Religious freedom laws are essential

Arguing against protection for religious freedom is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, given its overwhelming acceptance. Therefore resort is had to outright untruths and gross misrepresentations both of which were littered throughout Mr Croome's contribution along with the all too prevalent sneering and belittling of people of faith.

First, the pandemic rules of social distancing apply to all. The proposed Bill will not alter that for the future in any way shape or form.

Why the contrary is falsely asserted can only be based on gross ignorance or malicious mischief-making. To suggest anyone of faith could or would deny a COVID 19 vaccine injection is fanciful.

Suggesting a doctor of faith would tell a COVID19 patient they are "sinful or bound for Hell" is fanciful on steroids.

But these myths must be pedalled to try to justify the unjustifiable. A sure sign of the desperation of the campaign seeking to deny people this basic human right.

Secondly, the medical personnel in any hospital or aged care facility (faith-based or otherwise) are required to be fully medically qualified for their relevant role. This, of course, will not change.

To falsely suggest they will be chosen on religious belief and not competence has no basis. Newsflash ... you can be both qualified and a person of faith. They are not mutually exclusive.

Thirdly, to bizarrely suggest COVID19 sufferers would get lesser treatment at a Catholic hospital is an ugly throwback to the sectarianism which has thankfully long been discarded by mainstream society especially those who genuinely believe in equality and don't just virtue signal with the title while campaigning for the opposite.

Or to suggest "The people who will suffer most from derogatory and humiliating statements will be those who fall foul of traditional religious beliefs... like people with disability" is perhaps the most ignorant statement out of many.

Centuries ago it was people of faith that created hospitals and cared for the disabled and vulnerable when the rest of society would leave them to suffer and die. It took many years before the governments of the day started to provide this type of support.

The legacy of faith-based charities lives on today as they are amongst the largest providers in the world of healthcare, education and care for those with disabilities.

Fourthly, the derogatory descriptors employed against people of faith such as "more holy", "most pious" and "prejudice" exposes the ugly underbelly of so-called "equality" advocates. They disparagingly seek to divide Australians against people of faith.

"Diversity" was all the rage for the "equality" campaigners at one stage. Now it seems some diverse beliefs are more equal than others.

When an Archbishop can be dragged before a Discrimination Commission for promoting his Church's teachings which was accorded with the law of the land you know there is a defect in our laws - a major defect.

The recent increase in litigation against those expressing their religious beliefs is now becoming an alarming trend that spares no-one, whether you are a professional rugby player, medical worker or a school in Ballarat employing teachers who uphold the school's beliefs.

In the USA, Christian baker Jack Philips' case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court after he refused to bake a cake that supported same-sex marriage. Only last month he has been targeted and sued again, this time for not baking a cake celebrating a "gender transition." There is a clear and urgent need to protect freedom of religion.

Religious freedom is a fundamental human right guaranteed in our common law and more recently enunciated very clearly in a plethora of international human rights treaties. The fact Mr Croome failed to mention either is telling.

The lack of protections for religious freedom has been rightly identified by the Australian Human Rights Commission as a major gap in our laws. The Liberal Government is correctly committed to rectifying this omission in our laws.

A simple reminder to all... the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states very clearly in Article 18: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

Seeking to deny religious freedom is akin to denying freedom of thought and conscience as well. That is why protecting religious freedom actually protects all of us from authoritarian forces.


Captain Cook's journey should be celebrated

Opinion piece published in The Examiner, 4 May 2020 (available here). 

Captain James Cook's world-class navigational skills changed the world when he landed at Botany Bay in April 1770.

This historic and heroic achievement is worth celebrating even after 250 years. The fact it was not celebrated as it should've been is to be regretted. Not only was it a class act of navigational expertise for the era. It was also a world-changing event.

As our national treasure and pre-eminent historian, Prof Geoffrey Blainey AC said: Captain Cook

"...indirectly made possible present-day Australia which, despite its many failures, is surely one of the success stories of the world."

Australia as a modern nation 250 years after Cook's magnificent discovery stands amongst the best, if not the best, in the world. Blessed with a civil society, a democratic constitutional monarchy, rule of law, personal freedoms, peace, and comparative wealth untold, we are home to a nation full of people from the four corners of the world living in harmony. It's no secret we are the envy of the world. And for good reason. Their judgement and assessment of us as a people and a country of opportunity is not wrong.

Cook and his crew would never have been able to imagine what their discovery would usher in. For his time Captain Cook's advancement through the ranks was an exception as he came from humble beginnings working on the ships delivering coal from Yorkshire to London. His sheer capacity and personal skills allowed him to advance and be the quite rightly celebrated hero navigator of his era. His achievements based on the opportunities afforded him based on merit is worthy of celebration and passing down to the next and following generations.

Failing to pass on the history of this giant and his integral involvement in the establishment of modern Australia is to do not only Captain Cook and his crew a disservice but an especially huge disservice to our children who are entitled to know the history of their nation.

And let's remember, Captain Cook set out on a voyage of scientific and geographic exploration - not invasion. He was a man of his time, not ours. As such his legacy must be viewed in that context.

We should never reduce our nation's great history to a narrow grievance fault-finding focus. Our history, like that of every country (and indeed every individual), has its unattractive elements. But these elements should never be allowed to define our national narrative given we and our forebears have achieved so much.

As predictable as night follows day so there are the few who seek to shroud the Cook achievements in darkness with a smattering of alleged negative missteps. In doing so they very capably look past the log in their own eye to identify a speck (real or more likely imaginary) in Cook's. The one imponderable question the naysayers will never dare to ask, let alone answer is: But for the Cook discovery and English settlement what would've been the destiny of this great south land?

The meeting and indeed clash of cultures 250 years ago can't be undone. While a few busy themselves feverishly finding fault with our past, true leaders busy themselves building for the future.

As a migrant from a non-English speaking background, I for one am thankful for Cook and his legacy. It should be celebrated. So from me at least, a big thank you to Captain James Cook and his crew. Your legacy lives on in the foundations of the best country in the world.


Honour Tasmanian's veterans on ANZAC Day

Greens contributed to life-threatening, property-destroying fires

Opinion piece published in The Mercury, 24 January 2020.


A BIG contributor to this summer’s bushfire crisis has been the fact that as a nation we have not dedicated enough effort to fuel reduction burns.

Fires need fuel to burn, and the amount of fuel that has built up in a fire-prone area is of enormous importance to the scale and severity of a bushfire. Managing fuel loads is therefore critical to combating the threat of bushfires. In the words of Victoria’s Chief Fire Officer, “By reducing fuel loads, we won’t stop fires from starting, but we can reduce their spread and intensity when they do, making it easier for our forest firefighters to bring them under control quickly”.

Figures on the Green Left have taken faux exception to the valid identification of the role played by environmental activists, often with ties to the Greens Party, in obstructing fuel-reduction burns. They say that because the Greens do not control majorities at any level of government, they cannot bear any responsibility for preventing fire mitigation.

The Greens, who politicised this summer’s fires by blaming the Coalition for what they claim is a lack of seriousness to the so-called “climate emergency”, now complain their party is being criticised.

Let us examine the facts, which prove the truth about fuel loads prejudicing our capacity to minimise bushfires.

To take one example, the Environment East Gippsland group became the centre of attention this month when some members were caught celebrating the destruction of the Eden Woodchip Mill on the NSW South Coast, a business that had provided hundreds of jobs. The group is headed by former Victorian Greens candidates and staffers and organised protests in 2018 and 2019 against burn-offs in Gippsland under the guise of protecting biodiversity. As readers will be aware, Gippsland has been savaged by fires. Had it been possible for local authorities to perform proper controlled burns to manage fuel loads, the fires need not have been so large and uncontrollable.

Consider the dissenting report presented to a House of Representatives Select Committee into Recent Bushfires by Greens MP Michael Organ. Mr Organ quoted approvingly an academic who claimed “broadscale hazard reduction is threatening biodiversity conservation and must therefore be avoided by land managers and resisted at a political level”.

He concluded that “broadscale hazard reduction must be replaced”. Mr Organ’s report opposed prudent measures such as large-scale fuel reduction burns and expanding fire trails.

In Tasmania, the Greens have a similar track record of obstruction, notwithstanding former state minister and now senator Nick McKim saying in 2013 that “the Greens, in all the history of our political party, have never opposed a fuel-reduction burn, ever”. Yet in April 2013, the Tasmanian Greens voted against a motion by the then-opposition Liberals for the state government “to adopt in principle an annual fuel reduction burn target of 5 per cent of suitable public land”, a target that matched the expert recommendations of the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission established after Black Saturday.

The previous year a Greens media release said the residents of Maydena “deserved better” than the “burn-offs that they were subjected to this week”, adding that “this practice has simply got to stop” and “we’re all better off when this Neanderthal practice stops and disposing of forest by-products is done far more responsibly”.

How responsible is it to let forest by-products accumulate on the ground to provide fuel for a conflagration.

Paul O’Halloran, when a Greens MP, had declared burn-offs were a threat to health and wellbeing, moaning that “once again Tasmania’s beautiful autumn days are blighted by the dense smoke plumes blocking out the sun and choking our air” and blaming the forestry industry.

In 2016 former Greens federal leader Bob Brown attacked autumn burn-offs, stating “the picturesque autumn scene is filled with manufactured smoke. It’s outrageous. These forest-destroying burns should be banned”.

The Greens claim in their official policy they support burn-offs for the purpose of saving lives and reducing the intensity of fires. In practice, they always find a reason to oppose each proposal. Not once have the Greens publicly endorsed or promoted a fuel reduction burn. Given recent protestations I look forward to their first public support for a fuel reduction burn. Because of the scale of the fires this summer, it is more important than ever the Greens’ track record of contributing to the problem is exposed.

Pill testing creates a risky illusion

Ill-informed calls to introduce “pill testing” at Australian music festivals, such as the impending the Falls Festival in Tasmania, need to be resisted. Drugs kill and harm. No “ifs”. No “buts”.

Pill testing is in no way a proven way of preventing drug-related deaths. The evidence we have about how pill testing works in practice, both overseas and in Australia, should give policymakers strong reservations.

The UK first began pill testing in 2013 and, with government sanction, it operates at many major music festivals. If the argument that pill testing prevents deaths was correct, we would expect to see a reduction in the number of fatalities since 2013. Instead, the opposite occurred, with ecstasy-related deaths in the UK more than doubling from 43 in 2013 to 92 in 2018.

A study from the Australian National University into a pill-testing trial at a festival in the ACT gives further genuine cause for concern. It unsurprisingly found that testing resulted in a “significant overall rise in patrons” intention to use the tested drug”.

In other words, testing made people more, not less, likely to consume drugs. Pill testing gives a false sense of security and legitimises the use of a highly destructive substance.

Pill testing promotes drug use by changing individuals’ perception of the very real risk involved. By giving the illusion that testing means drugs can somehow be safe, individuals are actually encouraged to take them. But there is no such thing as safe ecstasy use, and to give young Australians any illusion to the contrary is irresponsible.

These concerns have been raised by toxicologists Andrew Leibie and Dr John Lewis, who note that any claim that pill testing increases the safety of illicit drugs is dangerously misleading.

This is because the methods used in pill testing are imprecise. They are poor at detecting mixtures of different substances in a pill, are not able to detect newer varieties of drug, and, crucially, cannot measure the dosage.

Leibie and Lewis make another vital observation that is willfully ignored in the debate — the six individuals who died after taking ecstasy last summer died from its side effects, not because they took contaminated pills. Testing the pills would have only confirmed them as ecstasy.

These shortcomings expose both the danger and uselessness of pill testing.

Policymakers should not do anything to encourage young people to take drugs in the false confidence that they are doing so safely. And this is not to mention the serious long-term health impacts of ecstasy use, or the incidences of injury or death caused indirectly by its consumption (such as car accidents).

When the wellbeing of the next generation is at stake, good intentions in public policy are never good enough.

We should not be seduced by trendy policy ideas that implicitly endorse the use of drugs, by suggesting it can be done safely.

The only proven and guaranteed way to prevent harm from drugs is to not use drugs. We need the strength, courage and conviction of policy-makers to protect our young from the devastating impact of drugs.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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