The scientist Stephen Hawking says no divine force was needed to explain why the universe was formed. Australian religious leaders say that is a matter of opinion. ''Among scientists there has always been discussion about the origins of the universe and discussion about cause and effect,'' Brian Lucas, the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said. ''There are still two questions for the scientists to answer. Where did the laws of physics come from that led to the spontaneous existence of the universe and the second question is why is there a universe at all?''
The Coalition is increasingly pessimistic about its chances of winning the support of the three rural independents it needs to take power. The trio is preparing to end two weeks of political limbo. Hopes are rising in the government that Labor will be able to win the backing of at least two of the three independents, even as senior Coalition figures made a last-ditch bid for support. Tony Abbott's chief of staff, Peta Credlin, and senior Liberal senator Bill Heffernan lunched with north Queensland independent Bob Katter yesterday in Canberra to discuss his 20-point wishlist as well as water and development issues. Mr Katter is expected to declare his decision today, but Tony Windsor said he might not make a decision until tomorrow while Rob Oakeshott said he may need until Wednesday.
One of the three rural independents insists he will not be dictated to by the Coalition or his constituents to commit to a conservative outcome and install a minority government led by Tony Abbott. As Coalition fears grew that Julia Gillard would receive the seats needed to form a Labor minority government, Tony Windsor, the independent MP for New England, hit back at growing calls from the opposition that the independents not forget their conservative roots. ''The philosophy of who is to be the next government and who is not isn't what this is about,'' he told the Herald from his farm in Tamworth. ''It's about allowing someone to form a government on the floor of the House that would hopefully last for some time. And that's the adjudication we're going to make: who's most likely to be there in three years' time.'' And how is that best assessed? ''Gut.''
Voters would rather the three country independents side with Julia Gillard and form a minority government than join Tony Abbott and the Coalition, a new poll finds. It also finds that if Australia went back to the polls, there would be a small shift towards the Coalition but the result would be the same - a hung parliament. The Telereach-JWS Research Poll of 4192 voters was conducted on Thursday as the Tasmanian independent, Andrew Wilkie, sided with Labor, leaving it with 74 seats and needing two more to form government. The Coalition is on 73 seats and needs the support of all three rural independents, Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Bob Katter.
Australian Muslim preacher, Feiz Mohammad, has refused to comment on reports he called for the beheading of the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, as Muslim leaders in Sydney condemned his comments. Sheikh Feiz yesterday declined to confirm or deny to the Herald that he made the threat that anyone who ''mocks, laughs or degrades Islam'' like Mr Wilders should be executed ''by chopping off his head'' in a speech at a sermon in Campbelltown last week. However, senior Muslim sources said there was some doubt whether the speech, which has been posted on the internet, was made in Sydney or in Malaysia several years ago.
Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, has also been sentenced to 99 lashes for a photo published of her without a headscarf, according to her son. In an interview published on the website of the French magazine La Regle du Jeu and the blog Dentelles et Tchador, Mohammadi-Ashtiani's son Sajjad said they learned of the new punishment from released inmates. He said that a prison judge confirmed that she was to be lashed for spreading "corruption and indecency" by the publication of a photograph of her without a headscarf that appeared in a British newspaper. The Times of London published on August 28 a photo of a woman without a headscarf that it said was Mohammadi-Ashtiani, however on September 3 it said the attribution of the photo, which it received from one of her lawyers that has fled Iran, was incorrect.
Australia's school chaplaincy program faces a constitutional challenge in the High Court as opposition grows to having government funding paying for God's representatives in state schools. Labor and the Coalition have said they will make $220 million available over four years to fund 1000 more chaplains, but the Australian Psychological Society has said the program is dangerous to children's mental health. Under the federally funded program, schools can apply for up to $20,000 a year to support or initiate chaplaincy. The Australian Council of State School Organisations calls chaplaincy ''the wrong response and for the wrong reasons''. Chaplaincy organisations say parents and principals welcome chaplains, seeing them as a valuable adjunct to other welfare services.
Britain's most senior Catholic has accused the BBC of an "institutional bias" against Christianity ahead of next week's papal visit. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, claims that a radically secular and socially liberal outlook is tainting the corporation's news and current affairs output, which is "utterly lacking" in professionalism and balance. Cardinal O'Brien said disproportionate airtime was given to atheists such as Richard Dawkins, while mainstream Christian views had been marginalised. He said he was alarmed by a reduction in religious programming on the BBC and its failure to appoint a religion editor to mirror similar roles for the arts, science and business. "(Our) detailed research into BBC news coverage of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, together with a systematic analysis of output by the Catholic Church, has revealed a consistent anti-Christian institutional bias," he said.
BBC Director General Mark Thompson has admitted the corporation was guilty of a 'massive' Left-wing bias in the past. The TV chief also admitted there had been a 'struggle' to achieve impartiality and that staff were ' mystified' by the early years of Margaret Thatcher's government. But he claimed there was now 'much less overt tribalism' among the current crop of young journalists, and said in recent times the corporation was a 'broader church'. He claimed there was now an 'honourable tradition of journalists from the right' working for the corporation. His comments, made in the New Statesman magazine, are one of the clearest admissions of political bias from such a senior member of its staff.
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