'Very poorly worded': Pauline Hanson’s bill to ban the 'indoctrination of children' doesn’t quite do what she says it does

Source: AAP

This week Pauline Hanson introduced legislation aimed at banning “the indoctrination of children” in schools. It’s not quite clear how the bill would work, though.

On Monday, One Nation senator Pauline Hanson introduced a bill to federal parliament that would supposedly ban the "indoctrination of children" in schools.

The Australian Education Legislation Amendment (Prohibiting the Indoctrination of Children) Bill 2020 sets out to combat the teaching of a number of topics Hanson considers to be "indoctrination".

In Hanson's own words, those topics include "skewed versions of history taught as fact, controversial sexual programs that teach gender fluidity and realignment to infants, unsubstantiated human-induced climate change, as well as the teachings of so-called 'safe' underage sex, sexting, and non-traditional sex."

In Parliament on Monday, Hanson urged Australia to roll back transgender rights, argued that parents should be required to give consent before their child is taught about LGBTIQ+ issues, and railed against books like The Gender Fairy being read in schools.

Hanson also argued that current teaching on climate change is inadequately balanced because it "says most agree that human activity is responsible for the majority of measured global warming".

But as for what the bill would actually do to prevent this "indoctrination" being taught in schools, it's not clear that it would -- or could -- do anything.

The bill has yet to be debated in Parliament, but let's take a look at how it's intended to work.

How does Pauline Hanson see this bill working?

In a media release on Sunday, Hanson described her bill as "groundbreaking", and said it would "force any contentious school curricula to be balanced".

"Children are easy targets of all sorts of false and left-leaning teachings and parents have had a gut full of seeing the people they entrust with teaching their children, pushing their own agendas," Hanson said.

Introducing the bill in Parliament, Hanson went into a little more detail.

"The purpose of this legislation is to give parents the legal right to protect their children from indoctrination at school," she said, saying that the bill aimed to prevent "indoctrination" in two key ways.

Firstly, Hanson's bill would place an obligation on the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority to "ensure that school education in Australia provides a balanced presentation of opposing views on political, historical and scientific issues."

Secondly, the bill seeks to tie federal education funding to the existence of state and territory legislation prohibiting indoctrination in schools.

To be eligible for federal funding, states would have to implement laws that require schools to consult with parents or guardians "to ascertain the extent to which staff members (however described) have provided students with a balanced presentation of opposing views", and enable courts to enforce this.

What does developing a "balanced presentation of opposing views" mean, though?

Greens Education spokesperson Dr. Mehreen Faruqi has slammed Hanson's bill, describing it as legislation that "would rewrite the curriculum to require teaching of climate denialism and dangerous conservative ideas of gender and sexuality."

Unfortunately for Hanson, however, the bill probably can't do those things.

After reading the text of the bill, it's still not quite clear what qualifies as "indoctrination", and what qualifies as a "balanced presentation of opposing views". "Balance" is never defined, and could mean any number of things.

"It's very poorly worded, and we can only guess what sense will be made of it," University of Sydney Law School Professor Simon Rice told The Feed.

"It seems to be based on a provision in the UK Education Act, which does talk about opposing political views. Now, the binary 'opposing' makes some sense when you're talking about political views -- even then it's a bit of a stretch, but you can make some sense."

Hanson's call for schools to include "opposing views" on historical and scientific issues, however, made no sense to Professor Rice.

The bill's wording is so broad that it could, in theory, be used to do the opposite of what Hanson intended.

It could, for instance, be used to compel schools which do not currently teach LGBTIQ+ inclusive sex education to start teaching it for the sake of "balance".

"It cuts both ways," Professor Rice told The Feed. "Look at questions of sovereignty and settlement and ownership -- if we want to teach that Australia was settled, then we've got to teach that it was invaded."

Ultimately, though, Professor Rice stressed that these are all hypothetical circumstances, because Senator Hanson does not actually have the power to make the changes she's proposing.

"The bill, just in the way education policy is set up, can't have that effect," Professor Rice said.

"The amendment seems to assume that the federal government can legislate curriculum content. Now, it's highly doubtful that there's the constitutional power for the government to legislate school curriculum content, and so far the federal government hasn't tried to do that."

Hanson's bill tries to sidestep this issue by imposing a condition on school funding -- schools can either teach "balance", or forfeit federal funding.

But in order to attach a condition to school funding, that condition needs to be added to regulations or agreed to by the ministerial council. Basically, Hanson would need to be the Education Minister.

"She's powerless to actually influence the funding, so the amendment can't ever actually have effect," Professor Rice said.

"This bill looks like an attempt to gain publicity for a position she would like the minister to take. It's a gesture, it's a statement."