Anti-gay leaflets handed out as “presents”

Henrietta Cook

The children assumed they were receiving an early Christmas present when their school bus driver handed them golden envelopes.

With a cheery message on the front, “To the wonderful people who care for me. Merry Christmas”, Kyabram P–12 College students gave the envelopes to their parents on Wednesday night [14 December].

But many parents were shocked to discover that they contained anti-gay marriage leaflets from the Mar­riage Alliance. The leaflets also criticised the Safe Schools Coalition.

The school’s principal, Stuart Bott, wrote to parents yesterday to say the information was “not repre­sentative of the school’s position”.

He told Fairfax Media that he was unhappy about what had occurred and concerned parents had contac­ted the school.

“We are an inclusive school, and are working with families to say that won’t happen again,” he said.

Mr Bott said a “member of the community” handed the leaflets to school bus drivers and asked they be distributed to students. Some refused to pass them on. He would not say how many school bus drivers distributed the leaflets, but Fairfax Media understands that it could be up to ten.

The school has refused to sign up to the controversial Safe Schools program, despite the Andrews gov­ernment making it compulsory for all high schools to sign up to the program by 2018.

The college’s council said earlier this year that its school already pro­moted acceptance regardless of a person’s sexual orientation, race, religion, or age and “do not believe they need to align themselves to the Safe Schools Coalition to do this”.

It is not known whether this is why students at the school were targeted.

LGBTI advocate Damien Stevens, who lives and works in Shepparton, said the tactics were designed to scare people.

“To do that around Christmas and to disguise the information in the form of a present is foul,” he said. “The parents have opened it up in front of the child, the child says, ‘What is this’, and then they have a conversation about it.”

He said that the Marriage Alliance had also distributed the leaflets in the local newspaper and it was a sign that they felt threatened by changing attitudes in the region.

Murray Nationals MP Damien Drum supports gay marriage, and the area has received funding to sup­port LGBTI youth.

A Marriage Alliance spokesman said a volunteer had handed out the flyers, and it was not part of an offi­cial campaign. “This was not an ac­tion that was part of a campaign from Marriage Alliance and is not condoned or endorsed by Marriage Alliance,” he said.


Dutton’s Christmas crusade

Michael Koziol

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has called for Australians to “rise up” to defend Christmas against “political correctness gone mad”.

Annoyed by a talk back radio caller’s description of secular carols at a grandchild’s school, Mr Dutton said it made his “blood boil”. “It is political correctness gone mad and I think people have just had enough of it,” he told Ray Hadley on 2GB.

Jim, a constituent of Mr Dutton’s Dickson electorate in Queensland, told Mr Dutton there was “not one Christmas carol” and the final song replaced the lyrics of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” with “we wish you a happy holiday”.

Mr Dutton linked the issue to the “Teachers for Refugees” campaign in which many teachers in New South Wales and Vic­toria wore tee-shirts protesting about Australia’s off-shore de­tention camps for asylum seekers.

“If they want to conduct these sort of cam­paigns, do it on line or do it in your spare time. Don’t bring these sort of views into the minds of young kids.” Mr Dutton said.


Turnbull MP backs Victorian pro-life candidate

Richard Willingham - State Political Correspondent

Controversial Liberal preselection candidate Stephanie Ross has won the backing of a Turnbull govern­ment MP who has declared the 25-year-old a ministerial prospect.

Deakin MP Michael Sukkar’s de­cision to write a reference tor Ms Ross’s challenge on state MP Gary Blackwood’s seat is at odds with Opposition Leader Matthew Guy who is backing the incumbent.

Ms Ross grabbed headlines last weekend when it was revealed she opposed abortion even in cases of rape. She has also inflamed some tensions in the party by running against a sitting MP.

In the past week Ms Ross has been inundated with abusive and threatening phone calls, e-mails and social media posts threatening assault and rape over her nomina­tion; police have been contacted.

Sources believe some of the threats are coming from Liberals.

“This is part of a cancerous cell in the party,” one source said.

In a written reference, Mr Sukkar says that Ms Ross is “an intelli­gent, principled woman who has strongly articulated Liberal and conservative values in the public domain”.

“Having the courage to publicly stand for these values has proven to me that Stephanie has the mettle to fight for the Narracan electorate and serve in a ministeri­al capacity in the future,” Mr Sukkar’s reference says.

Narracan, which stretches from Pakenham to Moe, is held by the Liberals by 11.3 per cent.

Ms Ross is the partner of new numbers man Marcus Bastiaan who has become a divisive figure due to allegations he is a branch stacker.

Ms Bastiaan denies being a stacker.

He also has the backing of presi­dent Michael Kroger in his cam­paign to recruit new members to the Liberal party.


Hot on the trail of a holy-roller mystery

Tom Cowie

It’s the case of Christ on a bike.

For the past few years, mysteri­ous bicycles have been appearing in Melbourne’s CBD carrying signs preaching that “Jesus died for our sins” and urging people to “turn or burn”.

The Jesus bikes can sit for up to a week shackled on bike racks with heavy-duty reinforced clamps before disappearing again, only to be resurrected elsewhere.

Despite vandalism and abuse, the bikes continue to appear.

While the City of Melbourne sometimes removes bikes parked for “illegitimate purposes”, the council is essentially powerless to fine the owners because tracking them down can be difficult.

Linking most of these holy rol­lers is a mobile phone number painted in the bottom corner, urging people to call for “Christian guidance”.

When Fairfax Media rang the number after a bike appeared in Collins Street this week, a man who wanted to be known as only “Barry” picked up.

Barry declined to provide his second name or the suburb where he lives. Although he did say he was 64 and goes to church in Box Hill.

The bikes, Barry said, were about promoting the gospel and “encour­aging people to get saved”. He repurposes old BMXs and moun­tain bikes that are donated or re­trieved from hard rubbish.

Barry said he converted to Chris­tianity at 19 and eventually turned to street preaching. About four years ago, he started making the bikes.

But not everyone is happy with his methods. The bikes are often vandalised, while a Twitter account was set up devoted to tracking them. “People attack the bikes all the time,” he said.

Barry also gets abusive phone calls, mostly from non-believers and people angry that he is taking up valuable parking real estate.

“There are a lot of crackpots around. Some ring up and swear away, we get all sorts of weirdos.

Particularly on Friday or Saturday nights.”

Producing each bike with an off-sider can take up to eight hours, Barry said, which includes a decent chunk of time painting the sermon on the side.

The shackles, which look like a Dickensian torture device, are made out of steel and reinforced with concrete. In Barry’s words, the clamps are “pretty tough”.

The bikes are typically deployed either late at night or early in the morning. Hoops towards the end of bike racks are the best locations, because they maximise exposure.

If someone rings up seeking genuine spiritual guidance, Barry says he is happy to chat about the Bible or refer them to a church.

He doesn’t mind that people get angry at his methods: “At least peo­ple are seeing them,” he said.


Islamic centre firebombed, tagged with IS graffiti

An Islamic community centre in Melbourne’s north has been firebombed after the words “Islamic State” were scrawled on the build­ing, which had already been the sub­ject of several recent arson attacks.

The Imam Ali Islamic Centre in Fawkner was gutted by the massive blaze on Sunday [11 December] morning, which is being investigated by Victoria Po­lice’s arson and explosives squad and the Melbourne Fire Brigade.

Photographs reveal the words “Is­lamic State” in English and Arabic on the building, but it remains unclear what motivated the arson attack, which is believed to be the third incident in the past six months.

A member of the local Shiite com­munity who attends the Lawson Street prayer centre said the fire would have a devastating impact.

He refused to speculate on who might have been responsible.

“Everything is on the table and I don’t think anyone really knows.”

Mosques and Islamic community centres have been targets of re­peated attacks by far-right groups across Australia, while detectives are also expected to examine sectari­an tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Melbourne.

In January, members of the Imam Ali Islamic Centre were denied ac­cess to the prayer hall following a dispute with [the] local council. It is un­derstood the dispute stemmed from a notice issued by Moreland Council about fire safety concerns.

Another community member said the graffiti was a ruse to distract investigators.

“I can tell you it has absolutely nothing to do with Islamic State, and I hope the media and everyone else don’t allow themselves to be manipu­lated. We have a very good idea who’s behind this,” the man said.

Push to overhaul priests’ powers in Catholic schools

Tirana Jacks & Henrietta Cook

Has the bell tolled for priests who run Catholic schools?

A push to overhaul Catholic schools is gaming momentum, with principals and pastors saying priests do not have the training, time or expertise to manage schools.

The Victorian Association of Catholic Primary Schools recently asked Australian Catholic Uni­versity academics to review the governance of Catholic schools.

“We believe it is becoming more common that the parish priest is just feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities,” Professor Chris Branson, who is leading the review, said.

Professor Branson said that, as Catholic school enrolments grew, the number of priests declined and parishes merged.

“There are some schools where the parish priest has said this is beyond them [sic: him],” he said.

Father Kevin Dillon, from St Mary of the Angels Parish in Geelong, said running schools had become increasingly complex, par­ticularly when it carne to compli­ance and accountability.

“I have four primary schools in my parish and I am not sure that priests are equipped with the time and expertise to undertake the ultimate responsibility for schools,” he said.

“We are not educationalists.”

Unlike other states, priests in Victoria have a significant man­agement role in Catholic schools. They have to employ principals, oversee financial processes, staff wellbeing, and occupational health and safety protocols.

They can be held legally liable if they fail to carry out these duties, but they do not receive any formal mandatory training for their role as an employer in schools. It is expected the federal royal commis­sion will recommend changes to the role of priests in schools.

Tensions have also erupted between parish priests and par­ents, most recently with the case of Mentone-Parkdale parish’s Father John Walshe. The priest resigned nearly two weeks ago after parents at affiliated Catholic schools led a fierce campaign against him due to a finding by the church that Father Walshe abused an 18-year-old seminarian in 1982.

Father Walshe denies commit­ting abuse. Under the Melbourne Response, a finding of sexual abuse is not equivalent to a sexual abuse conviction and can include sexual abuse of an adult and sex between consenting adults that violates a priest’s vow of celibacy.)

Independent Education Union general secretary Deb James said she received complaints about priests intervening in staff selec­tion decisions, demanding to be on interview panels, and making calls about promotions.

She was aware of one case where a priest insisted on “total financial control” of a school that was engaging in “misuse of fixed-term contracts”, and prohibited the principal from making employment decisions.

Principals Association of Vic­torian Catholic Secondary Schools president, Mark Sheehan, said par­ish priests did not have the “interest, expertise or the time” to run schools.

St Joseph’s College Geelong prin­cipal Paul Tobias told colleagues at a Principals Association of Victor­ian Catholic Secondary Schools event that it was becoming increas­ingly difficult to educate young peo­ple in religious education.

“Most parish priests are good pastors and managers of their schools,” he told Fairfax Media. “But we need to adopt a more mod­ern structure. Priests should be the pastor but not the manager.”

Catholic Education Commission of Victoria executive director Stephen Elder remained tight-lipped on the issue. “We have a rigorous accountability framework to both the Commonwealth and state governments,” he said.


Abortion never the answer, says Libs candidate

Farrah Tomazin & Josh Gordon

A sitting Victorian Liberal MP is be­ing challenged for preselection by a pro-life campaigner who believes women should never have abortions, even in cases of rape.

Stephanie Ross, the partner of “Young Turk” and party numbers man Marcus Bastiaan, is preparing to challenge 65-year-old incumbent Gary Blackwood for his Gippsland seat of Narracan.

The looming preselection stoush has heightened concerns about a push to drag the Liberals further to the right, which many fear could hinder their chances of defeating Labor at the 2018 Victorian election.

Ms Ross, 25, is aligned with the Menzies branch of the party, which is controlled by conservative warrior and former defence minister Kevin Andrews.

While some argue the preselection of Ms Ross would give the Liberals some much-needed youth, and help narrow the party’s gender gap, others say her views on abortion are too “extreme”.

In a January 2015 interview with on-line magazine Vice, Ms Ross, a Catholic, argued women can “heal from rape”, and “there is no situation in which a child should be killed”.

Asked if a rape victim should have her baby, she told the publication: “Well she’ll never forget the abor­tion, which means she will never for­get the rape. Whereas, so many wo­men who are raped, they find love through their child, and they can grow or they can adopt and know they’ve given it a life. And they can heal from the rape, in a way,” she said in the article, “At Home With Three Young Anti-Abortion Protesters”.

“I still think that, because it is a human being, for me personally there is no situation in which a child should be killed.”

Ms Ross declined to comment, with party rules banning preselec­tion candidates from speaking pub­licly in the media. However, in a Face-book post confirming her nomina­tion on Friday [9 December], she argued that, in the face of the Hazelwood closure, the Narracan community “needs fear­less advocacy and the Liberal Party needs new faces and a fresh approach” to win the election.

In an opinion piece penned for Fairfax Media in November, Ms Ross, a self-described anti-family viol­ence advocate and founder of aged care service Kookaburra Care, also argued the focus of modern pro-life advocates should not be about cri­minalising abortion or shaming women, but “lowering the rate of abor­tion by addressing causational issues and promoting alternatives”.

Nonetheless, her preselection nomination is seen by some as part of a broader push by a group of Lib­erals aligned with party president Michael Kroger to redefine the power lines in the Victorian branch.

It comes a week after conservative Turnbull government MPs, including Mr Andrews, had been accused of recruiting members of hard-line micro-parties such as Family First and the Australian Christians, a move some insiders called “horrifying”.

Mr Kroger and state Liberal dir­ector Simon Frost declined to com­ment about Ms Ross’s pro-life inter­view, while Opposition leader Mat­thew Guy said: “I disagree with that view”.


Euthanasia no substitute for palliative care


On a daily basis, Palliative Care Victoria receives distressed calls from people seeking help for someone who is dying and suffering needlessly.

In hospitals, aged-care facilities and homes across Victoria, people are dying difficult deaths without re­ceiving palliative care and the sup­port their carers need.

Inadequate training of health pro­fessionals in caring for the dying per­son creates a reliance on a small, specialist palliative care work force that cannot meet the current need.

The fact that too many Victorians are dying bad deaths is not news. A number of these difficult deaths have been the impetus for calls to legalise euthanasia.

Public attention has focused on the quest for euthanasia without giving adequate attention to the solution that 99 per cent of Victorians want: timely access to high-quality palliative care.

The reality is, many Victorians benefit from improved quality of life and die with dignity and in comfort with the support of palliative care. But we need to make this readily available to everyone. Many people don’t know about palliative care, many are not referred, and gaps in services mean many miss out.

Victoria’s Auditor-General high­lighted the need to improve palliative care in his April 2015 report, while The End of Life Choices Inquiry Report in June 2016 included 29 recom­mendations to improve palliative care. Much of the focus of the Vic­torian government’s response to the recommendations of the End of Life Choices Inquiry will be on its deci­sion to introduce legislation that would legalise a physician-assisted death for terminally ill people who meet specific criteria. This will be welcomed by those who seek this.

However, the vast majority of Victorians do not want to die by a lethal dose of drugs. They want the right to choose and receive high-quality palliative care.

People dying in suffering should be given the same priority as a per­son experiencing a heart attack or other life-threatening event. Sys­temic failures to provide safe neo­natal care or meet ambulance emer­gency response times are addressed by governments as urgent priorities.

Similarly, systemic failures in car­ing for dying people deserve to be addressed by the Victorian govern­ment with as much urgency and pri­ority. Euthanasia may become a choice, but it is not the solution.

The solution requires substantial increases in funding to improve ac­cess to high-quality palliative care and end-of-life care across Victoria. It requires urgent and full imple­mentation of Victoria’s new policy framework as a priority, along with the transparency of funding and ser­vice provision recommended by the End of Life Choices Inquiry.

Regrettably, increases in palliative care funding have declined in the past two years in spite of the recom­mendations noted above. Funding in Victoria is about one per cent of ex­penditure on public hospitals. To im­plement the recommendations of the Auditor-General and the End of Life Choices Inquiry, palliative care ser­vices need at least $50 million in ad­ditional funding each year, as well as substantial capital funding.

Without concerted and compre­hensive action to address the sys­temic failures in how we care for people who are dying across Victoria, there can be no genuine choice; we could only hang our heads in shame and mourn the loss of a truly com­passionate society.

Odette Wanders is chief executive officer of Palliative Care Victoria.


Andrews flags plan for historic change

Richard Willingham & Rania Spooner

Terminally ill Victorians could soon be able to legally end their lives, with Premier Daniel An­drews backing historic legislation to be introduced to Parliament next year.

If passed, the legislation could be the first in Australia to legalise euthanasia since the Northern Territory’s laws were quashed by the federal government two years after passing in 1997.

The Victorian laws would be im­mune from Commonwealth inter­vention.

The Victorian government will introduce a bill in the second half of 2017, with MPs from all sides of politics granted a conscience vote on the matter.

The bill will be drafted with the input of an expert panel over the next six months.

If the laws pass both houses of Parliament and come into effect, which is not a certainty, assisted dying would be available only to Victorian residents.

The earliest the laws could come into effect is 2019, with the commit­tee recommending an 18-month delay after they are passed.

Mr Andrews changed his mind to support assisted dying, as long as it has stringent oversight, after his father died earlier this year.

“My opposition to these laws for me was wrong,” Mr Andrews said.

“There is no reason for this to be anything other than a civil, serious, perhaps at times an intense debate, but it should be a respectful one.”

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy feared laws for assisted dying were a “political distraction” at a time when there was a “law and order crisis”.

The Andrews government said it would allow adults with decision-making capacity who are at the end of their lives and suffering from a terminal illness to be helped to die.

The laws are likely to require two doctors to sign off on any plan that would involve the prescription of a lethal tablet.

Those who are physically unable to take a tablet would be assisted by a doctor.

It will be consistent with the as­sisted dying regulations recom­mended in June by a cross-party committee following the inquiry into end-of-life choices.

A ministerial advisory panel made up of clinical, legal, con­sumer, health administrator and palliative care experts will help draft the laws. Crown counsel Melinda Richards, SC, will also ad­vise.

The challenge for the external panel is to work out who qualifies, what support and tools clinicians needed, how drugs are prescribed, and how doctors would qualify for practising assisted death.

Health Minister Jill Hennessy and Attorney-General Martin Pakula will oversee the bill’s pre­paration.

“It is time for us to put forward a proposition that gives people a choice about how they die when they face unbearable and unspeak­able suffering,” Ms Hennessy said.

The laws’ fate is likely to rest on the multi-party upper house, with many MPs expecting the proposal to pass the lower house.

The announcement comes after the government’s formal response to the end-of-life choices recom­mendations was tabled on Thurs­day [8 December] morning, which had not backed the scheme outright, instead say­ing more work still needed to be done.

Across the Parliament, MPs have indicated support for some type of scheme, with many saying they would support a law that had strict rules about who qualified for assistance in ending their lives, and assurance that there was strict oversight of the laws, to ensure that the vulnerable were not pres­sured into making such a final choice.

The formal response stated the plans outlined for assisted dying laws needed more work.

“Consistent with the introduc­tion of any new medical interven­tion or procedure, rigorous review of the assisted dying framework should be undertaken, including safety and quality considerations and the impact on wider health care delivery, including resource implication for palliative and end of life care,” it read.

The government has backed most of the report’s 46 recom­mendations, including calls to bol­ster palliative care services across the state and enable more Victori­ans to die at home.

Some of these were addressed by the state’s ambitious end-of-life framework, released in July, with a $7.2 million commitment to expand specialist palliative care services, and support GPs to assist people at home.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told radio station 3AW he did not support voluntary euthanasia.

The plan to take the legislation to Parliament next year came as a disappointment for Professor Peter Hudson, director at the Centre for Palliative Care at St Vincent’s Health, who has been outspoken against rushing into vol­untary euthanasia laws.

“The government appears to be predetermining any further exam­ination of the impact of euthanasia, which is a serious disappoint­ment,” he said.

For social historian and volun­tary euthanasia advocate Deb Campbell, the proposed frame­work doesn’t go far enough. She believes the proposed framework would “merely replace one set of gatekeepers with another, requir­ing people to get “permission to die from the medical profession”.


A desperate plea is answered

Victoria’s move to help the terminally ill die is a welcome relief for the suffering.


News that the Andrews government will back the introduction of as­sisted dying legislation is good public health policy, long sought after by a clear majority of Victorians.

It comes off the back of a 10-month cross-party parliament­ary inquiry into end-of-life choices, which put forward undeniable evi­dence of suffering in our com­munity because of existing laws.

It found repeated examples, for those with a serious and incurable condition, of inadequate pain relief and of deep suffering beyond even the reach of palliative care.

It found doctors breaking the law and relatives risking being put on trial to relieve the torment of their patients and loved ones. And it tabled the testimony of Coroner John Olio, who detailed the horrific ways in which desperately ill Vic­torians are taking their own lives to end their agony.

This included the case of a 90-year-old man with cancer who killed himself in a particularly horrific way.

The coroner estimated the number of elderly Victorians taking their own lives to escape the rav­ages of incurable diseases at one a week. Faced with such evidence, the inquiry found a clear case for law reform.

Its recommendation was that voluntary assisted dying, with strong safeguards, be introduced as another option at the end of life. The law they proposed, and that the government will now consider, is conservative, offering relief from suffering to those who are in the “last weeks and months” of an in­curable illness.

They will have to be at a point, agreed by two doctors, where med­ically speaking there is no more hope. At that time they can be writ­ten a prescription for a lethal drink that they can choose to take — or not. Overseas experience shows that more than a third of patients choose not to; simply having the means to control the end being powerful palliation in itself.

Based on recent experience in South Australia, where similar le­gislation failed by just one vote to pass the lower house, politicians will be lobbied by church groups and conservative elements of the medical community. The key argu­ments they will hear are likely to be:

1. That assisted dying is “state-sanctioned killing”. This phrase will be hammered again and again, and it will dishonestly avoid the central fact that the law is to help those already being killed by an in­curable disease. Being voluntary, it is entirely up to the patient whether they choose to end the suf­fering caused by that disease.

2. The slippery slope. That pass­ing a conservative law will inevi­tably lead to wider ones over time. This argument says yes, we know that real people in our community are dying in agony or suiciding to avoid it, but we refuse to do any­thing about it for fear that, some­where in the future, a parliament may decide to help hypothetical other people.

It is also contradicted by North American laws, on which the com­mittee have largely modelled theirs, that have been unchanged since their introduction 20 years ago.

3. That more resources for palli­ative care will solve all suffering at the end of life. While the inquiry, quite rightly, recommends greater resourcing for palliative care, it is clear that this alone won’t fix the problem. In Palliative Care Australia’s own words, “even with optimal care we cannot relieve all pain and suffering”. Their statistics, collected every year from 106 palliative care units around Aus­tralia, prove it. The Victorian in­quiry found the same.

This is not a criticism. Australia has one of the best palliative care systems in the world. It simply re­flects the reality of modern medi­cine, which can keep us alive longer but can’t always treat what comes with that.

4. That granny will be coerced into ending her life so the family can get the inheritance. This has been tracked closely in jurisdic­tions overseas. Independent au­thorities there have found no evidence that it has occurred. The safeguards written into the legisla­tion have been proven to protect the vulnerable. Only those dying of an incurable illness can access this law. It is very hard for a greedy relative to coerce granny into an illness she doesn’t have. Even harder to coerce two doctors, whose work will be reviewed, to agree with her.

5. Do no harm. The AMA, which represents less than a third of Aus­tralia’s doctors, cites this as its guiding principle in opposing these laws. Other doctors see leaving a dying patient to suffer as the oppo­site of “do no harm”. Both are en­titled to their ethics. The question is, should one set of ethics be im­posed on everyone?

The answer, of course, lies in the proposed law, which is voluntary for doctors and nurses as much as for patients.

In giving evidence of elderly Vic­torians taking their own lives, Cor­oner Olle said of the families left to pick up the pieces: “They know this person is screaming for help, but no one is going to answer the call, not in this society.”

Victoria now has a chance to be the society that does.

Andrew Denton is a television personality and campaigner for legalising assisted dying.


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