Christian Porter says religious freedom bill won't erode state LGBT protections

Christian Porter has sought to allay concerns that a federal religious discrimination bill could water down protections for LGBT people in state legislation.

The attorney general told Guardian Australia the bill “is not intended to displace state law nor will it import specific provisions of international law” after LGBT advocates warned that it could undermine state protections against vilification or discrimination on the grounds of sex or sexuality.

As Porter has begun a series of workshops with Coalition MPs to discuss the as yet unreleased bill and agreed to meet religious leaders such as the Sydney Catholic archbishop Anthony Fisher, advocates have demanded he meet with affected LGBT and women’s groups and guarantee the bill will not wind back state regimes.

That call was echoed by the Tasmanian Labor shadow attorney general, Ella Haddad, who has written to the entire federal Labor caucus asking for a commitment state laws “will not be adversely impacted” – to which federal Labor is yet to commit.

Concerns centre on laws in Tasmania, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory, which prohibit vilification on the basis of sexuality and – unlike New South Wales – do not provide a specific exemption for religious speech. Those states also prevent religious schools from expelling students based on sexuality, while Tasmania and the ACT provide the same protection to teachers.

Equality Australia’s director of legal advocacy, Lee Carnie, has warned that inconsistency between state and federal laws could allow litigants complaining of indirect religious discrimination to side-step state regimes.

Equality Tasmania and Just Equal spokesman Rodney Croome said there was a “high risk” of state and territory laws being overridden – particularly if the Coalition accepts the demands from faith groups to add a right to religious freedom contained in article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Porter’s comments not to “import specific provisions of international law” appear to rule this out, holding the line against Coalition conservatives calling for the remit of the bill to expand beyond making religion a protected attribute to granting a positive right to express religious beliefs.

Carnie welcomed the attorney’s claim the intention was not to override state regimes, while Croome warned the “devil will be in the detail”.

“We would add that we hope the religious discrimination bill would provide consistent protections for best practice anti-discrimination laws … [to] ensure people living in states with strong protections – such as Tasmania – would have consistent coverage against discrimination on all grounds,” Carnie said.

On 30 June, Haddad wrote to her federal Labor counterparts urging them “not to allow the balance our law strikes to be undermined by any federal legislation”.

“The rights of vulnerable people should guide Labor’s policy-making when it comes to discrimination law,” she said. “Before Labor makes any decision regarding religious discrimination or freedom legislation the Morrison government puts forward, it conducts a sweep of state and territory anti-discrimination statutes to ensure they will not be adversely impacted.”

Croome said LGBT people in Tasmania and around Australia “want commitments from Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese that they will not support any new law that weakens existing discrimination protections at a state and territory level”.

The acting shadow attorney general, Brendan O’Connor, said that Labor “believes in an inclusive society” but stopped short of giving a commitment that LGBT people in states with more favourable regimes will not be worse off.

“We will speak up for everyone’s rights and freedoms,” he said. “The debate should never be about pitting one group of Australians against another – it should be about moving towards a more accepting and respectful society for all Australians.”

The ACT attorney general, Gordon Ramsay, told Guardian Australia he would not support “any attempts to use changes to the anti-discrimination framework to reverse the progress made towards a more equal and inclusive society achieved [by marriage equality]”.

“The Australian public’s demand for equality and protections against discrimination for our LGBTIQ community has been made clear.”

Ramsay said the federal government should pursue a “national human rights framework that understands the necessary balancing between competing rights and responsibilities rather than a piecemeal effort appease their base”.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jul/12/christian-porter-...

Right-wing MPs threaten religious bill

Conservative coalition MPs are threatening to blow up new religious freedom laws if they don't go far enough to protect people of faith.

But their position puts them out of step with coalition voters, less than half of whom think there should be stronger protections for people who express religious views in public.

The Morrison government intends to make it unlawful to discriminate against people based on their religious beliefs, with Labor broadly backing the push.

Attorney-General Christian Porter is trying to unite right-wing and moderate members of the government with differing views on what the legislation should look like.

Running a series of workshops with coalition backbenchers, Mr Porter is offering to show concerned colleagues excerpts of the draft bill.

"I'll be continuing to consult with my government colleagues right up to the introduction of the religious discrimination bill and throughout its consideration by the parliament," he told The West Australian on Tuesday.

"These initial detailed consultations with colleagues will continue over coming weeks and will then shift to religious bodies and other stakeholders. The bill is going through constant revision."

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said he reserved his right to vote against the bill if he is unhappy with the final product.

Three other, anonymous MPs told the newspaper they also held concerns.

But the public sentiment isn't overwhelmingly in favour of stronger laws, with an Essential Research poll on Tuesday finding less than two in five voters agreed the laws were needed.

Just 16 per cent strongly agreed.

The belief that stronger laws are needed was strongest among people who identified as coalition supporters, at 44 per cent.

There was concern across the board about freedom of speech, with nearly two-thirds of respondents agreeing that people were unlikely to say what they really thought from fear of how others would react.

But the same proportion said people shouldn't be able to claim religious freedom as an excuse for abusing others.

Feeding into the religious freedom debate is the sacking of Israel Folau, who was dumped by Rugby Australia for saying on social media that gay people would go to hell unless they repented.

The Essential polling found the public was split between thinking the dispute was mainly about Folau's freedom of speech and those who saw it as a contractual issue.

Labor frontbencher Jason Clare said the case was a "bloody mess".

"It's bad for Israel Folau, it's bad for rugby union, it's bad for gay and lesbian Australians that get caught in the middle of all of this," he told Sky News.

He said there was goodwill across the parliament on ensuring religious freedoms and protections.

https://thewest.com.au/politics/right-wing-mps-threaten-religious-bill-n...

Religious discrimination bill will safeguard people of faith, says attorney general

Cases such as Israel Folau’s would be captured by the government’s proposed religious discrimination bill, according to the attorney general, who says the legislation will include a “powerful avenue” for people of faith who face “indirect” unfair treatment.

However, Christian Porter is holding firm against calls from conservative MPs to establish a religious freedom act, saying such legislation could see “sensitive public policy” determined by the courts as it adjudicated competing rights.

Speaking to Guardian Australia after briefing more than 20 government MPs in Canberra on Friday, Porter said the legislation would include a clause relating to indirect discrimination, mirrored on section 7b of the sex discrimination act. He believed this would prevent employers from putting in place a binding condition on all employees – such as occurred with Rugby Australia – that restricted someone from expressing their religious views.

“This would provide an overarching rule that places limitations on what an employer could do by way of general rules that affected all of their workforce, if those general rules, in an unfair and unreasonable way, had a negative – or what the legislation calls a disadvantaging – effect on a person of faith,” he said.

“A bill like this would provide a very powerful avenue for someone who believed that a general rule in their employment especially disadvantaged them because of their religion, to argue that that rule was contrary to the act and unfair.”

The move to assure MPs of the merits of the proposed religious discrimination act comes after Rugby Australia terminated the contract of star player Folau for a widely condemned social media post in which he said “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” would go to hell unless they repented. The case is headed to the federal court.

Porter said once the religious discrimination legislation came into effect, it would prevent employment contracts being made that were in breach of the new commonwealth law.

“When two private parties contract with each other – an employer and an employee – they can’t contract to do something that another piece of law, in this case commonwealth law, says is unlawful,” he said.

“The bill … provides an avenue for people who think a rule in their employment has unfairly disadvantaged them or led to their termination unfairly because of their religion, provides an avenue for complaint and potentially redress in those circumstances, and so it goes a long way to protect people from being discriminated against in the context of their employment.”

When asked if he believed Folau should have been free to express his view on social media, Porter said the case was about “competing principles” and he was unable to give an answer “as a lawyer”.

But he “personally” had concerns about the ability of a corporation to restrict the views of an individual in their private life.

“I think a real issue arises here about how much and to what extent modern businesses – whether they are sporting codes or law firms – attempt to limit people’s behaviour in their private life and in their private discussions and in their private discourse outside of work hours based on an argument that there is what is sometimes called brand damage to the overall organisation,” he said.

He believed there was “disquiet” among Australians about the Folau case.

“We have probably reached a point where the ability of employers to control people in their non work time is getting tested,” he said.

Conservative MPs have seized on the Folau case as an example of why the federal government needs to do more to protect people of faith, and NSW senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has launched a petition for a religious freedom act.

Fierravanti-Wells has argued that the proposed religious discrimination act would “fall well short” of the expectations among those who voted for the Coalition who were concerned about their religious freedoms being curtailed.

“[A religious discrimination act] would be defensive in nature and limited to protecting against acts and practices by others which are discriminatory on the grounds of religion,” she told the Senate on Tuesday.

“Quiet Australians now expect the Coalition to legislate to protect their religious freedom. It is important that Australians of all faiths be free to practise their religion without discrimination. Even those who have no beliefs should be free to express those views.”

But Porter said the government was doing “precisely what we said we would do” at the election.

He believed a “classical formulation of rights” that protected people from the behaviour of other people through the architecture of anti-discrimination bills was superior to a religious freedom bill.

“As soon as you say, ‘Here is a bill that says everyone has a right to freedom of speech, everyone has got a right to freedom of association, to freedom of religion’ they all start competing with each other, and eventually you get the circumstance that you have got in America where the highest court in the land decides what is more important: the right to free choice or the right to life, and then the decisions around how the boundaries on really, really sensitive public policy decisions are made get made by courts.”

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, told the first partyroom meeting of the new parliament that he did not want the issue of religious freedom to become divisive or politicised. He urged MPs to give Porter feedback through a series of workshops. He has also flagged a bipartisan approach, saying he wants to work with Labor on the “deeply personal” issue.

Equality Australia has said it agrees in theory that discrimination on the basis of religion should be outlawed, but has warned that the new law must be a “shield not a sword” against LGBTI people.

Porter is holding seminars with MPs over the next six to eight weeks and has already revised the legislation multiple times.

After the internal consultations are complete, Porter said he would begin external consultations. The legislation will be introduced in the second half of this year.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/08/religious-discrimination-b...

Religious freedom push must be matched with hate speech protection, LGBTQI advocates say

A government push to prevent “indirect” religious discrimination needs to be matched with new federal protections against hate speech and vilification, LGBTQI advocacy group Equality Australia says.

The attorney general, Christian Porter, has begun a series of workshops with MPs on the government’s proposed religious discrimination bill, which is due to be introduced to parliament sometime this year.

But amid calls from conservative MPs for a religious freedom bill rather than just a “defensive” bill that protects against discrimination, LGBTQI advocates are warning of “panic” among minority groups of the potential for the bill to do harm.

Equality Australia’s director of legal advocacy, Lee Carnie, also raised concern that proposed new laws could override existing state legislation aimed at protecting minority groups against vilification.

“If you have those two concurrent processes going [at a state and federal level] you could potentially have both jurisdictions finding there had been mistreatment or neither, but because there isn’t consistency … they could reach different conclusions on where the line should be drawn,” Carnie told Guardian Australia.

“The answer to dealing with that national inconsistency that would arise if the Australian government passes indirect discrimination provisions is to also make sure that amendments to the sex discrimination act are passed that protect LBTQI+ people from vilification and hate speech.”

Carnie said that the remedy would be to introduce protections similar to the contentious Section 18C that exists within the Racial Discrimination Act, which the government unsuccessfully attempted to water down in the previous parliament.

Equality Australia is calling on the government to release the bill, saying the attorney general’s proposed measure to legislate against “indirect” discrimination could prevent employers providing a safe workplace for all people.

“Anti-discrimination laws should be a shield, not a sword. It sounds like the government’s proposal would prevent employers from being able to protect their businesses from the damaging public actions of employees.”

The Nationals MP, Barnaby Joyce, told Guardian Australia that he wanted the government’s legislation to ensure that someone’s religious views should only be considered by an employer if they were relevant to the job.

He accused Rugby Australia of opening a “can of worms” after it sacked its star player Israel Folau for widely condemned comments on social media in which he paraphrased a Bible passage saying “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” would go to hell unless they repented.

“If you want to blame someone for this, blame Rugby Australia – they opened the can of worms and now the worms are all over the place and somehow we have to stick the worms back in the can,” he said.

“Rugby Australia saying that someone may take offence about another person’s view on who goes to heaven or hell would say that they … know there is a heaven and hell and they have got knowledge of how to get to heaven or hell, and I would have thought that would be a little outside their pay grade.”

Earlier he told ABC radio that he believed companies could not sack someone for their “annoying” views.

“You’ve got people who are a pain in the arse and they’re in every office, but we can’t just go around sacking them because they’re annoying,” he said.

Joyce is one of a group of conservative MPs who say the government needs to do more to protect religious expression, along with the New South Wales senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who has launched a petition calling for a religious freedom bill.

Porter has said he is opposed to such “declaratory” rights bills.

Conservative thinktank the Institute of Public Affairs is also critical of the federal government’s attempt to legislate to protect religious freedoms, saying no new legislation is warranted.

“The government should not legislate for the Folau case. Bad laws cannot be fixed by imposing more bad laws. It is not ‘conservative’ to legislate for freedom,” the IPA executive director, John Roskam, said.

Labor has said it is prepared to work with the government on a religious discrimination bill, welcoming comments from the prime minister, Scott Morrison, that the issue should not be “politicised”.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jul/08/religious-freedom...

Mathias Cormann says atheists should be protected from discrimination

Senior WA Liberal Mathias Cormann says atheists should be protected from discrimination in Australia, just like people of faith.

Speaking on the ABC’s Insiders program this morning, Mr Cormann said the Morrison Government was keen to push ahead with plans to introduce a Religious Discrimination Act.

It was an election commitment, deriving from Philip Ruddock’s religious freedom review, which was completed last year.

“In the same way as we have a Sex Discrimination Act and the Racial Discrimination Act and the like, we believe that people ought to be protected from discrimination based on religious belief through a Religious Discrimination Act,” Mr Cormann said.

“It’s to ensure that people are not subject to inappropriate, unacceptable levels of discrimination based on their religious belief, or based on not having any religious beliefs at all.”

Mr Cormann’s comment about the need to treat believers and non-believers equally risks becoming a thorny issue for the Government.

During the Federal Election campaign, Prime Minister Scott Morrison assured voters he was “passionate about freedom of religion”, including the freedom not to believe in a god.

“Whatever your faith may be, whether it’s Christian, whether it’s Islam, whether it’s Buddhist, or whichever it may be – and if it’s no religion at all – that is, I think, one of the most fundamental freedoms that any Australian has,” he said during the Brisbane Leaders’ Debate.

But there is disagreement within Coalition ranks about the extent to which religious “freedoms” ought to be extended to the workplace.

Religious schools fiercely defend their right to sack teachers whose lives or beliefs are contrary to theirs, including atheists and homosexuals – and the Government insists those schools’ religious rights will be protected under any legislation.

The Government also has to tackle with the question of employment contracts.

It’s to ensure that people are not subject to inappropriate, unacceptable levels of discrimination based on their religious belief, or based on not having any religious beliefs at all.
Mathias Cormann

The controversy surrounding Rugby Australia’s decision to sack Israel Folau for posting comments on social media that gay people would go to hell has sparked debate about contractual obligations of employees toward their employers.

Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz has written to the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman asking them to investigate Rugby Australia’s decision to terminate Folau’s contract, saying it could have been a breach of the Fair Work Act.

And NSW MP Barnaby Joyce has used the Folau case to call his Coalition colleagues to include far-reaching provisions in any religious freedom legislation to exempt religious beliefs from employment contracts.

But Attorney-General Christian Porter appeared to squash Mr Joyce’s idea last week, when he told 6PR radio that the Government wasn’t in the business of inserting itself into private negotiations over employment contracts.

“People enter into employment contracts of their own volition all the time, and contracts of a number of types with a number of terms,” Mr Porter said.

“What I would say is that we're not necessarily in the business in government of trying to prevent individuals privately contracting the terms of their employment in a fair and balanced and reasonable way with their employer in a range circumstances.”

https://thewest.com.au/news/religion-and-belief/mathias-corman-flags-ath...

Fraser Anning's Victorian candidate Julie Hoskin bankrupt, ineligible

Senator Fraser Anning's anti-mosque candidate for the Victorian seat of Bendigo is an undischarged bankrupt, rendering her ineligible to serve in Parliament.

Julie Hoskin, 54, shot to prominence after playing a key role in the protracted – and ultimately unsuccessful – campaign against the Victorian regional city's first mosque.

Ms Hoskin announced her candidacy for Senator Anning's Conservative National Party, despite having been declared an undischarged bankrupt.

But an Australian Electoral Commission spokesman said Ms Hoskin's nomination would stand and her name would still be on the ballot paper, given the AEC did not have the power to determine candidates' eligibility under the constitution.

Candidates "self-declare" their eligibility, under section 44 of the constitution, to serve in Parliament when they nominate themselves to the AEC.

Australian Financial Security Authority documents show Ms Hoskin was declared bankrupt on September 20 last year, owing more than $92,000 in unpaid legal fees.

The former City of Greater Bendigo councillor tendered her resignation to council the next day.

Ms Hoskin was bankrupted after being unable to pay legal costs associated with the fight against the local mosque and Islamic centre, which far-right activists fought all the way to the High Court.

Her bankruptcy came after a bitter fight with her former lawyer, Robert Balzoa, against whom Ms Hoskin lodged a complaint to the NSW Law Society in 2017, alleging he had misappropriated money he held in trust to prop up his own firm.

Mr Balzoa denied the allegations and he was allowed to keep practising after a bid by the Council of the NSW Law Society to have him suspended collapsed due to a legal technicality.

Mr Balzoa is named in the National Personal Insolvency Index as the petitioning creditor in Ms Hoskin's bankruptcy.

Being an undischarged bankrupt prevents a person from being chosen, or sitting, as a senator under section 44 of the constitution.

Section 44 states that anyone who is an "undischarged bankrupt or insolvent" will "be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives".

It comes after the Australian Electoral Commission referred former One Nation senator Rod Culleton to the Australian Federal Police over his nomination to contest the federal election, after it emerged he is also an undischarged bankrupt, and ineligible to sit in Parliament.

In the event Ms Hoskin was elected, her eligibility to sit in Parliament could also be referred to the Australian Federal Police and potentially be referred to the High Court.

Senator Anning entered federal Parliament in late 2017 on a One Nation ticket, but quit the party after a falling-out with colleagues before briefly joining the Katter's Australian Party, only to be expelled from the minor outfit for "racist views".

The marginal Labor seat of Bendigo is held by former union organiser Lisa Chesters.

https://www.theage.com.au/federal-election-2019/fraser-anning-s-victoria...

Victoria opens the way for secular or atheist school chaplains

The Victorian government has conceded that school chaplains can be of “any faith or no faith” as part of a settlement to a landmark legal challenge that could open the way to secular or atheist chaplains.

In order to settle a case arguing the program is discriminatory, Victoria agreed on Monday to change the position description. It’s a move the Rationalist Society and the academic Luke Beck believe will force providers to hire atheists and allow religious groups to endorse atheists.

But the Victorian education disputed that its practices had changed.

“It simply reflects what already occurs,” a spokesman said, because secular chaplains could already be endorsed by religious bodies.

The commonwealth-funded program currently requires chaplains to be recognised or endorsed by a religious institution, despite the fact pastoral care is only supposed to provide “general spiritual and personal advice”, without crossing the line to proselytisation.

The program has faced numerous complaints about its religious nature, which has been wound back through the Australian Capital Territory’s pledge to remove chaplains from public schools and federal Labor’s policy to allow schools to pick a secular chaplain instead of a religious one.

Discrimination bill could lead to challenges to school chaplains program

In the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal challenge, Juliette Armstrong – who works as a school chaplain in both public and Christian schools, despite not being a Christian – argued the government and Access Ministries discriminated against her because of her lack of religion.

The Victorian government has agreed to change the position description to state that chaplains may be “of any faith or of no faith”. It will also retract statements that it is acceptable for chaplaincy providers to make hiring decisions based on job applicants’ religious affiliations, replacing it with the statement: “It is possible for a chaplain who does not have a religious affiliation to be endorsed by a religious organisation.”

Beck, an associate professor at Monash University, believes the changes are legally enforceable because chaplaincy providers are contractually obliged to comply with the position description, meaning there could be further litigation if chaplaincy providers refuse to hire atheists.

Dr Meredith Doig, the president of the Rationalist Society, told Guardian Australia it planned to approach religious organisations such as Anglican and Uniting church ministers to provide letters of endorsement to allow qualified, secular pastoral care workers to be hired and still comply with federal rules.

Access Ministries has settled the case, in return for issuing a statement that it believed “only a person with a personal commitment to Christian faith and values is able to carry out that work as an Access chaplain”.

A spokesman confirmed that term of the settlement, adding its employment practices “have been – and continue to be – in adherence with Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act”.

The other terms of the settlement were confidential and Beck and the Rationalist Society – who supported the challenge – declined to answer questions about whether Armstrong was paid compensation.

Armstrong told Guardian Australia she was “glad that the Victorian government accepts that anyone who is qualified should be eligible to be a school chaplain, regardless of their religion,” adding that “religious discrimination is wrong”.

School chaplain program's $247m budget extension rejected by teachers' union
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Doig said she was “delighted” by the outcome, calling it a “step in the right direction” but calling on other states and territories to follow Victoria’s lead.

“There is no reason their important work cannot be done by suitably qualified, trained and supported youth welfare workers,” she said.

“The Rationalist Society will be carefully monitoring the actions of Access Ministries and other faith-based agencies to ensure they comply with the Victorian government’s now non-discriminatory policy.”

The Victorian government has already pledged a “mental health worker” in every government secondary school, a policy which supplements but does not displace chaplains. In February, the federal shadow education minister, Tanya Plibersek, promised Labor will give schools the choice of a chaplain or secular social worker.

Doig welcomed Labor’s policy but said it was “not enough” because millions of dollars had already been given to faith-based agencies that recruit and train chaplains.

“[Youth welfare workers] should be employed by education departments or directly by schools,” she said.

In the 2018 budget the Coalition gave $247m over four years to extend the controversial program.

The departmental spokesman said the changes “do not contradict” the chaplaincy agreement signed by the commonwealth, states and territories.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/mar/27/victoria-opens-th...

Call for multi-faith ceremony to replace Lord's Prayer during opening of Victorian Parliament

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has flagged opening Parliament with a multi-faith ceremony instead of the Lord's Prayer.

Religions observed by state MPs include Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.

At the start of every day, the Speaker and President lead the Lord's Prayer in the Upper House and Lower House.

Greens MPs wait outside for the prayer to finish before taking their seats and have long advocated for change.

Crossbench Reason Party MP Fiona Patten has also been calling for change, saying the Acknowledgement of Country should open parliament every day.

Ms Patten's renewed push this week comes as she faces pressure over her support for the Government's extension of tolls on CityLink by 10 years.

On Wednesday, the State Government referred the Lord's Prayer to the procedures committee for review.

"This is a secular society and most religious people I speak to are surprised to find out that this is how we start every day here," Ms Patten said.

"Removing the Lord's Prayer is a nod to how diverse the Victorian Parliament is."

"The Government has agreed to look at how we can change the way we run the parliament and do something different to the Lord's Prayer that reflects the diversity of the community we're here to represent."

Lord's Prayer recited for a century
The Premier said he was open to the idea if it had widespread support and would be welcoming of other religions.

"If it were a multi-faith moment if you like, at the beginning of the parliament day, perhaps that would be more reflective of what modern Victoria looks like," Mr Andrews said.

But the Premier said it was also important to conserve some traditions.

State Parliament has opened each sitting day with the Lord's Prayer for the past 100 years, but in recent years has also included an acknowledgement of traditional owners, which Liberal MP Bernie Finn has refused to stand for.

The Opposition does not support any change, Upper House Liberal leader David Davis said.

"It's a very important part of our history, it's a very important reflection of the Judeo-Christian tradition," he said.

Labor's Philip Dalidakis, who is Jewish, is among the MPs who support scrapping the prayer from the Parliament.

"I believe in the separation of church and state," he said.

"I opposed using public school-time for religious instruction and don't believe there is a place for organised religion in our parliament.

"People can pray in their own time,'' he told the ABC.

Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz, a Catholic, said there were many religions in the parliament.

"If we need to share other prayers and recognise other religions or other traditions I am more than happy to consider that," she said.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-20/victorian-parliament-to-review-us...

George Pell sentenced to six years' jail for sexually abusing two choirboys

Cardinal George Pell has been sentenced to six years' jail for sexually abusing two choirboys when he was Catholic archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.

Pell, 77, was found guilty by a jury last December of sexually abusing the choirboys after a Sunday mass in December 1996 and then assaulting one of them a second time two months later.

The man who was once Australia's most powerful Catholic sat in the dock dressed in a black shirt and a grey blazer, without a clerical collar, as County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd delivered his sentence.

The chief judge described Pell's abuse of two choirboys in the sacristy at St Patrick's Cathedral as "a brazen and forcible sexual attack on the victims".

"The acts were sexually graphic, both victims were visibly and audibly distressed during the offending," he said.

"There is an added layer of degradation and humiliation that each of your victims must have felt in knowing that their abuse had been witnessed by the other."

"There was a clear relationship of trust with the victims and you breached that trust and abused your position to facilitate this offending," the chief judge said.

"I would characterise these abuses and breaches as grave."

Pell will serve a minimum of three years and eight months in jail before he will be eligible for parole.

He continues to deny he sexually abused the boys and has lodged an appeal against his conviction on three grounds, including that the jury verdict was unreasonable.

'Breathtakingly arrogant' offending

Chief Judge Kidd said the power imbalance between the victims and Pell as a senior church official was "stark".

"The brazenness of your conduct is indicative of your sense of authority and power in relation to the victims," he said.

"You may have thought you could control the situation by reason of your authority, as archbishop, whether or not that belief was well-founded.

"Such a state of mind would have been extraordinarily arrogant, but the offending which the jury has found you have engaged in was in any view breathtakingly arrogant."

The chief judge said Pell's abuse had had a "significant and long-lasting impact" on the wellbeing of one of his victims, whom he referred to as J.

"J has experienced a range of negative emotions which he has struggled to deal with for many years since this offending occurred … he has found it difficult because of issues of trust and anxiety.

"I take into account the profound impact your offending has had on J's life."

The chief judge said he did not have the benefit of a victim impact statement from his other victim, referred to as R, who died of a heroin overdose in 2014 and never reported the abuse.

"However on the basis of J's account at trial I am able to say your offending must have had an immediate and significant impact on R," Chief Judge Kidd said.

"Whilst it is not possible for me to quantify the harm caused, or articulate precisely how it impacted on R in the long run, I have no doubt that it did in some way."

The chief judge gave permission for the hearing to be broadcast live by media outlets and the court room was packed with abuse survivors, advocates and journalists.

'My son's life was wasted'
Speaking outside the court, the father of Pell's late victim said the sentence was "insufficient".

"It's not going to bring my son back," he said.

"I was hoping for 20 [years] but realistically I thought maybe 10, but hey, he's incarcerated, he can't hurt anybody.

"It does give me some satisfaction to note that he's going to be on the sex offenders register for the rest of his life.

He said it gave him a "good feeling" to know that his son's abuser was in jail, but said he found it hard to listen to the chief judge's sentencing remarks.

"I felt like my son's life was wasted. Why was it wasted? For some guy's two minutes of pleasure."

He commended Pell's surviving victim for coming forward and giving evidence against his abuser.

"I want to give him a hug," he said of his son's friend.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

In a statement read by his lawyer, Vivian Waller, Pell's surviving victim said he appreciated the court had "acknowledged what was inflicted upon me as a child".

"It is hard for me to allow myself to feel the gravity of this moment … the moment when justice is done."

He said it was hard for him to "take comfort" in Pell's sentence, because the moment had been "overshadowed" by Pell's appeal against his conviction.

"I have played my part as best I can," he said.

"I took the difficult step of reporting to police about a high-profile person and I stood up to give my evidence.

"I am waiting for the outcome of the appeal like everybody else," he said.

Judge condemns 'witch-hunt' mentality
In one part of his remarks, which lasted for more than an hour, Chief Judge Kidd condemned a "lynch mob" mentality against Pell and said the sentence should not be taken as a judgement of the Catholic Church.

"It is George Pell who falls to be sentenced," he said.

"We have witnessed outside of this court and within our community examples of a witch-hunt [or] lynch mob mentality in relation to you, Cardinal Pell.

"I utterly condemn such behaviour, that has nothing to do with justice of civilised society. The courts stand as a bulwark against such irresponsible behaviour."

Chief Judge Kidd also told survivors of child sexual abuse that the sentence "is not and cannot be a vindication of your trauma".

"Cardinal Pell has not been convicted of any wrongs against you. Cardinal Pell does not fall to be punished for any such wrongs," he said.

"I recognise that you seek justice, but it can only be justice if it is done in accordance to law.

"For me to punish Cardinal Pell for the wrongs committed against you would be contrary to the rule of law and it would not be justice at all."

Pell's health taken into account
The chief judge said in determining Pell's sentence he had taken into account Pell's heart problems and high blood pressure, conditions which were likely to be aggravated by stress in prison.

"I will impose a shorter non-parole period than I otherwise would have been inclined to impose in recognition in particular of your age, so as to increase the prospect of you living out the last part of your life in the community," the chief judge said.

He also said he made allowance for Pell's "good character and otherwise blameless life" in the 22 years since his offending.

He said as Pell had maintained his innocence, which was his right, there was no evidence of remorse or contrition on Pell's part to reduce his sentence.

Pell's barrister, Robert Richter QC, had argued at a pre-sentence hearing that Pell's act of sexual penetration on one of the choirboys was a "plain vanilla" case, remarks he later apologised for after a public outcry.

"I reject the submission of your counsel that the offending in the first episode, or the sexual penetration offence, was at, or towards the lower end of the spectrum of seriousness," the chief judge said.

"In my view it does not even approach low-end offending."

Some of the people gathered outside the court shouted at Mr Richter as he left.

As a consequence of his sentence, Pell will be registered for life as a sexual offender.

The chief judge said the cardinal had consented to an application from the prosecution to obtain a forensic sample from him.

Pell's crimes committed at cathedral
The court heard that Pell abused the choirboys, who cannot be identified, after celebrating one of his first Sunday masses as archbishop at St Patrick's Cathedral in East Melbourne.

He caught them drinking altar wine in the priest's sacristy, which was off limits to the choir.

One of the former choirboys gave evidence Pell had planted himself in the doorway and said something like "what are you doing here?" or "you're in trouble".

The then-archbishop moved his robes to expose his penis and forced one of the boys' heads down towards it.

The trial heard one of the choirboys asked: "Can you let us go? We didn't do anything."

But instead Pell moved onto the other choirboy. He pushed the boy's head down to his crotch and orally raped him.

After a few minutes, Pell ordered the boy to remove his pants and then molested him as he masturbated.

Pell abused that boy a second time two months later, after another Sunday mass when he pushed him up against the wall of a corridor in the back of the cathedral and groped him briefly.

Evidence of the abuse came from that former choirboy alone, who was the victim of two assaults.

The Court of Appeal is expected to hear Pell's appeal over two days in June.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-13/george-pell-sentenced-for-sexuall...

Catholics win exemption in ALP plan to link hospital funding, abortion

The Catholic sector will be exempt from federal Labor's plans to tie hospital funding to the provision of abortion services.

It comes as Labor walked back from its "expectation" that all public hospitals be consistently required to offer access to abortions to qualify for federal money under a renewed funding agreement.

Announcing the opposition's new women's health policy on Wednesday, health spokeswoman Catherine King and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said a new funding agreement between a Labor government and the states and territories would "expect that termination services will be provided consistently in public hospitals".

"This is critical to end the patchwork of service provision in Australia," a joint statement said.

"This is critical to end the patchwork of service provision in Australia," a joint statement said.

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However, a spokesman for Ms King said on Thursday "obviously" this would not be possible in every hospital, and the plan was about "working with states and territories to achieve legal, safe, affordable and accessible reproductive health services for women".

"Obviously not every hospital provides every medical procedure – for example, not every hospital does brain surgery or heart surgery. That's the same for terminations," he said.

"But we'll work through everything with the states and territories and local health districts to make sure our public health system offers all Australian woman access to safe, legal termination services if they need them."

On Wednesday, Ms King's office phoned leaders from the Catholic health sector to assure them that a Labor government would not withhold funding from Catholic hospitals refusing to perform terminations on religious grounds.

A spokesman for St Vincent's Health Australia said the sector was confident nothing would change for their facilities.

"Along with other non-government providers of public heath services, St Vincent's Health Australia's facilities have long-standing arrangements in place to care for women who request termination which ensures that they are able to access care and support from other providers if that is their wish," the spokesman said.

"Labor has confirmed that those arrangements will be respected under its new policy on women’s reproductive rights and will remain in place."

A spokesman said the details of the plan would be worked out with the states and territories during the negotiations of federal funding agreements, should Labor win office in May.

The next hospitals funding agreement is due to take effect in next year.

Victoria's Australian Medical Association general practice chairwoman Ines Rio said access to safe abortion was a "fundamental element of healthcare".

She said more should be done to improve access to medical terminations (the so-called abortion drug RU486), and overhaul the Medicare rebate system for GPs.

"Yesterday I inserted an IUD for a patient, which took 45 minutes and required nursing staff, and I got back $59 from Medicare," she said.

"It's not a financial model that's sustainable. The general practitioners are paying for that to be provided."

Suzanne Greenwood, chief executive of Catholic Health Australia, said while the details of Labor's policy remained unclear, the Catholic sector would never support abortion services.

"The deliberate killing of that innocent person in those early stages of life is not something we can participate in," she said.

About one quarter of Australian women will access an abortion service across their reproductive lives, says family planning organisation Marie Stopes Australia. It also estimates between 0 and 10 per cent of abortion services are provided by public hospitals, depending on the state.

https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/catholics-win-exemption-in-alp-p...

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