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WHY WERE FOUR NEWBORNS LEFT TO DIE?

By Australian Newsletter

Victoria’s stage-four lockdown prevented four sick newborn babies, who subsequently died, from being flown from Adelaide to Melbourne to receive lifesaving cardiac surgery. The babies, the fourth of whom died only last Friday, would normally have been taken by a team from Adelaide’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital and flown to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital for specialist heart surgery. But with Melbourne under lockdown the distraught families of the infants were told that their children were not permitted to enter Victoria for the operations. And SA Health was also of the view that the babies should remain in Adelaide for fear of exposing them to the virus in Victorian hospitals as they were immunocompromised.

Aside from exposing the human impacts of the Victorian lockdown, the deaths of the children have been slammed as an indictment on the South Australian government, which rejected calls from medical specialists to establish a specialist paediatric cardiac service at the Womens Children Hospital (WCH). SA is the only mainland state without that service. The deaths of the babies emerged at a distressing hearing of the SA parliament’s public health committee, during which obstetrician John Svigos confirmed the lockdown meant the children could not receive the usual care. Professor Svigos said the starting point for the problem was the failure of the SA government to fund a specialist paediatric service, but that the Melbourne lockdown had also left the four babies with no hope.

“Particularly in our current COVID situation, where the usual process of referral to the Melbourne cardiac unit is no longer tenable, and referral to Sydney is on a case-by-case basis,” Professor Svigos told the committee. “I’ve been given to understand that the WCH has sadly seen the deaths of three babies in the past four weeks who were unable to be transferred, who almost certainly would have benefited from on-site cardiac services. I shall leave it to you to imagine the profound effect of these deaths on the parents, their families and the dedicated medical and nursing staff dealing with these tragedies.” Giving evidence after Professor Svigos, Salaried Medical Officers Association chief industrial office Bernadette Mulholland revealed that four babies had now died in the past month following the death of another last week.

She told the committee that the problem was South Australia’s failure to provide cardiac services that exist for babies in every other state except Tasmania. “If we had that service here in SA that would prevent the deaths of some of these children,” she said. She was backed by Professor Svigos, who said that while SA Health spent $5m a year transferring sick babies and children interstate, a specialist unit at the WCH would cost $6m to establish and $1m a year to operate. Ms Mulholland said doctors had advised her “that in these four cases, the issue was Victoria not being able to retrieve the babies’’. ALP health spokesman Chris Picton said the problem would not have occurred if the government had funded the service. But independent upper-house MP Connie Bonaros said Labor had cut the funding and the Liberals refused to reinstate it.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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CHURCH LEADERS URGE VICTORIAN AND WESTERN AUSTRALIAN PREMIERS TO OPEN CHURCHES

By Australian Newsletter

295 church pastors and leaders have written an open letter to Premier Daniel Andrews urging him to allow churches to open for indoor worship, for the wellbeing of the church members and the wider community. “The Australian Christian Lobby congratulates the joint effort of these church leaders,” Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) spokesperson Jasmine Yuen said. “Their letter expresses concern about the mental health and wellbeing of the community in this prolonged lockdown. Suicidal thoughts and self-harm among young people have spiked. The church leaders’ concerns further highlight the negative impacts raised for months by many Victorian health professionals, warning the government against a prolonged and strict lockdown.

“The daily new COVID-19 cases in Victoria are at the lowest in months. The Andrews government cannot justify continuing a draconian lockdown that hurts the economy, livelihoods and the health and mental wellbeing of the community. “These church leaders now join business and hospitality sectors calling on the Andrews government to remove restrictions. Churches can apply a COVID-Safe Plan and social distancing measures. For instance, contact tracing is easier than in public places, making church services a safe place for people to gather.” The ACL calls upon the Andrews government to listen to these respected church leaders, allow churches to open and contribute to community wellbeing.

Editors note:  Despite recent announcements of the lifting of many restrictions in Victoria, Churches will only be allowed 20 worshippers inside and 50 outside. This means the vast majority of Churches will remain closed.

The Western Australian (WA) Government is the latest Government to discriminate against Churches. The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has labelled the WA Premier’s latest easing of COVID restrictions unfair. “Somehow, comedy lounges are okay but churches are not – it doesn’t make sense,” ACL State Director Peter Abetz said. “It is unfair, even discriminatory to scrap the ‘2-metre rule’ in theatres, concert halls, auditoriums, amphitheatres, cinemas, comedy lounges, and performing arts centres but not places of worship. The government statement said such venues are ‘low risk’ as they are seated and ticketed. Churches are also seated and the gatherings are similar from week to week, making them easily traceable.” “Until now, Western Australia had treated places of worship like other venues, but not any more.

“Faith groups provide an essential service for community health and mental well-being. They have gone out of their way to be COVID-safe. These latest, arbitrary rules are unfair and will undermine community support for the restrictions. The ACL calls upon the Premier to swiftly review and update the easing of restrictions.” Abetz said.

Source: Compiled by APN from information gained from various sources 

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ABUSED WESTERN AUSTRALIAN GIRL 11 DIES FROM SELF-HARM

By Australian Newsletter

An 11-year-old Aboriginal girl who disclosed repeated sexual abuse has died from injuries police suspect were self-inflicted. The girl died in Perth Children’s Hospital last week surrounded by distraught relatives, many of whom had supported her as she helped police investigate her alleged abuser. The girl had recently provided what prosecutors considered as crucial evidence in a video interview. The man charged with abusing her was on bail when the girl is believed to have inflicted injuries on herself that proved fatal. The fact her alleged abuser was not in jail awaiting trial has caused enormous distress inside the girl’s family. Dozens of relatives were at the hospital after it became clear she would not live. The girl was rushed from the southwest of Western Australia to hospital on the Monday and died the following afternoon.

There was shock and grief among police and child protection workers who had been working with the little girl’s family in the wake of her disclosures. Lindsay Hale, a director at the West Australian child protection department known as Communities said in an emailed statement that he extended his condolences to the family. In a statement, police confirmed a “tragic incident” involving an 11-year-old girl who attempted self-harm in a small town south of Perth. The family of the girl was being supported by Gerry ­Georgatos and Megan Krakouer from the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project.  Ms Krakouer, a Noongar woman arranged for some relatives in jail to be allowed out to say goodbye to the little girl. “Everybody is devastated, police included, but none more than the mother, siblings and family” she said

Compiled by APN from media reports

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QUEENSLAND LABOR TO LEGALISE EUTHANASIA: RELIGIOUS LEADERS CRY BETRAYAL

By Australian Newsletter

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says a re-elected Labor government would move to legalise voluntary-assisted dying. Making the major announcement at Labor’s campaign launch at Beenleigh, Ms Palaszczuk said all of her MPs would be given a conscience vote on the issue, which she referred to the Queensland Law Reform Commission this year. “I believe individuals and families should be empowered to consider all the options available in consultation with their medical professionals,” she said.  “That’s why today I can commit that the government I lead will introduce legislation in February next year to provide for the legalisation of voluntary assisted dying.” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has however denied picking a fight with the churches on the contentious issue of euthanasia during the state election campaign.

Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge has challenged Ms Palaszczuk to explain why she reneged on a commitment to let the Queensland Law Reform Commission report on draft voluntary assisted dying legislation in March, before it was put to state parliament. Asked to explain the change in light of Archbishop Coleridge’s concerns, Ms Palaszczuk said it was only fast-tracked by a matter of weeks. “It is a deeply personal issue, families, people have been raising it with me,” Ms Palaszczuk said. “We put the extra funding into palliative care as well, at the end of the day this is a choice for individuals.” Asked whether it was wise to pick a fight with the churches on the issue, Ms Palaszczuk denied that’s what was happening. “No, that’s not true, that’s not happening at all,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“I respect the churches, I went to a Catholic high school, we can agree to disagree on a whole range of matters, I absolutely respect the views of individuals, and as I’ve said, this is an incredibly, deeply personal choice for individuals. But I’m on the record saying what I believe.” While Ms Palaszczuk has said she would vote for the reform, Ms Frecklington has not said where she stands on the issue. Nationals Senator Matt Canavan said “The Queensland Labor Party’s proposed euthanasia legislation is merely an attempt to “distract people from the emptiness of the Labor Party policy platform.”  Expressing his “disappointment” in Ms Palaszczuk, the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane and former national primate Phillip Aspinall said there must be “political judgments involved in the absence of any other rationale” to fast-track the nation’s third right-to-die law.

Ms Palaszczuk stunned sections of her own party, the churches and activists on both sides of the debate by announcing she would introduce VAD legislation in February if the government was returned at Saturday week’s state election. For the first time the Premier also revealed she was personally pro-euthanasia saying: “Yes, I would vote for it.” Describing the developments as a “bolt from the blue”, Dr Coleridge said Ms Palaszczuk had reneged on a “clear commitment” to parliament on May 21 to “not rush” the process and wait for the QLRC to report on March 1 before proceeding with a VAD law. “That was turned on its head by the Premier’s announcement,” Dr Coleridge said. “So the question is what happened in the meantime, why or under what pressure has the Premier made this clearly political judgment and set it within the context of an electoral campaign?

“I really don’t understand what motivated her or under what pressure she has made the decision. But one has to ask the question.” Dr Coleridge said.  Dr Aspinall said he could only conclude Ms Palaszczuk perceived a political advantage in “gazumping” the law reform commission and advancing the timetable to legislate to next February if Labor won the election. “There does not seem to be any real explanation for that,” he said. “So one can only judge that, in the midst of an election campaign, it is due to electoral considerations there must be political judgments involved in the absence of any other rationale.” Ms Palaszczuk had previously insisted she would give “extra assistance” to the law reform commission and pledged the government wouldn’t finalise its position until the agency reported. This followed a majority decision by an all-party parliamentary committee to back VAD, with Liberal National Party dissenting, and refer a draft bill to the QLRC for vetting.

Asked this week to explain the rush, Ms Palaszczuk said: “I think it’s a very important issue for Queenslanders, it’s been raised with me countless times and there’s no reason that any extra assistance that the law reform commission requires, can’t be given. We can bring that forward so that parliament can have a vote. As I’ve said, it’ll be a conscience vote for the members of my team if we are re-elected, and I hope it is a conscience vote for all parliamentarians.” Liberal National Party leader Deb Frecklington would not be drawn on her personal view on euthanasia or whether an LNP government would bring on VAD legislation. The party’s policy position is opposed to assisted dying, but Ms Frecklington has said she would allow LNP MPs to vote their conscience if a bill came before state parliament.

“I will wait and see the response from the law reform commission and this is an issue that is serious and it affects people’s lives, so it is important that we listen to the complex nature of the laws and that’s why the Law Reform Commission is looking at drafting those laws,” Ms Frecklington said. Pressed on whether she supported the premise of euthanasia, she said she believed no one should have to die alone or in pain.  The row erupted as a coalition of pro-VAD groups released a survey of nearly 600 candidates running in the October 31 election on where they stood. Of the 597 candidates polled, 164 were in favour of assisted dying, 37 were unclear or uncommitted, 13 opposed and 383 did not respond. Both Dr Coleridge and Dr Aspinall confirmed they had not personally discussed assisted dying with Ms Palaszczuk or received assurances from her on the timing of any legislation.

However, Dr Coleridge said the churches had no reason to do so; they had relied on the Premier’s assurance to parliament that the QLRC would report on a draft bill first. Factional sources in the Labor Right said their understanding was the questions had been put off until after the election and Ms Palaszczuk’s announcement blindsided them. “We didn’t expect it to be front and centre of the election campaign,” Dr Coleridge told The Australian. “Our hope had been it could be dealt with in a calmer and clearer situation beyond the election. The draft legislation would be presented by the law reform commission and then would, as the Premier said, be given careful consideration by the government before it was presented to the Queensland parliament without the rather overheated context of an electoral campaign.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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AGED-CARE OPERATOR IN EUTHANASIA THREAT

By Australian Newsletter

One of Queensland’s top aged-care operators has threatened to quit the industry if it is forced to provide voluntary euthanasia. The warning by Southern Cross Care, which runs 11 aged-care homes and five retirement villages, echoes alarm by the Mater Group of Catholic hospitals about Queensland becoming the third state to introduce an assisted dying law. Voluntary assisted dying (VAD) is being driven as a grassroots election issue by pro-euthanasia groups and, on the other side, by churches and the right-to-life lobby. Chief executive Jason Eldering said VAD would put Catholic-aligned Southern Cross in a difficult position. “We would not be willing to join the assisted dying process,” he said. “We would help any of our clients or residents to move to a location where they wished to pursue the assisted dying process, but we would never intervene to cause death in our facilities.”

His comments came after the chairman of the Mater Group, Francis Sullivan, said that the private provider would not allow VAD in any of its 10 hospitals in Queensland or refer terminally ill patients who asked to die. Victoria’s foundational VAD law allows institutions such as hospitals and retirement homes to opt out on conscientious grounds and, unlike the situation with elective abortion, does not require dissenting doctors to refer patients.  The scheme came into effect in June 2019, followed by the passage of right-to-die legislation through the WA parliament in December. In March, a parliamentary committee in Queensland came out in favour of assisted dying and referred draft legislation to the QLRC. The proposed bill reflects the Victorian law by permitting a health or aged-care “entity” to refuse VAD, but it must then arrange to transfer the patient to a facility where it can be administered.

The expectation is that a re-elected Labor government under Annastacia Palaszczuk would proceed with VAD. Liberal National Party leader Deb Frecklington is guarded on the issue, saying she would wait to see the QLRC report, due in March. LNP policy is opposed to VAD, but she said MPs would have a conscience vote on any legislation. Mr Eldering said Southern Cross Care wanted clarity to ensure that aged-care providers would not be compelled to participate if assisted dying came in. “We are saying that the legislation and our mission are incompatible if that was the case and we were forced to join,” he said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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HILLSONG’S BRIAN HOUSTON CHALLENGES NSW CORONAVIRUS RULES ON CHURCHES

By Australian Newsletter

A prominent church leader has challenged the NSW government, claiming some coronavirus restrictions on religious gatherings border on discrimination. Hillsong founder Brian Houston has urged church leaders to “unite to take a stand” against ongoing restrictions in a series of social media posts. Under the current NSW Health COVID-19 restrictions, a place of public worship must not exceed 100 people and is subject to the one person per 4sq m rule. Despite the NSW government flagging an easing of restrictions to allow up to 300 people to attend weddings from December, and allowing hospitality venues to host a maximum of 500 people seated at outdoor events from last Friday, religious gatherings have so far been excluded.  “We are all committed to keeping people safe, but it seems churches are not even being considered for a steady easing of restrictions,” Pastor Houston said.

In his online post Houston went on “So interesting that the NSW Government are about to allow 300 people to attend an indoor wedding, and things are being relaxed for the hospitality industry, but still no change for churches. We have a building with space for 4000 people yet can only have 100 in there. Reason given is ‘church people know each other (are too friendly). Do you think people are not friendly at weddings? It is getting to the point where it is discrimination.” Coronavirus restrictions in regional Victoria have also followed a similar trend, with religion lagging behind hospitality businesses. Regional Victorian hospitality businesses can now host up to 40 customers indoors and 70 people outdoors, but religious gatherings are limited to 20 worshippers outdoors, which will increase to 50 from November 1.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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EDUCATION MINISTER LAUNCHES REVIEW INTO UNIVERSITIES FREE SPEECH CODE

By Australian Newsletter

Universities will face a sweeping review into whether they are meeting national standards for freedom of speech in the face of several censorship controversies engulfing higher education. Former Deakin University vice-chancellor Sally Walker will be tasked with investigating whether universities are in alignment with the free speech code devised by former High Court chief justice Robert French. The review will assess whether there are gaps in their responses to freedom-of-speech issues, and if more action is required to make sure university leaders protect academic freedoms. Education Minister Dan Tehan commissioned Mr French to create the free speech code for universities and argued a second review was needed to ensure universities were implementing its core principles.

“What this review is about is ensuring that all Australians understand the importance of freedom of speech and academic inquiry, and that our universities understand that,” Mr Tehan said. “We are seeing challenges to free speech and academic inquiry across the globe. I want, and the government wants, these freedoms to be the pillars of our universities. Robert French did an outstanding job and we want to ensure that code is lived up to by our universities.”  All universities have agreed to implement the French code by the end of the year, but there are concerns in both government and academia that universities are resistant to reform and the exemptions in some universities’ free speech codes are too broad.

The University of NSW (UNSW) has apologised for caving in to Chinese protests and deleting material critical of the mainland crackdown in Hong Kong. Two Queensland institutions, the University of Queensland and James Cook University, are also being sued in freedom of speech cases by a suspended student and a sacked professor respectively. UNSW became further embroiled in the free speech controversy when it was revealed that the reason for deleting a tweet from the university’s official Twitter account, was presented differently to Chinese students. The tweet, which publicised the call from a UNSW adjunct law lecturer for UN action on human rights violations in Hong Kong, was taken down after it offended Chinese law students at the university and was attacked in the Chinese government-owned newspaper Global Times.

Professor Jacobs apologised in an email to staff and said the deletion of the tweet was not in line with the university’s freedom-of-speech policy that allows staff and students to express any view that can be legally expressed in Australia. However, two days earlier the university had sent a letter in Mandarin to Chinese students and alumni saying the tweet was deleted because it was misleading. The letter apologised for the trouble “the incident” had caused. Elaine Pearson, the lecturer whose views on Hong Kong were referred to in the tweet, and also expressed in a story on the UNSW website, said that “it seems the university is saying one thing to international students and one thing to university staff”.

“It undermines the sincerity of the apology which went to staff,” said Ms Pearson, who is also the Australian director of Human Rights Watch. Mr Tehan said he would not prejudge the findings of Professor Walker’s inquiry but he did not rule out making the free speech code mandatory by Christmas. “Obviously the terms of reference state she can provide advice on that,” he said. “If there is advice we should make any changes, I will move as quickly as possible to implement that.” Professor Walker, a highly regarded law academic who led Deakin for eight years and whose husband Brendan Murphy is the federal Health Department secretary who has led the national response to COVID-19,  will hand over her findings to the government in November.

Mr French, now chancellor of the University of Western Australia, was commissioned to develop a voluntary code for university free speech in November 2018 following protests against gender studies critic Bettina Arndt’s campus speaking tour in which she denied there was a rape crisis affecting Australian students. Since then, 20 universities have implemented the code in some form and 14 are in the process of developing a new free speech policy in line with Mr French’s framework. In the past several months alone, four major universities have faced serious free speech issues. University of Queensland student Drew Pavlou, who was suspended from UQ over his criticism of Chinese influence on campus, is suing the university, its chancellor and vice-chancellor for $3.5m.A UQ disciplinary panel suspended Mr Pavlou’s enrolment for two years after he sparked an international incident last year when he staged a campus protest against China.

And a report in The Australian reveals that some federal South Australian MPs are concerned about rising Chinese influence at the University of Adelaide, as the cash-strapped institution seeks to hire former UQ vice-chancellor Peter Hoj as its new leader. Sacked James Cook University professor Peter Ridd will also go to the High Court over his controversial sacking for publicly criticising the institution over its climate change science. The Federal Circuit Court recently found that the Townsville based university had not acted unlawfully when it sacked their employee of 30 years in 2018 for breaching its code of conduct with his criticism, overturning a previous decision to award him $1.2m.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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FOREIGN FORCES SPYING ON DIASPORA SAYS ASIO

By Australian Newsletter

The nation’s spy agency has warned foreign governments are targeting diaspora communities, using threats of harm and intimidation against individuals and families in Australia and overseas. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has described the level of foreign interference in the country as “extensive”, with overseas governments seeking to influence diaspora communities “to control opposition”. ASIO, which does not name China in its submission to a Senate inquiry, said interference in Australia involved “clandestine or deceptive activities” overseen by foreign powers.  “Australia is a multicultural society with a diverse range of diaspora groups,” ASIO said. “These groups are often the victims of foreign interference. “Interference has included threats of harm to individuals and/or their families, both in Australia and abroad.”

In some cases, foreign governments will seek to use members of the diaspora community in Australia to monitor, direct and influence the activities of the same diaspora communities. “These threats have come directly from foreign government representatives and also from other members of the diaspora communities themselves, acting at the direction of the foreign government.” The national security agency, led by director-general of security Mike Burgess, is in contact with more than 100 ethnic and religious groups and was actively working with diaspora communities to “protect them from attempts at foreign interference”. China has criticised Australia in recent years over moves by the Turnbull and Morrison governments to increase monitoring, detection and enforcement of foreign interference.

ASIO also warned of “communal violence”, described as “activities that promote violence between different groups of people in the community”. “The impact of COVID-19, including a potentially declining economy and increased public anxiety, could motivate disaffected demographics to violence. Groups or individuals promoting communal violence could exploit the pandemic to target specific ethnic communities,” it said. “In the past six months, there have been no large-scale incidents of violence between groups in the Australian community. While community cohesion has been tested by COVID-19 and local reactions to recent overseas protest movements, we do not expect large-scale incidents of communal violence in Australia.”

With the national terrorism threat level remaining at “probable”, ASIO said Sunni Islamist extremism continued to be the “principal source of the terrorist threat”, linked to small groups or individuals. In a separate submission, Australian Multicultural Council chair Sev Ozdowski said it was the responsibility of the government to “protect refugee from attacks on them by the agents of foreign governments”.  “The relationship between the countries of origin and refugee communities in Australia may be tense on occasions,” Dr Ozdowski said. “It is important to allow refugee communities to challenge, within Australian law, the human rights abuse abroad and their actions to advance democratic institutions in their country of origin.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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