I understand that the Australian community is somewhat divided about it but, whatever one’s view of the choice of a postal survey for the current community discussion regarding same-sex marriage, it was heartening to read in The Australian newspaper last week that, “With five weeks to go before the deadline for returning postal votes closes, a response rate of nearly 60 per cent is extraordinary…Keep in mind most non-compulsory general elections around the world are lucky to crack a 50 per cent turnout figure.”
And, as we are only too well aware, many countries do not allow their citizens any such voice, so it is pleasing to see so many Australians exercising their right to record their viewpoint.
While in a sense it is sad that anti-vilification laws are even necessary, it was also heartening to see a bipartisan commitment to the creation of new temporary laws designed to allow freedom of speech while preventing vilification, intimidation or threats to cause harm on the basis of religious conviction, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, during the postal survey period.
Whatever one’s personal view regarding the issue of same-sex marriage, I am sure that we would all agree that an environment free of vilification of people on any grounds, and free of what is commonly referred to as ‘hate speech’, ought to be what we all strive for – as individuals and as a community – at all times, and not just during the period of the current campaign.
On this commitment to an environment free of vilification, all schools, I am sure, take very seriously their commitment to working closely with families in order to provide a caring and nurturing environment for, and in support of, all our young people as they navigate their way through some of their most critical, formative years, on their search for their identity. This is a most significant privilege and responsibility and, clearly, there is no room in such an environment for vilification of any sort.
To help our community in creating an environment free of vilification, we have our values and we have legislation:
- as we regularly remind our students, our College values –Respect, Integrity and Courage – are a great compass to guide our behaviour and speech in any circumstance, to guide us in discussions, even when we have vigorous differences of opinion, to help navigate our way through the uncharted territory of life, and so on; and
- in relation to education, pleasingly the law is very clear in terms of the protections it affords everyone: WA and Commonwealth legislation states that no person can be discriminated against on a range of grounds including ethnic or national origin or nationality, religious conviction, sex, sexual orientation, gender history and intersex status, family responsibility, family status, and so on.
Our quest as a College is to strive to ensure that, first and foremost, each member of our community feels safe and, key to that outcome, that everyone is afforded respect and dignity: our ‘anti-vilification’ commitment is strong and consistent. This is fundamental to a caring, empathetic and effective community.