Principals told to offer religious studies if instructor is available

State school principals must offer special religious instruction when accredited instructors indicate they are available, the latest ministerial directive says.

The state government has clarified principals' responsibilities in special religious instruction, with an Education Department memo saying the sessions are "clearly opt-in" for parents.

The directive said principals must offer parents the "opportunity" for children to be given religious instruction if the principal received notification that an accredited instructor was available.

Under the directive, principals must also request a copy of the instructor's formal accreditation.

Teachers must supervise the religious instruction of students. But students who opt out must be supervised by another teacher.

The directive said once principals offered religious instruction, they could withdraw it if there were "insufficient resources", including teachers or classrooms.

Fairness in Religions in School campaign member Scott Hedges said this requirement meant principals could cancel religious instruction for a lack of resources.

"It gives schools a clear pathway to terminate this program," he said.

Victorian Principals Association president Gabrielle Leigh welcomed the "clarity" about principals' obligations.

But Australian Principals Federation president Chris Cotching said the directive placed an unreasonable burden on principals to check the material instructors used in the sessions.

Principals would have to ensure students who opted out were not taught from areas within the regular curriculum, but they would have to be "engaged in educationally valuable activities".

Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Meredith Peace said state schools were secular and should remain so. "We're opposed to these programs being run within school time," she said.

Ms Peace said there was room within the existing curriculum for education about religions, but it should be taught by qualified teachers.

She said many primary schools would struggle to provide a teacher to supervise the religious instruction and another for those whose parents had opted out.

The main provider of Christian instruction in Victoria, Access Ministries, said the parents of 90,000 children already choose the "educationally sound program".

The directive also said instructors must not provide any rewards of a "tangible nature" or inducements to convert students.

The religious instruction sessions must be no longer than 30 minutes a week.

The Age, Date: 16/05/2014
http://newsstore.fairfax.com.au/apps/viewDocument.ac;jsessionid=53AFE328...

Chaplaincy funds “should be used” for disabled students

The almost $250 million put aside for the controversial school chaplaincy program in this week’s federal budget is “completely misdirected” and should instead be used to address the needs of students with disabilities, according to the Australian Education Union.

The program, which funds school chaplains providing spiritual guidance, and is currently facing a High Court challenge, will be continued for another five years at a cost of $245.3 million. Under the program, 3700 schools are eligible for up to $72,000 funding to employ chaplains.

Since it was started the program has drawn critics such as the education union, which believes it undermines the secular tradition of state schools. “We have never supported this program because this is money that should be directed to meet the educational needs of students,” president Angelo Gavrielatos said.

“We have a situation where there are 100,000 students with disabilities not receiving the disability funding they need. There is more being spent on school chaplains than there is in dealing with the needs of students with disabilities . . . surely that is a higher priority.”

In 2012 Ron Williams, a Queensland father of six, won a High Court case challenging the legitimacy of the chaplaincy program, forcing the government to push through new legislation to ensure that the program and hundreds of other arrangements could continue to be funded. Mr Williams has returned to the High Court to challenge this law.

Peter Garrigan, president of the Australian Council of State School Organisations, which represents the parent bodies of public schools, said the funding was money badly spent. “There is a strong need across the board to be supporting students with disabilities . . . and putting another $245 million into a chaplaincy program certainly isn’t providing the educational outcomes that we as parents would be expecting.”

The Australian Psychological Society described the decision as “appalling”. “There are no reasonable standards of quality of training for people who take on essentially counselling roles in the school situation,” spokesman and psychologist David Stokes said.

But the National School Chaplaincy Association welcomed the decision, saying it demonstrated a government understanding of the value of the program.

“Thousands of Australians have been waiting on this decision because they experience the benefits of the program within their school community and are eager to see it continue,” a statement said.

Ringwood Secondary College principal Michael Phillips also welcomed the continued funding. He said the program had strong local support and their own school chaplain, Adam Bryant, was a good role model for students.

Mr Bryant said chaplains “offer a safe place” for students to talk about their problems. “We are of course trained to refer to specialist help where required, but often getting help begins with us,” he said.

From: http://newsstore.fairfax.com.au/apps/viewDocument.ac;jsessionid=F0B36CD4...

Principals told to offer religious studies if instructor is available

State school principals must offer special religious instruction when accredited instructors indicate they are available, the latest ministerial directive says.

The [Victorian] state government has clarified principals’ responsibilities in special religious instruction, with an Education Department memo saying the sessions are “clearly opt-in” for parents.

The directive said principals must offer parents the “opportunity” for children to be given religious instruction if the principal received notification that an accredited instructor was available.

Under the directive, principles must also request a copy of the instructor’s formal accreditation.

Teachers must supervise the religious instruction of students. But students who opt out must be supervised by another teacher.

The directive said once principals offered religious instruction, they could withdraw it if there were “insufficient resources”, including teachers or classrooms.

Fairness in Religions in School campaign member Scott Hedges said this requirement meant principals could cancel religious instruction for a lack of resources.

“It gives schools a clear pathway to terminate this program,” he said.

Victorian Principals Association president Gabrielle Leigh welcomed the “clarity” about principal's’ obligations.

But Australian Principals Federation president Chris Cotching said the directive placed an unreasonable burden on principals to check the material instructors used in the sessions.

Principals would have to ensure students who opted out were not taught from areas within the regular curriculum, but they would have to be “engaged in educationally valuable activities”.

Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Meredith Peace said state schools were secular and should remain so. “We’re opposed to these programs being run within school time,” she said.

Ms Peace said there was room within the existing curriculum for education about religions, but it should be taught by qualified teachers.

She said many primary schools would struggle to provide a teacher to supervise the religious instruction and another for those whose parents had
opted out.

The main provider of Christian instruction in Victoria, Access Ministries, said the parents of 90,000 children already choose the “educationally sound program”.

The directive also said instructors must not provide any rewards of a “tangible nature” or inducements to convert students.

The religious instruction sessions must be no longer than 30 minutes a week.

From: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/future-of-religious-instruction-in-sch...

Community groups join on hate laws

An overwhelming majority of ethnic and community groups oppose the Abbott government’s proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.

As pressure builds on Attorney-General George Brandis to justify his crusade to throw out the so-called “Bolt law” by watering down protections against racial vilification, an analysis of public submissions to the review of his draft bill reveals at least 60 groups have lined up against the changes.

They include the Law Council of Australia, the Arab Council of Australia, the Chinese Australian Forum, the ACTU, the Lebanese Muslim Association and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

A number of groups representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders oppose it and on Wednesday [14 May] the head of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, Warren Mundine, warned that the debate over race hate laws could derail the push for constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians.

Just four submissions made public so far support the idea of repealing sections 18C and D of the act. One of those is the Adelaide Institute, established by Holocaust denier Fredrick Toben, another by himself personally, a third by Salt Shakers, a small Christian group, and lastly the Institute of Public Affairs, with some reservations.

Fairfax Media revealed Mr Toben has strongly backed the Abbott government’s plans in a personal submission that welcomed the proposal as a challenge to “Jewish supremacism” in Australia. He described the current act as a “flawed law, which only benefits Jewish-Zionist-Israeli interests” and effectively a “Holocaust protection law”.

Senator Brandis this week told Parliament that he had received “some thousands” of submissions but declined to answer a question from the opposition on whether a single major community group had backed changes.

“I am in the process at the moment of going through those many submissions . . . [they] reflect a variety of views across the Australian community on what is an important and difficult issue,” he said.

Following the end of consultation, a bill will be drafted and put to cabinet within weeks.

Labor senator Lisa Singh said Senator Brandis must explain why he is keeping submissions secret. “We have to assume he is refusing to make them public because the only people supporting him are right-wing extremists such as Fredrick Toben and the Adelaide Institute,” she said.

Mr Mundine said the debate could derail constitutional recognition of Aborigines.

From: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/community-groups-r...

Vote for Shaw, urges pro-life campaign group

Anti-abortion advocates will campaign for Geoff Shaw in the marginal seat of Frankston in the lead-up to the state election.

Right to Life Australia senior executive officer Katrina Haller said the pro-life group would throw its support behind the balance-of-power MP, who became an online sensation last week, inspiring the term "tummy eggs".

She said the group would actively campaign against pro-choice Liberal candidate Sean Armistead and Labor candidate Helen Constas.

They plan to door-knock Frankston residents and hand out how to vote cards in the marginal electorate, which is held by Mr Shaw by a slender 0.6 per cent margin following the redrawing of electoral boundaries.

"We congratulate Geoff Shaw, he is one of the only politicians who has the guts to do something about abortion. He wants to ban partial abortions, gender-selection abortions and allow doctors to have a freedom of conscience."

It comes as non-partisan, youth-based women's rights group Vocal Majority said on Monday it would run a grassroots campaign to unseat Mr Shaw.

The group's co-founder Courtney Sloane, who is a member of the Labor Party, said the controversial MP was holding women's health to ransom. "We really don't want to see a situation where he chips away at tiny bits of legislation and our pro-choice legislation is completely eroded."

She said the group would door-knock residents in the Frankston electorate and launch a social media campaign against the maverick MP, who has vowed to overhaul the state's abortion legislation.

Last week, Mr Shaw revealed he would introduce a private member's bill that would outlaw gender selection and partial birth abortion, and force doctors to resuscitate babies who survive abortion attempts.

The Age revealed last week that Mr Shaw would travel to the US on a taxpayer-supported study tour to investigate abortion laws.

A spokesman for Mr Shaw made no comment.

The Age, 13/05/2014
http://newsstore.fairfax.com.au/apps/viewDocument.ac;jsessionid=9D854657...

Former speaker Ken Smith pushes for euthanasia reform

Former Victorian speaker Ken Smith has called for a renewed debate on euthanasia - free from "religious fanaticism" within State Parliament - so terminally ill patients would have the right to seek assistance to die.

Six years after state MPs voted down proposed "dying with dignity" laws, Mr Smith, a Liberal veteran who co-sponsored the original bill with the Greens, is again pushing for legislative reform.

"I'd like to see the whole issue referred off to the Law Reform Commission, which could come up with an independent opinion on it, not driven by religious fanaticism," he said. "Parliament could then take up the commission’s recommendations."

Mr Smith's comments come after voluntary euthanasia campaigner Dr Rodney Syme admitted giving a dying man the lethal drug Nembutal two weeks before the man killed himself with it at his Point Lonsdale home.

Dr Syme told Fairfax Media last month he had decided to "out’" himself and be charged over the death because a court case could set a useful legal precedent for doctors who are too scared to help terminally ill people end their life. Police are believed to be investigating the matter but have yet to charge him.

Mr Smith described Dr Syme’s actions as a "courageous", and also said his own views on euthanasia were shaped by the deaths of his sister and brother, both of whom died of cancer and had suffered intolerably.

"My sister had cancer right through her body. She was in palliative care, and they took care of her magnificently, but she was in really terrible pain," he said. "My brother was the same - he died of lung cancer and really suffered. There should be legislation in place to allow people who want to die with dignity to be able to do so. It’s not as if legislation would make it compulsory; it would just give people the right."

In Victoria, inciting, aiding or abetting a suicide carries a maximum penalty of five years’ jail. But the issue was a matter of heated debate at Spring Street in 2008, when Greens MP Colleen Hartland introduced the Medical Assistance (Physician Assisted Dying) Bill into the upper house, where it was eventually voted down 25 to 13 in a conscience vote.

"A bunch of religious zealots knocked it out with some of the lies that they told and the scaremongering," said Mr Smith, who declined to identify individual MPs.

He said he felt free to revisit the issue now that he was no longer the speaker, having quit the job and returned to the middle bench earlier this year after a tumultuous term in the chair.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/former-speaker-ken-smith-pushes-for-eu...

Shaw’s abortion study trip to the US

Balance-of-power MP Geoff Shaw will travel to the US on a taxpayer-supported study tour to investigate abortion laws before his push to overhaul Victorian legislation.

The independent Frankston MP will spend two weeks on a study trip - funded by himself and taxpayers - examining abortion laws in Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, New York and California.

It comes as Mr Shaw revealed on Thursday that his private member's bill, which he plans to introduce before the November election, would outlaw gender selection and late-term abortions, and require doctors to resuscitate babies who survive abortion attempts.

Mr Shaw said he wanted to learn how overseas states approached abortion in preparation for his private member's bill. He stressed he would foot the bill for meals, accommodation and internal flights. The Victorian government will subsidise the international flights.

"As an independent I've got to be looking at legislation," Mr Shaw told The Age. "Every state is different. Some are pro-life. In Ohio, for example, they suggest life starts when a doctor hears a heart beat. Others suggest life begins at conception."

The maverick MP - who has raised concerns about the cost of a rail link to the airport - said he would also investigate light rail options when he is in the US.

Mr Shaw said Premier Denis Napthine had "closed down debate" on the issue after releasing a YouTube video in December, which said he and his government had no intention of introducing legislation that would "reduce a woman's right to choose". The Liberal-turned-independent said gender-selection abortion was anti-women because most babies aborted were female.

"If you want more women in politics and in the high positions of power you need to look at gender-selection abortion because the ones that are getting killed are the females. I am the only one [in Parliament] putting my hand up and saying 'let's save these females'."

Mr Shaw previously said his bill would scrap the requirement for doctors who oppose abortion to refer women to other doctors. His bill focuses on six changes to abortion laws, including counselling for families, and a requirement that doctors must provide pain relief for foetuses during abortion.

Dr Napthine said he had not seen any proposal from Mr Shaw. "This matter was debated extensively by the Parliament, where individuals on both sides were given a conscience vote, it was settled by the Parliament."

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said Labor would have no involvement in Mr Shaw's push.

Reproductive Choice Australia vice-president Jenny Ejlak called on the government to reject the abortion debate. "There is no groundswell of community or health sector demand for change," she said, citing recent polls that found 85 per cent of Victorians supported decriminalisation.

"While it seems unlikely that Geoff Shaw's proposals would be supported and passed in the current Parliament, anything is possible when someone holds the balance of power."

The Age, 09/05/2014
http://newsstore.fairfax.com.au/apps/viewDocument.ac;jsessionid=9D854657...

Same-sex marriage and euthanasia should not produce martyrs

Significant social change has always needed the courage of a few. The suffragettes, literally, put their bodies on the line to win voting rights for women; Emily Davison famously stepped in front of King George V's horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby, suffering injuries that caused her death four days later. Students protesting against the Vietnam War at Kent State University in 1970 faced the guns of the Ohio National Guard. Four were killed.

Those advocating additional rights for women, such as abortion, or seeking the recognition of Aborigines, gays, and now same-sex marriage have all faced abuse, vilification and, at times, the threat and actuality of violence. Too often they gain the support of the majority yet must persist with their fight because their representatives in Parliament take far longer before accepting that the law does need to change to reflect the community's views.

The issue of same-sex marriage is, arguably, today's leading social dispute. We have seen lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory understand society's changed view, only to be thwarted by the High Court at the behest of the federal government. The law will eventually change, it is simply a question of when.

That issue, however, will quickly be overtaken by that of voluntary euthanasia. It will be a divisive and emotional debate, but our changing demographics, whereby those aged over 65 are projected to double to 25 per cent of the nation's population, will demand it be confronted.

A leading advocate has, for many years, been Dr Philip Nitschke. There is no question he has been a polarising figure, with an overt campaign that has pushed the boundaries of legal and community acceptance. Ground-breakers test the limits; some of Britain's suffragettes were widely criticised for their militant tactics, which included arson and assaulting police.

The momentum for a broad community debate on voluntary euthanasia is building, as individuals tell their stories about why they would wish to take control of their own death, and the medical profession explains the realities of treating such patients.

In the past week, of course, Dr Rodney Syme has shown remarkable courage in explaining his role in the death of cancer sufferer Steve Guest, to the point where he has identified the drug he used. Dr Syme has, in effect, defied the prosecutorial authorities to charge him with a criminal offence, so that he can make his case to a jury and seek their wisdom as representatives of the broader community.

In Thursday's Age, he was joined by Dr Percy Rogers, who for the first time explained his role in the death of a friend nearly half a century ago. His admission, that he used morphine to help his friend die, may also place him at legal risk. Our letters page, too, featured one in support of Dr Syme from 99 members of the medical fraternity from around the country. Its lead signatory, Professor Tony Adams, made the point that it is illegal for doctors to even sit with a terminally ill person, with intolerable symptoms, who has decided to take his or her own life.

Professor Adams and the other signatories emphasised that doctors strongly support a change to the law, to allow voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted dying in legally defined circumstances. The Age agrees, and reiterates our belief that the Victorian Law Reform Commission should be the forum to enable this vital community debate to reach sensible legal proposals that can then be adopted by Parliament. It should not take a trial of a respected medical specialist to prompt this obvious progression. History has enough martyrs.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/the-age-editorial/samesex-marriage-and-...

State “leads on priests”

Victoria’s move to require priests to gain accreditation to work with children should be considered nationally, Premier Denis Napthine says.

Victoria was taking a leadership role in addressing the issue, and it could set the tone of a national response, Dr Napthine said.

“I believe other states and jurisdictions will look at what we’re doing to require ministers of religion to have a working-with-children check
if they have any deal-ings with children and families.” he said. “I think other states and other jurisdictions should have a good hard look at it.”

A minister with children in their con-gregation, or who otherwise comes into contact with children as part of their du-ties, will be required to
obtain the check.

The government will introduce the requirement as part of its response to the state’s parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by
religious and other organisations. The parliamentary committee's report said ministers of religion needed to have current working-with-children
checks.

Meanwhile, community legal centres have criticised Victoria’s new child sex abuse reporting requirements, saying vulnerable women could still
be dragged before the courts.

From: http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/2270431/state-leads-on-priests...

Shaw drops abortion bombshell

Balance of power MP Geoff Shaw will unleash a potentially toxic debate upon state parliament as he vows to introduce sweeping amendments to Victoria's abortion laws.

The Frankston MP has reportedly promised to introduce a bill ahead of this year's state election outlawing gender-selection abortions and forcing doctors to resuscitate babies who survive the abortion process.

The changes are likely to cause headaches for both Premier Denis Napthine and Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews, as well as unleashing debate and division across the parliament.

They would also include a requirement for doctors to provide pain relief to a foetus during all termination procedures.

Women's rights groups had feared Shaw, upon whose vote the government relies to remain in office, would introduce a bill overturning the law requiring doctors opposed to performing abortions to refer women to another practitioner.

But Shaw is instead poised to go much further, telling a newspaper he would put forward a radical proposal based around six major law changes.

Shaw described Victoria's abortion laws as among the worst in the world and styled himself as a protector of women's rights, a claim sure to enrage women's group already nervous about potential winding back of the state's abortion laws.

"If in society we are saying there should be more women on boards there should be more females in parliament, well you are killing them," he reportedly said.

"How can any women who are pro women's rights say that you can kill girls?"

Shaw also wants counselling mandated for women who wish to have a termination and for a requirement for informed consent to be legislated.

Abortion has been largely dormant as a political issue in the state since an often-biiter and emotional debate around decriminalising the procedure divided both major parties in 2008.

While the parliament eventually voted in favour of decriminalising abortion, many MPs struggled emotionally throughout the debate in which now-Premier Denis Napthine was a conspicuous opponent of decriminalising the procedure.

While the state Liberal party recently changed its platform, adopting a belief that the law on doctor referrals should be changed, Premier Napthine has stressed in recent months that his government would do nothing to wind back abortion laws.

"As Premier, neither I, nor my government, have any intention of introducing legislation, that would reduce a woman's right to choose," he said in December.

"This issue was vigorously debated in the community, and settled in the Parliament, in 2008."

But the Premier has been under pressure from the likes of Shaw and Liberal hardliners such as upper house MP Bernie Finn and a parliamentary vote would be an unwelcome event in the leadup to November's state election.

"Here in Australia we can't kill snake eggs but we are quite happy to kill an egg in the tummy and it should be the safest place for a baby to be," Shaw reportedly said.

The stomach plays no major role in pregnancy, with eggs released by fallopian tubes and a foetus gestating inside a woman's uterus.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/shaw-drops-abortion-bombshell-20140507...

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