Beattie backdown on religious education

Sydney, Australia - In an embarrassing backdown, the Queensland government says it will drop proposed changes to the teaching of religious education in state schools.

Premier Peter Beattie, flanked by Education Minister Rod Welford, today said current regulations governing religious instruction in state schools would remain unchanged.

"We have a very healthy respect for the churches and the role they play in society," Mr Beattie said.

"I think we have made that very clear and we are restating that today."

The move followed a strong community backlash against a bill currently before state parliament which had proposed amending Queensland's Education Act to put the onus on parents to say whether their child received religious instruction or not.

The amendment also widened the definition of what could be taught in class under "religious or other beliefs", raising fears fringe religions like Scientology and witchcraft cults could register to teach in schools.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop described the proposals as "political correctness gone mad" and threatened to cut funding to Queensland schools if they proceeded.

But Mr Welford said while the community and some churches had "misunderstood" his intentions, he had taken their concerns on board and would retain the status quo.

"I don't believe we got it wrong," Mr Welford said.

"There was extensive consultation throughout this whole exercise but clearly there are a significant minority of Christian organisations who retain some concerns.

"I don't see any reason why the government should ride rough-shod over those communities while those concerns remain."

Mr Welford said the proposals would be re-examined and amendments - if any - possibly introduced in the future.

Opposition education spokesman Stuart Copeland said the government had been forced into a "huge backdown" due to electoral pressure placed on backbenchers.

"All of a sudden today we have seen a backflip, it is purely political," Mr Copeland said.

"They have been caught out and are too worried about the electoral ramifications for those backbenchers."

Mr Copeland said the offices of coalition members and Labor MPs had been flooded with feedback on the issue.

"It was creating a lot of angst out there," he said.

The bill, which outlines changes to other parts of the Education Act including the new prep year and school starting ages, will continue through parliament minus the religious amendments.