Labor will oppose any attempt to extend discrimination law exemptions to allow people who object to same-sex marriage to deny goods and services to gay couples. Opposition leader Bill Shorten made the pledge at a marriage equality event in Sydney recently.  Responding to a questioner who asked him to rule out allowing bakers not to sell cakes to gay weddings, Shorten said Labor would oppose such discrimination law exemptions and repeal them at the earliest available opportunity if they passed. “It’s not allowed now under the current law – why would we water down existing laws? We don’t need to water down anti-discrimination law to keep some people who oppose same-sex marriage happy.”

Attorney general George Brandis had planned to finalise details for the plebiscite in March, including details of exemptions to anti-discrimination law and public funding. But due to division in the party room, plans to finalise details of the plebiscite were shelved, raising the prospect that voters will not know whether the plebiscite would change discrimination law when they vote at the federal election. Greens leader Richard Di Natale said he married his wife Lucy as a public expression of love and commitment to their friends, family and society. “That’s being denied to some people because the community says if you’re straight, your love is something we should celebrate; if you’re not straight, the love for your partner is different, and without marriage considered less important. That’s effectively prejudice.”

Shorten said “there are enough progressive Liberals, Greens and Labor MPs that we could have marriage equality before the election if it were put to a free vote”. Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome warned a same-sex marriage plebiscite would be expensive and divisive. “People with deep prejudice and hatred given the biggest megaphone they’ve ever had,” he said. Shorten reiterated Labor’s pledge that, if elected, it would hold a parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage in parliament within 100 days of the next election. “We need to campaign at next election for candidates who will vote for marriage equality. If you want to have marriage equality you need to change the government.”

Labor MPs will be allowed a free vote on same-sex marriage, but the party’s policy will bind MPs to vote in favour if the issue is still being debated in two terms’ time. Turnbull supports marriage equality and opposed holding a plebiscite when the then prime minister, Tony Abbott, suggested one at a joint party room meeting in August last year. But since becoming prime minister in September, Turnbull has maintained plans for a plebiscite. The Greens party room is unanimously in favour of same-sex marriage. But the party’s pledge to support it “every vote, every time” came under strain when the Greens voted against debating same-sex marriage in the Senate in March, labelling it a stunt to derail Senate reform.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has expressed concern that a Shorten Labor Government will not allow protections for freedom of conscience for business owners should the definition of marriage be changed in law. ACL Managing director Lyle Shelton said regardless of where people stood on the marriage debate, he believed most people did not want to see their fellow Australians fined because they lived out their beliefs about marriage. “Across America and Europe bakers, florists, wedding chapel owners and photographers are being sued for living out their sincerely held beliefs about marriage,” Mr Shelton said. “Australians are better than this but the current lack of understanding by politicians about how same-sex marriage takes away peoples’ right to differ means we could head down this path.”

Mr Shelton was responding to fresh comments made by Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten, ruling out fundamental freedoms for those who oppose same-sex marriage. He said it was also concerning that senior Liberal minister Christopher Pyne and new Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman had echoed Mr Shorten’s views ruling out protection for business owners who wished to exercise the right not to participate in weddings which violated their conscientiously held views on marriage. “It is important for all parliamentarians to realise that clergy are not the only people who have freedom of religion and freedom of conscience rights. “Mr Shorten’s comments make it clear that only one view on marriage will be tolerated in a society that he governs,” Mr Shelton said.

“People operating wedding businesses whose consciences cause them to oppose same-sex marriage could face considerable fines under anti-discrimination laws should the definition of marriage be changed,” Mr Shelton said. “This is not about refusing to serve people because they are same-sex attracted, it is about the freedom to decline to participate in something which violates a conscientiously held belief.” Mr Shelton called on Labor Party people to express their concern with the direction that the Labor Party was taking on this issue. “The rights to a free conscience, freedom of religion, belief, speech and freedom of expression are the nuts and bolts of democracy. If they fall, then we have serious questions to answer regarding our democracy. It is deeply troubling that a political leader is so overtly opposed to them.

“Most fair-minded Australians would accept the right of a person to maintain their belief that gender and biology still matter in marriage and to be free to express that belief. “When the definition is changed, the law will say that gender is irrelevant to the foundation of society. “Those who believe gender and biological identity is important will be at odds with the anti-discrimination laws which will be used against them.  Now that politicians have indicated that freedom of conscience will be curtailed under same-sex marriage, this is all the more reason to vote to preserve the definition of marriage in the up-coming plebiscite.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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Christianity is by far the most widely persecuted religion in the world. Think about the number of countries in which Christianity has been oppressed to the point of near extinction, particularly in the Middle East, where Christianity began and predates Islam; in Africa, where the Muslim-Christian fault line is most pronounced; or in parts of Asia, where Christianity has a long history of almost continuous persecution in places such as China and North Korea. Recently, when reading about the reaction to John Allen’s book The Global War on Christians, I realised many people, especially the young, don’t know this. Even when they are given the facts, they seem loath to believe it and often cite the cultural dominance of Christianity, which they forget is a purely Western phenomenon.

The murder of Syrian Christians by Islamic State was the first many people knew of the existence of Christians in the Middle East. What happened to the high-minded notion of accepting 12,000 mainly Christian refugees from the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq? Where are they? There are families such as the Naeems, a Christian family of nine that has been stuck in Beirut for more than a year and has a relative in Canberra. The Naeems have had their documents for refugee status tentatively approved but have been told they must wait another 12 to 18 months to get an interview. These are people trying to operate through legal channels. Can it be the liberal secular media, after showing due outrage about the persecution of Christians under Islamic State, has lost interest in the fate of these people?

I don’t think one can simply blame the media but many of us wonder why we are still not seeing more Christians in the intake. Perhaps there is victim overload. We live in a thoroughly libertarian milieu in which everyone is a victim, with their own rights ideology. Most of the time these rights are just wants, so real victims such as persecuted Christians challenge that hollow sense of entitlement. But there is more. The Christian religion is seen by some political and social elites as the one great obstacle to the elevation of human wants into human rights. So who cares about them? It is easy to make noises about Islamic State, but for progressives the real enemy seems to be Christianity.

The result is the “soft” persecution of Christians in the West who speak out against progressive ideologies. Use is made of the human rights apparatus and anti-discrimination law. Look at the continuing persecution of Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteous for enunciating Catholic teaching on marriage. This sort of soft persecution goes to the heart of freedom of religion which is the foundation of political freedom. And Christians from societies where the family is paramount, marriage is sacred and who have suffered real persecution for their faith are hardly likely to support things such as same-sex marriage. People such as the Naeems would be seen by progressives as the right-wing reactionaries of the Middle East. No wonder the promised influx of Syrian Christians has not materialised. 

Source: Written by Angela Shanahan an Australian Journalist

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The proportion of Australian residents born overseas has soared to its highest level in more than 120 years, new figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show. In 2015, more than 28% of the population were born overseas, the largest proportion since 1895. The percentage has increased every year for the past 15 years. Nepalese-born Australians were the fastest-growing overseas-born community. Their numbers have swelled 11-fold over the past 10 years, from just over 3800 people in 2005 to more than 43,500 in 2015. Although their population is small compared to other overseas-born groups, the rate of increase – nearly 28% a year, is well above other groups. The next fastest growing groups – those born in Pakistan, Brazil and India – increased their numbers by around three-fold over the same period.

The steepest decline among the top 50 countries of birth was for Serbian-born Australians, followed by those born in Poland. The share of Australians born overseas last peaked in the late 1890s following the first mining boom and the surge in Chinese migration in the gold rush era, according to Anna Boucher, a senior lecturer in the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. “Then there was the introduction of ‘White Australia’ and the effective closing of borders, with the exception of some Commonwealth migration, up until the post-war period,” Dr Boucher said. This explains the steep decline in the share of overseas-born Australians during the first half of the 20th century.

The dramatic turnaround in the mid-1940s reflects the shift to a mass migration policy, driven by a belief that Australia must “populate or perish” to survive in the post-war era. The dip in the late-1970s relates to low migration intake under the Whitlam and Fraser governments. Since 2000, the figure has risen steadily. “The story there is around bipartisan support for temporary migration,” Dr Boucher said – in particular, rapid increases in the number of working holiday makers and international students. Australia ranks fourth among OECD countries for the largest proportion of overseas-born residents, behind Luxembourg (43.7 per cent), Switzerland (28.3 per cent) and New Zealand (28.2 per cent) according to 2013 statistics from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. 

“Australia has traditionally had a high proportion of migrants, but we’ve now hit a peak not seen since the late 1800s,” said Beidar Cho from the ABS. Nepali-born nurse Pushpa Belbase, who joined her husband in Sydney in 1996, said the first few years were difficult but now, she wouldn’t live elsewhere. “It was hard to leave home – our parents are still over there; there was no one here to support us in that time . but now I feel like Australia is home,” she said. “Two of my children were born here. It’s a better life than Nepal. It’s easy to survive and you can get a good education here. I’m so happy we came.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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