Sunday, January 27, 2013

Critic of homosexuality survives his inquisition

A PERTH GP investigated after he led a group of doctors opposing gay marriage on health grounds has reportedly been cleared by the Medical Board.

Founder of the Doctors for the Family group, Lachlan Dunjey, made a submission to a Senate inquiry into marriage equality last year stating gay marriage was a health risk.

The submission prompted outrage from civil liberty groups because it stated that marriage should remain between a man and a woman, and if same-sex marriage were allowed it would normalise homosexuality and have "health consequences".

"We submit that the evidence is clear that children who grow up in a family with a mother and father do better in all parameters than children without," it read.

In May last year the Sunday Herald Sun revealed 22 Victorian GPs, anaesthetists, obstetricians, palliative care specialists and psychiatrists, including Victoria's deputy chief psychiatrist, Prof Kuruvilla George, joined 150 colleagues interstate to argue gay marriage posed a health risk to society.

Dr Dunjey told website Australian Doctor this week he had been investigated by the Medical Board of Australia after allegations of misconduct made by another doctor and cleared.

Dr Dunjey ran as a Senate candidate for the Christian Democratic Party in the 2004 federal election.

"It is about freedom of speech ... it was sad really as I received a lot of hate mail and I don't believe people should be vilified or targeted for expressing a view," he told the website


NSW to continue with its gas plan

THE state government will push ahead with the expansion of the state's Coal Seam Gas industry despite increasingly organised opposition from green groups, home owners and farmers.

Resources and Energy Minister Chris Hartcher told The Sunday Telegraph there would be "catastrophic consequences" if NSW did not develop its own supply of secure and cheap gas.

Gas supplies would begin to run dry as early as 2014 and prices are already set to soar, he said, with predictions they could double within five years without further development.

Mr Hartcher said for too long green groups with an anti-mining agenda had been allowed to spread misinformation and stir up fear in the community without being properly held to account by the government or industry.

The Minister said the state was already losing manufacturing businesses that were concerned about gas prices and supply. Australian company Incitec Pivot has decided to build an ammonia plant in Louisiana, US, rather than Newcastle, because of concerns over the prospect of the soaring price of gas. This has cost the city hundreds of jobs.

"The real problem is going to be the customers who are dependent on gas. One-third of all the state's energy needs come from gas," he said.

"It really is fundamental to not only the economy but the lifestyle of the whole state."

Mr Hartcher said the Greens had been allowed to "just stand up with great confidence and assert things as facts".

"They are determined to change our energy to solar and wind and destroy gas as an alternative," he said. "Well, people can have these forms of energy, but they will have to be prepared to pay more than ten times what they do now."

The recently released Infrastructure NSW report said exploitation of the state's vast coal seam gas deposits would be "game changing" allowing the state to re-energise its manufacturing industry.

"There are two million gas extraction wells throughout the world now, and it's difficult for the anti-gas protesters to point to one that is causing problems," he said.

"The challenge for them is to find a single example where the water has been tainted or the ground has been damaged. But they don't have a single example - anywhere in the world."

The Minister said he understood residents' concerns in southwest Sydney about drilling under homes, but expansion had yet to be approved. "People are naturally protective of their homes, but at this stage the government hasn't approved any mining under people's homes," he said.

But Greens upper house MP Jeremy Buckingham has vowed to oppose any plans to expand CSG mining in NSW.

"The claim that there are no examples of CSG mining having an impact on health is a lie," he said.

"There has been a massive impact on the health of people in the US. People are reporting adverse impacts such as nose bleeds and ear aches."


I THINK this is satire -- but maybe it really is anthropology

The author, Nick Herriman, is an anthropologist

Australia Day is upon us and, for many, what could be more natural than a barbecue? Most of us know how to have a barbie without reflecting on it, yet barbecues also communicate a lot about us.

We can see this in the 1980s Australian movie, Barbecue Area. This satire provides a powerful analysis of the barbecue, Australia Day and its connotations of "white" Australian culture, by inverting white-black relationships. The film depicts a boat of Aboriginal people arriving at an area where the soon-to-be-colonised "whites" are having a barbecue. The Aboriginal invaders wonder at this white ritual, and well they might, for the Aussie barbie is deeply meaningful.

The classic, stereotypical barbecue is set around a structured series of oppositions. Inside, women prepare raw or bland food (vegetables: salad, potatoes, rice, bread). Outside, men prepare cooked food (meat, savoury).

Once the meal is prepared, the meat goes in the middle of the table and is dished into the middle of the plate. Bland foods are peripheral to the table and also to the plate. It all must be complemented by spicy or piquant sauces. The ritual typically starts during daylight hours and finishes at night. It might also be held in the afternoon, but never earlier in the morning.

The opposition of beer and wine is also illustrative. Some wine is cheaper than beer, but we rarely use wine (or fruit juice, or even water) to clean the barbecue plate. The World Health Organisation has not yet recognised beer for its sterilising or cleaning properties, so it seems the reason we use beer derives from its symbolic potency.

Beer is construed as a masculine drink. In our imagination, it also signifies an "Australian" or local beverage, as wine is conceived of as a foreign custom in as much as it was "brought by migrants". Furthermore, beer only obtains its meaning by being not-wine or not-soft drink. Like beer, meat is also associated with Anglo-Aussie masculinity - we "feed the man meat" and men are thought to "bring home the bacon".

Meaning is thus created through a series of oppositions - inside/outside; raw/cooked; woman/man; bland/savoury; peripheral/central; day/night; wine/beer. These complementary arrangements are the basis through which our social action can become meaningful, especially in our departures from the structure.

Thus many Australians also barbecue in parks, at the beach and other areas delimited as "outdoor". We are a nation that spends a lot of time inside urban homes dreaming about, and fearing, the bush and great outdoors. The barbecue gives us a chance to symbolically reconquer these.

This also means that if we wish to resist the symbolic structures, we are inevitably also forced to use them. If a man wants to emphasise his progressive credentials, he'll go inside to prepare salads - it's saying "women don't necessarily belong in the kitchen". If it's vegetarian credentials he's after, he'll ban meat from the barbie.

Many migrants do not follow the structural patterns, and nor for that matter do a lot of Anglo-Aussies! Each action thus becomes socially meaningful in the way it departs from the structural pattern of opposites.

Let's consider the gender divide which will probably play a huge role in our next election. Our female PM accuses the male leader of the opposition of misogyny and it becomes an international YouTube hit. While contesting the gender roles, the debate will inevitably be structured along the same lines of inside-outside, nature-culture that we see in barbecue symbolism. For example, does Tony Abbot think women belong inside? Are women naturally more capable of caring for children? Again, we make meaning by departing from, as much as by conforming to, the structures.

Aside from the complementary structures (raw/cooked), the order of events through time in the barbecue is also structured. First, chips and dips are served. Ideally, these are spicy and savoury and, if there is meat, it will only be in small portions. Then comes the meal in which the meat takes pride of place. And finally, fruits and sweets for dessert.

Again this is just the ideal structure through which we make meanings. If our barbecue host wants to establish his culinary credentials, he might serve a sweet aperitif first, then mango with fish for the main, finishing off with a chilli chocolate cake for dessert. By departing from the ideal progression in this way, he marks himself as gastronomic, but also may appear feminine in some eyes. The structural progression might seem natural but it is in fact a cultural invention. For example, an Indonesian Muslim breaking fast will typically start the evening meal with very sweet food and drink and then move on to savoury. On the Indonesian plate, the bland, starchy food - rice - is central with meat on the side.

This brings issues of inclusiveness and citizenship to the fore. Many citizenship ceremonies are scheduled on Saturday as part of a long-standing attempt to associate Australia Day with migration and multiculturalism. Perhaps then, the pot luck meal rather than the barbecue (or even the melting pot) better expresses the multicultural aspirations of many Australians.

Cuisine is thus not just about being nutritious and tasting good, it's also about meaning. Although it feels natural, this meaning is actually cultural.

So what will the barbecue structures this Australia Day tell us about being Australian? If while holding the barbie tongs or the salad tongs, we ask ourselves "who am I?", the answer we come up with - whether Australian or not, ethnic or not, woman or man, black or white - will be created through, or in opposition to, the same symbols which structure the great Australian barbecue. Analysing these structures tells that the most intimate ideas of our identity are also constructed.

So, if you're chucking another prawn on the barbie this weekend, or consciously avoiding it, you are also engaged in deeply meaningful and structured symbolic action.


Insult, offence and the draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill

THE young apprentice loved to boast of his romantic conquests over the weekend. His workmates nicknamed him "Romeo", in the true Australian larrikin tradition.

But "Romeo" took offence to their ribbing. He lodged a discrimination claim on the grounds of "lawful sexual activity". His employer, a small auto-electrician company in rural Victoria, chose to pay thousands of dollars in compensation in a confidential settlement, to avoid the costs of fighting the claim in court.

"Employers are being held to ransom by claims of discriminatory conduct by employees," says Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce industrial manager Bill Chesterman, who helped negotiate the "go away" payment.

New discrimination laws planned by the Federal Fovernment will extend the workplace warfare to every facet of public life. Australians' behaviour and conversations in schools, shops, playgrounds, clubs, pubs and sporting fields will be covered by the anti-discrimination legislation drafted by Attorney-General Nicola Roxon. Hurt feelings are set to become the legal trigger for compensation claims.

The government's attempt to modernise Australia's anti-discrimination laws attracted a hornet's nest of criticism this week from churches, employers, unions and civil libertarians.

Catholic Cardinal George Pell and the shop assistants' union - unlikely allies - both decried the draft laws as "the first step towards totalitarianism".

Employer groups predict the changes will result not in a lawyers' picnic, but a lawyers' lunch - long-running and very expensive. State governments are complaining the federal laws will interfere with their power to arrest criminals, suspend driving licences or ban the mentally ill from owning guns.

Catholic hospitals fear a challenge to their bans on abortion and birth control, while a Melbourne academic claims transgender men will start taking over the women's loos.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has been swamped with more than 600 submissions during its ongoing inquiry into the draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill. The new legislation combines and updates five existing sets of federal discrimination laws covering race, sex, age and disability.

Discrimination on the grounds of gender identity or sexual orientation will be outlawed for the first time, delivering Labor's 2010 election promise. This change prompted University of Melbourne social sciences professor Sheila Jeffreys to complain that transgender people will access women-only housing, toilets and prisons.

"Under the right to gender identity, male-bodied persons, in many cases with penises intact, are likely to be permitted to enter women's toilets," she says in a submission to the Senate inquiry. "There are quite a surprising number of cases in which men wearing women's clothing have been arrested for ... secret photographing of women using the toilets and showers, peeping at women from adjacent stalls ... (and) luring children into women's toilets in order to assault them."

A much broader concern is that the definition of discrimination has been widened to include "conduct that offends and insults", in a change widely criticised as a threat to free speech.

ABC chairman and former NSW Supreme Court chief justice James Spigelman declared in his Human Rights Day oration last month that "the freedom to offend is an integral component of freedom of speech. There is no right not to be offended".

Even the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, has called on the government to change the wording.

Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association national secretary Joe de Bruyn views the legislation as "fundamentally anti-democratic".

"The fact that someone may say something which offends or upsets another person is not a sufficiently valid reason to curtail their freedom of expression," his submission states.

"To provide that someone who merely offends is guilty of an offence opens the door to ... the jailng of anyone who voices a view on any controversial matter."

Queensland Council of Civil Liberties president Michael Cope fears the legislation could limit public debate to "innocuous, sterilised conversation".

"The council is not a racist organisation but we defend a person's right to express racist sentiments," he told the inquiry. "Being democratically elected does not give a government a mandate to stifle voices with which it does not agree. If a person is physically or emotionally abused, the issue is not racist expression, but instead a problem with violence or aggression which should not be tolerated".

Cardinal Pell agrees it is "one step towards totalitarianism".

"Discrimination is a regular and necessary part of daily life," he wrote in News Ltd papers on Sunday. "We discriminate between friends and foes. Society discriminates between criminals and the law-abiding ... (and) by choosing only the best students to study medicine or law and the best athletes to represent Australia. Governments choose which immigrants they will accept and those they expel."

The contentious terms "offend" and "insult" have been plucked from the existing Racial Discrimination Act, which was used to prosecute Herald-Sun columnist Andrew Bolt in 2011 over his article questioning grants to "fair-skinned Aborigines".

Under the new laws, the wording would apply for the first time to all 17 "protected attributes" that range from age and sex to political opinion, religion and breastfeeding.

In theory, any of the nursing mothers offended by Seven Sunrise host David Koch's call for "classy" breastfeeding could lodge a discrimination suit.

Unlawful discrimination in employment has also been widened, to include industrial history, religion, political opinion, social origin, nationality or citizenship, and medical history.

And discrimination on the grounds of age, sex, race, disability, pregnancy and potential pregnancy, marital or relationship status, immigrant status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and breastfeeding will be banned outside the workplace as well.

Discrimination will become illegal in all areas of public life, defined in the legislation as workplaces, schools, accommodation, clubs and "access to public places".

Constitutional law professors Nicholas Aroney, of the University of Queensland, and Sydney University's Patrick Parkinson, have told the Senate inquiry the "heavy-handed" laws blur the line between illegal discrimination and social rudeness.

"A bully in a school playground, a rude customer who pushes in front of someone waiting in a queue at a takeaway restaurant, an inconsiderate employee who gossips about another employee, and a spectator who abuses a referee at a children's soccer game ... may be considered unlawful if the behaviour can plausibly be related to a protected attribute," they stated.

"This extends the reach of the law very far into areas of community life which have hitherto been regulated largely by other norms ... by school disciplinary responses, by a public rebuke to the rude customer, by a quiet word by a manager of the gossiping employee, or through criticism of the angry spectator by others at the game."

Critics are also alarmed that the burden of proof will be reversed, so that people accused of discrimination will have to prove their innocence. And each party will have to pay their own legal costs, regardless of who wins - although a judge may still opt to award costs to one party on the grounds of "justice".

Those accused of discrimination must prove that they were exempt from the law, or else "engaged in the conduct, in good faith, to achieve a legitimate aim".

The explanatory memorandum of the legislation says this will cover situations such as denying a driver's licence to a blind person, or banning men from a swimming pool "to recognise religious and cultural reasons prohibiting some females from bathing in front of men".

Denying someone a job or promotion is not discriminatory if the person "cannot meet the inherent requirements of the job".

Other defences will be "fair commentary on matters of public interest", as well as "artistic performances, fair and accurate reporting of events or matters of public interest", and statements made for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose.

The Human Rights Commission will have stronger powers to dismiss complaints, and complainants will need permission to go to court.

The Attorney-General's Department has told the Senate inquiry that "resentful ex-employees and repeat nuisance claims seeking `go-away' money" are likely to be dismissed as vexatious, frivolous or insubstantial complaints.

"Double dipping" has been banned; those who lodge a complaint under state and territory laws or the Fair Work Act can't claim under the federal law as well.

The government's Regulation Impact Statement, prepared for the draft legislation, notes that defendants are already spending more than $100,000 defending complex cases.

It admits that shifting the burden of proof to the respondent "could increase the number of complaints".

Religious organisations have been given limited exemptions, so they can continue to legally discriminate against women, gay people or employees who oppose their beliefs. But aged care services that receive federal funding will no longer be able to discriminate against gay residents.

Volunteers will be protected for the first time, so that work experience students and tuckshop mums will be able to lodge complaints and seek damages payouts.

David Goodwin, a member of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's productivity committee, describes the law as "manna from heaven for no-win, no-fee law firms. Bosses are going to have to become the thought police," he says. "It's unworkable".


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