Tag Archives: Australia

Dirty politics over MH17?

I have followed events in Ukraine for a year now and learned very early on never to be surprised. There have been so many seemingly outrageous things happen. On the one hand this has kept the Ukrainian events in the news. On the other it probably serves as a warning. There is just so much corruption in that country that anything seems possible.

Since August there have been rumours of an agreement between Ukraine, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium about revealing information from the MH17 investigations. Specifically an agreement on nondisclosure – that the results of the investigation will be published once completed only if a consensus agreement of all parties that have signed the agreement prevails.

While the source for this was apparently a statement made under the auspices of the office of the Prosecutor General Yuri Boychenko. I haven’t seen anything more official than that

Until recently when I came across this letter which appears to be a response to a Freedom of Information request in Australia.

Doc-Aus

This confirms the existence of a nondisclosure agreement and that worries me for 3 reasons:

  1. I had hoped that assurances made at the UN Security Council meetings that the investigations of the MH17 tragedy would be transparent were genuine. This agreement seems to contradict the assurances and is particularly concerning as the current Ukraine government, or elements within it, is a possible suspect for criminal actions leading to the crash.
  2. The non-disclosure agreement itself is classified! What the hell could be in the agreement which makes it a state secret in Australia, Ukraine, Belgium and the Netherlands?
  3. Malaysia, whose airline owned the crashed plane and whose citizens comprised a significant number of the victims has been excluded.

Yes, I know nondisclosure before a report is normal and reasonable. Even sensible because of the rumour mongering and political maneuvering around such events – particularly this event. But why make the nondisclosure agreement itself a state secret? What could they have to hide?

And why exclude Malaysia? I have picked up excuses relating to the existence of a death penalty in Malaysia – but how should that effect this agreement?

Malaysia is often described as cooperating in the investigation, or as a member of the investigation team. But they have formerly been excluded from this agreement – and possibly others.

I can’t help feeling this has more to do with the fact that Malaysia has got off-side with the Kiev government because it was prepared to negotiate with the authorities in the crash area. That contact enabled early progress in recovery of the black boxes and bodies. The OSCE observers also were able to give early help because of their contacts with these authorities. In contrast, the Dutch investigation and recovery teams have been extremely tardy because of their unwillingness for direct contact. And their apparent subservience to the wishes of the Kiev government who have discouraged this contact.

trucks

Trucks carrying the wreckage of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 arrive from the Ukraine at Gilze-Rijen military base, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. Photo credit: Peter Dejong/AP

Many wild accusation have been made against Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation, over this incident. But he at least retained the moral high ground when he warned governments and politicians not to use this tragedy for political purposes.

I think that warning was humane and important. Those using this tragedy for political purposes are showing the worst form of disrespect for the almost 300 innocent victims.

But won’t the governments and investigators who conspire to withhold information or findings also be showing the same disrespect?

Update

Malaysia-acceptedMalaysia annnounced last week, 4 months after the above agreement was signed, it has been accepted as a full member of the MH17 joint investigation team (see MH17: Malaysia to help identify perpetrators: Liow.

I cannot find any indication that this means it has signed the secret non-disclosure agreement or not.

 

wreckage-protocol

 

Also, the Dutch investigation team did eventually get around to negotiating with the local authorities in the crash area – and this lead to rapid decisions (on November 20) on collection and removal of the wreckage to the Netherlands.

This could have happened so much more quickly.

 

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The true meaning of Christmas

I reckon you can’t beat Tim Minchin’s song “White Wine in the Sun” to convey the real atmosphere of Christmas – at least in Australia and New Zealand.

Here’s a new version – recorded at the Uncaged Monkeys show in Manchester on 6th December 2011. It’s a bit shaky at the start but gets better.

Tim is accompanied by Prof. Brian Cox on keyboard in this version

Tim Minchin & Prof Brian Cox – White Wine In The Sun

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Australia’s “New Normal?”

Sometimes the local climate change deniers/sceptics/contrarians behave as if they aren’t on the same planet as the rest of us. Well, perhaps that’s a bit extreme – but they do sometimes seem to at least be in a different hemisphere. While we are currently sweltering in New Zealand, and Australia is burning, they are scanning Northern Hemisphere newspapers trying to find headlines about local snow, record low temperatures, etc!

For  a while there they did start to discuss the Tasmanian fires – but what do you know? Temperatures were ignored – instead they were blaming the fires on the Australian Green Party (see Greens win, so Tasmania burns)! (Rather supports the idea that climate change denial is motivated by right wing politics).

Of course it’s easy to pontificate on local weather and temperature records (high and low) and cherry pick data to suite one’s prejudices. But as the New York Times recently pointed out the effect of climate change has been to increase the frequency of extreme weather and temperature, rather than cause specific examples (see Heat, Flood or Icy Cold, Extreme Weather Rages Worldwide).

Anyway, just to underline the local extremes here’s a climate change infographic produced by the GetUp Action for Australia Campaign. (see GetUp! – Our New Normal).

BASXeekCIAAbMw1

Click on image to enlarge

Religion in schools – a sensible approach

Here’s a short Aussie video on the problem of religious instruction in secular schools. It’s well presented, and the situation in Australia is quite like that in New Zealand. In particular, the legal structure which allows access by religious groups to secular schools and the influence of evangelical groups within the bible in schools movement. The Access Ministries referred to in the video supplies material to New Zealand groups. So New Zealand readers can learn something from it.

The video is presented by the group FIRIS Fairness in religion in Schools (YouTube page

Mission Field: Education not Expected

See also:
Capturing kid’s minds with emotions
What really happens in religious instruction classes?
Cynical evangelisation of children.

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The arrogance of supernatural privilege

I’ve often criticised the arrogance of some of those with a supernatural ideology. Their claims of special access to the “Truth,” to morality, etc. But I get especially angry when this arrogance rides roughshod over the most innocent and vulnerable people in society. Our children.

 Recently the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a Royal Commission to uncover the truth about sexual abuse of children in Australia. This is a response to the public outrage against revelations and accusations of paedophilia and its cover up by a number of institutions with responsibility for care of children  – including Churches. The commission has generally been welcomed across the political spectrum with the strongest concern being that it should get to work and produce results quickly. That it shouldn’t dawdle on for decades and itself contribute to the cover up.

 So I was shocked to see a local blogger, Kereopa at beingfrank, interpret this commission as “persecution” of the Catholic church (see Persecution begins against the Catholic Church in Australia)! Talk about (guilty) paranoia. Gillard made clear that the Catholic Church was not the only institution targeted. That its scope would cover:

 “all institutions, including religious institutions, state-based organisations, schools and not-for-profit groups such as scouts and sporting clubs. It will also look at the response of child services agencies and the police to accusations of abuse.”

 So what does Kereopa want? Exclusion of the Catholic Church from such an inquiry? And how can she/he justify that? Because of its supernatural privilege? That it must be protected from such accusations and investigations because it is “sacred?”

 How else can Kereopa interpret an objective investigation of all bodies as persecution of his/her own organisation?

 Plain supernatural arrogance. Arrogance which is medieval and in this day and age deserves only a laugh. Why should the Catholic Church be exempt from such investigations, immune to even accusations or concerns? Especially as we now know its functionaries have often sexually abused the children in their care. And the organisation has often denied these crimes, protected the criminals and gone to great efforts to cover up the crimes. To the extent of allowing the crimes to continue and usually slandering the victims in the process.

As if to rub the salt into the psychological wounds of the victims of this child abuse, apologists for the Catholic Church have been frantically attempting to defend the supernatural privilege of confessions, the seal of the confessional. To protect this from investigations by the Royal Commission. They think their obligation to protect children in their care can be superseded by mythical supernatural claptrap.  Here’s how blogger Lucia Maria at New Zealand Conservative argues for a privilege of exempting Catholic confessions from the law:

“Confession is where a person is forgiven of their sins so that they are able to enter eternal life (ie not go to Hell). The priest represents our Lord Jesus Christ, and has been given the power to forgive sins.”

So, put a guy in a dress and give him a cross and he can represent a god! And you then claim that such a claim supersedes the rights of the victim? Innocent and defenceless children? Or the rights of society to get justice?

Who do these people think they are fooling – or even talking to? Most of us just don’t share their particular brand of supernaturalism. We are not convinced they have special privileges putting them above the law. Their talk of angels, hell and heaven don’t convince us that they should not have to obey the same laws we do. Especially when it comes to protecting our children.

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Are you offended yet?

Loved this from a commenter on The Sensuous Curmudgeon’s recent post How Librarians Classify Creationism. Apparently his favourite librarian had a sign prominently displayed in the library which reads:

IF NOTHING HERE OFFENDS YOU, PLEASE COMPLAIN

On the same subject – ever notice how those who are most offended usually seem oblivious to the offence they cause others? If you haven’t already seen this video you will enjoy how Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard puts the leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, in his place over the offence he has caused many Australian women.

Julia Gillard’s Speech Over Oppon’s Sexism, Misogyny

What really happens in religious instruction classes?

In the current public discussion of the religious instruction classes in New Zealand public schools I notice many Christians are also opposing the current system. I had thought “Good on them. They are seeing this the same way I am as a matter of fairness, human rights, and opposing indoctrination of children.” And those letter-to-the-editor writers supporting the current scheme all seem to use rather extreme arguments which are not common with reasonable Christians.

However, I came across this video recently which makes me wonder if another motive for Christian concern about religious instruction in our schools is the way the more extreme religious cults can make use of it for evangelism. It’s one thing to know your child is being tutored by a kindly old Anglican woman – but the thought of a strident Exclusive Brethren having access to your children is a worry.

The video is of a talk by Joel Pittman, a former Pentecostal religious instruction teacher in Australia. They call their classes Scripture Classes or Special Religious Instruction (SRI), but essentially they have the same system as ours with the public school theoretically closed and instruction provided from an outside provider.

Religious Education and the Pentecostal Movement – Joel Pittman, Skepticamp Sydney 2011.

Joel describes how evangelicals use SRI for evangelism, how they frighten children into “giving their lives to Christ” and then encourage them to attend youth camps where they can be further indoctrinated.

I am sure many moderate Christian would be concerned if this was happening in New Zealand. And I am not saying it necessarily is. After all, the video describes the Australian situation. But it is obviously possible. Some of the more fundamentalist churches do recognise the possibilities religious instruction offer them in New Zealand. And it’s not as if school boards or the Ministry of Education vets the curriculum used, or the tutors. (After all, the school closes during the religious instruction classes).

The Trust Board of the Churches Education Commission (CEC) (which is one of the main providers in New Zealand) has representatives from many Christian denominations. It also has a rule to “ensure that no more than 40% of the total number of trustees at one time are from any one Member Denomination.” That seems good, but doesn’t necessarily ensure that extremist denominations have no influence. And the fact that some parents report their children being taught creationist stories does suggest they do have some influence.

The current CEC board includes representatives from Methodist, Assembly of God, Anglicans, Open Brethren, Presbyterian and Salvation Army.  And their last financial return shows donations from Anglicans, Associating Churches and Ministries of New Zealand (self-described as “fundamental, evangelistic and Holy Spirit honouring”), Baptist, Christian Brethren, Methodist and New Life churches.

Joel Pittman makes the point that the fundamentalist churches in Australia have the cash and can often override the less financial but more moderate churches with provision of SRI tutors and resources. It would be horrible to think this may also be true in New Zealand. I am sure most Christians would be concerned if this were so.

Perhaps its time for a bit more transparency. Who are the teachers supplied for teaching religious education in our schools? What are their denominations, beliefs and agendas? And how do they really run the classes?

Thanks to Chrys Stevenson at Gladly, the Cross-Eyed BearWhat REALLY happens in your child’s Scripture class – and beyond …

See also
Human values are secular


Mixing values and Jesus in secular education

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Ethical enquiry or moral instruction?

There has been a raging debate locally about the religious instruction classes in New Zealand public schools. I commented before that the Churches Education Commission, who run this programme, are hiding behind the provision of values teaching in the school curriculum (see Human values are secular).

This is somewhat opportunist because it promotes the idea that religion is required to teach morality (“you can’t be good without God”) and that their activity accords with the secular curriculum. It also ignores the fact that values is already taught in the normal classes.

The video below gives some idea of how values can be taught as part of a secular curriculum – its worth comparing this with the bible story mythology used by the Churches Education Commission (I provided some examples of their curriculum in Human values are secular).

Primary Ethics – What Happens in an Ethics Class

The classes shown in the video were developed by the St James Ethics Centre in Australia. They were trialed as an alternative to the Scripture Instruction classes in a number of public schools in New South Wales. The trial was so successful a larger programme now operates and is provided by Primary Ethics Limited, a public company founded by the St James Ethics Centre. It is effectively operating in a similar manner to the Churches Education Commission here (school “closed” during lessons, voluntary teachers, etc) – except it does not yet have charitable tax exemption in the way that the church’s programme does. (It won’t be able to get it on grounds of advancing religion).

I am not suggesting this set-up as an alternative for New Zealand – partly because I can imagine that when a school is closed to provide separate Christian and secular classes (and logically Hindu, Muslim, etc., classes) the divisions created could cause playground trouble. In fact all children should participate together in a programme exploring human ethics, whatever their religion. Dividing children up according to sectarian interests would only impose moral instruction, which treats children as puppets to be indoctrinated, rather than training them to become morally autonomous.

If the current values component of New Zealand’s curriculum is done well I imagine classes would be similar to that shown in the video.

Below I have extracted some topics from the curriculum offered to children in NSW. Have a look and compare that with the mythology imposed on children by the Churches Education Commission in New Zealand’s religious instruction classes.

Kindergarten (Stage E1)

Thinking together

  • Asking good questions
  • Time for thinking
  • Taking turns – speaking and listening

Thinking together about questions that matter

Finding answers to different kinds of questions. Children will begin to distinguish ethical from other kinds of questions and learn how to disagree respectfully.

Putting it all together: ethical inquiry

Discussion topic: Being left out

Giving and asking for reasons

When should/do we give reasons? Giving reasons to our teachers, parents, friends, brothers or sisters

Needs of animals

What do animals need in order to live good lives?

Distinguishing social conventions from morals

Examples: Pushing in, staring, table manners, please and thank you.

Friendship

Why do people have friends? How do we know if someone is our friend? What makes a good friend?

Acting fairly

Discussing what is fair in a variety of situations familiar to Kindergarten students.

Telling a secret

A discussion around what secrets are and when it’s OK to share them and why.

Why do we have rules?

Do rules apply to everyone? What if there were no rules? Classroom/school-based examples.

Should we tell on people who do the wrong thing?

A discussion of what ‘doing the wrong thing’ means and asking the questions:

  • Should we always tell?
  • Should we never tell?
  • Should we sometimes tell?
  • How can we work it out?

Caring for the environment

Is it always OK to swing on the branches of a tree? Or to collect shells from the beach? Or catch tadpoles in the creek/small crabs/ insects…?
How do we decide what’s OK to do?

Year 6 (Stage 3.2)

A fair society?

Students will use The Outsiders story to consider issues of fairness in society.

Should Human Rights be extended to other animals?

Human rights: where do rights come from and how are they justified? What obligations do they impose on governments and individuals? To what extent, if any, should human rights be extended to other living creatures?

Fatalism

Are our futures and fates fixed? Does what we do today have any effect on what happens in the future?

Beliefs, Opinions, Tolerance and Respect

What does it mean to respect another person’s beliefs or opinions? Should we always respect the beliefs of others? To what extent should we be tolerant of moral difference?

Moral responsibility

To what extent can we be held morally responsible for our actions? What might it mean for society if it turned out that even our conscious decisions were determined in advance?

Drugs in Sport

Performance enhancing drugs are banned in all sports. Students will discuss the concept of unfair advantage and whether the taking of performance enhancing drugs is morally wrong.

Appeal to Authority – Revisited

To what extent do we still appeal unquestioningly to authorities in our everyday lives? What are the consequences of thinking and acting for one’s self? Students will look at examples of groups that have refused to follow blindly.

The value of nature and the environment.
Does nature have intrinsic value? Is the environment worthy of moral consideration just because it exists? Or does it have value only because it meets human needs?

Can war ever be just?

What is wrong with war? Is it ever right to go to war? Students will examine the issue of pacifism and non-violence (e.g., Ghandi) and discuss if there is a moral way to conduct war.

An ethical life

Consideration of our moral responsibility to others. To what extent do we have a responsibility to continue examining and discussing ethical issues once we leave Primary Ethics classes? Should we always stand up for our beliefs?


I think such discussion topics would be a very useful part of values classes – and I am sure the kids would enjoy the discussion.

See also: Primary Ethics Curriculum.

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Australian census confirms healthy trend

The early results from the Australian 2011 census have appeared. There has been a lot of comment on the trends for religion. The No Religion group has now moved to second place (22.3%), behind Catholic (25.3%) and ahead of Anglican (17.1%). And, the No Religion group is the only one of the major religious groups that has increased since the previous Census (2006) – all the other major religious groups have declined. I have summarised the data (from 2011 Census QuickStats: Australia) in the figure below.

This trend is just a continuation of that clear since earlier census results (see Secular twins and Non religious in Australia and New Zealand). And Australia still has some catching up to do with New Zealand. (In 2006 the No Religion was about 34% in New Zealand and 19% in Australia).  Although this might be at least partly due to the fact that in New Zealand we put the “No religion” choice at the top of the box while the Australians put theirs at the bottom (see Non religious in Australia and New Zealand).

I’ll return to this when the Australian detailed census data is published. My interest is to see the breakdown with respect to age. Previous results in Australia and New Zealand show that the “No Religion” choice is much higher for younger people (see Religious belief and age). And the recent Pew data for the USA show there was a sharp jump in non-belief among younger people in the middle of the last decade (see Sharp increase in “nones”).

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Toss out the moderator for a better discussion

Here’s an interesting video – a discussion between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss at the Australian National University recently.

I have a couple of thoughts about this event:

  1. It really only took place because both speakers were in Australia for the recent Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne. I think this endorse a point made by one journalist that such conventions do have important spin-offs. Of course there are economic ones – and this convention, which attracted over 4000 participants, would have brought tourists and money into Melbourne and Australia generally. That’s why governments actually help fund events like this.
    But this journalist was also talking about the intellectual and cultural benefits the convention brought to the country. The in the country inevitably leads to other events – TV interviews, debates, lectures and discussions like this. This contributes to the intellectual and cultural life of the country.
  2. Just look at how many people there were in the audience. it is gratifying to see top rate scientists creating such interest and drawing such crowds.
  3. The format of the discussion. Richard Dawkins has for some time expressed disappointment in the debate and moderated argument format. He repeats his reasons at the beginning of this video. Consequently he has undertaken a number of unmoderated discussions along the lines of this one. Personally I think they are successful – and much prefer them to debates which can end up as just glorified verbal boxing matches. I welcome readers thoughts on these formats.
    I look forward to such an unmoderated discussion where the participants have stronger difference. I like to think it could be successful. What do you think?

Thanks to:  Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss in conversation at ANU | The RiotACT.

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