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August 2021

RELIGIOUS BELIEF DESERVES PROTECTION

By Australian Newsletter

The following article was written jointly by Vanessa Cheng, executive officer of Australian Association of Christian Schools, and Mark Spencer, director of public policy, Christian Schools Australia.

Steph Lentz, the former teacher at Covenant Christian School, is in many ways to be commended. “I knew my contract required me to inform the school if I changed my mind about a point of religious doctrine”, so she went and had a conversation with the Christian school where she worked. So, the question remains: is it reasonable for Christian schools to employ staff who share their beliefs? We believe it is. For our schools to provide an authentic Christian education they must be able to employ staff who share in the stated beliefs of the school. We know there are different views about a range of matters within the Christian faith and our schools are transparent about what they believe. It is clearly outlined as a condition of employment and staff sign their agreement with the school’s Statement of Belief when they are employed.

We accept that people have the freedom to change their interpretation of what the Bible teaches around many things, including sexuality and marriage. We know there are different views about a range of matters within the Christian faith. But we do not believe that an individual teacher should expect to impose their changed beliefs about an important theological matter onto a Christian school that has been entirely consistent about their beliefs from the start. In saying this, we acknowledge there is much pain and broken relationships when making these tough decisions. Our schools want to care for and support people with humility and love. It is our deep hope that people can find a community where they feel supported in their commonly held beliefs.

The school holds to the orthodox Biblical belief that sexual activity outside marriage between a man and woman is not acceptable conduct for a Christian teacher. Steph changed her mind about this and could no longer agree with that belief. That difference in opinion proved irreconcilable so Steph and the school parted ways. She is now teaching in another school where her doctrines and beliefs align with those of the schools. Her experience was not easy, but it was honourable, and exactly what you would expect where there is such a contradictory position between an employer and employee. The school didn’t try to force Steph to change her beliefs or to act in a way that was inconsistent with her beliefs. They took great care to act with kindness and integrity. As Steph herself has stated, the outcome of this difference in belief was not a surprise.

Unfortunately, this is not an outcome that activists like Equality Australia, who backed Steph’s story, can accept. Nor is there attention given to the deeper issues of how to deal with fundamentally different views and beliefs between people, where these cannot be reconciled. They want beliefs that they find acceptable forced on Christian schools; they want our schools to change to conform to those of staff they support, never mind what other staff or parents who founded and supported the school over many years may hold to be true. Or indeed the stated, historical doctrinal basis of the institution. Education is far more than merely the transmission of curriculum content. Research has shown that the community and relationships built around shared beliefs is a vital part of the educational process.

It truly does “take a village to raise a child” and all staff in Christian schools have a vital role to play in that process, and need to share a common set of beliefs. The Australian Association of Christian Schools and Christian Schools Australia, the peak bodies for Christian schools, look forward to the Morrison government following through on its election commitment to introduce a religious discrimination bill that will affirm that it is lawful for Christian schools to continue providing authentic faith-based education by employing staff who support and model the beliefs of the school. We also look forward to the opposition’s support for such a Bill, reflecting their National Platform which recognises the need to protect religious freedom.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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VICTORIA TO DECRIMINALISE SEX WORK

By Australian Newsletter

Following a recommendation from Fiona Patten, former Sex Party, now Reason Party MP, the Andrews Government has announced they will move to decriminalise sex work.  This will open the way for street prostitution and remove existing barriers to pimps and traffickers. Australian Christian Lobby’s (ACL) Victorian Coordinator, Jasmine Yuen said, “This is a backward step for the women, primarily, but also men, who have turned to prostitution because of poverty, homelessness and isolation. If women really choose prostitution, as the pro-prostitution lobby claims, why is it mostly disadvantaged and marginalised women who do?” A 2004 Childwise study with young people under the age of 23 showed that 80% of young women involved in sex work had a history of child abuse.

Every jurisdiction around the world where commercial sex has been decriminalised, including NSW, has experienced a surge in human trafficking, pimping, and other related criminal activity. Referring to NSW’s decriminalised model of prostitution legislation, the head of NSW’s Police Sex Crimes Squad said in 2017, “Exploited overseas workers are slipping through the cracks because there is now no way to identify, or stop, underground brothels.” This statement is a stark warning for Victorian MPs. Jasmine Yuen continued, “Victoria must learn from NSW’s failed decriminalisation model. Their councils are now powerless to prevent illegal parlours opening anywhere, including near schools, learning centres and residential areas.”

ACL supports the Nordic model of prostitution legislation which has been adopted by Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada, Northern Ireland, France, Ireland, and Israel, and is being acknowledged globally as the Human Rights model. Such legislation would criminalise the purchase of sex and provide exit strategies for those caught in prostitution. We call on the Andrews Government to investigate this model over the coming months before finalising their draft legislation. The alternative is an increase in prostitution, sex trafficking, and the exploitation of the most vulnerable.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS A SHADOW PANDEMIC

By Australian Newsletter

Eight teenage girls have committed suicide in the first 7 months of this year in Victoria, a marked increase in the number of young women taking their lives in a tragic toll being closely watched by the Victorian Coroners Court. The alarming rise has been recorded by the court amid a deepening youth mental health crisis that expert professor Patrick McGorry has described as a “shadow pandemic”. New court data reveals 8 girls committed suicide to July 31, up from just one in the first 7 months of last year. In the same period in 2019, Coroner’s Court statistics show three teenage girls took their own lives while the number was four in 2018 and three in 2017. “The court has noted a potentially higher than expected number of suspected suicides among women under 18 this year,” a court spokeswoman said.

“While it is too early to determine whether this represents a trend, the court is continuing to monitor closely.” The rise in suicides comes as the state is gripped by a teen mental health crisis that experts are linking to Covid-19 and lockdowns. Teenage girls are among the hardest hit with increasing eating disorders, self-harm and suicidal thoughts or actions during the 18-month pandemic. Professor McGorry, who heads youth mental health service Orygen, said problems suffered by young Victorians had grown worse and health services were overwhelmed. “The system is drowning or crumbling,” he said. “This is the shadow pandemic. And every lockdown makes it even worse.

“It’s not that the government hasn’t recognised the problem, it’s that they don’t have the same sense of urgency, federal or state, about addressing it like they do with Covid.” Professor McGorry described this year’s eight suicides as a “real phenomenon” and said they needed to be considered in the broader context of the pandemic and lockdowns. “There is an increase in deaths and that is occurring from a rising base of suicidal behaviour particularly among young women,” he said. “There has been a very substantial surge, 20 to 30 per cent of deliberate self-harm and suicidal behaviour that is occurring in particularly young women and that is what is flooding into emergency departments. “The coroner is cautious about over-reacting. You have to put the number of suicides in context of the rising tide of suicidal behaviour amongst young women.” Girls have been hit during the pandemic as they battle eating disorders.

There was a sharp increase in new eating disorder cases early this year, from a weekly average of 654 in 2020 to 878 this year, a 34% jump. The number of teenagers rushed to hospital after self-harming and suicidal thoughts spiked 51%, rising from a weekly average of 98 in 2020 to 148 this year. The most serious cases, where teenagers have needed resuscitation and emergency care, jumped 44.9%, with the 2020 weekly average of 19.8 rising to 28.7 this year. Victorian Liberal Democrats MP David Limbrick said he was concerned the Andrews government did not understand how lockdowns affected the mental health of young people. “They have been saying they have been spending huge amounts of money on mental health, and yet children who need help can’t get access to it,” he said.

Limbrick went on “The mental and physical health effects of lockdowns on children are catastrophic. They are becoming socially isolated.” Mr Limbrick said schools should be immediately opened, and the government should set a date when all pandemic restrictions end. Resilience speaker Graeme Cowan has spoken about his 5 year battle with depression, and the habits he has cultivated to look after his mental health amid uncertainty. The Victorian government acknowledged the emotional toll of lockdowns. “We know how tough repeated lockdowns are on all Victorians, and that the emotional, social and financial toll of the pandemic is profound for so many people, but we just can’t risk the devastation of an uncontrolled outbreak of the Delta variant spreading rapidly across the state,” a spokeswoman said.

The government said it had invested more than $225m to help boost mental health services during the pandemic, and also referred to its $3.8bn delivered in this year’s state budget to implement the findings of the mental health royal commission. A spokeswoman for youth mental health organisation Headspace said their national online and phone counselling service noted a spike in demand “associated with strict lockdown periods both in Victoria and in other states experiencing heavier restrictions, such as Greater Sydney and NSW”. The government did not respond to questions about the eight suicides, pointing to broader court data that showed overall suicide numbers in 2020 were in line with those in 2019.

A senior child psychiatrist said the rise in teenage girls committing suicide reflected health department data confirming a mental health crisis. “There has been a sustained increase in referrals and presentations of young people with self-harm and severe emotional distress,” the expert said. “The data shows this demand has persisted independent of whether the state has been in lockdown or not. “One might hope there could be as much attention paid by the press and the government to suicides, and the monthly reports on children’s mental health presentations as there is on Covid cases and hospitalisations each day. “ But we in the field are no longer holding our breath. “The continuing injury, fear and despair will continue to take their toll, long after the active trauma of restrictions ever ends.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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FEMALE FIFO WORKERS SEXUALLY ASSAULTED AND HARASSED

By Australian Newsletter

More than one in five women employed in Western Australia’s mining industry have been sexually assaulted or offered better conditions in exchange for sexual favours, a new report detailing the sexual harassment and abuse of female fly-in fly-out workers has found. Almost half of the surveyed female Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) workers said they did not believe the reporting of sexual harassment was encouraged by managers, and they feared being black-listed as troublemakers if they came forward. The women said the sexual harassment was perpetrated by co-workers, managers and supervisors who pressured female workers into sexual activity in exchange for access to training and job opportunities.

The survey, by the Australian Workers Union and the Mining and Energy Union, included responses from 425 FIFO workers, including 125 women. The results are included in the unions’ submission to a state parliamentary inquiry into sexual harassment of women in the mining industry. Daniel Walton and Tony Maher, the national leaders of the two unions, called for an independent body to tackle the “sex abuse cover-up culture at WA mines”. “While it’s shocking so many workers have been sexually abused at mine sites, what’s more shocking still is the mine management culture of cover-up and victim punishment,” Mr Walton said. Mr Maher said “Mining giants are very happy to feature smiling women in PR and marketing materials but as soon as it becomes mildly inconvenient to protect their safety at work, they head for the hills.”

One female worker surveyed said she recently became single and “some men at work refuse to talk to me now because I will not sleep with them”. Another female employee said she would not go into the crib room after experiencing “so much leering and sexual comments”. “I have seen a man watch porn on the bus and plane. I have had underwear stolen. I have had a male try to get into my room. I have witnessed a colleague being videoed while eating her dinner and the video shared in a group chat while making pig noises,” she said. “A female crew member on my crew was bashed by a male colleague. By-standers did not report it saying she got what she deserved. I reported harassment on numerous occasions and nothing was done. I sat in my superintendent’s office crying my eyes out, begging to be moved. He didn’t even check back on me.”

Twenty-two per cent of women surveyed said they had been offered improved conditions of employment or career advancements that were dependent on sexual favours, either explicitly or implicitly.  One in five women said they had experienced physical acts of sexual assault, and two-thirds had experienced verbal harassment of a sexual nature. Unions said mining employers should provide more security measures at FIFO worksites including panic buttons, self-closing doors, electronic locking, duress alarms and swipe card locks. Resource sector employers said while action was being taken to tackle sexual harassment, they recognised there was a higher-than-average prevalence of sexual harassment reported across the industry.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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PRIME MINISTER SPEAKS ABOUT HIS CHRISTIAN FAITH

By Australian Newsletter

Scott Morrison gave his life to God, committing himself to the service of Jesus for the rest of his days, on January 11, 1981. He was 12 years old. He remembers the day and the moment with perfect clarity. He has never gone back on this promise. When Morrison became Prime Minister in August 2018, he made religious history of a kind. He was the first member of a Pentecostal church to become Prime Minister of Australia and the first Pentecostal to become a national leader in any developed nation. Morrison doesn’t go out of his way to talk about his religious beliefs but he doesn’t hide them; he’s happy to share them if asked. When it’s relevant he’ll say a prayer, as for rain in a drought, but his religion doesn’t determine any policy matter.

“I grew up in the church. My mother is still going there. My father went there till he died. Church life and community were wrapped up in one for us.” The church in question was the Presbyterian church at Waverley, which later became part of the Uniting Church. Morrison’s choice to be an active Christian was emotional, intense and entirely personal. As a child, he attended with his family a huge Billy Graham crusade at Randwick Racecourse in 1979. Coincidentally, his future wife, Jenny, whom he had not yet met, was there too. Morrison’s brother Alan also went down to the altar to make his own life’s commitment: “I have this lingering memory on the night, my brother went down and he was two years older than me. I talked it over with dad. Dad said, ‘Don’t go just because your brother did. Wait till the time is right for you.’ ”

When Morrison was in Year 7, he went to a Boys’ Brigade camp in Nunawading, Melbourne. “On that camp I gave my life to the Lord, on January 11, 1981. I was 12. I massively felt it that day,” Morrison says. “It is a confession of repentance. I felt that movement, to get to my feet. I spent the rest of the day sitting with the chaplain.” How does Morrison pray privately? “I try to pray every day. When I can I’ll get down on my knees. Getting down on your knees is a sign of complete dependence in your life. Other prayer is conversational, in the garden at home or wherever. Prayer is an important act of submission and acknowledgment. It involves humility, obedience, submission, faith and thanksgiving,” he says.

“The Bible is massively important to me. It’s got easier now that it’s on your mobile phone. This year I’ve been reading the Old Testament. I’m currently reading about Ruth. I read parts of the Gospel regularly. Faith is not passive. Faith is an active process of engaging with God. Generally I won’t talk about it too much. It’s got nothing to do with politics. It’s really relevant to me. I couldn’t function without it. My faith informs my life.” Does Morrison believe in eternal life? “Absolutely.” Will he see his father again? “When we go to glory. I absolutely believe it.” Will we be judged on our lives? “Of course, we all are and we’ve all failed. That’s why Jesus came, to save, not judge. The doctrine of grace says that none of us gets there on our own. Of course I absolutely believe in eternal life.”

Edited extract from Christians, the Urgent Case for Jesus in our World by Greg Sheridan (Allen & Unwin, $32.95).

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INDIGENOUS LEADER CALLS ON QUEENSLAND AND W.A.TO IMPLEMENT REDRESS SCHEMES

By Australian Newsletter

Pat Turner, convener of a coalition of 51 Indigenous organisations, has demanded Queensland and Western Australia implement redress schemes for the Stolen Generations. She was speaking after the federal government revealed its response to the new national agreement on Closing the Gap, which has been designed with leading Indigenous bodies represented by the Coalition of Peaks. Pat Turner, convener of a coalition of 51 Indigenous organisations, demanded Queensland and Western Australia implement redress schemes for the Stolen Generations. Mr Morrison and Anthony Albanese spoke in parliament after the federal government revealed its response to the new national agreement on Closing the Gap, which has been designed with leading Indigenous bodies represented by the Coalition of Peaks.

The government’s plan includes more than $1bn in new funding and involves a $378m redress scheme for victims of the Stolen Generations in the Northern Territory and the ACT. Ms Turner, the Coalition of Peaks convener, said “time’s up” for Queensland and Western Australia to implement their own redress schemes. Queensland and WA are the only states that do not have redress schemes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people taken from their families under historic policies.  “Time’s up for redress of the Stolen Generations. You have to follow the other jurisdictions throughout Australia,” she said. “You are the last ones to come on board and it’s high time that you did the right thing in a human rights context to make sure that our people are receiving the right redress as soon as they can.”

In WA, the previous Barnett Liberal government attempted a redress scheme in 2010 but it was heavily criticised. The maximum payout was reduced from $80,000 to $45,000 and the scheme was not accompanied by any counselling or other support. This was a serious flaw, according to Parkerville Children and Care co-director Tony Hansen. “Money is important but people need that help to end the trauma,” he said. Queensland’s minister responsible for Indigenous affairs, Craig Crawford, said the Palaszczuk government would closely monitor the federal government’s Closing the Gap response, which includes the redress scheme. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hailed the $1 billion Closing the Gap Implementation Plan as an “important partnership” with Indigenous Australians.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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