Banks' Old Testament beliefs create 'conflict' in role

MAN OF FAITH: John Banks is a fundamentalist Christian who believes the world was created in six days.
MAN OF FAITH: John Banks is a fundamentalist Christian who believes the world was created in six days.

John Banks has declared himself a fundamentalist Christian who believes the world was created in six days and has derided the education ministry as being over-run by humanists.

An academic says that makes Banks unsuitable to be associate education minister presiding over the roll-out of charter schools.

It created a conflict of interest, said Massey University professor in teacher education and Education Policy Response Group member John O'Neill.

Already groups have emerged wanting to establish faith-based charter schools, including sidelining the standard science curriculum and theories of evolution and introducing the teaching of creationism - the claim that God created the universe and all life as detailed in The Bible.

"Now that Minister Banks has declared his hand there needs to be a very transparent process and clear criteria established for the selection [of who gains approval to set up a charter school] so they won't be biased towards Christian groups that happen to share the minster's personal beliefs," O'Neill said.

Banks told Christian radio station Radio Rhema last month that he disagreed with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, and instead backed the Bible-based Genesis theory.

But he said he did not oppose schools teaching evolution.

"That's what I believe, but I'm not going to impose my beliefs on other people especially in this post-Christian society that we live in and especially in these lamentable times."

He had not seen any official applicants for the Government's proposed Partnership Schools model stating they wanted to teach creationism, but said he would be open to considering them.

"Providing the baseline education of numeracy and education is tested and taught, and providing they get across line and over the hurdles of the accountability mechanisms that are going to be in place let's listen to them," he said.

But he warned that Christians needed to be careful talking openly about creationism.

"We have to be very, very careful about parading all this because there are reactionaries out there, humanists in particular, that over-run the bureaucracies in Wellington and state education."

O'Neill said Banks' public announcement of his religious belief was concerning.

"I think now he has said there are too many humanists in the bureaucracy and that he personally believes in the Bible and therefore is positively disposed to schools wanting to run charter schools that share the same views, I think that creates a major conflict," he said.

"He should not be involved in making decisions about whether or not schools that fit within that belief system should run as charter schools. In order to be fair he ought to distance himself."

O'Neill was also critical of the Partnership Schools Working Group's processes, claiming a lack of transparency.

The Working Group is directed by former Act Party president Catherine Isaacs.

O'Neill said professional associations and teaching unions had put in requests under the Official Information Act for copies of briefing papers provided to the working group, but documents provided had sections deleted.

"The public really doesn't get a handle on what is going on. And the minutes coming out of the working group are not what I would regard as appropriate for a group that ought to be more subject to normal public accountability requirements."

A spokeswoman for Banks said: "The papers released from the working group are released under normal Official Information Act provisions. "The working group's website provides notes of the topics discussed at the working group meetings. As the group meets to provide advice to ministers, the details of that advice is protected under the Official Information Act while the material is under consideration."

Sunday Star Times