Catholic sex offenders and parliamentary privilege: The Drum panel discuss

The Drum panel discuss Nick Xenophon’s controversial use of Parliamentary privilege to name an Adelaide Catholic priest for alleged sexual abuse [Sept. 15th].

Later the panel discuss wider implications of abuse by clergy, pros and cons of the “Melbourne Process” and changes needed to support victims with Pam Kristic former Catholic school teacher and worker for advocacy group, In Good Faith.

Tim Palmer hosts a panel including Chris Berg from The institute of Public Affairs, 2UE’s John Stanley and Rhys Muldoon, actor and writer.

Catholic Abuse & Xenophon’s Parliamentary Privilege discussed on The Drum


Howard’s bigoted legacy is still with us

Yesterday was National Marriage Day, a celebration of homophobia, bigotry and fundamentalist clap trap held at Parliament House and organised by my old agents provocateur Warwick and Alison Marsh of The Fatherhood Foundation aka Dads4kids.

In recent years I spent a great deal of time in the immensely rewarding debunking and challenging of Christian Science and fundamentalism that had crept into illicit drug policy, leaving high numbers of vulnerable Aussies dead and/or abused in exorcisms. Young earth creationists, enemies of Darwin and “postmodernist science”, I remember one member writing on a public email list that I was “filled with hate” after I quoted from a Skeptic publication. I had begun to call family values “the F Word”.

Thanks to John Howard’s archaic views and federal health minister (no less) Tony Abbott’s short sightedness Australia fell away from being a world leader in harm reduction. In crept new terms like “harm prevention” (behaviour modification) and the argument amongst many that a family that eats together and goes to church together is “drug proofing” children, that jail was “compassionate”, even “love”. “I can’t help you if you can’t read (the bible)”, offered one opponent.

Debates on controlling lethal blood borne viruses flowed easily across the lines of discrimination and strident attempts were made to ban “addiction causing” needle exchanges, close injecting facilities and revive that old standard – condoms “cause” AIDS by promoting sexual promiscuity. We struggled to defend against well funded attacks from those who treated addiction not as a health problem, not just as a crime problem but as sin. Our problem, one Parliamentary Inquiry was told was that we suffered from “the disease sex, drugs and rock n roll”.

The epidemiological mechanisms of HIV spread are well known. Safe sex and safe injecting as components of harm reduction protect our entire community. Yet for some God fearing conservatives “beasts” and “self abusing sinners” just must not be. Worse, one only need read Andrew Bolt to see how easily is is to whip up support for all things “unnatural”. Drug policy critics, architects and representatives of the gay community and HIV educators were all targetted. Slowly but surely they drew their plans against us.

Yet, with reality being the undeniable thing it is, they gradually faded into the background. Although not until undermining 25 years of public health progress that is still years from being regained. To be sure the creatures from Drug Free Australia are still with us but are presently relegated primarily to preaching to Swedish and Scandinavian based human rights opponents. Where organised far right wing Christian fundamentalism against anything left leaning (that arguably bolsters dangerous minds like Anders Brevik) has it’s home.

A constant feature popping up and leaving you momentarily too stunned to move – like some moral horror from a Whack-a-Mole game designed by Stephen King – was Dads4Kids. Their delusion is simple. A Christian family “as God intended” is the answer to all social ills, whilst it’s absence is the cause.

So, it was with little surprise yesterday that I noticed Wazza and Aly playing much the same tune as on 18th September 2007 when John Howard took the podium at the National Strategic Summit on Marriage, Family and Fatherhood (see video below). John was also kind enough to open up Parliament House for the occasion. “Key leaders” in the “marriage, family and fatherhood movement” gathered along with whom Wazza and Aly claim were “academics and researchers”.

The “marriage manifesto” – A vision for the renewal of marriage in Australia today was born to these proud beaming parents. No doubt a phobic blueprint for discrimination against equality and same sex union, peppered with horrors that must befall the little ones, it’s success is mimicked in the fact that no-one has ever heard of it. They also released 21 Reasons Why Gender Matters (embedded below) which links homosexuality to drug abuse, crime and paedophilia. Speakers also included Senator John Holt, then Attorney General, Philip Ruddock, shadow Attorney General Joe Ludwick, minister for family and community, Mal Brough, minister for immigration, Kevin Andrews “and many others”. John Howard takes us back to Missouri circa 1950;

…. I am a strong believer that every child should have the opportunity of growing up with a mother and a father. I have that very strong view and you will be aware that I practiced what I preached in relation to policy issues on that, stretching way back to some stances I took in relation to IVF and er.. the like, some years ago. And of course the changes to the definition of marriage in the federal marriage legislation which I sponsored in 2004. I also happen to believe that a proper functioning family is the best social welfare system mankind’s ever devised [Applause]…. I wish you well and I think the goals of your coalition are first rate and I hope to keep in communication with you…

Oh my. How quickly we forget. How well Abbott has blinded us to the dysfunctional impact of conservatism. Given Abbott has no alternative policies and runs on the adrenalin of contrary attacks on Julia Gillard we would do well to remember this is the very dreck we so longed to have gone from federal office. In November 2009, Nicola Roxon dumped from her staff a “health ambassador” who was a co-author of 21 reasons why gender matters. At almost the same time, Abbott described himself as “the ideological love child of John Howard and Bronwyn Bishop”. Be afraid dear reader, be very afraid. The bigotry of the Coalition is alive and well.

So yesterday’s phobic fun fest was predictable. Always attention seeking and always unprofessional Warwick and Alison Marsh chose to channel Miranda Devine, who recently linked gay parents and Penny Wong to the London riots. It was no accident that Devine published her article in the lead up to National Marriage Day, and took a swipe at Labor’s upcoming national conference with same sex marriage on the agenda. Devine wrote in part;

The traditional heterosexual norm of a nuclear family and children is something to be kept in a closet like an embarrassment… No one can be a wife or husband any more. Everyone is a “partner”.

“You don’t have a child to make a political point, do you?” [Wong] says. But others are having a field day, cynically using the four-month pregnancy as a weapon in the relentless push for same-sex marriage.

You only had to see the burning streets of London last week to see the manifestation of a fatherless society. The collapse of family life in Britain has been laid bare, reported to have the highest proportion of single mothers in Europe and nearly half of all children suffering family breakdown by the age of 16.

Devine is still fighting criticism on Twitter almost three days later as I write. The Marsh couple, whose impact on kids who don’t fit their narrow views is all too clear and who use creepy terms like “father wound” to describe the absence of a father, also missed the primary flaw in this foul argument. Over one third of heterosexual marriages fail and one would expect these moral judges to get their own house in order before launching into single mums and gay couples. Nonetheless Wazza and Aly shine with their duo performance;

Warwick: Cultural elites many are whom are ultra-feminists have waged war on marriage and fatherhood in Britain for three decades. Last weeks riots are a prime example of their success.

Alison: Tragically exactly the same thing is happening here in Australia. Congratulations have flowed to the well known radical feminist Penny Wong, and her lesbian partner on the impending birth of her partners new baby.

Warwick:  But where are the tears for the child who will grow up without her father in the home? Or where are the tears for the fatherless children who will one day occupy over 70% of the capacity of our already overcrowded jails?

Alison: Where are the tears for the fatherless children who medicate their father wound through self destructive alcohol, drug, porn and sex addiction? And who will in many cases end up taking their own lives.

Bob Katter was there seeking to reclaim the word “gay”. “Nobody has the right to take that word off us… and that image off us”. No real comment other than an observation. The only other time I’ve heard this nonsense was during an awesome episode of The Infidel Guy in which Regi did battle with a hate filled and foul mouthed Tim Phelps. The son of Westboro Baptist founder Fred Phelps, Tim also had deep longings for this “beautiful word”. I imagine Fred Flintstone is similarly shattered.

Fortunately Peter Reith, Fran Kelly and Peter Lewis give this insult the swift disposal it deserves. “Disgraceful, shameful… a warping of the debate to talk about fatherless children as though they’re the children of gay couples… the most offensive thing I’ve heard on The Drum, including anything panelists have ever said”.

Now on with the show below. But I’ll stress this one more time. Just what do you think the science illiterate Tony Abbott has to offer Australians? Be afraid… be very afraid.

National Marriage Day Critiqued on The Drum

National Strategic Summit on Marriage, Family and Fatherhood 2007

Why Gender Matters

Lest We Forget (Julian Burnside)

So here we are: Australia in 2011.  For convenience we have forgotten our origins, our good fortune, our blindness and our selfishness.  In place of memory we have constructed a national myth of a generous, welcoming country, a land of new arrivals where everyone gets a fair go; a myth in which vanity fills the emptiness where the truth was forgotten.

It is one of the most resonant phrases in our national mythology.  “Lest we forget”.  We say it, or think it, on 11th November each year and on Anzac day.

But forgetting lies at the heart of this country.  We have constructed a myth about ourselves which cannot survive unless we forget a number of painful truths.  We draw a veil of comforting amnesia over anything which contradicts our self-image.

Since John Howard saw the votes to be had by appropriating some of Pauline Hanson’s more repellent policy ideas, boat people have been tagged “illegals”.  Howard won the 2001 election on it; Abbott persists in it.  Gillard and Bowen go along with it like sheep because they have still not absorbed their own rhetoric.

We forget that boat people who come here to ask for protection are not illegal in any sense – they are exercising the right which every person has in international law to seek asylum in any country they can reach.

We forget that the first white settlers in this country were true illegals: sent here by English courts for a range of criminal offences, and the soldiers sent to guard them, and the administrators who, following London’s instructions, stole the country from its original inhabitants who, if possession is nine points of the law, had the backing of 30,000 years of law to justify calling the white invaders “illegals”.

And we forget, too, the line in the second verse of our national anthem: words that might fairly be understood as reflecting the simple truth recognised by the white settlers: for those who came across the sea there are truly boundless plains to share.  For refugees locked away on Christmas Island this must throw light on the frontier which delusion shares with hypocrisy.

And how many of us pause to remember how different it was for 85,000 Vietnamese boat people 30 years ago? They were resettled here swiftly and without fuss, thanks to the simple human decency which Malcolm Fraser and Ian Macphee showed, and which Abbott and Gillard so conspicuously lack.  We forget how hideously we scarred Vietnam; how we showered them with Agent Orange and trashed their villages and disfigured their people.  Just as we forget the effects of our collaboration in Iraq.  But if we knew back then why people flee the land of their birth, we seem to have forgotten it now.

When today’s refugees wash up on our shores, Abbott and Gillard, Bowen and Morrison all speak with concern about the boat people who die in their attempt to get to safety, but their concern is utterly false.  Instead of attacking the refugees directly, which is their real purpose, they attack the people smugglers instead.  Because, aren’t people smugglers the worst people imaginable?   They forget that Oskar Schindler was a people smuggler, and so was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  And so was Gustav Schroeder, captain of the ill-fated MS St Louis which left Hamburg in May 1939 with a cargo of 900 Jews looking for help.  He tried every trick in the book to land them somewhere safe, but was pushed away.  He ended up putting them ashore again in Europe, and more than half of them perished in concentration camps.  Abbott and Gillard forget that Captain Schroeder was a people smuggler.

They forget too that, without the help of people smugglers, refugees are left to face persecution or death at the hands of whatever tyranny threatens them.  Let Gillard or Abbott say publicly that, in the same circumstances, they would not use a people smuggler if they had to.

Read more.

© Julian Burnside

Chaplains in schools: how Australians were misled with false statistics

Following revelations on ABC Lateline of a creepy sex focused chaplain, lurking on the internet, who wanted to “spank” a student’s mate one may wonder just how this intellectual absurdity has gotten as far as it has. Well, I’ll get to that. The present programme – which is not wanted by the majority of schools – only exists through mischievous sleight of hand and simple lies fed to a gullible media.

It’s indeed an intellectual absurdity and a thunderously immoral abuse of students and tax payer monies that former High Court judge Michael Kirby recently said was ”offensive to the historical Australian principles of education”. He also described development of religious schools, to the detriment of public schools, under the Howard government schemes as, ”most inimical to the development of Australia as a harmonious society”.

Howard’s ill thought out attempt to resurrect God in education was doomed to fail and outrage Australians in exactly the manner it has. Christianity in Australia today includes multiple expressions. Unfortunately those most likely to succeed in political lobbying hold bizarre, out there views of persecution and missionary duties peppered with bigotry and discrimination. Let’s stick to chaplains, which all started in October 2006 under John Howard who promised $90 million for three years. Before one could say, “Thou Shalt Not Steal”, it had boomed out to $165 million.

As the glorious day of expunging the programme drew close in 2009 The National School Chaplaincy Association populated by the most aggressive proselytising evangelists, hatched a plan for survival. They decided to survey school principals where NSCA employed federally funded chaplains worked, and by hook or by crook would use the results to commit the Rudd government to further funding. Straight off the NSW Education Union wanted nothing to do with the survey:

NSW Education Dept. Statement

Now, there were 2,712 schools with NSCA member federally funded chaplains at that time. In terms of the available sample to be surveyed by the NSCA it follows 2,712 = 100%.

Here’s where the deception begins. Only 1,626 schools with NSCA employed federally funded chaplains were sent the survey. Why? What criteria were used for inclusion and exclusion? Nonetheless much less than half of The Chosen – 688 responses from principles – were returned to the NSCA. That’s only 25% of of the qualified sample of 2,712, across Australia. Just how much weight can such a small sample carry? Not to worry. Their final report is self congratulatory, impossibly positive and rather vague. There are entirely subjective accounts of case studies and a bullet list rating out of 10 for how chaplains assisted development of students, relating to morality, community, social inclusion, peer relationships and other roles professional counsellor’s should be managing. Regrettably the report did not set off the alarm bells about what was clear psychological meddling with students development, to the satisfaction of Christian educators and lobbyists.

The highest score – 8.6 was “for providing an opportunity for students to talk through issues”. I kid you not. They were even afforded a 7 for “improving relationships between students and their families”. Chaplains “deal with a wide range of issues, but most frequently with behaviour management and social relationship issues… [and] also deal with ‘big picture’ and spiritual issues as students raise them. In the case studies, there were no occasions reported where chaplains had pushed their own beliefs…”. All this from a returned survey sample of 25% of schools with federally funded chaplains. You can download the NSCA Report here. After more non evidence based claims (refuted by Australian psychological experts) that chaplains serve some vital role in helping with family breakdown, bereavement and more, the final paragraph reads;

Ninety-eight per cent of principals said that chaplaincy is important and want government funding to continue. Many principals want the funding to be expanded to ensure all schools can access the program and that large schools, schools in low socio-economic areas and other schools with high needs can have greater access to the services of chaplains. Chaplaincy is a unique service that is proving to be of great value to students, staff, parents, and their schools. It is proving effective in offering care, building the social skills of students, and encouraging responsible behaviour. It is of great long-term value to the wellbeing (sic) of Australian communities.

Time to roll out the spin on what may have been a 24.5 % positive response [A miraculous 98% of the 25% of all schools with NSCA federally funded chaplains who returned the survey]. First up was NSCA member and head survey author Reverend Philip Hughes who told ABC’s PM programme on October 13th, 2009 that 97% of school principles supported chaplains in schools [Audio: 2 min 30]. Not long after Alex Somley federal Liberal member for Fairfax QLD “referred the PM” to the impending end of the NSCP which was “supported by over 95% of the participating principles in Australia.”

On October 30th, The Australian Christian Lobby’s Chief of staff, Lyle Shelton employed that irksome online news video caper of self congratulation that the ACL have used to distort and mislead for years. The Edith Cowan University (where Rev. Philip Hughes was based) was “commissioned”, Shelton claimed, by the NSCA to survey schools and found 97% of principles were in favour of these great male and female “chappies” saving kids from the toils of reality.

On November 12th, then Deputy PM Julia Gillard was reported in Fairfax as saying the government would consider funding for the chaplaincy programme. The moral guardians in the Australian Christian Lobby leapt to NSCA defence and on November 20th, 2009 published Christian Lobby highlights role of chaplains in helping young people at risk – written by their PR manager no less. As all this had been unfolding Rudd was being pimped and primed for his appearance at the ACL’s National Conference in Canberra. The  November 21st 2009 conference went well for the Christian Lobby who immediately published Christian Lobby welcomes Rudd Government support for school chaplaincy:

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) today welcomed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s clear support for the school chaplaincy program and the Federal Government’s decision to extend funding for the program until the end of the 2011 school year. ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace said the Prime Minister’s announcement to the ACL National Conference in Canberra today was warmly welcomed by the many church and denominational leaders in attendance, as well as grass-roots Christians.

“Mr Rudd spoke of his clear and long-standing commitment to the school chaplaincy program, dating back to its beginnings in Queensland. He has a strong appreciation of the valuable role chaplains are playing in helping both school students and their families in a wide variety of situations,” Mr Wallace said.

“We congratulate the Government on its commitment of $42 million in funding over the 2010 and 2011 school years – representing an extra year’s funding over what had previously been allocated.

“The Prime Minister indicated today that during that time the Government plans to consult with the community as to how best to shape chaplaincy and pastoral care programs for the period beyond.

But that still wasn’t good enough. A mere five days later, November 26th, Peter Dixon Liberal Senator for QLD tabled a pro chaplain petition which read in part, “Figures show that 97% of school principles who have engaged a chaplain, strongly support the programme and recognise the benefits for their school communities”. The same day in the Senate Liberal Senator for QLD, Brett Mason accosted labor Senator, Kim Carr. “Given that over 2,700 schools have chaplains and over 97% of those schools think that chaplains have had a positive influence on their school, why has the Rudd government chosen… [to only promise funding for one year]”.

Later, Liberal senator for Tasmania, a co-architect of Howard’s initial three year scheme, Guy Barnett, threw all caution to the wind offering, “2,700 schools have a chaplain…. a survey was undertaken recently and 97% of the principles of those schools said ‘Yes it is a programme worth keeping and we really appreciate it’“. My what an extraordinary coincidence! They all happened to say just that? But just when you thought it couldn’t get more patently absurd, Barnett says, “This government… [have] already done one review and they know the results are fantastic, a 97% result – you cannot get much better than that”.

November 26th 2009 was a darn good day for the 24.5% of apparently positive results received by the NSCA as part of their review of their own gig. It was shouted high and low that school chaplaincy was a programme beloved by 97% of principles. What’s more, Labor now seem to have done the survey and appeared to have been sitting on this glowing – or should that be “fantastic” figure. So surely they must act on this revelation – even if facts did show it to be a most unscientific 24.5% garnered by the national chaplaincy body that stood to gain the most, thus having the greatest conflict of interest.

Eventually, Tim Mender of Scripture Union QLD made it onto Sunrise claiming… you guessed it. “The proof’s in the pudding. Recent research said that, er, 98% of school principles that had a school chaplain wanted this funding to continue because of the positive effect they’re having on the school community and you can’t argue with those facts”. Facts? Angle it any way you wish dear reader, but this is bald faced lying. Mender was privy to the survey in it’s entirety and almost certainly played a hand in how to “market” it to appropriate lobbyists.

Well, we know Gillard deposed Rudd in June 2010. As late as July 27th 2010 National Federal Member for Fisher Peter Slipper, was laying into Gillard offering, “Even the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described school chaplains as the ‘glue’ that holds school communities together. “A lack of continued support for this project would simply be another Labor backflip.” Twelve days later Gillard promised $222 million to “boost” the number of chaplains. We’ll never know Rudd’s full intention on funding chaplains past 2010. He was a critic of the Liberal style religious right “hijacking” of values when in opposition. It’s unlikely but perhaps possible that he’d have kept a better reign on it than presently. Certainly the disgraceful mantra of adhering to “guidelines, guidelines, guidelines” from Peter Garrett in defence of both chaplains and evangelising religious education volunteers is almost laughable.

These guidelines are being trampled upon, our children and education system exploited by the religious right and the separation of church and state – apparently safe under present “guidelines” – is a mockery. It is axiomatic the entire system needs a thorough overhaul. Chaplains must be removed from the public education system and religious education must be kept outside curriculum hours.

I’m 97% sure that’s a sensible idea.

Peter Garrett defends the present system in response to the above video

Banning synthetic cannabinoids – a “kronic” overraction?

During Questions Without Notice in the Australian Senate on June 22nd [Page 50], Senator Steve Fielding challenged federal Attorney-General Representative, Senator Joe Ludwig over his government’s intentions toward previously legal synthetic cannabinoid products, known quaintly as “synthetic cannabis”.

One particularly common brand is named “Kronic”. Fielding’s ignorance is telling. He refers to such products as being “sprayed with a synthetic chemical” and as such are “designed to manipulate people’s minds”. He further relays concerns about anecdotal reports, which whilst serious are not conclusive. No documentation or conclusive study is presently available leaving quantification and qualification impossible. No correction has been made for the use of other substances in conjunction with Kronic or pre-existing psychiatric conditions or symptoms. It is for the very reason we must take these reports seriously that they deserve proper scientific inquiry.

Ludwig admirably fills his time relaying the excessive reaction of W.A. in banning such preparations under the Misuse of Drugs Act (which provides for a 25 year sentence in certain cases). QLD will move to ban 15 of these products under the QLD Drugs Misuse Act. He omits that NSW is seeking to regulate “synthetic pot” at the level of heroin. One wonders at the logic of this rash action given the well documented failure of prohibition and the recent report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, damning prohibition and urging implementation of legalisation models [CNN].

More prohibition opens the way for criminals to move from growing, harvesting, preparing and packaging cannabis for transport and sale, to switch to small vials of synthetic cannabinoids. These could be added to any legal vegetable matter or herb, in unknown concentrations and mixes further compounding already known problems arising from an imbalance in cannabinoids due to hydroponic growing techniques.

ABC Lateline gave a balanced report on these developments. When NSW health minister, Kevin Humphries, describes psychotropic synthetic cannabinoid preparations as a “synthetic psychotic drug”, one can be sure he’s not speaking from a position of evidence. Still, “synthetic pot” that’s been with us for four years, will now be as illegal as heroin, in NSW. As already noted anti-drug zealot and W.A. Premier, Colin Barnett was true to form in announcing 25 year prison terms for some offences.

The fact is we don’t know the full side effects of synthetic cannabinoids ingested without supervision beyond the certainty that inhalation of any combustible material is a dire challenge to pulmonary health. We may assume confidently that psychotropic effects are similar to cannabis. And we may ask genuine questions about the effect of significantly greater concentrations of THC in synthetic concoctions both as acute and long term (or chronic – no pun) effects. Paul Dillon raises good points about the rapid rise of availability, of varieties of synthetic drugs. Paul does raise a false analogy citing a synthetic THC cannabinoid – no doubt HU-210 – referring to it being 100 times more potent that natural THC. Had he taken the time to express the need for health responses here it would have been welcome.

Indeed, we don’t know the the effects of 22% of Complimentary and Alternative Medicines in Australian pharmacies that, lacking any trial data, were fraudulently submitted as “evidence backed” and rashly added to the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods by the TGA. But there’s no rush to ban these products or to wage a War on Placebo, despite fears of adverse drug interactions or contamination with heavy metals and poisons. Regrettably, this clip has the standard file footage of unnamed researchers looking at brain scans as the voice over notes doctors concerns – despite only anecdotal stories of nasty side effects. Both good and bad effects are the same as cannabis. Sanity is provided by Alex Wodak and Robbie Swann.

Prohibition has failed splendidly, leading only to the creation of vast underworld markets. Here, we may watch it in action. I support warnings that smoking a loosely controlled herb dosed with cannabinoids is cause for caution. But removing the product from legal tax paying outlets and placing it in the hands of criminals who will now sell it as genuine cannabis – without the risks of handling genuine cannabis – is appallingly short sighted.

Ultimately, synthetic illicit drugs are here only because the certain profit provided by prohibition of already popular drugs, has empowered criminal enterprise to produce them. Perhaps it’s time we began to learn from history. I reject argument from antiquity – that humans have always used drugs and thus always will. But it’s irrefutable that without the lucrative market provided by prohibition many of todays problematic illicit drugs would not exist.

The Global War on Drugs has failed. Synopsis from The Global Commission on Drug Policy