Monthly Archives

December 2019

STRONGER PROTECTION IN NEW RELIGIOUS FREEDOM BILL

By Australian Newsletter

Scott Morrison has released the government’s updated draft religious discrimination bill, which includes stronger protections for faith-based groups and individuals and provides a clearer definition of vilification as “incitement of hatred or violence”.  The major overhaul of the initial draft bill, comes after a backlash from major religious groups and others.  The Prime Minister, who delayed tabling the religious discrimination bill in the final week of parliament, said the second draft of the religious discrimination legislation incorporated “many of the key changes that were suggested by religious bodies and other stakeholders”.

In a joint statement with Mr Porter, Mr Morrison said submissions in response to the new religious freedom draft bills would close on January 31.  “The release of the revised bill for a further period of consultation will provide all members of the Australian community an opportunity to consider these revisions and whether the amended bill further addresses the issues they have raised,” they said.  “As we have said, this is not a process that should be rushed.  What is important is that we get this legislation right and deliver lasting reforms that provide real protections for all Australians.”

Following extensive consultation on the religious freedoms package, including almost 6000 submissions and Mr Porter meeting with close to 100 stakeholder groups, the government has decided on several key changes to the original draft bill.  These include making it clearer for religious bodies to implement staffing and other decisions based “upon faith” in line with existing federal law.  Religious benevolent institutions will also be included in the definition of ‘religious bodies’.  Provisions aimed at supporting existing conscientious objections processes have been narrowed so that they apply only to nurses, midwives, doctors, psychologists and pharmacists.

Conscientious objections provisions have been made clearer in relation to not allowing a right “to discriminate against particular individuals based upon gender or other characteristics”.  As previously flagged by Mr Porter, there are also new provisions for faith-based hospitals and aged care facilities.  The new bill supports that “the current status quo under federal law is maintained, allowing religious hospitals, aged care facilities and accommodation providers (such as retirement homes) to employ staff to preserve a religious ethos, with additional specific protections for religious camps and conference centres”.

Mr Morrison and Mr Porter confirmed amendments had been made to clarify certain provisions, which had been described by legal experts as “ambiguous”.  “The term ‘vilify’ has been defined as incitement of hatred or violence,” they said.  “In addition, a definition of ‘conscientiously object’ has been included in response from a range of stakeholders, including the Australian Medical Association.  “Any form of discrimination will not be tolerated by our government.  We already have in place laws that protect people from discrimination on the basis of their race, sex, age or disabilities.”  Controversial religious statements made at work Christmas parties will not be protected.

Mr Morrison said it made sense that religion “should be included so that Australians are free to live their lives in the way they choose to”. “We also understand that this process is about striking a balance and that the protections we deliver must be a shield from discrimination, not a sword.”  Christian Schools Australia director of public policy Mark Spencer welcomed the updated religious discrimination bill, thanking Mr Porter for “getting into the Christmas spirit”.  “The revised exposure draft shows that the government has been listening to the concerns of faith communities, and other groups, and provides much needed clarity around a number of areas,” Mr Spencer said.

“It is vital that we take the time to get this legislation right.  The second draft shows that we are well on the way to doing so.”  Mr Spencer called on the government to include consultation with the Opposition on the legislation”.  “We know that parents across Australia were saying to us how important the protection of values, beliefs, and freedom of religion are to them, our national polling during the election indicated that 66% of Australians support legal protections for religious freedom,” he said.  “Ordinary Australian, mums and dads, people of faith across Australia, want to see the major parties work together to get this legislation right.

Mr Morrison is open to further changes and the Coalition will work with Labor on amendments ahead of the legislation being finalised in February.  Mr Porter has clarified that a religious school or church does not discriminate if they preference staff and students on their faith.  “A Catholic school could fill a position with a Catholic simply because their preference is it be filled by a Catholic,” Mr Porter said. Association of Independent Schools NSW chief executive Geoff Newcombe said amendments appeared to address the original concern of faith-based schools over their right to preference the employment of teachers of the same faith.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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WESTERN AUSTRALIA PASSES ASSISTED DYING LAW

By Australian Newsletter

The McGowan Labor government will introduce Australia’s most liberal voluntary assisted dying laws following a marathon parliamentary debate.  The West Australian government was forced to drop one of the most contentious elements of its planned laws; a clause that gave authority to about 70,000 people from 16 occupations to suggest voluntary assisted dying to a person with a terminal illness.  This included podiatrists, optometrists, dental hygienists, chiropractors and people practising Chinese medicine.  The amended bill that passed the WA upper house 24-11 last week still allows doctors and senior nurses to raise the subject of voluntary assisted dying with a patient.

This is not permitted in Victoria, which in June became the first state to make voluntary assisted dying legal.  There, the onus is on the patient to tell their doctor they want help to die.  The WA bill, which is due to become law after the lower house approves amendments is more practical than Victoria’s, according to Perth doctor Alida Lancee, who became the face of Australia’s euthanasia debate in 2015 when she admitted giving a lethal dose of morphine to an 80-year-old woman with end-stage emphysema.  The woman had tried to take her own life twice.

Dr Lancee said the WA laws would be better than Victoria’s which placed too many obstacles in the way of a terminally ill person who wanted to die well.  In WA, a doctor with a conscientious objection to voluntary assisted dying will be able to refuse to help a patient die but still must give the patient standardised information about the steps they can take and how.  In Victoria, doctors with a conscientious objection are under no obligation to provide information about voluntary assisted dying to a patient who asks.  “If you are in dire straits, the last thing you need is a doctor who gives you judgment,” Dr Lancee said.

Greens MP Robin Chapple, who helped usher the bill through the upper house, said he was proud to be part of a decades-long movement “to ensure we all have the comfort of choice at the end of our lives”.  “This is a momentous occasion, and I am beside myself with relief and happiness,” Mr Chapple said.  The bill was supported by 12 Labor MPs, two Liberals, four Nationals, four Greens and one MP each from One Nation and the Liberal Democrats.  Seven Liberal MPs were opposed along with one each from Labor, One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, and one independent.

The WA laws will make voluntary assisted dying available only to adults who have been given a terminal diagnosis, are in intolerable pain and have between six and 12 months to live depending on the illness.  This is the same as in Victoria.  But under the WA laws, a patient will be able to get help to die provided they have been independently assessed by two doctors.  Both doctors can be GPs so long as they have 10 years of experience.  The process is stricter in Victoria, where one of the assessing doctors must have “specialised knowledge or qualifications” in the illness that the patient is dying from.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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BRIAN HOUSTON INVITED TO THE WHITE HOUSE AND PRAYS FOR TRUMP

By Australian Newsletter

Hillsong leader Brian Houston has attended a faith briefing at the White House alongside worship leaders.  In September, Houston denied reports that the White House rejected having him at a state dinner with Australian leaders.  The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is friends with Houston, wanted him there but that the White House turned down the PM’s request.  In a video put up by the White House, Houston said he had just been praying for Donald Trump in the Oval Office and that “I do, as an Australian, really believe that we need a strong America in the world, and when America is strong the world is a better place.”

He praised administration initiatives which he said were helping freedom of religion and to just see, generally, the great spirit in the White House where people are optimistic about the future.  “Praise God for the opportunity” Houston said.  Also in attendance were worship leaders Kari Jobe and husband Cody Carnes who prayed in the Cabinet room and Oval Office, listening to the faith briefing.  “The thing that moved me the most is just how everyone is so for making sure we’re changing people’s lives and not leaving aside those that are marginalised and those that have been trafficked.  I’m just so thankful to have been part of this to just see what God is doing.”

Source: Premier News Service

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