Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? .
James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, 20 June 1785
The word 'secular' comes the Medieval Latin "secularis", meaning worldly or temporal in distinction to the eternal. It pertains to the world that we all live in and share, in space and time. In George Holyoake's coining of the term, he noted that secularism wasn't an argument against religious beliefs, but an argument independent of it. "Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life."
It is not, as commonly assumed, anti-religious, rather it is non-religious. A secular position is to have 'no comment' to make on religion. In terms of the state, a secular position argues for a clear separation of church and state. Religious people, particularly those who are respectful of other faiths, and wish to avoid state-sanctioned bigotry, can also be secular in this manner. Thus one can indeed be a secular Christian, a secular Buddhist, a secular Muslim etc.
The Victorian Secular Lobby is open to all people who support our principles:
1. To promote the principle of the separation of Church and State and equality for all institutions under the law.
2. To resource and promote secular principles to journalists, politicians, and other contributors to public opinion.
3. To encourage co-ordination with like-minded groups to influence public policy.
4. To encourage persons to take up membership and engage in activities that promote secular principles and the Victorian Secular Lobby.
5. To engage in activities, including generating income and expenditure, to further these aims.
Our policies are also available for review.
News reports on this site compiled from the Proxima Thule Press Extracts Service. The Victorian Secular Lobby is a member of the Secular Coalition of Australia.
The Victorian Secular Lobby's contact details are:
public AT victoriansecular DOT org
The Victorian Secular Lobby is incorporated in the State of Victoria, Number A00594400A
There has been vigorous discussion between State Humanist societies about whether ethics should be taught by volunteers, and in the Religious Instruction timeslot, if that is the only option.
Aligned with Humanism
Firstly, I will argue that the content of the various ethics classes is closely aligned with Humanist values. Human Rights feature very strongly in Humanist objectives. Ethics curricula lead the students to work out that human rights stem from human needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, housing, and physical freedoms. At a higher level is freedom of thought, speech, association etc.
All sentient creatures share, to varying extents, common capacities for suffering and well-being. Thus animals also deserve fair treatment, in some cases a subset of human rights. These themes are closely paralleled in Humanist thought.
An element of many ethics classes is to show the students that, while principles are often useful to make good decisions, sometimes two principles can come into conflict, for example, telling the truth yet not hurting a friend’s feelings. Then a deeper analysis is needed, which looks at the circumstances and consequences.
Another theme of ethics lessons is obedience to authority, which firstly asks, what makes a good authority. Then we ask, under what circumstances is it okay to question authority. This underpins many Humanist themes such as child protection, personal responsibility, civil obedience, and democracy.
I will draw from the “Amsterdam Declaration of 2002” which lists the fundamentals of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and its affiliations, for some specific comparisons.
IHEU Article 2 declares: “Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare.” This is well covered by topics such as “Why should we trust science?” This invites students to investigate the processes of scientific justification, through facilitated enquiry.
IHEU Article 3 is titled “Humanism supports democracy and human rights.” This is reflected in the NSW Ethics program topic, “Voting - an ethical issue?” which explores the importance of democracy, and how to vote in a responsible manner (all with age-appropriate scenarios).
IHEU Article 4 includes: “[Humanism] is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.” That is the essence of school philosophy and ethics classes: pupils learn to think for themselves. The proposed Victorian Ethics program uses the “community of inquiry” method for the same reason.
Thus ethics lessons and Humanist values run closely parallel.
Improved Student behaviour
There have been several formal studies into the outcomes of philosophy and ethics lessons. The earliest is from Clackmannanshire in Scotland. The report says it “took place in mainstream classes of 30 pupils, with teachers with little previous experience of leading whole-class enquiries. However, developing open ‘communities of enquiry’ is likely to require a shift in pedagogy for many teachers. The role of the teacher in supporting whole class enquiry emphasises the role of the teacher as ‘curious facilitator’ rather than ‘expert instructor’.”
The conclusions state: “The Clackmannanshire study provided robust evidence that one hour of classroom philosophical enquiry each week in primary schools can be highly cost-effective in promoting:
“1. Developments in cognitive ability.
“2. Developments in critical reasoning skills and dialogue in the classroom.
“3. Emotional and social developments (including reduced bullying).”
Secondly, there was a trial of philosophy lessons for all schools by normal teachers at Buranda primary state school in Brisbane. In a report in 2007, the Principal, Lynne Hinton, says the program was introduced to improve thinking skills and confidence, with the hope these would lead to improved academic outcomes in literacy and numeracy. “These expectations were certainly achieved as well as some very exciting, unexpected results,” she says. “The most significant of these was an improvement in social skills, leading to the current situation where bullying is simply not an issue at our school. We have also had an extraordinary improvement in student engagement.”
In 2010, a trial of ethics classes was held in New South Wales. This resulted in a report, which said that with some improvements (subsequently made), benefit to students would flow.
In 2011, Fred Nile, MLC, demanded a parliamentary review of the ethics classes. The Humanist Society of NSW made a positive submission, which is a good reference. In 2012, this review published its Report5, which concluded: “We are of the view that SRE (religion) and SEE (ethics) can operate alongside each other in NSW government schools to the benefit of all students who are the key stakeholders in this debate.”
I organised a Panel on “Ethics education initiatives around Australia” in Sydney in May 2013.6 This has helped to spread it around Australia.
So a range of studies have systematically found that ethics classes (whether by volunteers or regular teachers) are of academic and social benefit to tudents. In addition, there is a constant stream of feedback from regular teachers observing ethics classes about how engaged the students are, and from parents about children raising important issues at home.
There have been objections to using volunteers instead of the normal teachers. But in all such classes I have studied, the teaching modality was whole-class enquiry, or “community of enquiry”. The teacher acts as a moderator or facilitator, a very different mode from the usual instruction. Thus volunteer teachers are probably just as capable in this mode as the regular teachers. The measured positive results flow in either case. In my experience, the only issue that has arisen with Ethics volunteers is student behaviour. In that event, there are effective remedies available.
In any case, most of the volunteer teachers have teaching experience (I have high school, university and business).
And of course they are trained and audited to the required level. To use only normal teachers would mean some other part of the curriculum would need to be dropped, or additional staff employed.
The ethics curriculum material itself as well as the delivery method has been examined, adjusted where necessary, and approved, by the relevant education authority in all cases. Volunteers have long been involved in providing additional teaching at state schools. The students clearly enjoy a new mode, new material, and a new face.
In the RI time-slot?
There has been criticism that teaching ethics under the arrangements set up for religious instruction (RI, or various names in other states) only cements the RI in place, whereas Humanists are meanwhile pushing for abolition of RI altogether.
Yes, we all would like religion to be abolished from our supposedly secular education system. However, this is not possible in the foreseeable future in many states. The options available to students can be:
* RI or non-scripture (idle time);
* RI, Ethics or non-scripture.
Due to having this choice, around 20,000 children in New South Wales (and soon more in Victoria) have received and benefited from ethics education. To deny this for the sake of a principle would be a great step backwards. It is a case of the Nirvana fallacy, where a good choice is rejected because it is not perfect. For these reasons, at the Council of Australian Humanist Societies AGM in May 2014, the delegates voted to approve the motion “That CAHS supports ethics education in schools both in the RI timeslot and in the core curriculum”.
1. Promoting Social and Cognitive Development through Collaborative Enquiry: An evaluation of the ‘Thinking Through Philosophy’ programme, Clackmannanshire Council 2005.
2. Queensland Education Department article on ethics education at Buranda Public School (primary):
3. NSW Ethics Course Trial ? Final Report, Dr Sue Knight, October 2010.
4. Inquiry into Education Amendment (Ethics Classes Repeal) Bill 2011: Submissions from Humanist Society of NSW, 2012.
5. Education Amendment (Ethics Classes Repeal) Bill: Final Report, May 2012.
6. Ethics Education Panel, A.H. No. 112.
By Ainsley Symons
In an interview on Melbourne radio station 3AW before the coming federal elections in 1984 the indefatigable anti-abortion campaigner Margaret Tighe referred specifically to two Victorian candidates for the House of Representatives. They were David McKenzie, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) candidate for the electorate of Menzies, and Tony Lamb, the ALP candidate for Streeton. Mrs Tighe said that both candidates were "most unsuitable" (emphasised and in a raised voice) to be members of the federal parliament.
What would cause Mrs Tighe to be so upset at the possibility that these two candidates might be successful in their electorates? The reason for her anger was their action as back-benchers in the lower house during the first term of the Whitlam government in 1973. They presented to the House the Medical Practice Clarification Bill which, if passed, would have legalised abortion in the Australian Capital Territory, but not in any of the states, for any extension of the Bill to include the states would be ultra vires under Section 51 of the Australian Constitution.
The McKenzie-Lamb Bill, as it became popularly known, aroused support from feminists, but angst from a large number of politically active Roman Catholics. At the time a majority of Australians, according to opinion poll surveys, did not support unrestricted access to abortion (Betts 2004: 23). The Bill was defeated in the House, with all members of the Coalition voting against it, and the ALP split. The vote on 10 May 1973 was 98 to 23. Feminists argued that the all-male House discriminated against women, but the vote might not have been much different had there been a number of female parliamentarians at that time, even a significant number. Right to Life (RTL) campaigners lobbied every member of federal parliament, and their campaigning was very effective.
Abortion had previously been decriminalised, subject to strict conditions, in South Australia under legislation passed by the Liberal government of Steele Hall in December 1969. There are significantly less Roman Catholics in South Australia than in any other state, and this made passage of such legislation easier. In recent years evangelical Protestants, such as Uniting Church minister the Rev. Fred Nile in New South Wales and Pastor Danny Nalliah of Catch the Fire Ministries in Victoria, have resulted in large numbers of non-Catholics joining the anti-abortion cause in big numbers, but in the early years of RTL activity in the cause was overwhelmingly Catholic.
In Victoria, as in the United States, it was the courts rather than the legislature that was instrumental in abortion law reform. In the United States the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade (1973) provided that no state could disallow abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy. The Supreme Court ruling of Justice Menhennit in Victoria (1969) likewise allowed abortion in circumstances that had previously been criminalised. In the late 1960s Victorian medical doctor Bertram Wainer led a campaign against corruption involving illegal backyard abortionists that led to an Inquiry by Barry Beach, QC. Wainer's campaigning was an influence, but we will never know to what extent, in the decision of the Victorian Supreme Court. The Menhennit ruling in R. v. Davidson (1969) found that a procedure to terminate a pregnancy was not illegal if the act done was honestly believed on reasonable grounds to be necessary to preserve the woman from a serious danger to her life or her physical or mental health. The Menhennit ruling set a precedent for abortions in Victoria that persisted over many years. In 1972 Wainer's supporters established the Fertility Control Clinic, an abortion facility in East Melbourne, a site of frequent RTL protests from its establishment until the present.
Margaret Tighe has led the anti-abortion movement for much of the period from the 1970s. She has campaigned against parliamentarians of all parties regarded as favourable to abortion. Limited financial resources have meant that the RTL cause has had to limit those parliamentarians it targeted. It has had some notable successes, one being the 1980 defeat of Barry Simon, the pro-choice Liberal member for the federal lower house seat of Latrobe in Gippsland.
The resignation of Premier Steve Bracks in 2007 sowed the seeds for abortion reform by legislation that parliamentarians had previously refused to support, fearing an RTL backlash. Bracks, a Catholic of Lebanese descent, almost certainly would not have allowed abortion legislation into the parliament, but his successor John Brumby did not share this view. Candy Broad, an upper house member for the Northern Victoria region in the Legislative Council, did just this. Her Abortion Law Reform Bill 2008, subsequently passed by the parliament, codified the Menhennit ruling and even went further, allowing termination of pregnancy in late term.
The passage of the Broad Bill, while rejoiced by the feminist lobby and Emily's List, a group of pro-abortion female parliamentarians, caused much resentment among RTL supporters. Pastor Nalliah (Feneley 2009), for example, claimed that the Black Saturday bushfires in February 2009, causing the loss of 173 lives, including high profile television presenter and news reader Brian Naylor, were God's vengeance for the passage of Victoria's pernicious abortion laws. Margaret Tighe and like-minded RTL campaigners targeted nine supporters of the Broad Bill at the 2010 election. In the Right to Life blog (Tighe 2013), she cited an analysis in the Tasmanian Times (Allan 2010) that concluded, "The pro-life movement can claim that without its support the Baillieu government would not have been elected." The 2010 state election in Victoria, which resulted in a narrow victory for the Coalition under Ted Baillieu, may well be the most significant achievement of the RTL movement. That victory did not result in changes to the Broad Act.
Lyle Allan, "Margaret Tighe, The Most Powerful Woman in Victoria," Tasmanian Times, 30 November, 2010. Consulted 13 February 2014.
Katharine Betts, "Attitudes to Abortion in Australia, 1972 to 2003," People and Place, 12: 4, 2004.
Rick Feneley, "Pastor's abortion dream inflames bushfire tragedy," Sydney Morning Herald, 11 February, 2009. Consulted 13 February 2014
Margaret Tighe, "Tighe Calls on Napthine," Right to Life blog, 2013. Consulted 13 February 2014.
At its annual general meeting in May this year, the Council of Australian Humanist Societies (CAHS) voted in support of volunteer ethics teachers entering public schools and teaching ethics programs to students as a secular alternative in religious education. The motion was put to the meeting by the New South Wales Society with the support of the Humanist Society of Victoria. The motion was opposed by the Queensland, Western Australian and South Australian Societies.
Here is why the motion is a grave mistake, and why Western Australia moved its own motion against it.
What is wrong with volunteer ethics teaching
The motion as put by New South Wales stated, “That CAHS supports ethics education in schools both in the Religious Instruction (RI) timeslot and in
the core curriculum.”
In its supporting rationale, the meeting was asked to agree to an ideal, to quote: “Ideally, we would like to see the elimination of Religious Instruction (RI) altogether,” an ideal which we as Humanists share. However, the motion not only abandons this ideal, but capitulates? in whatever form ? to a future in which our children are to be divided and segregated according to the religious faiths of their parents. It leaves, and in fact reinforces, the idea that religious groups should be allowed entry and division in the learning environment.
On offer is the fruit of a so-called compromise: ethics smuggled undercover as just another belief system to share equal place among the irrational beliefs of powerful majorities. But, ethics is a whole branch of philosophy, not a belief. So while religious groups can proselytise with internal consistency, it would fall to ethics volunteers to cover “ethics” ? from Plato to Popper, Heraclitus to Heidegger, and hope that a digest version of Sophie’s World would be absorbed by students in a limited timeslot.
This idea represents acceptance of religious lobbyists’ arguments that secular, neutral education is somehow value-free. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real opportunities for ethics teaching lie throughout the core curriculum. What more ethical stance could supplant the basis of mathematics: one and one will always equal two, A is A no matter your wish or whim that it was otherwise? What more ethical belief can demonstrate better than through a science-class telescope that patient objective sense can unlock old mysteries, that the universe is knowable to rational inquiry? What better ethics can be offered than through literature, where children can discover exemplars like Atticus Finch?1
Indeed, the idea that ethics volunteers are filling a moral vacuum devalues the moral values our public teachers imbue in students every day. You can read about these in the National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools (2005). In it, you will see that our national curriculum does not share multiple stances on, for example, bullying, honesty, tolerance and multicultural inclusion.2 In fact, the document speaks to the very humanist ethic underlying our secular school system.
Human rights activist Geoffrey Robertson was awarded Australian Humanist of the Year for 2014. This is a year, when the Federal government is more intent than ever to increase the scope of religious chaplaincy, that Humanist societies should demand in his honour a public sphere for our children’s education free from pressure-group warfare, one based on our constitutional right, and our children’s right, to a secular public space [with?] Ethics taught as part of our core curriculum and by trained qualified staff.
To do otherwise is to ignore the poison of “Humble Faith”, the strychnine fed to our children, and hope that the fresh fruit or vegetable of volunteer-driven Ethics will serve as an adequate antidote. Religious education shares no rational place in teachers’ efforts to raise ethically responsible citizens. In any competition between food and poison, poison once ingested will win.
It is not a “grey” issue, or compromise, to accede that Ethics in our schools should share billing with preachers and theocrats: it’s a prescription and roadmap for failure. Australia’s children have been promised a proper education with accountable, trained teachers in an open environment for all. Humanists should support that promise and not accede to religion in our schools.
We seek this accountability so that children are educated on various ethical and religious stances in a non-sectarian environment. As Geoffrey Robertson writes in Dreaming Too Loud, those who speak of delivering “moral values to our school children neglect to ask, Whose values?”
We shouldn’t neglect this question. We’ve read the news reports. Children are being told by motivated volunteers their little gay friends will die in Hell, that abstinence rather than sexual education is the only morally effective means of preventing disease, and so on. If we are asked to devalue state education with motivated volunteers, ask “whose motivations?” We know from the web sites of participant organisations that their designs are the recruitment and conversion of innocent children. In a recent letter to sponsors, Access Ministries states children will be subject to “ravages and devastation” without its “Christian Ministry”. 3
We understand the desire to ameliorate the social evils of religious indoctrination in our schools. We do understand, though, that we will never be rid of it the moment we accede to the idea that any pressure group should have entrée to the impressionable minds of our children, and worse, that we should somehow join them in the practice.
Why do our education departments place an emphasis on qualified teachers in the subjects of mathematics, science, literature? Have school inspectors oversee them? Why a curriculum at all? It is because we know that teaching is a highly complex process, designed to ensure children’s acquisition and accommodation of knowledge is handled by those with actual knowledge about child development.
At a time when literacy and numeracy levels, and competency in languages which do build and bind our common community, are falling in Australia relative to other countries globally, teachers need more than ever each valuable hour in the curriculum to ensure our children have the best chance of an educational future. Our children deserve no less than professional experts, people who are passionate about education and who are trained in education. Good education is too important to leave to people with ulterior motives.
Yes, we indeed look like we have an ulterior motive when we say, “Look at them! Give us a chance along with the misogynists and faith-mongers, who
are intent on short-circuiting the rational cognitive development of our children. Give us our own chance to teach our different ‘belief system’, that whole-branch-of-philosophy called Ethics.”
Finally, our children should be allowed the privilege to be children; not atheist children, not Muslim children, Wiccan children, nor Jewish children, and certainly not in a community school. They should be simply children, developing their brains before their beliefs.
Inclusion, socially and economically, was a guiding principle behind the establishment of public education in Australia. That is Humanist values in action. It is the very reason why public education should remain secular.
Competition between volunteer pressure groups is not best practice, and in front of children, not ethical.
1. Atticus Finch is a character in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
2. Dept of Education, Science and Training (2005) National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools: p.4.
3. Access Ministries (2014), “Please help protect Christian ministry in schools”.
Joe Francis voices opposition to Safe Schools
Liberal MP Joe Francis appeared on Perth radio station 6PR earlier this week saying politicians should always tell the truth, but advocates for the Safe Schools anti-bullying program say Francis and other Liberal MP’s are not being honest when they describe the program.
Labor and The Greens have promised to fund the program which provides professional development to teachers so they can ensure LGBTI high school students are not bullied. The Liberal party say they will not fund the program if elected to a third term in government. Previously the program has been federally funded.
Francis, who holds the seat of Jandakot, posted a video to his Facebook page proclaiming the Safe Schools program is the one issue that people need to hear about ahead of Saturday’s state election.
In the video the Minister for Emergency Services, Veterans, Fisheries and Corrective Services said the Safe Schools Coalition program is being delivered to four year old children.
“I’ll never accept that it is okay to teach a child as young as four that they can choose, and change, their gender on a daily basis and that they can lose their virginity twice, once to a boy and once to a girl, and you as a parent cannot opt out of this.”
Advocates fighting the keep the anti-bulling program in schools have described the politicians claims as inaccurate, and simply scare tactics in the final days of the election campaign.
The Save Safe Schools campaign is comprised of local community members who advocate for the program to continue.
“Save Safe Schools WA strongly condemns the spreading of ignorance and innuendo. It has become apparent that political candidates who are attacking the Safe Schools Coalition have done little to no research beyond what they have heard from colleagues.
“SSSWA encourages all people who have questions or issues with the Safe Schools Program to familiarise themselves with the Safe Schools resources, available from online rather than relying on hearsay.
“If politicians cannot take the time to learn for themselves, how can they represent those in their electorate on this issue? There are vulnerable people in their community who deserve better from their local member.” a spokesperson for the group said.
Southern River’s Peter Abetz also claims the program is aimed at children
Francis is not the only Liberal MP voicing opposition to the program. Southern River MLA Peter Abetz, a long standing opponent of the program has also posted a video.
In his video Abetz also says the program is contains information directed a young children. Abetz highlights the book The Gender Fairy by Jo Hirst, describing it as “radical gender ideology'” Abetz said the Safe Schools program encourages four-year-old children to be read the book.
This morning Matthew Knott at The Sydney Morning Herald filed a report after spending a day with Abetz on the campaign trail, noting that the MP was handing out several different flyers outside Gosnells’ primary schools, including flyers arguing against the Safe Schools program.
One of the flyers reportedly contained the message ‘An Important Safety Warning About Our Kids‘. As OUTinPerth reported earlier this week voter’s letterboxes have been inundated with flyers opposing the Safe Schools program.
Abetz said while the topic was a marginal issue in the election campaign he hoped to change that by drawing more attention to the program.
Premier Colin Barnett recently voiced his opposition to the program’s materials, but said he’d never read them.
“Can I say in relation to the Safe Schools program, to my knowledge of it, and I’ve never read the material, but I’ve heard fellow members of parliament describing it.
“To me it encourages experimentation, promiscuity, to very young children, getting right down into primary schools,” Premier Barnett said at a forum organised by the Australian Christian Lobby.
“I don’t think in any way that it what should happen in our schools, and I don’t think you can have situations where boys, or even their parents could think that they’ve got the right to use the girls toilets and things like that. That’s not part of the Australian way.” Barnett said.
Safe Schools organisers say the claims are not accurate
In Western Australia the delivery of the program is managed by the WA AIDS Council. Chief Executive Andrew Burry told OUTinPerth the program is an important resource for teachers.
“The Safe Schools program is simply professional development for teachers and allied staff and is implemented at schools, only through the principal, through consultation with their parent body.”
Despite the claims from both politicians, the program has only ever been rolled out in high schools in Western Australia, and locally it has never been made available to four-year-old children.
Administrators of the program have confirmed to OUTinPerth that the material suggesting people have “two virginities” is not part of the program, and there are no references to people being able to change their gender daily.
It is believed the material Francis refers to about “two virginities” is from the eastern states based organisation, Minus18. Following a review conducted in 2016 by UWA”s Professor Bill Louden, the Safe Schools curriculum does not include any links to this organisation.
Nor is the book The Gender Fairy part of the program’s materials. Author Jo Hirst has previously spoken out about her frustration that conservative groups, including the Australian Christian Lobby, continually link her book to the program.
In July last year, Hirst expressed her outrage that the claim had been made in flyers from the Australian Christian Lobby during the federal election.
“I am extremely angry and upset that a book I wrote for my son and transgender children to feel more normal and comfortable at school is being used in such a nasty way in a political campaign,” Hirst told The Sydney Morning Herald. The Australian Christian Lobby insisted the book is part of the program.
The National Office of the Safe Schools program also rubbished the claims made by the MPs.
“As a capacity building program aimed at educators, the Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA) program delivers free, approved support services and resources to educators to equip them with the knowledge and skills to make their classrooms more inclusive for LGBTI young people.” a Safe Schools spokesperson told OUTinPerth.
“This includes the revised All of Us resource, which will be used where deemed appropriate by educators and is the only approved in-classroom resource. None of SSCA’s approved resources state or suggest that people have two virginities, nor that gender can change daily.”
The spokesperson said on a national level there have been times that the organisation has responded to requests for help from primary schools.
“SSCA continues to support secondary schools as its main focus. We also respond to requests from primary school educators for assistance, such as support, advice and staff training in meeting the needs of their students and school communities.
“Participation in SSCA is voluntary. School leadership are best placed to make decisions about what is appropriate in a school environment, and of course parents should also make decisions about what they want for their children’s education.” the spokesperson said.
Joe Francis was approached for comment by OUTinPerth but did not respond before our publication deadline.
Abdullah CHAARANI, 26, Dallas
Charged and faced court on Friday [23 December] afternoon. According to a relative, Mr Chaarani is a painter by trade, who was married last year and is expecting a child
He is a cousin of the Abbas brothers, two of his co-accused. It is believed he and the other co-accused attended the Hume Islamic Youth Centre in Roxburgh Park [metropolitan Melbourne].
Ibrahim ABBAS, 22, Campbellfield
Was expected to face court on Friday night and again on Saturday morning [today]. Is understood to have been on the radar of authorities, including ASIO, for about two years, after his house was raided following postings on social media.
Was studying engineering. His sister posted on Facebook about the raids, saying that two of her brothers and a cousin, Abdullah, had been arrested: “So a few terrorist attacks occur around the world in the past couple of days so obviously afp and asio must do a few raids ‘just for show’ here in oz.”
Understood not to be a relative of Roger Abbas, a Meadow Heights man who was one of the first Australians killed in the Syrian conflict, in 2013.
Hamza ABBAS, 21, Flemington
Charged and faced court on Friday afternoon. Like his brother, subject to attention from authorities for about two years.
Agraduate of Darul Ulum College of Victoria, an Islamic independent school in Fawkner known for its Salafist teachings. Then is believed to have attended RMIT University.
Appears to have also worked as a painter, but unclear if he worked with Chaarani.
A fan of jiu jitsu.
Ahmed MOHAMED, 24, Meadow Heights
Charged and faced court on Friday afternoon. Little known about Mr Mohamed, compared with his co-accused.
Over the past year we have watched on as a series of devastating acts of terrorism have rocked the world.
We witnessed the horror as a truck deliberately rammed a crowd in the city of Nice, killing 86 people and injuring 434. A further 32 lives were lost amid bombings in Brussels. They followed rampages by gunmen on the streets of Paris, and a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in the United States.
Just last week a man ploughed a truck into a busy Christmas market in the heart of Berlin. The majority have been crimes against humanity in the name of Islam, perpetrated by people whose beliefs and actions are rejected and reviled by the vast majority of Muslims.
While distant, all these attacks have fuelled anxiety of a kind not matched since the atrocities of 11 September 2001. That fear and anxiety hit home on Friday [23 December], the last working day before the Christmas weekend, with the arrest of a group of young men within our own community who are accused of planning a string of terrorist attacks on Melbourne.
The alleged targets were Federation Square, Flinders Street Station and St Paul’s Cathedral, three of our city’s most famous landmarks. After a series of raids across Melbourne’s north-west suburbs, four men were in custody late yesterday.
The details are frightening. Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton revealed the attack involved “explosive devices”. Police also believe guns and knives were to be used. Nearly all the men were Australian-born and in their 20s. Some had a Lebanese background, while one was Egyptian-born. “These individuals have been persons of interest for some period of time,” Mr Ashton said. “They’re people we have been concerned about.”
The Age commends the swift and decisive action from the Kasselholm task force, the Australian Federal Police and the Victoria Police. As a result of their diligence, work and bravery, Melbourne has narrowly escaped a terrible crime, of the sort we have witnessed in so many other cities.
But the news of the plot has hit close to home. It was the news that many of us feared. Instead of Islamic terrorism on our television screens, this was terror planned for the heart of our city.
As The Age has pointed out repeatedly over the past year, we should be under no illusions. The terrorism threat in this country ahead of Friday’s events was “probable”. To date, Australians have enjoyed a life relatively unaffected by the horrors of the kind that have struck Paris, Nice and Berlin.
There are the obvious precautions at airports since the attacks of September 2001, and added security at major events and at some buildings. It was only this time last year that Melburnians were learning to deal with a security fence, a so-called “ring of steel”, erected around the MCG for the Boxing Day Test. Parliament House in Canberra will soon be ringed by a similar security fence.
But it has still been possible to wander into a music concert, summer festival or major sporting events without much fear or intrusion by security and guards.
But erecting a fence does not stop an attack. Over the decades, terrorism has shown itself to be a crime of almost limitless cruelty and imagination. While the targets marked in the latest plot are all high-profile, terrorists have a proven capacity for deadly surprise.
There is no doubt the events of Friday will cast a pall over Christmas for many. But [it] is important to remember that this is the time for peace on earth, and goodwill to all.
Attacks, such as the one planned for Melbourne, are designed to create hate and division within our community. We must not give in to that hate. As Premier Daniel Andrews said, what was planned were not acts of faith, but of evil.
Only by working together, Christian and Muslim, believer and non-believer, can we identify those in the community who wish to do us harm.
A Melbourne doctor, who has given scores of sick people a lethal drug, has won a fight against the medical board, with a tribunal ruling his practice is consistent with other forms of palliative care.
In a decision that could set a precedent for other doctors wanting to help patients die, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has ruled Dr Rodney Syme does not pose a risk to the public, even though he gave about 170 people a drug that could end their lives.
In January, the Medical Board of Australia took urgent action against Dr Syme after it was told he was planning to give Nembutal to Bernard Erica, a 71-year-old Brighton [metropolitan Melbourne] man who was dying of tongue and lung cancer.
Mr Erica had sought Dr Syme’s help because he wanted to die at home and have control over his own death.
Upon learning of this, the board ordered Dr Syme not to “engage in the provision of any form of medical care, or any professional conduct in his capacity as a medical practitioner that has the primary purpose of ending a person’s life”.
The order was made on the basis that Dr Syme, an 81-year-old urologist and vice-president of Dying with Dignity, posed a serious risk to people, including Mr Erica.
But Dr Syme challenged this in VCAT last month, arguing that his provision of Nembutal to people with intolerable suffering was not done with the primary intention of ending life, but to relieve suffering.
His lawyers argued that this was consistent with the doctrine of “double effect” in medicine, which permits doctors to administer drugs or other treatments to relieve symptoms even if there is a consequence of hastening death.
Dr Syme told the tribunal he had counselled about 1700 people with terminal illnesses or intolerable suffering over many years, and had provided about 10 per cent of them with Nembutal. He estimated about 40 per cent of them actually took the drug to end their lives, and that all of them benefited from knowing they had the option.
The tribunal overturned the order on Dr Syme’s medical registration, ruling that Dr Syme’s intentions were consistent with the Australian Medical Association’s advice to doctors that all patients have a right to receive relief from pain even where that may shorten their lives.
Dr Syme said he felt “completely vindicated” by the finding.
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A split has emerged in the highest ranks of the Victorian government over voluntary euthanasia, with Premier Daniel Andrews and his deputy at odds about the state’s plans to permit assisted dying.
One week after the government announced it would draft legislation giving terminally ill people the right to an assisted death, Deputy Premier James Merlino has confirmed he does not support changing the law and will vote against the bill when it is introduced into State Parliament next year.
“My view is that the evidence clearly shows that, no matter the safeguards that a Parliament puts in place in terms of legislation, the safeguards don’t work. The outcome can go beyond the intention of the Parliament; that’s what I’m concerned about,” said Mr Merlino, who is aligned to Labor’s Catholic-affiliated SDA faction.
“People absolutely want control over the care that they receive and the care they don’t receive; but that can be delivered through the recent changes we’ve made around advance care directives, and by delivering the very best palliative care that we can.”
Mr Merlino’s view sits in contrast to the Premier as well as many other cabinet colleagues, who are in favour of reform.
However, he is not alone in his opposition, with factional Labor ally Daniel Mulino, Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy, and DLP crossbencher Rachel Carling-Jenkins among the state politicians who have already made it clear they will not back physician-assisted death when the issue is put to a conscience vote in the second half of 2017.
Nonetheless, the prospect of legislative change edged closer to reality last week, with the appointment of a ministerial advisory panel that will help guide the government as it drafts legislation in coming months.
The Sunday Age can reveal the group will be chaired by former Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler, a trained neurosurgeon who is seen as a strong appointment because he understands the broad-ranging views held by doctors.
The panel will also include Margaret O’Connor, professor of nursing at Swinburne University, and Roger Hunt, a palliative care physician.
The appointment of the advisory panel is an important next step in what will inevitably be a challenging debate, particularly for many MPs whose personal experiences shape their views.
Professor Owler said: “There are times when, despite the best efforts of doctors, nurses and other health professionals, people do suffer. I think it’s important that we do get legislation that is both safe but also compassionate, and allows people in particular circumstances to access assisted dying.”
Daniel Andrews’s progressive credentials have come under fire from supporters of Safe Schools founder Roz Ward, who have accused the [Victorian] Premier of caving in to “right-wing bigotry “by cutting ties with the controversial academic.
But while Ms Ward has vowed to fight on, others have welcomed the government’s decision to take over the anti-bullying program, saying it would now be easier for the policy to be strengthened and expanded across schools.
As The Age revealed on Friday [16 December], the government has cancelled its contract with La Trobe University, which has delivered Safe Schools since 2010, allowing it to sever links with Ms Ward, who co-founded the initiative but has since become a lightning rod for many of its critics.
Instead, the Education Department will take control of the program from the start of term one next year, periodically review and improve resources, and ensure it is rolled out to every state secondary school by 2018.
As news of the shake-up reverberated over the weekend — with some in favour, some against, and some saying the program should be scrapped altogether — a defiant Ms Ward took to Facebook asking followers to support a new page, Defend and Support Safe Schools Victoria, if they wanted to fight for “a real and independent program that supports LGBTI people in schools”. By mid-afternoon on Saturday, the page had almost 1500 “likes”.
The National Union of Students also lashed out, accusing Mr Andrews of throwing Safe Schools “under the bus” following relentless attacks from the Murdoch press and conservative MPs in the Turnbull [federal] government. “This government says it’s progressive, that it stands with LGBTI kids, that it stands against bigotry. Yet . . . it caved in to right-wing pressure from The Australian and the far right of the Liberal Party,” said the union’s LGBTI officer Chris di Pasquale.
Others, however, took a different view. Dale Park, co-convener of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said the government’s changes showed an on-going commitment to Safe Schools and LGBTI students.
And Anna Brown, director of advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre said: “This is the right move in the long term and will ensure this life-saving program is expanded into regional and rural Victoria and embedded in schools like every other government education program.”
The Safe Schools revamp is a major shake-up for a once-uncontroversial program devised off the back of La Trobe research, which found that schools were hotbeds for homophobia and bullying against same-sex attracted youth.
The policy received bipartisan support until this year when, in the context of a broader debate on marriage equality, the Australian Christian Lobby, conservative MPs and sections of the media began criticising the program and calling for it to be scrapped.
Much of that criticism centred around the teaching resource All Of Us (which critics claim is too radical in its theories about gender and sexuality) as well as Ms Ward’s Socialist Alternative views and tendency to fall into controversy (she has described the Australian flag as “racist”; discussed Safe Schools at a Marxist conference; and was recently photographed at an anti-Trump rally removing the cap of a Trump supporter).
With two years until the next election, some hope the decision will minimise some of the political heat and give the department a chance to “debunk some of the myths” perpetrated by Safe School critics.
“This is the next stage of its life, if you like,” said Education Minister James Merlino.
Farrah Tomazin is Sunday Age’s state political editor.