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

2015 Victorian Parliament Submission on End of Life Choices

Submission of the Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., to the Legal and Social Issues Committee of the Victorian Parliament Concerning End of Life Choices

1. Status of the Submission

On 7 May 2015 the Legislative Council agreed to the following motion:

"That pursuant to Sessional Order 6 this House requires the Legal and Social Issues Committee to inquire into, consider and report, no later than 31 May 2016, on the need for laws in Victoria to allow citizens to make informed decisions regarding their own
end of life choices and, in particular, the Committee should

(1) assess the practices currently being utilised within the medical community to assist a person to exercise their preferences for the way they want to manage their end of life, including the role of palliative care;
(2) review the current framework of legislation, proposed legislation and other relevant reports and materials in other Australian states and territories and overseas jurisdictions; and
(3) consider what type of legislative change may be required, including an examination of any federal laws that may impact such legislation.

This submission is a contribution by the Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc. The Victorian Secular Lobby is incorporated in the State of Victoria, Number A00594400A

2. Definitions Used In This Submission

In this submission the following definitions are used:

Euthanasia is defined in this submission as action or inaction that directly and deliberately causes the patient's death. As the Legislative Council motion concerns itself with end of life choices, the submission is orientated towards issues surrounding voluntary euthanasia, defined as situations where the death of a person occurs with their competent and informed consent. This is distinguished from non-voluntary euthanasia (e.g., the person is comatose, some instances of the Groningen Protocol of the Netherlands) and involuntary euthanasia (e.g., killing contrary to the subject's wishes).

A person who makes competent and informed consent understands their condition at an end of life situation and is able to make a rational decision on the choices available to them.

Passive and active euthanasia ar distinguished, the former representing in inaction by another party with results in a death (e.g., withholding life-sustaining medicine), whereas the latter consisting of actions that result in death. This difference is primarily a matter of actor intention, as pragmatically the outcome is the same. A subset of active voluntary euthanasia are actions by another party which the means are provided so a person may commit suicide.

Dignity is defined as a situation where a person has control and independence over their life and body.

Palliative care is medical or other care given to a terminally ill person which is aimed in reducing suffering.

3. Legal Standing and Practise of Voluntary Euthanasia

Under the Victorian Crimes Act (1958), a party engaging active voluntary euthanasia could be prosecuted for murder or manslaughter (s3., s5., s6B, s22), although it is quite evident that this is very rarely enforced. A recent investigation was carried out in March 2015 following the death of a member of the group Exit International. [1]

The Victorian Medical Treatment Act (1988) establishes the right and procedure of patients to refuse medical treatment, allowing for passive voluntary euthanasia. In addition, under English common law, a doctor may administer pain killers to a terminally ill patient to relieve suffering, knowing that this may shorted a patient's life, provided that the primary reason is this relief, rather than to cause death [2].

In 1996, the world's first euthanasia legislation, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (1996), was passed in the Northern Territory of Australia. The legislation was overturned by the Commonwealth by the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, which lead to the establishment of Exit International. The Commonwealth government subsequently further hindered voluntary active euthanasia with the passage of the Criminal Code Amendment (Suicide Related Materials Offences) in 2004.

Internationally, some form of voluntary euthanasia is legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, and the U.S. states of Oregan and Washington.

In the Netherlands, euthanasia is carried out under the "Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act" (2002). These legislative considers the patient's request, the patient's suffering (unbearable and hopeless), the information provided to the patient, the absence of reasonable alternatives, consultation of another physician and the applied method of ending life and reporting to a review committee.

In Canada, a decision of the Supreme Court on February 6, 2015 limits physician-assisted suicides to "a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of life and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition, including an illness, disease or disability, that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition."

4. Public and Political Opinion

Numerous public opinion surveys [3] in Victoria have indicated overwhelming support for voluntary euthanasia with as little as 14% disagreeing form a voluntary survey of over 60,000.

An opinion poll conducted by Newspoll in 2009 showed that 84% of surveyed Victorians supported voluntary euthanasia.

An opinion poll conduced in Newspoll in 2012 indicated that 86% of surveyed Victorians supported voluntary euthanasia with 11% opposed.

An opinion poll conducted by Fairfax Ipsos in 2014 indicated that 76 per cent supported a change to laws that ban assisted suicide and euthanasia.

A particular public which must be referenced is, of course, those who are seeking active voluntary euthanasia. This policy issues affects such people more deeply than any other correspondents. Overwhelmingly the plea is for the opportunity to make an end-of-life choice in a many that is dignified and of their own volition.

Political parties represented in the Victorian parliament (the Australian Greens, the Australian Sex Party) have policy positions supporting voluntary euthanasia.

5. Non-Secular Arguments

Non-secular arguments for or against euthanasia are those which derive their justification not on evidence on the most effective relief of suffering, or on a sense of autonomy of an individual, or on beneficial or negative social norms, but rather an appeal to articles of faith inspired by metaphysical presumptions.

In 2011 the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported [4] that 61% of the Australian population were of the Christian faith, the major denominations being Catholic (25.3%), Anglican (17.1%) and Uniting (5.0%). Non-christians made up 7.2% of the population (Buddhism 2.5%, Islam 2.2%), and 'No Religion' was specified by 22.3%.

Dealing with the the smaller, non-Christian religions first, the panca sila of Buddhist specifies not to kill any living being; however the Vakkali Sutta and Channa Sutta both give examples where terminally ill monks, already well progressed on the path to enlightenment, engage in suicide as a suitable course to reduce suffering and carried out with mindfulness. With regards to Islam, there are doctrinal suggestions against active euthanasia (Qur'an 4:29, 17:33), however the Islamic Code of Medical Ethics and the to the Islamic Medical Association of America (IMANA) both make statements in favour of passive euthanasia, but only where there is no chance of patient recovery (Shabih H. Zaidi, Ethics in Medicine, 2014).

The Catholic Church regards active voluntary euthanasia as morally wrong as God has jurisdiction over life. The encyclical Evangelium Vitae (Pop John Paul II, 1995) argues: :in harmony with the Magisterium of my Predecessors and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person". Nevertheless, passive voluntary euthanasia is acceptable, drawing a distinction between using ordinary means to preserve life as distinct from extraordinary means (Gerald Ford, S.J., in John Dedek, Human Life: Some Moral Issues, 1972, pp.125-26).

The position of the Anglican Church is similar. As determined by General Synod Resolution 46/95, and Lambeth Resolution 1.14 (1998) life is considered as a gift from God that has intrinsic sanctity, and therefore not subject to human choices but distinguishes between active euthanasia and "withholding, withdrawing, declining or terminating excessive medical treatment and intervention". The General Synod Resolution specifically recommended that state parliaments vote against legislation to legalise euthanasia.

In some contrast, the Uniting Church argues that "there is no one ethical stance but rather a range of views that come from each person’s understanding and experience of their faith" and argues that there may be exceptional situations where pain and distress affects quality of life to the extent that active euthanasia would be justified [5].

It is the opinion of this submission that all non-secular Arguments should be rejected by the committee. It is not the role of the Victorian government to determine what religious doctrine of faith its residents should adhere to in any circumstances. Whilst the above claims may provide a basis for particular actions and views for individuals within a faith, it is not universally shared.

A sensitivity to religious pluralism within our society does not mean that legislation should be enacted that is captured by it, even in the sense of being a compromise between competing articles of faith. Rather, secular laws must apply independently to such articles and be based on shared norms informed by factual evidence alone.

6. Universal Norms and Evidence-Based Research

It is important to realise that the Victorian Secular Lobby or its members do not necessarily reject any of the claims from various religious groups. However, we do recognise that these are articles of faith, rather than statements of evidence. Life may be very well be a gift of a divine creator with intrinsic value; it may also be that this life is a period of unnecessary and cruel suffering (e.g., dukkha in Buddhism) instituted by a malicious supernatural being (dystheism).

If the intrinsic value of life is not something that is subject to accurate human evaluation in itself, then governments should not legislate on it. Instead the universal reality in which governments can legislate in this context would involve (a) the existence of individual reasoning minds and bodies and (b) the existence of varying degrees of pleasure and pain experienced by those bodies. If these principles are accepted - and it is difficult to deny the independence of human biological entities - then political rights should be accorded that respects individuals.

This argument of individual rights to life choices is, of course, tempered in each case by social obligations that the individual may have; a decision to die by euthanasia will affect other people (e.g., friends, family, health care professionals). However it is not the role of government to determine whether an individual has engaged in sufficient consideration of such people when making a decision concerning their own end of life choices.

A genuine secular concern exists that if active voluntary euthanasia is decriminalised, then an opportunity exists for involuntary euthanasia through subtle pressure by medical professionals. However the existence of a logical argument for this "slippery slope" differs from the empirical evidence that the argument implies. For example, non-voluntary euthanasia levels have remained stable (at less than 1% of total deaths) in the Netherlands following decriminalisation of voluntary euthanasia (http://euthanasia.ws/hemeroteca/pendientelewis.pdf).

A related argument is the criteria is the question of mental competence to express a desire to die (e.g., whether it is enduring or a temporary despairing suicidal urge). Whilst this can be avoiding in most cases by a repeated expression over a period time to determine this enduring wish, a contrary position could argue a person in consistent pain or dependence is unable to make a rational choice. This unfairly places a person making end-of-life choices in a situation where the very conditions that would cause a desire for voluntary euthanasia lead to its prohibition.

A further argument against active voluntary euthanasia is the suggestion that good palliative and hospice care can be applied instead of voluntary euthanasia options. In part this is a false dichotomy, because the two issues are not contradictory; both good palliative and hospice care can be offered in addition to active voluntary euthanasia. Further palliative care, often based on a level of trial and error, does not necessarily enable an easeful death or even is certain to reduce suffering or a sense of dependence. Indeed, in a number of cases there is no effective palliative care (e.g., motor neuron disease, asbestosis).

7. Recommendations

The Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., has two main related positions which it advocates as part of its own objectives. It is outside of our organisation's objectives and policies to make further recommendations, and as such much of this submission is designed to be informative rather then prescriptive. Nevertheless there are two important considerations of which the association wishes to raise as a priority.

Firstly, is that the Legal and Social Issues Committee of the Victorian Parliament must explicitly reject any attempt by religious organisations to apply non-secular arguments into deliberations of these medical and normative issues. This is not to imply any exclusion from public debate by religious organisations but rather to ensure that participation in moral and political debate uses language and arguments that are at least in principle accessible to all in order to make an independent and universally applicable rational choice.

Secondly, that the evaluation of practises, review of the current framework of legislation, and proposed legislation, are based on strict ontological definitions, empirical evidence, and based on the universal norms. Based on the evidence that has been reviewed, there is a very strong case for recognising bodily autonomy as part of end-of-life choices, especially when medical professionals are able to evaluate the individual's state of mind and probability of enduring circumstances. Available evidence suggests that legislative amendments which provide for active voluntary euthanasia does not result in a "slippery slope" leading to non-voluntary or involuntary euthanasia by medical professionals.


[1] http://www.theage.com.au/national/health/exit-international-members-deat...
[2] http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliam...
[3] Victorian election 2014: Electorate overwhelmingly back voluntary euthanasia, Vote Compass reveals, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-23/victorians-back-voluntary-euthanas... ; (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/per-cent-support-volunt... ; http://www.australianageingagenda.com.au/2012/12/06/wide-support-for-eut... ; http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/victoria-state-election-2014/fairfax-i...
[4] http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/2071.0Main%20Feat...
[5] A Call for Compassion in the Euthanasia Debate, http://unitingchurchwa.org.au/blog/2010/09/a-call-for-compassion-in-the-...

The Victorian Secular Lobby and Politics

What is secularism anyway?

We need to define this in order to address our concern appropriately, and to fine the points of difference between secularism and many groups which are often associated with it.

Is is not necessarily rationalism, as expressed by the Rationalist Society of Australia "Rationalists hold that all significant beliefs and actions should be based on reason and evidence, that the natural world is the only world there is, and that answers to the key questions of human existence are to be found only in that natural world."

It is not necessarily skepticism, as expressed by the Australian Skeptics. "... a loose confederation of groups across Australia that investigate paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims from a responsible scientific viewpoint."

It is not necessarily humanism, as defined by the IHEU, which the Australian Humanists subscribe to: "a democratic and ethical life stance that affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. Humanism stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethics based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. Humanism is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality."

It is not necessarily atheism, as expressed by the Atheist Foundation of Australia : "The Atheist Foundation of Australia recognises scientific method as the only rational means toward understanding reality. To question and critically examine all ideas, testing them in the light of experiment, leads to the discovery of facts. As there is no scientific evidence for supernatural phenomena, atheists reject belief in 'God', gods and other supernatural beings. The universe, the world in which we live, and the evolution of life, are entirely natural occurrences."

Instead, 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." The secular world is the world that we all exist in. Everyone is secular.

Secularism - distinct from secular - is a political principle that government institutions and persons are separate from religious institutions and religious persons. Secular governance is one which is "aggressively neutral" on all matters of metaphysical speculation. Secularism both protects and limits religious organisations as being equal to any other voluntary association deserving of neither fear nor favour. People can be deeply committed to their issues of faith and personal beliefs, but also deeply opposed to those very same beliefs being established as universal and enforceable law. I can speak of conservative Christians, for example, who are utterly sincere as an item of faith that they do not wish people to undertake voluntary euthanasia, but would not dream of seeing that prohibition introduced as public law.

What Is the Victorian Secular Lobby?

The Victorian Secular Lobby is an incorporated association in the state of Victoria. We started as an unincorporated association in 2010, and in 2011 decided to become an incorporated association. We are a lobby group, not a political party (secularism is a "broad tent", which includes a variety of perspectives on political economy, for example). We mainly organise meetings with politicians and political parties to discuss various items of policy, organise activities in cooperation with like-minded groups, engage in campaigns during elections, and provide a compiled resource of related news items. Our membership, and committee, represents a secular viewpoint with varying metaphysical perspectives being represented; atheist, christian, pantheist etc.

Our policy positions as decided from the 2014 Annual General Meeting (and updated at 2015) are found at the following URL (http://victoriansecular.org/policies). In the 2014 state election campaign, we identified the following as priority issues and consistent with our policies: (a) Special Religious Instruction, (b) Equal Opportunity Act Amendments, (c) Abortion Reform Act of 2008. and (d) Racial and Religious Tolerance Act of 2001. Specifically, we oppose the teaching of SRI and are in favour instead of a general religious education as part of an education curriculum and taught by qualified teachers. We oppose the changes to the Equal Opportunity Act which allow religious organisations the right to engage in prejudiced discrimination in matters of non-religious employment. Further, we opposed any attempt to medical professionals not to refer individuals seeking a reproductive procedure contrary to their faith. Finally, we think the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act is well-intended, but poorly implemented, as it concentrated on matters of 'offensiveness' rather than veracity and allowing for group defamation proceedings.

Our capacity is limited by a modest membership and finances. We certainly lack the resources and lobbying power of groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby, the Catholic Education Office, or the National Civic Council (to cite three powerful organisations with demonstrably anti-secular policies). Nevertheless we do "punch above our weight" with well-established and improving political contacts. We also have an advantage that the policies we hold are typically supported by the majority of Australians, and with good reason as well. We are also limited to being a Victorian association; most of our energy is directed to Victorian-specific issues, however we are members of the Secular Coalition of Australia.

The Importance of Political Involvement

It may be asked why secularism is a political priority; surely other issues such as political economy should have priority? The reason is that secularism is necessary for modernity; it is impossible to conduct open investigation and reflexive development in the sciences, arts, or laws, with a religious censor in the process. This is not to suggest that modernity does not have its own form of political censorship; it most certainly does, whether inspired a state atheism or majoritarian democracy. Secularism represents a necessary but not sufficient condition of civil rights and liberties.

Another issue that must be realised is that religious authorities did not give up their positions of power willingly. It was very much an result of the disaster of the European religious wars, the rise of liberalism, and the revolutions. Whilst many religious believers may be secularists today, there is still a very active group of fundamentalists who would delight in the opportunity to move towards a more theocratic society. This also gives recognition to a very important element of secularism; that the division in law is one of a continuum and a continually contested field.

In addition, it has been understood that secularism is a necessity for an increasingly multicultural society, borne of an near-inevitable globalisation due to technological drivers. A society that is increasingly a mixture of different cultures and creedal backgrounds must find a solution to this multiplicity and pluralism. For some, the answer is a domination of the majority over the minority. This form of authoritarianism, despite a high level of popularism, is hopelessly inadequate for international economic integration and development. An suggested alternative has been the institution of parallel legal systems, what some have called incorrectly "post-secularism", when it is really a society of multiple theocracies, a flawed experiment as the family law codes of Israel and Lebanon should make clear.

In the coming year, the Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., will be concentrating on the issues of Special Religious Instruction and Equal Opportunity Amendments, along with voluntary euthanasia, as these have been identified as the major secular issues that will be confronting the Victorian parliament in the coming year. We will also be working hard to build the Australian-wide secular coalition to deal more effectively with Federal issues. Finally, we wish to encourage others to join us. Politicians by their nature are timid creatures, most easily swayed by threats of well-financed and well-organised conservative lobby groups. Whilst the majority of people support secular principles in our political system, as numerous opinion polls testify, our politicians are well out-of-step of what the public thinks.

Only through an organised secular lobby can we create a situation, as it always has been, where the people lead and the politicians follow.

Presentation by Lev Lafayette for the Victorian Secular Lobby to the University of Melbourne Secular Society, April 28, 2015

Secular Justice Warriors 2014

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.

Victorian Secular Lobby 2015 Annual General Meeting

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:

1. Reports
a) Report of activities of the past year.
b) Membership and Organisational Status
c) Financials
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

Boycott Halal movement gaining momentum

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 shut down by government

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."

From: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/macedon-grammar-school-shut-down-by-go...

Employment Discrimination row : Law changes called attack on religion

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.

From: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/victoria-state-election-2014/religious...

Taxpayer funding to train priests

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
Date: 05/12/2014
Words: 594
Source: AGE
Publication: The Age
Section: News
Page: 1

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...

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