An overwhelming majority of people support an ethics alternative to religious education in schools, but the church made a case against it last night that changed at least a few minds. Debating the proposition that ''Special ethics education should be allowed for children not attending scripture classes'' at the Herald's IQ2 debate, religious figures argued that ethics should be available to all students and was not a suitable complement to religious classes, reducing those for the motion from 86 before the event to 84 per cent afterwards, and increasing those against from 6 to 13 per cent. But Simon Longstaff, from the St James Ethics Centre which devised the pilot ethics program for schools, said ethics is already part of religious education, and therefore would actually reach all students.
DOCS staff are so stretched the ratio of workers to children in foster care is more than double what is required to keep youngsters safe. In a scathing review, the Auditor-General has found the ratio of DOCS caseworkers to children is one to 29. Recommendations from the Keep Them Safe inquiry, called after the deaths of children such as Dean Shillingsworth, found dead in a suitcase, and Ebony, who starved to death, called for the ratio of staff to children to be one to 12. Almost 10 per cent of positions are vacant, with DOCS struggling to attract staff.
Independent MP Rob Oakeshott's intervention in an Environment Department investigation will be referred to the NSW anti-corruption agency. The NSW opposition last night confirmed it had called on the state's Independent Commission Against Corruption to investigate the then state MP's meeting with a key witness in the investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency between 2006 and 2008. NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge also raised serious concerns about the effectiveness of the EPA and said he would use next week's sitting of state parliament to find out why the investigation failed to lead to any action and why the clean-up of the contaminated waste appeared not to have progressed.
The percentage of boats arriving illegally in Australian waters carrying more than 50 people has increased to its highest level this year. Meanwhile, the nation's detention network continues to buckle under pressure from record arrivals. The Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O'Connor, yesterday confirmed the interception of the 120th asylum-seeker boat to arrive this year. It was carrying 116 passengers and two crew.
There are good reasons the Liberal Party should win the Victorian election. For the sake of national security, and foreign policy more generally, it will be good if Victorian Liberal leader Ted Baillieu is elected premier on Saturday week. This is a big call. After all, Australian politics are generally pretty provincial and nowhere more so than state politics. But there are two big decisions Baillieu has made that have important international or national security consequences, and three other significant reasons John Brumby's time in office should come to an end. Baillieu deserves election partly because of the Victorian Liberals' sound and brave decision to put the Greens last in the preferences on their how-to-vote cards. The tactical significance of this can be overstated. After all, how-to-vote cards are only a recommendation. But in this time of political querulousness and confusion, the public wants clear direction and clear beliefs. You can make a case that tactically it would be advisable for the Liberals to preference the Greens at least sometimes. But in principle you can't make any such case. The Greens are a party of the far Left, Labor of the Centre Left, and the Liberals of the Centre Right. It is profoundly damaging to the Liberals' strategic prospects, and to Australian society, to have a surge of support to the most left-wing party in the Australian parliament.
More can be achieved with aid spending. Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd's announcement on Tuesday of a review of the huge government aid program is welcome news. Australians' natural warmth about the notion of doing good should not prevent a tough assessment of how - indeed, whether - Canberra's spending can sustainably improve the lives of the poor in other countries. Australians need to be convinced. Such spending has doubled in five years and will double again, to $8 billion a year, by 2015 under a bipartisan deal based on the UN's anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals. Rudd has not had his five-person panel review the aims of the aid spend, retaining that as a political responsibility.
Julia Gillard has given the green light for Labor's national conference to be brought forward by more than six months so the party can have a full-blown fight over policy differences without hurting its election chances. With pressure growing in the government for a debate on gay marriage and other contentious issues, the Prime Minister has given the go-ahead for the conference to be held in the first week of December next year. With an election due in 2013, the conference would typically have been be held about July 2012. Ms Gillard told the Herald last night that it was ''too easy to use the national conference as an election campaign tool''. Bringing it forward ensured it would be ''a genuine forum for debate and a contest of ideas''. ''If the conference occurs in an election year, the result is inevitably that there is a lot of pressure on the conference to help deliver votes, rather than provide members with a venue to debate important issues of national consequence.
Julia Gillard has refused to guarantee she would implement any shift in Labor policy to legalise gay marriage. Meanwhile, the Nationals insisted the policy would be electoral poison in the government's blue-collar heartland. The Prime Minister, who has expressed her opposition to legalising gay marriage, said the policy would be discussed at Labor's next national conference but stopped short of guaranteeing to implement any policy change. "The platform is decided at the conference and the federal parliamentary Labor Party, led by me, makes decisions about how we will go about working on platform questions," she said.
Heavier drinking is exposing young women to increased risk of sexual assault for which male perpetrators routinely escape blame, a government-sponsored study has found. The report on the boozing culture of Australians aged 14 to 24 found many young people felt pressure to get drunk and that victims of sexual assault were more likely to blame themselves and alcohol and exonerate men. Citing interviews with young women who became victims after getting drunk, the report found the young male assailants were typically ''exempted from responsibility for unwanted sexual contact when alcohol was present''.
The conservatives in Queensland are set to turn the tables on state Labor and the Greens at the next state election. The Queensland Liberal National Party will exploit the "Just Vote 1" option to dilute preference flows from Left-leaning voters. In a strategy that will appeal to the Coalition in NSW, gearing up for a March poll, the LNP will urge supporters not to give a preference beyond a primary vote for the LNP under Queensland's optional preferential voting system. This will negate the need for any deals with the Greens and avert the soul-searching that went on among Victorian Liberals before they put the Greens last on the party's how-to-vote card, to the potential benefit of Labor.
Dumped and aspiring frontbenchers will chair the Coalition's seven new backbench committees charged with reviewing and creating policies. Former Peter Costello staffer Kelly O'Dwyer is the biggest winner, becoming secretary of the economics committee and chairman of the foreign affairs, defence and trade committee. Tasmanian senator David Bushby will chair the economics committee. He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Law from the University of Tasmania. Ms O'Dwyer, who was overlooked by Tony Abbott for a place on the front bench, will take the secretary's role.
The landmark infusion of the world's first stem cell therapy into the brain of a stroke victim could open a new era in patients' ability to recover from their disabilities. ''I think there's a good chance there will be a positive effect,'' said Chris Levi, a member of the National Stroke Foundation's clinical council, after British scientists announced they had filtered about 2 million laboratory-cultured stem cells directly into damaged brain tissue in an elderly man. It is the first time stem cells have been used to try to treat the condition, which affects about 60,000 Australians a year, and is the second-biggest killer, causing nearly 12,000 deaths in 2008. The patient - who has left hospital in good health - is the first in a University of Glasgow trial intended first to establish the safety of the surgical procedure, which uses stem cells grown from brain tissue from aborted foetuses. He will be watched closely for at least two years for side-effects.
Today parliament will vote on a Greens motion to get MPs talking to their constituents about gay marriage but if the following comment is anything to go by, there may not be a lot of point. One enthused news site commenter posted the following on an article arguing for gay marriage: "Who said Guy marrigers (sic) must get the nod, it is immoral & against nature, to explain it in the simplist (sic) terms we are here to keep the species alive. Look at the Dinosausers, (sic) they all turned gay, now were (sic) are they?" Never mind meteorites, climate change or the challenge presented by the evolution of mammals. 'Dinosausers', more commonly referred to as dinosaurs, living in uncivilised times without a gay marriage ban, were apparently not able to help themselves being attracted to the same sex of their species causing a drastic drop in reproduction, leading ultimately to their demise. The implication being that if we allow gay marriage today, along with the problems of so called "immorality", a similar epidemic of homosexuality could wipe our species off the planet. The theory suddenly explains all those coupled male fossils they've been finding.
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