The Victorian Secular Lobby will be holding its Annual General Meeting on Saturday, February 14th, 6.00pm at the New International Bookshop, Trades Hall, Corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton
The agenda for the meeting includes:
a) Report of activities of the past year.
b) Membership and Organisational Status
d) Inaugural Secular Justice Warrior Awards
2. Administrative Changes and Election of Office Bearers
b) Election of office bearers (President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, 2 Committee Members). Nominations must be sent to public at victoriansecular.org by Friday, 11.59pm, February 13th.
3. Planning for the Upcoming Year
4. Presentation, Fiona Patten, MLC, on "Religious Exemption to Equal Opportunity Laws"
5. Dinner at No. 1. Steamboat. 7.30pm
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
In the 2014 Victorian State Election the Victorian Secular Lobby received financial and campaigning assistance from the following individuals whom we wish to thank:
Jennifer Bakker, Jaye Christie, and anonymous.
In addition we wish to especially highlight the following additional individuals for their efforts in the campaign.
Jeff Martin, Erica Hoehn, Lev Lafayette, Dean Edwards, Cindy Laird, Rodney Brown, anonymous, Peter Vietch, Paul Poulton, Adam Dean-Robert and Yee Yi, and Richard O'Brien
Further, the following individuals listed above will receive a Secular Justice Warrior award at our 2015 Annual General Meeting for their contributions.
Jeff Martin, Rodney Brown, Cindy Laird, Adam Dean-Robert and Yee Yi, Richard O'Brien, and Lev Lafayette
Lev Lafayette is also eligible for the George Holyoake Trophy for his financial contribution and campaigning.
The virulent Boycott Halal movement in Australia is set to escalate, with a petition to federal parliament in the New Year demanding the Corporations Act 2001 be changed to mean only Muslims bear the cost of halal certification on everyday products.
Halal products are those deemed permissible for Muslims to eat or use under religious law. Many mainstream products in Australian stores are halal certified including food from SPC, Nestle, Kelloggs and Kraft.
Supermarket chains pay for certification for some products, as do dairy factories and meat processors.
Worldwide, the halal industry is worth $US2 trillion and is growing 20 per cent a year. Companies are keen to capitalise on the boom, so halal certification is increasingly common. All products exported to Muslim countries are certified before they go.
Australia has 21 Islamic groups approved by the federal government to issue halal certificates. Of the 21 only four, with one in Melbourne and three in Sydney, get most of the work, including Indonesian contracts.
The new Indonesian government has begun to dismantle an Islamic agency thatis facing corruption allegations, and which approves halal imports from Australia. Halal exports are worth $12 billion with growing competition from China and Brazil.
The Boycott Halal campaign is led by New South Wales farmer Kirralie Smith and supported by extremist groups including the "Islam-critical" Q-Society, Restore Australia, the Australian Defence League and the Patriots' Defence League.
Q Society president Debbie Robinson said the petition and campaign also want clearer labelling on halal products "to ensure consumers can make a conscious decision." Ms Smith said: "Our primary focus is lack of choices.
"I felt deceived as a consumer that products pay halal certification fees and there was no way as a consumer that I knew."
The Australian Food and Grocery Council says halal certification costs are "negligible" and "highly unlikely" to change pricing.
Knives out for halal
From: The Sunday Age, Extra, Page 24, 28/12/2014
Macedon Grammar School has been closed by the state government amid allegations of serious financial mismanagement and impropriety at the troubled private Christian school.
The closure has cost 22 staff their jobs and left the parents of about 60 prep to year-12 students scrambling to find an alternative school for next year.
"The [Education Department] is working closely with local government, Catholic and independent schools to make the enrolment process as simple as possible for families," a department spokesperson said.
The decision to cancel the school's registration has also doomed a rescue plan by a foreign investment syndicate led by Chinese entrepreneur Wang Hua, who hoped to transform Macedon Grammar into an elite boarding school for the children of China's wealthy and powerful.
Fairfax Media can reveal that the demise of Macedon Grammar is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $1 million in grants that were used to build campus facilities now considered virtually worthless.
Another $512,910 is owed to staff in unpaid entitlements, while parents and suppliers have lost nearly $300,000.
Macedon Grammar School was put into external administration in late November after education authorities threatened to cancel its accreditation following concerns about its management and financial viability raised nearly six months ago. The move also came after the school's board, principal, business manager and International Baccalaureate program co-ordinator all tendered their resignations.
But documents obtained by Fairfax show that Macedon Grammar has actually been operating at a loss for at least two years, raising allegations of insolvent trading and other potential violations of corporations law by the school's non-profit board.
"Our preliminary investigations have identified certain offences which we are in the process of reporting to [Consumer Affairs Victoria]," external administrator Worrells wrote.
The school's accounting practices were found to be sloppy to non-existent, and information on buildings constructed using more than $1.11 million in government grants was "not readily available". In the wake of the school's closure, about $988,000 should be refunded to the government but the money is unlikely to be recovered.
The local business left with the biggest debt is Organ's Coaches Kyneton, whose parent company was also left significantly out of pocket by the collapse of Mowbray College in 2012.
The bus company is owed almost $52,000 in unpaid bills after the school missed a payment late in the year. "You always think educational institutions will be around forever," general manager Matt Baird said.
The administrator has also discovered a number of families received discounts on their school fees for unexplained reasons.
One father at the school said he understood some parents had entered into a deal where they would work one day a week at the school as "monitors" in exchange for a week of free schooling for their child.
The decision to close the school has come despite a last-minute rescue bid by the company Mountain Properties, which is backed by a syndicate of overseas investors who donated $250,000 to Macedon Grammar to keep it open for the remainder of the school year.
The group, which includes wealthy Chinese entrepreneur Wang Hua, applied to continue the school's licence to operate and proposed expanding the campus into an international boarding school.
But the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority rejected the plan on Tuesday, cancelling Macedon Grammar's registration effective at midnight on December 31.
Fairfax understands the department was concerned about the viability of the proposed funding arrangements for the school and the sharp drop in enrolments – from 150 to less than 60 students –since it was placed into administration.
Mountain Properties is considering appealing the decision to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and has called on the Education Minister to urgently review the department's decision.
"We're shocked and surprised at the decision to close a school unnecessarily," spokesman Craig Binnie said. "The consortium would have funded anything that school would have required to make it one of the best schools in the country."
Religious groups will ramp up cam-paigns against a Labor proposal that will make it harder for faith-based organisations, including schools, to discriminate against employees because of their faith or sexuality.
The Australian Christian Lobby, Christian Schools Australia, and the Catholic Education Office have hit out at Labor’s move to rewrite the state’s equal opportunity laws, which would require religious or-ganisations to justify how their need to discriminate was relevant to the requirements of a job.
Christian Schools Australia chief executive Stephen O’Doherty said the changes were an “ideological attack on religion” and the organisation would lobby upper house MPs to block the legislation.
“The changes are not warranted, there was no case made for them,” Mr O’Doherty said.
ACL Victorian director Dan Flynn said the group would encourage thousands of its members to write to government MPs.
“One of the concerns of this le-gislation is that it could have the affect that Christian schools could be required to hire people who are fundamentally opposed to the schools’ objectives.”
Equality Minister Martin Foley said the changes were vital, and he knew of librarians and administrative staff in Victorian religious schools who had been discriminated against because of their sexuality. He said faith-based communities, including the Catholic Church, had previously indicated support for Labor’s reforms, which were enacted in 2010 before the Coalition won government and abolished them in 2011.
“In 2014 how are these changes anything other than treating people with decency? How is the gender identity or sexual identity of a gardener a matter which should determine whether that person is employable?”
Catholic Education Office executive director Stephen Elder said current laws struck a fair balance, between the right to equality, freedom of association and religious belief. He threw his support behind a statement released by religious leaders, including Melbourne Cath-olic Archbishop Denis Hart, ahead of the state election which urged Labor to abandon the proposal.
Under Labor’s changes, religious organisations would be allowed to discriminate on the grounds of faith, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status and gender identity if hiring the person would hurt the religion’s sensitivities.
But an “inherent requirements test” would make it harder for schools to discriminate against a gay gardener or an atheist administrative assistant, whose job was removed from teaching religion.
Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Jennifer Huppert said she was committed to the principle of equal opportunities in employment and other areas where it does not affect religious doctrine. She said the proposed laws could lead to some concerns about the role of the courts in determining the “inherent requirements” of a religion.
Taxpayers would subsidise the training of priests and other religious workers at private colleges for the first time, under the Abbott government's proposed higher education reforms.
As well as deregulating university fees and cutting university funding by 20 per cent, the government's proposed higher education package extends federal funding to students at private universities and TAFEs and studying associate degree programs.
Religious teaching, training and vocational institutes would be eligible for a share of $820 million in new Commonwealth funding over three years.
Labor and the Greens attacked the policy, saying it breached the separation of church and state. Earlier this year the government controversially announced it would provide $244 million for a new school chaplaincy scheme and would remove the option for schools to hire secular welfare workers.
In correspondence with voters, Family First senator Bob Day has singled out funding for faith-based training institutes to explain his support for the government's reforms.
Eleven theological colleges are accredited by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency to provide courses preparing students to enter religious ministries.
Institutes such as the Sydney College of Divinity, Brisbane's Christian Heritage College and the Perth Bible College, which currently charge students full fees, would be eligible for an estimated $4214 funding a year for each student under the changes.
The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne, which offers course units including Theology and Practice of Natural Family Planning and Marriage in the Catholic Tradition, would also be eligible for federal support.
The institute says on its website its mission is to "promote marriage and the family for the good of the whole Church and the wider community".
The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne requires all trainee priests to receive theological training at Ridley College or the Trinity College Theological School, both of which would likely be eligible to offer Commonwealth-supported places under the government's changes.
Labor higher education spokesman Kim Carr said: "This raises serious questions about relationship between church and state. The church has traditionally funded the training of its own personnel."
Mr Carr said there was a difference between federal funding for theoretically focused religious studies courses and courses designed to prepare graduates for the priesthood.
Greens higher education spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon said: "[Education Minister Christopher Pyne] has gone one step further than robbing Peter to pay Paul - he is attempting to rob Australia's public and secular university system to pay private, religious colleges.
"Courses that Mr Pyne wants to extend funding to include those teaching prescriptive Christian ideology on sexuality and marriage - is this really the best use of the higher education budget?"
A spokesman for Mr Pyne said courses offered by private colleges would have to be approved by the independent regulator to gain access to federal funding.
"Consistent with current practice, the government will not distinguish between faith-based and secular higher education institutions for registration and funding purposes," the spokesman said.
Family First senator Bob Day said, in a letter to a member of the general public, that it is unfair that public universities receive federal funding but religious colleges and other private providers do not.
"The government's proposals . . . reduce the subsidies given to universities, while for the first time addressing inequity by providing significant subsidies for non-universities (but still less than universities)," he wrote. "Some of these non-universities that will receive funding for the first time - if this bill passes - are faith-based training, teaching, theological and vocational institutions."
The government's reforms were voted down by the Senate this week but will return to Parliament, with some amendments, next year.
Author: Matthew Knott
Publication: The Age
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.
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.
Jack de Groot
A dignified death is quite possible without resort to assisted suicide.
The hijacking of the term "dying with dignity" by today's supporters of euthanasia and assisted suicide is an insult to the dedicated doctors, nurses and pastoral carers who daily provide compassionate care, pain alleviation and spiritual comfort to the sick, the dying and their families.
Debates about euthanasia and assisted suicide are emotionally harrowing. All the more so when they occur during election campaigns. The timing and manner of the current debate exacerbates the fear of dying held by many in the community and diverts attention from the conversation about providing the dying with the innovative medical and healthcare they need, in homes, hospitals and aged-care facilities.
Funding for end-of-life palliative care by governments and private health insurers is inadequate and undervalued. The first step in public policy regarding death and dying is to guarantee that those who need palliative care services can get them. For people who are poor or vulnerable, who are mentally ill or incarcerated, who live in rural and remote communities, it is crucial that they can get the palliative care services to which we are all entitled.
Overseas experience shows that where euthanasia legislation has been enacted, pressure has been applied to the frail aged, disabled and mentally ill to follow the now "normal" path of physician-assisted death. That path has little to do with dignity.
Usually the most terrible stories of suffering are told to advance a change to law that will allow euthanasia and decriminalise assisted suicide. This is understandable, but hardly a credible and rigorous presentation of the realities of care for those who are dying.
Many thoughtful people in our society support the notion that we should be able to die with dignity, yet still oppose the proposed euthanasia legislation because it's bad law. We all accept that people should not have to suffer unnecessarily. The proponents of euthanasia law reform equate a refusal to support the legislation with forcing the dying into interminable suffering. But the risk is that a change to the legislation simply forces the suffering into the additional and equally interminable dilemma of choosing their moment of death. Making it possible for people to end their life legally is not about dying with dignity.
With developments in the provision of palliative care in the home, and innovations in pain management, there is the prospect of an ever-improving quality of life at the end stages. The evidence for it and experience of it is strong. A recent Grattan Institute study showed that most Australians want to die at home. There is a very understandable desire for each one of us to die in the places where we have loved and been loved. It also makes economic sense for those enacting public policy. It will mean less time in hospital, and that is a saving. It may also be a lot less expensive than seeking a new legal process of multiple safeguards for someone to either commit suicide or be euthanised.
For those who die in the care of a hospital there are positive and loving care options available that can be further expanded. St Vincent's and other healthcare providers will continue to provide such dignity-based care.
Dying with dignity is not a new thing that those promoting euthanasia and assisted suicide have discovered. At Caritas Christi and in our provision of high-quality, person-centred palliative care, it has been a daily experience for tens of thousands of families for more than 75 years. We accompany people and their loved ones each day as they go through their own processes of dying over months, weeks and days; as they die and as their loved ones grieve and mourn for their loss. It is more the norm than the exception that we hear and see the most beautiful expressions of love, human affection, reconciliation and alleviation of suffering. It is dignified.
It is on the back of inaction on funding and investment in palliative care and a lack of education of the community about dying and death – as well as some false premises that all death is undignified and that suffering must be avoided at all costs – that euthanasia and assisted suicide are proposed now as "rights".
Dying, death and dignity are worthy topics of our public conversation. But they should not be manipulated. The truly compassionate response to our dying family members is the highest quality, evidence-based palliative care. It needs to be well-funded and researched, valued by governments and insurers, and promoted so as to always be innovative to meet the needs of our community.
Jack de Groot is group mission leader of St Vincent's Health Australia.