A study has found 1 in 8 children in Aboriginal communities of the Fitzroy Valley in Western Australia suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). The findings of the Study show the highest level of alcohol-related disability diagnosed in children in Australia, and one of the highest rates in the world. James Fitzpatrick, lead researcher on the 6 year study of Aboriginal school-aged children living around the Kimberley town of Fitzroy Crossing, said Australia may in fact have the highest level in the world due to his team’s “conservative approach” compared with overseas studies. And he warned that the outcome could be generalised to other communities around Australia, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, where alcohol intake was high.

The population-based prevalence study, conducted by the George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney, was published in the Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health. Dr Fitzpatrick says it is a clarion call to all Australian governments, health agencies, clinicians and educators to move swiftly in promoting a “no alcohol in pregnancy’’ message across the nation. And alcohol bans should be imposed in places where grog intake is high. “Governments need to be bold and work with communities to establish alcohol restrictions,’’ he said. “And many health and education professionals still do not provide advice to pregnant women and do not know how to recognise FAS.”

Using a rigorous process that included a detailed questionnaire about the pregnancy and early childhood, FAS-affected children were examined for abnormal facial features, unusual head shape and other physical impairments. They can also suffer poor growth, low IQ, and developmental delays and learning difficulties, affecting behaviour, motor function, speech and memory. The findings show that more than half of 108 children, all born in 2002-2003, had mothers who drank alcohol during pregnancy. Out of 127 pregnancies in total, alcohol was used by 55 per cent of mothers, 80 per cent in the first trimester and 50 per cent throughout pregnancy. Ten of 13 mothers drank at levels considered dangerously high.

Professor Elizabeth Elliott, a research clinician at the George Institute, says the results are “likely to be similar to other age groups in the Fitzroy Valley, and to other remote Australian communities with high-risk alcohol use during pregnancy”. “We shouldn’t be misled into thinking this is an Aboriginal problem. In my clinic at Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney, I rarely ever see an Aboriginal child among my fetal-alcohol affected patients.” As the first reliable figures from a remote Australian community, she says, “the study represents the tip of an iceberg, because many other children without obvious facial features have neuro-developmental problems due to in-utero effects of mothers drinking”.

Professor Elliott, who chairs the federal government’s recently formed National FASD Technical Network, commended Fitzroy Valley’s indigenous leaders for initiating the study, in particular June Oscar, the chief executive of Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre, and Maureen Carter, chief executive of Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services. “Just before the study began, they lobbied and got alcohol bans for their community. We are currently revisiting to see if rates of FAS have since gone down. But greater awareness of the ‘no drinking in pregnancy’ message has already spread across the Fitzroy Valley.”

Ms Oscar said the findings had helped her people understand for the first time the scale of the problem. “We know that there are many other communities across Australia worried about the damage that alcohol is causing to their children,’’ she said. Chief investigator Jane Latimer, also from the George Institute, said the Fitzroy Valley communities were courageous for facing up to responsibility for the past. “These women did not know they were harming their babies by drinking when they were pregnant,’’ Professor Latimer said. “They live in very remote, disadvantaged communities and 10 years ago, when their children were born, they had no information about the dangers of alcohol.”

“We must commend, rather than punish, this community for leading the way and shining a spotlight on a problem that exists across all Australia.” Professor Latimer said. Dr Fitzpatrick, who is now based at the Telethon Kids Institute in Perth, said each child underwent three days of assessment, including by a pediatrician, psychologist, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, and speech and language pathologist. “Aboriginal ‘community navigators’ were involved at every stage, ensuring that families … understood the process,” he said. The findings will be presented to the International Conference of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in Vancouver in March.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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The murderous attack on the office of French magazine Charlie Hebdo has renewed the debate in Australia about Section 18C of the federal Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs has called on the Abbott Government to repeal Section 18C. The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has also backed calls for the Government to revisit the debate about freedom of speech. ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton said all public debate should be conducted respectfully but it should not be against the law to “insult” or “offend”. “Inciting hatred or violence would still be an offence, but not ‘insulting’ or ‘offending’,” Mr Shelton said.

“While there is disagreement about whether Charlie Hebdo cartoons would have been illegal or not under the Racial Discrimination Act, the principle of free speech is what is at stake. While Charlie Hebdo regularly published material that was deeply offensive to Muslims, Christians and Jews, there seems to be overwhelming agreement that this should not be illegal. This principle should be consistent in legislation. Free public debate is a better forum than litigation in court for calling out insult or offence,” Mr Shelton said. The ACL also called for the repeal of state-based racial and religious vilification laws which, the ACL said, have led to “unnecessary litigation, such as the farcical ‘two Dannies case’ in Victoria.”

Mr Shelton said the ACL supported the cross-party bill before the Senate to amend Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. “Senators Leyonhjelm, Smith, Day and Bernardi have struck a reasonable compromise,” Mr Shelton said. South Australian Family First senator Bob Day’s Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014 aims to remove the terms “offend” and “insult” from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Speaking on the bill, co-sponsored by Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm, and Liberal Senators Cory Bernardi and Dean Smith, in the Senate last year, Senator Day said:

“It is well known that freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of the press are fundamental to the rule of law. For the rule of law to function properly, a country’s citizens must be able to observe, comment and critique the existence or non-existence of laws, the making of laws, and the application thereof in the courts system. These freedoms are so critical to the very existence of a strong democracy and an acceptable way of life, they are even recognised in international treaties and conventions to which Australia is both a party and adherent.

“These freedoms must be both well coupled, and well balanced with the protection against defamation, racial discrimination, vilification, blasphemy, sedition, obscenity, privacy and public interest. When the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 was originally passed by Parliament, the intention of the legislation was the prohibition of racial discrimination and, in particular, to make provision for giving effect to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. However, subsequent amendments to the Act have in fact created a serious imbalance between freedom of speech and racial discrimination. In particular, section 18C of the Act restricts even objective and fair minded opinion and expression.”

“The amendment to the Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill would simply remove the words “offend” and “insult”. The words “humiliate” and “intimidate” remain. If the amendment is passed, both freedom of speech and protection against racial discrimination will be able to co-exist. Reasonable Australian’s do not support racial discrimination but do support and defend their very precious freedom of speech, expression and opinion.” Senator Day said “whether an act is reasonably likely to have the effect specified in Section 18C should be determined by the standards of an ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community, not by the standards of any particular group within the Australian community”.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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At least 20 Australian citizens who fought in Syria alongside ISIS have come back to the country without penalty. These jihadists who left for Syria will not be penalised nor banned from the country due to a loophole in the law implemented against traveling to the Middle East. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has declared a ‘no go zone’ in Syria under the Foreign Fighters Bill in September, however, citizens who were already in Syria before the bill was declared were not covered by the said law. In an interview on the TODAY Show, Ms Bishop said, “We are in a position to cancel or not issue passports for people seeking to leave the country. We’re in a position to detain people or keep people under surveillance should they return.”

Ms Bishop said that Australia’s law enforcement agencies have been doing their job and handling the situation. She said Australians are safe from these jihadists and that law enforcers will not tolerate further young people leaving the country and participating in the fight of terrorists. Reports have stated that most of the jihadists are staying in Queensland. Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said when asked about the jihadists living in Queensland, “I can’t confirm the number because it can change in a heartbeat. Today the number might be five, tomorrow 10.” He added, “Obviously you don’t go off fighting in foreign lands and come back and think you are not going to be on our radar.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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The Australian Prayer Network is again this year calling its member Churches, Prayer Groups and Individuals to a night of prayer for our nation to be held on Sunday 25th January 2014, the eve of Australia Day.  In 2014 Australians of all denominations gathered in local communities across our nation to join in this national night of prayer. Timing and venue for each gathering across the nation is at the discretion of the organiser and prayer gatherings do not have to be registered with us. Falling on a Sunday evening this year we expect that many Churches will use at least some of the prayer points during Sunday services on 25thJanuary as we ask God to guide our nation into the year of 2015. 

Due to the many hundreds of requests we receive each year for prayer points which can be used on the night, this year we have uploaded them to our website so that those who are holding prayer gatherings can download them for their use. There is no copyright on the material which may be freely used/reproduced (with acknowledgment to the Australian Prayer Network as the source) as required. Please go to our website at to download the material.  Thank you for your support of this initiative to undergird our nation in prayer on our national day and at the beginning of another year.

Brian Pickering
National Coordinator
Australian Prayer Network

Source: Australian Prayer Network

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