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November 2018


By Australian Newsletter

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has delivered a formal apology to the country’s victims of child sex abuse, saying the nation must acknowledge their long, painful journey and “say sorry”.  Scott Morrison’s emotional speech delivered in the Australian parliament before hundreds of survivors followed the conclusions of a royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, the nations’ highest level of inquiry.  “Today as a nation we confront our failure to listen, to believe, and to provide justice,” he said, adding: “We say sorry.”

The four-year inquest revealed shocking evidence from more than 17,000 survivors and heard allegations against government, church and private institutions, as well as prominent individuals.  It also heard evidence from leaders such as Vatican Cardinal George Pell, who is charged with committing historical sex abuses himself and was accused of failing to protect children.  Mr Morrison said it was time for Australia to confront key questions.  “Why weren’t the children of our nation loved, nurtured and protected?  Why was their trust betrayed?” he said.

“Why did those who know cover it up?  Why was our system of justice blind to injustice?  Why has it taken so long to act?  Why were other things more important than this, the care of innocent children?”  Mr Morrison said nothing could be done to right the wrongs inflicted on children.  “Even after a comprehensive royal commission, which finally enabled the voices to be heard and the silence to be broken, we will all continue to struggle,” he said.  “So today, we gather in this chamber in humility, not just as representatives of the people of this country, but as fathers, as mothers, as siblings, friends, workmates and, in some cases, indeed, as victims and survivors.”

Gathered MPs stood for a minute’s silence following the apology, which came with the announcement of government plans to create a museum and research centre to raise awareness and understanding of the impacts of child sexual abuse, and to ensure the nation does not forget the horrors victims have suffered.  The research centre will also assist those seeking help and guide best practice for training and other services.  The government will also commit to reporting every year for the next five years on the progress of the royal commission’s recommendations.

It has already accepted 104 of the commission’s 122 recommendations, including a redress payments programme, with the other 18 still under examination.  The government has also established a new office of child safety, to report to the prime minister.  Opposition leader Bill Shorten joined the apology, saying Australia had failed tens of thousands of children, across generations.  “Our nation let you down.  Today, we offer you our nation’s apology, with humility, with honesty, with hope for healing now, and with a fire in our belly to ensure that our children will grow up safe in the future,” Mr Shorten said.

While many survivors and campaigners went to Canberra to hear the apology, many are still calling for far more work to be done to address the history of abuse.  Care Leavers Australia Network chief executive Leonie Sheedy called on the government to remove a charity tax exemption from institutions that are still deciding whether to opt in to the national redress scheme for victims.  She says she has never healed from being abused.  “You can learn to live with it, but it never goes away.  It will be with me and all care leavers until the day that they put the lid on the coffin,” Ms Sheedy said.

Hetty Johnson, founder of the Bravehearts support group for victims, said survivors had made it clear they wanted all the royal commission’s recommendations fully implemented.  “There is a lot of anger in the community,” she told Sky News.  “They’ve made it very clear they want these recommendations implemented as they were intended and it’s yet to see whether the government will actually do that.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

Tasmania is set to become the first state to remove the sex of a child from birth certificates, in a major win for transgender people that has been attacked by critics as “abolishing gender”.  A vote is expected in Tasmania’s lower house next month, as amendments to a bill ending the need for trans people to divorce before they can change their gender on official documents.  While the bill’s central aim has tripartite support, the Liberal government, Christian groups and feminists fear it has been “hijacked” by the transgender lobby via a series of Labor and Greens amendments.

The Hodgman government relies on the casting vote of Liberal Speaker Sue Hickey, who was elected to the position with Greens and Labor support and votes as an independent.  Labor and the Greens both plan amendments to remove gender from birth certificates, while also backing changes to remove the need for trans people to have sex change surgery before switching gender on official documents.  Ms Hickey said as a matter of policy she did not declare her voting intentions until debate concluded.  She said she was broadly supportive of measures to end discrimination against trans people.  “I’ll be listening to every word possible,’’ Ms Hickey said.

“I do think the world is changing and we need to be open to considering things that might discriminate or harm somebody.  I’m very open.”  Transgender activist Martine Delaney said removing gender from birth certificates would be a significant win that would harm no one.  “It would be the first in this country, although not the first in the world, and an excellent statement by Tasmania to say, ‘We have the need to do this and we will not wait for other states to lead’,” Ms Delaney said.  “It is not doing away with gender.  That information would still be recorded by the registrar and medical records in the hospital.  It just simply wouldn’t be displayed on the birth certificate.”

She said removing sex from birth certificates would negate the need for transgender people to “out themselves” every time they applied for work or sought to prove their identity.  The Australian Christian Lobby said the reforms essentially abolished gender, further “homogenised humanity” and “greatly diminished” the significance of birth certificates.  ACL state director Mark Brown said the changes threatened to destroy the sanctity of women’s “safe places”, from refuges to sports teams.  “If you are legally a transgender woman, even if you have a penis you can go wherever you want in terms of women’s safe spaces,” he said.

This concern is shared by feminist group Women Speak Tasmania.  “If you have birth certificates issued with no sex marker on them, how then are female only services and spaces, like girls’ schools, or the girl guides, women’s domestic violence shelters, able to maintain the female only integrity of their service?”  spokeswoman Bronwyn Williams said. “It puts female-only organisations and services at risk of breaching anti-discrimination law if they say ‘No, you can’t become a member’.”  Greens leader Cassy O’Connor, whose child, born as a girl called Mara Lees, is now a 20-year-old man, Jasper, said the changes would end discrimination and make a real difference to lives.

“The flow-on effects of being able to have your birth certificate either gender neutral or changed to your correct gender are profoundly life-changing,” Ms O’Connor said.  “At the moment in Tasmania, if Jasper wants to have his birth certificate changed, he will need to have a hysterectomy, and that is cruel and unnecessary.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

The Queensland parliament, for all the wrong reasons, has voted 50 to 41 in favour of ending the lives of unborn children.  The Australian Christian Lobby’s state director Wendy Francis in a statement said; “We would like to thank all 41 members of parliament who voted against Labor’s radical abortion bill.  They stood for life and the inherent humanity of babies who have yet to be born.”  “The work done by pro-life organisations, volunteers and supporters have also been strong indicators of community opposition.”  “This bill only serves to legalise the vulnerability of already vulnerable women” Mrs Francis said.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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By Australian Newsletter

Pressure is mounting on the federal government to commit to a national suicide prevention target, after the latest data revealed deaths had risen by 9 per cent in just a year. Lifeline chairman John Brogden said the increase in suicide deaths was “an outrage”, and called for a 25 per cent reduction target over the next five years. “We need stark action and we need a breakthrough,” Mr Brogden said.

“Clearly, we’re not doing enough nor doing it right. It will focus the governments, funders and the community on getting the numbers down and putting funding in all the right places.”

There were 3128 deaths by suicide across the nation last year, compared to 2866 in 2016, according to data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. While the 2017 increase followed a decrease the previous year, suicide rates in Australia have been on a clear upwards trajectory over the past decade. “In other parts of the Western world, we are seeing reductions,” Mr Brogden said. “We are spending more than we’ve ever spent on suicide prevention, but the more we spend the worse things seem to get. “We need the community to draw a line in the sand.”

He pointed to the case of Scotland, which achieved an 18% reduction in suicide deaths after it set a 20% target when it was revealed the country’s suicide rate was higher than comparable nations. “The most angering part of all this is that most suicides are preventable,” Mr Brogden said. Beyondblue clinical adviser Dr Stephen Carbone said Australia was “not making the inroads that we need to make” in preventing suicide, saying early intervention is key to bringing down the numbers. Labor has committed to adopting the National Mental Health Commission’s suicide reduction target of 50 per cent over 10 years, calling on the Morrison government to back the policy.

“A robust target, backed by real resources from all levels of government and an effective plan that supports long-term reform, must be implemented to drive change,” Labor’s mental health spokeswoman Julie Collins said. Mood disorders including depression were recorded as being experienced by 43% of those who died by suicide in 2017, while anxiety or stress-related disorders were being experienced by 17.5%. Drug and alcohol use disorders, including drug misuse and acute intoxication, were being experienced by 29.5% of people.

The suicide rate continued to be higher among men than women in 2017, and among indigenous Australians, who remain about twice as likely to die by suicide than the broader population. Health Minister Greg Hunt said suicide remained a “national tragedy”. “One life lost to suicide is one too many,” Mr Hunt said. A spokeswoman said the Minister “has said that Australia does have a national target of zero suicides”. She said Mr Hunt had found the ABS figures “deeply concerning”, particularly in Queensland where deaths jumped from 674 to 804, an increase of 19%. The Morrison government’s mental health expenditure is expected to reach $4.6 billion this year.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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