Anti-Abortion Campaigning and the Political Process

By Ainsley Symons

In an interview on Melbourne radio station 3AW before the coming federal elections in 1984 the indefatigable anti-abortion campaigner Margaret Tighe referred specifically to two Victorian candidates for the House of Representatives. They were David McKenzie, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) candidate for the electorate of Menzies, and Tony Lamb, the ALP candidate for Streeton. Mrs Tighe said that both candidates were "most unsuitable" (emphasised and in a raised voice) to be members of the federal parliament.

What would cause Mrs Tighe to be so upset at the possibility that these two candidates might be successful in their electorates? The reason for her anger was their action as back-benchers in the lower house during the first term of the Whitlam government in 1973. They presented to the House the Medical Practice Clarification Bill which, if passed, would have legalised abortion in the Australian Capital Territory, but not in any of the states, for any extension of the Bill to include the states would be ultra vires under Section 51 of the Australian Constitution.

The McKenzie-Lamb Bill, as it became popularly known, aroused support from feminists, but angst from a large number of politically active Roman Catholics. At the time a majority of Australians, according to opinion poll surveys, did not support unrestricted access to abortion (Betts 2004: 23). The Bill was defeated in the House, with all members of the Coalition voting against it, and the ALP split. The vote on 10 May 1973 was 98 to 23. Feminists argued that the all-male House discriminated against women, but the vote might not have been much different had there been a number of female parliamentarians at that time, even a significant number. Right to Life (RTL) campaigners lobbied every member of federal parliament, and their campaigning was very effective.

Abortion had previously been decriminalised, subject to strict conditions, in South Australia under legislation passed by the Liberal government of Steele Hall in December 1969. There are significantly less Roman Catholics in South Australia than in any other state, and this made passage of such legislation easier. In recent years evangelical Protestants, such as Uniting Church minister the Rev. Fred Nile in New South Wales and Pastor Danny Nalliah of Catch the Fire Ministries in Victoria, have resulted in large numbers of non-Catholics joining the anti-abortion cause in big numbers, but in the early years of RTL activity in the cause was overwhelmingly Catholic.

In Victoria, as in the United States, it was the courts rather than the legislature that was instrumental in abortion law reform. In the United States the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade (1973) provided that no state could disallow abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy. The Supreme Court ruling of Justice Menhennit in Victoria (1969) likewise allowed abortion in circumstances that had previously been criminalised. In the late 1960s Victorian medical doctor Bertram Wainer led a campaign against corruption involving illegal backyard abortionists that led to an Inquiry by Barry Beach, QC. Wainer's campaigning was an influence, but we will never know to what extent, in the decision of the Victorian Supreme Court. The Menhennit ruling in R. v. Davidson (1969) found that a procedure to terminate a pregnancy was not illegal if the act done was honestly believed on reasonable grounds to be necessary to preserve the woman from a serious danger to her life or her physical or mental health. The Menhennit ruling set a precedent for abortions in Victoria that persisted over many years. In 1972 Wainer's supporters established the Fertility Control Clinic, an abortion facility in East Melbourne, a site of frequent RTL protests from its establishment until the present.

Margaret Tighe has led the anti-abortion movement for much of the period from the 1970s. She has campaigned against parliamentarians of all parties regarded as favourable to abortion. Limited financial resources have meant that the RTL cause has had to limit those parliamentarians it targeted. It has had some notable successes, one being the 1980 defeat of Barry Simon, the pro-choice Liberal member for the federal lower house seat of Latrobe in Gippsland.

The resignation of Premier Steve Bracks in 2007 sowed the seeds for abortion reform by legislation that parliamentarians had previously refused to support, fearing an RTL backlash. Bracks, a Catholic of Lebanese descent, almost certainly would not have allowed abortion legislation into the parliament, but his successor John Brumby did not share this view. Candy Broad, an upper house member for the Northern Victoria region in the Legislative Council, did just this. Her Abortion Law Reform Bill 2008, subsequently passed by the parliament, codified the Menhennit ruling and even went further, allowing termination of pregnancy in late term.

The passage of the Broad Bill, while rejoiced by the feminist lobby and Emily's List, a group of pro-abortion female parliamentarians, caused much resentment among RTL supporters. Pastor Nalliah (Feneley 2009), for example, claimed that the Black Saturday bushfires in February 2009, causing the loss of 173 lives, including high profile television presenter and news reader Brian Naylor, were God's vengeance for the passage of Victoria's pernicious abortion laws. Margaret Tighe and like-minded RTL campaigners targeted nine supporters of the Broad Bill at the 2010 election. In the Right to Life blog (Tighe 2013), she cited an analysis in the Tasmanian Times (Allan 2010) that concluded, "The pro-life movement can claim that without its support the Baillieu government would not have been elected." The 2010 state election in Victoria, which resulted in a narrow victory for the Coalition under Ted Baillieu, may well be the most significant achievement of the RTL movement. That victory did not result in changes to the Broad Act.


Lyle Allan, "Margaret Tighe, The Most Powerful Woman in Victoria," Tasmanian Times, 30 November, 2010. Consulted 13 February 2014.

Katharine Betts, "Attitudes to Abortion in Australia, 1972 to 2003," People and Place, 12: 4, 2004.

Rick Feneley, "Pastor's abortion dream inflames bushfire tragedy," Sydney Morning Herald, 11 February, 2009. Consulted 13 February 2014

Margaret Tighe, "Tighe Calls on Napthine," Right to Life blog, 2013. Consulted 13 February 2014.


Liberal MP Joe Francis called out over Safe Schools claims

Joe Francis voices opposition to Safe Schools

Liberal MP Joe Francis appeared on Perth radio station 6PR earlier this week saying politicians should always tell the truth, but advocates for the Safe Schools anti-bullying program say Francis and other Liberal MP’s are not being honest when they describe the program.

Labor and The Greens have promised to fund the program which provides professional development to teachers so they can ensure LGBTI high school students are not bullied. The Liberal party say they will not fund the program if elected to a third term in government. Previously the program has been federally funded.

Francis, who holds the seat of Jandakot, posted a video to his Facebook page proclaiming the Safe Schools program is the one issue that people need to hear about ahead of Saturday’s state election.

In the video the Minister for Emergency Services, Veterans, Fisheries and Corrective Services said the Safe Schools Coalition program is being delivered to four year old children.

“I’ll never accept that it is okay to teach a child as young as four that they can choose, and change, their gender on a daily basis and that they can lose their virginity twice, once to a boy and once to a girl, and you as a parent cannot opt out of this.”

Advocates fighting the keep the anti-bulling program in schools have described the politicians claims as inaccurate, and simply scare tactics in the final days of the election campaign.

The Save Safe Schools campaign is comprised of local community members who advocate for the program to continue.

“Save Safe Schools WA strongly condemns the spreading of ignorance and innuendo. It has become apparent that political candidates who are attacking the Safe Schools Coalition have done little to no research beyond what they have heard from colleagues.

“SSSWA encourages all people who have questions or issues with the Safe Schools Program to familiarise themselves with the Safe Schools resources, available from online rather than relying on hearsay.

“If politicians cannot take the time to learn for themselves, how can they represent those in their electorate on this issue? There are vulnerable people in their community who deserve better from their local member.” a spokesperson for the group said.
Southern River’s Peter Abetz also claims the program is aimed at children

Francis is not the only Liberal MP voicing opposition to the program. Southern River MLA Peter Abetz, a long standing opponent of the program has also posted a video.

In his video Abetz also says the program is contains information directed a young children. Abetz highlights the book The Gender Fairy by Jo Hirst, describing it as “radical gender ideology'” Abetz said the Safe Schools program encourages four-year-old children to be read the book.

This morning Matthew Knott at The Sydney Morning Herald filed a report after spending a day with Abetz on the campaign trail, noting that the MP was handing out several different flyers outside Gosnells’ primary schools, including flyers arguing against the Safe Schools program.

One of the flyers reportedly contained the message ‘An Important Safety Warning About Our Kids‘. As OUTinPerth reported earlier this week voter’s letterboxes have been inundated with flyers opposing the Safe Schools program.

Abetz said while the topic was a marginal issue in the election campaign he hoped to change that by drawing more attention to the program.

Premier Colin Barnett recently voiced his opposition to the program’s materials, but said he’d never read them.

“Can I say in relation to the Safe Schools program, to my knowledge of it, and I’ve never read the material, but I’ve heard fellow members of parliament describing it.

“To me it encourages experimentation, promiscuity, to very young children, getting right down into primary schools,” Premier Barnett said at a forum organised by the Australian Christian Lobby.

“I don’t think in any way that it what should happen in our schools, and I don’t think you can have situations where boys, or even their parents could think that they’ve got the right to use the girls toilets and things like that. That’s not part of the Australian way.” Barnett said.

Safe Schools organisers say the claims are not accurate

In Western Australia the delivery of the program is managed by the WA AIDS Council. Chief Executive Andrew Burry told OUTinPerth the program is an important resource for teachers.

“The Safe Schools program is simply professional development for teachers and allied staff and is implemented at schools, only through the principal, through consultation with their parent body.”

Despite the claims from both politicians, the program has only ever been rolled out in high schools in Western Australia, and locally it has never been made available to four-year-old children.

Administrators of the program have confirmed to OUTinPerth that the material suggesting people have “two virginities” is not part of the program, and there are no references to people being able to change their gender daily.

It is believed the material Francis refers to about “two virginities” is from the eastern states based organisation, Minus18. Following a review conducted in 2016 by UWA”s Professor Bill Louden, the Safe Schools curriculum does not include any links to this organisation.

Nor is the book The Gender Fairy part of the program’s materials. Author Jo Hirst has previously spoken out about her frustration that conservative groups, including the Australian Christian Lobby, continually link her book to the program.

In July last year, Hirst expressed her outrage that the claim had been made in flyers from the Australian Christian Lobby during the federal election.

“I am extremely angry and upset that a book I wrote for my son and transgender children to feel more normal and comfortable at school is being used in such a nasty way in a political campaign,” Hirst told The Sydney Morning Herald. The Australian Christian Lobby insisted the book is part of the program.

The National Office of the Safe Schools program also rubbished the claims made by the MPs.

“As a capacity building program aimed at educators, the Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA) program delivers free, approved support services and resources to educators to equip them with the knowledge and skills to make their classrooms more inclusive for LGBTI young people.” a Safe Schools spokesperson told OUTinPerth.

“This includes the revised All of Us resource, which will be used where deemed appropriate by educators and is the only approved in-classroom resource. None of SSCA’s approved resources state or suggest that people have two virginities, nor that gender can change daily.”

The spokesperson said on a national level there have been times that the organisation has responded to requests for help from primary schools.

“SSCA continues to support secondary schools as its main focus. We also respond to requests from primary school educators for assistance, such as support, advice and staff training in meeting the needs of their students and school communities.

“Participation in SSCA is voluntary. School leadership are best placed to make decisions about what is appropriate in a school environment, and of course parents should also make decisions about what they want for their children’s education.” the spokesperson said.

Graeme Watson

Joe Francis was approached for comment by OUTinPerth but did not respond before our publication deadline.


Pastor Danny Nalliah's church faces tax bill after charity status revoked

The church headed by controversial Victorian pastor Daniel "Danny" Nalliah has been stripped of its charity status, and could face a retrospective tax bill, after its congregation was asked to make election donations to an anti-Islamic political party he also leads.

Catch The Fire Ministries had its registration revoked by the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission, with acting commissioner David Locke declaring such an action was "reserved for the most serious of cases".

The decision has been backdated to January 2014, which means the church could have to repay three years of Commonwealth charity tax concessions.

In 2014 and 2015 it received more than $500,000 in donations, tithes and offerings.
Danny Nalliah is the leader of the right-wing Rise Up Australia party.

While the commission says it is prevented from disclosing further details of the case "due to secrecy provisions" it is understood the deregistration is related to the church's outspoken support of Rise Up Australia, the political party of which Mr Nalliah is also the leader.

In a post in the lead-up to the 2013 Federal election, Mr Nalliah asked his congregation to donate to Rise Up Australia and oppose multiculturalism, gay marriage, "Islamic Sharia law" and abortion.

"God has given us a great product in Rise Up Australia Party to Keep Australia Australian (a vehicle to see our Government, Society and Nation turn around) with a great brand name and great consumer demand for our product," the post said.

He also asked for "tax deductable" donations for the party before last year's federal election, and called for volunteers to hand out brochures and campaign at polling booths.

Under the Charities Act 2013, charities cannot promote or oppose a political party or candidate for political office.

On Tuesday, Mr Nalliah said he was told that the "main offence" of the church were the political articles posted to its website, many of which highlight crimes allegedly committed by Muslims.
Illustration: Matt Golding

Illustration: Matt Golding

"It's my argument that we have a right to political speech and it's really unfair [for that to be taken away]," Mr Nalliah said.

"That's discrimination."

Catch The Fire Ministries has 60 days to object to the charity commission's decision, which sees it stripped of its charities registration and associated GST concession, income tax exemption and fringe benefits tax rebate.

Mr Nalliah branded the decision an injustice and said he was consulting his lawyers about possible next steps.

Among the services operated by the Catch The Fire Ministries out of its church in Hallam is a pregnancy counselling centre.

The centre was donated an ultrasound machine in 2008. At the time Mr Nalliah said that the equipment would help the church prevent abortions.

"Can we all say 'Thank You Jesus' for the many babies who will be saved now and given the opportunity to live out their God-given destinies!" he wrote on the church's website.

Though this week Mr Nalliah said the centre offered "neutral advice" to women, he once famously said the devastating Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria were God's revenge for the state's "incendiary abortion laws which decimate life in the womb".

The incident is one of a number of times he has made headlines.

In 2004 he was kicked out of the Family First party for "making demeaning comments about a minority group" and in 2014 he described Islam he described Islam as a "terrorist group" and "death cult".

Catch The Fire Ministries says it gives food to 100 families a week, supports two orphanages in Sri Lanka (where Mr Nalliah was born) and holds more than 80 prayer meetings around Australia each week.

The church has six part-time paid staff and casual employers but Mr Nalliah said he and his wife did not draw salaries from the church.

"We are voluntarily serving the community," he said.

According to the charities commission, charities in Australia can advocate for change to a government policy, but should not support (or oppose) a specific political party, or ask their members to direct their vote to a candidate.

About 14,500 religious charities are registered in Australia.


We mustn’t give in to forces of hate

Over the past year we have watched on as a series of devastat­ing acts of terror­ism have rocked the world.

We wit­nessed the horror as a truck delib­erately rammed a crowd in the city of Nice, killing 86 people and injur­ing 434. A further 32 lives were lost amid bombings in Brussels. They followed rampages by gunmen on the streets of Paris, and a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in the United States.

Just last week a man ploughed a truck into a busy Christ­mas market in the heart of Berlin. The majority have been crimes against humanity in the name of Islam, perpetrated by people whose beliefs and actions are rejected and reviled by the vast majority of Muslims.

While distant, all these attacks have fuelled anxiety of a kind not matched since the atrocities of 11 September 2001. That fear and anxiety hit home on Friday [23 December], the last working day before the Christmas weekend, with the arrest of a group of young men within our own com­munity who are accused of planning a string of terrorist attacks on Melbourne.

The alleged targets were Federa­tion Square, Flinders Street Station and St Paul’s Cathedral, three of our city’s most famous landmarks. After a series of raids across Mel­bourne’s north-west suburbs, four men were in custody late yesterday.

The details are frightening. Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton revealed the attack involved “explosive devices”. Police also be­lieve guns and knives were to be used. Nearly all the men were Australian-born and in their 20s. Some had a Lebanese background, while one was Egyptian-born. “These individuals have been per­sons of interest for some period of time,” Mr Ashton said. “They’re people we have been concerned about.”

The Age commends the swift and decisive action from the Kasselholm task force, the Australian Federal Police and the Victoria Police. As a result of their diligence, work and bravery, Melbourne has nar­rowly escaped a terrible crime, of the sort we have witnessed in so many other cities.

But the news of the plot has hit close to home. It was the news that many of us feared. Instead of Islam­ic terrorism on our television screens, this was terror planned for the heart of our city.

As The Age has pointed out repeatedly over the past year, we should be under no illusions. The terrorism threat in this country ahead of Friday’s events was “prob­able”. To date, Australians have en­joyed a life relatively unaffected by the horrors of the kind that have struck Paris, Nice and Berlin.

There are the obvious precau­tions at airports since the attacks of September 2001, and added security at major events and at some buildings. It was only this time last year that Melburnians were learning to deal with a security fence, a so-called “ring of steel”, erected around the MCG for the Boxing Day Test. Par­liament House in Canberra will soon be ringed by a similar security fence.

But it has still been possible to wander into a music concert, summer festival or major sporting events without much fear or intru­sion by security and guards.

But erecting a fence does not stop an attack. Over the decades, terrorism has shown itself to be a crime of almost limitless cruelty and imagination. While the targets marked in the latest plot are all high-profile, terrorists have a proven capacity for deadly sur­prise.

There is no doubt the events of Friday will cast a pall over Christ­mas for many. But [it] is important to remember that this is the time for peace on earth, and goodwill to all.

Attacks, such as the one planned for Melbourne, are designed to create hate and division within our com­munity. We must not give in to that hate. As Premier Daniel Andrews said, what was planned were not acts of faith, but of evil.

Only by working together, Chris­tian and Muslim, believer and non-believer, can we identify those in the community who wish to do us harm.


Who they are: profiles of those arrested

Nino Bucci

Abdullah CHAARANI, 26, Dallas

Charged and faced court on Friday [23 December] afternoon. According to a relative, Mr Chaarani is a painter by trade, who was married last year and is expecting a child

He is a cousin of the Abbas brothers, two of his co-accused. It is believed he and the other co-accused attend­ed the Hume Islamic Youth Centre in Roxburgh Park [metropolitan Melbourne].

Ibrahim ABBAS, 22, Campbellfield

Was expected to face court on Friday night and again on Saturday morn­ing [today]. Is understood to have been on the radar of authorities, including ASIO, for about two years, after his house was raided following postings on so­cial media.

Was studying engineering. His sister posted on Facebook about the raids, saying that two of her brothers and a cousin, Abdullah, had been arrested: “So a few terrorist attacks occur around the world in the past couple of days so obviously afp and asio must do a few raids ‘just for show’ here in oz.”

“Raids. Again.”

Understood not to be a relative of Roger Abbas, a Meadow Heights man who was one of the first Australians killed in the Syrian con­flict, in 2013.

Hamza ABBAS, 21, Flemington

Charged and faced court on Friday afternoon. Like his brother, subject to attention from authorities for about two years.

Agraduate of Darul Ulum College of Victoria, an Islamic independent school in Fawkner known for its Salafist teachings. Then is believed to have attended RMIT University.

Appears to have also worked as a painter, but unclear if he worked with Chaarani.

A fan of jiu jitsu.

Ahmed MOHAMED, 24, Meadow Heights

Charged and faced court on Friday afternoon. Little known about Mr Mohamed, compared with his co-accused.


Doctor who prescribes lethal drugs ‘not a risk to public’

Julia Medew

A Melbourne doctor, who has given scores of sick people a lethal drug, has won a fight against the medical board, with a tribunal ruling his practice is consistent with other forms of palliative care.

In a decision that could set a precedent for other doctors want­ing to help patients die, the Victori­an Civil and Administrative Tribu­nal has ruled Dr Rodney Syme does not pose a risk to the public, even though he gave about 170 people a drug that could end their lives.

In January, the Medical Board of Australia took urgent action against Dr Syme after it was told he was planning to give Nembutal to Bernard Erica, a 71-year-old Brighton [metropolitan Melbourne] man who was dying of tongue and lung cancer.

Mr Erica had sought Dr Syme’s help because he wanted to die at home and have control over his own death.

Upon learning of this, the board ordered Dr Syme not to “engage in the provision of any form of medic­al care, or any professional conduct in his capacity as a medical practi­tioner that has the primary pur­pose of ending a person’s life”.

The order was made on the basis that Dr Syme, an 81-year-old urolo­gist and vice-president of Dying with Dignity, posed a serious risk to people, including Mr Erica.

But Dr Syme challenged this in VCAT last month, arguing that his provision of Nembutal to people with intolerable suffering was not done with the primary intention of ending life, but to relieve suffering.

His lawyers argued that this was consistent with the doctrine of “double effect” in medicine, which permits doctors to administer drugs or other treatments to re­lieve symptoms even if there is a consequence of hastening death.

Dr Syme told the tribunal he had counselled about 1700 people with terminal illnesses or intolerable suffering over many years, and had provided about 10 per cent of them with Nembutal. He estimated about 40 per cent of them actually took the drug to end their lives, and that all of them benefited from knowing they had the option.

The tribunal overturned the order on Dr Syme’s medical registration, ruling that Dr Syme’s intentions were consistent with the Australian Medical Association’s advice to doctors that all patients have a right to receive relief from pain even where that may shorten their lives.

Dr Syme said he felt “completely vindicated” by the finding.

If you are troubled by this report, you can call Lifeline on 131 114 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636.


Andrews “caved” over Safe Schools

Farrah Tomazin

State Politics

Daniel Andrews’s progressive cre­dentials have come under fire from supporters of Safe Schools foun­der Roz Ward, who have accused the [Victorian] Premier of caving in to “right-wing bigotry “by cutting ties with the controversial academic.

But while Ms Ward has vowed to fight on, others have welcomed the government’s decision to take over the anti-bullying program, saying it would now be easier for the policy to be strengthened and ex­panded across schools.

As The Age revealed on Friday [16 December], the government has cancelled its contract with La Trobe University, which has delivered Safe Schools since 2010, allowing it to sever links with Ms Ward, who co-founded the initiative but has since become a lightning rod for many of its critics.

Instead, the Education Department will take control of the pro­gram from the start of term one next year, periodically review and improve resources, and ensure it is rolled out to every state secondary school by 2018.

As news of the shake-up rever­berated over the weekend — with some in favour, some against, and some saying the program should be scrapped altogether — a defiant Ms Ward took to Facebook asking followers to support a new page, Defend and Support Safe Schools Victoria, if they wanted to fight for “a real and independent program that supports LGBTI people in schools”. By mid-afternoon on Sat­urday, the page had almost 1500 “likes”.

The National Union of Students also lashed out, accusing Mr An­drews of throwing Safe Schools “under the bus” following relent­less attacks from the Murdoch press and conservative MPs in the Turnbull [federal] government. “This government says it’s progressive, that it stands with LGBTI kids, that it stands against bigotry. Yet . . . it caved in to right-wing pressure from The Australian and the far right of the Liberal Party,” said the union’s LGBTI officer Chris di Pasquale.

Others, however, took a differ­ent view. Dale Park, co-convener of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said the govern­ment’s changes showed an on-going commitment to Safe Schools and LGBTI students.

And Anna Brown, director of ad­vocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre said: “This is the right move in the long term and will en­sure this life-saving program is ex­panded into regional and rural Vic­toria and embedded in schools like every other government education program.”

The Safe Schools revamp is a major shake-up for a once-uncontroversial program devised off the back of La Trobe research, which found that schools were hotbeds for homophobia and bullying against same-sex attracted youth.

The policy received bipartisan support until this year when, in the context of a broader debate on marriage equality, the Australian Christian Lobby, conservative MPs and sections of the media began criticising the program and calling for it to be scrapped.

Much of that criticism centred around the teaching resource All Of Us (which critics claim is too radical in its theories about gender and sexuality) as well as Ms Ward’s Socialist Alternative views and tendency to fall into contro­versy (she has described the Aus­tralian flag as “racist”; discussed Safe Schools at a Marxist confer­ence; and was recently photo­graphed at an anti-Trump rally re­moving the cap of a Trump sup­porter).

With two years until the next election, some hope the decision will minimise some of the political heat and give the department a chance to “debunk some of the myths” perpetrated by Safe School critics.

“This is the next stage of its life, if you like,” said Education Minis­ter James Merlino.

Farrah Tomazin is Sunday Age’s state political editor.


Labor split emerges over assisted dying

Farrah Tomazin

A split has emerged in the highest ranks of the Victorian government over voluntary euthanasia, with Premier Daniel Andrews and his deputy at odds about the state’s plans to permit assisted dying.

One week after the government announced it would draft legisla­tion giving terminally ill people the right to an assisted death, Deputy Premier James Merlino has con­firmed he does not support chan­ging the law and will vote against the bill when it is introduced into State Parliament next year.

“My view is that the evidence clearly shows that, no matter the safeguards that a Parliament puts in place in terms of legislation, the safeguards don’t work. The outcome can go beyond the intention of the Parliament; that’s what I’m concerned about,” said Mr Merlino, who is aligned to Labor’s Catholic-affiliated SDA faction.

“People absolutely want control over the care that they receive and the care they don’t receive; but that can be delivered through the recent changes we’ve made around advance care directives, and by delivering the very best palliative care that we can.”

Mr Merlino’s view sits in contrast to the Premier as well as many other cabinet colleagues, who are in favour of reform.

However, he is not alone in his opposition, with factional Labor ally Daniel Mulino, Victorian Lib­eral leader Matthew Guy, and DLP crossbencher Rachel Carling-Jenkins among the state politi­cians who have already made it clear they will not back physician-assisted death when the issue is put to a conscience vote in the second half of 2017.

Nonetheless, the prospect of legislative change edged closer to reality last week, with the appoint­ment of a ministerial advisory panel that will help guide the gov­ernment as it drafts legislation in coming months.

The Sunday Age can reveal the group will be chaired by former Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler, a trained neurosurgeon who is seen as a strong appointment because he understands the broad-ranging views held by doctors.

The panel will also include Mar­garet O’Connor, professor of nurs­ing at Swinburne University, and Roger Hunt, a palliative care phys­ician.

The appointment of the advisory panel is an important next step in what will inevitably be a challen­ging debate, particularly for many MPs whose personal experiences shape their views.

Professor Owler said: “There are times when, despite the best efforts of doctors, nurses and other health professionals, people do suffer. I think it’s important that we do get legislation that is both safe but also compassionate, and allows people in particular circum­stances to access assisted dying.”


A tough but necessary call

Farrah Tomazin

The government’s decision to re­vamp Safe Schools and cut ties with its controversial co-founder Roz Ward is a tough but necessary move to preserve the integrity of program that is invaluable for so many young people.

Part of it, of course, is about polit­ics. Fairly or unfairly, Ward has be­come a flashpoint for critics who claim that Safe Schools is less about tackling homophobia and more about promoting Daniel Andrews’s “rainbow agenda”, or radical theories about gender and sexuality.

But part of it is fuelled by genuine concerns, within the government and across the LGBTI community more broadly, that a program that could save lives could be continu­ously undermined by sustained at­tacks from the Australian Christian Lobby, the state opposition, and sec­tions of the Murdoch press.

It’s also worth noting that, seven years after it began in Victoria, Safe Schools remains the only mandat­ory classroom program delivered by an external provider: in this case, Ward’s employer, La Trobe Uni­versity.

To that end, it makes sense to give the Education Department sole re­sponsibility for rolling it out, rather than a small team of academics, particularly if the government is serious about expanding the program to every state secondary school over the next two years.

Will this change what the program looks like in classrooms? Not ini­tially. Under the new structure, teachers will still have access to the same lesson plans for the same-sex attracted or gender diverse stu­dents, and pupils will still have ac­cess to the same kind of support.

But the program will be continu­ously reviewed and improved through the Education Department with the support of an LGBTI refer­ence group co-chaired by Gender and Sexuality Commissioner Rowena Allen, as well as principals, students, parents and anti-bullying experts.

This can only be a good thing, giv­ing the community more ownership over the program’s direction, while ensuring the government is publicly accountable for it.

It’s unfortunate that it had to come this: after all, Ward and her team have effectively lost their jobs a week before Christmas, although it’s fair to say her tendency to court controversy (just as she did again last month when she was photo­graphed at an anti-Trump rally try­ing to remove the cap off a Donald Trump supporter) didn’t exactly help her cause.

But as Education Minister James Merlino put it on Friday [16 December]: “Safe Schools has always been about more than just one person; it’s about stopping the bullying and harass­ment of young people who are same-sex attracted and gender di­verse. We know that it works, and we know that it saves lives.”


Safe Schools set for revamp as state cuts ties with founder

Farrah Tomazin

The Andrews government will overhaul the Safe Schools program and cut ties with its founder Roz Ward amid a public backlash that was set to intensify ahead of the Victorian election.

In a bid to protect the anti-bullying initiative, the Education De­partment will be in charge of deliver­ing Safe Schools from next year, en­suring the government is solely re­sponsible for rolling it out to every state secondary school by 2018.

The move is a significant shift for a program that was co-founded by Ms Ward almost seven years ago and has been delivered through her employer, La Trobe University, ever since.

But in recent months, Safe Schools has come under sustained attack by critics who claim it pro­motes “radical gender theory” or be­lieve Ms Ward’s history as a hard-line Marxist is too extreme.

“I think the campaign against Safe Schools has been quite dis­graceful from people who should know better and do know better, but are using it as a political tool,” said Victoria Education Minister James Merlino, who wrote to La Trobe on Friday [16 December] to inform the university its contract would be terminated six months early.

“But Safe Schools has always been about more than just one per­son; it’s about stopping the bullying and harassment of young people who are same-sex attracted and gender diverse. We know it works, and we know it saves lives.”

The Safe Schools Coalition began as a trial under the Brumby govern­ment in 2010, after teachers asked for a specific set of resources to help them support students who were “coming out” as same-sex attracted or gender diverse. Since then, about 60 per cent of schools in Victoria have signed up, but the government is keen to scale up the program with minimal controversy over the next two years in order to fulfil its elec­tion commitment.

Under the new structure, teach­ers will continue to have access to the same lesson plans to support LGBTI students, but the depart­ment will have the scope to review and enhance the material if required in future. “This is about making it better and stronger,” Mr Merlino said.

Despite receiving bipartisan sup­port, Safe Schools ran into contro­versy earlier this year when Mal­colm Turnbull initiated a review at the behest of conservative forces within his ranks.

Ms Ward, an active member of the Socialist Alternative, has also repeatedly come under the spotlight over her politics and private antics.

In June, for instance, the university educator almost lost her job at La Trobe after describing the Aus­tralian flag as racist on Facebook. And last month, she made headlines once again by being photographed trying to remove the cap from a Don­ald Trump supporter during an anti-Trump rally in Melbourne, while holding copies of the Marxist news­paper, Red Flag.

But on Friday, after hearing the news during an end-of-year lunch with her team, she said she was “shattered” by the government’s de­cision, insisting that bringing the program “in house” would do little to end the attacks by critics such as the Australian Christian Lobby or the Murdoch press.

“I don’t think backing down helps, it’s like giving a drop of blood to a bunch of sharks,” she said. “Four people are losing their full-time jobs. They have been told they are getting sacked a week before Christmas. We’ve spent the last six years build­ing relationships with schools in Vic­toria. We’ve worked with 280 schools with families that rely on and value the trust we had with them, and we don’t think that can be replicated.”

Equality Minister Martin Foley said making the Education Depart­ment responsible for Safe Schools would strengthen the program in the long term, ensuring more same sex-attracted and gender diverse students could get access to support,

An LGBTI reference group, co-chaired by Gender and Sexuality Commissioner Rowena Allen and education parliamentary secretary Judith Grayley, will also be expanded to include principals, students, par­ents and anti-bullying experts. The reference group would, in turn, sup­port the Education Department to deliver the program.


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