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.”

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/casey-council-mosque-decision-draws-pr...

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.

Give me freedom from religion; A criticism of the tax laws exempting religion.

Give me freedom from religion; A criticism of the tax laws exempting religion.

By Stephen Mooney

Section 116 of the Constitution of Australia states that “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”

The High Court has never ruled any law to be in contravention of Section 116. This section does not apply to individual states. In 1944 and 1988 the Federal Government held a referendum to amend the constitution so that section 116 would apply to the laws made by the individual states. The referendum failed on both occasions.

As an individual who embraces science and rationality, I consider religion to be an insult to my intelligence and an unacceptable financial burden due to religions not being required to pay local council rates, State or Federal Government tax. Atheists are subsidising those who believe in the fantasy that a super-being they call god will give them a perfect eternal existence after death.

The onus is on those who believe in the existence of god to prove that god exists.

The argument from design claims that it’s no accident that the Universe is fit for human habitation. It could have been unfit for human habitation with different laws of physics.

This begs for an explanation of the nature of these alternative laws in this alternative Universe in which humans can’t exist and so can’t raise the spurious argument from design for the existence of god.

The Universe is how it is because, as far as we can know, it couldn’t be any other way.

Religions are not the only organisations that don’t pay rates and tax. The self-appointed Australian Tax Payers’ Alliance points out that “. . . if you want to promote fishing, agriculture, tourism, or viticulture [sic], or even if you want to promote animal racing or sports . . . you are exempt from tax”. They also claim that: “There is nothing — nothing — special about promoting religion.” And finally they claim that those demanding that religions pay tax are “. . . anti-liberty, anti-choice and are, effectively, using big government to single out and harass religious organisations in Australia.”

Fishing, agriculture, tourism, viticulture, animal racing and sport do not require the belief in an all-powerful non-existent being. I’m not an anti-sportist, an anti-recreationalist, or an anti-agriculturalist. I’m an atheist and a semi-anti-theist: I don’t believe in the existence of god and I only want religion to pay council rates and government tax.

Religion is based on faith, acceptance without question, the antithesis of science and rationality, and this is what makes it special.

Don’t just take my word for it. Ask Christians and Jews and Muslims and all the others who believe in the existence of god if they see their religion as equivalent to all other organisations that are exempt from paying rates and tax.

All the religions are complicit in the unfair treatment of atheists. If they are truly fair minded, if they truly believe in my right not to subsidise their fantasy, then they will join me in demanding that all religions pay council rates and government tax.

I herewith give all religious organisations the opportunity to join me in demanding that both our State and Federal Governments immediately ensure that their constitutions uphold my right not to have to carry the financial burden of subsidising religion in any of its forms.

A recommendation for a financial settlement in favour of all atheists is bound to be the result. If you’ve evolved to the point of realising that there is no god, then you should establish that you’re a bona fide atheist by registering with the Australian Human Rights Commission. In the body of a message place the words “I’m an atheist and I want compensation” It is clearly a case of large-scale and long-running financial discrimination.

A rich man may not get into heaven, but a rich atheist can have one hell of a good time here on Earth.

It’s demeaning to see some of my fellow humans embracing ideas such as original sin. A non-existent couple in a non-existent garden take a non-existent apple from a non-existent tree against a directive from a non-existent being not to do so. I understand that a non-existent snake is also involved in this non-existent event.

Another religion demeans my fellow humans by requiring that they submit and pray to the non-existent god with their heads on the ground and their bums in the air.

The charitable works of religions does not justify them not paying council rates and government tax. These works are a choice made by the religions and the specific nature of those works is determined by the religions.

Just giving things to people is not always the best assistance that you can offer. Do-gooders can do more harm than good.

To compound the financial injury to atheists, those who give money to religious charities receive a reduction in the tax they have to pay.

To compound the financial injury to atheists, those who give money to religious charities receive a reduction in the tax they have to pay.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the number of people in Australia reporting no religious belief has risen from 0.4 per cent in 1911 to 22 per cent in 2011. With those claiming to be Catholic at 25 per cent and Anglican at 17 per cent, atheism is in a respectable second place.

With the all blacks, caps, and sticks across the ditch the category of No Religion has increased to 35 per cent. Although New Zealand leads the way, England and Wales have seen an increase to 25 per cent, Canada to 24 per cent, with the United States lagging behind with an increase to 20 per cent. Atheism is on the rise around the world.

In the name of all that’s holy — as in holy shit — why the hell should atheists have to subsidise the fantasies of those who “can’t handle the truth” that human existence is a consequence of the process of the Universe that incorporates biological evolution and the intellectual development that sees the purpose of life as the realisation of the inherent constructive abilities of both individuals and collective humanity. It does not require the involvement of a super-being of any description.

Give me freedom from religion, with a cheque in the mail.

Stephen Mooney is an independent researcher and writer. He is author of Debunking Physics and Discovering the Logic of the Universe.

the Australian Rationalist (Melbourne), v. 102, Spring [October] 2016.
Journal of the Rationalist Society of Australia, www.rationalist.com.au

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.

From: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/sweetheart-deals-e...

Extract from speech by the late John Kaye (1955 – 2016)

Originally published in New Matilda, March, 2016. Edited for length.

Extract from speech

by the late John Kaye (1955 – 2016)

Greens MLC, John Kaye PhD, recently died unexpectedly from cancer. He was aged 61. John was one of the main supporters of the Rationalist Association of NSW. In 2008 he wrote a speech for a conference he helped sponsor in the New South Wales Parliament. The conference was held just before the arrival of the Pope in Sydney for World Youth Day. As a tribute, we reproduce an extract from his speech, which is as relevant today as it was then.

Thank you all for being here today, to not only sound the alarm on the intrusion of church into state, but to also celebrate the achievements of separation of the two and the magnificent public institutions it has protected and fostered.

And sound the alarm we must. This weekend the people of Sydney will be witness, unwillingly in most cases, to the opening acts in a gross violation of that separation.

Public money is pouring into a religious festival conducted largely on public open space. There is little hope of recovering any of it, either by the state itself, or by the city’s small businesses. The fulsome subsidy stands as testament to the breakdown of the idea that the state should give favour to no one religion.

Unlike the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which is so tiresomely used by Catholic World Youth Day boosters as a supposed precedent, it will be almost impossible for any Sydney dweller to escape next week’s triumphalist display of religious fervour.

And yet Catholic World Youth Day is small beer compared to the billions of dollars gifted to religious schools each year by state and federal governments, money that goes directly to the advancing of one religion or another.

A robust separation of church and State provides essential protections of the liberty of all members of society. Not only does it ensure that no one religion dominates and imposes itself on persons of other faiths or none, it also ensures that the State can operate in a rational and accountable fashion. It is thus alarming to see attempts to undermine this separation and to compromise the essentially secular nature of Australia’s public life.

From public funding of faith-based schools and events such as World Youth Day, to attempts by religious minorities to restrict the basic human rights of others who do not conform to their narrowly defined constraints, Australia, like the rest of the world, is now in the midst of a debate to determine appropriate limits on the interference of organised religion in the decisions of the state.

This is not a debate, as it so often mischievously portrayed, about restricting the rights of people to live their lives according to their faith. There is no attempt to constrain or limit the ability of any individual or community to adhere to a religion and to derive personal comfort, life direction and spiritual enrichment from their beliefs and from the rituals and community of their faith.

It is not the secularists who proselytise or seek to change the views of others.

Nor is it a debate about muzzling or devaluing the valuable contributions to public life made by many people motivated by religious belief.

We do not seek to denigrate the role played in public debates by some church spokespeople who provide valuable evidence and arguments that contribute to the public policy debate. Tim Costello on gambling, Ann Wansbrough on the late — but too slow to pass on — Work Choices, and Bill Crews on services for the homeless, are fine examples of church people making valuable policy contributions, based on the evidence and experience of their work with vulnerable members of society.

The interface between organised religion and the State becomes problematic when a particular faith or religion seeks what Tim Costello calls “privileged access to power”, when representatives of religious institutions enter into a debate by asserting that their faith holds a superior position to the faith or reasoned opinion of others.

Rather than arguing from the commonly held concepts and publicly shared language of social justice and human rights, such interventions rely on the absoluteness of their special received wisdom. Examples of this include the expectation of exemptions from anti-discrimination and vilification laws, the assumption of moral superiority in debates about sexual and biological ethics, and the defence of scripture classes in public schools.

And what adds sting to the behaviour of these church people is the inability of politicians and the political process to resist their advances.

The extent of that failure is writ large in the success of churches in ensuring that the vast majority of public school students of no religious affiliation cannot use productively the time set aside for religious instruction. Organised religion has achieved a stranglehold on one hour a week within the very heart of secular Australia, public education. Their message to the heathen kids is: be religious or be bored. I think they might need some marketing advice there.

There is hope here. The P&C*, the St James Ethics Centre and the Greens are pushing to end this silliness and return that hour to public instruction where it belongs.

In 2005, the Reverend Danny Nalliah of Catch the Fire Ministries most offensively asserted the inherently violent nature of Islam and suggested that Muslim places of worship were “Satan’s strongholds”, which should be “pulled down”.

Evangelical Christians throughout Australia demanded that he be exempted from existing Victorian law preventing vilification of people of other religious beliefs. When he was found guilty, their first response was to demand the law be repealed rather than to question whether Mr Nalliah might have some soul-searching to do.

In doing so, they were seeking to give privilege to their religious beliefs and their practitioners.

During the debate over recent legislation to grant equality of parenting rights to same sex couples, members of parliament received materials from the Fatherhood Foundation, which suggested that gay and lesbian people are mentally disordered, promiscuous, and much more likely to be paedophiles, despite overwhelming objective evidence to the contrary.

These statements would probably be illegal if the documents were not published by a religious organisation.

This Parliament is regularly subjected to claims that Australia is a Christian nation, with the consequence that all laws passed here should be compatible with Christian ethics.

We still face the anachronism of opening each sitting day with an explicitly Christian prayer, although the group of us who stand around outside, waiting for prayers to finish before entering the chamber, does make an interesting cross-party fellowship.

Perhaps the greatest cause for concern for the future of a state that survives on diversity is the growth of faith-based schools. These are the relatively new but rapidly growing cohort of schools that are based on muscular and fundamentalist Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

They take the religiosity of traditional Catholic and Protestant schools to new dimensions of fundamentalism, by deliberately confusing their students over the difference between evidence and belief.

It is appalling that state and federal governments not only permit but also heavily fund schools that teach so-called intelligent design and creationism in science classes in some Christian, Muslim and Jewish schools.

The idea that some people’s religious views about the role of a divine being in creating the universe should be allowed to undermine the teaching of the basis of the scientific method in Australian schools is one that takes society down a dangerous path. When scientific truths are hidden from students in this way, the capacity of tomorrow’s society to solve critical social and scientific problems is undermined.

Every organised group within society is at least tempted at some stage or other to flex their political muscles and seek to exert influence beyond their own range.

We should resist, but not vilify, religions when they seek to do this.

Contempt should be reserved for the politicians who so easily succumb to the pressure and grant privileged space to organised religion.

This conference comes at a crucial time for Australia and New Zealand. The political leverage of churches is growing, in part because they are getting better at the business of politics, and in part because of the growth of concentrations of fundamentalist groups in urban fringe marginal seats. The power of the secular community is to be challenged in new ways over the next decade.

Part of a speech from the New Liberator (Sydney), Winter [October] 2016.

MP has ties to anti-gay African church

Adam Gartrell - Federal Politics

Turnbull government MP Stuart Robert has close ties to an African church that supports harsh anti-gay laws and is run by a preacher described as “one of the most homophobic people in the world”.

Mr Robert was a founding direc­tor of Watoto Australia, an offshoot of the Ugandan-based Pentecostal Watoto Church, and has called church leader Gary Skinner one of the “great influences” on his life.

Watoto is a popular force in Uganda, preaching to 24,000 people across 11 churches and helping chil­dren orphaned by war and AIDS. Mr Skinner’s wife, Marilyn, also advoc­ates for women’s rights.

The church is also behind the Watoto Choir, an acclaimed chil­dren’s choir that tours the world. It just finished a tour of Australia.

But the church has a darker side.

Gay and lesbian activists say Watoto and Mr Skinner are viru­lently anti-gay and have contributed to violent homophobia in Uganda. Mr Robert, who was also a member of Watoto’s International Board, has travelled to the Ugandan capital Kampala many times to meet Mr Skinner, who says homosexuality is “degrading” and an “inhuman sin” that brings disease and destroys families.

At least twice, Mr Robert charged taxpayers for the travel, with the bill totalling almost $20,000. On two other occasions, he declared travel to Africa on his register of interests paid for by Watoto.

In 2006, Mr Robert self-published a book about the church called Hope: The Watoto Journey. Mr Robert resigned his dir­ectorship only when he became a minis­ter in the Abbott government in 2013.

Mr Skinner’s church also advoc­ates the “reform” and “reintegration” into society of gay people. On its web site, Watoto Church says it “adheres to the biblical standard of sexuality”, which means “it is a gift from God to be enjoyed only within the confines of a monogamous, het­erosexual marriage relationship”.

It also says it is in favour of “pro-family legislation that reflects and preserves this biblical standard”.

This “pro-family legislation” has included Uganda’s notorious “kill the gays” bill.

Gay rights cam­paigners say Watoto and Mr Skin­ner supported the harsh anti-gay bill that drew widespread interna­tional condemnation, even in its original incarnation, when it in­cluded the death penalty.

The church asked congregants to sign a petition in support of the bill, which the United States has called “atro­cious” and compared to the anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany and apartheid in South Africa.

The bill was eventually passed without the death penalty included, instead imposing a life sentence for homosexuality. The new version of the bill, which also imposes seven-year prison terms for “aiding and abetting” homosexuals, was annulled by the country’s constitu­tional court, but only on procedural grounds. Proponents are agitating to resurrect it.

One of Uganda’s top gay rights advocates, Frank Mugisha, la­belled Mr Skinner “one of the most homophobic people in the world”. But he says Mr Skinner’s charit­able work makes him popular and therefore influential.

The Nobel peace prize nominee says while Mr Skinner has not been a public proponent of anti-gay laws, his church has supported them strongly. He has also supported, endorsed and hosted anti-gay preachers from abroad who have come into Uganda to whip up homophobic sentiment.

“The church has supported anti-gay Christians like Stephen Langa, one of the key supporters of the anti-gay laws,” Dr Mugisha, a win­ner of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for his advocacy, said. “Skinner was also one of the people who invited Lou Engle to Africa.”

Mr Langa is a Watoto Church elder and one of the driving forces behind the anti-gay legislation.

He has referred to the LGBTI community as the “kingdom of Sa­tan”, believes there is a homosexu­al plot to take over the world, and has close ties to anti-gay US preachers.

He was the chief organ­iser of a now notorious March 2009 conference that gave a platform to three US evangelical preachers who claimed wealthy Westerners were trying to bribe Ugandan children into becoming gay. Dr Mugisha and others say this con­ference was a watershed moment that whipped up anti-gay hysteria. Just one month later, Ugandan MP David Bahati introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill to rid the coun­try of “homos”.

One of the speakers at the con­ference was Scott Lively, who reportedly also sermonised at Watoto. He is the author of Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party, which seeks to blame gays for the Holocaust.

Langa and Lively were sub­sequently named as co-conspirators in a lawsuit over an alleged plot to deprive Ugandan gays of their human rights, brought by Dr Mugisha’s Sexual Minorities in Uganda. The case is ongoing in the US courts.

A spokesman for Mr Robert said he was a director of Watoto Aus­tralia for almost a decade on an “unpaid and voluntary basis”. He said Mr Robert had visited Africa more than a dozen times to work in refugee camps and AIDS treat­ment centres, on orphan programs and with micro-economic training companies.

“He and his family have person­ally funded and built a number of homes for orphaned children and spent over a decade working for the betterment of orphaned chil­dren,” the spokesman said.

“Gary Skinner’s views are a mat­ter for him.”

The spokesman did not say whether Mr Robert agreed with Mr Skinner’s views.

Mr Robert is strongly against same-sex marriage, and has used parliamentary speeches to rail against “gay IVF” and proclaim that “homosexual relationships are far more unstable than heterosexu­al ones”. “Nothing should be done by any parliament to make it likely that more children will be raised by same-sex couples,” he said in 2008.

He has described Watoto as a “truly special place” and “a thing of beauty”.

Mr Skinner, who grew up in a missionary family in Zimbabwe, is a regular visitor to Australia. He has been a guest preacher at the Pentecostal Hillsong Church in Sydney.

Hillsong supports Watoto financially, donating $720,000 to Mr Skinner during a 2007 visit.

Watoto Australia raises more than $3 million a year for the church. Last year, the church raised $48 million worldwide.

Watoto Church and Watoto Aus­tralia were asked for comment.

From: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/turnbull-mp-stuart...

2016 Annual General Meeting

The Annual General Meeting of the Victorian Secular Lobby will be on Wednesday, April 13, at 18:00 at Parliament House, Spring Street, Melbourne.

The agenda for the meeting includes:

1. Attendance, Apologies, Minutes
1.1 Attendance
1.1 Apologies
1.3 Minutes of last AGM

2. Administrative Changes and Election of Office Bearers
2.1 New Act for Incorporated Associations.
2.2 Election of office bearers (President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, 2 Committee Members).

3. Guest Speaker, Maree Edwards, State Member for Bendigo West, on "The Politics of the Bendigo Mosque".

Wealth Abuse, Taxation and Religion

Brian Morris

GREED AND RELIGION

For three long years the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse heard tragic testimony from thousands of victims of abuse perpetrated by prestigious religious institutions. And there seems no end, whether to the depths of child exploitation, to inaction by churches for preventative solutions, or to delays in compensating their victims.

While child abuse has been the criminal underbelly of Christianity — most recently exposed — there is another epidemic on which all churches have remained silent, and equally miasmic with indifference.

Wealth abuse is a global phenomenon, evident long before globalisation. It’s become a crisis in every nation as the rich become even more obscenely rich, while a burgeoning underclass struggle for survival.

A miniscule 0.1 per cent of America’s most wealthy own almost as much as the bottom 90 per cent — this from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. It’s an exponential wealth gap that’s exploded in all nations since the rich/poor chasm of the Industrial Revolution, and widened further during the Great Depression.

And the churches say and do little other than tut-tut and hand-wring at periodic conventions, in obscure reports on social deprivation, or with 30-second news grabs to show that they “care”.

They know exactly that behind the illusion and thin veneer of widespread prosperity the non-rich are not coping.

True, the pursuit and hording of wealth is as old as time. But historically, societies that became top heavy with wealth, in the hands of too few, fell prey to rebellion. One of the most spectacular was the Fall of Rome, but France and Russia are two classic examples of popular revolution. It nearly happened in Britain in the depression when unemployment hit 30 per cent, and topping 70 per cent in parts of Wales and Northern England.

But poverty has always been the cornerstone for religion. The influence and domination by all churches flourishes primarily in impoverished societies, where education and social opportunity are minimal. World-wide, 90 per cent of Catholics are poor.

It’s illustrated, too, by one well-known quote from Christopher Hitchens about Mother Teresa, when he said: “Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God.” And it’s in this mind-set that retreat into supernatural belief seems to become the only option.

So where is the religious muscle-flexing to condemn this shameful wealth gap that exists? Where is the political influence and hard-hitting media campaigns the churches unleashed when calling for Religious Freedom, or their demands for exemptions to anti-discrimination laws to challenge gay marriage, or their frontal assaults on the Safe Schools program?

Instead, Christianity influences the creation of wealth and maintains its symbiotic rapport with governments and the social élite who perpetuate capital inequity. Indeed, it was Calvinism that eased biblical restrictions on avarice and usury, paving the way for the full development and exploitation of laissez-faire capitalism.

Now, while experiencing [sic: despite?] rapid congregational decline, the numerically small church hierarchies somehow retain a cultural and political dominance. They maintain the presence of being spiritually élitist and eschew all scientific evidence that undermines their biblical foundations. This itself breeds ignorance among their diminishing flock. And they continue to champion and personify Christianity’s privileged élite, and reinforce an archaic class structure through their penchant for pomp and ceremony.

Religion remains firmly anchored in its social orthodoxy (anti-gay, anti-voluntary euthanasia, et al.), it is staunchly conservative on political and economic policy, and it has an overall callous insensitivity. That is typified by an embedded “Mother Teresa” mind-set to poverty, and a Cardinal Pell-like view of child abuse.

Christianity’s coddled leadership continue to defy the march of progress. They are a privileged group of men with miniscule congregational support: just 8 per cent of the public go to church. That includes all religions!

Historically, this all adds up to Christianity being a major player in the environment of wealth escalation, and, by direct association, with social and economic inequality. No doubt some of their charities do good work, but the very essence of being a religious charity is to actively engage in the “advancement of religion”.

Government subsidies, initiated by John Howard, led to church domination of the welfare and employment sectors, as well as lucrative businesses in private education, private health and private aged care. In none of these is there any legal protection for their captive clientele to be shielded from predatory Christianity.

And while 37 per cent of charities are religious, the remaining 63 per cent are primarily secular, doing equally good work on a swathe of humanitarian fronts, but all without the need to tout supernatural beliefs.

But the churches have departed from the alleged teachings of Jesus — to give succour and comfort to the needy, without counting the cost. Throughout history they have indeed counted the staggering wealth pouring into their coffers. Despite all their unchristian denials, churches have immeasurable wealth in property, investments, businesses, gold, art work, precious gems and artefacts, and international currencies.

In 2014 “faith groups” collected a handsome $104 billion* income according to the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission. And these “religious charities” are not required to submit detailed financial reports, so we can assume this is a conservative figure.

Conversely, religious organisations are avoiding the full gamut of taxes: exemptions — all forms of income tax, including their businesses, GST, land taxes, council rates, payroll taxes, car registrations; the list is endless. The analysis was completed by the Secular Party of Australia in 2008, and it can be safely assumed that over the past seven years that figure has not diminished in any way.

WHERE IS ALL THIS GOING?

In 2014 Australia’s GDP was US$1.45 trillion* — that’s United States dollars — and was ranked 12th on the IMF table of 189 countries. And despite the global financial crisis, and recent falls in commodity prices, Australia remains one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

And, like the churches (over many centuries), Australia’s wealth has expanded exponentially, but primarily in the hands of society’s most privileged and already wealthy.

In 2015, the nation’s top 20 per cent of wealth-holders increased by 28 per cent while, by comparison, the wealth of the bottom 20 per cent increased by just 3 per cent. A person in the top 20 per cent wealth-group has a staggering 70 times as much wealth as a person in the bottom 20 per cent, and the wealthiest 10 per cent own 45 per cent of all wealth. These figures come from ACOSS in their 2015 report, Inequality in Australia.

So, where is the clamour from Christian churches to actually do something about the ever increasing wealth-gap problem? Where is the voice from those religious bodies that endorsed the ACOSS report: the Salvation Army, Anglicare Australia and St Vincent de Paul?

When will the Church hierarchies ever do more than offer muted and patronising double-speak? When will they openly challenge the federal government to act — through their frequent national media campaigns? Will they ever use all their media connections to influence real change — the very same networks they use to shout down gay marriage, and a raft of contemporary social policy that offends their Christian beliefs?

Where is the church voice calling loudly, not for cuts to education, health and welfare, but for increases in revenue through equitable taxation of the wealthy in negative gearing, on superannuation rorts for the rich, family trusts, and a swathe of tax loopholes for corporations and their mega-rich patrons?

These are all multi-billion revenue streams which could build infrastructure and create “real” jobs, better opportunities for the chronically under­employed, and genuine training for the army of unemployed youth who need tangible pathways to participate fully in this twelfth richest country in the world.

Casual jobs now account for 35 per cent of the work force, the largest on record, and the majority provide only sufficient hours to allow workers a meagre existence. The truer unemployment rate is close to 13 per cent, including casual workers whose hours fall short of the minimum wage. A true figure is much higher still, when including all unemployed people who have dropped out of the CES system entirely.

CONCLUSION

To reverse this crisis of casualisation, and the economic insecurity of “employment by yearly contract”, a government with integrity would open new revenue streams. They are the traditional “sacred cows” of the wealthy, mentioned above. Without these untapped revenue sources there will be no stabilising of today’s wealth inequity, no national infrastructure funds to curb Australia’s slide into social and economic decline.

And a Death Tax would be an ideal addition to any plan to finally have the mega-rich make a contribution! It was even suggested last year by Malcolm Turnbull — to reintroduce a scheme abandoned in 1978. It’s been long overdue, given that Australia’s wealthiest fat cats are the meanest in the world when it comes to philanthropy, according to the Arton Capital Philanthropy Report of 2015. Or just pay tax! Put simply, tax minimisation is not only antisocial behaviour, it’s a contrived rort on the low paid who pay their full share.

Religion’s annual $31 billion in tax exemptions is another ancient contrivance that’s long overdue for a major overhaul — to have churches finally make a contribution to the nation’s coffers. Or do they just stand and watch as governments slash more from hospitals and public schools?

While Christianity originally preached the ideal, “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”, the churches continue to fight tooth and nail to retain their billion dollar free ride at the taxpayer’s expense. It’s unconscionable, in this wholly secular society!

Malcolm Turnbull’s government faced a budget crisis in May 2016. Wracked by indecision, they have swept “off the table” a full gamut of taxation measures to offset expenditure and the alarming fall in commodities prices. But all the easy options have been discarded. And it’s incontrovertible that a “Catholic” Turnbull would simply run screaming from the remotest mention of “death and religion” paying its fair share of tax to his government.

From: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=18087&page=0

Secularists Reject Religious Register

The Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., rejects the proposal that MPs should be required to register their religious beliefs, describing the proposal as "simultaneously risible and obnoxious".

The apparently single-person organisation, 'Plain Reason', made the proposal in February and received some media coverage.

President of the Victorian Secular Lobby, Lev Lafayette, wanted to emphasise that a secular approach supports the freedom of and from religion, and the separation of religious authorities from public policy.

"The very idea that the state should keep a register of MPs religious affiliations goes against the very principle of keeping religion out of politics", he said.

"Secularism is about knowledge which is founded and testable in our shared world. It is not an argument against religious beliefs, but an argument independent of it."

The Lobby has religious members, including members on their committee of management.

However organisations such as the Australian Christian Lobby were also criticised for their approach.

"Overwhelmingly, members of the public believe social policy should come from evidence-based research and secular ethics, rather than religious dogma. It is a conceit of organisations such as the Australian Christian Lobby who think they speak for all Christians", Mr. Lafayette added.

For further information contact Nick Langdon, Secretary of the Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., public@victoriansecular.org

The Victorian Secular Lobby is incorporated in the State of Victoria, Number A00594400A

Gay laws open door for child marriage: Lib

Recognising overseas gay marriages could force Australia to recognise child marriages too, a Liberal senator has warned parliament.

"If we start making changes against our sovereign law in the interests of one group then why not the other groups," David Fawcett said on Thursday.

"If we’re going to be consistent… then we need to start recognising things like child marriage, which I think clearly Australians would reject."

The Senate is debating a private bill, proposed by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, that seeks to recognise overseas same-sex marriages.

Senator Fawcett said doing so would create a loophole to Australian law, encouraging gay couples to go overseas and get married, despite it not being legal in Australia.

Greens senator Robert Simms said the tragic case of a British man who was refused next-of-kin status when his husband died in Adelaide highlighted the need for national laws to recognise overseas gay marriages.

The bill would end cruel and draconian inconsistencies that exist between states, after the gay man’s death certificate read ‘never married’, despite him dying on his honeymoon.

But if Marco Bulmer-Rizzi’s husband David died 400km east in NSW, the marriage would have been acknowledged.

"He had to go through the pain of reading `never married’ on his husband’s death certificate," Senator Simms said.

From: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/federal-greens-renew-pu...
"The cruel reality of these laws have been exposed by this tragic incident."

Several states including NSW and Victoria recognise overseas same-sex marriages, but others such as Western Australia and South Australia don’t.

Senator Simms said recognition should not stop at state borders.

Senator Fawcett said the bill would not address the root cause of the problem faced by Mr Bulmer-Rizzi.

"The remedy for the kind of problems that he faced… is actually found in state legislation."

Outspoken Liberal senator Cory Bernardi said the bill could also force Australia to recognise polygamy.

"You could go to Saudi Arabia or some of the Islamic countries where it’s legal for a man to marry four wives.

"Should we be expected to recognise that in this country?" he said.

Senator Bernardi said the bill would encourage people to subvert Australian law, forcing recognition of foreign laws that were inconsistent with its own.

He accused gay marriage advocates of "sneakily" trying to further their cause without going through the proper consultation process with the Australian people.

"You’re jumping the gun – you’re trying to force something upon this country that it hasn’t accepted as yet."

Nationals senator Matthew Canavan said the Greens had no respect for other people’s viewpoints, attempting a backdoor change to the definition of marriage.

If Australia does vote to change the definition, he will respect the views of voters, he said.

But he won’t support any change that undermines the right for people to carry out their religious beliefs.

Senator Canavan believes changing the definition will remove colour and imagination from life because there will no longer be a word to describe the union of a man and a woman coming together to have children.

"We should have a particular institution and a particular word to describe the creation of the next generation."

Teen spoke of packing ’roo with explosives in attack, court told

A MELBOURNE teenager allegedly discussed packing a kangaroo with explosives, painting it with an Islamic State symbol and setting it loose on police officers.

Sevdet Ramadan Besim, 19, of Hallam, in Melbourne’s south east, is accused of plotting an Anzac Day terror attack in Melbourne that would have allegedly included a beheading.

He was committed to trial in the Supreme Court on Thursday after pleading not guilty to four charges.

They included conducting internet searches of Anzac Day in Melbourne and Dandenong, engaging in communications and creating an electronic memo on his phone — all in preparation for a terrorist act.

Besim initially faced five charges, but prosecutor Andrew Doyle withdrew one when Besim appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday.

Besim is accused of planning to run over, then behead, a police officer.

He allegedly wrote he was “ready to fight these dogs on there (sic) doorstep” in online communications with a person overseas, according to court documents.

“I’d love to take out some cops,” Besim is alleged to have written.

“I was gonna meet with them then take some heads ahaha.”

Police say the pair also talked generally about Australian wildlife, suggesting a kangaroo could be packed with explosives, painted with “the IS symbol” and set loose on officers.

While police did not go into details of the symbol, the image mostly linked to Islamic State is the Black Banner or Standard.

Besim has been in custody since April 18 last year when 200 heavily armed officers swooped on the city’s south east, arresting five teens and seizing knives and swords.

Police said he was motivated by an extremist ideology and had expressed support for proscribed terrorist organisations, particularly IS, which adopt a radical interpretation of Islam.

The dropped charge was one count of conspiring to do an act in preparation for or planning a terror act, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Besim is due to face a directions hearing next week.

From: http://www.news.com.au/national/victoria/sevdet-besim-accused-of-plannin...

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