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May 2019


By Australian Newsletter

This is an abridged version of Australian News prepared before our editorial staff left for overseas prayer assignments.  The full edition will return on Wednesday 5th June.

The number of NSW public school students who do not identify with a religion surged by 13 per cent in the three years to 2018, making non-believers the fastest-growing group, ahead of Islam and Hinduism.  About 43 per cent of students did not nominate a religion last year, Department of Education figures show.  They come as principal and teacher groups push for mandatory Special Religious Education (SRE) to be scrapped from high school.  The least religious primary schools in Sydney with more than 100 students were Australia Street Infants’, Camdenville Public and Darlington Public.  The most religious were Auburn West, Wylie Park Public and Mount Lewis Infants’.

Among high schools, the least religious schools were Newtown School of Performing Arts, Sydney Secondary College and Marrickville High.  The most religious were Punchbowl Boys, Auburn Girls and Granville Boys.  While the majority of religious students still identified as Christian, that category suffered the biggest decline in numbers, with more than 24,000 fewer students identifying as Anglican, Catholic, Uniting Church or Protestant.  Meanwhile, 3500 more students identified as Muslim, and 3000 more identified as Hindu between 2016 and 2018.  The number of students choosing either no religion or leaving the section blank grew by about 40,000 over the 3 year period.

Primary school students were more likely to have a religion on their enrolment form than high school students.  The NSW Department of Education does not track SRE enrolments, so religious affiliation is the only indicator of the subject’s popularity.  However, even that data will no longer be available from this year due to changes to SRE enrolment procedures.  The new process makes it easier for parents to select non-scripture but means the department no longer collects centralised information on religious affiliation.  Many expect the procedural changes will lead to a fall in SRE enrolments.

Pressure is mounting on SRE in NSW public schools, with the NSW Teachers Federation and the Secondary Principals Council, calling for an end to mandatory SRE.  Chris Presland from the council said removing SRE from secondary schools was a simple way to “free up”  40 minutes a week amid concerns about an over-crowded curriculum.  “We don’t have a problem with religion,” he said.  “If parents want their kids to have religious education that’s fine, but it’s like swimming school.  It’s a parenting responsibility, not an educational responsibility.”

Daniel Guenther from Fairness in Religion in Schools said “Non-scripture students are not allowed to engage in meaningful activity while their peers are in SRE class.  If that many students are sitting idle, and we estimate hundreds of thousands, that’s the most obvious place they should be looking.”  A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said the department did not believe it was the best use of public resources to establish a state-wide system of monitoring attendance.  Christian SRE spokesman Murray Norman said SRE in schools was about giving parents the right to choose what they wanted for their children.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

This is an abridged version of Australian News prepared before editorial staff left to undertake overseas prayer assignments. The full version of Australian News will return on Wednesday 5th June.

The proportion of high school students using ecstasy has more than doubled in three years, prompting a leading drug educator to warn about the normalisation of the illicit drug’s use among young people.  Paul Dillon, the founder of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia, said the latest Australian Secondary School Students’ Alcohol and Other Drug study revealed an “alarming” increase in the consumption of ecstasy by students.  Ecstasy use among students aged between 12 and 17 has increased from 2 per cent in 2011 to 5 per cent in 2017, according to a study of almost 20,000 high school students.

Mr Dillon said he was concerned about the blasé attitude of students towards MDMA (the main ingredient in ecstasy).  “All drugs have risks and the minute you don’t have respect for drugs, you start doing things that are much more dangerous,” he said. “We’re going to see young people die.”  The survey of almost 20,000 high school students around Australia found 16 per cent of 17-year-old boys had tried ecstasy in 2017 compared to 9.2 per cent three years earlier.  The proportion of 17-year-old girls who had consumed the party drug increased from 4.7 per cent in 2014 to 9 per cent in 2017.

Cocaine use by 16 and 17 year olds increased from 3 to 5 per cent between 2014 and 2017, but the use of other illicit substances appeared stable and consumption of alcohol and tobacco declined.  The study found high levels of students using multiple substances such as alcohol and cannabis (58 per cent) or cannabis and ecstasy (43 per cent) at the same time.  It also found much higher rates of substance use by high school students with a mental health diagnosis.  A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said any increase in drug use was concerning.

Other studies have found young drug users are shifting towards higher purity ecstasy and an increase in the number of MDMA poisoning cases in NSW.  Mr Dillon, a drug educator for more than 25 years, said ecstasy was readily available through friendship networks and could be purchased by students for as little as $10.  Some students he encountered seemed to believe there was little risk in consuming large amounts of ecstasy in the mistaken belief that MDMA was safe.  Mr Dillon also expressed concern about the use of DIY pill-testing kits such as the EZ test to find out the contents of a pill, questioning whether young people were able to accurately interpret the results.

He said the increased use of ecstasy by young people would lead to fatalities beyond the nightclubs and music festivals where drug reform campaigners and some politicians have called for the introduction of pill testing.  Mr Dillon supports pill testing because it provides information about the contents of the drug that is tested, but he does not believe it is a “silver bullet” to prevent festival deaths.

Mr Dillon said the study revealed three concerning drug trends among students: the normalisation of ecstasy, and increasing use of cannabis and inhalants such as nitrous oxide.

“When people don’t have respect for drugs or perceive there is some kind of risk involved, that’s when you see tragedies occur,” Mr Dillon said.  Melinda Lucas, a spokeswoman for the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, said the use of ecstasy by secondary students is low, but “it is important for everyone to understand that is no safe level of drug use and any use increases the risk of harms such as accidents, injuries and overdose”. “It is important young people understand that taking drugs is not the norm, only a small number of high school students consume illicit drugs,” she said.

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By Australian Newsletter

This is an abridged version of Australian News prepared before editorial staff left to undertake overseas prayer assignments. The full version of Australian News will return on Wednesday 5th June.

Feminists and transgenders are increasingly at odds as biological men attempt to appropriate women’s gender.  The media has reported, “Divvi De Vendre registered The Women’s Party in January and is running candidates at the upcoming Federal Election but the Lismore based transgender woman has clashed with Sydney’s feminist movement which has raised questions about laws governing the self-identification of gender.”  In an effort to shed light on the fact a man had started the political party claiming to represent women, Australian feminist Anna Kerr wrote an article entitled “Are women voters being duped?”.

Her work was censored as it was deemed “insensitive and potentially offensive to the trans community”.  “Isn’t it ironic that a biological male is claiming to be a woman but doesn’t welcome transparency when it comes to biological facts?” said Kirralie Smith, spokeswoman for Binary.  “Voters need to understand who they are voting for.  They need facts so they can make informed decisions at the ballot box.  Transgender people and real women are not the same.  If people want to vote for a trans candidate that is their right, but candidates need to be honest about who they are,” said Smith.

Source: Binary

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By Feature Articles

Editor’s note: Happy Mother’s Day to all our Mums.  We love you, appreciate you, and as the following article points out, we cannot live without you.

Jan emailed me a while ago saying “I hope you don’t mind my writing to you like this, but it seems that my generation is never given the chance of telling our side of our story.  We are not trying to criticise life now, just saying there is another side, and it was good.”  She wrote that she never felt a lesser person because she stayed at home with her three young children.  “In my mind, being able to stay with your children (at least when they are young) shows them that you think they are important and this gives them stability and roots.  Then you give them wings.  We all had our children when we were young, so by the time they were at high school we were still young enough to stretch our own wings, either by refreshing our own skills or taking up something new.”

Then Jan wrote something that I often think about when I look at my own three children.  She recalled that after her kids had grown into three remarkable young adults, a man asked whether she had spent a lot of time with them at home.  When she said, yes, he said: “Well, it shows.”  We, the current crop of women, have a lot to show for ourselves.  A stellar education, great jobs, careers that take us interesting places, enlightened men in our lives who parent more than their fathers did.  Increasingly, we have policies and workplaces that are, let’s face it, female-centric, checking in on women’s advancement.  We have bureaucracies and lobby groups that do our bidding, and senior businessmen who join the women’s bandwagon too.

Lots of people looking out for us.  And it shows.  While there are gripes at the edges over gender pay gaps and not enough women in parliament (maybe we have more sense than men), women have assumed centre stage, and why shouldn’t we?  There’s a lame joke about feminism being a great idea until something goes wrong with the car.  Maybe feminism was a great idea until something went wrong with the kids.  Women don’t need a man to fix a car.  Not as a matter of strict biology, anyway, though I’m grateful to the blokes in greasy overalls at my local garage.  But children, especially babies, do need their mothers.

Before feminists have conniptions and demand equality between the sexes and equal parenting, is it too much to check in on how children are going?  To check the science and to be reminded of our biology?  Not as a female guilt trip or an attempt to turn back time but simply to remind ourselves that motherhood is important and, for that reason, is one heck of a privilege, in all its messy, demanding, beautiful, frustrating ways.  I remembered Jan’s email when reading the reaction to a new book.  Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters, by American psychoanalyst and clinical social worker Erica Komisar.

This book made a splash for all the wrong reasons.  As reported in The Wall Street Journal, one agent told her: “No, we couldn’t touch that.  That would make women feel guilty.” A conference organiser who rejected her as a speaker said: “You are going to make women feel badly.  How dare you?” One woman at a charity gathering told her: “You are going to set women back 50 years.”  Komisar’s book is controversial only if overlaid with a weird and unnatural women-only filter that blocks out the welfare of children.

The 53-year-old Jewish clinician developed a passionate interest in the role of mothers in early childhood development when she started noticing more absent mothers and motherhood being undervalued, along with boys being diagnosed with ADHD and an increase in depression diagnoses in young girls.

Komisar also noticed more young children being diagnosed with “social disorders”, having trouble relating to others and lacking empathy.  Lots of studies tell us about babies suffering separation anxiety when their mother leaves them and babies reacting to strangers by producing increased levels of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress.

But the science that literally strikes at the heart is Komisar’s discussion about oxytocin.  This is a neurotransmitter known as the “love” or “trust” hormone.  Komisar explains that mothers produce oxytocin when they give birth, breastfeed and are emotionally present with their babies.  The more a mother engages with her baby through touching, gazing into newborn eyes and using sweet gaga talk, the more oxytocin she produces, and “the more oxytocin she produces, the more she bonds with her child”.  As adults, we know what it’s like to be loved and to love.  The physical and emotional power of intimacy, from spending time together, is palpable.

Oxytocin is rushing around us when we look at each other, even think of one another, when we hug or touch or have sex.  Oxytocin is the hormone that helps us bond with one another, it helps build trust and is described as an antidote to depressive feelings.  If oxytocin produces all this between two adults, why is it hard for us to agree that it bonds and benefits a mother and baby?  The release of oxytocin in the baby’s brain from being nurtured becomes a buffer against the negative effects of stressful events.

Elaborating to The Wall Street Journal, Komisar explains that “every time a mother comforts a baby in distress, she’s actually regulating that baby’s emotions from the outside in.  After three years, the baby internalises that ability to regulate their emotions, but not until then.”  It’s not the same with fathers because our magnificent biology means women produce more oxytocin than men.  Women love to talk about differences between men and women in the workplace, how women bring female attributes to the workplace because they are more collegiate, better listeners, more empathetic and so on.

Yet when we look inside the family, women, especially those who control the debate, only ever talk about shared parenting, shared parental leave and so on.  Biological difference is often ignored, along with the science that supports it.  That’s no surprise in women’s studies departments that routinely deny women’s biology in a blind rage to expunge difference.  But the rest of us could be more curious as to why it matters for a mother to be there more for a baby.  After all, we agonise over so much else about our kids.  Should we enrol our four-year-old in Kumon lessons to get ahead in maths?  What about piano lessons and taekwondo?  Should we stop our teenager playing video games because it normalises violence?

We are endlessly curious, too, about new and existing social disorders, to the point where the diagnostic bible of mental and social disorders keeps expanding in width.  Consider the current diagnoses for children, from neurodevelopmental disorders identified in early infancy to others such as disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit, hyperactivity disorders, reactive attachment disorder and disinhibited social engagement disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder.

Curiosity has its limits, though, at least among the political class, where it has become virtually verboten to discuss how mothers promote wellbeing in a baby.  As The Wall Street Journal reported, while Christian radio stations and Fox & Friends interviewed Komisar about her book, she wasn’t welcome on NPR, American public radio, and was rejected by the liberal press in her home city, New York.  She told the Journal that seconds before she appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America, the interviewer said: “I don’t believe in the premise of your book at all.  I don’t like your book.”

Plenty of women won’t like Komisar’s book because it unsettles the new normal where highly educated women work full time, long hours, carving out brilliant careers from a young age, and babies and young children are placed in daycare or have two nannies, the weekday one and one for the weekend.  Her call for a more child-centric society means demanding a government-mandated paid maternity leave and flexible work in a country that still denies that to the women who need it most, those who lack the financial power to stay home.

Komisar’s book is important in Australia too, even with our generous paid parental leave schemes.  A 2013 analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics figures by the University of NSW revealed that parents spent four hours less a week with their children than they did a generation ago.  And research by UNSW associate professor Lyn Craig suggests that parenting is now more intensive, with parents squeezing in activities to smarten their children.  Think Kumon for four-year-olds.  But as Komisar says, concentrating on your child’s cognitive development before their social emotional development is like putting on their shoes before their socks.

And parenting experts point to stay-at-home mums as often the most intensive parents.  Their vision is constantly directed outwards, to tightly timetabled activities, making sure Billy is in the best footy team and Lucinda is in the highest English class, and complaining when their young genius doesn’t get the mark that mum thinks they deserved.  New words catch this new generation of parents, helicopter parents who hover and lawnmower parents who clear the way for their kids, and they all mean well.

But if children aren’t doing so well, more boys on ADHD medications, more anxiety among young girls, a generation of young adults asking for safe spaces and trigger warnings at university, then perhaps it’s time to check in and ask whether we’ve moved too far from Jan’s generation, because maybe little children need to hang out more with mums who understand that motherhood is more than directing the daily traffic of activities.  Just asking.

Source: Article written by Sydney Columnist Janet Albrechtsen

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By Australian Newsletter

Day 1 – Monday 13 May
Pray for the Candidates.  Pray that all candidates standing for election will come to know the fear of the LORD.  Pray that those elected will walk in wisdom throughout the period of the next Parliament.  Pray for their families and their staffers.  Pray that those elected would be energized and invigorated by the desire to serve the people of Australia.
Scriptures:  Proverbs 9:10 and Ecclesiastes 12:13

Day 2 – Tuesday 14 May
Pray for the Voters.  Pray that voters will know and correctly discern the true character of each candidate for whom they are being asked to vote.  Pray that they will choose wisely, each one being led by the Spirit of God.  Pray that voters will have clarity, discernment and wisdom when they go to the polls on Saturday.
Scriptures:  Ecclesiastes 12:14

Day 3 – Wednesday 15 May
Pray for the Media.  In these final days leading up to the election, intercede that each member of the print and broadcast media will report the policies of each party in truth, avoiding personal bias in their comments.  Pray that God will make Himself real and personal in their lives.  Pray that any editorial comment will be fair and represent truth and not be influenced by political motives.
Scriptures:  Isaiah 50:5 Luke 19:10 Luke 12:2

Day 4 – Thursday 16 May
Pray for an Open Heaven on Election Day.  Pray that people will have clarity of thought and intent as they cast their ballots.  Pray that confusion will be bound in the minds of voters and that they will not be influenced by lies, deception, dishonesty nor distortion.  Pray that truth, honesty, integrity and ethical behaviour will abound in the final days of the election campaign.
Scriptures:  Matthew 18:18 Romans 12:2, 1 Cor 2:16 Hebrews 4:12

Day 5 – Friday 17 May
Pray for the Elected and Defeated.  Pray that those elected tomorrow will accept their endorsement by the people with humility.  Pray that they will be granted wisdom by God to perform their duties in the best interest of all Australians.  Pray that those who lose will accept the verdict of the people with grace.  Pray they will quickly find alternative employment as well as other opportunities to serve through other forms of community service.
Scriptures:  Ephesians 1:17 James 4:6 2 Peter 1:2

Day 6 – Saturday 18 May
Today is Election Day.  Let us pray that as the votes are counted tonight and in subsequence days, that no ballots will be lost, that there will be no errors made in the counting and that adjudication on votes that are challenged by scrutineers will be fair and consistent in application.  Pray that God’s perfect will be done in the outcome of this election.

Thank you for taking part in this season of prayer for our Nation.

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By Australian Newsletter

Christian Schools Australia (CSA), which represents some 140 faith-based schools across the country, has called on Labor to clarify its plans regarding the Sex Discrimination Act, in the wake of revelations it would scrap exemptions that enable faith-based schools to employ teachers that represent their ethos and teach its traditional values.  Although Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek has signalled a willingness to support religious schools to continue to employ staff that “faithfully represent their values”, she declined to provide details of exactly how those rights would be protected under Labor’s pledge to amend the Sex Discrimination Act if elected.

CSA national policy director Mark Spencer said the group had previously held constructive conversations with Labor over the issue, which sparked fierce public debate late last year when recommendations from the Ruddock review into religious freedom were released, but it was now unclear what Labor’s intentions were.  Mr Spencer has sought clarification from Labor. “It sounds as though they expect us to rely on the employment process to deal with staff matters but you can’t put something in the employment contract if it is protected in discrimination legislation,” he said.

“We would be concerned with any plan to remove the exemption without replacing it with some other protection for religious schools” Mr Spencer said.  Charity lawyer Mark Fowler, an adjunct associate professor at the Notre Dame School of Law, agreed that removing the religious exemption without introducing accompanying legislative protection for schools posed a risk to faith-based schools. “Private parties cannot contract out of federal anti-discrimination law,” Mr Fowler said. “Where a school requires fidelity from its employees that conflicts with a statutory prohibition on discrimination, the statute will override the contract, unless an exemption applies.

“Moreover, to authentically model their beliefs to students and the community, many schools seek to prefer teachers and staff who actually share their beliefs. “On the face of it, Labor’s proposal appears to be to remove this ability.” Currently, the Sex Discrimination Act prevents discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status however there are exemptions that permit religious schools to discriminate in their employment decisions, as well as in relation to education and training, if it is in the interests of upholding religious values.

The Australian Law Reform Commission is currently looking into religious exemptions in anti-discrimination legislation, including the Ruddock review and some of its more contentious recommendations.  The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) has expressed its desire to retain the existing exemption and strenuously denies that Catholic schools used the exemptions “to expel or otherwise discriminate against students simply on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status”. “The exemptions allow schools to focus on educating students according to their mission and identity,” the ACBC wrote.

“We are concerned that without adequate recognition of our religious freedom, we will not be able to maintain a school community that operates in accordance with the tenets of its faith and in a spirit of harmony and cohesion” the ACBC went on.  In advice to the National Catholic Education Commission, the ALP said it respected the right of people to practise their religion freely and that Ms Plibersek had “made our position on the rights of religious schools very clear in parliament when she stated, ‘schools are also entitled to have rules that ensure staff don’t deliberately and wilfully behave contrary to the values of the school’.”

It stressed that Labor was “not proposing to amend the Sex Discrimination Act which allows educational institutions to impose reasonable conditions in accordance with their doctrines, beliefs or teachings.” Some within Labor believe that those discrimination provisions could be key to religious schools being able to ensure that its teachers outwardly adhere to the institutions values.  In a dissenting report on Senator Penny Wong’s proposed Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill 2018, Labor Senators raised the issue of whether schools needed to rely on exemptions to uphold the fidelity of an employee at their school or whether it was a contractual matter.

Their report referred to a hypothetical example of a teacher “who was not supportive of the teachings of the church and who voiced that belief publicly”.  “The committee noted that the failure to uphold a specific teaching, needed to be pursued through the contract with the employee,” said the Labor Senators’ report.  Ms Plibersek said that she did not believe that there was “any tension” between the rights of schools to require employees uphold their values and protecting people from discrimination. “What the Schools want is employees who can live by or demonstrate the values of their school,” she said.

She went on “I think it is possible to find that balance without discriminating against people because of who they love or how they identify.  I don’t think that’s beyond us.” Labor has advised advocacy group Equality Australia that it would “continue to work to remove all discrimination against LGBTI people from Commonwealth law”.  “Labor will not give up,” the response said. “We do not believe that freedom from discrimination and religious freedom are mutually exclusive.  We do not believe that the removal of these exemption will hamper a religious schools’ capacity to continue to teach its religion and operate according to its traditions and beliefs.”

Source:  Compiled by APN from media reports

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