Australian Politics 2017-11-13 15:45:00

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Major private health insurer to transition to low-carbon investments in its international portfolio

They appear to have meekly swallowed the arrant nonsense about warmth being bad for your health.  Every hospital manager knows that it is COLD weather that increases his caseload.  And a health insurer should certainly know that

Medibank, one of Australia's biggest health insurers, has announced it will dump its holdings in fossil fuel companies amid concern over the health effects of climate change.

In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange on Monday morning, Medibank said it would transition to low-carbon investments in its international portfolio within the next year, to reflect the global transition to clean energy.

"We are also committed to exploring a similar approach with our domestic equity portfolio, and so we will be actively encouraging fund managers to develop a suitable product for us that is socially responsible, cost effective and delivers a sustainable investment return," the statement said.

The announcement by chairwoman Elizabeth Alexander preceded the company's annual general meeting in Melbourne on Monday.

"We understand that the health of the environment has an impact on the health of the community ... Medibank acknowledges the science of climate change and the impacts on human health," the statement said.

"We also recognise our role as a corporate citizen, and the increasing expectations the community has of corporate Australia."

Divestment from fossil fuel companies has emerged as a key front in the fight against climate change, helped by major institutions that have started to divest, including Norway's government pension fund.

Campaigns have targeted universities, churches, local councils, superannuation funds and banks.

Environmental finance group Market Forces said the announcement by Medibank, which has 3.8 million members, means all of Australia's major health insurers have now agreed to shift their money from fossil fuels.

"It's extremely positive that Medibank has ended its unhealthy addiction to fossil fuels," campaigner Pablo Brait said.

"The medical profession has long understood that climate change has a devastating effect on people's health, so it stands to reason medical insurers should not be invested in the industries which drive it."

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A balanced bill to protect freedom of religion from homosexual hostility

James Patterson

The Leftist view:  "James Patterson’s bill isn’t about protecting religious freedoms, it’s about enshrining discrimination and should be rejected."

On the question of religious freedom and same-sex marriage, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten both put it well.

On September 15, the Prime Minister said: “I just want to reassure Australians that as strongly as I believe in the right of same-sex couples to marry, even more strongly, if you like, do I believe in religious freedom”.

On the same day, the Opposition Leader argued that “I am a supporter of marriage equality, but I also have been raised to be a person of faith. I can give this guarantee to the Australian ­people: I and Labor will not support legislation which impinges upon religious freedom in this country”.

Assuming there is a Yes result in the postal marriage survey on Wednesday, the issue before parliament will be how to best deliver on this bipartisan promise.

Like the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, I support same-sex marriage. I was proud to vote Yes in the postal survey, and I’ve been on the public record in support of same-sex marriage since June 2011. Although I am personally agnostic, I am equally passionate about ­religious liberty and the other important freedoms we cherish as Australians, like freedom of speech and ­conscience.

I’ve never believed that legalising same-sex marriage and preserving the freedoms of all Australians are mutually exclusive. During the campaign, I argued that it was not beyond the ability of the parliament to achieve both.

To do so it must enact a bill with sufficiently robust protections for our freedoms. Today I’ve released a draft bill to deliver on these objectives.

Like other draft bills produced in recent years, it changes the Marriage Act to extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. It also ensures ministers of religion and civil celebrants with a genuine belief in the traditional definition of marriage cannot be forced to solemnise a same-sex wedding.

Everyone agrees these protections are necessary because we all accept it would be wrong to compel someone to act against their conscience.

But unlike other bills, it does not end there.

Religious freedom is a universal human right. There’s no international law or legal instrument that says only ministers of religion enjoy this right, and deserve to have it protected. Religious freedom extends to the congregation too — and it doesn’t end at the church, mosque or synagogue door.

As a society, we uphold the idea of religious freedom because we believe people of faith ­deserve to be able to lead their lives according to their values. Religious liberty and freedom of conscience are intimately linked. As a non-­religious person, I should have no fewer rights to live my life consistent with my beliefs than anyone else.

That’s why it is necessary to extend the same principle applied in other same-sex marriage bills beyond ministers of religion to anyone else directly connected to a wedding. If it is wrong to force a priest to participate in a same-sex ­wedding against their beliefs, it should be wrong to force a florist or a photographer too.

My draft bill provides a limited right of conscientious objection, so that no one is compelled to participate in a same-sex wedding if it is inconsistent with their sincerely held beliefs.

It also protects free speech. The aborted complaint against Archbishop Julian Porteous in Tasmania shows there is legal uncertainty about whether promoting a traditional understanding of marriage is consistent with some state laws. The bill would protect this speech — provided that it is not threatening or harassing.

It enacts a new, narrow anti-detriment clause, to ensure that people who hold a ­traditional ­belief in marriage cannot be ­adversely treated — but only by government and its agencies. For example, governments could not withdraw funding for a charity ­because it promotes a traditional understanding of marriage. A body that licenses occupations could not revoke the licence of a practitioner based on their views. No government could sack a public servant based on their beliefs about marriage.

But a printing company could refuse to print a book arguing against same-sex marriage, as occurred last year. As we saw during the survey period, an advertising company could decline to provide services to opponents of same-sex ­marriage, and the owner of a venue could not be forced to hold an event promoting traditional marriage.

This is an important feature of the bill. In the same way it would be wrong to force someone with a traditional belief in marriage to participate in a same-sex wedding, it is also wrong to force a supporter of same-sex marriage to be ­involved in the promotion of views with which they disagree.

Finally, the bill ensures students and their parents have a right to opt out of classes that conflict with their values. This upholds the right of parents to control the moral and religious education of their children. This bill is not an ­attempt to delay the legalisation of same-sex marriage. It could pass the parliament as quickly as any other bill that aims to do the same. If a Yes result is returned this week, the parliament must pass a bill before Christmas, with additional sitting weeks if necessary.

We’ll soon know the result. But one thing is already clear — Australians disagree on how we should define marriage. Our challenge is to find a way to coexist harmoniously and accept that we don’t all agree. Free societies can prosper with diverse points of view. A legal framework that protects everyone’s freedom gives us the best chance of doing so.

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The Law council wishes to protect the rights of clergy and institutions only, not individual Christians
    
Note this cynical legalistic sentence below:  "While the freedom to have religious beliefs is also protected unconditionally, the manifestation or expression of those beliefs or religion may be subject to limitation".  In other words, your religion is OK as long as you keep it in your own head.  That strays a long way from the usual conception of religious freedom
    
The draft Marriage Amendment (Definition and Protection of Freedoms) Bill 2017 to legalise same-sex marriage, released by Senator James Paterson today, represents an ‘extraordinary and perilous’ winding back of Australia's anti-discrimination laws under the cover of marriage equality.

Law Council of Australia President, Fiona McLeod SC, said while the Paterson Bill acknowledges concerns of those holding traditional views of marriage, it goes well beyond the issue of marriage in a number of crucial respects.

“Australia’s anti-discrimination laws were amended in 2013 to enact important protections for LGBTI people in recognition of the unacceptable levels of discrimination. This Bill will encroach on many of these protections in an extraordinary and perilous way.”

“For example, the Bill would allow people to refuse to provide goods and services on the grounds of belief, thought and conscience taking us well beyond religious beliefs into unchartered waters.

“You could potentially see a situation where a hire car company could leave their customers stranded on the way to a marriage ceremony simply because the driver held a thought or belief against it. This is even if the belief had nothing to do with religion,” Ms McLeod said.

Ms McLeod said freedom from discrimination is a fundamental human right. Discrimination on personal attributes, including sexual orientation, is contrary to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and our international obligations.

“The right to freedom of religion also appears in international law. While the freedom to have religious beliefs is also protected unconditionally, the manifestation or expression of those beliefs or religion may be subject to limitation where it impacts upon other fundamental rights.”

Ms McLeod said the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, endorsed by five government members including Senator Dean Smith, already extended existing protections for freedom of religious expression in the context of marriage and was a reasonable compromise.

“The Smith Bill supports the protection of religious freedoms in two key ways. It permits ministers of religion and religious marriage celebrants to refuse to solemnise a marriage and it allows bodies established for religious purposes to refuse to provide goods or services for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage,” Ms McLeod said.

“While the Law Council does not endorse every detail of the Smith Bill it represents a better balance from a human rights perspective and represents greater fairness, including those affected by winding back anti-discrimination laws.”

Email from the law Council





Fat and mismanaged public sector is eating Australia alive

Milton Friedman once quipped: “You’re lucky you don’t get all the government you pay for.” Well our federal public service costs more than 6 per cent of GDP simply to run, so just how lucky are we? America’s population is more than 13 times Australia’s, yet employs only eight times as many federal public servants. On a relative basis the US has fewer departments and agencies.

In Australia, growth in public service employment and wages outstrips the private sector. ­According to The Australian’s economics editor: “Inflation in the cost of public-sector services is rising at more than five times the pace of the private-sector, and is equivalent to a tax of more than $800 a year on the average ­household.”

But running costs are one thing. In a Crikey article, carried by the Community and Public Services Union, Eric Beecher chronicles appalling mismanagement in service delivery.

There’s Centrelink’s fake debt letter “debacle” where thousands of poor Australians were hit with demands to repay money they didn’t owe.

Centrelink considerately attached a “suicide call-back service number” for the despairing. Beecher describes the handling of the North West Shelf royalty ­revenue by the Department of ­Industry as “extraordinary ineptitude”, “possibly costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in unjustified tax offsets”. The Australian National Audit Office confirms “available evidence indicates that the problems are much greater than has yet been quantified”.

Then there’s the $11 billion spent by the Defence Department managing 119 bases around Australia which the ANAO says is well in excess of the $9.3bn “expected value” of the 10 services contracts, signed in 2014, to do the work.

The department has defended its performance, saying the vast project to renegotiate the contracts has delivered value for money, when considered against increased service demands and changing expectations of the ADF. Yet a new $120 million IT system, meant to manage contracts ­between Defence and the private companies servicing the bases, was $39m over budget and five years late.

There’s also the flawed tendering and contracting processes overseen by the Immigration ­Department, which resulted in the waste of “tens and possibly, hundreds of millions of dollars”. Given these practices were subject to a scathing ANAO report, they could hardly be ignored.

We’re reminded of last year’s Australian Bureau of Statistics census “stuff-up”, the Australian Taxation Office’s massive and damaging IT outage, the Department of Health’s decade-long mismanagement of e-health records, and the embarrassing release of identifiable Medicare information. There’s also the Department of Finance’s lax oversight of ministerial travel arrangements. But not raised is the $576m public service travel bill — a blowout of $75m in just four years.

While this shocking record is acknowledged, Beecher argues the blame lies mainly with outsourcing to powerful private contractors who take advantage of CPSU members, under-investment in IT, IT service providers, and, of course, Tony Abbott.

It appears Abbott “demoralised and demonised” the public service. He imposed an industrial relations “hardliner” to negotiate a new enterprise agreement which the union rejected. His aggressive approach resulted in 27 agencies taking industrial action, with some managers admitting that “staff are simply no longer bothering to make any extra effort to achieve government priorities”.

Is this what the Australian ­Public Service means when it says it “must set the pace for a ­contemporary Australian workforce”? Treasury’s shortcomings are also Abbott’s fault. He ­appointed department head John Fraser, who, it is argued, brought with him a “dearth of quality thinking”. Treasury’s poor forecasting record for most of the decade is conveniently forgotten.

Forgotten too are the 1500 ­Department of Education and Training staff who are supposed to create the conditions and incentives for schools and universities to flourish. They do not operate any schools or employ any teachers, but oversee the spending of more than $34bn a year.

Yet, despite regular funding ­increases, a UN agency ranks Australia 39th out of 41 high and middle-income countries for quality education.

Only 7 per cent of Australian school students perform at ­advanced-level maths, compared with 54 per cent of Singaporean students. But when gender-diversity, climate-change and a negative view of our history fill student’s minds, this is not surprising. Higher education is also lagging. Despite federal university funding per domestic student ­increasing 15 per cent between 2010 and 2015, Australian institutions, according to The Times Higher Education editorial director, are falling behind those in China and Hong Kong.

Regrettably, bad policy decisions and poor administration aren’t restricted to recurrent programs. We remember well the $2.45bn pink batts fiasco which ­resulted in deaths and house fires, and the $16.2bn “Building the Education Revolution” debacle, ­almost $2bn of which was completely wasted.

The latest taxpayer extortion is the National Broadband Network “train wreck”, which was forecast to cost $43bn but which will deliver a system little better than what it replaces for about $60bn.

Then there’s the uncosted French submarines, Snowy Hydro 2, experimental battery storage and the countless other brainwaves probably in our future. The inescapable conclusion is that today’s political leaders, federal and state, treat taxpayers’ money with contempt. They cultivate a culture which fosters conceit and deflects responsibility for failure. These days, announcements pass for policy. Implementation is for others to worry about.

And we complain about capitalism? Such negligence would see corporate executives fired, sued or in jail and their businesses bankrupted. That’s how the private sector is cleansed.

Political ineptitude, on the other hand, is perpetuated, courtesy of taxpayers.

Yes, we do have elections. But as long as the electorate puts its trust in the same discredited snake-oil promises, politicians will keep pushing their “government is the answer” remedies. Only when voters realise that insanity is voting for the same thing over and over and expecting different ­results will change and accountability be possible.

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Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here