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STRONGER PROTECTION IN NEW RELIGIOUS FREEDOM BILL

By Australian Newsletter

Scott Morrison has released the government’s updated draft religious discrimination bill, which includes stronger protections for faith-based groups and individuals and provides a clearer definition of vilification as “incitement of hatred or violence”.  The major overhaul of the initial draft bill, comes after a backlash from major religious groups and others.  The Prime Minister, who delayed tabling the religious discrimination bill in the final week of parliament, said the second draft of the religious discrimination legislation incorporated “many of the key changes that were suggested by religious bodies and other stakeholders”.

In a joint statement with Mr Porter, Mr Morrison said submissions in response to the new religious freedom draft bills would close on January 31.  “The release of the revised bill for a further period of consultation will provide all members of the Australian community an opportunity to consider these revisions and whether the amended bill further addresses the issues they have raised,” they said.  “As we have said, this is not a process that should be rushed.  What is important is that we get this legislation right and deliver lasting reforms that provide real protections for all Australians.”

Following extensive consultation on the religious freedoms package, including almost 6000 submissions and Mr Porter meeting with close to 100 stakeholder groups, the government has decided on several key changes to the original draft bill.  These include making it clearer for religious bodies to implement staffing and other decisions based “upon faith” in line with existing federal law.  Religious benevolent institutions will also be included in the definition of ‘religious bodies’.  Provisions aimed at supporting existing conscientious objections processes have been narrowed so that they apply only to nurses, midwives, doctors, psychologists and pharmacists.

Conscientious objections provisions have been made clearer in relation to not allowing a right “to discriminate against particular individuals based upon gender or other characteristics”.  As previously flagged by Mr Porter, there are also new provisions for faith-based hospitals and aged care facilities.  The new bill supports that “the current status quo under federal law is maintained, allowing religious hospitals, aged care facilities and accommodation providers (such as retirement homes) to employ staff to preserve a religious ethos, with additional specific protections for religious camps and conference centres”.

Mr Morrison and Mr Porter confirmed amendments had been made to clarify certain provisions, which had been described by legal experts as “ambiguous”.  “The term ‘vilify’ has been defined as incitement of hatred or violence,” they said.  “In addition, a definition of ‘conscientiously object’ has been included in response from a range of stakeholders, including the Australian Medical Association.  “Any form of discrimination will not be tolerated by our government.  We already have in place laws that protect people from discrimination on the basis of their race, sex, age or disabilities.”  Controversial religious statements made at work Christmas parties will not be protected.

Mr Morrison said it made sense that religion “should be included so that Australians are free to live their lives in the way they choose to”. “We also understand that this process is about striking a balance and that the protections we deliver must be a shield from discrimination, not a sword.”  Christian Schools Australia director of public policy Mark Spencer welcomed the updated religious discrimination bill, thanking Mr Porter for “getting into the Christmas spirit”.  “The revised exposure draft shows that the government has been listening to the concerns of faith communities, and other groups, and provides much needed clarity around a number of areas,” Mr Spencer said.

“It is vital that we take the time to get this legislation right.  The second draft shows that we are well on the way to doing so.”  Mr Spencer called on the government to include consultation with the Opposition on the legislation”.  “We know that parents across Australia were saying to us how important the protection of values, beliefs, and freedom of religion are to them, our national polling during the election indicated that 66% of Australians support legal protections for religious freedom,” he said.  “Ordinary Australian, mums and dads, people of faith across Australia, want to see the major parties work together to get this legislation right.

Mr Morrison is open to further changes and the Coalition will work with Labor on amendments ahead of the legislation being finalised in February.  Mr Porter has clarified that a religious school or church does not discriminate if they preference staff and students on their faith.  “A Catholic school could fill a position with a Catholic simply because their preference is it be filled by a Catholic,” Mr Porter said. Association of Independent Schools NSW chief executive Geoff Newcombe said amendments appeared to address the original concern of faith-based schools over their right to preference the employment of teachers of the same faith.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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WESTERN AUSTRALIA PASSES ASSISTED DYING LAW

By Australian Newsletter

The McGowan Labor government will introduce Australia’s most liberal voluntary assisted dying laws following a marathon parliamentary debate.  The West Australian government was forced to drop one of the most contentious elements of its planned laws; a clause that gave authority to about 70,000 people from 16 occupations to suggest voluntary assisted dying to a person with a terminal illness.  This included podiatrists, optometrists, dental hygienists, chiropractors and people practising Chinese medicine.  The amended bill that passed the WA upper house 24-11 last week still allows doctors and senior nurses to raise the subject of voluntary assisted dying with a patient.

This is not permitted in Victoria, which in June became the first state to make voluntary assisted dying legal.  There, the onus is on the patient to tell their doctor they want help to die.  The WA bill, which is due to become law after the lower house approves amendments is more practical than Victoria’s, according to Perth doctor Alida Lancee, who became the face of Australia’s euthanasia debate in 2015 when she admitted giving a lethal dose of morphine to an 80-year-old woman with end-stage emphysema.  The woman had tried to take her own life twice.

Dr Lancee said the WA laws would be better than Victoria’s which placed too many obstacles in the way of a terminally ill person who wanted to die well.  In WA, a doctor with a conscientious objection to voluntary assisted dying will be able to refuse to help a patient die but still must give the patient standardised information about the steps they can take and how.  In Victoria, doctors with a conscientious objection are under no obligation to provide information about voluntary assisted dying to a patient who asks.  “If you are in dire straits, the last thing you need is a doctor who gives you judgment,” Dr Lancee said.

Greens MP Robin Chapple, who helped usher the bill through the upper house, said he was proud to be part of a decades-long movement “to ensure we all have the comfort of choice at the end of our lives”.  “This is a momentous occasion, and I am beside myself with relief and happiness,” Mr Chapple said.  The bill was supported by 12 Labor MPs, two Liberals, four Nationals, four Greens and one MP each from One Nation and the Liberal Democrats.  Seven Liberal MPs were opposed along with one each from Labor, One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, and one independent.

The WA laws will make voluntary assisted dying available only to adults who have been given a terminal diagnosis, are in intolerable pain and have between six and 12 months to live depending on the illness.  This is the same as in Victoria.  But under the WA laws, a patient will be able to get help to die provided they have been independently assessed by two doctors.  Both doctors can be GPs so long as they have 10 years of experience.  The process is stricter in Victoria, where one of the assessing doctors must have “specialised knowledge or qualifications” in the illness that the patient is dying from.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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BRIAN HOUSTON INVITED TO THE WHITE HOUSE AND PRAYS FOR TRUMP

By Australian Newsletter

Hillsong leader Brian Houston has attended a faith briefing at the White House alongside worship leaders.  In September, Houston denied reports that the White House rejected having him at a state dinner with Australian leaders.  The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is friends with Houston, wanted him there but that the White House turned down the PM’s request.  In a video put up by the White House, Houston said he had just been praying for Donald Trump in the Oval Office and that “I do, as an Australian, really believe that we need a strong America in the world, and when America is strong the world is a better place.”

He praised administration initiatives which he said were helping freedom of religion and to just see, generally, the great spirit in the White House where people are optimistic about the future.  “Praise God for the opportunity” Houston said.  Also in attendance were worship leaders Kari Jobe and husband Cody Carnes who prayed in the Cabinet room and Oval Office, listening to the faith briefing.  “The thing that moved me the most is just how everyone is so for making sure we’re changing people’s lives and not leaving aside those that are marginalised and those that have been trafficked.  I’m just so thankful to have been part of this to just see what God is doing.”

Source: Premier News Service

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ISRAEL FOLAU SETTLES WITH RUGBY AUSTRALIA

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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CALL FOR MEDICARE TO PAY FOR TRANSGENDER SURGERY

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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GOVERNMENT FORCED TO DELAY RELIGIOUS FREEDOM BILL

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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