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December 2019


By Australian Newsletter

After eight months of waiting, there has been a mostly-positive outcome between Israel Folau and Rugby Australia (RA).  The two parties agreed to settle out of court for an undisclosed sum. Out-of-court settlement is, by definition, a compromise.  As such, there were wins for Israel and for religious freedom. But there were some potential losses as well.  First, it is great that the two parties were able to come to an amicable agreement before the fight got dirty in the courts.  Secondly, it is heartening to see that Rugby Australia apologised to Israel Folau for the hurt they caused him and his wife, Maria.  Thirdly, though we don’t know the amount, Israel was compensated financially.

This sends a message to all Australian employers that discriminating against an employee on the basis of their religious faith will hurt the pocketbook.  But the Israel Folau saga has exposed some concerns about religious freedom in Australia, too.  For one, the outcome for Israel was only as good as it was because of his celebrity profile.  If it were you or me, we might have lost our job without anyone noticing. Indeed, an increasing number of Australians are facing various forms of discrimination like this.  Consider also that despite Rugby Australia’s apology, CEO Raelene Castle went right back to repeating the mantras that she used to unfairly sack Folau in the first place.

“We stick to our values that inclusiveness is absolutely core to the key of rugby,” she said after the settlement.  “Everybody in rugby needs to be included regardless of what their background is.”  Neither she nor anyone at Rugby Australia seems to understand the glaring irony and stark hypocrisy in such pronouncements.  Israel Folau was explicitly excluded for his faith.  Because he believed and paraphrased the Bible, he somehow doesn’t count in the “everybody”.  The reality is that for Rugby Australia and many other bodies that have bought into the new “woke” ideology, tolerance is only extended to those who think exactly the same as them.

Israel is to be commended for how he has carried himself throughout the dramas of 2019.  He possibly conceded more than he should have in the settlement.  The statement he signed said, “Mr Folau wants all Australians to know that he shares RA commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.”  But if RA’s commitment to inclusiveness and diversity is what drove them to sack Israel in the first place, should he share that commitment?  Inclusiveness and diversity are good values.  But only if they leave room for people who believe the Bible, too.  This is why we were glad to hear of the government’s plan to write a new draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill for release next year.

The first draft on offer lacked clarity, and what clarity was there seemed to make life harder for Aussies of faith, not easier.  We welcome the government’s new draft, and ask you to join us in praying for those God has appointed to write it.  Events like this can seem haphazard and circumstantial.  But in Daniel 2:21 we read that “God changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.  He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.”  Nothing is outside of God’s care or oversight.  He is the one directing the affairs of mankind, including Australia’s laws that protect us from tyranny.  So please, join with us as we ask God to advance Australia fair.

Source: Canberra Declaration

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By Australian Newsletter

Transgender surgery, such as “facial feminisation” with a price tag of up to $70,000, should be made available in public hospitals and subsidised by Medicare, says a report to Victoria’s government.  A “critically low” supply of trans-skilled surgeons is driving people overseas for costly surgery that sometimes fails and is difficult to repair in Victoria, says the 2018 report feeding into what Premier Daniel Andrews unveiled in April as Australia’s first Trans and Gender Diverse Health Care ­Initiative.  The report cites the “rapid ­increase” of patient demand in Victoria’s gender clinics at the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) and Monash Health.

It urges more surgical training and says Medicare should recognise that “gender affirming” surgery is not cosmetic but helps a trans person lead “a productive and meaningful life”.  The RCH clinic for children and adolescents, directed by paediatrician Michelle Telfer, offers puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, and once patients turn 17, they are on track for the Monash adult clinic.  But Dr Telfer told ABC News last year that RCH should consider “top surgery”, such as a double mastectomy claimed to make a girl feel more like a boy and reduce suicide risk.

“The evidence that we have from a medical perspective is that it can be really helpful, it’s therapeutic,” she said.  “When you still have prominent breasts, it’s very distressing and actually leads to quite a lot of discrimination, stigma, bullying at school.”  RCH and Health Minister Jenny Mikakos would not comment when asked about any plans for enabling under-18s trans surgery.  Ms Mikakos has said last year’s clinical guidelines issued by Dr Telfer’s RCH team represent “the most stringent safety standards”.  Those standards, also hailed as “the world’s most progressive”, say top surgery is regularly performed overseas where a 16-year-old can consent.

The overseas-led trend has been to ever younger social transition to medical treatment.  In the US, “gender confirmation surgery” for biological females identifying as male rose 346% from 1497 operations in 2016 to 6691 last year, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported.  It gave no age breakdown.  Physician Johanna Olson-Kennedy, the high-profile director of the largest US youth gender clinic, at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, told a conference last year that people under 20 made all kinds of life-altering decisions successfully.  “Here’s the thing about chest surgery, if you want breasts at a later point in your life, you can go and get them,” she said.

Critics of the “child-led” affirmation approach say its pro-trans bias may not serve the welfare of the often troubled teenage girls suddenly going trans and pleading for testosterone.  At RCH, referrals have risen sharply, from three in 2003-07 to 228 last year.  Dr Telfer, who claims “gender is mostly a biological entity”, said people did ask how very young children could know they were trans.  “We have two or three-year-olds who verbalise very clearly how they feel about their gender, and we listen,” Dr Telfer said.  She said research clearly showed that “if you support the child to express themselves and be who they are, their long-term mental health outcomes are very good”.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

Resources Minister Matt Canavan said the government was forced to delay plans to introduce religious discrimination laws until 2020 as some religious groups weren’t satisfied with the protections offered under the draft legislation.  “Some groups are saying there are issues that need to be tackled, that’s why we’ll do another round of consultation, but it’s not like we’ve been sitting on our heels,” Senator Canavan said.  Canavan said he understood religious groups needed “greater certainty” on who was exempt from the provisions, but praised Attorney-General Christian Porter, for the “fantastic job he had done in consulting widely with a range of groups”.

“We’ll put out an updated bill with some changes from the previous one and more consultation before we take to the parliament directly.  And then there’ll be a parliamentary inquiry I’d imagine as well.  So there’ll be a lot of time here to try and get this right,” he said.  “At the fundamental level, we’ve got to get this right.  These sort of legislative changes have long standing ramifications over time as courts interpret them, it’s very important that we get that as correct as possible.”  Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to Facebook to announce he was delaying the bill until 2020.

“So, we’re going to take a bit more time to get this right.  We’ll have the draft exposure bill out over the summer to get it in and next year, bring a bill into the parliament to make it law,” Mr Morrison said in video, filmed in front of a Christmas tree.  “There will be some who will try to make this process more difficult or be opportunistic or try to derail it.  They’re not engaging in good faith. I’m engaging in good faith with the Australian people and people of all different beliefs to ensure that we can get this law right.  It’s an important protection for our society in Australia.”

Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher supported the prime minister’s decision to delay the bill for further consideration.  A spokesman for the church said: “The Archbishop of Sydney has said that he is pleased that the government has listened to the concerns of people of faith and welcomes the opportunity for further consultation and looks forward to seeing the second exposure draft very soon.” Attorney-General Christian Porter initially promised the bill would be introduced before Christmas.  Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen described the bill as “friendless”.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

The father of Aboriginal reconciliation, Pat Dodson, fears that legalised euthanasia will create a barrier to indigenous people getting medical care, deepening the health crisis in remote communities.  The widely respected Labor senator is the first major figure on his side of politics to speak out against voluntary assisted dying, as the ALP-governed states continue to champion the law change.  Senator Dodson says legislation passed in the West Australian lower house lacks indigenous input and could backfire if enacted.  “Fears and suspicions of ‘whitefella’ medicine will only increase, and the capacity to ascertain informed consent will be difficult,” Senator Dodson said.

The state is the second after Victoria to bring forward a government-backed bill for voluntary assisted dying (VAD), while a parliamentary committee in Queensland is well advanced on assessing the case for legislation there.  Liberal governed South Australia is also eyeing reform, two decades after VAD became law in the Northern Territory but was voided by John Howard’s federal government.  “The Northern Territory experience in the 1990s suggests that the mere presence of this legislation may be a barrier to First Nations peoples receiving healthcare,” Senator Dodson writes.

He says supporters of the bill are building their case on an individualist rights agenda.  “Such a perspective emphasises the rights of an individual and ignores the wider influence of such decisions on those around them, families, friends and communities,” he writes.  “Individual choice is an important component of this but it should not be the only factor because other humans are going to be required to live with the consequences of their part in ending the life of another.  “In an increasingly atomised world, we are finding it harder than ever to understand the interconnectedness of our social structures and the political choices that hold them together.”

Asked how a VAD law in his home state of Western Australia would compromise indigenous medical services, Senator Dodson said:  People are very suspicious of the whole health system generally.  If they find it is associated with potentially the capacity to end your life, as much as to save it, I am fearful people will then, despite their need, start to move away.”  Senator Dodson said his thinking on euthanasia bridged his life experience as a one-time Catholic priest, his spirituality as a Yawuru man and the founding role he played in the reconciliation movement.  He agreed it was at odds with progressive sentiment in the ALP.

“I think there are things about my way of thinking that may not necessarily sit squarely with all of my comrades,” the 71-year-old said.  “Then again, we live in democracy, so it’s up for debate.”  Putting forward “another avenue to death” was confronting for First Nations peoples when they lived shorter lives than other Australians, had babies that were more likely to die of preventable diseases and lost too many friends, cousins and siblings to suicide.  “As representatives and legislators, surely we must be focusing our attention to enacting laws that help prolong life and restore the right to enjoy a healthy life,” he said.

Senator Dodson said the WA legislation contained “significant deficiencies” in terms of content and process.  A key provision in the benchmark Victorian law that came into effect in June, banning doctors from raising VAD, had been reversed in an error by Perth’s lawmakers, he insisted.  Asked what was wrong with a doctor broaching assisted dying with a terminally ill patient, he said:  “This is a fine line where the reservoir of knowledge is deemed to be in the professional, when in fact this is about someone else’s life.  This is about an individual having to weigh up and consider whether this is an option they really want to take.

“Now, to instigate that discussion. requires a broader context for First Nations people.  They are not just nuclear families, most of us have extended families and not everyone in those relationships see eye to eye.  It’s about reaching consensus on the way forward that enables communities to stay together, rather than ones that simply decide they are going to allow individuals to make decisions for everyone else. “If it’s then removed off to a doctor without any reference to the community about him initiating discussions with the loved one, then I think that also starts to undermine the trust you place in a medical system to look after your health rather than find ways to end your life.”

The consultation with indigenous communities was not only inadequate but rushed, Senator Dodson said.  “This is a matter that should be done over a period of time, not at one meeting in one community.  That’s not a way to really consult with First Nations people on a complicated issue like this, that is about the sanctity of life itself, not just about an individual’s life,” he said.  His intervention came after recent polling in Western Australia showed that nearly three quarters of those living in regional and remote areas of the state supported improved access to palliative care over voluntary euthanasia.

The research, for the End of Life Choices Working Group backed by palliative care specialists, found that 56% of the 1900 respondents didn’t believe patients should be helped to die without their loved ones being informed, another point of contention in the WA legislation.  The Anglican bishop of North Queensland, Keith Joseph, told a committee of state MPs in August that remote indigenous communities were strongly opposed to VAD, echoing Senator Dodson on its potential to erode trust in the public health system.  The WA bill cleared the Legislative Assembly last month by 44 votes to 12, but the numbers will tighten in the upper house.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

Regular use of cannabis doubles the risk of psychotic symptoms including schizophrenia and is closely associated with anxiety disorders, depression and psychosis, says official advice to the Morrison government triggered by the passage of new laws in the ACT.  The briefing paper prepared for Health Minister Greg Hunt reveals extensive links between cannabis use and adverse mental health affects, which have increased as marijuana is decriminalised.  In the 3 page brief the Health Department lists five “key issues” to consider after the ACT Legislative Assembly passed a private member’s bill allowing adults to possess 50gm of cannabis and grow two plants.

The department notes there has been a sizeable body of work analysing the adverse physio­logical and mental health effects of recreational cannabis use, despite marijuana being decriminalised only in a small number of jurisdictions.  It points to research from the US state of Colorado that found daily or near-daily cannabis use was associated with the development of a psychotic disorder.  The review of medical literature also examined Australian research, which concluded that regular cannabis users doubled their risk of experiencing psychotic symptoms, including schizophrenia, and were at an increased risk of screening positively for psychosis.

“The evidence base regarding adverse health effects linked to cannabis use has broadened considerably since the gradual decriminalisation, and in some cases legalisation, of the substance in certain international jurisdictions,” the department says.  “Adverse health outcomes as a result of regular cannabis use are not limited to mental health and psychotic symptoms.”  The department advised that a 2018 Canadian Medical Association Journal report found an overwhelming volume of evidence outlining the biological harm of cannabis use, including brain changes, adverse cognitive outcomes, negative pregnancy outcomes and testicular cancer.

The briefing also says a psycho­active component in cannabis called tetrahydrocannabinol, the main chemical responsible for the drug’s psychological effects, increased by almost 30% throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s.  This was linked to exacerbated symptoms of anxiety, depression and psychotic symptoms in “naive” users and increased psychotic symptoms and dependence in “experienced” users. In Colorado, the first US state to legalise marijuana, emergency department visits due to cannabis increased slightly while the acute effects of THC, including hallucinations, paranoia and delusional beliefs, markedly increased with higher doses.

Government sources said the departmental advice was a “devastating confirmation” of the health and mental health effects of recreational cannabis and urged ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr to explain what health advice he received before supporting the legislation.  The federal government also wanted to know whether the territory government was aware of any studies that contradicted the broad global evidence of real and significant mental health effects from cannabis use.  Mr Hunt said he was “deeply concerned about the very real risks cannabis can pose to physical health and, in particular, to mental health”.

“This is why cannabis is a highly regulated drug,” Hunt said.  “Legalising recreational cannabis is dangerous and medically irresponsible.” A spokeswoman said the ACT government consulted experts on the health impacts that might arise from legalising cannabis and stressed that the laws related to personal cultivation and use of cannabis.  “It does not allow for the sale of cannabis or large-scale commercialisation and development as has been seen elsewhere, particularly in the US,” she said.  Therefore, direct comparisons between the ACT legislation and that of other countries should be treated cautiously, she said.

“The government is not anticipating a significant long-term increase in usage of cannabis in the ACT.  “This is based on examining legalisation and decriminalisation internationally where no clear causal link between the legal status of cannabis and usage patterns was observed” the Government spokeswoman said.  Attorney-General Christian Porter is awaiting a copy of the final version of the ACT bill before deciding whether the federal government should override the territory legislation.  He has warned Canberrans that owning any amount of the drug was an offence under commonwealth law.  The ACT law is due to take effect from January 31.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

Over 770 medical professionals have written to all Members of the Western Australian Parliament opposing the latest push to legalise euthanasia in that state.  The letter warned them not to be persuaded by misleading research based on the Victorian state Coroner’s study of just 118 cancer patients.  The medical practitioners state that the Victorian research has been intentionally or recklessly misinterpreted to suggest that euthanasia laws would reduce self-harm and suicide among the terminally ill.  Almost half of the cases in the Victorian report claimed that it was the burden of care, not the illness itself, that was the issue.  Only 14% of the cases received palliative care.

In a press release Rev Hon Fred Nile NSW MLC and leader of the Christian Democratic Party comments: “It is obvious to those who have taken the care to investigate the study that the real issue is the provision of palliative care to those who suffer terminal illness.  Instead of directing resources to where they are needed, state policy setters are choosing to allow the vulnerable to simply die by killing themselves.  This is yet another example of the ‘death creep’ that we see washing over Australia.  The Christian Democratic Party will continue to oppose these draconian, inhuman and barbaric laws.”

Source: Compiled by APN from various sources

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