Tag Archives: Queensland

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A letter to the Queensland Government regarding the Termination of Pregnancy Bill 2018

The Queensland Government is considering a new bill to decriminalise abortion. I wrote a pretty lengthy piece for church on how any legislation in this area is complicated because it touches on how we, as a society, define personhood, and how we choose who gets ‘human rights’ before we then stack the rights of the mother up against the rights of the child. Abortion is a pretty complicated issue and it’s multi-factorial — there’s much more going on than can be solved simply with legal solutions, and the church’s public stance on sexual ethics (and thus unwanted pregnancies) has left us as complicit with abortion as those who allow it. We’re also bad at imagining solutions beyond legislation — but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak about legislation when the moment arises. Two of my brilliant colleagues, Andrea and Vicki wrote pieces exploring these issues.

I’ve been asked why abortion (and the sanctity of life) is a different issue to marriage equality (and the sanctity of marriage), which is a great question that I’d love to unpack. And my basic answer is that it both is and isn’t different; my approach to speaking into the political sphere as a Christian is consistently to articulate a Christian perspective and recognise that we are not a Christian nation and that our views have no special place in the legislative approach chosen by our government — who must balance all the views at the shared table. A Christian perspective is one built from the idea that, for the Christian (and in reality), Jesus is Lord, and that our loyalty, within a democracy (or anywhere) is to him first. Our reason for speaking for a Christian view is that we believe it is better for all people because God is the loving creator. Our challenge is that other views of creation (idolatry) will need to be accommodated by the laws in a secular, pluralist, democracy; and such a democracy, that holds competing views together in tension, will always by default lean towards one view and attempt to accommodate, or make space for, as many others as it can.

Our case for or against any change is not served by spreading misinformation; and having read the Bill and the report from the Queensland Law Reform Commission that produced it, I’m appalled by some of the misinformation being circulated by the pro-life side. I’ve seen claims that the legislation allows sex selection, the death of children born alive during the process, and partial birth abortion. The last claim is the most obvious form of misinformation; the Bill does not mention partial birth abortion because the report suggests a partial birth abortion is neither an abortion, nor murder, but fits within its own definitional category in the Criminal Code).

The report says:

“Provisions like section 313(1) were intended to fill the gap between the offences of unlawful termination (which apply to a fetus) and unlawful homicide (which applies to a child born alive).”

The relevant section of the Criminal Code says:

“Any person who, when a female is about to be delivered of a child, prevents the child from being born alive by any act or omission of such a nature that, if the child had been born alive and had then died, the person would be deemed to have unlawfully killed the child, is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment for life.”

The report acknowledges that there’s an ambiguity here when it comes to abortion, so the Bill recommends an amendment to s313, to make it clear that terminations are not the same thing as ‘preventing a child being born alive’. It doesn’t specifically say anything about the surgical procedures involved that either allow or disallow partial birth abortions. And while, if the unborn child is a person from conception, there’s no moral difference when it comes to the methods of procuring an abortion anyway, it is important that when discussing a topic that is rightly one where the emotions are at play, and where the outcome matters, that we get our facts straight. There’s a massive grey area on the question of partial birth termination, but that’s not the same as suggesting it’s a built-in feature of the Bill. One problem with the Bill is that there are just two many grey areas that mean different emotional arguments from all sorts of scenarios become possible arguments, but this doesn’t make them good arguments any more than the grey areas make good law.

I’d recommend reading the QLRC report (where the Presbyterian Church of Queensland submission even gets quoted). It’s 300+ pages long, but if you’re going to enter a conversation it’s worth holding an informed position. Especially if the issue matters.

Here’s a letter where I attempt to hold these things in balance. You might like to write your own.


To the Hon Yvette D’ath MP, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and the Hon Jackie Trad MP, Deputy Premier and Member for South Brisbane,

Re: Termination of Pregnancy Bill 2018

I am a Presbyterian Minister, leading a congregation in Ms Trad’s electorate of South Brisbane. I’ve long been an admirer of her engagement in the community of South Brisbane and particularly her concerns for the vulnerable members of her electorate — our neighbours.

The recent proposed changes to laws regarding termination of pregnancies in Queensland are causing some concern within the Christian community, and not a small amount of misinformation is being circulated by pro-life groups. I’ve been urged to oppose changes to the legislation because the new bill allows abortions on the basis of ‘sex selection’, and that it will allow partial birth abortions or even post-birth abortions where a fetus survives the process and is left to die, unwanted. This is disturbing to many within the community (beyond the boundaries of religious groups). As I read the proposed Bill from the Law Reform Commission I could find no evidence to support such emotional claims, but also nothing to refute them.

As a leader within the Christian community it seems that the best pathway to a civil conversation on what is not a small or simple issue requires clear information, especially in response to misinformation — especially when the moral weight of such misinformation must surely lead many decent people to oppose the bill. I’m writing to ask that in the course of the public conversation you devote time and energy to both hearing from those worried by these changes, and to correcting the record with as much clarity and charity as possible.

It seems to me that the discussion around the legislation of abortion is not helped by references to marginal cases (from either side), but also that such marginal cases are inevitably part of the discussion. I watched a speech from Ms Trad on the ABC’s Facebook page where she said:

“When the other side say that what we are campaigning for is the right to carry an unborn baby for 38 weeks and then go to a doctor and say we want an abortion is bullshit. It is 100% bullshit.”

I’m concerned that while Ms Trad identifies a gross misrepresentation of the views of those seeking legislative change, any approach to a complex ethical issue built on statements about ‘the other side’ are likely to create an adversarial basis for discussions. One can grant that the legislative changes are seeking to aid women in enormously complicated medical and emotional circumstances without accepting the premise that generalised laws should be made for marginal cases. The proposed legislation is much broader than required those situations as they arise. I am concerned that the proposed limits in the legislation for terminations beyond 22 weeks are fairly vague, where they could be much more specific.

That’s not to say that those of us in religious communities within the community are only concerned about terminations after 22 weeks, which involve the more emotionally disturbing surgical termination (and as a result open up concerns about partial birth abortions, and infant survival beyond the process). The report from the QLRC, which produced the draft bill, provides a relatively black and white position on what it acknowledges is a complicated and contested question.  In deciding whether to recommend abortion ‘on demand’ or the ‘combined approach’ the bill adopts, the QLRC acknowledged various objections to abortion on demand from religious groups (including the Presbyterian Church of Queensland), and those supporting a ‘combined approach,’ which typically argued from the rights of the mother. The report cited a submission from the Australian Lawyers For Human Rights which, in arguing for no limit, made the point that isolating any moment in the gestation period as a point at which the fetus gained human rights and legislating from there is an arbitrary decision:

“Specifying criteria for termination according to different gestation periods is arbitrary, and fails to consider the individual circumstances of each case.”

I would agree with the arbitrary nature of specifying criteria, but suggest that a rush to individualise the considerations around particular cases ignores general principles that our legislative framework must uphold (and indeed the sort of ‘general principles’ required to establish generalities like universal human rights. I would humbly suggest that it is precisely because making such a distinction is arbitrary that we might consider drawing such a point earlier than viability, rather than later.  The report, in Appendix D, also makes the claim:

“Determining the moral status of the fetus or unborn child is contentious. It cannot be resolved by medical facts.”

If extreme cases make for bad law, then I wonder if another axiom might be thrown into the mix — legislation that doesn’t have settled ‘first principles’ also makes bad law. While I recognise that the rights of the woman are an important consideration, laws regarding termination (and that such laws have not been established in Queensland prior to 2018) have always been contentious because deciding when a human life becomes a ‘person’ the law should protect is not easy. The contest of rights between mother and child cannot simply be solved by assertion, and the report itself acknowledges that religious and philosophical reasoning must be brought to bear on this question that medical science alone cannot answer; and so I was concerned to hear Ms Trad dismiss religious objections being raised to the Bill when she said:

“That is the shameful act — to elevate these women’s lives and these women’s circumstances and to use it as a political platform for their absolutely fringe religious perspectives here is outrageous.”

These are not so much fringe religious perspectives as perspectives on the nature of human life that have shaped the approach to human rights, including the rights of the mother, that we enjoy in the western world. For good, and for ill, our approach to personhood in the western world has been profoundly shaped by the Christian teaching that all people are made in the image of God, and thus have inherent dignity (traditionally from conception), and the command from Jesus to “love your neighbour as you love yourself.” It is this axiom that led the early church to, in practice, oppose the abortion-on-demand culture of Rome, a first century Christian document, The Didache, contains specific teachings about how the church was practice this command, which included, specifically, a command not to have abortions, and as the Christian view of life became the dominant one in Rome, and then the west, this view of the unborn child as a neighbour became enshrined in practice, philosophy, and law. From the earliest practices of the church, through to the influence of these practices on our laws (and the establishment of rights for women and children), the church has been seeking to apply the teaching of Jesus to a belief that life begins at conception. These are not ‘fringe religious perspectives’ but a particular position on an issue that Queensland Law Reform Commission acknowledges is complicated.

Because Christians believe the unborn child is a person from conception there is a heightened amount of passion and emotion brought to the conversation about legislation; for us the images brought to our imagination when discussing surgical terminations after 22 weeks are profoundly the same as the idea of the ‘surgical termination’ of a newborn, whose right to life the state rightly protects. While Ms Trad rightly makes the case that nobody takes these decisions lightly, and they almost always tragedy, the legislation does not provide adequately explicit limits on the sort of cases where surgical terminations might be performed; and the distinction between a surgical termination performed at some point prior to 22 weeks and afterwards is, as the report acknowledges, totally arbitrary. How can those who hold this view of the humanity and personhood of the fetus possibly stand by and still believe they are upholding the command of Jesus to love our neighbours? For these weighty questions or scenarios to be dismissed as ‘bullshit’ or ‘fringe’ does not allow the sort of civil discussion required for the formation of good law based on the sort of consideration our pluralist, secular, democracy requires.

The influence that inherently Christian views should have on legislation in a modern secular state is, of course, open to debate. I’m not writing with the expectation that the particular views of my religious tradition be enshrined in the law, but rather to request that they not be summarily dismissed as ‘bullshit’ or ‘fringe religious perspectives’ in weighing up questions of when a human is viewed as a person (the criteria we use here, which are philosophical, will have profound ‘first principles’ implications for all sorts of lawmaking). I would urge you both, and the Labor Party, to reconsider the arbitrariness of drawing a line on where a fetus is a person, and as a result, draw the line to confer both personhood and human rights on the unborn child much earlier, and thus to weigh those rights carefully.

I’m also writing to suggest that the laws regarding conscientious objection and the necessary referral to other practitioners are not so straightforward. In my conversations with medical professionals within our Christian tradition I’ll be suggesting that part of ‘disclosing an objection’ is an opportunity to explain the basis for such an objection, to persuade our community that the best version of our society is one where Jesus’ command to ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’ shapes all we do, that to simply refer a patient to termination by another where you believe the life of a person involved is to become a bystander in the killing of an unborn person. When Jesus affirms the command to ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’, he tells the famous story of the Good Samaritan — the one who stepped in to a complex situation to help after two others (religious leaders) had chosen to be bystanders in the situation. If such a stance is not protected or envisaged by the current framing of the bill then it does not actually protect the conscience of the practitioner but impinges on it such that they are essentially forced to adopt the definition of personhood not-clearly-defined by the Bill.

I recognise that churches have a long way to go in making alternatives to termination plausible, and that our ‘pro-life’ stance often does not extend to the community based support we offer mothers in emotionally and socially vulnerable situations, such that we demonstrate a concern for the rights of the mother, and I also recognise that there are many medically and socially complex cases where decriminalisation of abortion and the provision of clear medical guidelines for practitioners is important, but I do not believe this Bill provides the clarity or limits required for it to make good law for those circumstances.

Ms Trad has been exceptional at loving our neighbourhood in many other spheres, recognising the inherent dignity of many people our society chooses to walk by, and I thank her for that. I would love to have a further conversation with Ms Trad to listen to her perspective, and to outline the objections of the religious members of her electorate and the wider community, trusting that such a dialogue would limit our capacity to see our neighbour as a despicable ‘other’ and that dialogues like this are the basis of producing better, and more inclusive, legislation. Christians are also called to pray for our leaders, and I write to assure you both of my prayers as you, and the government, weigh up the best way forward on this issue.

Sincerely,

Rev. Nathan Campbell

Campus Pastor — Creek Road Presbyterian Church, South Bank.

Benny on the environment

During the campaign of the last federal election, the top issue of the day was the environment, specifically climate change. My friends and I used to bicker about the usefulness of having so much campaign time dedicated to the issue of the environment. They were of the belief that finally politicians were focused on something that mattered. I was of the opinion that the hysteria building around the campaign about the environment was leading to mostly empty, reactive bantering, and no matter how much focus was put on the topic, the additional impact on Australia’s environmental policy was going to be minimal.

I don’t think it has been the governing domain where any perceived failures in environmental activism have occured. I think, prior to becoming a media staple, the environment received adequate consideration by government. I would even go as far to say that the government was the platform where much environmental awareness was raised, discussed and launched.

Then came along the GFC, which took some of the momentum out of the environment’s pillar of current issue drive.

A lot of people have been quick to say that climate change is such an important issue, other issues should be given very low consideration in saving the environment.

One idea raised was that Australia should stop exporting coal.

During the GFC and its aftermath, job retention became a key issue. I still believe that Anna Bligh won an election by stirring peoples fears of lowering job security. In 2008-09, coal represented well over half of Queensland international merchandise exports (PDF).

I still think a lot of people need a reality check when it comes to the impacts of some of the policies being flouted. Proposed energy trading schemes, taxes, quotas, etc etc is going to have a real impact on the costs of basic provisions. Queensland is already suffering from heightened costs associated with basic infrastructure (transport, water). Queensland’s future is looking increasingly precarious. It’s strong population growth, inadequate and increasingly expensive infrastructure will need to be repaired over the coming decades, and Queensland needs to ensure that it can cope with a changing landscape of the resource sector.

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Open letter to Queensland

Dear Queensland,

Poking fun at people from outside the state because of the result of a football game they had no control over is not clever. It’s not really funny either – unless you’re a funny person.

I did not play football for New South Wales last night. Neither did 6,889,983 other New South Welshmen… ignoring that part of that population statistic are migratory Queenslanders. Nor would I have picked 70% of the chosen players to represent me on the Rugby League field.

To pick on me because of that result is ludicrous. It’s also pretty close to the dictionary definition of racism:

1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

Just something to think about next time you insult me on the basis of having been born interstate.

That is all.

Regards,

Nathan Campbell,
Townsville

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and another thing…

I went to a workshop today about the future of tourism marketing in Queensland. The state body – whose name I won’t mention to avoid being picked up in their newscans – is moving to a “need oriented” market segmentation – identifying the desires of consumer subsets and marketing accordingly, and doing away with traditional demographic research.  

It made me think about what I want in a holiday – and why.

The following are five holidays I’d like to go on before I’m old… a lot of them are currently coffee focused.

1. I’d like to go to England to watch Premier League matches and visit the home town of awesome British bands like Radiohead and Muse.
2. I’d like to visit a coffee plantation in Africa or South America.
3. I’d like to go to Italy and drink Espresso in a little cafe in the middle of nowhere, and visit coffee machine making factories…
4. I’d like to go to Germany and drink German beer in German Beer Breweries.
5. I’d like to do a road trip around and through Australia.

Apparently I’m a “Social Fun Seeker” by market segment – the others are Active Explorers, Unwinders, Self Discoverers, Stylish Travellers, and Connectors.

I’d be interested to know how other people plan their holidays… most of our holidays now seem to be taken up with visiting family members in South East Queensland.

  
 

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Hello chaps

“…this is our school let love abide here, love of God, love of mankind, and love of one another.” – School prayer, Maclean Primary School (possibly paraphrased)

Religion in government run schools is a flashpoint subject. There’s nothing that will get the blood boiling for your average atheist than to have religion try to eke its way in to the school curriculum. The issue has been hotly debated in the US for years and the debate has hit our shores with the PM’s decision to fund chaplains in State Schools. The issue has been in the peripherals for a long time – last year it was the proposal to teach intelligent design in the science room – France had an impassioned debate over the rights of students to wear religious clothing to school – the secular state/church relationship is peculiar to say the least.

Surprisingly for some, the chaplaincy scheme is almost as unpopular with Christians as it is with Joe Blow atheist, albeit for different reasons. Whatever your philosophical position on the matter – Australia is a country that celebrates religious freedom – and encourages diversity of beliefs – as a result of the s116 of the constitution (which rules out an official state church). This freedom is a result of the historical hard work of many Christian men and women who staunchly fought for that right – along with fighting for other notable causes such as equal rights for women and aboriginals, the labor union movement, the founding of the Liberal party etc… where there is political or social progress in our history there’s generally been a Christian involved (some would describe the advent of secular humanism and other small l liberal advents as progress – I would argue that they’re generally an example of the use of freedoms won earlier or blatant plagiarism of ideals from historical groups). There is a strong social and historical argument for the teaching of Christianity in schools – but the context it’s taught in is open for argument – should Christianity enjoy a protected position as the religion of choice taught in RE? Should Christians be given special preference in these newly formed government funded chaplaincy positions? The philosophical answer to both those questions is probably not – if we’re upholding a society where people are free to believe whatever they want (which is as important for Christians as it is for Muslims, atheists, Jews and Mormons) we possibly need to provide equal access to all the options (an all or nothing approach of sorts).

I’ve been having some conversations with Mr Benny lately on the issue – below are some extracts from the emails we’ve sent back and forth…

“I hate school prayer.” – Ben

So do I, but for theological reasons – I don’t mind the idea of a Christian praying for the school every day – that’s great – but forcing people to pray to a God they don’t believe in is ridiculous and should be offensive to all Christians because it belittles the idea of God.

“I’m happy to have the history of religion and umm i lack the ability to express this part – i think it’s perfectly good to have the “stories” (sorry i know that’s a real bad word I just can’t think of the right one) of religion to be taught in the same way as science, maths, Shakespeare etc. My concerns stem from the fact legislation is being brought in and it is moving towards what I just mentioned, but the ideals are then being raped by religious zealots intent on promoting religion in schools. $20000 goes to a school, the discretion on who to employ is falling within the schools, you have some religious people in positions of authority, a religious chaplain is employed, and suddenly you have $20000 of tax payer’s money to have a preacher in a school.” – Ben

This argument is interesting but somewhat contradictory. Who is going to get to teach the religious subjects? Suggesting an atheist teach religion is like suggesting a drama teacher teach physics because they have some grasp of the concepts involved but no understanding. A religious teacher should be just as free to promote religion as an English teacher is to promote the beauty of the English language – or a science teacher is to promote the complexity of a plant. That’s what education is – it’s being presented with a series of views and deciding which ones appeal. Because of the “wonderful” nature of postmodernism in education there’s no truth that can be taught as an absolute anymore anyway so children aren’t being forced to believe anything. I can deny gravity if I can justify it. The anti RE argument is also completely flawed – RE in state schools is an opt out system where parents who feel strongly enough can pull their children out of a class – in an interesting side note we don’t have opt out science, or opt out maths so clearly there’s already a distinction between the subjects. What we do have is an opening for anyone of any religious persuasion to come in and teach RE – in my primary school the JWs had their own religion classes – and I can only assume if a Muslim wanted to teach Islamic RE classes during that timeslot that would be a possibility under the current legislation.

The role of the counsellor/chaplain needs to be clearly defined – and Christians are just as concerned about the implications of this legislation as everyone else – nobody wants crazy people running around on school grounds converting kids to an obscure cult. And the last thing Christians want is for a government driven by a politically correct agenda to water down the gospel into a more palatable mix of peace and love – without all the nasty bits.

“I swear, if there are reports of school chaplains directing students to prayer and such if they are approached for counselling then I will go and punch them in the face myself (that’s just student X, not a student they have a history with and know is of their religious persuasion).” – Ben

What guidance can a guidance counsellor offer – when is a student allowed to leave school grounds to seek counselling from a church – a large number of community based, government endorsed counselling services (ie the Salvation Army) are church based anyway so you’re not solving whatever your perceived problem is by keeping counsellors out of school – unless your problem is that it shouldn’t be happening at school because of your political ideology – and that’s a rabid breakdown in rationality if the ideal is more important than the people impacted. People will not be forced to use these counsellors – they’re there for those who will – and in that case it’ll be $20,000 well spent – the fact is that $20,000 will only pay about a half of a person and the other half will come from the combined churches in an area – so the federal funding is probably ensuring chaplains have an obligation to act as counsellors rather than religious salespeople.

And therein lies the concern for Christians – in paying the chaplain, the government then essentially pays to have some control over their message/methodology – which is a breakdown in the separation of church and state in the other direction – ie the state should not dictate the practices of a church. Most Evangelical Christians feel strongly about the notion of the gospel being the only way to God – any watering down of this message fails to serve their purposes as much as it would be a failing if the education system was to employ a “preacher.”

I read Premier Beattie’s plea for churches to pray for rain with interest – particularly the paragraph referring to members of other faiths as “brothers and sisters” who should be encouraged to pray to their Gods – which God will get the credit now if it rains? Seems pretty confusing to me – not to mention the politically correct agenda being pushed and signed onto by the heads of Queensland’s major Christian churches… shame, shame, shame I say.

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Long time no blog…

I apologise for my lack of blogging lately. I would suggest attributing it to a complete lack of blogworthy content. Any other suspicions would no doubt be completely unfounded.

I was a Hair’s breadth away from posting some form of comment on the Pakistan cricket fiasco… but then decided not to. If Darrell Hair really does believe ball tampering was going on then good on him for taking a stand. Lucky Dean Jones wasn’t commentating at the time the Pakistani decision not to return to the field was clearly an act of sporting terrorism.

There’s a state election happening in Queensland soon. It must be the least exciting election ever. When you have to choose between an incumbent idiot and two challenging idiots who do you choose? Actually, Springborg strikes me as a really genuine kind of guy, it’s a shame he genuinely has no policy solutions for the health and water crises… neither of which are of his making. It seems unfair that he should have to clean up Beattie’s mess, and be punished for not knowing where to begin. That would be like me having to tidy my housemate’s room – or vice versa.

There were also some interesting word things that I thought I might blog about – but you can look up anally retentive on wikipedia for yourselves.

I went to Magnetic Island again yesterday with a journo from the SMH. It’s the first time I’ve hosted a journalist there in sunshine. We conducted site (and sight (i’ll never tire of that pun)) inspections of some very nice new developments over there that I’d buy if I had the money.