Ethics classes will be rolled out across NSW public schools next year but their future is already in doubt after the opposition pledged to scrap the controversial program if it wins the March state election. Cabinet approved the classes on Monday after considering the recommendations of an independent evaluation of a trial program run in 10 schools earlier this year. NSW Premier Kristina Keneally said of the 745 community submissions received in response to the evaluation report, 730 were in favour of them continuing. The classes - run by the St James Ethics Centre as an alternative to religious lessons - will begin from the first term next year and initially be offered to years five and six.
Seven years ago, Simon Longstaff, the executive director of the St James Ethics Centre, was approached by a small group of parents. Longstaff's not-for-profit organization in north Sydney usually teaches businesses about making ethical decisions, hosts debates on topical issues and provides free counseling for people wrestling with ethical dilemmas. The parents were hoping he could extend his services to their elementary-school-age children. In public schools across New South Wales, children have an optional one-hour lesson of special religious education — usually Christian Scripture — every week. Those who don't go participate instead in activities that Longstaff describes as ranging from "punitive to vaguely useful." Depending on the school, some children spend an hour collecting litter, some do homework, some watch videos, and still others sit outside the principal's office with a book. "The parents felt that what their children were required to do at the school during this time was meaningless," recalls Longstaff. "They wanted [them] to have access to something that other children had access to, but without the religious component."
Health Minister John Hill says a bill before the South Australian Parliament to legalise euthanasia is flawed and he is proposing an alterative. Mr Hill says Health Department advice is that the bill introduced by Greens Mark Parnell and Labor MP Stephanie Key is ambiguous. The Minister believes it would be better to change criminal laws so doctors would have a defence if they assisted a terminally-ill patient to die.
The state government's plans to introduce ethics classes into primary schools are in disarray after the Coalition announced it would not support them as an alternative to scripture if it wins power next year. ''While the NSW Liberals and Nationals understand the importance of ethics we do not believe it should be positioned as an alternative to special religious education,'' the opposition education spokesman, Adrian Piccoli, said. ''We don't think that students should have to choose between special religious education … and ethics classes.'' On Monday, state cabinet approved a change to the wording of the Department of Education policy which forbids ethics classes being run at the same time as scripture classes.
Teenages are using social networking websites to target lookalikes and buy identification to get into pubs and nightclubs. Students surveyed at one Adelaide school say false IDs, obtained through such sites as Facebook and MySpace, were the new way to beat the system, while others say it is common practice. Jennifer, 17, who attends a prestigious all-girls school, says youngsters often bought the fake IDs off "friends of friends" on the networking sites for between $20 to $50, The Advertiser reported.
Queensland Labor MP Graham Perrett has called for a ban on offensive billboard advertising, saying it's time to "reclaim public spaces" and protect common decency. The man once cheekily dubbed the "Member for Porn" after penning racy scenes in his debut novel, The Twelfth Fish, said he was certainly no prude, but objected to a new billboard in his electorate. Mr Perrett said he planned to lobby Attorney-General Robert McClelland about whether advertising laws can be tightened and would support a Parliamentary inquiry into the issue. The Member for Moreton said the billboard, for an erectile dysfunction treatment, was on a busy road and likely to be seen by children.
Wayne Swan has rejected the Australian Greens by warning his Labor Party to steer clear of the "fringe issues of the far Left". Instead, the party should focus on education, opportunity, prosperity and jobs. While admitting his party's base was "fracturing" as young activists drifted to the Greens, the Treasurer has likened Labor's battle with the minor party to challenges it conquered in fending off the communists, DLP and Democrats in previous decades. Mr Swan's comments, in an article written for The Australian today, come ahead of a meeting of Labor MPs today to discuss the party's political strategy for next year. They also follow a fresh attack by Tony Abbott, who has accused the government of adopting left-wing policies as part of a "lean to the Greens".
The government should reclaim the centre on climate and wedge the fundamentalists. Julia Gillard's leadership is flat-lining. And that's according to members of the Prime Minister's own team. Desperately seeking some policy gravitas while guarding her left flank against the Greens, Gillard has been reduced to symbolic stunts such as proposing a constitutional preamble that recognises indigenous people. What Gillard really needs is a big idea, one that demonstrably works from the reforming centre. She needs to mark herself off from the radical Left and show she is the heir to those great ALP centrist action men, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. The PM can divide the Green vote with bold policy. Forget gay marriage. Forget amending the Constitution's preamble. These issues signal the Green tail wagging the Labor dog.
South Korean F-16 fighter jets streaked over the island of Yeonpyeong yesterday after a North Korean artillery attack. The assault left buildings burning and at least two soldiers dead and brought the two Koreas to flashpoint again. As well as scrambling fighter jets, South Korean defence forces returned fire and lifted the country's military alert to the highest non-wartime level as President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency cabinet meeting in an underground bunker. North Korea, which accused the South of firing first, was immediately condemned by Washington and Moscow while China, the North's only ally and chief patron, expressed concern over the exchange of fire.
Abused women could be prosecuted for failing to report child abuse by their partner under a controversial plan by the Victorian opposition. The Coalition's proposed laws would extend mandatory reporting into the home. Coalition leader Ted Baillieu has announced his party would introduce new laws to make parents and guardians criminally liable for failing to notify authorities if a child has been abused in their household. If the abuse then led to the death of the child, parents would face "a long jail term" under the plan, which would be brought in by a Baillieu government if elected on Saturday. "It is completely unacceptable that someone having the care of a child, or living in the same household, can know the child is being abused and yet stand by and do nothing," Mr Baillieu said. "We believe there ought to be a proactive step of creating an obligation on someone with an intimate role with the child . . . to actually act in advance."
Pressure is mounting on Julia Gillard to support legalising gay marriage, with the Labor Party conference in South Australia on Saturday to consider a raft of motions in favour of a policy change at state and federal level. South Australia would be the second ALP jurisdiction to pass a motion supporting gay marriage since the current debate on equal marriage rights began. The Labor Party conference in the Northern Territory last weekend called for a shift in party policy. Three key motions on equal rights are likely to be moved on Saturday.
Leader of the Liberal Party's moderate wing, frontbencher Joe Hockey, has defended the rights of gay people to have children after a right-wing Liberal backbencher questioned whether homosexual couples would provide an appropriate environment in which to bring up children. His support comes as former Labor Party strategist Rod Cameron urged Labor to support gay marriage immediately and stop giving the issue oxygen. Mr Hockey declared that his opposition to gay marriage had nothing to do with children, and he believed children could be brought up in loving families with same-sex parents. "A loving, caring environment is the best environment for a child to be raised in," Mr Hockey told The Australian. "I've always held the view that the interests of the child are paramount. Gay marriage is a separate issue to the raising of a child."
New government figures have revealed the full extent of serious incidents - including physical and sexual assaults - in the child protection and youth justice system. The figures come as the Coalition promised it would introduce a new offence for failing to protect vulnerable children - including abused children in private homes. The previously unpublished figures, obtained by The Age, show there were more than 1000 incidents in 2009-10 that were classified category 1 - meaning they were considered serious enough that they could involve Community Services Minister Lisa Neville. There were 220 incidents of alleged, actual or threatened sexual assault or exploitation of children, as well as 229 actual or alleged physical assaults, the Department of Human Services data showed.
Party opposition to gay marriage is landing some MPs in a moral quandary. Moments before she appeared on stage to speak at a gay marriage rally on Saturday, Bronwyn Pike - Victoria's longest-serving female minister - had a rare show of nerves. ''I hope I don't get booed,'' said the Labor MP, waiting to address the thousands gathered outside the State Library for the Equal Love campaign. To the casual observer, it might have seemed an unusual thing to say. After all, Pike is one of the most progressive MPs in John Brumby's cabinet; a staunch advocate of same-sex equality and the proud mother of a gay son. But her trepidation was understandable: at a similar rally before the federal election, Labor's candidate for the federal seat of Melbourne, Cath Bowtell, was jeered and heckled during her speech - despite breaking ranks with Prime Minister Julia Gillard to declare her support for same-sex marriage as soon as she was preselected.
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