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TASMANIAN VOLUNTARY ASSISTED DYING ADVOCATE ON “UNBIASED” PANEL

By Australian Newsletter

A key member of the “independent and objective” panel advising Tasmanian MPs on Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) has a long history of strong advocacy for the reform, prompting claims that the body lacks balance. University of Tasmania law professor Margaret Otlowski is one of four review panel members whose expert report will help shape the state’s final voluntary assisted dying law, which is set to pass parliament in March. The panel was requested by Premier Peter Gutwein, a declared supporter of the private member’s bill, to provide “independent and objective” advice to MPs ahead of the vote. This advice is to include a comparison to legislation in other jurisdictions, an “objective analysis” of safeguards, the interrelationship between VAD and palliative care, and stakeholder feedback. Opponents of the bill have said they are concerned Professor Otlowski, as the key legal expert on the panel, has been a consistent and firm supporter of VAD.

A check of the public record shows the professor, whose integrity and expertise are not questioned, has made submissions to various inquiries in support of the concept of VAD. She even was credited with helping to draft previous, doomed Tasmanian VAD legislation in 2013. The professor, a pro vice-chancellor, has publicly dismissed some of the key concerns raised against VAD, including in relation to the adequacy of safeguards adopted elsewhere, and appeared in public as part of a group of VAD supporters in 2013. Live and Die Well, representing opponents of the bill put forward by independent upper house MP Mike Gaffney, said a second legal expert should be appointed to the panel to balance Professor Otlowski’s pro-VAD views. “Professor Otlowski has a 25-year track record as a euthanasia advocate,” group spokesman Ben Smith said.

“Professor Otlowski’s many parliamentary submissions display a dismissive attitude in respect to the risks of euthanasia legislation for vulnerable people, so her views appear fixed. “It is critical that there is a balance of legal views on the panel so that people will have confidence that the issues they raise in their submissions will get a full and fair hearing and consideration.  Professor Otlowski declined to comment, saying that the panel members had agreed among themselves not to speak to the news media during their deliberations on the euthanasia legislation.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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CLOSE OUTCOME SHINES LIGHT ON CRUCIAL 2021 ABORTION VOTE IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA

By Australian Newsletter

Those who care for the vulnerable, viable babies and little unborn girls shone a bright light in the South Australian (SA) Upper House, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) said whilst praising the Hons Clare Scriven, Nicola Centofanti and Dennis Hood for contributions on the abortion to birth bill that will illuminate the Lower House debate in 2021. Mr Christopher Brohier, Australian Christian Lobby’s SA Director said, “Sadly their efforts were not enough. The Upper House voted to allow abortion to birth 12 votes to 9 and rejected an amendment which would have banned gender selection abortion 11 votes to 10.”  “Members had before them an Attorney-General’s Office fact sheet which said in relation for late term abortions:  ‘In later term terminations, either an induction of labour or surgery will be used. If induction of labour is the chosen method of termination, the most usual outcome in this situation is that the baby will be stillborn. In this instance, palliative care is offered, the baby born is wrapped in a blanket and the mother is given the opportunity to hold the baby as it dies. In some instances, in late termination feticide is undertaken which means the baby will be stillborn.’

“MLCs knew they were voting to allow babies to be born and left to die or to sanction the in utero killing of living unborn children, which is feticide, yet they did so!” Mr Brohier said the final words should be left to the Hon David Ridgway MLC, who in the last speech of the debate said, “I have listened to the debate and listened to the amendments but mostly the ones I have supported have been lost. The one I wanted to make particular comment about was the Hon. Mr Hood’s gender selection amendment. That was a very close vote in the end but I think it demonstrates to me that this chamber really has not had the health and wellbeing in mind of either the mother or the child when they were not prepared to support the Hon. Mr Hood’s amendment about gender selection.” “He is right. ACL calls on the Lower House to reject abortion to birth when the bill is debated there in 2021.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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UNIVERSITIES SLOW TO SIGN CODE OF FREEDOM

By Australian Newsletter

Only nine of the nation’s 42 universities have fully embraced a model code to protect free speech on campus, as a major government review pushes vice-chancellors to lead on promoting and safeguarding academic freedom. Elite Group of Eight universities, Monash University, the Australian National University (ANU) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW),  are also among 12 institutions shamed for either failing to adopt the code or not completing their plans to align with the academic freedom charter. After getting hold of the review by ex-Deakin University vice chancellor Sally Walker, UNSW hit back and said its academic freedom policies were more liberal than the government-endorsed free speech charter.

The universities praised for fully embracing the code are the Australian Catholic University, La Trobe University, RMIT University, Torrens University, the University of Newcastle, the University of Queensland, the University of the Sunshine Coast, the University of Sydney and the University of Western Australia. In the review commissioned by Education Minister Dan Tehan, Professor Walker recommended all tertiary governing bodies make an annual statement on how they are prioritising free speech. in August  Professor Walker was tasked with investigating whether universities are in alignment with the free speech code devised by former High Court chief justice Robert French. Mr Tehan said universities needed to adopt the model code by the end of last year.

“By fully adopting the French model code, universities can send a strong message to students, staff and the community about their values and commitment to freedom of speech and academic freedom,” he said. A UNSW spokesman said Professor Walker’s report failed to say that the university had not signed up because its policy is more advanced. “UNSW is totally committed to academic freedom and freedom of speech and our existing policies and procedures go further than the model code’s requirements, which impose certain limits,” he said. “UNSW’s position is clear and unambiguous: freedom of expression at UNSW is no different to freedom of speech across Australia. The only constraint that we place on freedom of speech is the law.”

The report recommends that free speech should become a regular feature of staff training and meetings.  Mr Tehan expressed hope that universities will agree to include progress on adopting the code in their annual reports. Professor Walker said that universities should all adopt a single, overarching policy on free speech and vice-chancellors had to lead on safeguarding freedom. “Universities that adopted a single, overarching code or policy have addressed academic freedom and freedom of speech in a more authoritative manner,” she said. “I have recommended that the sector develop more transparent reporting arrangements and a heightened role for governing bodies, but university leaders have to provide the day to day leadership to create an environment where freedom of speech and academic freedom are understood and supported.”

Professor Walker’s review comes after a year of bruising free speech controversies on Australian campuses. UNSW apologised in August after it took down a tweet linking to an article advocating UN action on human rights violations in Hong Kong, which offended Chinese law students at the university and was attacked in the Chinese government-owned newspaper Global Times. University of Queensland is also facing defamation action from student Drew Pavlou, who claims he was suspended for organising anti-China protests on campus and questioning Chinese influence at the university. The university disputes this. The Walker Review found six universities had not aligned with the French Code, including UNSW and Monash, and six universities had not finalised their moves to apply the charter.

An ANU spokesman said the university was working to fully align with the code within weeks. “!n 2018, and well before the French Review, ANU reaffirmed its unwavering commitment to academic freedom with our statement on academic freedom. Our then Chancellor, Professor the Hon Gareth Evans, worked on the French Review,” he said. We are now in the process of ensuring the spirit and substance of the French Model is embedded in and aligns with all our relevant policies.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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SCOTT MORRISON URGED TO PRIORITISE RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS

By Australian Newsletter

Australia’s faith leaders are urging Scott Morrison to put the implementation of a Religious Discrimination Act at the top of his political agenda this year, warning their congregations would hold the Prime Minister to his election pledge once COVID-19 passes. Mr Morrison’s commitments to deliver protections for faith-based businesses, schools, hospitals, aged care homes and community organisations have remained stalled for 12 months after the government was forced to prioritise its responses to the pandemic and bushfire recovery. Catholic, Anglican and other faith leaders said work on a Religious Discrimination Act (RDA) must begin as early as February when federal parliament returned from its summer break.

Some religious leaders argue COVID-19 restrictions, forcing the temporary closures and caps on congregations at churches, mosques and synagogues, had made religious protections more vital than ever. Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli said the pandemic had shown parliaments and public servants were “ignorant” in their approaches to people of faith. “I’m puzzled as to where this is going now. Matters of religious freedoms and protections are things that need to be grappled with by both major parties,” Archbishop Comensoli said.  “The time of COVID has shown at the level of parliaments, the level of the public service, there is significant ignorance around religious life. A number of decisions made in a number of states are some examples of that growing ignorance.”

As the nation entered COVID-19 lockdown in March, Attorney-General Christian Porter quietly delayed the Australian Law Reform Commission review of the framework of religious exemptions in anti-discrimination legislation. It was the second delay to the key Coalition election commitment, which was intended to legislate religious freedoms in the wake of the same-sex marriage vote. Mr Porter has said the government was not focusing on an RDA until the pandemic was over. “The government will revisit its legislative program as the situation develops, and bring the religious discrimination bill forward at an appropriate time,” Mr Porter said. Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies said the delays in Canberra had to stop. “The federal government should make this a priority as soon as the parliament returns to normal operations,” he said.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry chief executive Peter Wertheim, who has long advocated federal protections for religious minorities, said he was willing to wait another election cycle to ensure the RDA was not politically divisive. After suffering swings in traditionally safe western Sydney seats at last year’s election, right-faction Labor MPs are agitating for the party to adopt strong support for religious freedoms in the party’s policy platform, which will be finalised at the ALP national conference due before Easter. The swings were linked to Labor MPs support for same sex marriage despite a swathe of multicultural seats voting No in the plebiscite, and Bill Shorten’s election campaign misstep where he called on Mr Morrison to say whether he believed gay people would go to hell.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA

By Australian Newsletter

The way we experienced church last year changed significantly for many. From foregoing weekly face-to-face gatherings, to embracing digital services and not singing in a congregation, there’s been widespread adaptation required of both church leaders and attendees. But has it all been bad? What affect has it had on Australia’s interest in the church? McCrindle Research recently released the results of their latest study, The Future of the Church in Australia, compiling the responses of over 30 church leaders and hundreds of churchgoers who they interviewed about the state of Christianity in our nation. “It’s been a year like no other – for the church,” Mark McCrindle said. “We’ve all been dealing with the pandemic, and social isolation and working from home, and that has impacted people spiritually.”

As the COVID-19 crisis upends traditional church formats and how we engage with our faith, social researcher Mark McCrindle delves into the future of the church in Australia, and how it’s fundamentally shifted as a result of the pandemic, for the better, and maybe for the worst. For people who already had a faith, this has meant they’ve leaned into that faith, and for non-Christians it’s caused them to be spirituality hungry and curious. “The amazing news is that 76 per cent of Australian churchgoers said that this year has been a year of spiritual growth for them,” Mark said. “Only 26 per cent said that it’s been a year of spiritual dryness, and we know this biblically: that through these times, hardships and difficulties we do strengthen our faith, because when we’re weak in ourselves then we’re strong in Christ.”

Despite the reputational challenges that have faced the church in recent years, particularly after the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, people still turn to the church in crises. “In these new times of uncertainty and complexity and volatility, people do look for something more grounding in their life. They look beyond everything else that seems to be fading,” Mark said. “And as people of faith that have built our life on timeless truth and on the Rock, we know that you need something more than the shifting sands of our society. We, as the church, have a hope and have a message of good news to share, and I think it’s important we do that.” The McCrindle Research report also clarified data around the decline of Christianity in Australia. “’Christianity’ in terms of our identity nationally has been declining,” Mark said.

“In the last 10 years of census results, the proportion of Australians saying their religion is Christianity has declined from 64 per cent to 52 per cent. “However, that doesn’t capture people’s practice, and those who might be churchgoers. In fact, the National Church Life survey data shows that the proportion of Australians attending church regularly has been unchanged. “So while there’s been the evaporation of what you might call, ‘cultural Christianity’ or ‘historic Christianity’ or ‘I’m Australian… so I guess I’m that’, the core of those who say, ‘Christianity is my faith, it’s my walk and I’m a churchgoer’ is unchanged.”

Source: Hope 103.2FM

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