast that with SRE. I understand that material does not go to the Department of
Education and Training for age appropriateness checks.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: Point of order: We are now getting back to an inquiry about SRE.
The question deliberately focuses on SRE.
Dr JOHN KAYE: To the point of order: Every witness so far—both those who support SEE and those
who are hostile to it—has compared SEE and SRE. It would be to contaminate grotesquely the evidence taken
by this inquiry if this witness were not allowed to draw that distinction.
CHAIR: Order! I remind members of the Committee’s terms of reference. If members wish to ask a
question on special religious education it must be connected to our inquiry on special ethics education. A
question on special religious education alone is outside the terms of reference.
Dr JOHN KAYE: In the field of SRE and SEE, are you aware of age appropriateness checks and
which of those get the age appropriateness checks from the Department of Education?
Ms BYRNE: Recently the department put up a PowerPoint slide for principals to let them know about
the changes to SRE and SEE. The only mention of vetting of age appropriateness was on the ethics curriculum.
There is no vetting of any curriculum for age appropriateness or any other kind of inappropriateness on any
religious instruction material.
Dr JOHN KAYE: Can I take you to your suggestion that we abolish SRE and SEE and replace it with
general religious and ethics education [GREE]. Your understanding of general religious education is that it is a
study about religion; not teaching of adherence to that religion. Is that correct?
Ms BYRNE: Absolutely. There is a very well understood international demarcation between general
religious education [GRE], which is also referred to in some countries as studies of religion—so between studies
of religion or GRE and religious instruction or otherwise indoctrination.
Dr JOHN KAYE: When you combine those two how would you address the complaint that you are
making ethics a consequence of religion and you are subordinating secular ethics to religion by putting them in
the same context?
Ms BYRNE: I do not think you would be subordinating ethics to religion. Many of the world’s
religions and non-religious belief systems converge in some of their ethical approaches. Where they diverge is
in mythology and doctrine and ritual. But neither ethics nor religion can be reduced to its component parts. In
other words religion cannot be reduced to a matter of ethics; ethics cannot ever be reduced to a matter of
religion. They are separate but need to be looked at together. It is like examining half a coin. You cannot really
look at the big questions that Professor Cam raised about why are we here and what is good and what is evil
without understanding both an ethical position and in some cases, in particular in a plural and multicultural
society, the religious element of that. Children have questions about, for example, why did a Hindu kill
Mahatma Gandhi? Why did a Sikh kill Indira Gandhi? Why are there civil wars in Sri Lanka and Kashmir?
These are questions of religion. Why did Hitler kill a bunch of Jews? Well, there were questions of religion, as
well as questions of ethics and what is good and right.
Dr JOHN KAYE: In your GREE course that you are positing here would you include metaphysical
questions and epistemological questions or is it just simply the ethics as in moral inquiry and general religious
education combined together? Are you really trying to address the ethical questions in a metaphysical context?
Ms BYRNE: Let me first be clear, this is not something that I am positing. The most developed nations
in the world do it this way.
General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 17 Monday 27 February 2012
Dr JOHN KAYE: You are advocating that we adopt it.
Ms BYRNE: And they have been doing it this way for more than 50 years in some instances. This is
not my idea and it is not a new idea. It has been well researched, well practised and, yes, they do touch on the
big questions, the metaphysical, the epistemological, the religious, the ethical. They combine these things in a
course of inquiry. Some of them touch on the more philosophical end, some of them touch on purely the
religious ends, but they meet in the area of ethics. Therefore it is not a separate subject; it is part of a larger
inquiry into what are we and why are we here? Larger questions on culture and history and economics and
politics and the military, things like this are raised in questions in a general religions and ethics or religions and
CHAIR: I am going to allow one quick question from each group.
Dr JOHN KAYE: Can you tell us the size of the data sample from which you drew your conclusions
in your submission? Could you give us an indication of how much data you have collected? I am asking a
poorly posed question but you understand what I want to find out. There are a number of assertions made in
Ms BYRNE: Purely from my own survey where I talk about the support for a general religious and
ethics combined study of 69 per cent, that is a very small sample of 123 adults and about 50 informal adults—so
173, say. But the examples of specific instances of religious instruction being inappropriate in classrooms, I
would have 50 conversations with parents, teachers, ex-teachers, religious instruction providers and principals
on file and on record either in letters or emails, so even that is a very small sample.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: I just wanted to clarify what in your mind is the percentage of
people or children that have no religion? Is it correct that it is 18.7 per cent? You seem to quote a higher figure.
Ms BYRNE: I do not quote a figure on that.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: You imply that the percentage of people who do not want any
religious teaching is somewhere higher than 18.7 per cent.
Ms BYRNE: No, the implication I made earlier was that there are many Christians in this country who
do not want extreme versions of Christianity taught to their children. I guess the only thing you could rely on
there is the census figure which is, I think you are correct, about 18 per cent of people who would describe
themselves as non-religious.
CHAIR: In your article you say that 37 per cent of Australians do not identify with the Christian faith.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: You are quoting 37; I am saying the figure is 18.7.
Ms BYRNE: No, you are forgetting about all the Hindus and Buddhists and Jains and Muslims in
Australia. They actually make up 37 per cent.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: I understand that. I just wanted to see whether you understood that
the no religion people are only 18.7 per cent.
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: In relation to your general religious and ethics education
proposition, would you find support to your proposition from the St James Ethics Centre and also
Parents4Ethics? Would they support such a proposition? Have you had any discussions with them?
Ms BYRNE: I suggest you should ask them. Certainly if the ethics opportunity is removed that would
be their only option.
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE: But you have never had discussions with them as to your
Ms BYRNE: They are aware of my views and I am aware of their views but, no, I am not sure of what
their position would be on such a proposal.
General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 18 Monday 27 February 2012
CHAIR: On your proposal for general religious and ethics education rather than SRE and SEE, are you
proposing everybody be put under the same umbrella group in terms of the curriculum and teaching materials
available on the website so parents are aware of what their children are going to be taught under that particular
lesson? It will stop the segregation between SRE and SEE, police checks for everybody and everybody will be
under the same mantle. Is that basically what you are proposing based on other successful international models?
Ms BYRNE: Absolutely.
CHAIR: Thank you for taking the time to put in the submission and coming to field the many
(The witnesses withdrew)
General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 19 Monday 27 February 2012