Weekend Wrap for 5 November 2023

Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 5 November 2023, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.

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At the National Level

Catholic Church Insurance (CCI), the Church-owned insurance company that insures Catholic organisations, is struggling to keep up with demand for payouts relating to historical child sexual abuse. Established in 1911, it stopped issuing new policies in May but says it's still having financial difficulties. This means that Catholic organisations will need to find insurance elsewhere, but there are concerns they'll struggle to get cover for abuse claims and smaller organisations won't have the money to fund future claims. The organisation's board has proposed a legally binding "scheme of agreement". Under the scheme, if its financial situation worsens further, CCI won't pay abuse claims in full. How much of each claim would be paid would be determined by the scheme's manager, the embattled consulting giant PwC. (29 Oct 2023)
Read more at ABC News

The decision to abstain from a UN resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian truce between Israel and Hamas has fuelled frustrations with Labor in Australia’s Muslim community, according to the Federation of Islamic Councils. Chief executive Kamalle Dabboussy said some Muslim leaders were discussing blocking Labor MPs from mosques and community centres over the government’s support for Israel. It comes as tensions rise within Labor’s caucus over contradictory messaging on the Middle East conflict from senior cabinet ministers. Australia’s ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations, James Larsen, said Australia abstained because the resolution failed to recognise Hamas’ responsibility for the October 7 massacre of 1400 innocent Israelis. (29 Oct 2023)
Read more at The Age

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has criticised a Catholic school in Sydney that has implemented a rule banning students from attending its school formal with same-sex partners. Appearing on Sky News this week Senator Hanson added her voice to those calling for students to be allowed to take a partner of the same gender. The enthusiastic support from the One Nation leader was at odds with her previous comments and voting record on marriage equality and her stance on the laws which allow for religious-based schools to discriminate against students. (29 Oct 2023)
Read more at Out in Perth

The federal education department says it expects religious chaplains to be able to help “create a safe place” for students who want to discuss gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools. At Senate estimates last week, Greens Senator Penny Allman-Payne asked officials what actions the department had taken to provide support for students that were uncomfortable accessing help from religious chaplains. She noted that last year’s evaluation into the previous National School Chaplaincy Program highlighted the risk that the religious affiliation of chaplains put up barriers to some students, especially LGBTIQ students, seeking support. Meg Brighton, Deputy Secretary for Schools, said that changes to the program meant that wellbeing officers were now also available under the new National Student Wellbeing Program (NSWP). However, she said the department expected both chaplains and wellbeing officers to support students who want to have discussions on sexual identity and gender issues. (31 Oct 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

Abuse survivors and lawyers have called on the Catholic church and other institutions to cease using permanent stays to shield themselves from abuse claims and for legislative reform to reopen past cases where the tactic has been used. The tactic led to the permanent halting of survivors’ cases and lowball offers during settlement negotiations and was deployed despite the church’s own role in delaying and denying justice for decades, in some cases hiding complaints from law enforcement and destroying or deliberately not keeping records of abuse. The high court on Wednesday delivered a significant blow to the use of stays in historical abuse cases, finding they must only be allowed in rare and exceptional circumstances or risk bringing “the administration of justice into disrepute”. (2 Nov 2023)
Read more at The Guardian

Around the Country

NSW: Education minister Prue Car has ruled out any changes to the Special Religious Education (SRE) program, meaning children will continue to be segregated along religious lines and lose precious learning time in the state’s public schools. At a budget estimates hearing this week, Minister Car – also the Deputy Premier – confirmed that the Minns Labor government would not follow the lead of Victoria and move the scripture program to outside class time. The commitment to not reform SRE comes at a time when opposition to SRE is mounting among stakeholders in the public education sector and parents groups. (28 Oct 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

NSW: Some of Sydney’s biggest single-sex religious schools say LGBTQ pupils are welcome to bring a same-sex romantic date to their year 12 school formal after a low-fee Catholic school in the city’s south imposed a ban on same-sex partners. That decision by St Ursula’s in Kingsgrove sparked the launch of an online petition which has garnered almost 5000 signatures, while Premier Chris Minns and NSW Education Minister Prue Car, and her federal counterpart Jason Clare, have all spoken out against the ban. (30 Oct 2023)
Read more at The Age

ACT: A voluntary assisted dying bill tabled in the ACT Legislative Assembly has been introduced almost one year after the federal parliament lifted a 25-year-old ban preventing Australia's territories from legislating on voluntary assisted dying. Every state legislated on voluntary assisted dying during the time the federal veto hamstrung the ACT and Northern Territory. The ACT government has said the only silver lining to being among the last to legislate on voluntary assisted dying was the ability to assess what was working in other jurisdictions — and what was not. (31 Oct 2023)
Read more at ABC News

ACT: About 30 young people between the ages of 12 and 17 have changed the gender on their birth certificates in the ACT in a two-year period, raising questions about the role of parents in determining whether their children should transition. In 2020, ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury introduced legislation overhauling the births, deaths and marriage registration act to allow children under the age of 18 to officially change their gender identity and their name. (31 Oct 2023)
Read more at The Australian

ACT: Nurses, social workers and counsellors will for the first time be able to initiate discussions about voluntary assisted dying as an option for terminally ill people in the ACT, under what will be the most liberal framework in the country if enshrined into law. The legislation, which the Labor-Greens government introduced to the ACT parliament on Tuesday, also elevates the position of nurses to play a role in conducting assessments of a patient’s eligibility and administering the life-ending medication. The bill also departs from the rules in other jurisdictions by allowing patients to access the scheme without having a predicted time of death of 12 months or less. (1 Nov 2023)
Read more at The Australian

NSW: Twenty people, including the head of an atheist community group, are vying for the final four places on the New South Wales Faith Affairs Council, which is set to be dominated by male religious clerics. The head of Multicultural NSW, Joseph La Posta, revealed at a budget estimates hearing last week that 11 of the 12 faith leaders already appointed to the Minns government’s Faith Affairs Council are men. In his application, Sydney Atheists’ president Steve Marton, argued it would be “an injustice” to exclude representation of the non-religious community in New South Wales, given that the Faith Affairs Council would be influencing government policy on matters that affect all people, including atheists, humanists, non-religious and ex-religious people. (2 Nov 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

NSW: A Sydney all-girls Catholic school has reversed a ban on same-sex couples attending its year 12 formal, after receiving widespread criticism. Final year student Abbie Frankland started a change.org petition last week after discovering her school St Ursula's College Kingsgrove would not let her attend the event with a date unless they were male. The petition, which described the school's policy as "discriminatory", garnered almost 5,000 signatures before it was closed. (3 Nov 2023)
Read more at SBS News

NSW: The New South Wales attorney general, Michael Daley, has ordered an urgent briefing on the landmark high court decision over the Catholic church’s tactics in abuse cases. The high court on Wednesday delivered a damning judgment against the church over its use of permanent stays to permanently halt survivors’ claims, finding that such a measure should only be used as a last resort. The church and other powerful institutions have been using stays routinely where perpetrators have died, or where other witnesses or documentary evidence do not exist, allowing it to defeat active claims before courts or low-ball survivors during settlement negotiations. (3 Nov 2023)
Read more at The Guardian

Commentary and Analysis

Donna Lu and Melissa Davey: Kimberly’s former partner sought help for voluntary assisted dying at a Catholic hospital only to be told ‘I can’t help you’
"Complicating the matter is that Calvary Bethlehem, a public hospital specialising in palliative care, is Victoria’s largest health provider for people living with MND. But because it is a Catholic institution, it does not provide voluntary assisted dying. Catholic Health Australia’s code of ethics does not permit any action or omission that 'causes death with the purpose of eliminating all suffering'. 'Government-funded care providers shouldn’t be able to pick and choose what types of healthcare services they provide based on religion,' Kimberly says. 'It’s a form of caregiving, voluntary assisted dying – it’s a healthcare option and it’s not even on the table.'" (29 Oct 2023)
Read more at The Guardian

Matt Barker: Justice for Australian victims of child sexual abuse is being blocked by a legal tactic – and it must stop
"Permanent stays are a feature of our legal system. They are supposed to be used in only the most 'exceptional' circumstances where proceeding with a trial would 'bring the administration of justice into disrepute'. Basically, if the courts decide that a fair trial cannot be held for some reason, they can permanently stay a case. That is the end of the line for that case. In recent years, organisations that are the subject of claims related to historical child sexual abuse have latched on to this legal remedy as a way of avoiding these claims. What is meant to be an 'exceptional' remedy is being applied for regularly in the context of historical child sexual abuse claims. My own case is illustrative of how these applications can be used by organisations to avoid meeting claimants in court." (1 Nov 2023)
Read more at The Guardian

Louise Milligan: A High Court case gives one woman a green light to sue the Catholic Church — and hope to thousands of sexual abuse survivors
"On Wednesday, three of five justices of the High Court of Australia found that reasoning was wrong, overturning a decision of the NSW Court of Appeal and rejecting a string of lower court precedents that granted permanent stays to stop victims from suing institutions. 'The Court of Appeal was wrong to conclude that there could be no fair trial of these proceedings,' Chief Justice Kiefel and Justices Gageler and Jagot found in their majority judgment. The term 'landmark case' gets bandied around a lot, but the importance of GLJ v The Trustees of the Diocese of Lismore to the survivor community cannot be overstated." (1 Nov 2023)
Read more at ABC News

The Canberra Times (Editorial): ACT voluntary assisted dying bill leads Australia
"The ACT's voluntary assisted dying legislation is among the most considered introduced by an Australian jurisdiction to date. It has been informed both by a rigorous and public consultation process and a careful examination of the laws adopted by other states. As a result it will, once passed, give Canberrans access to the most mature and arguably easiest to negotiate, voluntary assisted dying framework anywhere in the country." (2 Nov 2023)
Read more at The Canberra Times

Brian Greig: The Cook Government is going to betray the LGBTQIA+ community, but, I hope I’m wrong
"... change was always hamstrung by the evangelical wing of the Liberal Party, the ALP’s Catholic faction and a malapportioned Upper House which blocked reforms. As a result, WA still has some of the worst anti-LGBTIQA+ laws in Australia. Teachers and students in publicly funded faith schools can be refused employment and enrolment, sacked and expelled. The same discrimination also ripples through faith-based services such as employment agencies, aged care and charities. There are no anti-vilification laws to protect LGBTIQA+ people from incitement to hatred. People who are transgender are not fully covered by anti-discrimination laws and must navigate the discredited gender reassignment board to secure identity documents. Worst of all, there is no ban on medical or religious 'gay conversion therapy', which the Australian Medical Association has denounced as dangerous and harmful. Recent studies find one in 20 LGBTIQA+ people have been subject to conversion quackery and many remain traumatised by it." (2 Nov 2023)
Read more at The West Australian

Events and Campaigns

The Secularism Australia Conference has launched a petition on the Parliament House website requesting the House of Representatives modernise its Standing Orders and replace daily Christian prayers with a more appropriate practice.
View and sign the petition on the APH 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 inaugural Secularism Australia Conference will be held in Sydney on 2 December 2023.
Learn more at the Secularism Australia website

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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