Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Australian churches and their institutions are generally legally free to hire and fire on religious grounds regardless of anti-discrimination law
The article below by Brian Morris deplores that. It is said to be based on a Religious Freedom Review submission by NSW barrister, Dean Stretton. Something has got lost along the way, however, as the article is founded on a belief that is wrong at law. He says "the constitution was framed on secular principles, with the foundational concept of separation between Church and State."
That is utter rubbish. The separation of church and State is not even in the American constitution, though it has been read into the anti-establishment clause of the 1st amendment. But nothing like that exists in the Australian case because our head of State, the Queen, is also head of the Church of England. In her person, the Queen embodies both the church and the State. Try to split that up! So the claim that Australia should be wholly secular is without legal foundation. It is just the preference of the writer
And in the end it all comes down to politics. The churches believe that their mission requires certain freedoms from restrictions and they have the political heft to ensure that they get those freedoms from the politicians. Enough people believe in freedom of religion to ensure that the politicians go along with it.
Australians are for the greatest part happily secular but they are not dogmatic about it. They are happy for AustrAlia to be only partly secular. "One size fits all" is a great Leftist prescription in the simple-minded tradition of Procrustes but not everybody is trapped in that rigid mindset. They can allow exceptions to even a generally good rule where circumstances seem to warrant it.
Quite remarkably, a public majority will be unaware of the likely impact of Prime Minister Turnbull's decision to empower the Religious Freedom Review. Few will grasp its social implications. Some may recall the PM appointing Philip Ruddock to head an ‘expert panel' to take public submissions on ‘religious freedom' — and to identify freedoms believed “lost" when same-sex marriage was legalised.
On 31st March, Ruddock will recommend to parliament measures to restore those “lost" freedoms.
For most, this rather solemn-sounding review will be seen simply as one more political committee — with Ruddock sifting through a few submissions to appease Christians, Muslims, and other faiths who continue to feel aggrieved about gay marriage.
But fundamentalists of all faiths see this as a rare opportunity to win new concessions. One has only to view the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) website, with its 15-point rallying cry for devout Christians to swamp the Review with submissions.
Indisputably, religion asserts its current raft of freedoms through exclusive exemptions from Australian law. They are privileges not accessible to the 78 per cent of citizens who believe the constitution was framed on secular principles, with the foundational concept of separation between Church and State.
Under federal law, protection of ‘religious freedom' and legal exemptions include: the Fair Work Act; Migration Act; Age Discrimination Act; Sex Discrimination Act; Evidence Act; and Section 116 of the Constitution. And religions pay no tax under the Charities Act and Tax Act — based on the sole criterion of “Advancing Religion." International and State laws double this list of entitlements to all faiths!
Here's the problem. Religion is now, collectively, one of the largest employers in the nation. Private religious schools currently enrol close to 40 per cent of all children — that alone is a huge workforce. Include, too, all the private hospitals, aged care facilities, employment agencies, charities, shelters, and a raft of commercial enterprises, and the total number of religious employees is staggering.
Church institutions are already free to “hire and fire" on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and marital status. Without question, submissions to the Ruddock Review will call for further entitlements to discriminate in employment in favour of the faithful — the Australian Christian Lobby website makes that clear. The truth is that most of the duties performed are not religious in nature — they are secular.
Ironically, these religious institutions will argue vigorously that it should be illegal to discriminate against them — because of their religious beliefs — but in the same breath insist they should be given further employment entitlements to discriminate against people who do not share those beliefs!
Certainly, it is fair to say many roles within private religious enterprises require training suitable to their ‘mission'. Those engaged in overt religious practice, in pastoral care, theological positions, and for advocacy, will need to meet church criteria. But for the majority of ‘secular' positions, employment opportunities should not be barred to those who do not meet their strict standards of biblical faith.
It would be wrong for the Religious Freedom Review to extend faith-based exemptions for secular positions in education, health or social services. In fact, exemptions should be wound back for all ‘public services' run by religious organisations.
These exemptions are not a matter of genuine religious freedom, because there is no religious law or doctrine that requires its followers to run education, health or social service facilities! Our constitution rejects a ‘religious test' for public office; why not also for secular roles in ‘publicly funded' religious enterprises?
If religious adherents cannot follow laws that apply to all other citizens — and without privileged legal exemptions — they should consider withdrawing from those activities and focus solely on their beliefs and religious worship. One clear example is private religious schools which are free to discriminate against secular employees, while the institutions are publicly funded to the tune of $12.8b.
Religious exemptions undermine our secular constitution; they weaken the basic rule of law that must apply to all people; and they deny the non-religious the right to their own beliefs. Why do we give exclusive entitlements to people of faith when all religion is purely a matter choice? Believers are not compelled to believe — particularly when “doubt" is uppermost in the minds of many. Every religion cannot, by pure logic, be equally true. It raises questions for people of faith to contemplate.
Special entitlements, based on arbitrary faith, are necessarily problematic. Such privileges should be equal to all — or to none. However, there seems little doubt the Ruddock Review will make a number of recommendations to parliament, to rectify the perception of “lost" freedoms.
We can only trust parliament does not acquiesce to further religious entitlements. Indeed, the process needs to be reversed — specifically for non-theological positions in faith-based institutions funded by taxpayers. The level of religious privilege and authority is already inappropriately high — in a nation that claims to be a secular democracy.
Winning a seat in the Senate for a political party, then dumping that political party and either going it solo or joining another party, undermines our parliamentary system, writes Ross Hamilton.
It used to be said that it was harder to get out of the Australian cricket team than it was to get in there. While that may no longer be the case for our cricketers, it is clearly is with our politicians.
Once an individual gets their backside on a red or green leather seat in Parliament House, they generally get to stay there no matter what. They then get to pick and choose who they will represent, with the result of elections simply ignored. This makes a complete farce of our electoral process and it must change. But it won't.
An individual seeks election for a specific political party unless they are an independent from the outset. The Senate results from the 2016 election clearly demonstrate that the majority of Australians vote above the line for party, not the individual.
Voters have every right to expect to continue to be represented by the party that won those positions. But once someone gets into the Senate or House of Representatives, the electorate no longer matters.
When Cory Bernadi quit the Liberal Party, he no longer had the backing of the proportion of the SA vote won by the Liberals. Only approximately 2,000 South Australians had voted for him as an individual. Yet he retained his Senate seat despite not having enough votes to win so much as a part-time position as a Parliamentary shoeshine boy.
Lucy Gichuhi stood for election as Senator in 2016, representing the Family First party in South Australia but was unsuccessful. But after Bob Day lost his senate position on constitutional grounds, Gichuhi was the next cab off the rank on the list of Family First candidates after countback, becoming Senator Gichuhi by default.
Except several weeks later the Family First party no longer even existed as Day had merged it with Bernardi's Australian Conservatives.
So where did that leave the South Australians who voted for the Family First party that no longer existed? What gave Gichuhi the right to then be an Independent Senator when only obtaining 152 votes of her own?
Despite never elected as a Liberal or National, Gichuhi now gets to join the ranks of LNP Senators, becoming an unelected part of the ruling conglomerate. And the outrage of LNP Members and Senators over Bernadi remaining in the Senate after quitting his party, was strangely absent when it was to their advantage to permit Gichuhi to similarly ignore the electorate.
Matters are even more ludicrous when you look at the One Nation situation. Malcolm Roberts also owed his Senate seat entirely to the party's vote – only 77 people voted for him as an individual. But after the High Court gave Roberts his marching orders, the next eligible person on the One Nation list was Fraser Anning, who only received 19 votes.
Yet the moment Anning appeared in the Senate, he announced he had quit One Nation. So now we have someone holding a seat in the Senate with a grand total of 0.0001% of the required quota. In other words, he failed to obtain 99.999% of the quota but still has a Senate seat.
Whether you love or hate One Nation, and I despise them, it cannot be denied that they legitimately won three Senate positions in Queensland. Yet that electoral result was tossed out with last weekend's fish and chip wrappers. But One Nation also benefitted by just such ship jumping when Steve Dickson quit the LNP to join ON and give them a parliamentary seat in Queensland that was never won at the ballot box.
We never seem to be far from political hypocrisy.
The Australian Electoral Commission considered this overall situation after Meg Lees quit the Australian Democrats in 2002 to continue as an unelected Independent. But the AEC position eventually was to recommend doing nothing, suggesting that trying to control these matters by legislation is too difficult. What rubbish.
Legislation is needed to make the position very clear – if you decide to quit your party or change parties, then you lose your seat with by-elections required for the House of Representatives and the next eligible name taken from the electoral list for the Senate. If a political party suddenly disappears then the same process should replace all Members and Senators of that party. This also needs to be enacted at both Federal and State-Territory levels.
Members and Senators cannot continue to decide who or what they want to be part of, after an election. And it will only be through such remedial action that elections can have any hope of regaining any integrity and honesty. As matters currently stand, elections are becoming increasingly meaningless.
Unfortunately, the reality is that no political party in Australia would support any such change. Why? Because, as just proven by the hypocrisy of the Gichuhi matter, the major parties have too much to gain by ignoring the electorate.
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
And try a coverup too. Greenie woman below is pissed
A young Greens volunteer was sexually assaulted in Canberra. That's scandalous enough, but the party's response to the assault has added to the injury. Former Greens candidate Christina Hobbs weighs into the debate, in response to a staggering OpEd by party founder Bob Brown.
This week I've realised that in the aftermath of #MeToo, disappointment packs a particular punch when it is your hero who lands the blow.
Bob Brown has been an inspiration for much of my life. It is our common shared values of social justice and environmental sustainability that led me into a career with the United Nations. It is his legacy that inspired my first non-violent civil disobedience to protect the Liverpool Plains. I joined the party he founded, and in 2016 I represented the Greens as the ACT Senate Candidate.
It is with huge sadness therefore to see how Bob has chosen to publicly respond to a story written by the survivor of a sexual assault, seeking to use his clout to discredit and diminish her voice, and failing to recognise the immense courage it took her to speak out.
In an article printed last month in The Saturday Paper, a woman described how she was sexually assaulted by a senior Greens volunteer after leaving an election night party in 2016.
She believes the Greens failed her, and so do I. It should be a moment for radical introspection. Yet Bob began his response to the paper by referring to her as an “anonymous correspondent", and described her criticism of the Greens as “anonymous pillorying".
Bob may not know her identity, but I do. She was one of a number of young women who became the glue of the campaign. She is a hard working, smart, talented and effective campaigner for our movement, passionate about progressive values.
The author is not an anonymous agitator hiding in the shadows; she is a brave survivor using an alias so that this incident is not the first story that future employers, future partners or even future children read about when her name is searched online.
Bob's letter descends into classic victim blaming, stating that she should have “immediately reported" this assault to the police, but “inexplicably" did not do so for many months. I am shocked that Bob does not recognise how difficult it is for survivors to report what has happened to them. Instead of saluting her courage and bravery in seeking justice, he has chosen to blame and criticise her.
This woman did go to the authorities, and it appears the police have decided not to press charges. Bob appears shocked by this, even though you would imagine that the former leader of Australia's most progressive political party would know how hard it is to prosecute this type of case.
In his response, he says the police “should re-open their investigation of what reads as an open-and-shut case of rape".
This kind of comment appears to be an attempt to shift the focus to the police as opposed to scrutinising the failures of the party itself to prevent and respond to such an incident. He says the Greens “could not and should not have been expected to substitute for the criminal justice system handling such a heinous crime".
The young woman in question is not asking the ACT Greens to “substitute" the justice system, and it is absurd to suggest this. She does however believe that the response of the party to her earlier reports of harassment, prior to the assault, fell on deaf ears. She considers that the assault was not properly followed up when she did report it, and that the Greens haven't fully acknowledged failings or offered her a genuine apology.
In part, this is because she disputes ACT Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury's current public account of how the matter was handled.
Volunteers are generally entitled to the same protections as employees under workplace health and safety, and anti-discrimination laws. There are also laws that mean that, in certain situations, organisations can be held legally responsible for the actions of volunteers.
If the ACT Greens had stronger processes and guidelines in place before the election began; if senior officials and staff had been trained on strategies for creating safe workspaces; and if those in oversight positions had been empowered to properly monitor the campaign, this assault may never have happened.
Looking back, I also should have done more to raise issues relating to culture in the early months of the campaign.
If nothing is clearer it is that progressive political ideology is not enough to protect women. Rape is the consequence of unbalanced power. If checks and balances to power are not in place to support all employees or volunteers to thrive, then the #MeToo movement has shown us that sexual assault and harassment will prevail no matter what sector of our society.
As a young woman, our volunteer has never held the power in this story, and following Bob's letter in The Saturday Paper, even less so.
Publicly detailing a sexual assault is incredibly brave. As a powerful man in the progressive movement, Bob could have used his influence to listen, to understand, and to help mediate. This could be a powerful moment for the Greens to say, “Yes #UsToo".
Instead, Bob has used his clout to back the words of another powerful man – a Greens Minister who can hold his own.
There is no shame in admitting that we can and must do better. Our membership demands it. The ACT Greens, including Minister Rattenbury, have stated that they are already working on it.
Will our party go far enough in order for this young woman to gain closure? I don't know. But if progressive organisations cannot be leaders in protecting and promoting women in the workplace, then we will lose authority to advocate on fundamental issues of workers rights, gender equality and justice.
The elected leaders of the Australian Greens should immediately distance themselves from Bob's remarks. The nation's most progressive political party must ensure such an incident never occurs again.