It's disappointing that, worried by debate over freedom of religion, the Malaysian government is restricting public discussion. "Public discussions . . . have the potential to create resentment among the public," Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, has explained. "They have widened the gap between the different faiths and because of that, the government has decided to ban all public discussions, forums, and conferences on the matter before it gets out of hand. . . . We are not concerned with private discussions at home; what we worry about are inter-faith roadshows, public forums, and conferences. . . . The government has given Malaysians the freedom to discuss any current issue, even the freedom to criticize us in a constructive manner. We, however, cannot extend this freedom to religion because it can incite disharmony in our multi-religious society."
Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, says that the action is also to protect the status of Islam. "I have always said do not raise this matter [of religion]. But it emerges here, there, back and forth. If we take the attitude [not to raise religious matters], then only the religion [of Islam] has the status quo. But if it is continuously being raised, what will happen then? A conflict." Abdullah criticized four state governments for not outlawing the spread of religions other than Islam. "Why are they still not doing it? To those states that have not [implemented such laws], they should consider. Take whatever actions needed," he said.
I expect that one of those states would be Sabah, where I was a volunteer worker for two years. In Sabah and Sarawak, ethnic diversity is greater than elsewhere in Malaysia and there is less identification of race with religion. The Kadazans/Dusuns, for example, the largest indigenous group in Sabah, are mainly Christian. Society in both states is visibly less divided by race and religion than on the peninsula. Sabah and Sarawak make up a fifth of Malaysia's population.
Malaysia's constitution gives freedom of religion, yet Malays are identified by law as Muslim. Political parties are based on race and consequently divided on religion as well. A case is now before the courts to decide whether a person has the right to cease to be a Muslim.
The Malays still have special economic privileges, created in colonial times when they were poorer and had fewer entreprenurial skills than the Indian and Chinese minorities. Malaysia is a moderate Islamic nation and only 55 percent of its people are Muslim. The special status of the Malays and other indigenous peoples is now out of date in a prosperous independent multiracial state. But the Muslim-led goverment is always wary of playing into the hands of Islamic conservatives. To protect its base among Malay voters, it seems to need to be seen to support Islamic privileges.
The Malaysian national day is known as Merdeka day -- meaning freedom, the freedom of independence. It's sad that Merdeka does not mean freedom of religious discussion.
Coming to the woods' edge
on my Sunday morning walk,
I stand resting a moment beside
a ragged half dead wild plum
in bloom, its perfume
a moment enclosing me,
and standing side by side
with the old broken blooming tree,
I almost understand,
I almost recognize as a friend
the great impertinence of beauty
that comes even to the dying,
even to the fallen,
without reason sweetening the air.
I walk on,
distracted by a letter accusing me of distraction,
which distracts me only from the hundred things
that would otherwise distract me
from this whiteness, lightness,
sweetness in the air. The mind
is broken by the thousand
calling voices it is always too late
to answer, and that is why it yearns
for some hard task, lifelong, longer
than life, to concentrate it
and make it whole.
But where is the all-welcoming,
that would do the same? Where
the quietness of the heart
and the eye's clarity that would be a friend's reply
to the white-blossoming plum tree?
. . . from A Timbered choir: the Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997, by Wendell Berry. New York: Counterpoint, 1998, pp. 87-88.
The General Manager
National Blood Authority
Locked Bag 8430
CANBERRA ACT 2601
The Age reports today that Australians are being urged to donate blood immediately , with current supplies of type O expected to last less than two days. The Australian Red Cross Blood Service today said it needed at least 1,000 more people with type O blood to give blood in the next couple of days to maintain necessary levels across the country. As you know, type O blood is important for accident victims when there is no time for blood analysis.
My blood type is O positive. I am willing to donate. I am in a monogamous relationship and HIV negative. But the Blood Bank doesn't want my blood because I am male and my partner is male.
Does this make sense?
Cocooned in Time, at this inhuman height,
The packaged food tastes neutrally of clay,
We never seem to catch the running day
But travel on in everlasting night
With all the chic accoutrements of flight:
Lotions and essences in neat array
And yet another plastic cup and tray.
"Thank you so much. Oh no, I'm quite all right".
At home in Cornwall hurrying autumn skies
Leave Bray Hill barren, Stepper jutting bare,
And hold the moon above the sea-wet sand.
The very last of late September dies
In frosty silence and the hills declare
How vast the sky is, looked at from the land.
-- "Back from Australia" from A nip in the air (1974) by John Betjeman
Anglophile Australian Prime Minister of the 1950s, Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, remarked that his ideal place for retirement would be a book-lined cottage in Kent. He was thinking of a kind of Englishness far better understood in the work of John Betjeman. Monday 28 August is the centenary of the birth of Sir John Betjeman CBE, poet laureate, Anglican, and eccentric observer of things English and the struggle between faith and doubt. In The Guardian (26 Aug 06) Terry Philpot look at the role faith played in Betjeman'spoetry.
Never an apologist for the Church of England--some of his poems satirise it--neither was he apologetic about his faith.
If there is a running theme in Betjeman's religious poetry, it is about the "honest doubt" which followed him all his life. This is seen in the conditionality with which he usually refers to his beliefs to friends, in letters and in his work. For example, he told the diarist James Lee-Milne that he "hoped" and thought that hope was greater than charity. He also talks of "wanting" to believe and "clinging" to the sacraments. Indeed, his attachment to a sacramental life was vital to sustaining his faith.
The coexistence of faith and doubt can be seen in lines like " 'I am the Resurrection and the Life': /strong, deep and painful, doubt inserts the knife." His eucharistic faith is poignantly stated in the poem Christmas: "That God was Man in Palestine/And lives today in Bread and Wine."
There were two especially significant experiences that affected his religious life. In childhood, a dreadful fear of hell was communicated by his Calvinist nurse. In later life came his fear of oblivion ("I would rather be alive in hell than extinct," he told one interviewer) but that early fear never left him. Even very late in life he would refer to the eschatological terror that he continued to feel. He also exhibited a deep fear of death and loneliness at end, as seen in poems like The Rest Home and Death in Leamington. [. . .]
Outwardly, Betjeman lived a traditional Anglican existence -- a regular churchgoer, bell ringer, church warden and parochial church council member. Yet behind these appearances, there was, for a poet whom some still regard as a nostalgic versifier, a profound and troubled spiritual existence. That he grappled with this into old age and that his work testifies to a lifelong unyielding search for truth rather than a discovery of it, shows how much Betjeman has to say to citizens of an age in which, in other ways, he found much to reject.
Betjeman appeals to me through his acute sense of place. As Charles Moore writes in The Telegraph(26 Aug 06)
Sometimes his imagination amazes. He listens to the autumn poplars in Harrow-on-the-Hill and imagines that the whole place is being invaded by the sea. He looks up at the cliffs above Matlock and perceives them poised like a great wave "a tossed and stony ocean nearing". Indeed, the sea ebbs and flows throughout his poetry, giving it much of its beauty, strangeness and sadness.
Betjeman understood better than almost any writer of his generation how what is seen--and heard and smelt and tasted--affects what is felt, and recalls it later. His experience of his father's anger or his mother's love, of his first schoolboy crush or his early Christian faith, might have universal application, but only took form in the particular--at the end of a drive from London to Cornwall, on Hackpen Hill near Marlborough, in evensong in City churches. [. . .]
Bells occur so often in Betjeman's poems because their sound dies at once and yet carries so much upon the air. They stand for the human relationship between the present, the past, and the eternal. They remind us of one place and one time, yet speak of all time: "Imprisoned in a cage of sound / Even the trivial seems profound", he wrote about a funeral bell, in a poem entitled, with characteristic specificity, "Uffington". Perhaps he was speaking about his own verse, too. The Global Positioning System that some people now have in their cars directs the driver to a minutely exact place. Betjeman works in the reverse way: he takes you from the minute place and positions you globally.
His Collected Poems contain, as well as an index of first lines, an "Index of Places", which I have never seen in any other book of verse. Start there and work outwards. Betjeman was passionate and utterly professional about his duty to turn this personal and local experience into art. "The gap from feeling to accomplishment!" he lamented. It is a gap that almost all amateur poets fail to bridge. Betjeman succeeded. I have often heard his poems read aloud to non-literary audiences, and there is always a gasp, an explosion of laughter, or a sigh which says, "Yes, that's it." He has "got" our embarrassment, or snobbery, or regret, or longing, our strange relation between what we say and what we really mean. And the flattering thing is that these are his feelings, too.
|The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hooker's Green.
The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.
Provincial public houses blaze
And Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all.'
And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.
|And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad,
And Christmas-morning bells say'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.
And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?
And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare--
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
--Christmas, from A few late chrysanthemums (1954) by John Betjeman.
Ian Thorpe has hit back at allegations he is fat and unfit by promising to race to new peaks of glory in the pool at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Thorpe, 23, has also defended his Los Angeles lifestyle and denied that gossip about him being gay is getting him down. But the five-times Olympic champion, one of the best swimmers of the modern era, says he is alarmed by the relentless paparazzi. He claims media scrutiny makes him think about retirement every day. Thorpe, who says a desire for privacy drove him out of Australia, was stung to defend his weight by a report he lived on pizza, hamburgers and soft drinks. He continues to train 40 hours a week, he says, and enjoys the tough regime. Thorpe also says he will be fit and firing for the world swimming championships in Melbourne next year. Responding to criticism of him in a Sydney newspaper, Thorpe said his only fast food indulgence was a weekly protein burger. Otherwise he stuck to a training diet.I don't normally have much time for Sydney tabloid, the Daily Telegraph and its Sunday stablemate, but this week's Sunday Telegraph is right when it opines that Thorpe has earned privacy and respect.
For some inexplicable reason, Australians seem to have a wildly equivocal love-hate relationship with our leading athletes. On the one hand, they are lionised and put up as inviolable objects of veneration, cast as solid-gold role models who can do no wrong, feted and fawned over in a manner that would be embarrassing if it weren't for their achievements. And on the other, they can fall victim to the uniquely Australian syndrome, that of the "tall poppy": a condition in which they become veritable sitting ducks for vicious and bile-filled cynics and critics waiting to attack with unmitigated glee.
Witness one of Australia's most successful and recognised athletes, and our most decorated Olympian, Ian Thorpe. In recent weeks, Thorpe has been the target of another newspaper organisation which ridiculed his physique, relied on unnamed sources who attacked his training ethic and commitment to swimming and questioned his "Hollywood" friends. Thorpe . . . has been almost besieged by those eager to paint a negative portrait of him, and has been forced in recent times to take extraordinary steps to protect his privacy, including moving to another country and taking evasive driving courses.
The stories about his fitness levels and diet were not just a cheap shot, they were wrong. There is now no denying that Thorpe is in swimming mode . . . the legendary swimmer is in excellent shape. . . . Thorpe has dedicated his life to swimming ever since he burst into public consciousness as a callow 14-year-old, and he has done it while graciously accepting the adoration of the public and the never-ending expectation that he continue to dominate the sport he loves, and the scrutiny of those who have questioned his sexuality and his lifestyle. It is important to note, too, that Thorpe has never let his country down, whether in the pool or out of it. Even when the pressures have been enormous, he has been a gentleman; he has made himself available to the public, and has given back to the community through his charity and community work.
He doesn't deserve such appalling treatment. The man Australians have come to love and know as the Thorpedo deserves much better. He deserves respect for his past achievements, just as he deserves the space to enable him to concentrate on those that may be in his future.
I am greatly looking forward to my first direct encounter with China. I very much welcome this opportunity to come alongside the Church in China, as well as to gain a fuller appreciation of China's remarkable development in recent years and its unique cultural heritage. I am most grateful to Presbyter Ji Jianhong, the Chairperson of the National Committee of the Three Self Patriotic Movement, and to Revd Cao Shengjie, the President of the China Christian Council, for their invitation.Menawhile, Howard W. French writes in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune on 18 Aug 06 concerning "a national wave of repression against independent, or underground, churches that are not registered with the government and do not recognize the authority of state-appointed spiritual leaders."uch as those Dr Williams will meet.
Since the Regulation on Religious Affairs law, was introduced in March 2005, provincial and local governments have begun a series of crackdowns on underground churches across China. The vaguely worded new rules call for local governments to "standardize" the management of religion nationwide. The Chinese crackdown, which also affects other faiths, especially Buddhism in Tibet and Islam in the far western Xinjiang Province, comes at a time of booming growth in underground churches across the country.French describes and incident in Hangzhou incident, in which the authorities demolished a the nearly completed church, saying that it was being built without proper authorization, while working hard to suppress news of the event.
The right to practice any of five recognized faiths -- Buddhism, Catholicism, Taoism, Islam and Protestantism -- is enshrined in the Chinese Constitution, and the authorities routinely insist that religious freedom exists in this country. Under Chinese law, however, all recognized faiths must be registered and approved by the government, and they are closely monitored and required to follow strict and frequently changing regulations.
Armed with the new law, religious affairs and human rights specialists say, local officials are forcing small, independent parishes to close or to merge under tighter government control. The new rules also make it harder to register with the authorities even for those who wish to operate within the law. According to the China Aid Association, an American Christian advocacy group that monitors religious freedom in China, 1,958 pastors were arrested at churches like these in the past year alone.
Although the crackdown is decentralized, with each province and locality carrying out the repression on its own, the pattern is as unmistakable as the constant stream of incidents. In one recent case in Tongwei, a village in eastern Anhui Province, in late July, 90 children were reportedly detained with 40 adults after the police raided a Protestant Sunday school, calling the church teachings "illegal evangelism."
At about the same time, in Hebei Province in the north, as many as 90 protesters were arrested after demanding the release of two clergymen from the underground Roman Catholic Church, who had been detained without explanation.
One parishioner who spoke to foreign journalists about the destruction was detained. Zan Aizong was arrested and then fired from his job as a reporter for a local newspaper, after he wrote of the church demolition on a Chinese Web site.
According to a lawyer for the parishioners, most of them poor peasants, church leaders had long sought a permit to build a new place of worship but had been frustrated at every turn by administrative obstacles. At one point, parishioners were told they could erect a church on a narrow, triangular plot under an elevated highway.
"It was totally inappropriate for a church, and such a location gives us reason to believe the government doesn't want them to build a church," said the lawyer, Li Boguang. Asked why, he said: "The Chinese government is an atheistic government. They are afraid of the Christians and don't want to see Christianity develop, so they find all kinds of means to prevent it from growing freely."
The Superannuation (Entitlements of Same Sex Couples) Act 2003 allowed superannuation funds to pay 'reversionary' death benefits to members of same sex couples, but did ignored schemes for Australian Government employees, which are cover by separate laws. SCOA was also disappointed that changes didn't make such reversionary compulsory across for all the non-Government superannuation schemes, but left the decision to each fund's trustees. This unfair and discriminatory arrangement allows moral judgments to affect the retirement income security of many Australians.
SCOA has written repeatedly to the Minister for Finance and Administration, Senator Minchin, on these questions. His office replied in February 2006 that
Extending eligibility to reversionary benefits in the closed defined benefit schemes (the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme and the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme) is a more complex matter than for accumulation funds, which are the more common superannuation funds. As such the issue is still being examined.Earlier advice from Senator Minchin had said,
However, because of the design of these schemes a number of technical matters and also budgetary considerations need to be fully examined before any decision can be made.Yet the Federal Treasurer, Mr Costello, said on ABC News on 7 June 2006 that he supported improved superannuation rights for same sex couples.
On 24 May 2006 SCOA made a submission to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's inquiry into entitlements for same sex couples. It outlined its attempts to lobbying the Government and asked that the inquiry recommend that reversionary benefits be paid compulsorily to members of same sex couples.
The Australian Government schemes in question are now closed to new employees. I speculate that the present Howard Government will ignore its promises and not change them.
As in America, Australia's participation in the war caused deep social and political conflict. I was one of those obliged to register as a potential draftee, though I was not selected. I was opposed to Australia's participation in the war but I do not criticize servicemen and women who did their duty honourably and are now represented by the Vietnam Veterans' Association. Blame rests with the conservative government of the day which, in craven subservience to the United States, committed Australia to the war. The friendship between Australian Prime Minister Holt and US President Johnson was genuine, but many Australians still wince at the memory of Holt's declaration, "All the way with LBJ." I did not like street demonstrations, but I sympathised with the protest slogan, "Drop Holt on Hanoi." One of the first acts of the new Australian Labor Party government elected on 2 December 1972 after 23 years of conservative rule was to abolish the conscription regulations.
The Medallion reproduced above depicts the Long Tan Cross which was raised on the third anniversary of the battle and remained while the Australians were stationed in the province. Today it is in the military museum at Bien Hoa. After long negotiation with the Australian Veterans Vietnam Reconstruction Group, in April 2002 the Vietnamese people unveiled a completely renovated memorial, giving official acceptance by the Vietnamese of the site's importance to Australian veterans. The AVVRG, a recognised non government organisation in Vietnam, has long worked in the former Australian Task Force area of operations, with aid projects such as water filtering systems apparatus, an orphanage, microfinance programs, English language tutoring and a kindergarten.
The role of the Exclusive Brethren in:The Labor party did not support Senator Brown's proposal because, in the words of Senator Chris Evans,
(a) family breakdown and psychological and emotional effects related to the practice of excommunication or other practices;
(b) Australian politics and political activities, including donations to political parties or other political entities and funding specific advertising campaigns;
(c) the receipt of funding from the Federal Government or other political entities;
(d) taxation and other special arrangements or exemptions from Australian law that relate to Exclusive Brethren businesses;
(e) special arrangements and exemptions from Australian law that relate to Exclusive Brethren schools, military service and voting; and
(f) any related matters.
Labor's view is that a term of reference for a Senate inquiry into the Exclusive Brethren is not justified on the basis of our view of the Senate's function. We do not think it is appropriate for us to be conducting an inquiry into a private, in this case, religious organisation. There are other avenues to pursue variousConservative senators echoed Senator Eric Abetz's earlier call for Bob Brown to apologise. "Senator Brown should do the decent thing -- withdraw the motion and publicly apologise to the Australian people and to the Senate for this extreme and obnoxious vilification of this minority group." Abetz has gone so far as to compare Brown's action to Nazi persecution of the Jews. Being offensive himself, Abetz had said, "When a leader of a political party in Australia starts scapegoating a lawful religious minority the warning bells of history should be ringing loud . . . once you remove the Green overcoat, there is a Brown shirt lurking underneath."
points of concern that Senator Brown has listed in his motion. Some of those are available to him within the parliament, and I will certainly defend his right to raise these issues within the appropriate forums. Some of the matters really are a matter for the police, the Australian Electoral Commission or for the Taxation Office; concerns in those areas ought to be referred to them.
The ABC reported on the Exclusive Brethren in its Background Briefing radio program on 30 April 2006.
The members (15,000 in Australia) don't vote because government is God's work. Yet their world leader, Sydney businessman Bruce Hales, has led his members into political activism. His titles rival those of the Pope in their effusiveness -- Elect Vessel, the Lord's Representative on Earth, the Great Man, the Paul of Our Day, Minister of the Lord in Recovery.
The Brethren are spending large sums for Australian political campaigns, including tens of thousands of dollars in a campaign to make life difficult for the Greens in the most recent Tasmanian State election. The New Zealand Greens also allege dirty tricks against them by the Exclusive Brethren.
The Tasmanian Greens were targeted by two campaigns, one from a group of Tasmanian business leaders warning of the dangers of minority government, and the other from a two men, later revealed to be members of the Exclusive Brethren, who leafleted every letterbox in Tasmania and placed ads in newspapers with an anti-Green message. They attacked the Greens on same-sex marriage and said they were planning to introduce unconditional dole payments for all. The impact of the campaign is difficult to assess, but the greens are convinced that The Exclusive Brethren are a malevolent social and political force -- as would seem evident from the ABC's report.
Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner found there to be sufficient grounds to investigate a complaint about the Exclusive Brethren in relation to its conduct during the Tasmanian election campaign, especially in it publication of newspaper advertisements expressing alarm about the Tasmanian Greens' policies on same-sex marriages and sex-change operations. The Commissioner's decision has not been released. The Australian Electoral Commission has confirmed it is still "considering whether the Exclusive Brethren have a disclosure obligation related to the 2004 federal election".
David Marr has a full length article on the Exclusive Brethren in the Sydney Morning Herald of 1 Jul 06. In the article, Marr says that
Bob Brown admits his party was "almost culpably naive" going into the Tasmanian elections earlier this year. Mysterious pamphlets appeared smearing the Greens' lax attitudes to drugs and attacking the party's tax policies. But the focus was on sex: homosexuals, gay marriage, sex-change operations funded by Medicare and the foul idea that "persons [may] choose their own gender regardless of their sex at birth".In a 16 August media release, the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group condemned the Senate's refusal to investigate the political activity of the Exclusive Brethren, but took heart that the Brethren's sect's political advertising is currently under examination by the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission. Spokesperson Rodney Croome said that the Brethren have been behind gay-hate advertising campaigns in at least five countries, including Australia, and must be brought to account.
The vilification of minorities on such a huge and co-ordinated scale demands public scrutiny. The inquiry proposed by the Australian Greens would have exposed how the Brethren's anti-gay and anti-transgender hate campaigns are organised and funded, whether they are linked to mainstream political parties, and the objectives behind them.Croome dismissed claims by Senator Eric Abetz that the Greens motion amounted to vilification of a religious group. "Hate cannot hide behind the Cross. If neo-Nazis had been published anti-gay and anti-transgender ads like the Brethren's the public would demand to know what was going on."
All this raises a difficult ethical question. Freedom of religion is extraordinarily important and to be protected whenever possible. But it is not absolute. It is surely possible to conclude that some religions are evil. Even the most important religions have been expressed in evil ways, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Can a parliamentary committee properly investigate whether a religious group is malevolent? Australia's constitution makes its Parliament responsible for peace, order and good government. The Australian Senate is an unlikely to stoop to McCarthyism; a majority of members on any committee would prevent a witch hunt; the Senate has done the Australian people a disservice in not responding to Senator Brown more carefully.
Rodney Croome wrote this letter to Tasmanian newspaper, The Mercury.
The Senate's refusal to investigate the Exclusive Brethren's political activity is a slap in the face to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people.
According to New Zealand academic, Marion Maddox, members of the Brethren have been behind anti-gay hate advertising campaigns for over a decade in at least five countries, including Australia. Vilification of minorities on such a huge and co-ordinated scale raises legitimate questions of public concern including how the Brethren's hate campaigns are organised and funded, the objectives behind them, and whether they are linked to mainstream political parties.
Congratulations to Senator Christine Milne for raising the latter issue. Many GLBT people are suspicious that the Brethren act as a front group for homophobic elements within the Liberal Party. The suspicion that the two are linked deepened when state election ads authorised by members of the Exclusive Brethren and those issued by the Liberal Party condemned same-sex marriage using identical wording.
Given that these ads fostered the kind of hatred which leads to discrimination and violence, the Liberal Party has a duty to account for this perfect match beyond the evasive responses we've heard from State Director, Damien Mantach.
To re-inspire trust in the Liberal Party could Mr Mantach please tell the Tasmanian public:
- Were gay and transgender issues discussed by members of the Exclusive Brethren and representatives of the Liberal Party before the last election?
- Were any materials exchanged relating to these issues, or to political advertising about these issues?
- Was money exchanged in relation to research, design or publication of political advertisements?
- How does the Liberal Party account for the fact that references to same-sex marriage in its election materials exactly match those in materials distributed by the Exclusive Brethren?
- Having met with representatives of the Brethren, will Damien Mantach now meet representatives of the GLBT community to discuss our concerns?
17 Aug 06
Are Christianity and homosexuality antithetical to each other? You might be led to that conclusion after reading many articles in the mainstream press lately. Unless it's a story specifically about the intersection of gay rights and religion -- like an article about openly gay Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson -- you're unlikely to find coverage of gay rights concerns that don't include anti-gay quotes from those who profess religious beliefs and an absence of pro-gay quotes from religious people. [. . .]
The problem is that good journalists are missing the irrelevance of supposed inverse relationships between homosexuality and Christianity just as many good journalists once missed the point that the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal was about pedophilia and not homosexuality. Worse still, the mainstream press still largely blanks on pro-gay religious activities when reporting on gay concerns.
The Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry (RCFM) has been a significant presence in lobbying for same-sex marriage rights. To the Boston Globe's credit, the newspaper wrote a significant story about the group and the work it was doing to defeat the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment several days before the July 12 Constitutional Convention (ConCon).
But when it came time for the Globe to cover the ConCon, there was no mention of RCFM, despite the fact that there were several pro-gay-marriage clergy from different religious denominations -- Unitarian, Episcopalian, United Church of Christ -- who showed up wearing their clerical garb -- so they weren't to be missed -- at the State House that day. Did the reporters assume that if they were religious that they must have been anti-gay? They could have interviewed Episcopalian Rev'd. Anne C. Fowler, United Methodist Rev. Tiffany Steinwert or American Baptist Rev. Irv Cummings. But they didn't. The Globe cover story quoted extensively from a Catholic nun who opposed same-sex marriage, and it quoted from another gay marriage opponent who was quoted as saying, "We came here today to support God."
That's all well and good, except that many, many people who support gay marriage also showed up at the State House to "support God." Why weren't they quoted? The divide on gay rights is not a divide between gay rights supporters and Christians. There are Christians on both sides of the issue. The divide is between gay rights supporters and those who favor discriminating against gay people. That's it.
Let's stop pretending that religion has anything to do with this. Those who support discrimination may think that it is because they are Christian, but nobody, least of all the press, should let them get away with it. Just because most -- if not all -- gay rights opponents are religious, doesn't mean that all gay people are anti-religious. The press needs to do a better job of ensuring that the Christian voice is heard on both sides of the debate.
The solidarity visit began with the delegation seeking to enter the Gaza Strip from the Erez crossing point, but they were delayed for two and one half hours even though the religious leaders had secured entry permits in advance.
Gaza's Roman Catholic parish priest Manuel Musallam had arranged a full program which had to be cut short due to the delay to enter Gaza. The delegation was not able to visit the most recently devastated areas of Al Maghazi and Atatrah in North Gaza.
(Details of the visit.)
[. . . ] The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, said he was pleased to be in Gaza, pointing out that the visit aims at showing the Churches solidarity with the Palestinian people. He stressed the importance of national unity to reach our goals, affirming that the all aggression against the Palestinian people must stop.
The Bishop of the Anglican Church, Riah H. Abu El-Assal, said the delegation carried greetings of Jerusalem to the people of Gaza despite the attempts to steal our freedom. For his part, the Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem, Rev. Mounib Younan, stressed that justice must prevail to make a real peace, pointing out that occupation and walls produce hatred, not peace and love.
Since June 28, 2006, with the beginning of the recent problems in Gaza, Caritas Jerusalem has reached out to 1,074 families in the Gaza Strip with direct assistance and humanitarian food aid. The assistance has been made possible due to the support of numerous Caritas partner organizations that have joined Caritas Jerusalem's Special Operations Appeal.
So far Caritas partners from Australia, Belgium Canada, England, Japan, Spain, Luxembourg, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland and France as well as other organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need from Germany and many individual donors have supported this appeal. This appeal was issued in May for almost $1.5 million (U.S. dollars). Since the initial release of the appeal, the situation in the Holy Land has deteriorated dramatically since the end of June.
The craziest thing in the article is that, as Horin notes, Prime Minister, John Howard, has said: "We will always seek to remove areas of discrimination against homosexual, gay and lesbian people. . . " Yet it is plainly and simply obvious that he has not done so. The hundreds of submissions to the Inquiry, including mine, are abundant evidence of government's hypocrisy and the Prime Minister's failure to keep his word.
Gay rights have come a long way in the past 30 years, but state and federal laws ensure homosexual couples are treated as second-class citizens.
Because of the 36-year age difference they had seemed an unlikely pair. Yet it had been love at first sight when Jiro Takamisawa met World War II veteran John George in Tokyo in 1984. George impressed the younger man with his "amazing personality", his kindness, his sense of humour and his knowledge of theatre. The Australian immigration officer was sceptical of the relationship when she later approved Takamisawa's application for permanent residency in Australia. But the relationship stood the test of time. "In the beginning I was dependent on him," Takamisawa, 48, says. "But in the last years he was dependent on me. I told him, 'I will be with you whatever happens'."
They lived together for 20 years, and Takamisawa gave up his job to care for his ailing partner in the last years of his life. After George died of heart disease in October 2004, aged 83, his grieving partner applied -- on principle -- for a war widow's pension. In the same situation a wife would have qualified. Takamisawa was taken aback when the Department of Veterans Affairs granted him the pension in January last year. The only catch was the letter addressed him as "Miss". When he informed the department he was a "Mr" the pension was rescinded immediately. There was sympathy but the law did not allow it.
The passionate debate around gay marriage and civil unions has obscured the continuing discrimination against homosexual couples embedded in dozens of pieces of federal and some state legislation. From the Veterans Entitlements Act to the Workplace Relations Act, from the Income Tax Assessment Act to the National Health Act, gay couples are excluded from receiving a range of benefits available to married and de facto heterosexual couples. Definitions of the term "spouse", "partner" or "dependent" explicitly exclude people in same-sex relationships.
This can affect access to carer's leave, bereavement leave and bereavement payments, the widow's allowance, health care and pensioner concession cards, superannuation spouse contributions, "paternity" leave, and child-care rebates where the non-biological mother pays the child-care fees.
It means the couple - because of a lack of acknowledgement of their combined income or expenditure - cannot qualify for a reduced Medicare levy and other benefits that flow to families under the Pharmaceutical Benefits and Medicare Safety Net schemes. Federal public servants, defence force members, veterans, members of Parliament and judges face particular discrimination in areas such as superannuation, pensions and workers' compensation.
Stories of discrimination are pouring forth at moving public hearings the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is holding around the country. Its investigation into discrimination against people in same-sex relationships, focusing on financial and work-related entitlements, is bringing to light the extent to which gay couples are treated as second-class citizens.
Stevie Clayton, chief executive of the AIDS Council of NSW, told the Sydney hearing the impact of the discrimination was "not that we miss out on a few dollars: when you have laws that say your relationships are not as real and whole and as important as everyone else's you see yourself in that way -- it leads to higher rates of depression, alcohol and drug use".
The people coming forward at the hearings -- or making written submissions -- are the kind that have converted staunch conservatives such as Warren Entsch, the Liberal backbencher from northern Queensland, to the cause of equal rights for same-sex couples. He has drafted a bill, to be presented to Coalition colleagues soon, to eliminate discrimination against these couples.
Thirty years after gays came out of the closet, many now have lived with their partner for two decades or more. They are federal public servants such as Brian McKinlay, 58, who wrote to the inquiry that he had been required, when he joined the Australian Public Service 30 years ago, to join the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme. "Of itself, that is no bad thing," he says. His salary is double that of his 60-year-old long-term partner "and I want to provide security for him should I die before he does".
But as the legislated definition of "eligible spouse" for the scheme excludes a person of the same sex, he cannot provide that security through superannuation death benefits. They hold all their "debts and assets in common -- house, mortgage, car, bank account, furniture, insurance, etc. Superannuation is the only asset of importance that we cannot share."
John Goldbaum wrote that he is in "a same-sex de facto marriage" of 30 years. His "husband" has three biological children and "we now have seven grandchildren and they all love me and regard me as their grandfather". But they had not been eligible for a family rate for private health insurance.
"That's in the past . . . We are now getting old," he wrote. And the discrimination continues. They cannot combine their expenditure in order to reach the Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefit safety net thresholds, and pay out twice as much as their heterosexual counterparts because they each must reach the thresholds. "It's not the money . . . it's the principle. It makes us second-class citizens despite the fact that we are first-class taxpayers."
Jim Woulfe is looking further ahead, to the possibility of nursing home care. Though he and Andreas Ohm, his partner of 19 years, are fit 49-year-olds, they know that without changes to the Aged Care Act they may suffer discrimination should one of them need to move into an aged-care residence. Under the act, the family home does not have to be sold to pay for the accommodation bond if a spouse or heterosexual de facto partner is still living in it. But a gay partner is not given the same protection.
Entsch, who describes himself as "fiercely heterosexual", says his bill would eliminate such discrimination by inserting where appropriate in all relevant laws the words "same sex and interdependent couples". Friendship with gay people has opened his eyes. "I've had one fellow working for me, he's been in a gay relationship for 15 years. He bleeds when you cut him. He's a decent human being," he says. "I know people in Canberra together for 40 years. An ex-public servant who is 78 with a partner 72. If the older man dies his partner gets nothing out of Commonwealth super. I have a wonderful partner but if I broke up with her, walked down the street and met someone, lived with her six months and nominated her as my 'spouse' she would get five-eighths of my pension."
Some progress has been made in eliminating discrimination. For example, gay partners of serving military are treated as an "interdependent partner" and have their moving costs covered in transfers. As well, changes in superannuation laws in 2004 mean people in "interdependency relationships" can receive the same super benefits as married or de facto partners, but this does not apply to federal public servants, defence force personnel, or parliamentarians.
Changes to state law have put same-sex couples on an equal footing in areas such as inheritance, division of property and next-of-kin rights. But parenting rights remain unequal. Susan Everingham and Maria Vidal, together for 13 years, have a 20-month-old daughter, Antonia. Everingham told the Sydney hearing: "I am her biological mother but my partner loves her just as much and yet our daughter's birth certificate states she has only one parent. I find that very sad."
An increasing number of lesbians use artificial insemination, but the non-biological parent -- unlike a male partner in the same situation -- has limited rights. The lack of formal recognition causes uncertainty in areas such as parental authority in relation to schooling and medical treatment. Under the federal laws, she is not eligible for "paternity" leave when the baby is born, and may not have equal rights to access if the relationship breaks up, or a responsibility to pay child support.
"We are a family and yet if I die, Maria would have to rely on the good will of my parents and three siblings not to challenge her right to have custody," Everingham says.
Lynne Martin and her partner of 12 years, Michelle McCormack, have an eight-week-old son, Tom. Dismay over discrimination has prompted them to consider taking advantage of a rare benefit available to them that is not available to heterosexual couples -- the sole parent payment. As their relationship is not recognised under the Social Security Act, McCormack, the biological mother, is eligible for the payment. "It's a moral dilemma," Martin says.
In comparison with gay marriage or civil unions, the push for equality before the law in these less contentious areas has more chance of success. Entsch says most of his colleagues are giving strong support: "A number of them want to second my bill."
The Prime Minister, John Howard, while leading the charge against civil unions, has said: "We will always seek to remove areas of discrimination against homosexual, gay and lesbian people . . . "
Michael Burge, like the others who spoke at the Sydney hearings, believes legal changes would help soften homophobic attitudes. But his experience tells him that will not be enough. After his partner of four years, Jonathan Rosten, died suddenly, he found his name had been removed from the death certificate when the funeral director complied with requests of Rosten's family even though under NSW law Burge was next of kin. "Change will come when parents and family accept their sons and daughters are openly gay and have relationships which are in every way equal to heterosexual relationships," he says.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics will count the number of same-sex couples in Australia for the third time during this census -- having previously counted 10,214 couples in 1996 and 19,594 couples in 2001.
Same-sex couples can have their relationship counted by indicating that they are in a de facto relationship at questions 5 and 53. The Coalition provides more information here. One partner fills in their details as person one, and the other as person two. To indicate a same-sex relationship, you each indicate the same sex at question 3 (i.e. both male, or both female), while at question 5 person two indicates that they are in a 'de facto relationship with person 1' at question 5.
The Census will underestimates the number of non-heterosexual people in Australia, as it does not ask the sexual orientation of individuals. The ABS says that for statistical purposes "A de facto marriage exists between a couple of the same sex when the two people are usual residents in the same household and their relationship is reported as husband, wife, spouse, partner, de facto, common law husband/wife/spouse, lover or boyfriend. The term girlfriend is not used as an indication of a de facto marriage between two females who are usual residents in the same household."