Labor to defy churches: ethics classes likely to start next year

Sean Nicholls - SMH
Students in NSW will be offered ethics classes as an alternative to scripture classes by next year, under a proposal the government is expected to adopt. The Minister for Education, Verity Firth, will release today the findings of an independent report on a trial of ethics classes held in 10 schools over 10 weeks this year. The 102-page report, by Sue Knight and three colleagues at the University of South Australia, recommends the government adopts the ethics classes model used in the trial if it decides to establish the classes. Ms Firth said the report would be available for public comment before a decision was made.

Bracks enlisted to take on Green machine

David Rood - The Age
Former premier Steve Bracks will enter the Victorian election campaign tonight, lending his weight to Labor's bid to hold off the Greens in key inner-city seats. The popular former politician will launch Labor MP Fiona Richardson's bid to keep Northcote, which she holds by a margin of 8.5 per cent over the Greens. Mr Bracks will then launch Children's Minister Maxine Morand's campaign for Mount Waverley - the state's most marginal seat - tomorrow night.

No sale: Anglicans decide they will keep Bishopscourt

Pro- and anti-sale sides clashed at a synod meeting, writes David Marr. The hammer will not fall on Bishopscourt. Even though the Sydney Anglican diocese is wracked with terrible financial woes, synod has voted 249 to 218 not to sell the archbishop's gothic mansion on Darling Point. The heartened present occupant, Peter Jensen, told the synod: ''I have never regretted living there.'' Hardheads have been trying to sell the distinguished old pile and its acre or so of garden for half a century. This latest attempt came as the church faced further losses after owning up last year to blowing more than $100 million in the global financial crisis.

We won't abandon Afghans: Julia Gillard

Patricia Karvelas and Matthew Franklin - The Australian
Julia Gillard has declared Australians could remain in Afghanistan for at least a decade, vowing not to abandon the war-torn nation to terrorists and chaos. In a historic parliamentary debate yesterday, the Prime Minister forecast more Australian casualties and "hard days ahead" and warned it could take Afghans a generation to entrench their nation as a fully functional state. Ms Gillard championed Australia's commitment with the full support of Tony Abbott, who insisted withdrawal was unthinkable and would make Australia look like a "fair-weather friend" to its allies. As the Greens questioned Australia's continuing involvement, both major party leaders made clear there was no chance that Australia would withdraw from the war effort.

Gang rape fears over Calvin Klein advert

Elissa Dohert - Herald Sun
Experts fear images portraying violence against women in advertising could fuel cases of gang rape. Sexual assault workers have attacked Calvin Klein's jeans ad, saying it has connotations of gang rape. Clinical psychologist Alison Grundy, who works with sex abuse victims, said advertisers were reaching a dangerous new low by using sexual violence as a marketing tool.

Too many men still see women as sex objects

Ruby Hamad - SMH
A 12-year-old Thai girl is held as a sex slave in a brothel catering to Western tourists. A Kurdish teenager is buried alive by her father because she talked to boys. A middle-aged mother in Iran is awaiting execution for adultery. An American porn actress is slapped and spat on by her co-stars. Despite a World Economic Forum report claiming the gender gap is narrowing, these true stories suggest a different scenario. Forty years after the publication of The Female Eunuch, it seems the global rights of women are in as perilous a state as ever. And though this erosion of rights manifests itself in different ways, its underlying cause is the same. The US Department of State says human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, second only to the drug trade. Although it includes forced male labour, the primary targets are women bound for sexual servitude. Of the estimated 820,000 people trafficked each year, 80 per cent are women and girls.

Doctors lean on O'Farrell

Amy Corderoy - SMH
A leading doctors group has written to the NSW Opposition Leader asking him to support legislation that would make the medically supervised injecting centre in Kings Cross permanent. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, which represents more than 9000 doctors in Australia and New Zealand, has made an unusual move into the political sphere in directly campaigning to Barry O'Farrell. Debate over the centre's status is expected in Parliament this week, possibly today. It has run on a trial basis since 2001.

Firth slams rules hiding private school assets

Anna Patty - SMH
The NSW Minister for Education, Verity Firth, has criticised federal government plans to hide on the My School website how much private schools accumulate in surpluses and assets. The federal government will ask private schools to declare their income, but they will not be required to disclose the wealth they hold in assets, trusts or foundations. As revealed in the Herald this year, schools are accumulating up to $8 million in annual surpluses, including income from trusts and donations.

Housing sought for children to be freed from detention

Ian Munro - The Age
Welfare agencies have already identified some of the housing needed for the more than 700 children and teenagers to be moved out of immigration detention. Caz Coleman of the Uniting Church Asylum Seeker Project said her agency had located properties of 10, eight and six bedrooms in Diggers Rest, North Melbourne and Camberwell that could house carers and minors now in detention. Ms Coleman, a member of the Immigration Minister's advisory Council for Immigration Services and Status Resolution, said the policy shift to expand the residence determination program had been discussed ''for many months''.

Remote communities in state of 'total collapse'

Natasha Robinson - The Australian
Retired children's court magistrate Sue Gordon has called for the NT government to be stripped of its statutory child protection responsibilities. The call comes as the Territory's responsible minister admitted remote communities were in a state of "total collapse". As the Labor government struggled to explain how its Department of Families and Children had been allowed to fail so drastically, Aboriginal leaders called for men and women living in remote communities to "stand up and be counted" in taking control of their lives and their children. An 11-month inquiry into the NT's child protection system delivered its report on Monday, revealing total systemic failure within the NT bureaucracy. Up to 1000 notifications of children at risk were sitting unexamined, case workers were attempting to manage up to 80 files at once, and repeated reports of child neglect by doctors and other professionals went ignored, according to findings of the report by former children's commissioner Howard Bath, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency chief executive Muriel Bamblett, and pediatrician Rob Roseby.

Teen boys 'brutalised by violent programs' and video games

The Australian
Teenage boys who repeatedly watch vicious TV programs, films and video games are more likely to become insensitive to violence says a study. Researchers have long been worried that screen violence could have a brutalising effect on teenage minds. Their worry is that part of the brain that controls emotions and responses to external events -- essentially a "brake" on wrongful behaviour -- is still in a vulnerable, developing stage during adolescence.

The extremes of moderate Islam

Janet Albrechtsen - The Australian
Even for supposedly reasonable Muslims, accommodation is a one-way street. Perched high in the verdant mountains of central Java recently, the rural silence was broken five times a day by the Muslim call to prayer. The chanting wafted up from loudspeakers in the local villages as Indonesian Muslims observed longer than usual prayers during Ramadan. I asked a cab driver if he was fasting until sunset during this Islamic month of reflection. Rules are made to be broken, he said with a smile. But not according to the government and police in Indonesia, a country hailed as the world's largest, most moderate Muslim nation. Local newspapers report an American man being held on suspicion of blasphemy for pulling the plug on a loudspeaker at a local mosque. According to police, Luke Gregory Lloyd pulled out the loudspeaker's cable in Kuta village in central Lombok when he was woken by the Koranic reading.