Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

I usually try to get along to church on Good Friday and I did so today  -- but to a different church.  I went to St. John's Presbyterian at Annerley.   I normally go to Ann St. Presbyterian in the city.

I "discovered" St. John's only recently, when I was driving in the area and took a wrong turn.  As I was driving down the "wrong" street, however, I noticed a very well-maintained and attractive church in it.  So I went along to the 8.30am service there today to find out a little more about it.

It is built in a Queensland 1920's style, with an exterior of both weatherboards and stucco.  The stucco is painted cream and the weatherboards maroon.  The overall effect is very pleasant.  See below

The interior was quite impressive, with  hammerbeam ceiling supports and NO GRAVEN IMAGES.  There was very attractive leadlight coloured glass in the casement windows but no stained glass, no pictures.  And there was neither a crucifix nor a cross in sight.  Presbyterians of old were quite iconoclastic and this congregation was obviously happy to continue that.  The second picture below -- looking towards the entrance of the church -- gives you some idea of it.

Note the steel bracing for the ceiling.  That was a custom in the 1920s for giving structural strength to large open spaces.  Schools used it too.  I grew up in such spaces so felt at home with it.

The congregation tended to be elderly as usual but filled up most of the back of the church.  I would say the church was about two thirds full, so that is quite creditable. 

An interesting custom among the congregation is that they nearly all followed the Bible readings in the pew Bible.  The pew Bible was a very fine one:  A NKJ version with references, concordance  and a good clear black font well adapted to being read by old eyes.

The minister was VERY elderly, walking with the help of a stick, and his message was a very traditional one, focusing on salvation  -- which is of course entirely appropriate at Easter.

So it was a pleasant way to reconnect with my Presbyterian background.  Anne enjoyed it too.  I never have to twist her arm to get her to church  -- JR

Comedienne Wendy Harmer appreciates Easter too:

When I was a child, Good Friday was my favourite day of the year.

It was deeply melancholic. A time to ponder death, sacrifice, forgiveness. All the big stuff.

And days like that, steeped as they are in deeper meaning, are rare when you're an Anglo-Australian born into an atheist household.

Back then, in country Victoria (and I'm old enough to start sentences with "almost half a century ago"), the shops and pubs were shut. There was no cheering for your footy team. No treasure hunts for sparkly, foiled eggs at the local park (or at Kirribilli House, I imagine). No cheery "Happy Easter" greetings.

Everything just … stopped. I didn't quite know it then, but what I was appreciating was a day devoted to quiet reflection.

The Greatest Story Ever Told was made when I was 10. "Awww. Truly this man was the Son of Gahd," is the infamous quote from John Wayne, improbably cast as a Roman centurion.

The movie was playing at the cinema in town and my father wouldn't take me to see it. In his mid-30s, he had declared himself a "humanist". No more Church of England Sunday school for us. It was the end of any religious malarkey.

However, I've remained deeply attracted to the tale of suffering and resurrection at the heart of the Christian narrative. Endlessly fascinated by accounts of religion, belief, myth, legend and fairytales from any and every culture.

Yes. I'm one of those pathetic non-believers philosopher Alain de Botton bangs on about. The sad, godless orphans who can't pass a church or temple without entering to light a candle or offer a flower.

We sit in abandoned pews or kneeling on woven mats inhaling the fragrance of incense and marvelling at the extraordinary human labours that built such glories to their gods. We're envious of the belonging true believers enjoy.

And, also, we wonder. What comes next?

Like de Botton, I'm in no need of a god to worship. Not for comfort or moral direction. I'm quite sure about that.

But also, as de Botton says, I do wish our society - one of the most secular on earth - would borrow from the calendars, rituals, oratory and the exhortation to physical action that propelled even my atheist father down to the river to catch a fish for Good Friday tea.

There's a hunger in this nation for something beyond the gaudy flag-waving of Australia Day. We have been having this discussion for decades. Time to move it along.

Gough Whitlam was a proud atheist. Bob Hawke, an agnostic, declared he learnt this at his father's knee: "He said if you believe in the fatherhood of God, you must necessarily believe in the brotherhood of man. It follows necessarily and, even though I left the church and was not religious, that truth remained with me."

None of our prime ministers of recent times has been overtly religious - apart from Kevin Rudd, who sought the role of kindly vicar. Defeated by nihilists, he would probably argue.

Today, we have the confirmed atheist Julia Gillard, and devout Catholic Tony Abbott in opposition. They seem to have made a pact not to offer up their beliefs for popular debate.

But with the election ahead, can you imagine a more riveting discussion from our political leaders? Do you believe in God? Or not? What's at the heart of it? What's it all for?

Even the children in the house would draw closer to the television. Beyond the meagre fare of tax, welfare and infrastructure, we're all famished for such sustenance.

I've seen that hunger satisfied at literary festivals, dubbed the "new religion", where 400 people gather under canvas on Sunday mornings to listen in rapt attention as much-loved authors exchange ideas and provoke roars of laughter or heckles from the back row. Sermons where the congregation talks back.

I've been at Marieke Hardy's Women of Letters events where almost every speaker, beautifully articulating life's losses and joys, ends up in tears as the audience sobs in unison.

As host of the the Sydney Festival "Hope" series of talks I heard the survivors of the Black Saturday fires speak of resilience and I, like everyone present, was uplifted, spirits soaring.

You can see that our children want something more, too, as they flock to Anzac Day in record numbers, drawn by its grand, enduring theme of the ultimate sacrifice.

Halloween is easy to write off as a schlock-fest of lollies and dress-ups but it's captured our children's imagination, allowing to them linger on death and mystery. They're drawn to the US Thanksgiving ritual too, which has more purchase than Christmas in the great American multicultural society.

And so I wonder what we offer our children - apart from the odd ethics or special religious education class in schools?

How do we make the public space for quiet gratitude for this peaceful society, born from such pain and inhumanity? It's hardly during "the race that stops a nation". How do we cease our frenetic activity, stop and give thanks for the "boundless plains we share"?

This year my municipal council is offering Easter "vacation activities" at its care centres with visits from "professional magicians and DJs", excursions to the reptile park, cooking classes and a workshop on how to create your own TV reality show.

On reflection, I'd rather sit down with my kids to watch The Greatest Story Ever Told.

"Peace be with you. And also with you."

I'd love to borrow this simple ritual from the Catholic Church where you turn and offer the greeting to the person sitting next to you. Imagine it observed at the State of Origin. Just after the national anthem is sung.

"She'll be right. I reckon." It could be our answer to the war cry of the haka.

An expression of respect and reconciliation. Born of suffering. Powerful. Undefeatable. Uniquely us.


Halal Easter eggs and cat food: where big money meets Islam

Cadbury will sell a mountain of chocolates this Easter, as it does every Easter. It has been careful to make sure that its products are certified as halal, even though it is not necessary. Hundreds of companies in Australia do the same. Halal certification has become a big business.

The essence of halal is that any food is forbidden to Muslims if it includes blood, pork, alcohol, the flesh of carnivores or carrion, or comes from an animal which has not been slaughtered in the correct manner, which includes having its throat slit. Food labelled as halal invariably involves the payment of a fee. It does not extend to chocolate but Cadbury lists 71 products which are halal, ranging from Dairy Milk to Freddo frogs to Red Tulip chocolates. The website also states: "We do not have any kosher-certified products."

"Cadbury also pay for halal certification on the Easter product range, even though Easter is a Christian celebration and nothing to do with Islam," says Kirralie Smith, who runs a website called Halal Choices. The website lists 340 companies in Australia that pay for halal certification, including Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, Franklins, Kellogg's, MasterFoods, Nestle and even Kraft's Vegemite.

Halal Choices has received more than 250,000 visits since Smith, a Christian activist, created the website two years ago to draw attention to the incremental extension of sharia into Australian culture.

"[Cadbury has] a standard letter to people who complain about their halal certification which says they have been assured the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils [which issues halal certifications] are not involved in any illegal activity," Smith said. "They might want to explain the $9 million in fraud involving the Malek Fahd school."

(Last year the Malek Fahd Islamic School in Sydney was ordered to repay $9 million in state funding which the state and federal governments said had been illegally transferred to the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. A federal government audit also questioned numerous payments made to AFIC by Islamic colleges in Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide.)

Halal certification has long been an accepted practice similar to the labelling of food as kosher for Jewish consumers. The website of the Islamic Co-Ordination Council of Victoria states: "With five office staff, two external food technologists, four sharia advisers and over 140 registered halal slaughtermen/inspectors, ICCV is the largest and the most respected halal certifier in Australia … We have no shortage of manpower. We are ready to serve any company in Australia that is interested in producing halal product (meat and processed food)."

At the World Halal Forum held in Malaysia last April, Australia had 13 delegates. Nestle was a major sponsor, Fonterra another. The forum's website stated: "Two milestones [at the conference] were the first major steps towards the convergence of halal and Islamic Finance, and recognition of the importance of halal accreditation schemes, especially in the non-Muslim world."

What troubled Smith was the extensive payments for halal certification for hundreds of products that did not require any halal process. She then discovered examples of overt pressure.

"A wholesale chicken supplier in Perth lost $120,000 a year over three years because he wasn't halal certified," she said. "The chickens he sold had been ritually slaughtered and were halal, but because he would not pay for certification he found all his outlets were forced to boycott him. He was outraged and held out for three years but had to give in to save his business. … Isn't that illegal?"

Halal mainly involves meat. Much of the non-meat food supply is intrinsically halal, and thus does not require certification, including milk, honey, fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and grains. Yet many producers and suppliers of such products pay for halal certification.

"I emailed Capilano Honey after I discovered they were paying for halal certification," Smith said. "This was their response: 'While we appreciate that honey is considered halal under Islamic law, it is our customer's requirement to provide halal certification in order for us to conduct business with them.' This sounds like extortion to me. And why does nearly every fresh loaf of bread you buy in a supermarket or fast food chain have a paid halal certification? I have a list of 23 pages of halal certificates for breads.

"Parmalat have a huge list of halal-certified products, most of them being the white milk you buy in supermarkets. White milk does not need to be certified. They don't mark their labels and now they have removed the certificates from their website because of negative feedback.

"Purina Fancy Feast cat food is now on the list of halal-certified foods. Are cats becoming Muslim? Or is a lot of this just a money-making scheme?"


Paperwook keep frontline police officers off the beat for hours

FRONTLINE SA police are bogged down by so much paperwork they are being taken off the streets for up to several hours each shift.

The Police Association says the introduction, over the past decade, of more than 30 pieces of legislation and new regulations are to blame for officers needing up to two hours to charge a single suspect.

Association president Mark Carroll, in an exclusive column in The Advertiser today, says officers need to comply with more than 100 pages of protocols to charge a suspect.

Mr Carroll outlined more than a dozen examples - such as barring orders, impounding hoon drivers' vehicles and intervention orders - which are taking uniform and CIB officers off the streets - a move that will place pressure on Premier and Treasurer Jay Weatherill to honour a Labor promise to recruit an additional 313 police.

Mr Carroll said yesterday statements by Police Commissioner Gary Burns that promised recruiting targets would be cut to meet budget savings targets would place more pressure on uniform officers and further diminish "visible" patrols.

"We totally support the legislative changes but they have a major impact on our workload," he said. "When you look at the complex changes in procedures some (changes) also require - all of these things have a compounding effect.

"Therefore, whenever new legislation is enacted it impacts upon the workloads of police and you have to recruit extra police above attrition to deal with that new workload.

"If you do not, you force police to do more with essentially the same numbers, which reduces their visibility (on the beat).

"Ask any member of the public, they want to see police on the roads, on the beat, doing what they do best."

Some recent government initiatives that have taken police off the beat include:

THE impounding of about 8000 cars under hoon legislation annually, which consumes about 5000 hours of police time.

THE issuing of about 2500 barring orders (from licensed premises) annually which consumes around 1250 hours.

DOMESTIC violence intervention orders that can consume a patrol for an entire shift in some cases, but a minimum of 90 minutes if an arrest is made.

Rank and file officers also estimate that at least a third of all police patrol work involves people with mental health issues - a significant portion is attributable to the individuals being housed in the community instead of government facilities.

Mr Carroll said the comprehensive training required to implement many of the new legislative measures impacted on police resourcing.

"This (training) is a massive exercise in itself and takes up a large amount of police time," he said.

"You have to recruit more police just to maintain the same level of service the public has enjoyed.

"You can't have budget cuts that take away the ability for the commissioner to continue the recruiting of 313 (additional) police.

"If you do so you are not keeping pace with the legislative changes that have impacted police workloads. Those workloads will eventually diminish the police officers available to respond to calls from the public for assistance."

He said the association supported Mr Burns' recent initiatives aimed at increasing frontline officers, which included reorganising policing regions and introducing mobile task forces.

While Mr Burns declined to comment on budget deliberations, Mr Weatherill said SA had a "well-resourced police force, which is of the highest quality and integrity." "We have more operational police officers per capita than any other state," he said. "This is borne out by the 40 per cent reduction in victim-reported crime over the past decade and Adelaide being rated Australia's safest city."

Mr Carroll said Productivity Commission figures that stated SA had the highest number of operational police per capita in Australia - 320 per every 100,000 people - were "misleading."

This view was supported by the Police Federation of Australia, which had expressed concern over how the figures were collated.

Figures for SA state there are 5256 "operational police staff" when there were only 4506 "sworn staff" in SAPOL.

The Police Federation believes more categories should be included in the Productivity Commission report to give an accurate reflection of the number of operational police in each state.


NT: Unit owners could be forced to sell

UNIT owners could be compelled to sell their homes to developers under proposed changes to the Unit Titles Act.  The changes would make it easier for developers to revamp old apartment blocks, even if some owners object.

The proposals have shocked residential property owners and delighted the real estate industry.

At present if 19 out of 20 unit owners want to sell their apartments to a developer but only one refuses, the block cannot be sold.  Industry is seeking to overturn this rule.

Property owner Rachael O'Doherty was horrified. "I'd be devastated," she said.  Ms O'Doherty said her daughter was wheelchair-bound, causing her to fork out thousands of dollars in modifications for her unit.  "Where would I start again?" she said.  "This is my home, I've been here 13 years."

Ms O'Doherty would have to pay many thousands of dollars more in stamp duty on the purchase price of a replacement property, which would by necessity have to have wheelchair access.

"To be out-voted and lose your home would be shocking," she said.

The Property Council of Australia helped instigate the review, and NT president Brendan Dunn said the move was designed to help most people, not to hinder them or take away their rights.

He said blocks could deteriorate until they couldn't be repaired, and minority sellers could demand exorbitant "unfair" prices.

Similar proposals were law in other countries such as Singapore, and would prevent the creation of slums, Mr Dunn said.  "The idea is to allow for rejuvenation," he said.

Mr Dunn said one example was the units in Mitchell St, Darwin, opposite the theatre complex.  "They're holding up the development of the CBD," he said.

Refuseniks would be given "fair value" for their apartment, Mr Dunn said.

When asked what that would be, he said that would be the unit price equivalent.

All unit owners have a share of the total value of the property including common areas, and they would receive their share of the total sale price of the unit complex.

Six different options are being considered by the Department of Justice.

They range from allowing a majority of 90 per cent to as few as 70 per cent to vote out minority owners and force a sale.

Some options work on a sliding scale with blocks older than 20 years given the least proportion of owner consent.Â

The Justice Department is now looking at submissions before advising the Attorney-General on what, if any, changes should be made to the law.


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