Monthly Archives

October 2019


By Australian Newsletter

Australia’s first indigenous surgeon says he is terrified by the WA government’s plan to let doctors suggest voluntary assisted dying, describing patients in remote areas as often so thankful to see a specialist that they are “very compliant”.  Associate professor Kelvin Kong, of the Worimi people of Port Stephens north of Newcastle in NSW, said the priority should be change that improved the treatment and survival chances of indigenous Australians with life-threatening illness.  Indigenous people with cancer tended to present late when their symptoms were well advanced, he said by way of example.

While Australia’s overall cancer survival rates were among the best in the world, there was a big disparity between the incidence and survival rates of Australians who were non-indigenous and Australians who were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.  “We are jumping to an end-stage conversation when we haven’t got all the pathways in cancer management leading up to palliative care,” he said.  Victoria was the first state to pass voluntary assisted dying laws in June, although its legislation lets doctors discuss it as an option only at a patient’s instigation.

In Western Australia, a bill that would allow doctors to raise the prospect of voluntary assisted dying with patients passed the lower house last month.  Debate in the upper house is to begin in November.  The case for euthanasia laws is being considered in Queensland, while South Australia is also contemplating reform.  Professor Kong, an ear, nose and throat specialist who treats cancer patients in remote Aboriginal communities, said he was open to the concept of voluntary assisted dying laws but he believed that in terms of priorities in indigenous health, the debate was happening in the wrong order.

“If we are serious about indigenous betterment, we really need to increase things like early interventions,” he said.  As a member of the Cancer Australia Advisory Board, Professor Kong contributed to a guide for the treatment of indigenous cancer patients that encourages doctors to focus on prevention and early detection, gives them suggestions about how to get indigenous people to feel safe going to a doctor and offers tips for how to talk to an indigenous cancer patient about treatment.

Asked whether he had concerns about the proposed WA law allowing a doctor instigate a conversation with an Aboriginal person about voluntary assisted dying, he said:  “Yes, it terrifies me because you don’t know who that doctor is.  “There are some I know would handle it well and others not” he said.  “Our medical training is not really good at teaching us an understanding of cultural complexities, particularly with our most disenfranchised people.”  Professor Kong said his urban patients, including indigenous, were generally confident about their ability to make an informed decision but in rural and remote Australia he met patients who were just thankful to finally see a specialist.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports




By Australian Newsletter

Eleven terminally-ill Victorians have received approval to end their lives using government-endorsed medication through Australia’s only voluntary euthanasia scheme.  The 11 people have been granted access since the scheme came into effect on June 19, an independent review board has confirmed.  The review board also released its first report into the scheme, which covers only the first 11 days of operation and shows no data on assessments, applications, approvals, and medications dispensed.  “We will be able to report more fully in the future about how the laws are working, including data,” board chair Betty King said in a statement.

“Right now numbers are small and we need to protect the privacy of the patients and doctors using it.”  Data will be included in future reports to allow the community to have informed discussions about the sensitive topic.  “It will also help us in making recommendations to improve how the law operates,” Ms King said.  The next report is due in February and reviews will be delivered every six months for the first two years before moving annually.  More than 300 doctors, including GPs, cancer specialists and palliative care clinicians from across the state are undertaking mandatory, specialist training on the scheme. Of those, about one third practise in regional Victoria.

In July, grandmother Kerry Robertson, 61, died in a Bendigo nursing home under the new voluntary assisted dying laws. She was the first person to be granted a permit after visiting her specialist the day before the legislation came into effect on June 19. Victoria’s laws allow terminally-ill adults, in specific circumstances, to end their lives after two medical professionals have signed their application and a cooling-off period has passed. The state government expects up to 150 people a year will eventually use the scheme. Similar laws are being considered in Western Australia and Queensland.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

Rugby Australia’s objection to the posts at issue was not their religious content but rather their tone and attributes.  Did Rugby Australoia (RA) boss Raelene Castle watch The Castle and rework Dennis Denuto’s “vibe of the thing” into the “tone of the thing?”  If RA’s killer point, outlined in its defence is enough to allow them to sack Israel Folau, then we are all in trouble.  If the wrong tone in an employee’s social media post, rather than the substance of that post, is enough to end a career, what’s next?  RA has made a number of assertions in its defence filed in the Federal Circuit Court and served on Folau’s legal team the same day.

To avoid the accusation that they sacked a man for his religious beliefs, RA’s defence is that they sacked Folau because of the tone of his posts.  This is how RA plans to fend off claims by Folau that his termination was unlawful for breaching section 772 of the Fair Work Act which makes it illegal to terminate a person’s employment for reason of, or for reasons that include, his religion.  RA also claims that Folau knew his social media posts in April last year, and again this year, were offensive to some people, and that Folau freely contracted to curb his social media usage, and that he conceded breaching his contract during a code of conduct tribunal hearing earlier this year.

RA’s core defence about the tone of Folau’s posts is extraordinary.  Who determines what is an unacceptable “tone”?  If RA does not object to the religious content of Folau’s posts, that must mean Folau is entitled to say homosexuals will go to Hell, but only if he says it nicely.  It means that RA accepts there could have been a way for the rugby champion to express the same sentiment, and not get sacked.  What words would RA have found acceptable? RA boss Raelene Castle claims that she told Folau he had “hurt and offended some people with his comment” that homosexuals would go to Hell, and that he needed to be “considered and respectful” in his social media posts.

Folau, an evangelical Christian, believes that his religion is both considered and respectful. Folau also believes that his calling is to evangelise his beliefs in his own personal time.  Two core issues, control and consequences, sit at the heart of RA’s defence.  First, RA claims the legal right to control how Folau expresses his or her religious faith away from the workplace.  Second, RA claims the right to impose the most severe consequences on Folau for failing to meet their demands.  This case will decide how much control an employer can or should have over an employee’s life away from his or her job.

Sporting bodies have long claimed control over how a rugby player behaves off the sporting field, for example requiring that they should not break the law by taking drugs or engage in violent behaviour because this brings the game into disrepute.  RA’s defence is that its legal authority reaches into new territory, claiming a legal right to control how a rugby player may or not paraphrase the Bible.  Contrary to some claims, RA cannot point to a specific clause in Folau’s contract aimed to control his social media usage.  There is only a generic clause in a code of conduct (although, to be clear, that code is incorporated into his contract).

Given the high stakes, and in fairness to Folau, RA should have given explicit instructions to Folau about his social media usage before they used a generic clause in a generic code of conduct to sack him? If the court decides that RA was entitled to sack Folau using an entirely subjective measure about “tone,” it will arm employers with tremendous power drawn from generic and widely worded codes of conduct to legally control the tone of an employee’s posts about their religious beliefs on private social media platforms.  Worse, it will mean that employees can be sacked at will by an employer for entirely subjective, highly contestable “tone” offences.

This dispute goes far beyond people disagreeing with Folau’s religious beliefs, or choosing to take offence over his social media posts.  It presumes enormous consequences can legally flow from people taking offence from a few social media posts about biblical teachings.  In employment law, there is nothing more enormous than bringing a person’s career to an end. RA has hung much of its defence on the decision of the tribunal earlier this year that the “termination of Folau’s Player Contract was the only clear practical way for RA and Rugby NSW to distance themselves from the views of Mr Folau’s in order to protect themselves from further damage.”

Folau’s legal team will surely challenge this in its response. Coupled with a clear public condemnation of Folau’s social media posts, RA could have suspended Folau.  RA could have said the sporting body vehemently disagrees with Folau, that his views are offensive to some, but that posting his religious beliefs on private social media platforms has no bearing on the game of rugby.  There were plenty of other options.  RA might have been more strategic, understanding that by taking the nuclear option, they turned Folau into a celebrity martyr and caused damage to the game, and RA’s reputation.

RA has gone to great lengths in its defence to say that its termination rests on Folau’s concession at the tribunal hearing that he breached the code of conduct.  It is true that Folau made concessions at the hearing, to try to mitigate the damage and lessen any penalty, rather than to hand RA the justification to sack him.  Folau seems to have put little faith in the Tribunal hearing. Indeed, his legal team must have been concerned that RA had a self-serving agenda in nominating Kate Eastman SC to the three-person code-of-conduct panel which ruled on Folau, given Eastman’s long history of pushing for new “rights” against discrimination in the workplace and in the law.

RA also claims that fundamental principles of freedom of contract mean that Folau knowingly agreed to restrict his social media usage.  Expect Folau’s team to point out that the entire industrial relations system, including the Fair Work Act, is premised on limiting what can and cannot be agreed between parties of unequal bargaining power.  And that Section 772 cannot be contracted out of.  The central question remains whether Folau was sacked because of, or for reasons that included, his religion.  On this point, RA bears the onus of proving that the “tone” of the thing was enough to warrant terminating Folau’s contract.

Source: An article written by Janet Albrechtsen columnist for The Australian

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By Australian Newsletter

Australia’s peak Catholic education body has warned the government its draft religious discrimination act needs revisions because there is nothing in the bill to stop the states and territories from passing new laws driving faith from the public square.  The National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC) is joining with a growing number of groups in questioning whether the protections in the government’s draft bill will allow faith based educators to preference teachers on their religion when it comes to hiring decisions.  Scott Morrison’s decision to defer consideration of religious exemptions in anti-discrimination regimes, including the treatment of gay students and teachers at faith based schools, to the Australian Law Reform Commission is also identified as a key problem.

“There is a risk that following the ALRC process, further work (including new legislation (or amendments)) will be required.  It would be better for all issues to be dealt with at once,” the NCEC submission says. The NCEC warns that, once the ALRC inquiry is conducted, further changes to the government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Act (RDA) may be needed or the ability of Catholic schools to operate according to their ethos could be put at risk.  Concerns are also raised at the draft bill’s definition of religious belief or activity as “engaging in lawful religious activity.”

The NCEC argues that legal changes passed by the states and territories could render currently accepted religious practices unlawful in the future, which would then “have the effect of making the activity of the Catholic school unlawful.”  “The word lawful is unnecessary and it should be deleted,” the submission says.  Alarm is expressed with the wording of section 10 of the draft bill which contains a positive right stating that religious bodies are free to act in accordance with their faith.  This section has raised alarm bells with a number of groups, including faith based educators like the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, which argue that section 10 is defined too narrowly and could fail to give protection to religious schools that preference teachers on their faith.

The NCEC notes that, in a Catholic school context, the values of the Gospel underpin all aspects of the school, even day to day operational matters.  “Catholic schools employ some staff who are not baptised as Catholics. In common with all staff, non-Catholic staff are required to be supportive of the teachings and mission of the Catholic Church, act as role models to students and do nothing that would undermine the transmission of those teachings.  “On a narrow reading of section 10, a secular authority may regard certain employment decisions as outside section 10 even though such decisions are vital to ensuring that a Catholic school operates as a Catholic school.”

The NCEC also warns that the RDA should include clearer provisions about the applicability of existing state and territory law, noting that some jurisdictions had passed laws which “encroach upon religious freedom.”  “Notwithstanding actions at the federal level to protect religious freedom, state and territories may continue to do so unless restrained by an item of overriding legislation,” he said.  “NCEC believes the time is right to consider the harmonisation of state and territory legislation with Commonwealth legislation which helps to protect religious schools from laws that would restrict their ability to pursue their mission.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports


By Australian Newsletter

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is fighting the anti-women Prostitution Decriminalisation Bill in South Australia sponsored by Attorney General Vickie Chapman.  We are in reach of significant policy reform for prostituted women in South Australia. ACL spokesperson for women and children, Wendy Francis, led a delegation of prostitution survivors and others who met with lower house members of parliament in relation to the prostitution decriminalisation bill.  We presented the awful realities of prostitution and argued that while we supported the decriminalisation of the sale of sex, we opposed the exploitation of women and the industrialisation of prostitution.

We urged the parliamentarians to support the Nordic Model where the buying of sex and the actions of pimps are criminalised and prostituted people are given genuine exit options.  Instead of helping women, Ms Chapman’s sponsored bill will lead to greater numbers of women, many of them trafficked from South-East Asia, being exploited.  We had a very good reception. The numbers in parliament are close.  We are within reach of a significant milestone in that South Australia may become the first jurisdiction in Australia to adopt Nordic. During our visits we were encouraged to hear from MPs that they had heard from many already who are opposed to the bill.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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By Australian Newsletter

Lawmakers in New South Wales have voted to overturn a 119-year-old law criminalizing abortion, drawing criticism from pro-life advocates.  After many weeks of debate, the New South Wales parliament voted to pass the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019.  The bill decriminalizes abortion and makes terminations available to women up to 22 weeks into their pregnancy without having to prove their mental or physical health will be impacted if they continue the pregnancy.  After 22 weeks, pregnant women seeking an abortion will need two specialist medical practitioners to sign off on the procedure.

The bill overturned a 119-year-old law that made it a criminal offense to obtain or administer an abortion in NSW.  Previously, abortions were only legal if a doctor deemed there was “serious risk” to a woman’s physical or mental health if she carried her baby to term.  “Unlawful abortion” was previously listed in the Crimes Act and carried a possible penalty of 10 years in prison for a woman who administered her own abortion.  The bill’s passage means that abortion is now decriminalized everywhere in Australia, apart from South Australia, where abortions are legal for some medical reasons.

Abortion was already decriminalized in Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.  On Twitter, Labor MP Penny Sharpe, co-sponsor of the bill, praised the move as a “massive step forward for women & other pregnant people” that came “not a minute too soon.”  Religious and pro-life organizations have voiced their dismay over the decision.  The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, said it was a “dark day” for the state and called it “a defeat for humanity.”

“The Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 may be the worst law passed in New South Wales in modern times, because it represents such a dramatic abdication of responsibility to protect the most vulnerable members of our community,” he said in a statement posted on social media.  “Since the abolition of capital punishment in New South Wales in 1955, this is the only deliberate killing ever legalized in our state.”  Fisher said that although abortion is legal, the church’s “commitment to life continues.”  “Care for pregnant women, new mothers and their babies will still be available through church agencies and pro-life organizations,” he said.

“The Catholic Church, other Christian churches, people of other faiths and women and men of goodwill will continue to work together to turn our culture around, so that every vulnerable woman and baby is supported and abortion becomes unthinkable.”  Fisher thanked the members of parliament who opposed the bill, along with members of the public who prayed and spoke out against the law.  He encouraged Catholics to pray and work for pro-life leaders “so that every vulnerable woman and baby is supported and abortion is unthinkable.”  “We can still put an end to the scourge of abortion in this state by making it unnecessary, no matter what the law says,” the archbishop said.

Cherish Life Queensland Executive Director Teeshan Johnson said she grieved the passing of the bill, calling it a “gross injustice for the unborn and betrayal by the so-called conservative side of politics.”  “While the abortion lobby and its vested interests will be applauding this drastic move, the general public would be shocked if it realized what has been endorsed by a select few,” she said.  “We will be making sure everyone comes to know what those in the abortion movement have imposed upon our country over the last decade or so.  We will now start a widespread education and advertising campaign to expose this dark industry and its insidious ties.”

On Twitter, Right to Life Australia warned that the bill “unlocks floodgates to late term abortions & will increase the tide of abortions in Australia today.”  “Remember every abortion kills a baby,” the group said.  “What is happening to this nation when the most vulnerable, the most precious & the voiceless unborn are at the mercy of a vote in a Parliament?  The NSW community said a resounding no to abortion.  We will continue to fight to uphold the sanctity of human life.”  While it is unclear how many abortions are performed each year in Australia, government figures from 2005 estimated that about 80,000 women a year obtained the procedure.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

Prostitution would be fully decriminalised in South Australia with no explosion in the number of suburban brothels but under a “gig economy” model similar to Uber or Airbnb, and sex workers operating legally as independent contractors without any noticeable impact on the public.  That’s the promise from advocates of sex work decriminalisation in SA. An unlikely political alliance between a Greens MP and senior Liberals including Premier Steven Marshall is building parliamentary support for the change, which is opposed most strongly by Labor leader Peter Malinauskas, and state police commissioner Grant Stevens.

If passed, just Tasmania and Western Australia would be the last states where sex work remains illegal.  The sponsor of the private member’s bill, Greens MLC Tammy Franks, said she was confident it would become law as undecided MPs saw the plan would not result in the kind of “mega brothels” found in the eastern states.  Ms Franks said new technology, cheap transport and new apps to weed out unpleasant clients meant the sex worker of 2019 was usually an independent, self-employed woman who advertised online, and travelled to private residences or hotels to work.

“The critics keep talking about brothels popping up everywhere but what we are looking at here is a model more associated with the disruptive economy where these women will be able to go about their business legally and no one will be any the wiser,” she said.  Her assessment has been backed by members of the sex industry in SA in which between 2000 and 2500 people, almost all female, work each year.  But there are only an estimated 30-35 illegal brothels in SA, with around two-thirds of workers operating independently or in small groups.

They include Anya, in her 30s, who has her own web page and Twitter profile and has been organising work via text message for her three years in the industry.  Anya said the days of the big brothel were over for most women who use the internet and social media to work in private residences or hotels.  She said women were increasingly using a database called Ugly Mugs, invented in the UK but rolled out in Australia by Sydney’s Sex Workers Outreach Project, which lets sex workers share the names, aliases and phone numbers of violent or unpleasant clients, in the same way an Uber driver can reject a passenger with a poor rating.

Anya said there were two men in Adelaide with a reputation for violence who had been dobbed in by sex workers and were being avoided.  But the fact sex work remained illegal in SA was still placing women in unnecessary danger.  “The problem is that even when we are targeted or abused we feel like the criminals.  Ms Franks and Anya said they were mindful of the murder in Sydney this year of sex worker Michaela Dunn, who was not working from a brothel, but argued an incident like that could have occurred just as easily, with less likelihood of police involvement, in a state such as SA where sex work remained criminalised.

“The reality is that a lot of jobs come with danger, there are nurses and paramedics attacked every day at work,” Anya said.  Unfortunately sex workers will always be vulnerable, but they will more vulnerable if they are treated as criminals themselves and reluctant to go to the police when something bad happens.”  Ms Franks’s bill is being co-sponsored by SA Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, who this week flagged amendments to prevent brothels opening within 200m of a church, school or childcare centre. Commissioner Stevens has warned of infiltration by criminal gangs. Mr Malinauskas agrees.  “We have come too far in tackling organised crime to take a backward step”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

The “night-time economy” in NSW is to be dramatically redrawn, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian expected to fully repeal lockout laws across most of Sydney as she faces a fresh battle over her safety crackdown on music festivals.  Lockout laws and after-hours drink restrictions would be repealed in the Sydney CBD, but left in place in inner-city Kings Cross, under the recommendations of a cross-party committee released this week.  But the Premier warned that the lives of thousands of young partygoers would be put at risk this summer after the NSW upper house overturned safety measures imposed on music festivals.

One MP said it would be up to the “licensing sergeant” in the CBD to police troublesome premises but no longer would there be blanket closing times of 3am and lockouts imposed at 1.30am.  The government regulation on music festivals, introduced after several drug-related deaths last summer, required 14 festivals to adhere to a strict licensing regime that included bearing the cost of increased security and medical services.  “I am horrified by the alliance of Labor, the Shooters and the Greens who voted together to disallow the regulation governing the music festivals by 21 votes to 18” Ms Berejiklian said.

The Premier warned that the move had put “thousands of lives at risk”.  “This action will result in an immediate end to the regulations, putting thousands of lives at risk as we come into the summer music festival season,’’ Ms Berejiklian said.  “It is utterly reckless to throw out these regulations without having anything in their place as summer approaches.  “We do not want to see a repeat of what happened last summer.

“But this irresponsible action means police, paramedics, nurses and doctors will be left to pick up the pieces.”  Labor night-time economy spokesman John Graham said the opposition moved the disallowance because the licensing system was too ad hoc on certain festivals and a proper state-wide policy needed to be developed.  Only 14 festivals determined to be “high risk” were required to obtain the licence.  Each of these 14 festivals had either had a serious drug related illness or death in the past three years, or had been assessed, on the expert advice from NSW Health and NSW police, that there might be a significant risk of that occurring.

The regulations required that the organisers establish a safety management plan in consultation with the NSW Police Force and NSW Health. A statement from Ms Berejiklian’s office said:  “The NSW government will now consider options and consult with the music industry, the health sector and NSW police on what else can be done to ensure that young people stay safe over the summer period.”   Labor has alls on the music festival industry and the government to work together to implement updated rules in time for the upcoming summer festival season,” he said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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