Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 24 September 2023, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.
The NSL is a proud sponsor of the first Secularism Australia Conference, to be held on 2nd December 2023 in Sydney. Visit the conference website to find out more about the speakers and get your tickets at an early-bird rate until 7th October!
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At the National Level
Australia continues to significantly underperform against most OECD countries when it comes to investing in public education, according to new data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD’s latest ‘Education at a Glance’ report, released on Wednesday 13 September 2023, found Australia spends just 1.5% of total government expenditure on upper secondary school education, 28.6% lower than the OECD average of 2.1%. This is despite spending more than twice as much as the OECD average on funding private schools. (15 Sep 2023)
Read more at The Educator
Catholics and Muslims have raised the alarm about the potential for Labor’s new online misinformation laws to restrain the teaching of religious doctrine on issues such as euthanasia. The powerful Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is pushing to make sure a person expressing sincere religious beliefs cannot be captured under a draft bill that has been criticised by the Coalition, human rights commission, civil liberties groups and top legal minds. The law, proposed by Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, would give the Australian Communications and Media Authority power to fine social media giants millions of dollars for misinformation and content it deems harmful. (19 Sep 2023)
Read more at The Age
Around the Country
NSW: Sydney’s LGBT community is demanding Premier Chris Minns keeps his promise to set up a voice-like advisory council for gay and trans people, after he set up a similar body for religious leaders who have promised to use it to push Labor on policy priorities.
The state government last week announced the establishment of a “milestone” NSW Faith Affairs Council to advise ministers on policy that could affect religious communities, such as – one faith leader suggested – changes to voluntarily-assisted dying or conversion practices. LGBT groups, although welcoming the move to give religious figures a forum, want the government to ensure a similar olive branch will be extended to them. (18 Sep 2023)
Read more at The Australian
WA: An advocate for accountability within the Catholic Church has commented on a Vatican-led investigation into allegations of sexual and professional misconduct by the long-serving Catholic Bishop of Broome, Christopher Saunders, saying it was common for these "Vos Estis" investigations to be shrouded in secrecy. Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of a website called Bishop Accountability, said this kind of internal investigation is "a very secretive process" and that this was "the Vatican reasserting control." The investigation, carried out by two former WA police detectives, has not been released in full by the Vatican. (19 Sep 2023)
Read more at ABC News
NSW: The state Labor government appears to have excluded non-religious citizens on the grounds of belief from a new advisory body that will influence government policy on a wide range of matters. Although multicultural minister Steve Kamper had previously stated that he would ensure that “a diversity of viewpoints” were represented on the new Faith Affairs Council, the government this month has placed a number of religious requirements for the nomination process. Nominations for membership are subject to a number of religious requirements, including “endorsement by their respective religious organisations” and endorsement by two other religious communities, a measure that appears designed to block members from the fastest section of the community – non-religious people, including atheists, humanists and ex-religionists – from participating. (19 Sep 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia
WA: Abortion has been removed from Western Australia’s criminal code and will be easier to access under sweeping reforms passed by the state parliament. The laws passed 25 votes to six after a conscience vote in the upper house on Wednesday. Women’s Interests Minister Sue Ellery said the laws were about treating access to abortion care the same way as access to other forms of medical care. “The laws are about removing barriers to access, particularly for women who live outside the metropolitan centre or outside regional centres,” she said. (21 Sep 2023)
Read more at The Age
QLD: More people have died in the first six months of Queensland‘s voluntary assisted dying scheme than any other state, but doctors warn “unfair” hurdles remain for the terminally ill in regional areas. By the end of the year, all of Australia’s six states will be operating VAD programs, with another 8 million people to be covered by euthanasia laws when the NSW scheme starts on November 28. But despite every state in the federation now embracing right-to-die programs, commonwealth laws still ban doctors using telehealth for VAD appointments. The Philip Nitschke-era laws threaten doctors with a $313,000 fine for “inciting or counselling” suicide via a carriage service. (23 Sep 2023)
Read more at The Australian
Commentary and Analysis
Melissa Davey and Donna Lu: ‘It was cruel’: dying patient denied euthanasia in Catholic-run hospital
"Sally lived in Victoria, where legislation allows those with neurodegenerative conditions such as motor neurone disease access to voluntary assisted dying. But her advocates say none of the doctors who diagnosed and treated her would provide the necessary paperwork for her to access euthanasia, nor would they refer her to someone who would. Sally’s calls and emails to the hospital, an institution that objected to euthanasia, elicited promises of a response at a later date that never came. ... Doctors and legal experts who spoke to Guardian Australia have called for voluntary assisted dying laws, which differ between the states and territories, to be nationalised and made more humane so that institutional objection does not lead to delays in care, or to patients dying in places they do not feel comfortable. Depending on where someone lives, the catchment area they fall into may mean that the only local palliative care service is run by a Catholic organisation, which all have different policies about how they treat euthanasia. Under Catholic Health Australia’s code of ethics, any action or omission that 'causes death with the purpose of eliminating all suffering' is not permissible." (22 Sep 2023)
Read more at The Guardian
Events and Campaigns
At an upcoming RSA Webinar on 27 September, Dr Rebecca Banham, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University of Tasmania, will share insights into her research on the media’s responses to non-religion in Australia, especially against the backdrop of increasing challenge to historical Christian privilege.
Register your interest here
The inaugural Secularism Australia Conference will be held in Sydney on 2 December 2023. Early-bird tickets are on sale until 7 October.
Learn more at the Secularism Australia website
Equality Australia are running a petition calling on the Federal Government and all remaining states and territories to remove unnecessary legal carve-outs for religious schools and organisations and ensure laws protect everyone equally.
Read and sign the petition at Equality Australia
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.