Monthly Archives

September 2021

YOUNG PEOPLE HIT HARDEST BY COVID LOCKDOWNS

By Australian Newsletter

There is little doubt that teenagers and young people have been hit hardest of all by Covid-19. Presentations to emergency departments in NSW for self-harm or suicidal ideation among 12-17-year-olds is 49 per cent higher in 2021 compared to 2019. This year is even worse for young people than last. While hospital admissions for acute mental health conditions have increased by only 2 per cent for the general population, for children and young people, admissions have spiked by 43 per cent. “This is not a normal time for any of us. I don’t think it’s over the top to equate it to a public health version of being at war,” says NSW chief psychiatrist Murray Wright on the impact of the pandemic. “Every child, from primary school onwards, is aware that they’re not living a normal life.”

Eve says when Sydney’s latest lockdown was announced in June, she was plunged into despair. While her health is significantly better than last year, a testament to her courage and resilience, the isolation at times makes her depressed. “When I heard lockdown was coming again I literally cried because I was so scared that what happened to me last year was going to happen again,” she says. “I don’t have any motivation to do any exercise, and so I’ve put on weight, and I’m not going out, which makes my depression worse. I’m not bothered to get out of bed, I’m not bothered to have a shower, I go for, like, a week without having a shower and I just lie in bed watching Netflix and TikTok all day. Not being able to see my friends is the worst thing. It just makes me feel really alone. When I can’t see my friends I feel like nobody loves me.”

The pandemic has further exposed existing critical gaps in mental health service delivery for young people. Victoria’s chief psychiatrist Dr Neil Coventry has urged residents to “reach out” to those undergoing mental health struggles, saying feelings of confusion and uncertainty are “very normal” reactions to lockdowns. “Parents are sleeping outside the doors of their kids’ bedrooms just making sure they can be safe,” says prominent psychiatrist Patrick McGorry, whose Orygen youth mental health service has 200 young people in acute distress on its waiting list. “Parents are trying really hard to access resources, but there’s blocks at every level.” NSW is attempting to fill the gap, with of $109.5m to establish child and adolescent mental health response teams that will provide intensive care and psychological support to young people in acute distress.

The Safeguards Child and Adolescent Mental Health Response Teams are being established in every local health district, made up of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and allied health workers. NSW has also moved to employ school nurses to manage teen wellbeing. “The impact of the pandemic is significant and I think any of us that have anything to do with young people have to be very honest about that,” says NSW Mental Health Minister Bronnie Taylor. “Young people are really struggling. I would also say, though, that the predictions at the beginning of the pandemic of an exponential rise in suicides, we didn’t see that. Lifeline recently recorded its largest-ever week of calls. That’s actually a really powerful thing, that people now feel they can reach out for help, and record numbers of people are reaching out.”

Claims on the Medicare Benefits Schedule for psychology sessions have increased by 20 per cent this year for children up to 17, but Ian Hickie, from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, is concerned it’s mostly teenagers from middle-class and privileged backgrounds who are accessing such services. Parents from the suburbs hardest hit by Delta in the southwest and west of Sydney were unlikely to be able to afford private psychiatric care. “Many young people are actually receiving no care, they’re being sent home from emergency departments with no care, presenting with suicidal ideation and self-harm and are being told that they don’t have a problem, meaning they don’t have a problem sufficient enough to get care,” Professor Hickie says.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian says her decision to relax exercise restrictions in local government areas of concern was prompted by concerns over the mental health of locked down residents. “And parents are being told, well, if you can afford to get care, you go and buy the care. So what that means is the care tends to happen in eastern Sydney and northern Sydney and eastern Melbourne, and not in the outer suburbs, the western suburbs of our major cities, not in our rural and regional areas.”Dr Wright does not agree people are being turned away from emergency departments. “I think it’s really, really important we look at evidence. I would rather we didn’t have people getting to the point where they are in crisis and are attending our emergency departments, but we don’t turn people away from emergency departments.

“We are working really hard to meet the challenges. The Safeguard teams are a large targeted investment. At the very least it’s a substantial and meaningful step.” Victoria is also in the midst of a record investment in mental health following the royal commission in that state. Yet the demand keeps increasing. Ms Valentine hopes other parents will not have the fight to access services. “The exhaustion, the trauma of watching your child in psychosis and not being able to protect them and not being able to help them and not knowing where to go, it was harrowing and exhausting and depressing. I’ve got a lot of strength to follow it through, but a lot of people don’t.” The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is calling for the impacts of mental health to be specifically considered in any decisions about restrictions and lockdowns.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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ATTORNEY GENERAL RULES OUT BROAD CONSTITUTIONALLY BARRED RELIGIOUS FREEDOM LAWS

By Australian Newsletter

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash is signalling new laws to fight discrimination against people of faith will not morph into a religious bill of rights, and warns some faith leaders their demands for wider protections for religious institutions are “constitutionally barred”. The religious discrimination act was a key promise of Scott Morrison’s at the 2019 election and is a major policy barnacle Senator Cash wants to deal with before the next federal poll. In her first wide-ranging interview as the nation’s first law officer, Senator Cash said she also wants to set up a national integrity commission before the election and is taking advice on the need for an independent complaints body to oversee judges.

After revealing in June plans to bring the religious discrimination bill to a vote by Christmas, Senator Cash was inundated with calls from religious leaders to override state government bans on gay conversion therapy and to significantly broaden the bill’s definitions of faith-based institutions to cover a wider group of institutions than places of worship and schools. But the Attorney-General said that the bill would need to stick within the confines of traditional anti-discrimination legislation. “Some people are putting forward ideas that go way beyond a religious discrimination bill and in some cases are constitutionally barred,” she said. “It is widely recognised that we do need a religious discrimination bill, it is widely recognised that we need to deliver on the Ruddock review, there will be some carve-outs due to the nature of religious beliefs.

“I am working day and night with stakeholders, looking at whether or not what they’re saying is within the confines of a religious discrimination bill.” Moderate Liberals have been vocal in opposing any bill that might reduce the rights of LGBTI Australians or roll back the gains made on same-sex marriage. Some have privately questioned why the bill is being resurrected so close to an election. The religious discrimination bill was effectively shelved by Senator Cash’s predecessor, Christian Porter, for the first 18 months of the pandemic after two unpopular drafts. An analysis of 7000 submissions sent to the Attorney-General’s Department over the draft laws found the second version of the bill was generally opposed by more than 80 per cent of stakeholders, up from 30 per cent who were against the first draft.

Religious leaders such as Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli have also appealed to the government to get Labor’s support for any bill and to ensure the final law does not become politically divisive. But some religious leaders have said in recent months the Morrison government’s failure to pass strong protections for faith groups will lead to an electoral backlash. When asked to respond to concerns from moderate Liberals that the bill could become a “religious bill of rights” and hurt gay rights, Senator Cash said: “This is a religious discrimination bill to protect people from discrimination on the basis of their religion. “What I would like to bring into parliament by the end of the year is a bill that has the support of the majority of parliament, because that will affect positive change.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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NEW CHRISTIAN RADIO STATION FOR HOBART

By Australian Newsletter

In a show of great unity, Christians from across Australia have rallied behind Vision Christian Media to secure a high power FM licence covering all of Hobart, auctioned by the Government. This ten thousand watt licence on top of Mount Wellington will soon be broadcasting Vision Christian Radio across Tasmania’s capital city and its quarter of a million souls. Establishing this FM service will be a priority project with technical planning now in full swing and a transmitter already ordered and in transit from overseas. There are many factors still to fall into place but Vision hope to have it up and running within six months.

Source: Vision Christian Media

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QUEENSLAND PASSES EUTHANASIA LAW

By Australian Newsletter

Five of Australia’s six states have put voluntary euthanasia on the statute books after a historic vote in the Queensland parliament enshrined the nation’s most far-reaching assisted dying scheme and built pressure on NSW to follow suit. Queenslanders will be able to legally end their lives with the help of medical staff from January 2023, after a three-day debate by state MPs. With laws passed in every state except the largest, NSW, two-thirds of Australians will have access to assisted dying by the time the Queensland scheme comes into operation. Queensland’s single-chamber parliament passed the legislation with support of 10 Liberal National MPs and despite opposition from three Labor politicians. The two Greens MPs and Noosa independent Sandy Bolton also supported the bill, ensuring it passed with a majority 61 to 30.

This was larger than VAD advocates predicted ahead of a vote. Premier Annastacia Palas­zczuk said there were “a few surprises”, given the support from the LNP, and praised MPs for a respectful debate. “It is very historic,” she said. “I think Queenslanders have spoken loud and clear, and we have listened.” The architect of the world’s first euthanasia laws, Marshall Perron, hailed Queensland’s scheme as the new national benchmark. Mr Perron was the former Northern Territory chief minister who oversaw the passage of Australia’s first euthanasia laws in 1995, which were overturned by the Howard government. “Nothing has changed as far as the arguments for and against are concerned,” he said. “It is just very sad that there have probably now been thousands of people who would have used such legislation who missed out.”

Queensland broadens the eligibility for VAD, allowing people with a life expectancy of 12 months to access the scheme, up from six months in other states. It backed away from a precedent in South Australia that offers an absolute right for faith-based facilities to object to the scheme. Faith-based health and aged care facilities will now be made to allow euthanasia even if it is against their conscience. Although VAD patients must be independently assessed by two doctors, they do not need to be specialists. Doctors will also be able to raise the option of assisted dying with patients. Labor MPs Linus Power, Joe Kelly and Bart Mellish voted against the bill, urging the government to focus on delivering better palliative care services before pursuing right-to-die legislation.

The Australian Medical Association and Palliative Care Queensland have said an extra $275m a year is needed to provide adequate care to all terminally ill Queenslanders. The Palaszczuk government has budgeted an additional $171m over six years. Robbie Katter, whose electorate covers remote parts of northwest Queensland, said people in regional parts of the state did not get “regular visits from surgeons in a nice palliative care unit”. “People who are facing the end of their life with a terminal illness in remote areas will invariably stare into a different looking future than if they had private health care and lived in the middle of Brisbane,” the Katter’s Australia Party leader said. Both major parties gave MPs a conscience vote that allowed 10 LNP politicians to support the government’s bill.

They were: Ray Stevens, Michael Crandon, Dale Last, Steve Minikin, Tim Nicholls, Sam O’Connor, Brent Mickelberg, Michael Hart, Rob Molhoek and Mark Boothman. All cited fundamental belief in the freedom of the individual as a driver of their support. Mr Nicholls, opposition legal affairs spokesman, said: “Voluntary assisted dying is just that: voluntary”. Former LNP leader John-Paul Langbroek missed the vote as he was in quarantine after travelling to Victoria in August for his father’s funeral. Despite parliamentary support, the scheme may face hurdles after the state’s Catholic healthcare services flagged plans to boycott assisted dying. The state’s peak medical bodies, including the Australian Medical Association, joined with faith-based providers to lobby against the scheme throughout the debate.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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HILLSONG’S BRIAN HOUSTON STEPS DOWN FROM ALL CHURCH BOARDS

By Australian Newsletter

Pastor Brian Houston, the lead pastor of Hillsong Church who was charged by Police last month with allegedly concealing sex abuse committed by his father decades earlier, has said he is stepping down from his role on various church boards so that they can continue to “function to their fullest capacity.” “I’ve made a decision to step aside from my role on the Hillsong Church boards that oversee the governance of our operations,” Houston, the senior pastor of the Sydney congregation, wrote in an email to his Church family. “I did this so these boards can function to their fullest capacity during this season. This doesn’t change my role as Global Senior Pastor. I thought it important to let you all know in the interests of transparency, and I wanted you to hear it from me directly,” Houston added.

“Police will allege in court that Houston knew information relating to the sexual abuse of a young male in the 1970s and failed to bring that information to the attention of police,” stated  Australian authorities. In a statement since, Houston expressed “shock” at the charges. “These charges have come as a shock to me given how transparent I’ve always been about this matter,” Houston said. “I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.” The church also provided a statement explaining that they were “disappointed that Pastor Brian has been charged, and asked that he be afforded the presumption of innocence and due process as is his right. He has advised us that he will defend this and looks forward to clearing his name.

Source: Christian Post

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CHRISTIAN SINGER WINS “THE VOICE AUSTRALIA”

By Australian Newsletter

Bella Taylor Smith, a member of the Hillsong Church, has been crowned the winner of “The Voice” Australia. The 23-year-old was victorious following her powerful duet performance with Guy Sebastian of Andrea Bocelli’s “The Prayer.” Smith, a singing teacher, was filled with emotion after hearing host Sonia Kruger announce her as the competition’s winner. Her prize includes receiving a recording contract with EMI Music and $100,000. “I really can’t believe it. I’m so thankful,” Smith said. “I can’t wait to see what incredible things are ahead for me. I’m really grateful for you Guy, for everyone who voted and for my beautiful family, who I love.” Sebastian responded “I’m so proud. There are so many deserving people out there, but you are special, Bella,” Sebastian said. “Go out there and kill it. I know you will.”

The singer, who used her time on the show to sing several faith-based songs, then performed her new single “Higher.” Smith took to Instagram to celebrate her big win. “No words other than thank you. thank you to all my friends and family, thank you to my church community. thank you to Guy Sebastian thank you to all the team at The Voice and to the public for all the kind words and encouragement, for your prayers and the love. “Thank you Jesus, I absolutely cannot wait to continue to share and celebrate with you.”In a recent television interview Smith said that she doesn’t plan to give up her teaching job even though she has secured a recording contract. “I love teaching, it’s one of my passions and I’ll definitely keep doing it,” she was quoted as saying.

Source: Christian Post

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GOVERNMENT MINISTER CALLS FOR RE-WRITE OF DRAFT NATIONAL CURRICULUM

By Australian Newsletter

Education Minister Alan Tudge says the board of the country’s schooling authority must substantially rewrite its draft national curriculum, warning he will not endorse the proposed document amid concern student outcomes would be harmed. Writing to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) acting chairman Norm Hart, Mr Tudge criticised the proposal for supporting “ideology over evidence” and presenting an “overly negative view” of the nation in the study of history and civics. In the letter, Mr Tudge urged the board to seriously consider recent feedback from education experts, who have flagged concerns that the proposed changes amounted to a weakening of learning standards.

“Some of these groups, such as Australia’s peak mathematics association, believe that the current draft will take Australian kids backwards,” he wrote. “If the current draft is simply tweaked, it will not be supported. It needs fundamental changes.” The warning comes as the ACARA board meets to discuss feedback to the highly anticipated update of the Australian Curriculum, an important document laying out what students are expected to learn across the mandated subject areas of English, maths, science, the arts, humanities, health and physical education and languages. The curriculum also seeks to cover general capabilities, or skills, such as critical and creative thinking, as well as ensure young people develop an understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.

Its release in April, however, sparked a torrent of criticism, including from high-profile historians, academics and reading specialists. Among the most scathing criticism was from the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, whose membership spans leading universities, government agencies and industry, which called for any ongoing review of the maths curriculum to be halted pending further consultation. The institute was particularly critical of a proposed push towards having students learn maths by engaging in open-ended problem-solving activities, noting that “mastery of mathematical approaches is needed before student problem-solving can be effective”. Writer Tony Thomas says education in Australia has turned into a “propaganda exercise” to convert kids.

Under way for more than a year, ACARA’s curriculum review was launched in the wake of Australia’s declining performance on the world stage, which has shown that Australian students have gone backwards in reading, maths and science over the past 20 years. According to Mr Tudge, the curriculum should seek to be ambitious on students’ learning outcomes and should prioritise evidence-based practices, particularly in reading and maths. “To my great frustration, evidence-based practices have not been consistently embedded in the current draft,” he said. “There is still too much emphasis on whole-language learning of reading and insufficient emphasis on phonics. “30 years ago, determining the best way to teach reading may have been a legitimate debate, but it is not now. The evidence is crystal clear, that the teaching of phonics is vital.”

The minister also urged the ACARA board to re-examine the history and civics curriculum to ensure that it provided a balanced teaching of Australia’s liberal democracy that has made the nation attractive to millions of migrants. Mr Tudge said “it’s deeply depressing” that these sort of views “infect” our universities amid calls by an influential university academic to scrap the word ‘English’ from the national curriculum. The Courier Mail reports a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, Dr Melitta Hogarth called for the subject ‘English’ to be renamed because it “asserts” the “besieged sovereignty of the colonial state”. Mr Tudge said at the conference Dr Hogarth could’ve instead talked about a range of other issues such as “how we’re going to get these kids back up to speed from months of lost learning” or focused on “indigenous education”.

“But no, we have to put up with this sort of nonsense. It has to be rejected and it’s deeply depressing these sort of views infect our leading universities.” “Your draft diminishes Australia’s western, liberal, and democratic values,” Mr Tudge said. “The overarching impression from the curriculum is that the main feature of western civilisation is slavery, imperialism and colonisation. “Important historical events are removed or reframed, such as the emphasis on invasion theory over Australia Day. Even Anzac Day is presented as a contested idea, rather than the most sacred of all days where we honour the millions of men and women who have served in war, and the 100,000 who gave their lives for our freedom. “I believe that the best way to serve the interests of our young people is to seize every opportunity to lift educational standards,” he said. “The draft of the Australian Curriculum is such an opportunity.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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