About The Victorian Secular Lobby

what secularism means
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:

POB 15
Carlton South
Victoria, 3053
public AT victoriansecular DOT org

The Victorian Secular Lobby is incorporated in the State of Victoria, Number A00594400A

Let's not over-complicate euthanasia debate

Paul Komesaroff and Stephen Charles

Does the voluntary euthanasia debate merely involve ethics and religion? Maybe a simple, practical, legal solution can be found, write Paul Komesaroff and Stephen Charles.

The long-running debate about whether voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide should be permitted by law continues to create division in the Australian community and arouse passionate views on both sides.

In the latest rounds of the debate, a Senate Committee has called for a conscience vote when the matter next gets to Parliament, the Australian Medical Board has suspended the medical registration of euthanasia activist Dr Philip Nitzsche, and The Age has initiated a campaign of its own to influence public opinion. Sadly, despite the sound and fury, little progress is made: on the one side, the proponents of active voluntary euthanasia pursue the demand for enactment of "right to die" legislation, while on the other, their opponents continue to call for preservation of traditional values and practices.

The often strident and acrimonious tone of the debate obscures the facts that there is much agreement between the two sides and that there is a genuine problem in the current law that needs to be addressed. Recognition of this common ground might allow the social deadlock to be broken and for genuine progress to be made in the continuing controversy.

The agreement – which is demonstrated by all polls conducted on this subject – is that people suffering from terminal illnesses are entitled to adequate treatment of their symptoms and should be able to make key decisions about when and how they die. The problem with the law is that doctors who follow current best practice, by providing whatever care is needed to alleviate pain and suffering, cannot be confident that they will be protected from criminal prosecution for murder, manslaughter or aiding and abetting suicide arising from their active involvement in the death of their patient.

Of course, important areas of disagreement remain. Many members of the community find it hard to abide the prospect of institutionalised processes to promote killing in any setting, based either on their memories of the tragic history of the 20th century or on religious or philosophical convictions about the nature of death and ethical responsibility.

While the experiences from overseas jurisdictions – the US and Europe – are undoubtedly reassuring, it has to be accepted that these concerns are by no means frivolous. The possibility that the option of euthanasia might be seen by some as a device for addressing critical shortages in health budgets cannot be dismissed. Many doctors remain understandably nervous about the implications for their profession of what they see as a radical reversal of some of its most enduring precepts. The cases of people with chronic but not terminal illnesses remain difficult, and those of people without physical illness at all more difficult still.

We believe that a shift in the debate from the high-level – and inherently insoluble – abstractions about a "right to die" and the "sanctity of life" to a focus on practical issues that need urgent attention might allow the social deadlock to be broken and progress to be made at last in bringing about meaningful reform. To achieve this only modest changes in the existing law are needed.

We propose that legislation be enacted to amend the relevant Commonwealth and State Crimes Acts to provide a defence to a charge of homicide or manslaughter if a doctor has prescribed or administered a drug that hastened or caused the death of a patient with a terminal disease if the doctor: (a) reasonably believed that it was necessary to prescribe or administer the drug to relieve the pain or suffering undergone by the patient; or (b) prescribed or administered the drug with the intention of relieving such pain or suffering.

A simple legislative change to this effect would ensure that people facing serious illness could be confident that their needs will always be able to be met, and that doctors following accepted best practice in providing for the needs of their patients will be able to do so free from the threat of a criminal conviction. The responsibility of doctors to be able to account for their actions will not be diminished and protection for elderly and vulnerable members of the community will remain intact. The locus of end-of-life decision-making will be returned to where it should be: in the dialogues between patients, families and their medical carers.

This minimalist solution should be widely acceptable to the community, including to those who remain disquieted by attempts to purify death of its untidiness, uncertainty and risk. The difficult cases in which patients with severe chronic illnesses but without terminal illnesses request assistance with dying will remain unsolved, but the public debate will be able to move ahead to address the complex issues associated with them.

It is time to move on from never-ending, unproductive, circular discussions about end-of-life decision-making to a more practical approach that will solve pressing social problems and refresh the public debates.

Professor Paul Komesaroff is Director of the Centre for Ethics in Medicine and Society and author of Riding a Crocodile: A Physician's Tale, and Stephen Charles QC is a barrister and former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal.

From: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/lets-not-overcomplicate-euthanasia-deba...

Minister Mary Wooldridge's pro-choice stance on abortion leads to low ranking by conservative micro-parties

Conservative micro-parties have put senior government minister Mary Wooldridge near the bottom of their preference flows in the upper house because of her pro-choice stance on abortion.

Ms Wooldridge is the only Liberal MP to express a view on abortion in a survey ahead of the state election.

Despite being number one on the Liberal Party's list for the Eastern Metropolitan region, a handful of anti-abortion parties including Rise Up Australia, the Democratic Labour Party and Australian Christians have put Ms Wooldridge well below other Liberal candidates.

The three hard-right parties signed an agreement in August to help each other in the upper house, vowing to support candidates with shared values, including being opposed to abortion.

Australian Christians' eastern metropolitan candidate Vickie Janson, who is also the party's state director, said the parties discussed ways of influencing a "more pro-life vote".

"I don't personally know the woman [Ms Wooldridge] but I can't support her views," Ms Janson said.

"She doesn't support more humane laws and our laws are quite barbaric, most people don't realise that we have full term abortions."

The Democratic Labour Party, who have vowed to introduce a bill to wind back the state's abortion laws if they win a seat, put Ms Wooldridge number 30th on their list of preference flows, compared to ninth for Liberal MP Richard Dalla-Riva.

Family First also put Richard Dalla-Riva, who voted against decriminalising abortion, ahead of Ms Wooldridge.

However, Ms Wooldridge and Liberal MP Bruce Atkinson are set to be elected in the region on first preferences without needing any preference flows from micro-parties.

Fair Agenda, an organisation that focuses on fairness and equality for women, is asking lower house candidates to state their views on abortion in a survey ahead of the state election.

"It's disappointing that candidates aren't being upfront about where they stand," the group's executive director Renee Carr said.

"We know 85 per cent of voters support the legal right to choose, and that this issue would affect the voting intention of 48 per cent of voters. These people deserve to be able to make an informed vote."

She said Ms Wooldridge was the only Liberal MP to respond to the online survey, with the MP stating that she supported the current abortion laws.

Abortion flared as an election issue on Monday when Nationals candidate for Buninyong, Sonia Smith, threatened to not preference the Liberal candidate, Ben Taylor, for the seat because of his views on abortion.

Mr Taylor told an Australian Christian Lobby candidates event that he was opposed to abortions after 20 weeks and Victoria's laws had "gone a little bit too far".

"It's pretty horrific what can happen and when you start talking about nearly to birth where you're looking at abortion and termination, it's pretty frightening."

Premier Denis Napthine said he hadn't spoken to Mr Taylor about his views on abortion and wasn't planning to before the election.

Mr Taylor did not take questions from reporters in Ballarat on Tuesday, evading television cameras and journalists as he drove off in his campaign car.

However Ms Smith's threats to not preference Mr Taylor over his views appear to have come too late for pre-poll.

Volunteers handed out Nationals how-to-vote cards in Ballarat on Tuesday which listed the Liberals second.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/victoria-state-election-2014/minister-...

Victorians to get a greater say in dying with dignity under Labor reforms

Farrah Tomazin

Labor wants to clarify individuals' rights to make their wishes known in terms of future medical care.

Victorians will be able to tell their doctors not to give them life-prolonging treatment for future illnesses under a Labor plan to provide people with a greater say in how they die.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews told The Sunday Age that if Labor was elected this month he would introduce new laws giving people clearer rights to set directives about the kind of medical care they would want in the event of future conditions such as cancer, brain damage or dementia.

It just means people can be really clear about their medical conditions and the sort of care that they don't want administered, well in advance.
Daniel Andrews

At present, people can make orders for the treatment they want for an existing medical condition, but the guidelines around future illnesses lack clarity.

"We will legislate to change that," Mr Andrews said. "It just means people can be really clear about their medical conditions and the sort of care that they don't want administered well in advance."

Mr Andrews' comments came as federal MPs from both sides of politics declared their support for voluntary euthanasia on Tuesday, following a Senate report that paves the way for a free vote on national right-to-die laws.

State Labor's policy would build on the work of the Austin Hospital's "Respecting Patient Choices" program, and would involve changes to the Medical Treatment Act.

However, the position does not extend to euthanasia – an issue that would most likely be subject to a conscience vote should it ever be raised again in the Victorian Parliament. A Greens' private members bill for voluntary euthanasia was defeated in 2008 when the Brumby government was in power.

In other developments on Labor's campaign trail, Mr Andrews:

Headed to the south-east suburb of Mentone on Saturday to announce a $100million package for sports clubs to upgrade their facilities.
Rejected calls from the Greens to form a power-sharing alliance should the minor party hold the balance-of-power in the lower house after the election, saying "no deal will be offered and no deal will be done."
Refused to say when he would provide Victorians with costings of Labor's election promises, other than to repeat that the details would be released "well before Victorians vote."

With the campaign hitting the half-way mark, early voting for the November 29 election begins tomorrow. Polls suggest Labor is still ahead, but Mr Andrews was forced to defend reports suggesting his staffers were leaking against him. According to News Corp, whistleblowers in Mr Andrews' office had raised concerns about the excessive influence on policy by lobbyist Andres Puig, a former Labor official and now a partner in the firm The Civic Group.

Premier Denis Napthine said Mr Andrews had "questions to answer" about the influence lobbyists had on policy development, and the management of his office.

Mr Andrews said the report was "just nonsense", inaccurate and "part of the colour and movement of a campaign". Mr Puig did not return calls by deadline on Saturday.


Victorian Secular Lobby and the 2014 State Election


$1000 / $3000. 9 contributors. 33% done after 19 days; 2 days to go


8500/10000. 10 distributors. 85% done after 5 days; 1 days to go

(These graphics will be updated daily)

Election 2014

The Victorian Secular Lobby is running a public information campaign during the 2014 State Election. Do you support the separation of Church and State? Then please donate to our campaign! You can either use Paypal (above) or contact us for other methods at public@victoriansecular.org.

We wish to highlight those issues that have come up the current and previous legislature that indicate the dedication of candidates in this coming election to ensure the principle of freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

This includes treating religious organisations the same as non-religious organisations and leaving self-regarding issues to the decision of the individual conscience.

Crowdfunding Targets and Recognition

George Holyoake

We're a small organisation and as a result we have modest targets as follows.

$500. Production of 5000 DL campaign pamphlets.
$1000. Production of 5000 DL campaign pamphlets.
$3000. Extended social media campaign.

The level that you can donate will receive the following recognition. Distributors will receive an equivalent recognition of 250 leaflets for $25.

$1. A thank you email from the Victorian Secular Lobby.
$10. As above, plus recognition on our Victorian Election 2014 page (anonymous if desired).
$50 As above, but highlighted on the website.
$100. As above, Secular Justice Warrior! Framed certificate from the VSL for your contribution.
$500. As above, plus a “George Holyoake” trophy

We are also looking for volunteers to assist in the campaign; please email public@victoriansecular.org.

Issues of Concern

Special Religious Instruction. Special religious instruction is defined as: "instruction provided by churches and other religious groups and based on distinctive religious tenets and beliefs". Access Ministries conduct 96% of classes. Is not taught by teachers (instructors can receive as little as one day's training), and does not teach general religious education, i.e., it is instruction, not education. It also is publically funded.

Equal Opportunity Act. The Act of 2010 provided a more limited level of special religious exceptions exemptions from equal opportunity, limiting it positions that were directly related to the conduct of the religious activity. Now religious bodies and religious schools can discriminate on the basis of a person's religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, martial status, parental status or gender identity
where the discrimination conforms to the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion.

Abortion Reform Act. Following the Abortion Law Reform Act of 2008, the performance of an abortion by a qualified person was removed from the Crimes Act. Medical practitioners and nurses who have a conscientious objection to abortion must inform the patient with information about a medical practitioner who does not have any such objection. Medical practitioners and nurses have a duty to perform or assist in performing an emergency abortion if the pregnant woman's life is in danger. Some politicians have indicated that they wish to overturn these reproductive rights.

Racial and Religious Tolerance Act of 2001. This seeks to promote racial and religious tolerance in a multicultural democracy by prohibiting
the vilification of persons on the basis of their 'race' or their religious belief and activity. However the intentions do not match the content. The legislation prohibits "conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, that other person or class of persons", regardless of their veracity. It would be better to extend defamation clauses to allow class actions against untrue statements, whilst removing the clauses that prohibit regardless of veracity.

Party Positions

Greens: Opposes public funding of special religious instruction, Supports Equal Opportunity Act and inherent requirements exemptions. Oppose veracity limits in Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Oppose conscientious objection to referrals and duty of care.

Labor: Introduced and supported special religious instruction, but policy committee is opposed, and State Conference supports public education system that is "free, compulsory and secular". Supports Equal Opportunity Act inherent requirements exemptions, but subjected issue to a conscience vote. Supports and introduced veracity limits in Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Supports conscience vote on objection to referrals and duty of care.

Liberals: Supports special religious instruction, Opposes Equal Opportunity Act inherent requirements exemptions. Supports introduced veracity limits in Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Supports conscience vote on objection to referrals and duty of care.

Nationals: Supports special religious instruction, Opposes Equal Opportunity Act inherent requirements exemptions. Supports introduced veracity limits in Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Supports conscience vote on objection to referrals and duty of care.

"Conscience" Votes

Conscience votes often can be assessed by the degree that a politician is prepared to impose their conscience (and religious beliefs) over the rest of society. It rarely is based on a post­metaphysical moral norm, or an evidence­-based ethical position. The last parliament had four major conscience votes issues reach the Legislative Council (Abortion Law Reform, Assisted Reproductive Treatment, IVF Eggs and Research, Equal Opportunity Act).

The consistently worst MPs, who voted against all four (or five for MLC), initiatives and who are standing in the upcoming election are:

MLAs: Gary Blackwood (Lib), Neale Burgess (Lib), Robert Clark (Lib), Peter Crisp (Nat), Martin Dixon (Lib), Christine Fyffe (Lib), David Hodgett (Lib), Terence Mulder (Lib), Russell Northe (Nat), Michael O'Brien (Lib), and Peter Ryan (Nat).
MLCs: Richard Dalla­Riva (Lib), Damian Drum (Nat), Bernie Finn (Lib), Inga Peulich (Lib)

We have a collection of MP voting records on conscience issues from the 2006-2010 parliament, which covers the Abortion Law Reform Bill, 11 Sept 2008, ART-IVF & Surrogacy: Assisted Reproductive Treatment Bill, Oct 9 2008,
IVF Eggs and research: Infertility Treatment Amendment Bill, 18 April 2007, Equal Opportunity Bill, 2010 and, in the Legislative Council, Euthanasia: Medical Treatment (Physician Assisted Dying) Bill, 10 Sept 2008.

Special mention goes to Geoff Shaw, Ind., for arguing consistently holding anti­secular positions and would certainly vote against all reforms above if given the opportunity. He has argued in favour of religious­ based discrimination, and has described the abortion law reform as among the worst in world, and gave rise to the mocking meme on "tummy eggs".

In his maiden speech to the Victorian parliament, he acknowledged "the original owner of the land on which we stand—God, the Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Bible."

Other Surveys

The Progressive Atheists ran a survey of all candidates over ten questions. Some key points; (a) the Liberals and National Party candidates did not respond (b) The ALP responses were split in favour and opposed to Special Religious Instruction, School Chaplains, Church Property Trusts, but strongly in favour of abortion rights legislation, voluntary euthanasia, and removal of religious exemptions from the anti-discrimination legislation.

The Rationalist Society also conducted a survey of candidates on the questions of abolition of Special Religious Instruction, to allow non-religious School Chaplains, the redirection of funding currently provided to Access Ministries, and the introduction of professional ethics and values classes. The results overwhelmingly indicated support for the abolition of such classes, the allowance for secular chaplains, redirection of funds provided to Access Ministries, and the provision of professional ethics and values classes.

Interestingly, the parties most against general religious education conducted by professional teachers were the Australian Christians and the Rise Up Australia Party.

Election Material

All Election Campaign Material on this website is authorised by Lev Lafayette on behalf of the Victorian Secular Lobby Inc., 169 Wiltshire Drive, Kew, Victoria, 3101

Secular Call To Maintain the ACNC

MEDIA RELEASE April 4, 2014

Secular Call To Maintain the ACNC

The Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., has called upon the Federal government to abandon plans to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission, the body established as a one-stop shop helps charities meet their obligations, and investigate them when they do not.

The Lobby, formed by religious and non-religious secularists, considers that a charities watchdog a necessity to ensure better regulation of Australia's $43 billion charity sector. This view is supported by numerous inquiries, including the Productivity Commission, and by charities themselves, such the St Vincent de Paul Society, Anglicare and Save the Children.

"The ACNC was considered a helpful and efficient body in preference to a complex and opaque regulation regime shared by the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, and the states", according to Lobby chairperson, Mr. Lev Lafayette.

When Pro Bono Australia surveyed some 1500 charity stakeholders in 2013, around eighty percent supported the ACNC. Its establishment followed five major inquiries in the preceding decade that supported the establishment of such a commission.

"However, a number of politicians have confirmed that the national Catholic Bishops Conference and the Sydney archdiocese lobbied both sides of politics hard for its abolition. One can only wonder why such groups wish to prevent less reputable activities carried out under the name of 'charity' and to prevent genuine charities from obtaining information that can lead to generous tax concessions."

"If the Federal government carries out its intention to abolish the ACNC, it is clear that existing charities will be subject to less oversight, and that new and emerging charities will face significant hurdles in establishing themselves. This decision will result in less transparency, less accountability, and greater impediments. It will result in an increase in administrative costs, rather than a reduction."

Another leading opponent of the ACNC were private companies that administer charitable trusts from deceased estates through the Financial Services Council (FSC). Scrutiny of administration of those charitable trusts had began to reveal the excessive fees charged by for-profit financial services companies.

The Victorian Secular Lobby is also opposed to the ability of groups to hold charitable status by "advancing religion" but providing no other charitable function.

"Secularism means that good governance is entirely neutral on religious matter, and neither aids nor hinders the free exercise of religion. The term 'religion' simply shouldn't appear in the statute books", Mr. Lafayette said.

For further information contact Nick Langdon, Secretary of the Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., public@victoriansecular.org

Religion in schools

Special religious instruction (SRI) in state schools has been in the news. The Age reported (17 February) that some principals had objected to volunteer instructors, mostly from Access Ministries (AM), coming into their schools. The poor education, quality of material used by AM and the
disruption to classes were cited as factors. The same paper also told of several parents who had wanted their children excluded from SRI, only to
discover later that “clerical error” had placed them in such classes.

Then came a report (Sunday Age, 23 February) that parents with children at Torquay College [Victoria] had objected to material handed out by Access Ministries which presented sexual stereotyping and anti-gay views.

Permitting volunteers to enter schools to give instruction in religion, mostly Christianity, has been allowed via a section of the Victorian Education Act. Since the 1970s HSV has had a policy of wanting this section of the Act removed and provision made for “comparative world views” to be taught within the school curriculum by trained teachers. Although the Russell Inquiry into religion in schools made this recommendation in 1974, the practice of permitting outsiders to give weekly classes in religion has continued in Victoria.

Frustrated with the lack of action on this matter, some years ago an HSV member, Harry Gardner, proposed a secular ethics course particularly for the children of parents who have chosen to exclude them from SRI. Harry had years of experience visiting schools to entertain and inform students with simple science experiments, through use of puppets and story-telling. Building on this earlier work Harry put together a week-by-week course on
practical ethics, intended as an alternative to SRI.

Although this course was not approved for school use it did cause several parents, who had opted their children out of SRI classes, to take a case to VCAT claiming discrimination. While this case was not upheld it led to the Education Department changing the way parents chose SRI from “opt
out’ to “opt in”. Since this change to “opt in” there has been a decline in children taking SRI by almost a third.

Not surprisingly, with numbers falling, Access Ministries has sought clarification, on what it claims are its right to teach its program in schools. Currently AM is the largest provider of SRI (81% of students) and the only religious grouping given government funding for this purpose. Several minority religions, e.g. Baha’i and Buddhism, teach SRI without government funding.

Following media coverage and agitation from Access Ministries, the [Victorian] Education Minister, Martin Dixon, plans to issue a directive aimed at clarifying any confusion. This directive, says the Minister, will be based on the relevant section of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006.

Parents Victoria had petitioned the government to remove religious instruction from schools hours without success. Their executive officer said
Parents Victoria “believe the teaching of a particular religion should be a family responsibility, not that of the school”.

Meanwhile the president of the Victorian Principal Association has said that with half a grade taking SRI and half not, there “can be a difficult logistical challenge”, as schools were not permitted to teach the regular curriculum while some students took part in religious instruction.

A further spin-off from the public discussion on this topic led the Wheeler Centre, in partnership with the St James Ethics Centre, to co-sponsor a debate, “Faith-based religious education has no place in public schools”. This was held in the Melbourne Town Hall on Wednesday 26 February. The “for” side was led by Marion Maddox, author of God under Howard and Taking God to Schools, “against” was led by journalist Nick Cater.

Although the two sides differed on the value of faith-based SRI, both sides supported a professionally taught course in comparative religion,
showing considerable common ground by all speakers.

In summary, with increasing number of parents opting their children out of SRI, Parents Victoria requesting the removal of SRI from school hours, many principal wanting to exclude SRI, and a growing agitation for professionally taught “comparative religion/ beliefs” within the curriculum, the Minister’s directive will be awaited with great interest.

Rosslyn Ives

Editorial from the Victorian Humanist (Melbourne), 53 (2), March 2014.

Eroding of reproductive rights in Victoria

This year, the United Nations International Women’s Day theme is “Equality for women is progress for all”. On the Australian Human Rights Commission web site the theme is shown as “inspiring change”.

Inspiring Change . . . encourages advocacy for women’s advancement everywhere in every way. It calls for challenging the status quo for women’
s equality and vigilance inspiring positive change.

It is therefore timely to be reminded that all is not well with women’s reproductive rights in Victoria.

The UN Special Rapporteur for Health released a report in 2011 looking into the direct effect between the right to health and criminal laws relating to sexual and reproductive health. The report concludes that all UN member states should decriminalise abortion. It stated that criminal and legal restrictions violate the right to health and curb effective and proportionate outcomes.

Victoria legalised abortion in 2008; since then the anti-abortion movement has increasingly been trying to have aspects of abortion recriminalised.

Going by the current strained situation in the Victorian Parliament, it seems that it may be poised to curtail women’s reproductive rights. This is despite over 80 per cent of people in Victoria supporting the current laws. In the past few years religious conservative politicians have been voicing
their discontent over Section 8 of the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 (ALRA), which refers to obligations of a registered health practitioner who has
conscientious objection.

Independent MP Geoff Shaw stated in February this year:

The laws in Victoria are some of the worst in the world. There is gender-selection abortion; it allows partial birth abortion, so I’m not in favour of that. I’m also against that doctors don’t have a conscience in this state to be able to advise the way they want to advise.

He finished off with “I’m a Christian first, and an MP is just what I do [for a living], so of course many decisions I make are based on my

Premier Denis Napthine, a Catholic who voted against the decrimalisation of abortion, has come out saying he respects the decision of the parliament on the abortion law, and has said, “I have no plans of changing abortion law to a new state.” However, it has been reported that
Napthine will consider Shaw’s attempts to overhaul the ALRA on merit. He would allow a conscience vote on the issue.

Bernie Finn, Labor MP [sic: should be Liberal MP], was reported in the Border Mail (August 2011) as saying, “Abortion kills babies and hurts their mothers;” and, “We should accept that unborn children are people and they have the same rights as the rest of us.” He was also reported as having said that “abortion equalled murder”. Mr Finn is the brain behind “March for the Babies”, an annual pro-life march and protest group.

Federal Victorian DLP* Senator, John Madigan, a Catholic, said early in 2013, “I would like to point out that there is no such thing as a safe abortion, someone always dies.” In his 2011 maiden speech he described the Victorian abortion laws as “the worst abortion laws in the Western world”. [He added:] “They would be the worst in the entire world but we can be proud of the fact that in this matter Victoria is not quite as bad as the current occupiers of Tiananmen Square.”

In 2013, he introduced a private members bill that would prohibit the Medicare rebate being paid on abortions based on the gender of the foetus.

Such statements as these make it absolutely clear that much of the criticism of abortion by religious politicians stems from misinformation and
is biased by their religious world-views. Perhaps, for their benefit, an eleventh commandment should be added: “Thou shall not play god with women’s lives.”

Whilst the Australian Medical Association supports Section 8 of the Act, its Victorian branch supports the move to remove it. As reported in The Age [in] November 2013 a spokesperson has said:

We disagreed with the conscientious objection clause for a number of reasons, including people’s rights not to be involved in activities which
offend their conscience, but also because of the impracticality of the clauses which have been included.

The advancement of a conservative and religious agenda across the political spectrum is plain for all to see, from [. . .] the annual March for the Babies, supported by groups like Right to Life, Australian Christian Lobby and politicians, to a now retired Christian Labor MP, Christine Campbell, tabling a petition in parliament last year, calling for changes to do away with Section 8.

The right for women to decide for themselves is based on the human right to make personal decisions about one’s life. Government and society
have to ensure that these decisions are supported if we want equality in our society.

If we are to achieve and maintain International Women’s Day’s theme, we need to protect women and women’s rights: only then we will achieve an
equitable society - and progress for all.

From the Victorian Humanist (Melbourne), 53 (2), March 2014.

Charities watchdog faces chop

Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews is poised to try and abolish the national charities watchdog, despite overwhelming support within the charity sector to keep the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission.

Fairfax Media can confirm that a bill to abolish the commission will be introduced to federal parliament on Wednesday [19 March] as part of the government’s “repeal day” package. It is understood there are plans to then defund the organisation in the coming months.

Before the 2013 election, the Abbott government pledged to get rid of the body and move its regulatory functions back into the Australian Taxation Office to “reduce red tape”. Fairfax Media has previously reported Cardinal George Pell’s office has also lobbied the government to get rid of the charities regulator.

Among other duties, the commission registers charities, helps them meet their obligations, investigates complaints and maintains a public charities register.

Many within the “third sector” are adamantly against the commission’s axing, arguing it will result in less transparency of not-for-profits, which contribute about $43 billion to Australia’s GDP and employ about 900,000 people.

While there have been some criticisms that the commission has not been quick enough to reduce red tape and has been too heavy-handed with regulation, a 2013 survey by Pro Bono Australia found that of 1500 stakeholders surveyed, about 80 per cent supported the commission.

Community Council for Australia chief executive David Crosbie, whose members include World Vision, RSPCA, Lifeline and Hillsong Church, said
putting the ATO in charge of charities was like “putting the fox in charge of the hen house”.

Others experts on the sector say the Coalition’s decision to axe the commission, just a year after it began, has more to do with ideology than reducing red tape.

The Productivity Commission and the Henry Tax Review have also recommended a national charities commission.

A spokeswoman for Mr Andrews said there were “ongoing” meetings between the government, the commission and “major” stakeholders.

From: The Age, March 15, 2014

Church using Ellis defence despite call from Pell

The Catholic Church continues to rely on the legal argument that it is incapable of being sued in negotiations with alleged child abuse victims, a day after Cardinal George Pell acknowledged they should be able to sue the church, a lawyer says.

Melbourne lawyer Dr Vivian Waller said she had acted on behalf of victims in two pre-arranged settlement discussions with lawyers for two Catholic orders on Tuesday [11 March].

She said the lawyers indicated, in relation to three separate victims’ abuse claims, that they may still rely on a New South Wales Court of Appeal decision, which is often called the Ellis defence. The court held in 2007 that the church’s property trust, its only legal entity, could not be held
liable for the actions of priests.

“They’ve said they are not making a deci-sion to abandon the Ellis defence,” Dr Waller said.

She put to them Cardinal Pell’s statement at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse on Monday. The statement, read by senior counsel Gail Furness, said that in Cardinal Pell’s view, “the church in Australia should be able to be sued in cases of this kind”. This marked a dramatic departure from Cardinal Pell’s previous approach to victims who pursued legal action against the church.

“[The church’s lawyers said] on the con-trary, the defence remains available to us,” said Dr Waller, who has represented hundreds of victims
alleging abuse against religious clergy.

“It would be helpful if the church overall would agree on a particular approach but, unfortunately, it’s the same old story that the victims face a very fragmented church. Cardinal Pell is not the head of all of the orders in Australia, and the church . . . continues to hamper sexual assault victims. What’s needed is a unified approach.”

The Victorian inquiry into the handling of child abuse last year recommended that any organisation receiving government funding or tax exemptions be incorporated and insured, which would dismantle the Ellis defence.

A Coalition spokesman said the government was still considering the recommendations.

“As the Premier indicated last year, prior-ity is being given to the immediate protection of children through the strengthening of the criminal
law,” the spokesman said.

Victims’ lawyers have said negotiations with the Catholic Church had often been frustrated by the Ellis defence as it afforded the church greater
bargaining power when discussing possible settle-ments.

Andrew Morrison, SC, who represented abuse victim and lawyer John Ellis in the Court of Appeal case, said the Catholic Church ultimately
needed to give effect to Cardinal Pell’s “concession” to victims.

“The church doesn’t have to take these defences - of course, it’s up to them. The church obviously has been giving instructions to its lawyers
to fight every case as hard as it can and strike them out by fair means or foul. That’s the problem,” Mr Morrison said.

He said the church had not indicated whether victims would be able to sue retrospectively or “whether they’ll take responsibility for their priests. If they don’t, it’s a useless concession. I’d be very concerned if they don’t go further because that offers . . . in my view false hope to victims.”

Father Brian Lucas said on be-half of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference that it was impossible to incorporate the Catholic Church, which
represented 25 per cent of the population, as a single entity.

He said the church had “no position” at this stage on whether it should be vicariously liable for criminal behaviour but said that the High
Court had held in a previous decision that it was not.

“The question of vicarious liability for criminal conduct is an issue that the royal commission will need to consider. And the circumstances in which that law should be changed require very careful consideration . . .because of the ramifications across all organisations in society.”

From The Age, March 12, 2014

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