Tag Archives: Australia

Australian census religion question – progress

One-World-Religion-300x287

World Religions. Credit: Islam Beyond Borders

Looks like Australians have won another small victory in the way that their religiosity is officially assessed. In particular how census forms pose the religion question on census forms is posed.

I discussed the problems in my article Non religious in Australia and New Zealand. The Australian census form buried the “no religion” option – and may, therefore, have skewed results – see below:

Compare that to the New Zealand census question below:

I asked the obvious question:

“Do Australians opt for a religion in their census answers because they don’t , at first glance, notice the “no religion” option?

Does the Australian census overestimate religiosity?”

Greater minds than mine also asked this question. Rationalist and sceptic groups lobbied the Australian Bureau of Statistics to change the question during the post-2011 census review. They argued it was about accuracy. And they succeeded (see Census change: Is Australia losing its religion?).

“No religion” moves to first

So, for the first time “no religion” will be first on a list of answers to the question “what is the person’s religion”, and the “Catholic” option will move into second place – see below:
New question

It may seem like a subtle change, a psychological victory for the “nones,” but The Sydney Morning Herald argues it “may completely change the way Australia sees itself and have drastic consequences for the way government money is spent on welfare and education.”

“If Christianity did lose its position as the majority religion, this could impact government spending programs such as the school chaplaincy program, according to those advocating for the change.

“Many government services and resources depend on census accuracy, and the figures are used by religious organisations to maintain their status and influence in terms of grants, tax-free services, access to schools for religious instruction, and for their generally privileged position within the community,” president of the Rationalist Society of Australia, Meredith Doig, said this week.”

So it is more than a psychological victory. Surely it is important that allocation of resources to people of different beliefs should not be wroughted by the trickiness of questions like that in the old census form.

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Religious instruction scrapped from school curriculum in Victoria

Coverting
Religious instruction scrapped from curriculum – what a great headline to see in the newspaper.

Unfortunately, it is just for the Australian state of Victoria. But it could well happen here, considering the opposition to religious instruction in state schools we are seeing in New Zealand.

Victorian schools are scrapping special religious instruction from class time to make way for new content on world histories, cultures, faiths and ethics. The changes to the state’s curriculum raise doubts about the future of the controversial religious instruction program.

The state government said “Extracurricular programs should not interfere with class time when teachers and students should be focused on the core curriculum.”  And curriculum changes mean that classes addressing domestic violence and respectful relationships will also become compulsory for all prep to year 10 students from 2016.

I certainly consider these subjects that are a far more important and necessary use of school time.

The changes mean that he weekly 30 minute religious instruction program will move to lunchtime and before and after school in 2016. Mind you, that opens up the possibility that other religious sects (and, heaven forbid, non-religious ones) may demand equal time for their own presence on school property for lunchtime and before and after school indoctrination opportunities.

These changes are welcomed by teachers – and no doubt by many parents. Lara Wood, a spokeswoman for Fairness in Religions in School, a group that has spent the past four years campaigning against SRI, claimed victory. “We won, we got what we wanted.”

She said religious instruction providers were proselytising in primary schools while students missed out on learning. This has been a common complaint from parents because the chaplaincy organisation involved is well-known for its evangelical orientation and attempts to convert children.

But, predictably, this move is opposed by some religious organisations – including the chaplaincy organisation Access Ministries, the main provider of religious instruction.

In New Zealand, the Secular education network (NZ) is working towards the same ends as the Australian Fairness in Religions in Schools. I hope we can see similar successes here in the near future.

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The bureaucratic solution to a problem

Sometimes satire is very close to the truth. Take this piece from The Shovel – Liberal Party Commits To Having 50% Women In Seats Shown On Camera By 2025:

parliament-women1-620x399

Tony Abbott says his party is serious about the advancement of women, and has set an ambitious target to have half of all seats shown on TV filled by women within five years.

“We are deeply committed to giving the impression that a high proportion of Liberal MPs are women,” Mr Abbott said.

“These are plum seats – not just any old seats. They’re right behind where the men and Julie Bishop stand when they’re giving a speech, so it’s not just a token gesture”.

He said women had an important role to play in the party. “The party’s women are crucial for the Federal Budget, for example. They’re on screen for the entire length of the budget speech, which is beamed to millions of Australians. They feature on the front page of the nation’s newspapers”.

A Liberal Party spokesperson said there was still work to be done to meet the target. “At the moment women make up 20% of Liberal MPs, and around 45% of those on camera, so we’re not quite there yet”.


So often on issues like these bureaucrats are interested only in appearances – not correcting the problem. This reminds me very much of the approach taken by Human Resources bureaucrats in dealing with the issue of laboratory safety in my earlier life when I was employed. They talked a lot about “signage.” To them the way to resolve (or appear to resolve) a safety issue was to put up a lot of signs!

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Water fluoridation effective – new study

A recent Australian study shows community water fluoridation (CWF)  has a beneficial effect on oral health, even after taking into account the known effects of socioeconomic status and sugar consumption.

This is important because anti-fluoride propagandists are always pushing the mistaken claim that CWF is based only on “old science” and that “the science establishment” refuses to check these old findings. These propagandists have also latched onto the concern over the effects of excessive sugar consumption on general and oral health to claim that any apparent beneficial effect of CWF would disappear if sugar consumption was reduced.

The study is reported in:

Blinkhorn, A. S., Byun, R., Mehta, P., & Kay, M. (2015). A 4-year assessment of a new water-fluoridation scheme in New South Wales, Australia. International Dental Journal.

It  followed changes in the dental health of children in Gosford City, NSW, after introduction of CWF in 2008. It compared this with the oral health of children living in areas that had been fluoridated for over 40 years, and with those in the Shires of Ballina and Byron which were unfluoridated and had no plans to introduce CWF.

CWF clearly beneficial

The figure below compares the average numbers of decayed, missing and filled teeth (dmft) of 5-7 year-old children in 2008 (just before introduction of CWF to Gosford city – the “newly fluoridated area) with new batches of 5-7 year-old children in 2010 and 2012. In all three periods comparisons were made to similar children in the unfluoridated and long-term fluoridated areas.

dmft-aus1

Of course, anti-fluoridation activists might pick up on the improved oral health of children in unfluoridated areas in 2012 (and they might even try to ignore the rest of the data). But the clear message is that even though there may be a general improvement in oral health over time the children in the fluoridated areas still showed a clear benefit.

Influence of other factors

This study included measurement of other factors known to influence oral health. Statistical analysis of the data showed poorer dental health was significantly related to:

  • lower socioeconomic status;
  • origins (poorer dental health when mothers were born in a non-English speaking country;
  • lower educational level attained by parents, and
  • sugary drink consumption (poorer dental health where children consumed one or more drinks a day).

But, importantly, the statistical analysis showed a significant beneficial influence of CWF after taking these other factors into account. The following graph compares the dmft for newly fluoridated and unfluoridated areas relative to long-term fluoridated areas (defined as 1.0)

dmft-aus2

We can see that by 2012, 4 years after introduction of CWF, there is no significant difference between the oral health of children in the long-term and newly fluoridated areas. However, the oral health of children in the unfluoridated areas was significant poorer at all times.

Conclusion

Origins, socioeconomic status and consumption of sugary drinks have a statistically significant effect on children’s oral health. However, even when these are taken into account this research shows a clear beneficial effect of CWF on children’s dental health.

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Down-under Christmas

It’s that time of the year again.

Tim Minchin describes the joys of Christmas down under.

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).

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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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