Weekend Wrap for 14 April 2024

Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 14 April 2024, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.

Videos from the Secularism Australia Conference 2023 are now available. The NSL was a proud co-organiser and co-sponsor of this event.

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At the National Level

Pope Francis is claiming legal immunity as a head of state to fight a damages claim brought by two Aboriginal men over the Vatican’s failure to protect them from the priest who sexually abused them as children. Documents filed in the Victorian Supreme Court last month by lawyers representing the Pope flag the church’s intention to rely on the Vatican’s unique status in international law to stop the pontiff from being drawn into a civil lawsuit involving one of Australia’s most notorious paedophile priests. (6 Apr 2024)
Read more at WA Today

Why do big churches and church-owned businesses enjoy tax-free status despite generating millions of dollars in profit? Next month, the Productivity Commission will hand its review of Australian philanthropy to the government. It's been touted as a ‘once-in-a-generation’ examination of how charities, not-for-profits and community organisations are funded and what tax benefits they enjoy. David Shoebridge, Greens senator for New South Wales, discusses the issue. (8 Apr 2024)
Listen to the interview at ABC Radio National

The government has paid out $1.31bn in redress to institutional child sexual abuse survivors, but legal services advocating for them fear an uncertain and underfunded future unless there is an urgent intervention. In a joint inquiry into the national redress scheme on Monday, MPs and senators heard from the Department of Social Services that more than 38,000 applications since the scheme began in 2018, currently averaging about 294 each week. Knowmore chief executive officer Jackie Mead said the funding model was outdated because it was based on modelling that suggested the projected survivor numbers would decrease. Instead, there’s been a 40 per cent increase between the 2021/22 financial year and the current year. (8 Apr 2024)
Read more at news.com.au

The Vatican has reaffirmed its opposition to gender-affirming surgery, “gender theory” and surrogate parenthood, drawing criticism from advocates for LGBTQ Catholics. The declaration by the Vatican’s doctrinal office (DDF) comes four months after another document in which it supported blessings for same-sex couples, triggering fierce conservative pushback, especially in Africa. The Vatican also said that it opposed the anti-LGBTQ laws enforced by a number of countries with the support of local Catholic groups. The declaration released on Monday (Tuesday morning AEST) said having a child via surrogacy violates the dignity of both the surrogate mother and the child, and recalled that Pope Francis in January called it “despicable” and urged a global ban. (9 Apr 2024)
Read more at The Age

Australia’s public schools will miss out on $13bn in the next five years if accounting tricks are maintained in upcoming funding agreements, a major report has found. The National School Resourcing Board’s annual review, tabled in parliament last week, showed government schools lost more than $2bn in 2022 because of a Morrison-era loophole that allows states and territories to claim up to 4% of public school funding on non-school expenditures. The federal education minister, Jason Clare, has indicated the 4% will not be reviewed until the next round of funding agreements – scheduled for 2030. Modelling provided to Guardian Australia by the Save our Schools convener, Trevor Cobbold, suggests that if Clare’s position remains, public schools will miss out on about $13bn in funding to the end of the decade. (10 Apr 2024)
Read more at The Guardian

Around the Country

QLD: A report examining the proposed legal framework to decriminalise sex work and improve the health, safety and rights of workers has recommended legislation to be passed. A landmark review by the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) last year made 47 recommendations to decriminalise sex work, including removing the Queensland’s brothel licensing system, changing planning laws to allow brothels to operate away from industrial areas, adding protections for sex workers and repealing sex work specific health offences. The Australian Christian Lobby raised concerns that a reduction in local government power would lead to the increased presence of brothels in residential neighbourhoods, near schools or places of worship. Dr Elena Jeffreys from advocacy body Scarlet Alliance said that this was one of the biggest misconceptions about the decriminalisation framework. (13 Apr 2024)
Read more at The Age

Commentary and Analysis

Sarah Basford Canales, Yuji Shimada, and Michael Kalenderian: What is the religious discrimination bill? And why are Australians still talking about it?
"A debate over discrimination in religious institutions is happening right now in federal politics. Sound familiar? That's because we've been here before in 2022 – and basically every year since Australia achieved marriage equality in 2017. So, why are we back here again? Guardian Australia's Sarah Basford Canales explains the state of the religious discrimination debate, and the politically fraught path through it." (10 Apr 2024)
Watch the video at The Guardian

Alexandra Smith: Public schools have an image problem, even without funding cuts.
"Public schools too often get a bad rap. Violence against teachers, crumbling buildings and classes merged with only minimal supervision. Is there any wonder we get jittery about schooling choices? Unsurprisingly, amid this swirling negativity, enrolments at public schools have been dropping and this is cited as a key reason behind a slashing of schools’ budgets, revealed to principals in an all-staff note earlier this week. ... However, in highlighting the chronic shortage (which was allowed to grow under the former Coalition government) the union also inadvertently managed to paint the public school system as second rate to its far more cashed-up and resourced private competitors. Is there any wonder, then, that there has been a steady drift to the independent sector?" (10 Apr 2024)
Read more at The Age

Alastair Lawrie: A 10-point test for fair anti-discrimination law reform.
"Late last month, the Albanese government confirmed it had drafted legislation implementing two of its major policy commitments on anti-discrimination reform: A Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Bill; and Sex Discrimination Act amendments to protect LGBTQ students and teachers in religious schools against discrimination. ... But, as we saw with the Morrison government’s deeply flawed 2022 Religious Discrimination Bill, the devil is in the details. These reforms only deserve support from the community if they provide fair and appropriate protections for everyone. Here is the 10-point test we will be using to determine if the government’s proposal – if and when we ever get to see it – gets our backing." (11 Apr 2024)
Read more at Lawyers Weekly

Paula Gerber: Tickle vs Giggle: in a world where transgender people are under attack, this is a test case for Australia.
"Around the world, the human rights of transgender people are under attack. Media reports of trans women being vilified, excluded and discriminated against are frequent, and the consequences of this rise in hatred towards trans people can be deadly. ... There is increasing concern that a US-style anti-trans campaign is underway in Australia. This week, a spotlight was shone on these issues in the Federal Court, where a trans woman, Roxanne Tickle, has taken a women-only social media platform to court for discrimination. This case is providing the court with a rare opportunity to determine the extent to which the Sex Discrimination Act protects a trans woman from discrimination on the basis of their gender identity. Although the act was amended more than a decade ago to prohibit discrimination on such a basis, this is the first time these laws are being tested in court." (12 Apr 2024)
Read more at The Conversation

Paul Gregoire: Federal Government Placates Religious Zealots to the Detriment of LGBTQ Students.
"Archconservative PM Anthony Albanese is continuing to do his utmost to out-nasty his predecessors by following the conservative handbook originally written by them, as the Labor leader shirks on promised reforms to laws discriminating against LGBTQ students and teachers at religious schools. Despite promising the changes prior to the 2022 election, and his government having tasked the Australian Law Reform Commission with reviewing the laws that also permit discrimination against women, the PM has developed cold feet since the inquiry recommended he action the reform." (12 Apr 2024)
Read more at Sydney Criminal Lawyers

Mark Fowler: Sex Discrimination Act reform proposal a breach of faith.
"Last month the government released the long-awaited report of the Australian Law Reform Commission on religious educational institutions. In a letter to Anthony Albanese the nation’s pre-eminent religious leaders asserted that the recommendations 'will extinguish the distinct and authentic character' of 'the overwhelming majority of faith-based schools'. ...as religious leaders recalled in their letter to the Prime Minister, in 2019 the prior ALRC president, Justice Sarah Derrington, released a reform model for religious schools that she said would be effective in ensuring Australia complied with the relevant requirements of international law. The model declared that a religious institution 'does not discriminate' where its acts are 'consistent (with) its religious beliefs and practices or its religious purpose'." (13 Apr 2024)
Read more at The Australian

David Hardaker / RSA: Major political parties unlikely to act on religious charity loopholes, RSA Webinar told.
At a recent RSA webinar, investigative journalist and author of the new book, Mine is the Kingdom, David Hardaker, said that the major political parties appear unlikely to pursue much-needed reform in the charities sector due to their desire not to upset religious lobbyists and religious organisations. He spoke about how charities had been central to Hillsong’s business model under the leadership of pastor Brian Houston, and had fuelled the church’s growth. Hardaker described the federal government’s establishment in 2012 of 'Basic Religious Charities' – a type of charity exempted from meeting financial reporting and governance standards that apply to other charities – as having created a “black box” in which religious charities could operate in near-total secrecy. With the Productivity Commission having called for removal of the Basic Religious Charities category late last year, Hardaker said it would be a case of “watch this space”, but noted that previous governments had ignored similar recommendations. (13 Apr 2024)
Read more and watch the webinar at the Rationalist Society of Australia

Events and Campaigns

Support Independent MP Kate Chaney's proposed laws dealing with the “telehealth problem” preventing access to timely voluntary assisted dying across the country. Contact your federal MP and senators here.

Residents of NSW, there is a petition running that calls on the state parliament to run scripture (SRE) and ethics (SEE) lessons outside class time in NSW public schools. View the petition at the NSW Parliament House website

The Australia Institute are calling on federal parliament to pass truth in political advertising laws that are nationally consistent, constitutional and uphold freedom of speech. View the petition at The Australia Institute

The Human Rights Law Centre are running a website for those who want to support an Australian Charter of Human Rights & Freedoms.
Visit the Charter of Rights website here

A change.org petition has been started, calling for churches to lose their tax-free status and for "the religious influence of churches in Australian politics and society" to be limited. It's currently up to 30,000 signatures. View the petition at change.org

The Australian Education Union is running a campaign calling for “every school, every child” to receive fair education funding. Support the campaign here.

The Human Rights for NSW alliance has launched a campaign calling for NSW to pass a Human Rights Act.

That's it for another week!

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