Catholic school probed on alleged $5 million “rort”

A Catholic school in Melbourne's south-east is being investigated by the schools' watchdog over explosive claims of a $5 million state government funding rort.

The alleged scam was carried out at St John's Regional College in Dandenong. It is understood it involved exploiting government training subsidies by dishing out cooking qualifications to students who never received any training.

Many of the students caught up in the alleged scam did not attend the school, and some were adult migrants who had studied overseas and wanted to quickly gain an Australian qualification.

The Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority confirmed it was investigating the training delivered by the school – which is also a registered training organisation – as part of a joint probe with the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria and the Victorian Department of Education.

Forensic auditors have seized school files and notebooks to try and work out what happened to the missing millions.

While training rorts have plagued the private college sector, this is believed to be the first scandal of this scale involving a Victorian school. It is particularly sensitive for Catholic Education Melbourne, which prides itself on ensuring government funds are not misappropriated.

The school's canonical administration – which is made up of local priests – sacked the former principal Andrew Walsh and former business manager Mark Siwek in September after the revelations came to light.

The Age is not suggesting that Mr Walsh or Mr Siwek were involved in the alleged scam.

The school's newsletter said that Mr Walsh left "suddenly for a range of reasons including family health reasons".

It is understood that he was upset and shocked when he was asked to leave the school he had run for almost eight years.

The school is located in a disadvantaged area, and almost half of its students have a language background other than English.

None of the money reaped through the alleged rort is believed to have been spent on students, and it is not known where it went.

Many regular students enrolled at the school have received proper training and there are fears their qualifications will be tainted by the alleged fraud.

The federal government's My School website shows that the school's income from other sources soared from $642,746 in 2012 to a staggering $5.9 million in 2013. In 2014, the school reaped $5.1 million from other sources.

On Monday, the blinds were drawn at the school's graduate restaurant, which is where the alleged fraud was believed to have taken place. Coffee cups were neatly stacked next to the espresso machine, and white serviettes were neatly folded in preparation for the next diners.

VRQA director Lynn Glover said that the investigation was initiated following complaints.

"The investigation is ongoing and it is therefore inappropriate for us to make further comment at this stage," she said.

A 2014 VRQA audit identified "non-compliance" but Ms Glover decided to renew the college's registration as a training organisation until April 2019.

The watchdog refused to release the audits, citing privacy concerns.

An Education Department spokesman said the school had held contracts to deliver state government funded training from 2011 to 2015. But it was unsuccessful in its bid for a 2016 contract.

The spokeswoman would not say how much funding the Catholic school had received under the Victorian Training Guarantee, or for how many students, citing commercial in confidence.

A Catholic education spokesman said it was inappropriate to comment while an investigation was under way.

An auditor-general's report released earlier this year found little evidence that state government grants for non-government schools, estimated to be $676 million this year, were being used appropriately.

St John's Regional College, Mr Walsh and Mr Siwek were contacted for comment.

What next for dying with dignity?

He’s the progressive premier whose reforms include same-sex adoption, decriminalising medicinal cannabis and putting safe access zones around abortion clinics. But this week, Daniel Andrews and his government will address what could arguably be their toughest social policy challenge yet: dying with dignity.

• What’s happening?

Put simply, the government has until Thursday [8 December] to respond to a parliamentary report that recommends Victoria legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill people.

That report, by the bipartisan Social and Legal Issues Committee, was based on a 10-month inquiry, an overseas tour of assisted dying ré­gimes, and more than 1300 submissions, most of which favoured reform.

The government now has a number of options: reject the committee’s recommendation; accept it and introduce legislation; accept it in principle but refer it to an agency (such as the Law Reform Commission) to work out the details; or deal with it through a private member’s bill (the Greens are already preparing one in case the government doesn’t act).

• So does this mean Victoria could become the first Australian state to legalise euthanasia?

Not quite. It’s important to note that the committee’s recommendation doesn’t actually call for voluntary euthanasia, which involves ending another person’s life to relieve their suffering. Instead, it specifically suggests a new “assisted dying” framework, whereby a doctor could prescribe a lethal drug that would be taken by the patient.

The key difference is self-administration. The only exception to the rule would be in cases when people were physically unable to take a lethal drug, in which case, a doctor could assist.

• But are there enough safeguards?

The model proposed by the committee has many; whether it’s enough is a matter of opinion.

Firstly, a patient must be a permanent adult resident of Victoria, have a “serious and incurable condition”, and be in the final weeks or months of their life.

They must also have decision-making capacity (which rules out people with dementia and Alzheimer’s), and the request must be approved by a primary doctor and an independent secondary doctor. For further oversight, a new End of Life Commission has also been proposed, along with an End of Life Review Board, which would examine each case and ensure doctors have complied with their requirements.

• So what are the chances the Andrews government will change the law?

Not bad. Given the public momentum and Labor’s record of progressive reform in Victoria, some believe the time is now.

It’s no coincidence, either, that soon after the report was tabled, more than half of cabinet’s 22 ministers lined up to openly declare their in-principle support for a shift, including Health Minister Jill Hennessy, Treasurer Tim Pallas and Attorney-General Martin Pakula.

All seven Green MPs and the Sex Party’s Fiona Patten also want reform, along with a number of Liberals.

This is worth noting, given that any future bill would ultimately be decided on a conscience vote in the 88-member lower house and the 40-member upper house.

• But hasn’t the Victorian Parliament tried - and failed – to deal with this already?

Correct. Eight years ago, Greens MP Colleen Hartland introduced a private member’s bill to legalise physician-assisted death, but it was immediately voted down in the upper house: 25 votes to 13.

But a lot has changed since then, including community momentum, with some polls now suggesting that up to 70 per cent of Australians want voluntary euthanasia legalised.

That’s not to say the issue won’t be fiercely contested again: it will be, particularly among religious groups, some sections of the medical community and conservative members of parliament.

Labor also has some members who would likely vote against a bill, particularly those aligned with the Catholic-based “shoppies” union (parliamentary secretary Daniel Mulino, for instance, sat on the committee but wrote his own “minority report” raising concerns about appropriate safeguards).

• What about Andrews? What does he think?

Therein lies the million-dollar question.

At a Melbourne Press Club lunch in June last year, I asked the Premier whether he supported voluntary euthanasia, and his position was clear.

“I don’t support, at this stage . . . making the sort of change that some people would like to make, but I do readily acknowledge that there is certainly more momentum, and there is perhaps more public support for this change than there has ever been,” Andrews said at the time.

But since then, his position has noticeably softened in the wake of his father’s death from cancer.

“If you search your conscience, and you search your own personal experience, I think more and more Victorians are coming to the conclusion that we are not giving a dignified end, we are not giving the support, the love and care that every Victorian should be entitled to in their final moments,” he said in September.

Thursday is deadline day. Watch this space.


Family First, conservative Christians join the Victorian Liberals

Conservative Turnbull government MPs are recruiting members of hardline micro parties such as Family First and the Australian Christians, in a move described as a "horrifying" lurch to the right that could thwart the Liberals chances at the next Victorian election.

Former defence minister Kevin Andrews is believed to be attending micro party meetings and holding church-based community forums in a broad bid to attract more members from the religious right, sparking deep divisions in the state branch.

In a statement to Fairfax Media, a spokesman for Mr Andrews did not confirm or deny the claims, other than to say the MP "encourages people who share the values of the Liberal Party to join".

Deakin MP Michael Sukkar argued that getting more members into branches was critical to fighting Labor's well orchestrated grassroots campaigning, adding that those opposing new memberships were using fears of Christian conservatives as "a red herring".

And some in the minor parties are also pushing for a shift, saying that the federal Senate reforms had stymied their electoral prospects and prompted them to rethink their political strategy.

"Conservatives are concerned that we're losing our voice, so it's fair to say that a number of people are going over," said Peter Bain, who ran for Family First in the July poll and is now one of several ex-candidates applying for Liberal membership.

The targeting of micro parties follows revelations there had been a concerted recruitment drive – led by Brighton branch president Marcus Bastiaan – targeting Mormon and evangelical churches as well as probus and community groups.

Mr Bastiaan has also been at the centre of branch-stacking allegations plaguing the Liberal Party more broadly this week, with claims of enrolment "irregularities" designed to sway the outcome in Saturday's preselection battle for the prized state seat seat of Brighton.

However, Mr Bastiaan - an ally of party president Michael Kroger - has denied any wrongdoing, telling Fairfax Media: "Branch-stacking allegations are false and politically motivated. Statewide membership drives are an ongoing strategy to turn around our party's collapsing membership.

"With the average age of members over 70 and less than 15 per cent who are under the age 40, the party has an immense amount of work to do to rebuild a dynamic base to win and hold government."

The push to get more people from the religious right to join the Liberals is likely to pose a challenge for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who many believe is already beholden to the hardline conservatives within his ranks.

And with opposition leader Matthew Guy keen to capture the political middle ground against Daniel Andrews, state MPs are also concerned it could hinder their chances in the 2018 Victorian poll, or result in an "uprising" of candidates in future elections with single-issue agendas, such as winding back abortion laws.

"It's horrifying. If we become a more right-wing party there is no way we will win the election," said one senior Liberal source.

Another MP told Fairfax Media: "We've had a strong two years, but if this shit gets any worse, I think it could really undo us."

The changing ideological fault lines have also caused tensions among the micro parties, with DLP state MP Rachel Carling-Jenkins saying: "I am a true representative of the conservative voice here in Victoria. I am aware of, and distressed by, the move to leave minor parties like Family First and Australian Christians, to join the Liberal party."

But others say it's a necessary shift, given Liberal membership in Victoria has dropped by 1800 compared to 2014. In the past 12 months membership has increased just 220.

Yeshivah leaders “enabled” child abuse

Leaders at Yeshivah Melbourne and Yeshiva Bondi have been accused of failing to report child abuse to police and allowing paedophiles unfettered access to children, in strongly-worded findings of the royal commission.

Investigations into child sexual abuse at the religious Jewish institutions uncovered a "pattern" of inaction in responding to reports of abuse, according to findings released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Tuesday.

In the face of repeated reports of child abuse, leaders at the Orthodox centres - which operate as synagogues, schools and community hubs - assured victims they would act in defence of the victim, but no action was ultimately taken, the commission said.

"We were told that the responses of leadership groups to the adverse experiences of survivors and their families ranged from inaction to enabling those adverse experiences. The responses were perhaps in part to protect the reputations of individuals or the institutions concerned."

Four survivors of abuse and several rabbis and community leaders, gave evidence about the the scale of child abuse at Yeshivah Centre and the Yeshivah? College in Melbourne and Yeshiva? Centre and the Yeshiva College Bondi, in public hearings last year.

Convicted paedophiles accused of sexual abuse allegations at the hearings included Shmuel David Cyprys, Rabbi David Kramer and Daniel Hayman.

Despite victims' allegations of abuse, paedophiles had a "continued association with, presence at or employment at the institutions", the commission found.

Abuse was often not reported to police due to a Jewish law, known as Mesirah, which some interpret as forbidding a Jew from handing over another Jew to a secular authority.

As a result, victims who reported their abuse to police were treated as "outcasts", the commission heard.

Evidence from victims at Yeshivah Melbourne, including outspoken advocate Manny Waks and his father Zephania Waks, showed leaders and community members ostracised and reprimanded victims for speaking out.?

"Criticism of those who spoke out was forceful," said the commission, noting there were "many occasions" where leaders at Yeshivah Melbourne failed to advocate for victims and educate the community about religious obligations to report child abuse.

From 1984 to 2007, the Yeshivah College Melbourne "did not have adequate policies, processes and practices for responding to complaints of child sexual abuse", the commission said.

The commission said the former board member of Yeshiva in Sydney, Rabbi Yosef Feldman, said he 'didn't know much about sex abuse at all' and that 'it didn't enter into [his] mind the whole idea of what's considered a legal crime or not; what should be reported to the police or not'.

"He said that he had only recently learnt of the serious criminal nature of child sexual abuse," the commission said.

In 2011, Rabbi Feldman wrote an email to other rabbis questioning the need to immediately report child molestation to police.

The commission said Rabbi Feldman supplied the Australian Jewish News with a false statement of his views to defend his reputation, and accused him of prioritising the "perspective of the perpetrator rather than that of the victim".

It was unclear, the commission said, whether Yeshiva Bondi had implemented child protection measures.

Yeshivah Melbourne however, had taken "significant steps in implementing structured child protection measures, including drafting formal policies and giving training to children, parents and staff," the commission said.

A statement from the directors of Yeshivah Centre, Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Schools and Chabad Institutions Victoria, said the centre "deeply regrets its failure to protect those who were victims of child sexual abuse perpetrated by people in a position of trust in the Yeshivah Centre and its schools".

Gavriella Aber, Head of Teaching and Learning at Yeshiva College in Bondi, said the school was under "new management" and was committed to child protection.

Yeshiva Centre in Bondi did not respond to Fairfax Media.

Make churches pay up


Churches should be forced to contribute to the compensation scheme or lose tax exemption.

As someone who has followed the child sex abuse royal commission with horror and fury, my de­sire (make that demand) has been consistent: make them pay!

My greatest fear was that those innocents, whose dignity, self-esteem and human rights were ripped away by those they trusted, would be abused all over again in their quest for justice. The retelling of their stories would be mere fodder for a news cycle, and then, once the hearings concluded, we would all tut-tut and go our merry way, grateful that “times have changed” and the culpable institu­tions had “learnt a lesson”.

But justice has arrived, for living victims at least. Last Friday [4 November], the Social Services Minister, Christian Porter, announced a national com­pensation scheme with payments to victims of up to $150,000. One entity would process claims, with federal backing, thus cutting red tape.

I was jubilant. But I kept reading and my anger returned. Not only is the maximum amount $50,000 lower than the commission’s sug­gested cap, but a clause allows the (mostly religious) institutions and the states to opt out of contributing.

Talk about a kiss followed by a kick; this is immoral. Allowing the wealthy religious institutions that committed heinous crimes against children to have an option to pay or not is obscene.

Care Leavers Australia Net­work’s chief executive, Leonie Sheedy, says compensation from the states and institutions respons­ible should be mandatory, given that many of the religious institu­tions have a poor track record of supporting people who were abused. She also raises a very inter­esting argument: any charity or re­ligious organisation that refuses to contribute to the scheme should lose their [sic: its] tax exempt status.

Hallelujah! The issue of tax ex­emption has for too long been un­questioned, and the government won’t be keen to revisit the issue, given the party is run by a handful of right-wing Christian fanatics. But it’s time this ridiculous indem­nity was debated.

Under Australian law, religious organisations are deemed “charit­able” and thus exempt from tax, which adds up to an estimated $30,000 million (the Catholic Church ac­counts for about half) annually.

To be recognised as charitable, the institution should provide: the relief of poverty, the advancement of education, the advancement of religion, and “other purposes bene­ficial to the community”.

However, in 2014, a Charities Act was introduced expanding the stat­utory definitions of “charity” and “charitable purpose” to recognise other attributes including: advan­cing health, education, social or public welfare, religion, culture, re­conciliation, mutual respect and tolerance; promoting or protecting human rights, advancing the secur­ity or safety of Australia or the pub­lic, preventing or relieving the suffering of animals, and advancing the natural environment.

All of these are supposed to be “for the public benefit” and, as such, are accepted as charitable and ex­empt from certain taxes. And fair enough. In most cases, their public benefit is duly noted.

Yet religious institutions such as the Catholic Church are also cam­paigning against same-sex mar­riage, excluding women in their hierarchies, teaching that homo­sexuality is immoral, backing cam­paigns against legal abortion rights, perpetuating the nonsense that is creationisrn, scaring children with threats of hell and damnation, preaching virgin births, sea part­ings and resurrection. Can this work be deemed “charitable” and of “public benefit”?

Where the money goes to hospitals, refuges and the like, no tax should be re­quired. But the income from mas­sive property portfolios and related investments, really?

And consider Scientology, cre­ated by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, which decrees that, 75 million years ago, a dictator called Xenu brought billions of his people to Earth in spacecraft, drop­ped them in volcanoes and then blew them up with hydrogen-like bombs. The spirits of these aliens, called thetans, inhabit humans and can only be eradicated by spending thousands of dollars to become “clear”. This institution, too, is tax exempt. A recent documentary, Going Clear, reported that it is worth $US1750 million ($A2200 million) glob­ally, and takes in about $US200 mil­lion a year.

Meanwhile, Hillsong Church pul­led in an estimated $100 million last year, all tax exempt because it is a religious institution. Similarly, the huge Sanitarium Health and Well-being Company, wholly owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, doesn’t pay tax on the $205 million earned last year alone.

Are these institutions really “for the public benefit”, and thus de­serving of tax indemnity?

The royal commission has provided an excel­lent opportunity to look closely at just what the “charitable” and “public interest” output of religious institutions really covers. Too many of them have considered them­selves untouchable in the past. It is time to make them pay.

Wendy Squires is a Fairfax Media columnist.

“God gave me a licence” to grow pot, court told

A man accused of growing cannabis in his vegetable patch told police that God had given him a licence to do so, a court has heard.

Police searched Matthew and Elizabeth Pallett's Carrum Downs home last May, and found about 15 and a half kilograms of cannabis in various forms, ledgers referring to the people they provided it to and drug paraphernalia, the County Court heard on Thursday.

Mr and Mrs Pallett have each been charged with one count of cultivating cannabis. Both maintain their innocence.

Prosecutor Andy Moore told a jury on the first day of their trial: "They both freely admitted to growing cannabis plants. They said they did it for medicinal purposes but each acknowledged they didn't have a licence [to do this]."

He quoted Mr Pallett as saying in his police interview: "God gave me a licence. He's the only one who can issue a licence."

Mr Moore said the couple had told police they did not operate a commercial business but made "medicinal cannabis" to help alleviate the pain of sick people, including cancer patients.

Mr Pallett had described the couple's home as a "civilian medical clinic" while Mrs Pallett had told police they "used cannabis to cure cancer cells" and other conditions, he said.

The prosecutor also said the couple had argued that the law which prohibited growing cannabis was wrong, with Mr Pallett saying cannabis itself was harmless, and that "helping people avoid pain and death is not a crime".

Mr and Mrs Pallett, who are representing themselves in court, did not give an opening address. A number of their supporters attended court.

Mr Moore told the jury the prosecution would argue that the pair had broken the law by growing cannabis, regardless of "however pure and humanitarian the motive of the accused may well be".

He said jurors' role was to objectively analyse the evidence presented.

"This is not a test case about medicinal marijuana or cannabis, or whether the accused are good or well-motivated people at heart, or whether the law as it exists should be changed."

The trial, before Judge Bill Stuart, continues.

Clash looms over sex ed videos

Farrah Tomazin

The Andrews [Victorian] government is on a collision course with the powerful Christian lobby over new classroom videos that use animated penises and other sexual imagery to teach students about porn, relationships and raunch culture.

In the latest controversy over the government’s Respectful Relation­ships curriculum, the Australian Christian Lobby has written to Edu­cation Minister James Merlino, ur­ging him remove web links and re­sources they believe cross the line.

The web links take teachers to a number of video lessons with titles such as “Porn — what you should know”, “The truth about desire”, and “When’s the Right Time” (which asks students to consider when they are ready for sex).

But while teachers have discre­tion over whether to use the re­source, ACL state president Dan Fynn said the content was troubling because “it assumes a level of sexual interest and activity which is incon­sistent with the age of their intended audience”.

One of the Lobby’s main concerns centres on a video lesson for stu­dents in years 7 and 8 which features illustrated images of male and fe­male anatomy, topless cowboys, scantily-clad women and a barrage of messages about sex.

“If you’re mixing penises with bums, vaginas or mouths, you should really use a ‘party hat’,” says the narrator of one segment, in refer­ence to the use of condoms.

Elsewhere on the video, a giant penis stands on a theatre stage, while the narrator declares that porn “usually makes the penis look like the boss of the whole show.”

“I’m a great big dick!” says the penis, before scurrying backstage.

Mr Merlino said he watched the videos this week and did not think there was anything wrong with them, particularly as children are al­ready exposed to similar imagery on music clips, magazines or billboards.

The government would not remove any content, he said, because the Respectful Relation­ships curriculum was designed to smash gender stereotypes and teach young people to respect one another, in line with the recommendations of the royal commission into family violence.

“I’m a father of three kids — two in primary school, one in prep — and I want my children to learn about re­spect. I want my kids in high school to watch those videos. I don’t want my girls being victims of family viol­ence, and I don’t want my son to develop disrespectful attitudes to­wards girls and women,” he said.

“I’m not going to be writing re­sources or imposing change on ma­terials that are written by experts and absolutely age-appropriate.”

Mr Merlino’s refusal to back down has set the government on a collision course with the ACL, which is al­ready angered by other parts of Labor’s agenda, such as the Safe Schools initiative, inherent requirement tests for faith-based agencies, and plans to give transgender people the right to change their birth certi­ficates without needing to have sex-change surgery.

Mr Flynn said the group would seek a meeting with Premier Daniel Andrews as soon as possible to raise concerns that the government had an “ideological agenda” that was out of step with many parents and chil­dren.

The Coalition also attacked the Respectful Relationships program on similar grounds this month, even though the resource was first piloted under the Napthine government in a bid to end gender-based violence.

“We know that adolescence is a crucial period when young people develop attitudes towards relation­ships, and that’s why this resource specifically targets students in the important middle years of secondary school,” said then education minis­ter Martin Dixon as he launched the resource in 2014.

Mr Merlino said while the program had been expanded, much of its middle-years content was the same as it was when the Coalition was in power.

Sunday Age (Melbourne), 23 October 2016.

Doctors support end-of-life choice

Farrah Tomazin

Almost half of a number of doctors surveyed say they would help a terminally ill person commit suicide if that patient was suffering intolerably, in the latest sign of growing momentum towards voluntary euthanasia.

As the Andrews government de­cides whether to allow physician-assisted death in Victoria, a survey in health magazine Australian Doctor suggests the majority would support a shift, while many admit helping patients to end their lives already happens in the medical system.

The survey was based on the assisted-dying model put forward by a parliamentary committee earlier this year. The Andrews cab­inet is considering whether it should be adopted.

Under that model, only patients with decision-making capacity would have the right to ask for help to die, not a relative or another party. They would also be required to make the request three times: first by asking their doctor, then by filling in a form, and finally by verbally reaffirming their wish.

The survey of 366 doctors and 26 nurses found about 65 per cent said they supported legal reforms allowing patients to end their own lives in this manner.

Forty-nine per cent said they would be willing to assist patients to take their own lives, while al­most 42 per cent admitted some doctors already help terminally ill people with suicide, if they are asked — although this is not wide­spread.

The findings are the latest devel­opment in what has long been a vexed issue for medical profession­als. The Australian Medical Asso­ciation says doctors generally want to help people who suffer intoler­ably, but many are concerned they would not be adequately protected by the law.

“As such, many patients may not be receiving the care they wish to have at the end of life because med­ical practitioners fear prosecu­tion,” the AMA wrote in its submis­sion to the parliamentary commit­tee, which conducted a 10-month review into end-of-life choices.

Politicians have been reluctant to change the law, but in recent months many state MPs have spoken out publicly in favour of a shift.

Within government ranks more than half the [Victorian] cabinet has openly declared in-principle support for assisted dying. Premier Daniel Andrews is yet to declare his position.

Next week the Health Issues Centre will hold an event at the State Library [of Victoria] designed to get people to discuss their end-of-life choices, which can often be a difficult topic for many families.

The Age (Melbourne), Saturday 22 October 2016.

Religion the new council flashpoint

A bid to build a mosque has split Casey, writes Aisha Dow.

Local council elections have tradi­tionally revolved around the three Rs: rates, roads and rubbish.

But for Casey Council, a rapidly expanding and multicultural muni­cipality in Melbourne’s south-east, a new R appears to be taking centre stage: religion.

It came to a head in April.

With police officers stationed at the door, a ban on public questions and photographs, the air rippled with tension at Narre Warren’s council chamber the night the mosque was rejected.

What was supposed to be a straightforward planning matter had become so much bigger.

More than 1000 objections to the mosque had been received. The council chamber was so full that dozens of residents and anti-racism protesters had to wait outside.

Inside the chamber, the mosque’s proponents, the Saarban Islamic Trust, were not given time to speak. But the mayor, Sam Aziz, used his address to slam the group.

Cr Aziz told the group that their response to a planning report on the mosque was unacceptable and the group had not endeared themselves to anyone.

“For you to claim that you are now shocked by the content of the planning report, is either at best mischievous or at worst mali­cious; either way it is unac­ceptable,” Cr Aziz said.

The mayor said the coun­cil would fight any appeal to its decision to reject the mosque with “every re­source required”.

Afterwards, as those who managed to get a seat filed out of the chamber, Cr Aziz tried to get police to move them away.

“I now ask police to remove people from the public gallery please,” he said, as the protesters chanted “the mosque is welcome, racists are not”.

Key councillors with strong anti-Islamic links are seeking another term and questions remain about the way the mosque application for Narre Warren North’s green wedge zone was handled.

James Randall, a Muslim convert and Islamic Research and Educa­tional Academy spokesman, said while there were good planning reasons to reject the mosque, he worried about the “air of complete hostility” towards the Muslim community. “I have never heard of a council ever saying they would ded­icate all council resources to try and reinforce their decision,” he said. “That is beyond bad.”

One councillor, Rosalie Crestani, was a Senate candidate for the hard-right Rise Up Australia Party. She believes Australia should ban Mus­lim immigration, except for cases of family reunion. Cr Crestani’s 2016 council election platform includes “concerns around Islamic Sharia Law”. If re-elected she wants to ban the council from buying Halal food.

“I’ll be requesting that all food that Casey purchases with ratepay­ers’ money should not have an Islamic tax associated with it,” she said.

Cr Crestani said she hoped to be­come Casey’s new mayor, putting to one side her opposition to Islam to represent the region’s 14,000-plus Muslims.

“I want all the Muslims to know that I would like to represent them, so much as that they have the right to live in safety and peace, and abide by Australian law,” she said.

In early 2013, Casey council approved an Afghan mosque in suburban Doveton, next to a planned church of evangelical Pastor Danny Nalliah, who has described Islam as a “death cult”.

Before the vote, Cr Aziz, then deputy mayor, filed a motion asking Pastor Nalliah to address the council, specifically [about] the dangers of “in­doctrinated religious intolerance” to democratic societies.

Cr Aziz, a Christian of Egyptian background, also reportedly sought to impose a special planning condi­tion, requiring that the mosque not “preach hatred from the pulpits”.

Although he said he voted based on planning issues alone, Cr Aziz has aligned himself with the “Stop the Mosque in Narre Warren” group, which rallies against the “Islamisation” of Australia.

He has posted on its Facebook page thanking his “friends” for their support, following a story in Fairfax Media where he accused local doc­tor Belal Haniffa, who joined the “Casey Against Racism” Facebook page, of dressing up “to look like a terrorist in his spare time”. Dr Haniffa’s profile picture was taken on a hunting trip.

Last week, Cr Aziz, when asked if he would he approve a mosque if it ticked all the planning require­ments, said: “I will vote for places of worship according to their planning merits.” When asked if he said that meant he would grant approval for a mosque, Cr Aziz repeated the an­swer: “I will vote for places of wor­ship according to their planning merits.”

One of the key reasons Casey council gave for the rejection of the Narre Warren North mosque in April was an “objection” by VicRoads to the plan. However, VicRoads disputes that account.

VicRoads’ metro south-east re­gional director Aidan McGann said that while the mosque proposal did need work around access, the road authority had been willing to work through the issues with the applic­ant. At the same time, the mosque was shot down at council.

Mr McGann said it was disin­genuous to suggest VicRoads’ objec­tion to the mosque’s initial access plan gave the council no choice but to reject the whole proposal.

“We are upset that impression has been attributed to VicRoads,” he said.

Mr McGann said that, with safe access, the site could accommodate a mosque for 150 to 200 people (the original plan was for 470 people).

The Saarban Islamic Trust has recently hired a new architect to work on a new design for its site at 365–367 Belgrave-Hallam Road.

“I think the trust could go for a different approach with the design, one that is more Australian and a bit more pastoral in its outlook,” said Mr Randall, of the Islamic Research and Educational Academy.

Concern around a “crime wave” of home invasions and burglaries re­cently prompted Casey council to call for laws requiring dual nationals jailed for gang violence to be depor­ted. At the same time, the Muslim community is reporting a rise in Islamophobic attacks.

The City of Casey has refused to answer any questions put by Fairfax Media.

Gonski Sweetheart deals “unfair” - Funds flow to Catholic education

Matthew Knott

Catholic schools in wealthy sub­urbs across Australia are being sig­nificantly overfunded by taxpay­ers, with some receiving up to four times their funding levels under sweetheart deals in the dying days of the Rudd government.

Fairfax Media revealed last month that more than 150 private schools across Australia receive more funding than they are en­titled to under the Gonski formula, with some schools receiving up to 283 per cent of their entitlement.

Now, new data from the Depart­ment of Education show the in­equities and distortions in Austra­lia’s school funding system extend to the Catholic sector.

Catholic schools are funded on a system-wide basis, and state and territory Catholic education com­missions distribute funding among their schools as they see fit.

The Catholic sector, which edu­cates 20 per cent of Australian school children, insists it redistrib­utes funding among its 1731 schools on the basis of need.

But Fairfax Media has un­covered many examples of Catholic schools that receive more government funding per student than local public schools and “overfunded” private schools nearby.

For example, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Primary School in Prahran [metropolitan Melbourne] received $11,875 per student in combined federal and state government funding in 2014. This is significantly more than nearby public school South Yarra Primary ($7754) and private school Christ Church Grammar ($2600), according to data on the My School web site.

Christ Church Grammar received 130 per cent of its entitle­ment, suggesting Our Lady of Lourdes is dramatically overfunded by taxpayers.

The case of Catholic schools in the Australian Capital Territory is the starkest example of the special deals Education Minister Simon Birmingham says have led to the corruption of the Gonski Review recommendations.

Under a deal between the Cath­olic sector and [the former] Rudd government less than two months before the 2013 election, ACT Catholic schools were all allocated an SES score of 101, the same as New South Wales and Victoria. This is despite ACT Catholic schools having an av­erage SES score of 118 and some having a score as high as 128.

A low SES score inflates the fed­eral funding schools receive be­cause it is assumed parents have a reduced “capacity to contribute” to their children’s education

Public school advocate Trevor Cobbold, a former Productivity Commission economist, said it appeared ACT Catholic schools were receiving $50 million in ex­cess federal funding a year due to the deal. “These type of deals are completely contrary to the Gonski principles,” he said. “This is scarce money that could be given to schools of high need.”

Senator Birmingham said he was determined to do away with the “cosy deals Bill Shorten ran around the country stitching up before the 2013 election”.

“It is not fair that a student in a school of similar or identical disad­vantage in one part of the country gets $1500 less or $1500 more from the federal government than a similar-looking school elsewhere in the nation,” he said.

National Catholic Education Commission executive director, Ross Fox, said: “Our funding oper­ates on clear principles of equity and need, and I believe we do that well.” He said the SES score alloc­ated to a school does not always reflect its specific needs and that system-wide funding allows the sector to efficiently distribute funds between schools.


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