Secular Justice Warriors 2014

In the 2014 Victorian State Election the Victorian Secular Lobby received financial and campaigning assistance from the following individuals whom we wish to thank:

Jennifer Bakker, Jaye Christie, and anonymous.

In addition we wish to especially highlight the following additional individuals for their efforts in the campaign.

Jeff Martin, Erica Hoehn, Lev Lafayette, Dean Edwards, Cindy Laird, Rodney Brown, anonymous, Peter Vietch, Paul Poulton, Adam Dean-Robert and Yee Yi, and Richard O'Brien

Further, the following individuals listed above will receive a Secular Justice Warrior award at our 2015 Annual General Meeting for their contributions.

Jeff Martin, Rodney Brown, Cindy Laird, Adam Dean-Robert and Yee Yi, Richard O'Brien, and Lev Lafayette

Lev Lafayette is also eligible for the George Holyoake Trophy for his financial contribution and campaigning.

Victorian Secular Lobby 2015 Annual General Meeting

The Victorian Secular Lobby will be holding its Annual General Meeting on Saturday, February 14th, 6.00pm at the New International Bookshop, Trades Hall, Corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton

The agenda for the meeting includes:

1. Reports
a) Report of activities of the past year.
b) Membership and Organisational Status
c) Financials
d) Inaugural Secular Justice Warrior Awards

2. Administrative Changes and Election of Office Bearers
b) Election of office bearers (President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, 2 Committee Members). Nominations must be sent to public at by Friday, 11.59pm, February 13th.

3. Planning for the Upcoming Year

4. Presentation, Fiona Patten, MLC, on "Religious Exemption to Equal Opportunity Laws"

5. Dinner at No. 1. Steamboat. 7.30pm

Boycott Halal movement gaining momentum

The virulent Boycott Halal movement in Australia is set to escalate, with a petition to federal parliament in the New Year demanding the Corporations Act 2001 be changed to mean only Muslims bear the cost of halal certification on everyday products.

Halal products are those deemed permissible for Muslims to eat or use under religious law. Many mainstream products in Australian stores are halal certified including food from SPC, Nestle, Kelloggs and Kraft.

Supermarket chains pay for certification for some products, as do dairy factories and meat processors.

Worldwide, the halal industry is worth $US2 trillion and is growing 20 per cent a year. Companies are keen to capitalise on the boom, so halal certification is increasingly common. All products exported to Muslim countries are certified before they go.

Australia has 21 Islamic groups approved by the federal government to issue halal certificates. Of the 21 only four, with one in Melbourne and three in Sydney, get most of the work, including Indonesian contracts.

The new Indonesian government has begun to dismantle an Islamic agency thatis facing corruption allegations, and which approves halal imports from Australia. Halal exports are worth $12 billion with growing competition from China and Brazil.

The Boycott Halal campaign is led by New South Wales farmer Kirralie Smith and supported by extremist groups including the "Islam-critical" Q-Society, Restore Australia, the Australian Defence League and the Patriots' Defence League.

Q Society president Debbie Robinson said the petition and campaign also want clearer labelling on halal products "to ensure consumers can make a conscious decision." Ms Smith said: "Our primary focus is lack of choices.

"I felt deceived as a consumer that products pay halal certification fees and there was no way as a consumer that I knew."

The Australian Food and Grocery Council says halal certification costs are "negligible" and "highly unlikely" to change pricing.

Knives out for halal

From: The Sunday Age, Extra, Page 24, 28/12/2014

Macedon Grammar School shut down by government

Macedon Grammar School has been closed by the state government amid allegations of serious financial mismanagement and impropriety at the troubled private Christian school.

The closure has cost 22 staff their jobs and left the parents of about 60 prep to year-12 students scrambling to find an alternative school for next year.

"The [Education Department] is working closely with local government, Catholic and independent schools to make the enrolment process as simple as possible for families," a department spokesperson said.

The decision to cancel the school's registration has also doomed a rescue plan by a foreign investment syndicate led by Chinese entrepreneur Wang Hua, who hoped to transform Macedon Grammar into an elite boarding school for the children of China's wealthy and powerful.

Fairfax Media can reveal that the demise of Macedon Grammar is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $1 million in grants that were used to build campus facilities now considered virtually worthless.

Another $512,910 is owed to staff in unpaid entitlements, while parents and suppliers have lost nearly $300,000.

Macedon Grammar School was put into external administration in late November after education authorities threatened to cancel its accreditation following concerns about its management and financial viability raised nearly six months ago. The move also came after the school's board, principal, business manager and International Baccalaureate program co-ordinator all tendered their resignations.

But documents obtained by Fairfax show that Macedon Grammar has actually been operating at a loss for at least two years, raising allegations of insolvent trading and other potential violations of corporations law by the school's non-profit board.

"Our preliminary investigations have identified certain offences which we are in the process of reporting to [Consumer Affairs Victoria]," external administrator Worrells wrote.

The school's accounting practices were found to be sloppy to non-existent, and information on buildings constructed using more than $1.11 million in government grants was "not readily available". In the wake of the school's closure, about $988,000 should be refunded to the government but the money is unlikely to be recovered.

The local business left with the biggest debt is Organ's Coaches Kyneton, whose parent company was also left significantly out of pocket by the collapse of Mowbray College in 2012.

The bus company is owed almost $52,000 in unpaid bills after the school missed a payment late in the year. "You always think educational institutions will be around forever," general manager Matt Baird said.

The administrator has also discovered a number of families received discounts on their school fees for unexplained reasons.

One father at the school said he understood some parents had entered into a deal where they would work one day a week at the school as "monitors" in exchange for a week of free schooling for their child.

The decision to close the school has come despite a last-minute rescue bid by the company Mountain Properties, which is backed by a syndicate of overseas investors who donated $250,000 to Macedon Grammar to keep it open for the remainder of the school year.

The group, which includes wealthy Chinese entrepreneur Wang Hua, applied to continue the school's licence to operate and proposed expanding the campus into an international boarding school.

But the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority rejected the plan on Tuesday, cancelling Macedon Grammar's registration effective at midnight on December 31.

Fairfax understands the department was concerned about the viability of the proposed funding arrangements for the school and the sharp drop in enrolments – from 150 to less than 60 students –since it was placed into administration.

Mountain Properties is considering appealing the decision to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and has called on the Education Minister to urgently review the department's decision.

"We're shocked and surprised at the decision to close a school unnecessarily," spokesman Craig Binnie said. "The consortium would have funded anything that school would have required to make it one of the best schools in the country."


Employment Discrimination row : Law changes called attack on religion

Religious groups will ramp up cam-paigns against a Labor proposal that will make it harder for faith-based organisations, including schools, to discriminate against employees because of their faith or sexuality.

The Australian Christian Lobby, Christian Schools Australia, and the Catholic Education Office have hit out at Labor’s move to rewrite the state’s equal opportunity laws, which would require religious or-ganisations to justify how their need to discriminate was relevant to the requirements of a job.

Christian Schools Australia chief executive Stephen O’Doherty said the changes were an “ideological attack on religion” and the organisation would lobby upper house MPs to block the legislation.

“The changes are not warranted, there was no case made for them,” Mr O’Doherty said.

ACL Victorian director Dan Flynn said the group would encourage thousands of its members to write to government MPs.

“One of the concerns of this le-gislation is that it could have the affect that Christian schools could be required to hire people who are fundamentally opposed to the schools’ objectives.”

Equality Minister Martin Foley said the changes were vital, and he knew of librarians and administrative staff in Victorian religious schools who had been discriminated against because of their sexuality. He said faith-based communities, including the Catholic Church, had previously indicated support for Labor’s reforms, which were enacted in 2010 before the Coalition won government and abolished them in 2011.

“In 2014 how are these changes anything other than treating people with decency? How is the gender identity or sexual identity of a gardener a matter which should determine whether that person is employable?”

Catholic Education Office executive director Stephen Elder said current laws struck a fair balance, between the right to equality, freedom of association and religious belief. He threw his support behind a statement released by religious leaders, including Melbourne Cath-olic Archbishop Denis Hart, ahead of the state election which urged Labor to abandon the proposal.

Under Labor’s changes, religious organisations would be allowed to discriminate on the grounds of faith, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status and gender identity if hiring the person would hurt the religion’s sensitivities.

But an “inherent requirements test” would make it harder for schools to discriminate against a gay gardener or an atheist administrative assistant, whose job was removed from teaching religion.

Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Jennifer Huppert said she was committed to the principle of equal opportunities in employment and other areas where it does not affect religious doctrine. She said the proposed laws could lead to some concerns about the role of the courts in determining the “inherent requirements” of a religion.


Taxpayer funding to train priests

Taxpayers would subsidise the training of priests and other religious workers at private colleges for the first time, under the Abbott government's proposed higher education reforms.

As well as deregulating university fees and cutting university funding by 20 per cent, the government's proposed higher education package extends federal funding to students at private universities and TAFEs and studying associate degree programs.

Religious teaching, training and vocational institutes would be eligible for a share of $820 million in new Commonwealth funding over three years.

Labor and the Greens attacked the policy, saying it breached the separation of church and state. Earlier this year the government controversially announced it would provide $244 million for a new school chaplaincy scheme and would remove the option for schools to hire secular welfare workers.

In correspondence with voters, Family First senator Bob Day has singled out funding for faith-based training institutes to explain his support for the government's reforms.

Eleven theological colleges are accredited by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency to provide courses preparing students to enter religious ministries.

Institutes such as the Sydney College of Divinity, Brisbane's Christian Heritage College and the Perth Bible College, which currently charge students full fees, would be eligible for an estimated $4214 funding a year for each student under the changes.

The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne, which offers course units including Theology and Practice of Natural Family Planning and Marriage in the Catholic Tradition, would also be eligible for federal support.

The institute says on its website its mission is to "promote marriage and the family for the good of the whole Church and the wider community".

The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne requires all trainee priests to receive theological training at Ridley College or the Trinity College Theological School, both of which would likely be eligible to offer Commonwealth-supported places under the government's changes.

Labor higher education spokesman Kim Carr said: "This raises serious questions about relationship between church and state. The church has traditionally funded the training of its own personnel."

Mr Carr said there was a difference between federal funding for theoretically focused religious studies courses and courses designed to prepare graduates for the priesthood.

Greens higher education spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon said: "[Education Minister Christopher Pyne] has gone one step further than robbing Peter to pay Paul - he is attempting to rob Australia's public and secular university system to pay private, religious colleges.

"Courses that Mr Pyne wants to extend funding to include those teaching prescriptive Christian ideology on sexuality and marriage - is this really the best use of the higher education budget?"

A spokesman for Mr Pyne said courses offered by private colleges would have to be approved by the independent regulator to gain access to federal funding.

"Consistent with current practice, the government will not distinguish between faith-based and secular higher education institutions for registration and funding purposes," the spokesman said.

Family First senator Bob Day said, in a letter to a member of the general public, that it is unfair that public universities receive federal funding but religious colleges and other private providers do not.

"The government's proposals . . . reduce the subsidies given to universities, while for the first time addressing inequity by providing significant subsidies for non-universities (but still less than universities)," he wrote. "Some of these non-universities that will receive funding for the first time - if this bill passes - are faith-based training, teaching, theological and vocational institutions."

The government's reforms were voted down by the Senate this week but will return to Parliament, with some amendments, next year.

Author: Matthew Knott
Date: 05/12/2014
Words: 594
Source: AGE
Publication: The Age
Section: News
Page: 1

The Catholic Education Office is warning parents not to vote for the Greens in four inner-city seats the party hope to win.

The Catholic Education Office has intervened in the state election, warning parents not to vote for the Greens in four inner-city seats.

In a letter sent to 5500 families in the electorates of Melbourne, Brunswick, Richmond and Prahran ahead of Saturday's state election, Catholic Education Office Melbourne executive director Stephen Elder said the Greens' education policy was likely to "adversely affect" Catholic schools.

He said the Greens' policy did not distinguish between Catholic and other non-government schools, which could lead to fee increases and make it harder to accommodate disadvantaged students.

"We are most concerned that the need of a school community could be measured through the value of its land and not the needs of its students," he said.

Mr Elder said Coalition and Labor commitments- including linking funding for Catholic education to 25 per cent of government school costs and $120 million over four years for new non-government school buildings and upgrades- would be put at risk if the Greens held the balance of power.

The Greens are investing a lot of resources in Melbourne, where they need a 4.7 per cent swing to pinch the seat off Labor MP Jennifer Kanis.

Ms Kanis said the Greens had failed to address the pressing issue of funding for Catholic schools, which educate many students from migrant and low-income families.

"Those kids deserve a quality education and investment in our system. As a Labor member for Melbourne I will be able to achieve much more for my constituents compared to an inexperienced commentator on the sidelines."

Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber described the letters as "a last-minute scare campaign not based on any evidence."

But Labor has also drawn the ire of the Catholic community, high profile religious leaders last week decrying a proposal by Labor, backed by the Greens, to amend equal opportunity laws to make it harder for schools to hire staff based on religious background or sexual orientation.

The principal of the non-religious Fitzroy Community School, Timothy Berryman, has also spoken out against the Labor's proposed changes in a letter to parents, saying the key issue of the state election was "the ability of like-minded people to choose to educate their children as they feel appropriate".

Mr Berryman told Fairfax Media the proposal was a "direct attack on multiculturalism" and that imparting values was the primary role of a teacher.

"It's not the role of an industrial tribunal to say schools can't impart [their] values," he said.

"I see it as demeaning to teachers. If our values aren't a part of what we do, we're becoming robots".

Read more:

Let's not over-complicate euthanasia debate

Paul Komesaroff and Stephen Charles

Does the voluntary euthanasia debate merely involve ethics and religion? Maybe a simple, practical, legal solution can be found, write Paul Komesaroff and Stephen Charles.

The long-running debate about whether voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide should be permitted by law continues to create division in the Australian community and arouse passionate views on both sides.

In the latest rounds of the debate, a Senate Committee has called for a conscience vote when the matter next gets to Parliament, the Australian Medical Board has suspended the medical registration of euthanasia activist Dr Philip Nitzsche, and The Age has initiated a campaign of its own to influence public opinion. Sadly, despite the sound and fury, little progress is made: on the one side, the proponents of active voluntary euthanasia pursue the demand for enactment of "right to die" legislation, while on the other, their opponents continue to call for preservation of traditional values and practices.

The often strident and acrimonious tone of the debate obscures the facts that there is much agreement between the two sides and that there is a genuine problem in the current law that needs to be addressed. Recognition of this common ground might allow the social deadlock to be broken and for genuine progress to be made in the continuing controversy.

The agreement – which is demonstrated by all polls conducted on this subject – is that people suffering from terminal illnesses are entitled to adequate treatment of their symptoms and should be able to make key decisions about when and how they die. The problem with the law is that doctors who follow current best practice, by providing whatever care is needed to alleviate pain and suffering, cannot be confident that they will be protected from criminal prosecution for murder, manslaughter or aiding and abetting suicide arising from their active involvement in the death of their patient.

Of course, important areas of disagreement remain. Many members of the community find it hard to abide the prospect of institutionalised processes to promote killing in any setting, based either on their memories of the tragic history of the 20th century or on religious or philosophical convictions about the nature of death and ethical responsibility.

While the experiences from overseas jurisdictions – the US and Europe – are undoubtedly reassuring, it has to be accepted that these concerns are by no means frivolous. The possibility that the option of euthanasia might be seen by some as a device for addressing critical shortages in health budgets cannot be dismissed. Many doctors remain understandably nervous about the implications for their profession of what they see as a radical reversal of some of its most enduring precepts. The cases of people with chronic but not terminal illnesses remain difficult, and those of people without physical illness at all more difficult still.

We believe that a shift in the debate from the high-level – and inherently insoluble – abstractions about a "right to die" and the "sanctity of life" to a focus on practical issues that need urgent attention might allow the social deadlock to be broken and progress to be made at last in bringing about meaningful reform. To achieve this only modest changes in the existing law are needed.

We propose that legislation be enacted to amend the relevant Commonwealth and State Crimes Acts to provide a defence to a charge of homicide or manslaughter if a doctor has prescribed or administered a drug that hastened or caused the death of a patient with a terminal disease if the doctor: (a) reasonably believed that it was necessary to prescribe or administer the drug to relieve the pain or suffering undergone by the patient; or (b) prescribed or administered the drug with the intention of relieving such pain or suffering.

A simple legislative change to this effect would ensure that people facing serious illness could be confident that their needs will always be able to be met, and that doctors following accepted best practice in providing for the needs of their patients will be able to do so free from the threat of a criminal conviction. The responsibility of doctors to be able to account for their actions will not be diminished and protection for elderly and vulnerable members of the community will remain intact. The locus of end-of-life decision-making will be returned to where it should be: in the dialogues between patients, families and their medical carers.

This minimalist solution should be widely acceptable to the community, including to those who remain disquieted by attempts to purify death of its untidiness, uncertainty and risk. The difficult cases in which patients with severe chronic illnesses but without terminal illnesses request assistance with dying will remain unsolved, but the public debate will be able to move ahead to address the complex issues associated with them.

It is time to move on from never-ending, unproductive, circular discussions about end-of-life decision-making to a more practical approach that will solve pressing social problems and refresh the public debates.

Professor Paul Komesaroff is Director of the Centre for Ethics in Medicine and Society and author of Riding a Crocodile: A Physician's Tale, and Stephen Charles QC is a barrister and former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal.


Minister Mary Wooldridge's pro-choice stance on abortion leads to low ranking by conservative micro-parties

Conservative micro-parties have put senior government minister Mary Wooldridge near the bottom of their preference flows in the upper house because of her pro-choice stance on abortion.

Ms Wooldridge is the only Liberal MP to express a view on abortion in a survey ahead of the state election.

Despite being number one on the Liberal Party's list for the Eastern Metropolitan region, a handful of anti-abortion parties including Rise Up Australia, the Democratic Labour Party and Australian Christians have put Ms Wooldridge well below other Liberal candidates.

The three hard-right parties signed an agreement in August to help each other in the upper house, vowing to support candidates with shared values, including being opposed to abortion.

Australian Christians' eastern metropolitan candidate Vickie Janson, who is also the party's state director, said the parties discussed ways of influencing a "more pro-life vote".

"I don't personally know the woman [Ms Wooldridge] but I can't support her views," Ms Janson said.

"She doesn't support more humane laws and our laws are quite barbaric, most people don't realise that we have full term abortions."

The Democratic Labour Party, who have vowed to introduce a bill to wind back the state's abortion laws if they win a seat, put Ms Wooldridge number 30th on their list of preference flows, compared to ninth for Liberal MP Richard Dalla-Riva.

Family First also put Richard Dalla-Riva, who voted against decriminalising abortion, ahead of Ms Wooldridge.

However, Ms Wooldridge and Liberal MP Bruce Atkinson are set to be elected in the region on first preferences without needing any preference flows from micro-parties.

Fair Agenda, an organisation that focuses on fairness and equality for women, is asking lower house candidates to state their views on abortion in a survey ahead of the state election.

"It's disappointing that candidates aren't being upfront about where they stand," the group's executive director Renee Carr said.

"We know 85 per cent of voters support the legal right to choose, and that this issue would affect the voting intention of 48 per cent of voters. These people deserve to be able to make an informed vote."

She said Ms Wooldridge was the only Liberal MP to respond to the online survey, with the MP stating that she supported the current abortion laws.

Abortion flared as an election issue on Monday when Nationals candidate for Buninyong, Sonia Smith, threatened to not preference the Liberal candidate, Ben Taylor, for the seat because of his views on abortion.

Mr Taylor told an Australian Christian Lobby candidates event that he was opposed to abortions after 20 weeks and Victoria's laws had "gone a little bit too far".

"It's pretty horrific what can happen and when you start talking about nearly to birth where you're looking at abortion and termination, it's pretty frightening."

Premier Denis Napthine said he hadn't spoken to Mr Taylor about his views on abortion and wasn't planning to before the election.

Mr Taylor did not take questions from reporters in Ballarat on Tuesday, evading television cameras and journalists as he drove off in his campaign car.

However Ms Smith's threats to not preference Mr Taylor over his views appear to have come too late for pre-poll.

Volunteers handed out Nationals how-to-vote cards in Ballarat on Tuesday which listed the Liberals second.

Read more:

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.


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