Weekend Wrap for 2 June 2024

Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 2 June 2024, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.

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At the National Level

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is drafting new hate speech laws that will impose criminal penalties for serious instances of vilification based on a person’s race, sexuality, gender, disability or religion. Labor’s hate speech bill, which is still being finalised, will enhance the federal protections that exist for minority groups in Australia and stems from the government’s view that existing laws have not been enforced and are not effective. The new hate speech bill would strengthen existing laws while creating new offences carrying criminal rather than civil penalties, and is likely to cover deliberate acts that intend to incite violence or cause harm. (26 May 2024)
Read more at The Age

Labor’s hopes of passing two key bills with opposition support have taken a hit with a breakdown in negotiations on religious discrimination and the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, labelling its hate speech proposal a “trap”. Dutton addressed the Coalition party room on Tuesday for the first time since the government revealed it intends to create a new criminal offence to protect all attributes – including sex, sexuality, gender, race and religion – from vilification. Labor is still seeking opposition support for religious discrimination laws, which remove religious exemptions to sex discrimination laws and add an anti-vilification protection for religion. On Tuesday the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, met with his shadow counterpart, Michaelia Cash, to seek the opposition’s response to the bill, which it has seen but has not been released publicly. Accounts of the meeting are disputed, with both sides accusing the other of aggressive behaviour including raised voices, which both deny. (28 May 2024)
Read more at The Guardian

Equality Australia has called on the Federal Government to secure support in parliament for reforms that will protect staff and students in religious schools. “Every day the government delays is another day more harm is being done because religious schools are allowed to discriminate against staff and students who are gay, trans, pregnant, divorced or unmarried,” said CEO Anna Brown. “If the government fails to pass laws this term of government, they will have broken their election promise to our community and betrayed all the vulnerable students and teachers around Australia who will continue to lose their jobs or hide who they are,” she said. (30 May 2024)
Read more at CityHub

A parliamentary inquiry has called for Australia to adopt its first ever federal Human Rights Act, with MPs arguing it could provide safeguards against public policy disasters like the robodebt scheme. On Thursday the chair of the human rights committee, the Labor MP Josh Burns, tabled a report calling for new laws, including making it “unlawful” for a public authority to ignore human rights. The opposition immediately rejected the call, arguing the proposed act would put “excessive restrictions” on the freedoms of religion and expression, while putting too much weight on the right to non-discrimination. (30 May 2024)
Read more at The Guardian

Two of Australia’s most senior Catholic leaders have put forward a detailed proposal to the Albanese government to address significant concerns about its draft religious discrimination laws, warning that as the legislation stands faith groups “would go a long way backwards”. The three-pronged proposal, obtained by The Australian, was sent to the government and opposition earlier this month before major party negotiations on the draft laws broke down. Signed by Archbishop of Melbourne Peter A Comensoli, Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher and National Catholic Education Commission executive director Jacinta Collins, the proposal allows for the removal of section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act but says it should be replaced by more precise protections for religious schools and corporations. (31 May 2024)
Read more at The Australian

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, has warned the church will be forced to consider closing religious schools if the government strips them of the ability to preference the employment of teachers supportive of Christian teachings. Archbishop Fisher, one of the nation’s most senior Catholic leaders, declared more radical ­actions could be needed in ­response to the infringement of religious liberties, and raised the prospect of withdrawing educational services as happened in the landmark 1962 Goulburn school strike. He told The Weekend Australian on Friday the closure of Catholic schools should be considered “if we were told we were not allowed to take religion into account in who we employ, or in the ethos of our schools, which is quite a push at the moment”. (31 May 2024)
Read more at The Australian

Around the Country

VIC: The Liberal Party of Victoria has joined forces with religious clerics in demanding that the Victorian Parliament continue to impose exclusionary Christian worship, including on non-religious people and non-Christians. Liberal upper house member Evan Mulholland has placed a motion on the Notice Paper in support of faith leaders who wrote to all members of parliament earlier this month demanding that the parliament continue to observe prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, at the opening of each sitting day. (29 May 2024)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

TAS: A catholic primary school has condemned a letter sent earlier this month by the archbishop of Hobart, in which he railed against the "radicalised transgender lobby", same-sex marriage and the "woke movement". The letter from Archbishop Julian Porteous, dated May 2, was widely distributed among Tasmania's Catholic schools. Politicians and LGBTQIA+ advocates criticised it at the time as being transphobic, homophobic and draconian. On Wednesday, in a message to school parents, the advisory board of St Cuthbert's Catholic School, on Hobart's eastern shore, said it had sent a letter in response to the archbishop. The school also told parents it was "committed to developing an inclusive and accepting culture that is in harmony with the Catholic tradition". (30 May 2024)
Read more at ABC News

Commentary and Analysis

Amy Fallon: ‘Religious privilege’: Showdown looming between atheists and church groups over census question
"A battle is brewing between Catholic Church leaders and secular groups over the religion question in the Australian census. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is currently testing whether it would be better to ask “Does the person have a religion?” rather than “What is the person’s religion?”, after 9.8 million people (approximately 40% of responses) indicated in the 2021 count that they had no faith. The new question would have a mark box for both “No” and “Yes (specify religion)”. The bureau is also testing the use of a write-in box for respondents who wish to indicate more detail on their faith, rather than simply picking from a small list of common religions. ... The campaign to have the question changed comprises the Rationalist Society of Australia, the Atheist Foundation of Australia, the Sydney Atheists, Humanists Australia, the National Secular Lobby and Humanists Victoria. Last week the campaign wrote to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Andrew Leigh — the assistant minister with responsibility for the ABS — to stress the Catholic Church’s concerns were misplaced and would work against the interests of all users of census results." (27 May 2024)
Read more at Crikey

Bruce Chen, Julie Debeljak and Pamela Tate: Report finds ‘clear need’ for an Australian Human Rights Act. What difference would it make?
"This week, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights reported on its Inquiry into Australia’s Human Rights Framework. By majority, it recommended the federal government introduce an Australian Human Rights Act. ... The commission’s report described the current federal protection of human rights as “piecemeal” and “patchy”. Over the past decade, the government and parliament have been required to consider human rights in the process of making laws. ... The report made 17 recommendations, including the enactment of an Australian Human Rights Act that broadly reflects the commission’s model. The act would protect rights based on those under international treaties to which Australia has agreed to be bound. This includes the right to freedom of religion and a prohibition against advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred." (31 May 2024)
Read more at The Conversation

Michelle Grattan: Government's pursuit of a hate speech law could take it down another cul-de-sac
"The proposed law would cover speech that incites hatred in relation to sex, sexuality, gender, race, and religion. The government claims it would strengthen existing Commonwealth laws. We already have provisions that prohibit urging violence against groups and members of groups – in section 80.2A and 80.2B of the Criminal Code. New offences would be created. ... Although there have been calls for new anti-hate speech legislation from Jewish and Muslim communities for several years, the widening of social divisions in the wake of this war has given impetus to these calls." (31 May 2024)
Read more at ABC News

Events and Campaigns

Join Andrew West and a panel of experts for a special recording of ABC RN's The Religion & Ethics Report, on Thursday June 27, 2024. The focus of the program will be educating a diverse Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Catholic education system is the largest provider of learning outside of Australia's government schools — and enrolments into Catholic schools continue to grow. But within the schools themselves, over 40 per cent of students who attend are, in fact, not Catholic. So why do parents — religious and non-religious — decide to send their children to religious schools? The recording will take place from from 5:45pm to 7pm in the Civic Gallery in PHIVE, Parramatta Square.
Learn more and register at ABC Religion & Ethics

Griffith University researchers are exploring Registered Nurses’ and Nurse Practitioners’ willingness to participate in Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD).
Read more at The Lamp

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.

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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