Church unrepentant over confession stance amid child protection debate

Church unrepentant over confession stance amid child protection debate

Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli began discussions with authorities a year ago about child safety and the principles of confession, despite his claim this week that the church was not properly consulted on new laws.

In a missive to churchgoers in the archdiocese dated August 21, 2018, he wrote: “I have begun conversations with our public authorities about finding a way in which these two principles can be upheld, for the sake of the safety of all.”

The Archbishop this week said he was “surprised” not to have been consulted about a new law aimed at forcing priests to report to authorities information about child sex abuse disclosed during the rite of confession.

The church’s avowed refusal to comply with the new law and break the seal of confession in such circumstances – which Archbishop Comensoli has said he would rather go to jail than do – has provoked anger among many in the general community.

It has also led to increasing calls from priests and lay Catholics to change the rules of confession.

The Archbishop this week said he was “surprised” not to have been consulted about a new law aimed at forcing priests to report to authorities information about child sex abuse disclosed during the rite of confession.

The church’s avowed refusal to comply with the new law and break the seal of confession in such circumstances – which Archbishop Comensoli has said he would rather go to jail than do – has provoked anger among many in the general community.

It has also led to increasing calls from priests and lay Catholics to change the rules of confession.

The archbishop, who has just marked his first year in the job, has pushed back further against the legislation in an opinion piece in the The Age on Saturday, in which he says the current draft of the bill is “unworkable” and shows a lack of understanding about the act of confession, particularly the anonymity of penitents.

“Violating the seal of confession does not address any reform needed to protect children from abuse in institutions and other contexts, which is the fundamental point of the royal commission,” Archbishop Comensoli writes.

The debate also sits against the backdrop of a decision due on Wednesday in the appeal by Cardinal George Pell against his conviction for sexually abusing two choirboys while he was Melbourne Archbishop during the 1990s.

Hours after the proposed legislation was introduced into Parliament this week, the archdiocese said it had not been consulted on it by the Victorian government as promised.

“Archbishop Comensoli ... has been surprised that despite commitments made by the Premier in August 2018, the Catholic community has not been afforded the opportunity to view and provide comment on the draft Bill prior to its public release.”

That claim was rejected by Premier Daniel Andrews, who said on Thursday that he met the archbishop “some time ago” and discussed the issue.

Asked by The Age about his letter to the faithful, the archbishop said: "Unfortunately the Catholic Church in Melbourne did not receive a copy of the draft Children Protection Amendment Bill prior to its public release and has been denied the opportunity to provide feedback."

He said when he met Mr Andrews on August 23, 2018, the Premier advised that a copy of the draft bill would be shared in advance of it being tabled.

The archdiocese learnt via the Department of Health and Human Services on July 19 that amendments would be made and information sessions would follow, but no formal process for feedback from religious groups was enacted.

The Archbishop said he sought a further meeting last week with the Premier, on August 8, but that the request was declined.

The Children Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 will see people in religious ministries added to the list of professions mandated to report any knowledge of child abuse, and removes any exemption for disclosures about abuse made during religious confession. Anyone found to have failed to do so faces up to three years in prison.

The amendment follows a recommendation in the 2017 final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse that clergy and confession no longer be exempt from mandatory reporting. The Northern Territory and South Australia have introduced mandatory reporting laws to which clergy are subject, and Western Australia and Tasmania have committed to doing so.

Father Des Dwyer, a priest at Hawthorn’s Immaculate Conception and St Joseph's churches, says confession needs to be changed.

“Confession needs to be reconfigured. People aren’t finding meaning in confession any more,” he said.

Of his 900 parishioners, he estimated that around 10 took part in confession regularly. “Today we need to find new forms for communicating, for enabling our people to experience God’s blessing … it needs to be done.”

Fr Nicholas Pearce, deputy vocational director for the Melbourne Archdiocese and one of Victoria's youngest priests, described the sacrament of confession and absolution as an integral part of the Catholic faith.

He said confessional booths in churches had been retro-fitted to comply with regulations around working with children, so that children were safe but their anonymity was still preserved.

Fr Pearce, the parish administrator at Holy Family in Mount Waverley, said there was no one “more committed to wiping out the scourge [of abuse] from our church” than current priests, but he did not think the new legislation would provide further protection for children.

“I don’t think the removal of the seal of the confession will make children any safer.”

Catholics for Renewal, one of more than a dozen groups of lay people in Australia calling for reforms, has put forward dozens of recommendations that it plans to raise at the landmark 2020 meeting of the church’s Plenary Council, its first gathering since the sweeping reforms of the second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

Its recommendations include that the Plenary Council “carefully examine the seal of confession as it currently operates ... with a view to maintaining its essential purpose while conforming to civil laws requiring reporting knowledge of child sexual abusers”.

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/church-unrepentant-over-conf...

Coalition pressured to include protections for religious institutions in discrimination bill

The Coalition is under pressure from faith groups to include protections for institutions in its proposed religious discrimination bill, which is expected to go to cabinet next week.

But LGBTQI advocates say the government should resist the push, saying it would create an “extremely unorthodox” piece of legislation that differed from traditional anti-discrimination laws.

The attorney general, Christian Porter, and the prime minister, Scott Morrison, have been consulting with church groups about the proposed new laws, which were promised before the election in response to a review conducted by former MP Philip Ruddock.

Morrison quietly met with 21 leaders of Australia’s key religions in Sydney last week, promising not to rush the new laws, while assuring them he was working towards securing a “workable balance” between religious freedom and competing rights.

Conservatives agitate for religious freedom law but Coalition voters not on board – Essential poll
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Guardian Australia understands Porter will take legislation to cabinet next week, after which the government is expected to release an exposure draft of the bill and begin negotiations with the Labor party.

A public consultation period is also expected.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Dan Flynn said his group had been pushing for the government to include specific protections to ensure employment contracts could not impinge on the religious expression of employees, and said institutions also needed to be protected.

“We want more than religious belief to be protected, we are looking at religious expression and activity,” Flynn told Guardian Australia. “We are particularly concerned about what employees say outside of their employment and we think that an employer should only be able to restrict religious freedom in the workplace where it is absolutely necessary in the workplace.”

Flynn said he wanted to see explicit protections for organisations in the bill, giving the example of a church that may be denied the hiring of a school hall because of its views on traditional marriage.

“The workplace is a fair part of our focus, but we have also been putting the case that it shouldn’t just be individuals that are protected, but also entities as well.”

Equality Australia’s chief executive, Anna Brown, said the organisation was looking forward to seeing the detail of the legislation, but said she was concerned the new laws could see workplace protections for minority groups watered down.

“Of course people are already free to have water cooler conversations about all sorts of things including their religious views, but it has long been accepted that Australian workplaces need to be able to maintain safe and inclusive workplaces for all of their employees,” she said. “It’s illegal, for example, to sexually harass or bully someone even if it’s at a water cooler.

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“We need to ensure that protections of people of faith operate as a shield and don’t allow them to be treated unfairly because of their beliefs, but at the same time we can’t punch a hole in other safety and discrimination laws that operate to allow workplaces to be harmonious.”

Brown said that discrimination laws across the country protected people from the harmful effects of discrimination and gave individuals a cause of action to complain about unfair treatment, but that this did not apply to organisations.

“Organisations have never been protected under discrimination laws and that would be, to use Christian Porter’s words, extremely unorthodox and inappropriate for a religious discrimination act to protect religious organisations,” she said.

“It would be extremely unorthodox for the religious discrimination bill to include provisions to protect organisations or religious institutions given the historical focus of discrimination law in protecting the rights and dignity of individuals.”

Brown said she supported the release of an exposure draft to allow all interested groups to comment on the legislation and to test the draft provisions before they went to parliament.

Michael Kellahan, the head of Christian legal thinktank Freedom for Faith, told Guardian Australia that religious discrimination was different to other forms of discrimination because it was inherently about people who “gathered together.”

“That isn’t a tricky legal argument, it’s the very nature of religious belief that people don’t have it in isolation,” he said. “It is not just an individual right, it is actually a right to gather with others, it is a right to teach children it’s a right to gather on the basis of belief.”

He said that even though there was a push from conservatives for a broader religious freedom act, a religious discrimination act that captured religious organisations would be a welcome “first step”.

“But it would be a strange result if this first piece of legislation dealt just with an individual’s rights divorced from institutional kinds of rights,” he said.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/aug/15/coalition-pressur...

Premier hits back over Catholic claims about confession consultation

Premier Daniel Andrews has lashed out at the Catholic Church over claims it was not consulted about proposed laws forcing priests to report child abuse disclosed in confessionals.

As tensions between church and state deepen, Mr Andrews insisted he met with Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli and discussed the planned laws that would result in priests facing jail time if they refused to tell authorities about admissions of abuse revealed in confessionals.

On Wednesday evening, Archbishop Comensoli said that the Catholic community had "not been afforded the opportunity to view and provide comment on the draft bill prior to its public release", despite commitments made by the Premier last year.

On Thursday morning, Mr Andrews, a practising Catholic, returned serve.

"I see the Archbishop from time to time. I had a meeting with him some time ago and we discussed this issue," he said.

"He’s completely clear or at least he should be. When I make promises I keep them. That’s not news. It shouldn’t be news to the Archbishop."

Under the mandatory reporting laws introduced into Parliament on Wednesday, priests could be jailed for up to three years for flouting mandatory reporting rules, which currently apply to professions including teachers, medical practitioners and police.

The opposition went to the November election with a similar policy, which is being reviewed along with its entire election-losing platform.

While Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien says he expects everyone, including the church, to obey state laws, he also wants a guarantee that religious freedom won't be compromised.

"Child safety is paramount," Mr O'Brien, who is also Catholic, told reporters at Parliament.

"What I do want to see though, is have the laws that are proposed been drafted in a way which achieves that end and do they not unnecessarily go and infringe on other religious freedoms."

Mr Andrews attacked Mr O'Brien for a "disgraceful" about-turn.

"No religion, no church, no person, no priest, no politician is free to do anything other than put the safety of our kids first," Mr Andrews said.

"This was his policy, for heaven's sake, only a few months ago."

Archbishop Comensoli says he supports mandatory reporting, but is also prepared to go to jail rather than break the confessional seal.

"Confession is a religious encounter of a deeply personal nature. It deserves confidentiality," he said on Wednesday.

"Confession doesn't place people above the law. Priests should be mandatory reporters, but in a similar way to protections to the lawyer/client relationship and protection for journalists' sources."

Clergy are already subject to mandatory reporting laws in South Australia and the Northern Territory, while Western Australia and Tasmania have announced plans to compel religious leaders to disclose knowledge of abuse.

Victoria's reforms will also allow survivors of institutional abuse to apply to the Supreme Court to overturn "unfair" compensation settlements previously signed with churches.

The Age has contacted the Catholic Church for comment.

Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh promised similar changes to protect children before the November state election. On Thursday Mr Walsh said he remained committed to the principle that priests should have to report abuse disclosed in confessionals but said he wanted to see the government's legislation.

"I'm not automatically supporting the Premier's legislation," he said.

Catholic lay leader Francis Sullivan, the CEO of church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council, said mandatory laws made sense. He said children who discussed abuse in confession were reporting being victims – not sinners – so priests would not be breaking the seal of confessional if they reported it to authorities.

“They’re not confessing. They’re reporting, they’re communicating, they’re reaching out for help,” he said.

https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/premier-hits-out-at-catholic...

Archbishop prepared to risk jail rather than comply with confession law

Archbishop prepared to risk jail rather than comply with confession law

The Catholic Church in Melbourne has pushed back against the Victorian government over legislation introduced on Wednesday aimed at forcing priests to reveal to authorities admissions of child sexual abuse made during confession.

Hours after the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne said he was prepared to go to jail in defiance of the planned legislation, and following its introduction into Parliament by the Andrews government on Wednesday, the archdiocese said it was surprised to not have been consulted on the Bill.

In a statement on Wednesday evening, Archbishop Peter Comensoli called for amendments to the legislation so that it did not impact upon religious freedom.

“I urge the Government to focus on stronger protection for children, not on infringing on religious liberty,” he said.

The Catholic community had "not been afforded the opportunity to view and provide comment on the draft Bill prior to its public release", despite commitments made by Premier Daniel Andrews in 2018, the Archbishop said.

However, the government says it offered the Archdiocese a dedicated briefing and invited it to join an information session for all religious groups. It says it also offered the Archbishop a meeting with the Minister for Child Protection Luke Donnellan, which was not taken up.

"Confession doesn’t place people above the law. Priests should be mandatory reporters, but in a similar way to protections to the lawyer/client relationship and protection for journalists’ sources," said Archbiship Comensoli.

“For Catholics, Confession is a religious encounter of a deeply personal nature. It deserves confidentiality."

Religious leaders could be imprisoned for up to three years for refusing to comply with the planned legislation.

"Personally, I would keep the seal," Archbishop Comensoli said earlier when asked on ABC radio if he would report an admission of child sexual abuse made during confession to authorities.

Asked if he was prepared to go to jail in defiance of the new law, the Archbishop said: "I'll say for myself, yes."

But Archbishop Comensoli's views are at odds with the government's stance, with Attorney-General Jill Hennessy saying protecting children was paramount.

"I don't think in contemporary and mainstream times, knowing what we know now, that we can do anything other than say the rights of children trump anyone's religious views," Ms Hennessy told reporters on Wednesday morning.

"Ultimately this is about making sure that we start to right the wrongs of systemic abuse."

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien stopped short of backing the government’s reforms although the Coalition also promised before the election to lift the seal of confession to report abuse.

“We think that in Victoria in 2019 we can make sure that we can protect kids but we should also be able to respect freedom of religion.” he said. “Let’s see if the government’s got that balance right.”

"I want to see the detail of anything they’re putting forward before I commit whether we will be supporting it or not support it.

“I want to see kids protected in a way which doesn’t unnecessarily trample over the rights of people to practice their religion in Victoria.”

Ms Hennessy slammed the Coalition's stance, saying: "I don't think it's too much to ask any parliamentarian to vote for a bill that says it's a criminal offence to fail to report the sexual abuse of a child."

Standing with Ms Hennessy, campaigner Chrissie Foster – whose two daughters were raped by a Melbourne priest – said the new law was "a freedom we have not had before", indicating that fresh information could contribute to payouts from the church.

"The Catholic priesthood tried to get away with a bargain basement deal on all of this. They should pay until they can't stand up," Ms Foster said.

Baptist minister Tim Costello supports the new law.

"I think children's rights trump everything and I quote as my authority Jesus," he told ABC radio, appearing on the same program as Archbishop Comensoli.

"Jesus said 'Better a millstone around your neck than you hurt one of these children'," he said.

"I absolutely respect the Catholic tradition ... I think hearing Peter's answers of being prepared to go to prison and take the consequence is trying to live faithfully with the tradition, but it's not a tradition I share."

Luke Beck, an associate professor of constitutional law at Monash University who specialises in religious freedom, said the right to protect the sacrament of confession must be balanced against other rights, "like the right of a child not to be raped".

"What Parliament has done is come up with what they believe to be a satisfactory balance between protecting religious beliefs and balancing that against the need to protect children from sexual abuse. I think it probably does get the balance right."

In March this year Pope Francis said no laws could break the seal of confession, in which all priests must keep secret from everyone what they hear in the confessional.

“The sacramental seal is indispensable and no human power has, nor may it claim, jurisdiction over it,” he said.

Archbishop Comensoli said he would encourage anyone who confessed abuse to report the matter outside of the confines of confession.

"I will speak to the person there and then about how they will need to go to the police about this or an appropriate authority and [ask them] at the end of the confession to repeat what they said outside of the seal so I can act," he told ABC Melbourne.

He compared the sanctity of confession to lawyer-client privilege or journalists protecting their sources.

Premier Daniel Andrews tweeted that while he appreciated people will have strong views, "are we doing everything in our power to protect vulnerable children from abuse? Currently, our laws are failing that test – and they need to change. "

Archbishop Comensoli also revealed he had visited George Pell in prison recently while the cardinal, a former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, awaited the outcome of his appeal over his conviction for the sexual abuse of two choirboys during the 1990s.

"I think he has a sense of waiting, as anything there would be a psychological agitation about waiting for what's going to be the outcome of the appeal," Archbishop Comensoli said.

"But I found him strong spiritually and calm and very conversive."

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/archbishop-prepared-to-risk-...

Church digs in as Victoria forces disclosure of abuse revealed in confession

The Catholic Church is set to defy new laws that would punish priests with jail time if they refuse to report sexual abuse revealed during confession.

The Victorian government will on Wednesday introduce legislation aimed at forcing priests to break the seal of confession to report child abuse.

The church says that it supports mandatory reporting and encourages victims to report abuse to police, but will not break the seal of confession – regardless of the legislation.

“I uphold the seal of confession but I uphold mandatory reporting as well,” Archbishop Peter Comensoli said in August last year, when the state government first flagged this legal change.

“The principle of the seal of confession is a different question. It has a different reality to it. The practicalities of winding back the seal of confession I think is something that can’t be easily done.”

“There’s been no change in our position,” a spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne said on Tuesday, adding that it would wait to see the legislation before commenting further.

In March this year Pope Francis said no laws could break the seal of confession, in which all priests must keep secret from everyone what they hear in the confessional.

“The sacramental seal is indispensable and no human power has, nor may it claim, jurisdiction over it,” he said.

Priests who refuse to report sexual abuse disclosed during confession will face up to three years in jail under the new laws.

The laws will apply to religious and spiritual leaders of all denominations and religions, but will not be retrospective.

The legislation will need to pass both houses of the Victorian Parliament. But both the Andrews government and the opposition promised to scrap exemptions for confessionals in the lead-up to the Victorian election last year.

Police, teachers, doctors, nurses, school counsellors, childcare and youth justice workers have all been required to report child abuse.

In 2012 priests and spiritual leaders were listed as mandatory reporters in Victoria, but any abuse disclosed to them during confession was exempt. The government says they will no longer receive special treatment.

The bill includes amendments to ensure that, under the failure-to-disclose offence in the Crimes Act, disclosures of abuse during religious confession are not exempt and must be reported to police.

Victoria’s move follows a recommendation by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that states introduce laws to make it a criminal offence to fail to disclose abuse revealed in the confessional.

It comes a fortnight after Tasmania passed similar legislation. In response, the church said the Tasmanian bill would have major implications for religious freedom.

The ACT also recently passed a similar bill, set to take effect from September 1. In response, Canberra Archbishop Christopher Prowse said his priests would not break the seal of confession to report child abuse.

Under an SA law that took effect in October 2018, clergy are legally obliged to report confessions of child sex abuse or face a $10,000 fine.

Successive Melbourne archbishops have resisted the commission’s recommendation on mandatory reporting. Former archbishop Denis Hart said in 2017 he would rather go to jail than report an incidence of child abuse revealed to him during confession.

Victorian Child Protection Minister Luke Donnellan said the reforms would go a long way to ensuring future generations of children were protected from the harm that too many suffered in the past.

“It’s pretty simple: if you think a child is being abused, you have to report it,” he said. “And we’re committed to driving this cultural change to make Victoria safer for our children.”

Canon law researcher Kieran Tapsell said it was not only the rules surrounding confession that prevented clergy divulging abuse, but also a secret directive from the Pope.

A confidential instruction from each pontiff, including Pope Francis, since 1922 has directed bishops to treat canonical crimes including sexual abuse of children with absolute secrecy.

Many expected Pope Francis to amend that directive during a bishops' conference in February, but he did not.

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/church-digs-in-as-victoria-f...

Conservative Christian plot to take 'control' of NSW Liberal Party

A group promoting religious freedom is working to recruit 5000 Christian conservatives to the NSW Liberals as part of an ambitious scheme aimed at taking "control" of the state division of the party.

Leaked documents obtained by the Herald, which contain metadata leading back to Federal and NSW parliaments, reveal the NSW Reformers group hopes to recruit thousands of members across Sydney.

A 900-word document titled ‘NSW Reformers - Taking Back Our Nation Through Good Government’ lays out the group's intentions to exert influence on politicians by joining Liberal branches and gaining pre-selection votes.

“If we recruit 5000 Christian conservatives we will control the NSW division of the Liberal Party,” it reads.

“We will organise information sessions for local coordinators as to how the intricate parts of the party work ... Politicians are far more receptive to people and causes if they directly impact their chances of being in Parliament.”

The group believes greater control of state and federal preselection in NSW would ensure a strong "conservative representation in Parliament".

The document’s metadata suggests it was written by a staff member in a federal ministerial office last year. The staffer did not return calls or text messages.

The Herald revealed on Tuesday that several Liberal MPs were concerned the NSW Reformers were working to erode their support base in Sydney's Hills District.

Other documents show names, addresses and contact details of hundreds of constituents were collated from a series of petitions advertised on the NSW Reformers' page.

The petitions that netted the data of hundreds of constituents refers to "gender ideology", “gay surrogacy”, religious freedom and Zoe’s Law legislation, which would make it a crime to cause death to a fetus.

The spreadsheets also contain lists of dozens of churches across Sydney to be targeted in the recruitment drive.

The forms outline plans to call a specific amount of phone numbers listed in the documents per day, and estimate how many party memberships could be recruited.

The NSW Reformers manifesto also outlines why the group is targeting the Liberal Party and not Labor or the Australian Conservatives.

“The Australian Conservatives’ survival relies upon a supportive silent majority. This silent majority does not exist,” it says, arguing this was proven by the same-sex marriage survey result.

“We cannot afford to flee from a major party as this will forever reduce Conservative Christians to a minor influence in society with very little ability to determine legislation.”

Several Liberal MPs have told the Herald of anger within the party at what they believe is a concerted effort to stack out their electorate branches.

One federal NSW Liberal MP said he believed the Reformers was run by factional allies of the party's hard-right conservative Liberals.

“They’re using the abortion bill to try to recruit numbers,” the federal MP said.

“They’re taking those views and leveraging them for political advantage. Their dearest wish would be to get rid of Alex Hawke.”

Mr Hawke is a powerful centre-right factional player close to Prime Minister Scott Morrison. His defection from the hard-right faction of the NSW Liberals a decade ago caused great enmity among conservatives.

NSW Liberal president Philip Ruddock said he didn’t have a problem with “branch development”.

“My view, as the party president, is if you’re worried about being stacked, then outstack,” he said.

The NSW Reformers have no contact numbers on their website, and there is no indication on the site of who leads the group.

The Herald called a mobile number published on a NSW Reformers flyer and the man who answered said he had no association with the group and had not heard of it until he read about it in the Herald.

He said he did not know why his number was printed as a contact number. The man, who declined to give his name, said he was a Liberal party member.

Liberal branches nationally have seen a considerable bump in members since the federal election was called. Victoria received an extra 600 members on their 10,000 base, while NSW is understood to have experienced a 10 per cent jump.

Federal Liberal party president Nick Greiner said while he did not have access to membership numbers to the various state branches, “common sense dictates that when you have an unexpected victory that might generate some interest”.

“I think that [increased membership] was happening for a while before the election and it seems to be accelerating,” he said.

But the membership bump was “unfortunately off a relatively low base,” Mr Greiner said, “which is where major political parties around the world are”.

He said it had “zero to do with religion”, and was due to the success of the party and to Mr Morrison’s popularity.

“It’s success and authenticity ... it’s undoubtedly true that Scott came across in an authentic manner, it’s the John Howard thing of, ‘you know what you’re getting with me’.”

https://www.smh.com.au/national/conservative-christian-plot-to-take-cont...

Conservative Christian plot to take 'control' of NSW Liberal Party

A group promoting religious freedom is working to recruit 5000 Christian conservatives to the NSW Liberals as part of an ambitious scheme aimed at taking "control" of the state division of the party.

Leaked documents obtained by the Herald, which contain metadata leading back to Federal and NSW parliaments, reveal the NSW Reformers group hopes to recruit thousands of members across Sydney.

A 900-word document titled ‘NSW Reformers - Taking Back Our Nation Through Good Government’ lays out the group's intentions to exert influence on politicians by joining Liberal branches and gaining pre-selection votes.

“If we recruit 5000 Christian conservatives we will control the NSW division of the Liberal Party,” it reads.

“We will organise information sessions for local coordinators as to how the intricate parts of the party work ... Politicians are far more receptive to people and causes if they directly impact their chances of being in Parliament.”

The group believes greater control of state and federal preselection in NSW would ensure a strong "conservative representation in Parliament".

The document’s metadata suggests it was written by a staff member in a federal ministerial office last year. The staffer did not return calls or text messages.

The Herald revealed on Tuesday that several Liberal MPs were concerned the NSW Reformers were working to erode their support base in Sydney's Hills District.

Other documents show names, addresses and contact details of hundreds of constituents were collated from a series of petitions advertised on the NSW Reformers' page.

The petitions that netted the data of hundreds of constituents refers to "gender ideology", “gay surrogacy”, religious freedom and Zoe’s Law legislation, which would make it a crime to cause death to a fetus.

The spreadsheets also contain lists of dozens of churches across Sydney to be targeted in the recruitment drive.

The forms outline plans to call a specific amount of phone numbers listed in the documents per day, and estimate how many party memberships could be recruited.

The NSW Reformers manifesto also outlines why the group is targeting the Liberal Party and not Labor or the Australian Conservatives.

“The Australian Conservatives’ survival relies upon a supportive silent majority. This silent majority does not exist,” it says, arguing this was proven by the same-sex marriage survey result.

“We cannot afford to flee from a major party as this will forever reduce Conservative Christians to a minor influence in society with very little ability to determine legislation.”

Several Liberal MPs have told the Herald of anger within the party at what they believe is a concerted effort to stack out their electorate branches.

One federal NSW Liberal MP said he believed the Reformers was run by factional allies of the party's hard-right conservative Liberals.

“They’re using the abortion bill to try to recruit numbers,” the federal MP said.

“They’re taking those views and leveraging them for political advantage. Their dearest wish would be to get rid of Alex Hawke.”

Mr Hawke is a powerful centre-right factional player close to Prime Minister Scott Morrison. His defection from the hard-right faction of the NSW Liberals a decade ago caused great enmity among conservatives.

NSW Liberal president Philip Ruddock said he didn’t have a problem with “branch development”.

“My view, as the party president, is if you’re worried about being stacked, then outstack,” he said.

The NSW Reformers have no contact numbers on their website, and there is no indication on the site of who leads the group.

The Herald called a mobile number published on a NSW Reformers flyer and the man who answered said he had no association with the group and had not heard of it until he read about it in the Herald.

He said he did not know why his number was printed as a contact number. The man, who declined to give his name, said he was a Liberal party member.

Liberal branches nationally have seen a considerable bump in members since the federal election was called. Victoria received an extra 600 members on their 10,000 base, while NSW is understood to have experienced a 10 per cent jump.

Federal Liberal party president Nick Greiner said while he did not have access to membership numbers to the various state branches, “common sense dictates that when you have an unexpected victory that might generate some interest”.

“I think that [increased membership] was happening for a while before the election and it seems to be accelerating,” he said.

But the membership bump was “unfortunately off a relatively low base,” Mr Greiner said, “which is where major political parties around the world are”.

He said it had “zero to do with religion”, and was due to the success of the party and to Mr Morrison’s popularity.

“It’s success and authenticity ... it’s undoubtedly true that Scott came across in an authentic manner, it’s the John Howard thing of, ‘you know what you’re getting with me’.”

https://www.smh.com.au/national/conservative-christian-plot-to-take-cont...

'Gay conversion therapy nearly killed me': Survivor backs NSW push for national ban

Openly gay and Christian psychologist and author Stuart Edser says gay conversion therapy nearly killed him and some of his patients and the sooner it is outlawed the better.

The therapy can involve forcing people to undergo electric shocks and drink substances to induce vomiting when shown homoerotic images.

There are also role-playing exercises where men are forced to do stereotypically 'blokey' things like chatting about football and tinkering with cars, while women are told to wear feminine clothes and apply a full face of makeup.

Mr Edser said he underwent a Pentecostal style of therapy that involved church elders praying and laying their hands on him, as well as performing what he likened to an exorcism to rid him of the demon possessing his body.

"People who I felt were great authorities in this area, they prayed over me in a deliverance ministry … it was a long time ago and it was pretty awful stuff," Mr Edser said.

"It was nearly the end of me and of course people who go through these sorts of programs struggle enormously when they are finished.

"Of course nobody's sexuality gets changed and you go through massive doses of guilt and self-hatred, self-disgust, all of those really, really bad things."

The author and psychologist has applauded New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard for putting a potential national ban on the agenda.

"This is just something that should not be around in the 21st century," Mr Edser said.

"I know many people who were lucky to escape with their lives because of the increase in suicidality and thoughts of self harm."

Academics slam parents forcing children into therapy
Two NSW academics with expertise in gay conversion therapy say it is in the interests of human rights and justice for Australia to ban the practice immediately.

Dr James Bennett from the University of Newcastle's School of Humanities and Social Science said conversion therapy is devastating, particularly for children whose parents say they need fixing.

"A lot of it is also happening underground so it is difficult to actually track what is going on," Dr Bennett said.

"I am most concerned about this being done to minors, parents for instance forcing children to undergo a practice like this, which also has been seen by some as a form of torture."

Dr Bennett's colleague, Professor Marguerite Johnson agreed.

"One's sexuality which cannot be altered is potentially emotionally damaging and can lead to all sorts of self-recrimination," Professor Johnson said.

"Of course part of that is you believe you are useless and you are wicked and I actually believe that there are a lot of suicides as a result of this.

"Tied in with this is betraying your family, humiliating your parents, disappointing people and there is a lot of guilt associated with the Christian or religious context in general around conversion therapy."

NSW seeks national approach on a ban at COAG
The NSW Government is seeking a national approach on gay conversion therapy and wants health officials to play a role.

In February, Victoria became the first state in Australia to outlaw LGBTIQ conversion therapy, but it will not be outlawed until next year.

At the time, the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews described the practice as "bigoted quackery" acknowledging its potential for long-term psychological harm and distress.

NSW Labor has been pressuring the Liberal government in that state to follow Victoria's lead.

The Health Minister Brad Hazzard responded by saying the Government would progress a national ban on so-called gay conversion therapy.

"NSW will take the issue of banning gay conversion therapy to the next Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council meeting and seek to achieve a national approach, including consideration of the role for Health departments," Minister Hazzard said.

But it will be several months before the matter is raised, as the next COAG meeting is in November, in Perth.

While NSW does not currently ban gay conversion therapy, disciplinary proceedings can be taken against a health practitioner who provides services in an unethical manner.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-02/gay-conversion-therapy-nearly-kil...

Charity watchdog could investigate Australian Christian Lobby over Folau fundraiser

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission has been asked to investigate the Australian Christian Lobby over its role in helping Israel Folau raise more than a million dollars for his legal fight against Rugby Australia (RA).

Folau raked in more than $1.5 million in donations on Tuesday through a relaunched ACL fundraising platform, despite having a GoFundMe page banned on Monday due to a breach of the website’s terms and conditions.

It was also revealed on Tuesday that Australia’s largest crowdfunding platform, MyCause, also knocked back an initial request from Folau’s camp to relaunch his fighting fund.

The renewed support for Folau comes as Gillian Triggs, the former Australian Human Rights Commission president, said she believed it was important to protect the rugby union star's right to freedom of speech.

"I don't think employers should have that power [to sack someone] and I don't think that one should lose one’s job for putting a view in good faith that you have put, particularly as a reflection that could be a religious view," said Ms Triggs on ABC News.

“It is a very wide view. It encompasses a lot of us - we're all going to go to hell. I think it is really foolish and disproportionate to prevent him from preaching something that I think he probably believes quite deeply as a matter of religious expression."

A number of complainants, however, have confirmed to the Herald that they have raised their concerns with the charities commission over the fundraising role played by the ACL.

In a statement, the commission said it "expected all registered charities to meet their obligations under the ACNC Act and the Governance Standards".

“The ACNC can investigate concerns that a charity has breached the ACNC Act or the Governance Standards," the statement said. "This may include not pursuing its charitable purpose, not operating in a not-for-profit manner, or providing private benefits to members."

According to the ACNC, a charity must be able to show that the use of its funds furthers the charitable purpose in which it is registered, meaning the ACL would need to prove it is “advancing religion”, for example, by agreeing to help raise money for Folau’s individual purposes.

We have received multiple requests to comment on ACL’s decision to support Israel Folau’s fundraising efforts. We remind the public that we cannot comment on the circumstances of individual charities. When a charity has acted inappropriately, we will use our powers to investigate
Speaking on Sunrise, ACL's managing director Martyn Iles denied any rules had been broken.

"We got legal advice on this before we went ahead with it," Iles said. "Israel Folau is not a member and our charitable purpose is to advocate for changes in law and public policy and the advancement of the Christian religion. This is a religious freedom issue which for law has implications for law and public policy.

"Over 15,000 people have donated and the average donation is about $100 and about 10 donors per minute. That's pretty incredible stuff. There's a lot of juice left in this."

Folau was sacked by RA for posting a photo to social media which said homosexuals, among other groups such as drunks and atheists, were destined for hell unless they repented their sins.

RA and Folau's legal teams will meet for conciliation on Friday before the Fair Work Commission. The matter is then expected to reach the Federal Court.

Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, said he was concerned that Folau’s right to express his faith was being “denied and vilified”.

“The original post on Instagram canvassed some basic tenets of the Christian faith," Dr Davies said. "It was not the entire Christian message but it was posted without malice and from a place of deep conscience and concern. It encompassed all people, for we are all liars. It was posted with respect and with urgency. It had nothing to do with rugby and it should have been his right as a citizen to speak of what he believes without threat to his employment."

Meanwhile, Folau may be able to claim some of the legal expenses used to fight his wrongful dismissal action as a tax deduction, while keeping the donations.

Industry body Tax and Super Australia's tax counsel John Jeffreys said legal expenses were not generally tax deductible in unfair dismissal cases because the person was no longer earning income and therefore the costs were treated as being of a capital nature.

“However, there are situations in which legal expenses can be tax deductible,” Mr Jeffreys said.

“If you get an amount that’s in compensation for lost wages then that itself is income and therefore it makes the expenses tax deductible.”

Folau is suing for $5 million in lost salary in addition to the loss of commercial opportunities such as future contracts and sponsorship deals, as well as the cost of missing out on the Rugby World Cup and the chance to become the greatest Wallaby try-scorer.

Mr Jeffreys said in such cases compensation would usually be awarded in a lump sum and the tax office would then treat the cost of his legal action as a capital expense, which would not be tax-deductible.

But if he was claiming that he had been wronged in the termination of his employment, any compensation he received would not be subject to capital gains tax.

Bendigo mosque construction begins as Premier Daniel Andrews turns first sod

After six years of controversy that saw protests in the streets and a mock beheading, a mosque is finally being built in the central Victorian city of Bendigo.

Accompanied by police, Premier Daniel Andrews took part in a sod-turning ceremony at the site of the future Bendigo Islamic Community Centre in East Bendigo this morning.

"It's been difficult at times and there's no shying away from that," he said.

"But with all the approvals in place, and with the sod turned, I think that sense of goodwill having won out over some pretty dark views [means] we're in a pretty good place and we should be very proud."

The premier said he was not concerned about the prospect of the centre being targeted by protesters, and most of those who had rallied against the project were not from Bendigo.

"Bigotry is not an acceptable form of protest. Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to these things," he said.

The first milestone in the highly contested project has been made possible by a $400,000 grant from the Victorian Government.

The government money is for phase one of the building — a sports and community hall due to be completed within nine months.

Construction of the prayer hall will start after that, pending further fundraising.

"There's four stages so let's go stage by stage," said the vice-president of the Bendigo Islamic Community Centre, Sameer Syed.

"Stage one should be a couple million and hopefully we'll have that in the next couple of years."
A long and difficult process

More than 500 Muslims of 25 different nationalities call Bendigo home.

Islamic prayer services were taking place in a small room at the local campus of La Trobe University when the council approved a permit for the mosque in June, 2014.

More than 400 objections were lodged against the mosque's planning application, which led to fierce debate.

At one council meeting, 200 people packed the gallery and councillors were escorted away by police.

Some opponents claimed the mosque would bring violence to Bendigo and the city would be overtaken by Sharia law.

A small group of local residents then took the case to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), arguing the development would cause traffic and social problems.

While VCAT dismissed those concerns, the fight continued to the Victorian Court of Appeal before a final attempt to take the matter to the High Court in 2016 was thrown out.

Protests shut down the city

Alongside the failed legal action, mosque opponents took their fight to the community through a coordinated social media campaign, with trucks towing billboards and black balloons strung up across the city.

The tension brought far-right activists to the regional city, with three men staging a mock beheading on a dummy with fake blood outside the Bendigo council offices.

The men, including Blair Cottrell of the United Patriots Front (UPF), were later convicted of inciting serious contempt towards Muslims over the protest.

The disagreement also broke onto the streets in Bendigo, as a rowdy protest in August 2015 shut down the city centre as far-right and anti-racist activists rallied against one another.

Large numbers of police officers were needed to keep the large groups apart as several small scuffles broke out.

Two months later, crowds of protesters returned as anti-racism groups marched to Rosalind Park while 400 police watched on as hundreds of members of the UPF occupied a rotunda in the same park.

The presence of far-right activists in Bendigo sparked a counter-movement from the city's community leaders, including furniture businesswoman Margot Spalding.

'Community centre with a mosque inside'

A tiny mosque in the outback of Australia built in the 1800s and the founder of Bendigo all played a part in the design of Bendigo's mosque.

The building will hold up to 375 people and will comprise a mosque making up 20–30 per cent of the building.

The rest of the building will comprise a sports hall, community spaces, library and cafe.

"What it is, is a community centre with a mosque inside," architect Asher Greenwood said.

The design was inspired by Australia's earliest known mosque, built in Maree in South Australia in the 1860s, using materials from the local landscape such as mud and tree trunks.

Sandstone material from the Bendigo area will be used in the construction of the centre.

Centre spokeswoman Aisha Neelam said the design paid respect to existing Bendigo architecture and care had been taken to ensure it would fit in with the local landscape.

"It doesn't stand out, and it's just part of what it means to be a building in Bendigo."

The design also features a nod to the founder of Bendigo, German-born architect William Charles Varland, who is credited with developing the use of decorative ironwork in buildings.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-26/bendigo-mosque-sod-turned-after-y...?

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