Archive for the ‘Politics: Genral’ Category

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An Historic Week for LGBT Rights, Nationwide

In Politics: Genral,Politics: Marriage Equality,Politics: Queensland,Politics: Rallies & Protests on December 3, 2011 by mjwill91

The last week has been a fairly monumental week for LGBT rights, nationwide. Earlier this week we saw the Queensland Legislative Assembly pass the Civil Partnerships Bill 2011, a bill allowing for and recognising the validity of same sex relationships. We also saw today the Australian Labor Party officially changing it’s position on same sex marriage, adding it to their party platform.

In a sitting of the Legislative Assembly than ran late into the night, the views of numerous MPs from both sides of the political divide were heard, along with the views of their constituents. The bill passed at 11:10PM with 47 votes (46 Labor MPs and Independent MP Peter Wellington) to 40.

Premier Bligh & Dep. Premier Fraser address a pro-equality rally outside the QLD Legislative Assembly. Photo: Daniel Hurst

Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser said that the Civil Partnerships Bill struck a blow against the discrimination that same sex couples had faced in the path, calling it a “momentous occasion for civil rights in this state”, as Queensland moved into line with Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

In a move considered surprising given his previous vocal support for marriage equality, the non-sitting, de facto leader of the Liberal National Party & former Lord Mayor of Brisbane; Campbell Newman did not allow Liberal National Members a conscience vote on the issue, which raises the question, “what does our alternative Premier actually believe?” or better yet “can we trust what Campbell Newman says?”.

For a little bit of added poignancy, the Civil Partnerships Bill 2011 passed the Legislative Assembly exactly 21 years to the day that Queensland decriminalised homosexuality – how far we’ve come in such a short stretch of time.

Of course, that isn’t the end of the changes that we’ve seen over the last week, with the Federal Labor Party officially changing it’s position on same sex marriage today at the Labor National Conference- unfortunately, as I predicted several months ago, the Prime Minister has, while allowing the party platform to change, has essentially scuppered the debate by allowing it to go to a conscience vote, doomed to fail on the floor of our Parliament.

Senator Wong & ACT Dep. Chief Minister Barr receive pro-Marriage equality petition from GetUp!'s Simon Sheik // Picture: Renee Nowytarger

In October I suggested that the Prime Minister might circumvent the National Conference alltogether, allowing a conscience vote to get shot down before we got to today, effectively “washing her hands” of the issue before it could go to a vote. Well, I wasn’t exactly correct there, but I wasn’t too far off.

By allowing a conscience vote, Julia Gillard; puppet of the right faction, will have her own views on marriage equality unchallenged. A conscience vote in the House of Representatives will not pass… even if Tony Abbott allows a conscience vote (which he won’t, regardless of the Liberal Party being a “broad church”) any amendment to the Marriage Act will not pass.

So. The Prime Minister & the Labor Party can bask in the glory of being a “progressive party”, without being progressive at all. Brilliant… and completely expected as well.

So now we wait. Stephen Jones, ALP MP will be putting up a private members bill at the start of the next sitting period of Parliament – which means another month or so before marriage equality is shot down in flames in the Parliament.

Don’t get me wrong. Today has been a monumental day in the history of LGBT rights in Australia. It’s just, I don’t think any of us should expect anything to come out of it any time soon.

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Marriage Equality – A Conscience Issue, not a Conscience Vote

In Politics: Genral,Politics: Marriage Equality on October 21, 2011 by mjwill91

Marriage equality is a cause that I’ve written on a few times before, due to the closeness of the issue to my heart, as both a gay man who one day hopes to have the same rights as straight people and a someone who believes that above all else, we must push for total equality. In the opinion pieces that I have written before, in June and August respectively, I discussed the push for marriage equality, and the steadily increasing support for marriage equality in the wider community.

Since my last piece there have been several important developments in the marriage equality debate, namely Tasmania passing a motion calling on Julia Gillard and the federal government to amend the Marriage Act through the Tasmanian House of Assembly and the appointment of Jay Weatherill, a vocal supporter of marriage equality as Premier of South Australia. As significant as these developments have been, it’s developments that are predicted to occur over the next few weeks that could change the nature of the debate as we know it.

Whilst not a bastion of brilliant reporting, the Herald Sun is reporting today that “several government sources” are claiming that Julia Gillard will be reversing her decision on marriage equality, by allowing a conscience vote on the issue, with these sources claiming that show may make the announcement as early as this coming Monday, or after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth.

This reversal by Julia Gillard could be perceived by some as simply her “doing the right thing”, finally listening to the community on the issue of marriage equality. Whilst I’d like to believe that, there are at least two other reasons, both far more likely, both far less palatable reasons why Gillatf might well shift her view on the issue of marriage equality in the coming weeks.

The first of those reasons shouldn’t be too surprising: votes. A Galaxy Poll released today, commissioned by the Australian Marriage Equality lobby definitively shows that the ALP and Julia Gillard stand to make fairly significant gains, if only they shifted their positions on marriage equality. The poll found that over half of current Australian Greens voters and one third of all “young voters” would be more likely to vote for the ALP and Julia Gillard, if the party was to chance it’s stance on Marriage Equality. Not only is the appealing because of it’s potential to “win back” some voters that migrated from the ALP to the Australian Greens at the last election, but because it would secure a predicted 5% swing towards the ALP, at a time when every percentage point counts.

The other reason is a far less palatable one- to scuttle the marriage equality debate before the ALP National Conference in December by allowing the amendment to get “shot down” in the House of Representatives- through a conscience vote with no chance of passing.

The ALP is a party of broad and differing beliefs and political ideologies, and there exists within the party great opposition to marriage equality, predominantly from MPs representing lower socio-economic (and generally less intelligent) electorates and from members of the catholic-dominated right faction. Given the current make-up of this minority government. Of course, given the closeness in numbers in the House of Representatives, any amendment would require the support of every Labor MP and a majority of MPs on the crossbenches (assuming that Tony Abbott will require all Liberal National MPs to toe the party line – a safe assumption).

If put to a conscience vote, the amendment will fail. Then come December all Julia Gillard would have to do to throw a wet blanket over the issue of marriage equality would be to say “I allowed a vote. It failed. The numbers just don’t exist – ALTHOUGH, we’ll continue to support same-sex unions…”

The next few weeks will be interesting to say the least, with the very course of the debate on marriage equality set to be decided.

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A Party Divided: The Future of the Australian Labor Party

In Politics: Genral on September 7, 2011 by mjwill91

Like their revered Tree of Knowledge before them, the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party seems to be slowly withering away, marching solemnly to grim death. Unlike the tree however, we can be fairly certain that their current predicament wasn’t caused by some rowdy Young Liberals with a bottle of RoundUp weedkiller. Instead, the party has faced almost two decades where it’s core voter base, workers (or to be more specific: blue collar, unionised workers) has been shrinking and in response the party has began to go through  a painful metamorphosis. However the process has been cut short, the chrysalis torn open too soon. So instead of finding a beautiful butterfly inside, we’ve found some sort of horrific half-caterpillar, half-butterfly creature, completely confused, unsure of what it’s even meant to be anymore.

The Tree of Knowledge, Barcaldine (in healthier times)

The current structural and ideological mess than the ALP is in can be traced back to one root cause, the decline of unionised employees in the workforce. In the late 70s Labor Party apparatchiks began to become aware of the future problems re: declining unionisation that the party would face over the next 30 years, and it was decided that the party would need to become more than a “single issue” party, more than just a “worker’s party”. It would need to adopt socialist social policies, attract the “young, idealist, tertiary-educated” voter. This move sowed the seeds of deep division between the already existent left & right factions of the Labor caucus, and would eventually see the Labor Party become  “slave” to two distinct and disparate “masters”.

Without over-generalising, the adoption of left-leaning social policies such as multiculturalism, indigenous equality, equal pay for equal work and environmentalism essentially fractured the Labor Party’s support base into two disparate groups. The first being the “original” Labor voter, a working/lower-middle class (not necessarily a union member) Australian, whose key concerns were economic stability, jobs growth, workplace conditions and border security. The second group, a socially active group whose key concerns were environmentalism, equality and human rights. Neither group held the other’s key objectives in too high regard, but neither was willingly to openly criticise the other’s point of view (mostly).

Whilst Kevin Rudd’s resounding election success in ’07 was a “win” for all Labor Party voters and supporters, it was an especially “sweet” success for the “socially-active” voter base, with Rudd’s championing of social causes such as his promise to apologise over the Stolen Generations (something that most of the community had been calling for, for nearly a decade), his support for an Emissions Trading Scheme and his use of a ground-up, social media driven, socially-active election campaign. The “traditional” Labor voters didn’t go without though, with the removal of Howard’s reprehensible Work Choices legislations placating them.

Unfortunately for Rudd (and the party in general), the high expectations placed on him were to be a key party in his undoing (we must also take into account the power-hungriness of certain ‘faceless men’). When he was unable to get anything done re: his much touted Emissions Trading Scheme, he abandoned it all together. It would appear to some as if he was no longer listening to the group that saw itself as responsible for bringing him to power. In response the “socially active” voter group’s opinion of the Rudd Government began to sour. At the same time the “traditional” voter group saw the whole debacle as a waste of time and money spent “pandering” to “inner-city, latte-sipping intellectuals” and also began to “sour”.

party thought replacing Rudd with Gillard would placate both groups within it’s voter base, however hindsight shows that to have been a colossal mistake. The whole party lurched right under Gillard, with many in the socially-active group unhappy with her stance against marriage equality and unsure as to whether they could trust someone that the right-faction had essentially swept into power. The traditional group has also not come around to Gillard, unable to see past the word “tax”.

At the 2010 election, the Labor Party suffered a swing against it of −5.40%. Is it any surprise that the Australian Greens gained +3.97%?

The Labor Party needs to work out what it is, what it stands for soon. Very soon. It needs to either abandon the socially-active group, essentially giving those votes to the Australian Greens and become a single-purpose worker’s party again (a move which would probably mean they’d be unable to form a majority government for a good 2 decades at least- if ever again) OR it needs to work out how to balance fiscal responsibility with social progression, whilst moving closer to the ideological centre in order to try to attract centre-right voters who have been left feeling betrayed by the Liberal-National Coalition which seems hell-bent on continuing it’s march towards the far right of the ideological spectrum.

However, if things continue going the way they happen to be going, the party torn down the middle on issues such as offshore processing of asylum seekers, the best way to tackle climate change, marriage equality and fiscal policy in general, the schism might become too wide to bridge effectively.

– Matt. @mjwill90

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The Push For Marriage Equality In Australia

In Politics: Genral,Politics: Marriage Equality,Politics: Queensland on June 25, 2011 by mjwill91

Same sex marriage is to the opening decades of the 21st century as civil rights was to the 1960s and the suffrage movement was to the 1920s- an issue which many people in the community see as not being an issue at all, and yet despite this, is something which the “higher ups” and the lobby groups don’t want to touch with a 10ft pole. The push for the legalisation and recognition of same sex marriage in Australia has never been stronger than it is now, with every state branch of the Australian Labor Party (sans New South Wales) passing motions in support of amending the Marriage Act to allow for same sex marriage.

Bligh at the QLD State Labor Conference

Premier of Queensland and National President of the Australia Labor Party Anna Bligh said of the move by QLD State Labor to support same sex marriage last week,

I was very pleased to see marriage equality supported by the Labor conference, It’s an issue of basic human rights and fairness [and] legal recognition for pairings based on love is perfectly reasonable regardless of gender” 

Despite this, we have at the federal level a woman, who to all outwardly appearances seemed to be a liberal (note the use of the lowercase “L”), socially progressive and secular leader, but who in reality is actually at the very least a closet-quasi-conservative and at the worst, someone whom actively deceived her way into power by pretending to stand for social progression, or alternatively- she might well be a liberal, socially progressive and secular leader, simply held to ransom by the powerful Catholic dominated far-right faction of the party, too weak willed, too insipid to actually make a stand and take a risk for something that is ultimately in the best interests of a egalitarian society.

So what is all the fuss about? Well- it comes back to this: some people believe that because a several thousand year old manuscript of dubious quality makes a passing comment about the sanctity of marriage in ancient Judea and that the institution was between a man and a woman only, that means that is the way it must stay forever. Some see marriage as something more than it actually is, some see it as a divine covenant with/ or promise between us and “God”. In reality- it isn’t anything like that. Marriage isn’t divine. Marriage isn’t a promise to God. Marriage is a legal contract between two people that creates and recognises kinship. Marriage isn’t presided over by a divine Judeo-Christian arbiter, it’s controlled by the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth), an Act of the Parliament of Australia which governs and defines legal marriage in Australia, made possible by section 51 (xxi) of the Australian Constitution which determines that it is to be dealt with on a federal level.

So, there is nothing mystical, magical or divine about marriage in this country. It’s a legal contract, controlled by Commonwealth legislation and the argument that same sex marriage is an affront to God is invalid when you consider that fact. God doesn’t factor into the equation at all. Therefore, any and all discrimination re: same sex marriage on the grounds of it infringing on the rights of religious groups and organisations is also totally moot.

The Empire State Building goes Rainbow for Pride Week

The move by the US State of New York to allow same sex marriage is not only a step in the right direction in a country which to be fair is a societal backwater and a mire of inequity but also a clear challenge to the current Australian Government. The Marriage Equality Act passed by the New York State Senate was made all the more remarkable by the fact it passed in a Republican controlled Senate with the help of Republican senators crossing the floor to vote with Democrats senators. If marriage equality legislation can pass through an ideologically hostile Senate in the US, how come our current socially progressive (self-professed but dubiously), left-wing government can’t seem to find the backbone it need to do what is right? If put to a vote, marriage equality legislation would pass through the House of Representatives with at least a two vote majority (based on it NOT being a conscience vote and every ALP candidate voting for it, and everything LibNat voting against it- with Bandt and Wilkie supporting it- Katter not supporting it) and would breeze through soon to be Green Senate.

According to an Australian Marriage Equality commissioned Newspoll taken last month, 3 in 4 Australians over the age of 18 believe that the legalisation and recognisation of same sex marriage by an Australian federal government is inevitable, and an earlier Galaxy Poll suggested that 62% of Australians of voting age and higher believe that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry.

However, despite the numerous calls from the community and the increasing societal support of the issue, our federal government refuses to move on the issue, or even discuss it until at least until the National Conference in December. Now there are several reasons that they are doing this, the first being that same sex marriage legislation is the ace-up-their-sleeve, which they intend to pull out if the primary vote somehow get even more pathetically dismal that it is now. Frankly, politically that isn’t a silly move, morally though- using it as a tool to win votes and possibly another term is ethically dubious to say the least.

JG deep in thought, probably wondering how she can further alienate the voter base...

When asked today whether or not Australia is falling behind on the issue of marriage equality at a press conference this morning in Western Australia (which coincidentally passed a motion in support of marriage equality today) she replied,

“We’ll make our own decisions on this country based on what’s right for Australia, my views in this area are well know” 

It might be “extrapolating” what she said a bit, but seeing as she doesn’t support same sex marriage (her views are well know, if not appreciated- we don’t elect the Prime Minister for their personal opinions, hell- we don’t directly elect them at all) and in her answer she said she’s doing “what’s right for Australia” then would it be a stretch to suggest that not only does Gillard not support same sex marriage, but she actually thinks that the perpetuation of an utterly discriminatory policy is in the country’s best interests….hmm…

In the end though, Gillard’s personal views on the issue mean nothing. In all likelihood she won’t be Prime Minister for too many more years, and despite the nasty conservative surprise that we’ll get when/if/when she get’s dumped in 2013, the fact is that it’ll allow for some of the “rising stars” in the ALPs ranks will be able to rise to positions of greater prominence in the party and maybe, just maybe- they won’t be as beholden to the Archdiocese that is the ALP factional far right.

– Matt. @mjwill90

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Parliamentary Crisis Averted: Speaker Jenkins Decides to Stay

In Politics: Genral on May 31, 2011 by mjwill91

Constitutional crisis, Parliamentary failure or storm in a tea cup? Opinions are divided this evening re: what to make of this afternoon’s “lively” Parliamentary Question Time, during which the authority of the current Speaker of the House, The Honourable Harry Jenkins was pushed to the limit and for the first time since 1975 the Speaker’s decision was over-ruled through the result of a division.

Question Time started like too many have this year, with the moving of Condolence Motions for the two Digger’s killed in Afghanistan overnight. Unsurprisingly, it took mere minutes for the Lower House to descend into it’s usual chaos. Nothing suggested that there’d be anything more “exciting” than Abbott’s traditional 2:50pm (pre-Play School) Censure Motion…. BOY! WE WERE WRONG!

Harry in "happier days" ... before they crushed his spirit.

In response to Liberal backbencher Bob Baldwin MP’s continued rowdiness and out of line interjection across the chamber Mr Jenkins took the steps necessary to “name” the MP, which would result in his expulsion from the Lower House for 24 hours. “Naming” mind you isn’t all that rare and it certainly isn’t that “great” a punishment. So. The motion to eject Bob Baldwin MP for 24 hours was proposed- and it subsequently failed 72 to 71, after Independent MP Rob Oakeshott decided to cross the floor and vote with the Liberal/Nations and fellow Independent MPs Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie abstained from the vote.

When it became clear that the motion had failed, a clearly flustered Mr Jenkins made it clear to the House that following the close of Question Time he’d be seriously reconsidering his position as Speaker of the House. Traditionally in cases where the House has expressed and passed a vote of no confidence (effectively similar to today’s failed motion) in the Speaker, said Speaker would resign immediately.

Jenkins doing what he does best, chewing out Christopher Pyne

In what could only be described as a borderline offensive display, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott (on becoming aware of Jenkins’ intentions) made a sycophantic gesture, a “motion of confidence” if you will in Harry Jenkins as Speaker of the House.

“Mr Speaker I don’t think anyone on this side of the House has anything other than respect for the job you do under difficult circumstances and the last thing anyone of us would want to see is you feel you have been compromised in your ability to discharge your office by the vote that has just been taken.”

Well Mr Abbott, not to question your faux-support for the Speaker, but if your side of the house showed “respect” for the job and position of Speaker of the House, this situation would never have occurred in the first place. If you respected position of Speaker of the House, you wouldn’t have questioned his judgement, putting the entire Parliament in jeopardy. If you respected the position of Speaker of the House, Bob Baldwin MP wouldn’t have interjected in the first place. When the Speaker says “Order”, he isn’t saying it because he likes the way the vowel sounds roll off his tongue- he’s saying it because the House needs to come to order.  Oh, and Labor- don’t you breathe a sigh of relief. While not as bad as the Opposition (at least since 2007), you also show constant disrespect for the position of Speaker.

Despite the annoyance derived from the actions and behaviour of both the Opposition and the Government, it’s the actions of Independent MP Rob Oakeshott that have left me in a state of true disbelief. Sometimes it seems like this man doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going. Did he not realise that by crossing the floor, not only did we come incredibly close to a massive crisis of parliamentary procedure but we also came perilously close to the collapse of the current minority government. The minority government he himself decided to back less than 8 months ago. Those are some pretty high costs, simply to make a point re: the rights of MPs to speak their minds in Parliament.

The confidence motion in the Speaker was thankfully passed unanimously.

Everything is fine in the House of Representatives…

For now.

– Matt. @mjwill90

 

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The Malcolm Turnbull Question

In Politics: Genral on May 28, 2011 by mjwill91

<Warning: I’m unashamedly pro-Turnbull>

The Malcolm Turnbull question. It’s the question on the lips of everyone even slightly concerned about the state of Australian politics as it stands today. For some, mainly the political moderates, the libertarians, the liberalist minority in the Liberal Party and those genuinely concerned about the economic credentials of both the current government and the sub-par alternative we have – the question has a positive slant. For others, the staunch left and the equally staunch right the question has a less positive connotation. Of course, the question is:

What does the future hold for Malcolm Turnbull? 

The political moderates, the libertarians, the liberalist minority in the Liberal Party and those genuinely concerned with matters of economics ask because they’re genuinely interested in the return of Malcolm Turnbull. They see Turnbull as a “savior” type figure. Someone who occupies the political centre, is incredibly intelligent (his $208m bank balance speaks to his keen fiscal mind) and is a rather non-polarising figure.

I'm unashamedly pro-Turbull- look at him there- how Prime Ministerial!

He also has the interesting ability to appeal to those who’d generally consider themselves as “lefties”, something that i’ve personally never seen before. While he might not appeal to the hard-right of the Liberal Party, the party room seems to be forgetting that they don’t need to win over the ardent conservatives, they’re assured those votes irregardless- there’s no one else to vote for after all. The party room should be focussed on capturing the hearts and minds (and votes) of the swinging centre, and Turnbull at least seems to be capable of doing this.

The last few weeks (in particularly the last week) have been an interesting time for people (like myself) who’d like nothing better than see Tunbull take his rightful place as Oppostion Leader (and at this point, he’s my preferred PM). Now, we can assume a few things about Turnbull, the first being that he’s an incredibly intelligent person (as i attested earlier), so we can assume that his recent “dissent” wasn’t an innocent slip of the tongue- it was planned, probably meticulously scripted. Turnbull doesn’t do things half planned. The current instability, the in-fighting isn’t accidental- in all likelihood it’s anything but accidental.

I see no Turnbull in this image.... or even Hockey...

I’d like to jump back a few months actually, to the “No Carbon Tax Rally”. Remember? It was that gathering of octogenarians rounded up by radio 2GB and shipped down to Canberra. Remember now? It was the one with the disgusting signs, the one that quite ironically did more damage to the image of the Coalition than the government. Remember when Abbott got up on stage, flanked by fellow climate change deniers the perpetually hollering Barnaby Joyce, the relic Bronwyn Bishop and the reprehensibly smarmy Sophie Mirabella- giant “Julia is Bob Brown’s Bitch” sign behind them? Where was Turnbull? Of course, nowhere to be seen.

You’re now aware (if you weren’t already) that for months Turnbull has been subtly undermining the legitimacy of Abbott’s leadership by purposely not turning up to “major” Coalition events and by staying quiet as his fellow Coalition members hooted and hollered and stamped their feet around him.

So, it’d be remise of me not to mention the email from the Chief Opposition Whip wouldn’t I? Firstly, the fact that the email went out to 100 odd people is just asking for it to be leaked. Secondly, the whip must not be very good at his job, if he’s not accurately keeping tally of the number of missed divisions (Turnbull has actually missed less than half of the number he’s been accused of) – something that should’ve been picked up on before the email was sent out. Thirdly, if this was some attempt by Abbott to discredit Turnbull, it’s utterly failed. Frankly even if it wasn’t Abbott’s intent to do that, it appears to most that it was. In the end, this email has done more damage (at least at the moment) to Abbott and his position as Opposition Leader than it’s done to Turnbull.

So, while at the moment everyone on the Coalition is all back-slapping and faux-smile wearing (at least in public), you’d have to be blind (or at least an idiot of some great magnitude) not to pick up on the tension, the hollowness of the assurances that everything is peachy and the sheer creepiness associated with Hockey’s pronouncement that the Coalition front bench was like a “bromance” … *shudder* – that’s something I frankly never want to hear again. Ever.

Now, what does the future hold for Turbull? Well. Who knows. Can the Liberal/National Coalition continue to poll “this well” for another two years? Who knows, but given the “fickle-bitch” nature of the Australian public and observing past trends- i’m going to have to no, they won’t and given the fact that they’re already plunging the knife into themselves now, twisting it around in some sort of pathetic attempt to dig out some cancerous polyps- i’d be surprised if they hadn’t bled to death before the next election…. and Malcolm rubbing salt into their wounds probably wont help much either.

Come back Mr. Turnbull, we're waiting for you!

– Matt. @mjwill90

 

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Gillard’s $222m Chaplain Splurge & Why It’s Misguided

In Politics: Economy,Politics: Genral on May 17, 2011 by mjwill91

It was in grade five that I began to question certain parts of the education that I was receiving at the private school I was being sent to. I began noticing inconsistencies and plain contradictions in the things that my teachers were saying. One minute they’d be talking about a “God of peace and love”, next minute they’d be describing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the trials of Job or the massacres of Exodus, all either directly done by “the hand of God” or through God’s divine “machinations”. It wasn’t long after this that my parents, life long atheists told me why they’d enrolled me in a religious school in the first place. They said to me, “no parent has the right to tell their child what to believe, you had the right to decide for yourself what you wanted to believe”. At the end of the year I asked my parents to cancel my enrolment and to enrol me at the local public school instead as I no longer felt comfortable there.

Religion and irreligion are topics I am now strongly vocal about, yet you probably won’t read much of it in this blog, mainly because I realise the utter futility of trying to argue with a believer, the near impossibility of converting them. However, today my interest was piqued by something that world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking said in a recent interview with the Guardian newspaper,

Professor Stephen Hawking in 2010

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail… There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark”

While I have no interest debating that quote, or the merits of his argument here, what the quote did remind me of is the current debate re: chaplains in schools, and whether or not the government should be increasing chaplain funding during a so called “tough budget” (which in reality should only be one step up from an austerity budget- which this one clearly isn’t).

Now, the high school I went to had both a chaplain and a guidance counsellor, of which I’m glad, students deserve the right to choose between religious and secular advisors when it comes to seeking advice. I remember going to both during my time there. The first time was to the chaplain, I was sent as part of a group who witnessed a close friend nearly choke to death during a seizure in grade eight. It wasn’t particularly useful for me, growing up in the house with an epileptic parent means I’ve seen and dealt with tonic-clonic seizures before- but it was a lot of help for the others in the group, all visibly shaken by the ordeal.

Now, the several trips to the guidance counsellor were really more geared towards planning my transition from secondary to tertiary study, of which she did a brilliant job. I never went to see her for any sort of personal issue, although from the amount of literature in her office, it was clear that a fair few people did.

Now, I’d say we had “the best of both worlds” in high school- or at the very least, we had a choice. This wasn’t the case at another local high school, where a depressed year 11 student, who happened also to be pregnant was turned away by the school’s female chaplain, because the chaplain refused to help someone who had gotten pregnant and/or had sex before marriage.

This budget increased the funding for chaplains in schools to $222 million. $222 MILLION. I’m sorry, but for a government that is supposed to be secular, run by someone by who claims to be atheist – this really isn’t good enough. While students deserve the right to access help, wouldn’t it make more sense for the person they are receiving help from be an officially trained, secular counsellor? Sure, some kids in high school might have some sort of specifically religious based issue that a chaplain would be better advising them on, but I’m fairly sure that situation would be in the absolutely minority of cases.

The ACL, forcing religious values on a secular society since 1995

Why aren’t we seeing money being injected into the secular sector? Is our government beholden to the Australian Christian Lobby? Are members of the religious right faction of the Labor Caucus holding a gun to Gillard’s head and making her do this?

Or, is this just another poor policy decision from a government who has/ will be known for it’s spectacularly poor policies?

– Matt. @mjwill90

Oh, and visit “Say No to Chaplains” at http://www.notochaplains.org/ for more information about the movement to fight the National School Chaplaincy Program.