Path clear to enact the right to assisted death


For the past week, The Age has published in the pages of the newspaper and across our digital platforms a comprehensive series of reports, videos, opinions and contributions from our readers to advocate for the right of terminally ill people to choose, under rigorously regulated circumstances, the timing and manner of their death.

We began the coverage with an editorial urging the Federal Parliament to enshrine this right in law, and with a video testimony by a terminally ill Melbourne man, Peter Short, whose campaign for choice inspired Greens senator Richard Di Natale to propose legislation that would legalise strictly controlled physician-assisted death. We believe that what has been presented in the past five days has established and indeed buttressed the case for change, and today we underscore and amplify our call on our lawmakers to act by debating, honing and then passing Senator Di Natale's bill. Not only should every lawmaker have an unfettered vote on this, but our political leaders ought to urge support for the change.

The very day our series started, the cross-party Senate committee that had been receiving submissions and holding nationwide hearings on the proposed legislation declared that it, too, supports a free vote. The committee's chairman, Liberal senator Ian Macdonald, said his mother's prolonged demise had partly shaped his view that terminally ill people should have a right to assisted death, provided the law has adequate safeguards. We believe foreign experience demonstrates that such protections, importantly including for those with mental illness, can be constructed.

Surveys have long revealed significant majority support across the Australian community for such change. This was again apparent yesterday, when we published a Fairfax/Ipsos poll indicating as many as three out of four people believe those suffering from incurable illness ought to have access to physician-assisted death. This belief was clear, too, in our online poll. We have been buoyed by the community's participation during the past week, and would like to thank all those who contributed. People have shared profoundly moving stories, creating a compelling and even cathartic compendium. We urge those who might doubt the need for legislation to review the collection on our website.

There surely can be no more of a universal issue; death is the only certainty for each of us. Perhaps the most powerful argument for change is that, while the majority of those who are given the option of physician-assisted death do not actually use it, everyone who has the option benefits immediately because it alleviates fear and anxiety. This is clear in those places overseas where physician-assisted death is legal, and in Australia, where it is being practised by compassionate medicos at their undue legal peril. One such doctor, and a leading advocate for choice, Rodney Syme, openly and courageously admits having helped many terminally ill people find peace and relief by giving them the means and knowledge to end their own life.

We again stress that we do not support voluntary euthanasia advocate Dr Philip Nitschke, because through his organisation, Exit International, he aids people who are not terminally ill to die by suicide. It is in the public interest to pass a law that permits doctors such as Dr Syme to offer relief to terminally ill patients, many of whom suffer excruciating physical and psychological pain, but prevents those like Dr Nitschke from facilitating the death of people who should instead receive treatment.

Life is precious, and should be protected – but not at all cost. We believe the past week has indicated a strong and pivotal nexus of support between the community and its elected representatives for a law to respect the right to this humane choice. The way is clear for change, and the time to act has arrived.


Victorians to get a greater say in dying with dignity under Labor reforms

Farrah Tomazin

Labor wants to clarify individuals' rights to make their wishes known in terms of future medical care.

Victorians will be able to tell their doctors not to give them life-prolonging treatment for future illnesses under a Labor plan to provide people with a greater say in how they die.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews told The Sunday Age that if Labor was elected this month he would introduce new laws giving people clearer rights to set directives about the kind of medical care they would want in the event of future conditions such as cancer, brain damage or dementia.

It just means people can be really clear about their medical conditions and the sort of care that they don't want administered, well in advance.
Daniel Andrews

At present, people can make orders for the treatment they want for an existing medical condition, but the guidelines around future illnesses lack clarity.

"We will legislate to change that," Mr Andrews said. "It just means people can be really clear about their medical conditions and the sort of care that they don't want administered well in advance."

Mr Andrews' comments came as federal MPs from both sides of politics declared their support for voluntary euthanasia on Tuesday, following a Senate report that paves the way for a free vote on national right-to-die laws.

State Labor's policy would build on the work of the Austin Hospital's "Respecting Patient Choices" program, and would involve changes to the Medical Treatment Act.

However, the position does not extend to euthanasia – an issue that would most likely be subject to a conscience vote should it ever be raised again in the Victorian Parliament. A Greens' private members bill for voluntary euthanasia was defeated in 2008 when the Brumby government was in power.

In other developments on Labor's campaign trail, Mr Andrews:

Headed to the south-east suburb of Mentone on Saturday to announce a $100million package for sports clubs to upgrade their facilities.
Rejected calls from the Greens to form a power-sharing alliance should the minor party hold the balance-of-power in the lower house after the election, saying "no deal will be offered and no deal will be done."
Refused to say when he would provide Victorians with costings of Labor's election promises, other than to repeat that the details would be released "well before Victorians vote."

With the campaign hitting the half-way mark, early voting for the November 29 election begins tomorrow. Polls suggest Labor is still ahead, but Mr Andrews was forced to defend reports suggesting his staffers were leaking against him. According to News Corp, whistleblowers in Mr Andrews' office had raised concerns about the excessive influence on policy by lobbyist Andres Puig, a former Labor official and now a partner in the firm The Civic Group.

Premier Denis Napthine said Mr Andrews had "questions to answer" about the influence lobbyists had on policy development, and the management of his office.

Mr Andrews said the report was "just nonsense", inaccurate and "part of the colour and movement of a campaign". Mr Puig did not return calls by deadline on Saturday.

Poll shows majority in Victoria support voluntary euthanasia

Three out of four Victorians say people suffering from incurable illnesses should be able to access assistance to die if they want to, a poll suggests.

However, neither the government nor the opposition has plans to engage with the issue before this month's state election. Labor leader Daniel Andrews said he did not support voluntary euthanasia and Premier Denis Napthine declined to state his personal view.

Both said they had no plans to refer the matter to the Victorian Law Reform Commission to advise them on possible legal changes.

Dr Napthine said: "That's not a matter I have thought to address. I believe that any proposal to change euthanasia laws is an important moral and social issue that should be decided by a conscience vote in Parliament."

A Fairfax Ipsos poll of 1000 Victorians conducted last week found 76 per cent supported a change to laws that ban assisted suicide and euthanasia. It comes as Greens senator Richard Di Natale prepares a federal bill seeking to legalise voluntary euthanasia for people suffering "intolerably" from a terminal illness. The bill, which is being refined, would make it legal for doctors to help mentally competent adults with an incurable sickness to end their life.

Ten candidates in the Voluntary Euthanasia Party will run for upper house seats in five regions in the Victorian state election.

Lead candidate Penny McCasker said the party's sole goal was to have voluntary euthanasia referred to the Law Reform Commission so it could report back to state parliament on changes to the law.

The party says people experiencing unbearable suffering, a terminal illness or an incurable disease should be able to access medical assistance to die, with appropriate safeguards to protect vulnerable people, such as those who might be coerced into making a request to die.

Ms McCasker said even if there was a conscience vote on the Greens' federal bill next year, she doubted that some politicians would feel truly free to vote based on their conscience only.

From : The Age, 14/11/2014

MPs from both sides back euthanasia reform

Parliamentarians from both sides of politics declared their support for voluntary euthanasia on Tuesday, following a Senate report that could pave the way for a free vote on national right-to-die laws.

Labor's deputy leader Tanya Plibersek and former Howard government minister Mal Brough were among MPs to add their voices to calls for dying with dignity reform.

Their comments follow the release of a multi-party Senate committee report on Monday that recommended party leaders allow MPs a free vote on euthanasia.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, whose six members included three coalition Senators, recommended a conscience vote following an inquiry on the first proposals for national euthanasia laws, put forward by Greens senator Richard di Natale.

Senator di Natale's draft bill would make it legal for medical practitioners to help a terminally ill, mentally competent adult end their life.

Federal Parliament has been asked to consider the issue of euthanasia just once before. In 1996, it voted for a private member's bill introduced by Liberal frontbencher Kevin Andrews to overturn Northern Territory laws that legalised euthanasia. On that occasion, both major parties granted their MPs a free vote.

Whether coalition MPs would be granted a conscience vote on national dying-with-dignity laws remains to be seen.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in China attending the APEC summit, was not available to comment on the approach the Coalition would take to such a bill.

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Michael Keenan said:

"There is currently no legislation before the parliament on this matter. Should there be legislation presented in the future, it will be dealt with by the party room in the usual way."

Nationals Senator John Williams said while heopposed euthanasia, he supported a free vote.

"This is a contentious issue, a sensitive issue and a religious issue," he told Fairfax Media. "I personally would not support it, but I have no problem with a conscience vote."

Labor MPs automatically have a conscience vote on euthanasia.

Labor's deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said "I support voluntary euthanasia with appropriate regulation and safeguards," a view reinforced by her experience of watching her father Joseph die slowly and painfully from cancer in 2012.

Liberal MP Mal Brough, who voted against the Andrews bill in 1996, said while he had not seen the Di Natale bill, "I support the notion of dying with dignity."

A spokesman for the leader of the house, Christopher Pyne, said he did not believe euthanasia should be legal.

Nationals Senator Barry O'Sullivan, a member of the Senate committee that examined the Di Natale bill, said he was "seriously opposed" to euthanasia because he believed the state should not involve itself in matters of life and death.

"Once you legislate for voluntary euthanasia on certain terms, over time it stands to reason that these terms can be expanded or broadened. I think we should stay right out of the space," he said.

Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm said his party supported euthanasia for people of sound mind as long as their choice was totally voluntary.

"We take the view that if suicide is legal – and it is, and so it should be – it's not moral to deny people assistance to commit suicide just because they're too feeble to do it for themselves," he said.

"We just don't think the government has the right to tell you that you have to stay alive if you are determined not to stay alive. It's not the government's business," Senator Leyonhjelm said.

Senator di Natale will consider issues raised by the committee with a view to introducing an improved bill, co-sponsored by MPs from other parties, in the first half of 2015.


Right to die: Choosing an end to life

The desperation of the dying is something Melbourne woman Catherine Ringwood knows intimately. Much of her adult life has been spent in its company, first as a nurse then later as a counsellor for the pro-euthanasia organisation, Exit International.

It became personal 15 years ago when she was diagnosed at just 49 with leukaemia. Since then, Ringwood has fought hard for her life: chemotherapy, radiotherapy, then a mastectomy five years ago after an out of the blue breast cancer diagnosis and finally, gratefully, as a human guinea pig in a cancer drug trial.

The drugs aren’t working anymore and even though I am a positive person, I know I am pretty much out of medical answers. I feel some trepidation and obviously a great deal of sadness but I am also so glad I have thought deeply about how I want to die and had the conversation with those I love.
Catherine Ringwood

A month ago Ringwood, now 64, was told by her doctors at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre that the disease was back for good. "The drugs aren't working any more and even though I am a positive person, I know I am pretty much out of medical answers," she says. "I feel some trepidation and obviously a great deal of sadness but I am also so glad I have thought deeply about how I want to die and had the conversation with those I love.
Philip Nitschke with his 94-year-old mother, Gwen, who wants to die.

Philip Nitschke with his 94-year-old mother, Gwen, who wants to die.

"If I get to a point where I'm unable to walk, toilet myself, live independently then this would be unacceptable and I would choose to die."

Like many living with a terminal illness or with incurable suffering, maintaining control over their life – and death – is the most important thing.

Her decision to speak publicly about her own end of life plans is crazy-brave in the current climate.

Since April police have raided homes of Exit members in South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia, searching for the banned euthanasia drug, Nembutal. A few weeks ago, a Victorian couple had a surprise visit from two Australian Federal police officers after Customs intercepted a parcel from Thailand containing a banned drug.

"Let them put me in jail, a lot of people in Exit are frightened but not me – can you imagine? Terminally ill woman in jail for victimless crime. Let them try," Ringwood says. Even so, her "action plan" is a secret and she makes it clear, she isn't about to jeopardise that.

"I have the 'information' I need to make my own end of life choice and that's what is keeping me sane right now," Ringwood says. "It would be a major catastrophe if that was taken away.

"Having a plan means that one day, I can give my hematologist a hug and thank him. I've never discussed this with my doctors though, because I am frightened they will say I'm depressed, and feel its one more thing they have to try and fix."

Information, knowledge, action plan, peaceful pill are all euphemisms used by scared, often terminally ill or elderly but sometimes perfectly well people as code for Nembutal. It is the holy grail of the voluntary euthanasia movement used here by vets to put down animals and by legal euthanasia programs in Europe to end the lives of people. It's the drug that turns otherwise law-abiding people into drug smugglers, death tourists, law breakers.

At the beginning of the 21st century, advances in medical technology have made it possible to maintain life where it was previously impossible. But those advances have pushed us into new medical, moral and ethical territory. With the use of sophisticated life support systems, is life being sustained or is death being deferred?

It is an issue many liken to the abortion debate of the 1960s and one which the medical profession, the church, hospitals, nursing homes, and parliaments as well as the broader community, is being forced to confront.

All agree the rights of the dying is the hot ethical debate of the times and will only intensify as the pro-rights baby boomer generation finds itself facing death.

There have been attempts at law reform in every state and territory bar Queensland. In 1996, Australia became, briefly the first jurisdiction in the world to legalise euthanasia for the terminally ill. It was overturned nine months later by the Howard government.

Now, a Greens-sponsored draft dying with dignity bill is winding its way through the committee process of the federal Parliament. It is the first federal attempt at legislation. One of its architects is South Australian GP turned senator Richard Di Natale. He says the time has come for an honest national conversation on end of life choices.

"Look, we know its happening in an unregulated space behind closed doors so there is a strong argument to say lets do it openly and try and break down some of the taboos around death and dying," Di Natale says.

Nearly two decades of reporting from the frontlines of the euthanasia debate has taught me that fear of dying, not fear of death, is the issue that motivates ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Stashed bottles of barbiturates, clandestine trips to dodgy Mexican border towns, failed suicide attempts, money lost in scam internet deals.

Fear of pain, but also the indignity of being trapped in a body which no longer functions but where the brain is as active as ever, can transform the most law abiding and conservative citizens into fugitives.

Not all people interviewed for this story were prepared to be identified. They don't want to risk having their drugs found, scared relatives alerted or their doctors tipped off.

One couple - we'll call them Carol and Bill - are in their 60s and in good health, and say they recently imported cyanide from Thailand after researching the subject carefully.

This is a new and alarming development in the euthanasia drug black market. Testing showed the drug was not pure and so Carol and Bill, like informed consumers, complained to the supplier and another package was sent. They say they are being responsible by planning for their future and liken it to writing an advance care directive or taking out life insurance.

"We're not alone, many of our friends feel the same way," Carol says. "It's our generation I guess, we're not used to having to put up with pain, we are used to choice. Its interesting how many people have made their plans, equipped themselves and now can get on with their lives."

Her own mother committed suicide by drinking Nembutal just before her 90th birthday. "She was not sick, she was not depressed, she just decided it was time to die. It was not a secret, we all knew her feelings because she valued life, she had meditated on this decision for a very long time. It was a textbook case of rational suicide."

But Carol's mother died alone. She rang her daughter after she had swallowed the medicine but no one was home. "She left a message on the answering machine saying she was sorry, she was tired and it was time to go. She was protecting us to the end by not involving us. I just wish she hadn't had to go through that last hour alone."

Earlier this year a fascinating correspondence took place between the former chief minister of the Northern Territory and passionate voluntary euthanasia supporter, Marshall Perron, and the South Australian coroner, Mark Johns.

Perron wrote to all Australian coroners seeking their views on what he termed "an unrecognised phenomenon in Australia ... the growing incidence of rational suicide by the elderly and the terminally and hopelessly ill". He was trying to gather some facts to support his contention that too many ill people are choosing to end their life prematurely and alone while they are still physically or mentally able.

"There is anecdotal evidence that such disguised deaths occur regularly..." he wrote.

Only Johns replied. "Much of what you say is quite correct and accords with my own experience," he said. " I agree that these deaths are a sad reflection on our society and the choices that many elderly people face...

"Whilst many coroners might privately agree that voluntary euthanasia ought to be available, coroners, like other members of the judiciary, should not involve themselves in political debates that are as hotly contested as that one.

"I do agree that the public is generally unaware. They rely on the people they elect to lead them to inform them of such matters and instigate debate."

Dr Rodney Syme has just come from the bedside of a terminally ill man who took his life the night before. Syme offers few details because he is aware that the police might turn up asking impossible questions of a grieving wife.

"I was there because I'd offered to support this person and to make sure the process went OK. We had a long conversation for an hour and half, going over it all again and then he took the medication and it was all over in about 20 minutes. I spent another three quarters of an hour with the wife talking over what had happened and she offered me a glass of scotch and I had it."

Suicide is not a crime in Australia but assisting someone to die is. Is just being present a felony? "The police have told me its not but aiding and abetting, for example handing someone a drug to take, is illegal," Syme says.

Personally, he has been goading police to arrest him for years. He admitted giving Nembutal to former Victorian journalist Steve Guest in 2005 while he was dying of esophageal cancer but the police have said there is not enough evidence to press charges.

Dying with Dignity Victoria – Syme is vice president – represents the mainstream "physician assisted dying" side of the debate which is the position the Greens draft bill espouses. They want law reform so that doctors who currently work in the murky grey zone of "terminal sedation" can practice without fear of prosecution. And the terminally ill and chronically suffering can have a peaceful, painless death at a time of their choosing.

"Medical assistance at the end of a person's life is just good palliative care," Syme says. "It's not illegal to commit suicide, to refuse medical treatment including refusing artificial food and fluids, to ask for medical treatment to be withdrawn – there is only this missing bit at the end – to allow people a dignified death with assistance by a doctor."

Gwen Nitschke wants to die but the very last person who can help her is her son, Philip Nitschke, the world's most controversial voluntary euthanasia advocate and, currently, a suspended doctor fighting for his medical registration and reputation.

It's deeply ironic that the 94-year-old, who has lived in a nursing home in Adelaide for the past six years and is still sharp as a tack, wakes up every morning and announces to the world that she wishes she was dead. Her son, who has written the book on ways to die as well as being the first doctor in the world to practice legal physician-assisted dying, cannot help her.

Gwen is not terminally ill, she is like so many elderly Australians, slowly dying. She can't move about without using a walking frame or wheelchair and she is lonely; living to nearly 100 means she has watched most of her friends go first.

"I am tired and I just want this to end," she says in a phone interview the week before her son's appeal against his suspension.

"I wish I'd done something earlier to help send me on my way but I left my run too late."

Nitschke says his mother feels stranded. "The weekly visits out to the nursing home are invariably difficult, stressful and hard going for her and us. Waiting is a form of suffering and that's what she is doing. I feel quite sad that I can't give her the drugs, I feel upset by her situation. She looks at me each time and says the same thing. 'It's just my luck to have you as a son'."


Federal MPs should have free vote on euthanasia, Senate committee says

Federal MPs should have a free vote on euthanasia, a Senate committee has recommended.

Tabling its report on proposals to legalise voluntary euthanasia drafted by Greens Senator Richard Di Natale, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee said that if a bill on the issue of euthanasia was introduced in the Senate, party leaders should allow Senators to vote according to their consciences.

Senator Di Natale's bill, which he has not formally introduced to the Senate, would make it legal for medical practitioners to help a terminally ill, mentally competent adult end their life.

In what constitutes the first consideration by Federal Parliament of national euthanasia laws, the six-member committee, which includes three Coalition, two Labor and one Greens Senator, recommended Senator Di Natale address several technical concerns, including about the definition of a terminal illness, before taking the bill further.

Senator Di Natale called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to grant their members a conscience vote.

"The community strongly supports this reform and it's time for politician's to listen," Senator Di Natale said.

"The Committee's report has highlighted some areas that need further discussion, which I intend to do with parliamentary colleagues from all sides before proceeding with the bill."

In 1996, party leaders granted MPs a free vote on a private members bill introduced by Liberal frontbencher Kevin Andrews to override Northern Territory laws which legalised euthanasia. The Andrews bill passed both houses of parliament, overturning the NT laws.

Righting a travesty for the terminally ill


Today, The Age calls on Federal Parliament to recognise in law the right of terminally ill people to choose, under rigorously regulated circumstances, the timing and manner of their death. In coming hours, the cross-party Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee is expected to report on such a legislative proposal by Greens senator Richard Di Natale. Throughout this week we will be publishing, across our digital platforms and in our newspaper, stories, interviews and arguments to ventilate the case for change, and we invite our readers to participate in the debate in the pages of the paper and online.

The committee may well raise a small number of concerns, but we believe, as other nations have shown, it is eminently possible to produce a law with adequate safeguards. And we believe the moment has arrived for our lawmakers to respect a position surveys have long shown is supported by as many as eight in 10 of our citizens.

We hold that life is inestimably precious and should be protected. But we recognise there are many terminally ill people who suffer dreadfully. In such cases, we share the view of Dr Rodney Syme, one of the leading proponents for physician-assisted death and a man who openly admits to having helped terminally ill people die by giving them the means and knowledge to end their suffering. He is doing so for Peter Short, a Melbourne man close to death who has been campaigning for the right to choose and who is one of the people who inspired Senator Di Natale's bill. A video interview with Mr Short, who testified before the Senate committee, is part of our coverage this week.

Dr Syme's argument, based on decades of experience, is compelling: dying may be associated with excruciating suffering, and there may be a crescendo of suffering as death draws nigh; a doctor's duty is to relieve suffering; some suffering will only be relieved by death; a doctor's duty is to respect a patient's autonomy; some patients rationally and persistently request assistance to die; and, palliative care cannot relieve all the pain and suffering of dying patients. Palliative support is central to our advocacy – most people who have the option of physician-assisted death do not take it, but as Dr Syme, Mr Short and many others attest, those who do have that option immediately benefit because it alleviates fear and anxiety.

Some argue that people might unduly make such a final decision because they are depressed or feel they are a burden to others, and that unscrupulous relatives might seek to manipulate a patient. Overseas experience suggests these concerns are misplaced. Another issue the committee report might raise is definitional boundaries. What should be the definition of terminal, for example? We believe settling this is also readily within the capacity of our lawmakers.

As we have stressed in the past, we do not support voluntary euthanasia advocate Dr Philip Nitschke, because through his organisation, Exit International, he aids people who are not terminally ill to die by suicide, and we are concerned he is fuelling inappropriate demand – and an online black market – for a particular drug being used to induce death. It is in the public interest to pass a law that permits medical practitioners such as Dr Syme to offer peace to terminally ill patients but prevents those like Dr Nitschke from facilitating the death of people who should instead receive treatment.

The time has come for Australia's political leaders to not only grant a conscience vote, but to urge their colleagues to advance our civilisation by passing well-honed legislation. This issue concerns all humanity. It transcends party politics, and it behoves our elected representatives to show courage and decency by delivering an enlightened, compassionate change.


Victorian Secular Lobby and the 2014 State Election

Election 2014

The Victorian Secular Lobby is running a public information campaign during the 2014 State Election. Do you support the separation of Church and State? Then please donate to our campaign! You can either use Paypal (above) or contact us for other methods at

We wish to highlight those issues that have come up the current and previous legislature that indicate the dedication of candidates in this coming election to ensure the principle of freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

This includes treating religious organisations the same as non-religious organisations and leaving self-regarding issues to the decision of the individual conscience.

Crowdfunding Targets and Recognition

George Holyoake

We're a small organisation and as a result we have modest targets as follows.

$500. Production of 5000 DL campaign pamphlets.
$1000. Production of 5000 DL campaign pamphlets.
$3000. Extended social media campaign.

The level that you can donate will receive the following recognition. Distributors will receive an equivalent recognition of 250 leaflets for $25.

$1. A thank you email from the Victorian Secular Lobby.
$10. As above, plus recognition on our Victorian Election 2014 page (anonymous if desired).
$50 As above, but highlighted on the website.
$100. As above, Secular Justice Warrior! Framed certificate from the VSL for your contribution.
$500. As above, plus a “George Holyoake” trophy

We are also looking for volunteers to assist in the campaign; please email

Issues of Concern

Special Religious Instruction. Special religious instruction is defined as: "instruction provided by churches and other religious groups and based on distinctive religious tenets and beliefs". Access Ministries conduct 96% of classes. Is not taught by teachers (instructors can receive as little as one day's training), and does not teach general religious education, i.e., it is instruction, not education. It also is publically funded.

Equal Opportunity Act. The Act of 2010 provided a more limited level of special religious exceptions exemptions from equal opportunity, limiting it positions that were directly related to the conduct of the religious activity. Now religious bodies and religious schools can discriminate on the basis of a person's religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, martial status, parental status or gender identity
where the discrimination conforms to the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion.

Abortion Reform Act. Following the Abortion Law Reform Act of 2008, the performance of an abortion by a qualified person was removed from the Crimes Act. Medical practitioners and nurses who have a conscientious objection to abortion must inform the patient with information about a medical practitioner who does not have any such objection. Medical practitioners and nurses have a duty to perform or assist in performing an emergency abortion if the pregnant woman's life is in danger. Some politicians have indicated that they wish to overturn these reproductive rights.

Racial and Religious Tolerance Act of 2001. This seeks to promote racial and religious tolerance in a multicultural democracy by prohibiting
the vilification of persons on the basis of their 'race' or their religious belief and activity. However the intentions do not match the content. The legislation prohibits "conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, that other person or class of persons", regardless of their veracity. It would be better to extend defamation clauses to allow class actions against untrue statements, whilst removing the clauses that prohibit regardless of veracity.

Party Positions

Greens: Opposes public funding of special religious instruction, Supports Equal Opportunity Act and inherent requirements exemptions. Oppose veracity limits in Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Oppose conscientious objection to referrals and duty of care.

Labor: Introduced and supported special religious instruction, but policy committee is opposed, and State Conference supports public education system that is "free, compulsory and secular". Supports Equal Opportunity Act inherent requirements exemptions, but subjected issue to a conscience vote. Supports and introduced veracity limits in Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Supports conscience vote on objection to referrals and duty of care.

Liberals: Supports special religious instruction, Opposes Equal Opportunity Act inherent requirements exemptions. Supports introduced veracity limits in Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Supports conscience vote on objection to referrals and duty of care.

Nationals: Supports special religious instruction, Opposes Equal Opportunity Act inherent requirements exemptions. Supports introduced veracity limits in Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Supports conscience vote on objection to referrals and duty of care.

"Conscience" Votes

Conscience votes often can be assessed by the degree that a politician is prepared to impose their conscience (and religious beliefs) over the rest of society. It rarely is based on a post­metaphysical moral norm, or an evidence­-based ethical position. The last parliament had four major conscience votes issues reach the Legislative Council (Abortion Law Reform, Assisted Reproductive Treatment, IVF Eggs and Research, Equal Opportunity Act).

The consistently worst MPs, who voted against all four (or five for MLC), initiatives and who are standing in the upcoming election are:

MLAs: Gary Blackwood (Lib), Neale Burgess (Lib), Robert Clark (Lib), Peter Crisp (Nat), Martin Dixon (Lib), Christine Fyffe (Lib), David Hodgett (Lib), Terence Mulder (Lib), Russell Northe (Nat), Michael O'Brien (Lib), and Peter Ryan (Nat).
MLCs: Richard Dalla­Riva (Lib), Damian Drum (Nat), Bernie Finn (Lib), Inga Peulich (Lib)

We have a collection of MP voting records on conscience issues from the 2006-2010 parliament, which covers the Abortion Law Reform Bill, 11 Sept 2008, ART-IVF & Surrogacy: Assisted Reproductive Treatment Bill, Oct 9 2008,
IVF Eggs and research: Infertility Treatment Amendment Bill, 18 April 2007, Equal Opportunity Bill, 2010 and, in the Legislative Council, Euthanasia: Medical Treatment (Physician Assisted Dying) Bill, 10 Sept 2008.

Special mention goes to Geoff Shaw, Ind., for arguing consistently holding anti­secular positions and would certainly vote against all reforms above if given the opportunity. He has argued in favour of religious­ based discrimination, and has described the abortion law reform as among the worst in world, and gave rise to the mocking meme on "tummy eggs".

In his maiden speech to the Victorian parliament, he acknowledged "the original owner of the land on which we stand—God, the Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Bible."

Other Surveys

The Progressive Atheists ran a survey of all candidates over ten questions. Some key points; (a) the Liberals and National Party candidates did not respond (b) The ALP responses were split in favour and opposed to Special Religious Instruction, School Chaplains, Church Property Trusts, but strongly in favour of abortion rights legislation, voluntary euthanasia, and removal of religious exemptions from the anti-discrimination legislation.

The Rationalist Society also conducted a survey of candidates on the questions of abolition of Special Religious Instruction, to allow non-religious School Chaplains, the redirection of funding currently provided to Access Ministries, and the introduction of professional ethics and values classes. The results overwhelmingly indicated support for the abolition of such classes, the allowance for secular chaplains, redirection of funds provided to Access Ministries, and the provision of professional ethics and values classes.

Interestingly, the parties most against general religious education conducted by professional teachers were the Australian Christians and the Rise Up Australia Party.


What We Did

The Victorian Secular Lobby held a meeting on October 4th, identifying the major issues in the upcoming state election and reviewing the voting record of members of parliament on conscience votes and policy statements from the major parties. The major issues identified for the State election were Special Religious Instruction, the Equal Opportunity Act exemptions, the Abortion Reform Act, and the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.

A campaign was decided that would target highlight these issues and target the worst MPs in terms of their voting record and public statements. Additional funds raised would be used for social media advertising. A staggered set of recognition, up to an including certificates for being "Secular Justice Warriors" and a "George Holyoake Trophy" were offered. This was expanded during the campaign to include assistance as well as financial donations.

A fundraising campaign was conducted in the last three weeks of the election from nine contributors which raised $1000. Ten thousand DL cardstock leaflets were produced, of which eight thousand five hundred were distributed by ten people in the last week of the campaign, and three days of Google Ads were run. They leaflets were distributed in the Frankston, Kew, Malvern, Preston, Essendon, Footscray, Prahran, and Richmond - especially after it was recognised that many of the main theocratic MPs were in safe and regional seats.


Several of the "worst" MPs were retiring. Of those that were not, all suffered swings against them and all except one suffered swings greater than the state average, and it seems that at least one (Geoff Shaw) is almost certain to be defeated whilst another (Russell Northe) maintains a thin lead. There is some evidence that the incoming Labor government may be better on secular issues than the outgoing Coalition government; it has not given strong commitments to Special Religious Instruction, will not be amending the decriminalisation of abortion, and will be providing greater steps towards voluntary euthanasia.

On the other side of the equation it seems possible that the Liberal opposition will be selecting on of the worst MPs as their leader. This will represent another significant lurch in a party which was prepared to preference fundamentalist religious political parties such as Rise Up over more secular parties such as the Greens.

Whilst counting continues, it seems that Rachel Carling-Jenkins of the DLP has taken a seat in the Legislative Council. She is notable for taking a very strong anti-abortion stance, and opposes the removal of exemptions for religious organisations in the Equal Opportunity Act. On the other hand, it seems likely that one, if not two, members of the Australian Sex Party have been elected to Council. This Party has shown strong support for the separation of religious laws from civil laws.

What We Did Right

Conducting the campaign was the right decision. Whilst it is difficult to determine what direct effect the campaign had, it was certainly part of an ongoing contribution to raising secular matters as important, and involved our members in practical, on-the-ground activity. Our fundraising reached its major target, and the overwhelming majority of our leaflets were distributed and were well received, especially by secular religious individuals.

Our campaign dovetailed very well with groups like the Progressive Atheists and the Rationalist Society who conducted surveys on candidates on issues of secular interest. Of interesting note was the least secular religious parties where the ones most opposed to general religious education.

What We Did Wrong

As our first major campaign it was inevitable that a few mistakes would be made. The most important was leaving the campaign too late; we should have started very shortly after the original meeting, that way we could have fundraised more and distributed more. We spent too much time seeking skilled graphical artists to assist in the leaflet when a plainer design proved just as effective. The expenditure of funds on Google Ads was not particularly cost-effective, illustrating that once again the best campaign is word-of-mouth and volunteered social media distribution.

What We Still Need To Do

Our awards and notifications still need to go out. A meeting highlighting a secular agenda programme for the new government and meeting with new MPs needs to be held.

Election Material

All Election Campaign Material on this website is authorised by Lev Lafayette on behalf of the Victorian Secular Lobby Inc., 169 Wiltshire Drive, Kew, Victoria, 3101

Education Religious differences - Church may quit school religion class

Benjamin Preiss

The Uniting Church will withdraw from religious instruction in state schools unless the group responsible for the controversial program improves instructor training and abandons compulsory volunteer payments.

Uniting Church moderator Dan Wootton said church members held “deep concerns” about Access Ministries’ policies and practices.

The Uniting Church also wants Access Ministries to give member churches more say in the policy and direction of the group.

Access Ministries runs Christian Special Religious Instruction (SRI) on behalf of 12 denominations, including the Uniting Church.

The Uniting Church has issued a series of requests to Access Ministries and will withdraw as a supporting church from July 2015 unless it is satisfied with “evidence of a positive response”. It has given Access Ministries eight months to provide “positive formal responses” to the requests.

The resolution on religious instruction was adopted at a Uniting Church Synod meeting at La Trobe University [metropolitan Melbourne] this week.

“It was a careful and considered debate,” Mr Wootton said.

“I’m hopeful this is an opportunity to refresh the relationship that we have with Access Ministries.”

The Uniting Church has also taken issue with volunteers being asked to contribute financially to the religious instruction program in addition to donating their time as instructors.

Access Ministries’ acting chief executive Dawn Penney said the group was committed to working with all its supporting churches.

“We hold regular meetings with the heads of all supporting churches and have scheduled further discussions with the members nominated by them to our council,” she said.

Ms Penney said meetings between the Uniting Church, its review group and Access Ministries had been positive and she was confident there was a “clear way forward”.

“Improving the training of and support for our SRI instructors is a key priority for Access Ministries and the input of theologians from all supporting churches should and does form a background for all our training.”

She said Access Ministries’ leadership would continue to “engage with all members” about training, curriculum development and ensuring the financial sustainability of the religious instruction program.

The Uniting Church wants more “transparent communications” with Access Ministries. It also called for more consultation on religious instruction materials, which should be “theologically broad”.

The Uniting Church has confirmed it contributed about $40,000 a year in funding for the religious instruction program.

The resolution came after a three-year investigation by a Uniting Church task group that examined governance, religious instruction program materials and communication by Access Ministries.

Last year, the Uniting Church called for the Christian instruction curriculum to be “urgently updated”.

It said there was a “definite slant” towards biblical literalism in the material and complaints were often raised by denominational partners who were offended by the material’s content.

The Uniting Church also resolved to “actively work” for the inclusion of general religious education in schools.


Radical group is targeting local youth

Cameron Houston [and] David Wroe

Several senior Muslim figures have reported concerns to the Australian Federal Police and Victoria Police about al-Furqan and its recruitment of alienated young men in Melbourne’s south--eastern suburbs.

According to one Muslim leader, the radical Islamic centre targeted disaffected young men at Hallam mosque, where they often held meetings on Sundays and extolled the virtues of jihad.

“They say you can’t watch television, you can’t listen to music, and the women must cover their faces. They change their minds, they change the culture of these young people. We are concerned about our community and it is dangerous for Australia,” the Muslim leader said.

Al-Furqan also attempted to recruit new members from local gymnasiums and Islamic bookshops, according to the source, who first raised concerns with law enforcement agencies almost three years ago.

He said few people in Melbourne’s Muslim community were willing to speak publicly about the controversial group, amid fears of reprisal attacks in Melbourne and against family members in the Middle East.

“Please don’t mention my name: these people will come for me if you do,” he said.

The brewing worry from leaders about losing disaffected young men to radicalisation comes amid new information on young terror suspect Numan Haider, 18, who was shot dead after stabbing two policemen in Endeavour Hills on Tuesday [23 September] night.

A senior security source said Mr Haider had recently applied for a new passport, indicating he planned to travel overseas.

Fairfax Media has been told Numan Haider’s passport had already expired when ASIO put a cancellation notice on the passport amid fears he meant to go to Syria or Iraq to fight with extremists.

While Mr Haider’s terrorism links were of growing concern to authorities, there appear to have been triggers in the immediate lead-up to the fatal meeting outside the police station on Tuesday night.

One of these is believed to have been the discovery that his passport was cancelled when he went to apply for a new one.

Mr Haider’s room was also reportedly searched by police on the day of his death.

One security source said he ap-peared to have flown into a “murderous rage” on the evening of the attack.

He was known to have been in touch with Australian followers of the Islamic State group who are fighting in the Middle East. These may have included the notorious Khaled Sharrouf, who made world headlines when he had his young son pose for a photo with a severed head in Syria.

One Australian fighter in Syria with Islamic State who goes by the name of Abu Khaled al-Cambodi - a reference to his Cambodian ancestry - took to Twitter to praise Mr Haider.

“May Allah Swt accept my dear brother Nouman efforts!” he wrote. “He strived hard for Hijrah [migration], was stopped but still he rushed towards what he wanted!”

Fairfax Media also understands that monitoring of Mr Haider’s internet surfing showed he had searched for Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s travel plans in Victoria but that there was no concrete threat to the Prime Minister or other political leaders. Mr Haider had also searched for information on previous high-profile terrorism plots in Australia, such as the conspiracy to attack Holsworthy Army barracks in Sydney.

An Afghan Endeavour Hills resident whose house was raided as part of counter-terrorism operations in 2012, because he prayed at the al-Furqan Islamic Information Centre in Springvale, said he was not surprised Mr Haider was linked to the same centre.

He said a Muslim friend with whom he had attended secondary school in Dandenong changed dramatically after regularly attending the prayer and lecture sessions at the centre.

“He used to be one of the boys, liked to drink, smoke, go out,” the man, who did not wish to be named, said. “A couple of years later I saw him and he had been growing his beard and saying things like that music was [forbidden]. It was definitely because of al-Furqan, he never went anywhere else.”

Police confirmed new information on Thursday [25 September] that Mr Haider had “face-to-face” conversations with several other people shortly before the attack with investigators, still determining whether others were waiting for him or had dropped him off.

Friends of the former Lyndale Secondary College student painted a different picture of the young Afghan.

Chris Owen, 19, knew Mr Haider through mutual friends who met at Narre Warren’s Fountain Gate shopping centre last year.

Mr Owen said Mr Haider appeared deeply devoted to his family and his faith, but “didn’t seem like he was an extremist”.

“He was a good dude, a really nice guy. He would always greet me with a handshake and a smile,” Mr Owen said.

“What’s going through the grapevine is he was getting a hard time from police and lost his passport be-cause a mosque he was going to that was
under suspicion. Although I can’t forgive his actions, it seems like he was oppressed.”

Mr Haider’s family home, about five minutes’ drive from the scene of his death, continued to be a meeting place for his relatives and friends on Thursday who came laden with home-cooked meals.

With Tammy Mills, Nino Bucci, Nick Toscano and Yolanda Redrup


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