Weekend Wrap for 17 March 2024

Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 17 March 2024, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.

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At the National Level

The peak body for lawyers has called for the scrapping of federal laws prohibiting use of telehealth consultations to facilitate access to voluntary ­assisted dying, urging the Northern Territory to push for the laws to be changed as it formulates its own euthanasia scheme. The Australian Lawyers ­Alliance says laws prohibiting the use of a carriage service to assist someone to commit suicide will place health workers at risk of prosecution and limit patients’ access to the scheme. A Federal Court ruling last November found VAD was considered suicide under the criminal code, meaning doctors could be prosecuted for providing advice over Telehealth or the phone – clarifying a previously grey area in medical law. (11 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Australian

Federal Minister for Women Katy Gallagher says the government should do more to make abortions accessible to women, and has left open the possibility of tying hospital funding to abortion provision, in her National Press Club address on gender equality held last week. Answering a journalist’s direct question about whether the Labor government would revive its 2019 policy tying Commonwealth funding arrangements to the provision of termination services, Gallagher offered a vague response and did not rule it out. Were the policy to be revived, around 20 public hospitals operated by Catholic Church bodies in the country would be captured, including St Vincent’s Health Australia and Calvary Health Australia. (14 Mar 2024)
Read more at the Catholic Weekly

The Air Force is developing a proposal to introduce non-religious wellbeing officers into its pastoral care and chaplaincy capability, the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has heard. At Wednesday’s hearing, Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshal Robert Chipman, said a review found there was an “unhealthy mix of theological beliefs” in the service’s chaplaincy branch that conflicted with Australian Defence Force values. (15 Mar 2024)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

Around the Country

TAS: The Greens want to spend $30m over four years to increase the number of school psychologists and social workers, with the party saying there are not enough support services for young people. Greens Bass candidate Cecily Rosol said that she had worked as a councillor in educational settings and seen the need for extra psychologists and social workers. “Children and young people are facing increasing mental health issues, and too often, support services aren’t available for them when they need it. (12 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Mercury

TAS: Labor and Greens have committed to important LGBTQI law reforms, including a ban on anti-gay conversion practices in Tasmania if elected. The elections in Tasmania are scheduled to be held on March 23. “A Rebecca White Tasmanian Labor Government will build on Tasmania’s long-term support for LGBTIQA+ rights by introducing a range of measures including a dedicated Ministerial portfolio of Equality so the LGBTIQA+ community has a loud and powerful voice inside government,” Ella Haddad Shadow Minister for Equality said in a statement. (12 Mar 2024)
Read more at the Star Observer

VIC: In a sign that local governments are increasingly accepting that the recital of prayers in formal meetings is legally problematic, the Pyrenees Shire Council, in western Victoria, has removed Christian prayers from the opening of its meetings. Legal advice provided to the council at its February meeting said the inclusion of prayers was “possibly unlawful” and interfered with the “preservations of equality between those who hold religious beliefs and those who do not”. (12 Mar 2024)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

ACT: The NT and federal governments have announced an extra $1 billion will be spent to fully fund the Northern Territory's public schools, with a promise the most disadvantaged schools will be prioritised first. Under the funding agreement, to commence next school year, the Commonwealth will contribute an extra $737 million to the territory's education system between 2025 and 2029, while the NT government will spend an additional $350 million over the same period. (13 Mar 2024)
Read more at ABC News

NSW: Faith leaders welcomed exceptions for religious faith and practice in the New South Wales Government’s proposed conversion practices ban but warned that the laws may still negatively affect the faith community. Prayer, homilies, advice and religious teachings about sexuality would not be penalised under the laws, said NSW Attorney General Michael Daley, introducing the bill into parliament on 13 March. The bill seeks to ban practices such as electric shock therapy, physical violence and talking therapies aimed at changing or suppressing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, while making provisions for the expression and practice of religious belief and teachings. Also exempted are health practitioner services which are “clinically appropriate” and may include advice about the risks and impacts of gender transition treatments. (14 Mar 2024)
Read more at the Catholic Weekly

TAS: Labor says it wants to right the wrongs of history by compensating two groups of Tasmanians who suffered through “shameful” chapters of the state’s past. Ella Haddad said it was “long overdue” to set up redress schemes for Tasmanian women who were forced to give up their children for adoption, as well as gay people charged under the state’s former anti-homosexuality laws. The Justice and Corrections spokesperson said if elected next weekend, Labor would finally make good on recommendations made as far back as 2012, when former Premier Lara Giddings apologised to Tasmanian victims of forced adoptions. (15 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Mercury

NSW: NSW’s bill to ban gay conversion therapy will be back in parliament this week with eyes on the Liberals after a similar debate in Victoria created chaos within its state party. Victoria’s bill, particularly its implications for religious groups, exposed divisions within its Liberal Party in 2021, passed only after a marathon 12-hour debate during which two Liberal MPs broke ranks to oppose the legislation. Several religious groups have responded positively this week to the NSW bill’s exemptions for sermons and prayer, but some have concerns about how the ban would work in practice. (16 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Age

WA: One Nation MP Ben Dawkins will call on the Western Australian Legislative Assembly to support a motion that activist groups have described as “anti-trans”. When parliament sits next week Dawkins will put forward a motion calling on the Legislative Council to agree that a person’s biological sex is a fact, and that it is not scientifically possible to change your biological sex from one sex to another at a cellular level. The MP will also ask his parliamentary colleagues to agree to the statement that “in some settings, biological sex is more important than gender identity.” The motion will not create any legislation or change any laws, but if passed would be a reflection of the parliament’s thinking and values. (16 Mar 2024)
Read more at Out in Perth

Commentary and Analysis

Neil Foster: Queensland – new proposed discrimination law
"The Queensland government has released a draft of a proposed new discrimination law for public comment. The proposed Anti-Discrimination Bill 2024 will make some radical changes to Queensland law, and of interest here is that it will seriously impact religious freedom in that State. One of the ways that religious freedom is protected in Australia is through the inclusion in discrimination laws of “balancing clauses” (provisions that balance the right not to be discriminated against, with the important right of religious freedom). But the new Bill will dramatically narrow those clauses." (12 Mar 2024)
Read more at Law and Religion Australia

Alexandra Smith and Michael McGowan: Matt met 40 friends through gay conversion ‘therapy’. Only six survived.
"Former Pentecostal preacher Anthony Venn-Brown has spent decades supporting people who were told they were broken and needed fixing. But it was an email from a young gay man called Matt that really reinforced to Venn-Brown how dangerous – and deadly – gay conversion practices can be. Matt wrote to Venn-Brown to thank him for his autobiography, which told the story of a young boy from the Sutherland Shire who went to a church 'rehabilitation' centre in the late 1970s in the hope of being cured of his homosexuality. He ultimately came out as gay aged 40. Like Venn-Brown, Matt, 34, had also been through gay conversion programs. But this was the heartbreaking line for Venn-Brown in Matt’s email: 'I made a lot of friends in my years of conversion therapy. Out of 40, only six are still alive. One died naturally, the rest suicide.'" (13 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Age

Matthew Wade: Faith, privilege, and charity: Should donations to school building funds be tax deductible?
"Most fiercely contested among the recommendations is removing the ability to claim tax deductions for donations to school building funds. Non-government schools — commonly referred to as “independent” or “private” schools — lean heavily on such funds to support capital works. The vast majority of these schools are faith-based, offering choice for those seeking a specific cultural grounding in the education of their children. But should donations to their building funds be tax deductible? Do they deliver sufficient community benefit to justify subsequent losses in revenue to the public purse? Or are they further exacerbating an already egregious divide in the resourcing of public and private schools?" (14 Mar 2024)
Read more at ABC Religion & Ethics

Lyndsay Connors and Jim McMorrow: Australia’s school system: OOPs!
"Soon after coming to office, the Albanese Government recognised the need for a better and fairer education system and set up an independent panel to provide advice on reform. The opening quote comes from this panel’s report, Improving Outcomes for All. Even if it was no surprise to the Government, it must have been confronting to read a description of our school system so starkly at odds with Labor’s egalitarian tradition. There are growing signs that debate about how to deal with this is becoming inevitable. But this is one debate that governments in Australia try their hardest to avoid. Providing public funding across a hybrid system of public and non-government schools with distinctive secular and religious traditions is politically challenging and has traditionally proven to be politically divisive and, in many instances, toxic." (15 Mar 2024)
Read more at Pearls & Irritations

Chip Le Grand: Power and protest: Why Muslim leaders have left the table
"'We have seen the corrosion of social cohesion to the point where the Muslim community leadership made the decision to disengage, uninvite and non-attend events at a time when we really need to engage more. They felt there is no more point.' In Melbourne, the Muslim withdrawal can be traced back to a week before Christmas when the chair of Victoria’s Multicultural Commission, Vivienne Nguyen, and Stitt invited the commission’s Multi-faith Advisory Group, which includes representatives from the ICV and Victorian Board of Imams, to parliament to discuss the impact of the war on their communities. The meeting, moderated by Anglican Bishop Philip Huggins, was notable for the no-show by both major Islamic organisations. ... Religious and community leaders who have spent the past two decades building multi-faith dialogue to preserve social cohesion in difficult times are dismayed." (16 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Age

Trevor Cobbold: Fully funding public schools is critical for the government’s education agenda.
"The fact is that after adjusting for these accounting tricks, public schools are only funded at 87.6% of their SRS in 2024. This represents a funding shortfall of about $6.8 billion. Public schools will lose another $13 billion over the next five years if these accounting tricks are retained in the new agreements being negotiated between the Federal and state and territory governments. Unfortunately, this seems very likely because they are included in the new in-principle agreements between the Federal and Western Australian and Northern Territory Governments. It sets a precedent for the negotiations with other states. The Federal Minister for Education, Jason Clare, says the special allowances for the states will be retained in the current agreements and negotiated in the next round of agreements that will operate from 2030. So, the swindles will continue for at least another five years despite the promise of his predecessor in Opposition that a future Labor Government would end the 'accounting tricks'. Any claim that public schools are fully funded while the accounting tricks remain in new agreements will be a blatant lie." (16 Mar 2024)
Read more at Pearls & Irritations

Events and Campaigns

Equality Australia is running a petition asking NSW politicians to ban gay conversion laws.
View the petition at EA's website

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

Reason Australia are encouraging Victorians to email the state government asking to remove prayers from Victorian state parliament.
Read more at the Reason Australia website

Have you faced discrimination at a religious school or organisation? Equality Australia wants to know!

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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