CATHOLIC BISHOPS CALLED TO ANSWER IN ANTI-DISCRIMINATION TEST CASE
Australia’s Catholic bishops have been drawn into a national test case for freedom of religion and speech after Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commission found they have a case to answer over distributing a booklet supporting traditional marriage. The commission has signalled a momentous test case will be held, with a hearing in Tasmania, because of the issues of “public importance” in the case. The Catholic Church has argued that it had no intention to cause offence but was exercising its freedom of speech and religion before the promised plebiscite on same-sex marriage after the next election. Various Christian churches have expressed fear that freedom of religion and speech will be limited under same-sex legislation, which Malcolm Turnbull has pledged to introduce if a plebiscite approves same-sex marriage.
Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteus was initially singled out in a complaint by transgender Greens political candidate Martine Delaney that she felt humiliated and that he had breached the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act by circulating a booklet to the parents of Catholic school students called “Don’t mess with Marriage”. Ms Delaney, who has changed from a male to a female and lives in a same-sex relationship with a woman, said she was humiliated by the booklet which only paid “lip service” to showing respect to same-sex attracted Australians whilst sending out negative messages about them. She said the booklet did immeasurable harm to “the wellbeing of same-sex couples and their families across Tasmania”.
Ms Delaney had also complained about the Catholic bishop’s conference, which represents all Catholic bishops in Australia, which had distributed the booklet around the nation. The Tasmanian commission cited the bishops’ conference as the prime mover in the booklet and Archbishop Porteus as the second target. The notification of the upholding of the complaint said that under the Tasmanian Act there was a possible breach by “conduct that is offensive, intimidating, insulting or ridiculing of Ms Delaney and the class of same-sex attracted people”. Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks said the matter should be considered and that conciliation was “unlikely” to solve the issue because “it raises issues of public importance”.
The commission said if conciliation does not succeed then the Tasmanian tribunal will hold a hearing. All Catholic bishops and Archbishop Porteus have been given 21 days to respond to the commission’s finding and to decide on whether to seek conciliation. Archbishop Porteus said he did not wish to comment “too widely” on the issue because of the legal nature of the complaint but said he would try to reconcile with Ms Delaney. “In distributing the Pastoral Letter, ‘Don’t Mess With Marriage’, my aim was to assist the Catholic community in understanding the teaching of the Catholic Church, at a time when debate on this matter was widespread within the community,’’ he said. “It was not my intention to offend.’’
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has called for the Turnbull Government to urgently legislate to override anti-free speech provisions in state-based anti-discrimination laws so that free speech can be exercised in the marriage debate. ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton said it would be impossible to have a fair marriage plebiscite debate if one side is to be shut down under the threat of prosecution. The booklet simply teaches what millions of Australian Christians, Muslims and others believe to be the truth about marriage. “The use of state-based anti-discrimination law to silence the church in Tasmania is a worrying development. “Australian Marriage Equality (AME) and the Greens are using these laws to stop Australians from hearing respectful arguments in favour of preserving the definition of marriage.
“The Catholic Bishops’ booklet contains precisely the arguments pro man-woman marriage supporters want their fellow Australian’s to hear during the plebiscite debate. Unless there is protection for free speech, any victory for same-sex marriage in the Turnbull Government’s promised plebiscite will be tarnished and divisive in the Australian community. It is critical that the plebiscite be completely fair to both sides. The ability to speak freely is a precondition of a fair process.” Mr Shelton said ACL realised there may well be constitutional complexities in a Commonwealth override but it was in the interests of supporters of redefining marriage to ensure there was a level playing field ahead of the plebiscite. “The last thing Australia needs is an unfair, divisive American-style settlement to the same-sex marriage debate.”
Source: Compiled by APN using reports from various sources
MOTHER, MIDWIFE AND SHEIKH FOUND GUILTY IN GENITAL MUTILATION TRIAL
When the little girl appeared on the courtroom television screen, Justice Peter Johnson removed his horsehair wig and asked the three barristers acting in Australia’s first female genital mutilation trial to do the same, to make the 9 year-old witness, known as C2, feel at ease. “I don’t think it will have a magical effect, but I hope it will make us look a little more human,” Justice Johnson said. It was a poignant act that symbolised the youth of C2 and her sister C1, the victims of the mutilation, and the extremely sensitive nature of the things they were to talk about, via video link from another room. Ultimately, the girls’ mother, who can only be known as A2, and a former midwife, guilty of mutilating the clitorises of the sisters during ceremonies in Wollongong and Sydney between October 2009 and August 2012.
A sheikh, Shabbir Vaziri, was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact. All three were members of the Dawoodi Bohra Shia Muslim community. The sisters, who were given pseudonyms by the court to protect their identities, were interviewed by a social worker at their school in August 2012, after police received reports of female genital mutilation within the religious sect. C1 said that when she was about seven she went with her mother to a house in Wollongong, where the midwife laid her on a bed and carried out a procedure known as “khatna”, which involved a “little cut down there”. When the social worker asked her why it happened, C1 replied: “It’s a part of our culture and it has happened to every girl.” C2, the younger sister, told police similar details, saying she was hurt on “the bottom”.
C1, who is now 11, later gave evidence that she saw the midwife holding a tool that looked like scissors. The defence argued the ceremony was “secret women’s business”, involving a symbolic touching of the girls’ genitals with forceps, and there was no physical evidence of injury. The midwife’s barrister Stuart Bouveng asked C1 what kind of pain she experienced during the procedure. “It was short, it didn’t last long. It was like a pinching or a cutting, I’m not sure,” C1 said. The jury heard hours of telephone intercepts, including a call A2 made to an aunt in which she said: “Honourable maternal aunt, we had [C1], [C2] circumcised.” There were also several calls in which the girls’ parents spoke about whether they could tell police it happened in India or Africa.
Dr Sonia Grover, a paediatric gynaecologist, told the court it was possible the tips of the girls’ clitorises had been removed, but there were other more likely medical explanations. “If you were going to remove tissue, it would hurt and bleed,” she said. “The girls did not complain of pain or problems in the days after. So whatever was done was a minor procedure.” After the verdict, Crown Prosecutor Nanette Williams asked that bail be revoked for all three offenders, arguing that there was a risk they would flee the jurisdiction and that they now faced jail. The police officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Sergeant Eugene Stek, told the court he was concerned that the offenders would be protected by their close-knit community and possibly assisted to leave the country now that they had been convicted.
Sergeant Stek said that, on the day Vaziri was arrested, he had been about to leave the country for India. He also said he was worried that some or all of the offenders would encourage fellow members of their community to hide other instances of female genital mutilation if allowed back into the community. But Justice Johnson refused the detention application, allowing the trio to remain on bail subject to strict conditions, including the surrendering of their passports and other travel documents. They will return to court on February 5 for sentencing.
Defence experts believe the new Chinese operator of the Port of Darwin should be placed under renewed scrutiny, amid evidence of its close and extensive links to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the group’s recent move to set up its own armed internal militia unit. While the Defence Department has approved the deal to sign a 99-year lease over the port facilities with China’s Landbridge Group, the agreement, announced last month, has concerned some senior Australian Defence Force officials. Veteran Liberal senator Bill Heffernan last night called for the agreement to be reviewed in light of new information about the company, which defence experts claim is a “commercial front” for the Chinese military and the Communist Party.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles hailed the $506 million deal with the “private sector partner” as a fantastic outcome for the territory. But the company’s Chinese-language website reveals extensive details of the creation of a “people’s armed militia” by the Landbridge Group — demonstrating its close links to both the Communist Party and the PLA. Mr Giles said his government did not have any concerns about the deal over the port. “We’ve had a chat to Landbridge and they’ve said they’ve been poorly interpreted,” Mr Giles said. “We’re going to get a proper interpretation done.” Defence Minister Marise Payne’s spokesman said the government’s position on the lease had not changed. Landbridge is owned by Chinese billionaire Ye Cheng, who is a former senior military officer and senior Communist Party official.