There are some questions where Christians have something to say and the politicians need to hear them.  I am not convinced by Scott Stephens's strong attack on the Australian Christian Lobby and all its works. In his recent article, "Australian politics doesn't need a Christian lobby," Stephens says that one of the upsides of having a prime minister without religious belief is that it will end what he calls "a shameful spectacle" of parliamentarians - going back to John Howard - cultivating the so-called "Christian vote."  Stephens rightly points out that in one sense there is no Christian vote because of "the sheer diversity of conviction, belief and moral sensibility that is represented across the churches in this country." Rather, when the "Christian vote" is evoked in the media, it usually focuses on a particular segment of Christians, one which Stephens unflatteringly calls "the most unengaged, uninformed, easily seduced kind."

Bill Henson defends child models

BILL Henson has defended his practice of using under-age models in his photography.   The artist said nude modelling was less harmful to children than contact sport.

PM gives principals control

JULIA Gillard yesterday promised parents and principals greater control over their schools as she turned to her policy strength of education. In two major policy moves, as she attempts to regain political momentum, the Prime Minister yesterday outlined a $484 million plan over six years to give parents and principals greater autonomy from education bureaucracies and a $668m boost in family payments to 16 to 18-year-olds to keep them in school.

Tony Abbott knocks back Julia Gillard's debate offer

TONY Abbott last night rejected Julia Gillard's sudden offer to have a second televised debate this Sunday.  The Prime Minister had taken up the Seven Network's invitation for a debate to be held at 6.30pm. "I'd be happy to be in it. I want it to be about the economy," Ms Gillard said. "That's at the centre of this campaign - jobs, the cost of living, the investments we need to make for the future.

Indigenous children in remote centres 'starving'

CHILD-PROTECTION workers have called for aid to be delivered to starving Aboriginal children in remote communities.  The Darwin Remote Office of the Northern Territory Department of Families and Children -- which is responsible for the protection of children in Top End communities -- said a foreign aid-type program was needed to deliver essential food supplies to children who are failing to thrive.

Army bribes propel boats to Australia

CORRUPT Indonesian immigration officials, police and military are aiding people-smugglers, taking bribes to let boatloads go to Australia.  People-smugglers in Indonesia routinely pay bribes of $US20,000 ($21,900) to corrupt army officers to secure protection for their boats. The country's recently retired director of Immigration Enforcement has been accused of taking payoffs to have asylum-seekers released from detention, and a senior army officer has been captured on camera discussing a payment of "at least five billion (rupiah)" (about $500,000) for arranging a boat to Australia.

Abbott to ease levy on business

TONY Abbott will today revamp parental leave to start later than expected with the levy on big business cut to to 1.5 per cent.  The Coalition's scheme was originally due to start next year, however, Mr Abbott will announce that under his scheme, paid parental leave would start in July 2012. In a pitch to women voters, the Opposition Leader will reveal that he will keep Labor's scheme for 18 weeks' paid leave at the minimum wage until his own scheme kicks in. That would provide certainty for women who were due to give birth next year.

Greens propose to tax junk food and alcohol ads

A 1.5 per cent levy on junk food and alcohol advertising and clearer labelling to guide consumers away from unhealthy foods were proposed in the Greens' health policy announced yesterday.  The Greens also promise to introduce a ''Denticare'' scheme to provide universal dental treatment and to appoint a Minister for Mental Health and $350 million more a year for mental health services. They are calling for ''traffic light'' labelling so shoppers can select foods based on green labels for healthy, amber for caution and red for unhealthy - a system which is resisted by the food industry and has been under lengthy consideration by federal and state governments.

Jewish groups angered by churches' boycott call

AUSTRALIA'S leading church group has called on Australian churches and the public to boycott Israeli goods made in occupied Palestinian territories.  The National Council of Churches in Australia - which includes the Catholic, Anglican, Uniting and Orthodox churches among its members - passed the resolution last month. Proposed by the Uniting Church and seconded by the Anglicans, the motion asks the council's welfare agency, Act for Peace, to help member churches with the boycott and urges Christians involved in interfaith dialogue to include justice for Palestinians in their conversations.  Jewish groups were horrified at the resolution. Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot told the council in a letter the move was a ''most unpleasant surprise''.

Libs boost Greens' chances in Melbourne

THE Greens' chances of wresting from Labor the lower house seat of Melbourne have been bolstered, with the Liberal Party directing its preferences to the Greens ahead of Labor in the hotly contested seat.  The Greens need a 4.7 per cent swing to pick up Melbourne, and Liberal preferences are crucial if the Greens are to win. The retirement of popular Labor member, Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, might also reduce Labor's chances of retaining the seat.   On its how-to-vote cards, the Liberal Party is also directing its preferences to the Greens ahead of Labor in other seats that the Greens are in contention of winning.