Same-Sex Marriage Vote

This morning the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced that there has been a huge turnout in the postal survey on the issue of same-sex marriage. The ABS estimates about a 50% voter turnout so far, and the survey returns do not conclude until mid-November.

While voting in this survey is not compulsory, Australia is one of the few democratic countries where voting for government, local or Federal, is compulsory for its citizens. Australians, then, are used to voting, and the convenience of a postal vote, as opposed to having to go to a voting booth, only makes things easier. The results of the vote don’t automatically mean that same sex marriage is either allowed or disallowed. It is a survey for the government to test the waters on where public opinion lies, or so it would seem.

In my opinion the government’s purpose has been, at best, an opportunistic distraction tactic to draw attention away from other contentious issues (such as the gas shortages for local power needs or failing opinion polls), or at worst a moral cowardice on the part of a government afraid of a voter backlash for backing the wrong horse. But the greater tragedy in our government’s avoidance of ensuring there are safeguards on religious freedom in place, prior to such a vote, is that this process is serving to make this issue much more divisive for Australian society than it needed to be.

Not that the issue is not already a divisive one. There are passionate lines of division because the ‘vote yes’ camp sees it as an issue of equality and justice, so that it sees itself defending the moral high ground. Likewise, those in the ‘vote no’ camp see it as a moral issue and a defence of moral values and principles thus giving it the sense that it is defending the moral high ground as well. But if the government had ensured religious freedom from the beginning it would have never come to the surface in such a polarising and antagonistic way. Given proper religious freedom safeguards, I am sure that many of those who have or will vote ‘no’ would have been happy to see same sex ‘civil’ marriage permitted.

The reason I say this is based on that the fact that marriage has been around a lot longer than Christianity, and has always been a civil law matter because of the change of legal status for people entering a marriage contract. Things changed historically because with the dawn of Christianity, Christian couples who married, given that God was already a part of every other aspect of their lives, wanted God to also be part of their marriage union and so sought a blessing from the Church. When Christianity became the national religion of the Roman Empire around the end of the 4th century, bishops were given the responsibilities and status for civil authorities. They became responsible for the civil as well as religious dimensions of a marriage. It is important to note, however, that it was not until the council of Trent, in 1565, that marriage was defined as a sacrament, requiring a priest and 2 witnesses to be valid. It was just that in ‘Christian countries,’ the norm was that the minister for religion performed the majority of the marriages and handled the civil paperwork in the process.

Thus, in a country like Australia, with Christian foundations due to colonization from Christian England, priests and other ministers of religion, perform the religious ceremony of marriage, but have the responsibility for filling in the civil paperwork and filing it with the Government. In other words, the government has given ministers of religion the authority for the civil legalities of a marriage. There are other countries, however, where these 2 aspects are still separate such that a couple would go to the government office for births, deaths and marriage to apply for a marriage contract, but would go to the Church for the religious ceremony. Of course, in the case of the Catholic Church, the religious ceremony involves a ‘sacramental’ marriage.

The current survey, then, is about same-sex couples seeking the right to have a civil marriage, not a sacramental marriage. As a secular and democratic country, Australia’s citizens have every right to expect equality in this matter. This is quite a separate matter to a sacramental marriage.

A concern for some within our Church, however, might be that if same-sex marriage became legal, and a Church official refused to perform the marriage on grounds of conscience, there would be a case of discrimination to answer for. The fear might be that the Church would be forced to perform same-sex marriages or lose its licence to perform marriages at all. But the reality is that if the Church were put in this position it could simply relinquished its licence to perform the civil marriage. It could not be held liable for refusing same-sex couples a sacramental marriage, which in such a situation would have no legal or civil status in society.

This is where freedom of religion comes into play. The government could either ensure that ministers of religion can continue to perform the civil legalities of a marriage within a religious ceremony and be exempt from having to perform same-sex marriages out of religious freedom of conscience, or, if push came to shove, and the Church relinquished its licence to perform the civil marriage, that religious freedom is retained with the right to perform the sacramental marriage before or after the couple go to a government registry office to obtain the civil marriage contract.

The ‘Safe Schools Program,’ which the ‘no vote’ camp has been using as a scare tactic in its advertising against the yes vote, is a separate issue, but certainly also is a concern in terms of freedom of religion. Unfortunately, the government’s failure to ensure prior safeguards in terms of freedom of religion mean that members of Churches are fearful of losing their rights to practice their faith or bring up their children in the faith as they believe called to do.

This, then, is how the divisiveness of what the government has done plays out: Many who are fighting for the ‘yes’ vote feel persecuted. They feel that for so long they have been in the minority and discriminated against. When they see the advertising by the Coalition for Marriage expressing its fear regarding loss of freedom of religion with the safe schools program, it sounds to them like diverting attention from the main issue. It sounds to them like some tactic to create fear amongst voters over something that is not the main issue. This only ferments further anger, resentment and the feeling of victimization amongst them, eliciting cries of bigotry and injustice.

What they fail to realize is that those who vote ‘no’ for the most part feel that they are, in fact, the minority, not the majority. Following the Royal Commission and the child sex abuse scandal with the clergy, combined with the recent ABS survey results showing Australia becoming more and more a secular country, people of the Christian Churches feel under siege. They fear a further eroding away of their rights and freedom and by no means feel they have power in this situation. When they see the vitriol levelled against them from the ‘yes’ camp and hear the cries of ‘bigot,’ they fear that what they are hearing is that they will be more and more persecuted for desiring to practice their faith. It increases their fear of those promoting the ‘yes’ vote. Sadly those promoting the ‘yes’ vote can’t see that as, stated above, they feel they are the victims in this.

The fear, hate and mistrust this all creates all could have been avoided if the government had done the right thing in the first place and not avoided their responsibility and used this issue as a political football to score points.

For me this is a sad day for our country that, in these uncertain times, needs to be united rather than divided.

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Internet Pornography

I have just returned from a 3 month sabbatical where I took time to study the area of male sexuality to prepare retreat material for the men of the Spanish speaking community. They specifically asked me if I could do a retreat for them focusing on this topic because, among other concerns, there was the issue of getting caught up in internet pornography. It is an area that impacts on JPIC in a number of ways, and is at epidemic proportions at present, as I can attest to the number of men who have come to speak to me personally or in the confessional, struggling with this area.

Pornography of any kind does grave injury to the dignity of its participants, be they the actors, vendors or the public. Often the actors who appear in pornographic material or videos have been trafficked or have resorted to such demeaning employment to feed addictions to drugs or to pay a financial debt. Thus, viewing and paying for pornography is a justice issue in that we contribute to the harm perpetrated on the actors involved.

What is particularly insidious is that it is easy to become addicted to pornography which worsens the damage done to all parties involved. Addiction to Porn involves both a physical addiction and emotional addiction, and both these areas have to be treated for healing.

Addiction to Porn is like any physical addiction to drugs or alcohol. In order to understand the physical addictiveness of pornography it is helpful to consider a man’s brain. While both men and women can become addicted to pornography, men in particular are wired to be visually stimulated. When a man sees an erotic image, he will automatically look at it and his eyes will lock on that image. While this is happening, chemical reactions are occurring in the brain. Dopamine is released, and this mixes with testosterone and results in an adrenaline rush. The man literally experiences a strong sense of excitement and even a high.

Along with the heightened sense of excitement, norepinephrine sends a message to the autonomic nervous system that causes the heart rate and respiration to increase. This accounts for the fast heart beat and heavy breathing. A message is also sent down to the spinal chord to the genitals for sexual arousal.

All of this physical and emotional excitement leads to an anxiety that can only be relieved in an orgasm. Thus a person will masturbate. When orgasm is achieved, opiate chemicals are released into the brain resulting first in a strong feeling of euphoria and then relaxation.

This process of extreme emotional and physical excitement, anxiety, orgasm, euphoria and finally relaxation, is extremely pleasing, both physically and emotionally. The brain likes it and wants more. Thus it will lead the person to go back to pornography and masturbation over and over again for the same result. So, whenever the porn addict is happy, sad, excited, lonely, angry, etc., he or she will return to pornography and masturbation.

As with any drug, after a while a tolerance develops. More of the substance is needed to achieve the same effect. Soft porn no longer is exciting. The addict will need to move on to more extreme forms of pornography such as hard core, fetish, violent or child pornography to get the same effect. These areas are much more damaging to the victims used as actors in this material.

Further, along with tolerance to pornography, dependence develops. The addict’s body actually craves pornography and orgasm. If he or she doesn’t get a ‘fix’ they can experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, difficulty concentrating, head aches, etc.

For some, the tolerance they develop eventually leads to the point where looking at any pornography is not stimulating enough. At this point, they might be tempted to act out what they have seen in pornographic material, which leads to extramarital affairs, the use of prostitutes, and even anonymous sex.

Ultimately, the porn addict will find his or her life out of control. The addiction has left their life totally unmanageable. Many such people will spend thousands of dollars on pornography and prostitutes to support their addiction, thus feeding an industry that exploits other, often vulnerable, human beings. The addiction can also lead to the loss of marriage, family, friends, career, and reputation.

As human beings we have evolved a powerful sex drive, and it is meant to be that way so that we procreate. If it were not that strong, we would have died out as a species a long time ago. However, the evolution of human sexuality never developed with internet pornography in mind. In other words, our technology has evolved faster that we have evolved to deal with it responsibly.

It is particularly a problem for men because they are formed in a ‘Culture of Cruelty’ where any weakness is ruthlessly made fun of or bullied. Boys not only feel the pressure to appear masculine, but they feel that, in doing so, they must clearly not be feminine. So they consciously or deliberately attack in others and in themselves traits that might possible be defined as feminine. Instead of tenderness, empathy, compassion in relationships, they learn emotional guardedness and wariness with which so many men approach relationships for the rest of their lives.

Masturbation and internet porn allow for sexual experiences where their masculinity will not be questioned or ridiculed. I mean that, from a performance standpoint, it is almost impossible to fail at masturbation. But with a girl, what was simple becomes infinitely more complicated physically and emotionally. Men can feel out of their depth with relationships. The desire for control of what happens in a sexual encounter or avoid the embarrassment of failure or looking awkward is what motivates some men to pay for sex with a prostitute or use internet porn.

Another JPIC issue this touches on has to do with censorship of the internet. Recently there have been a number of online petitions fighting against US government attempts to control search engines, such as Google, or online sites that the current US government want to control access to. Given that our technology has evolved much faster than we have evolved to deal with it in a mature and responsible way, it could be argued that freedom of the web, in terms of access to pornographic material, is seriously harmful to vulnerable human being who are regularly exploited for sexual servitude and gratification. Censorship of such sites acknowledges the fact that many of us are vulnerable to the addictive nature of such sites and unable to deal responsibly with the easy access to such material. The problem is, where do we draw the line in terms of censorship?

What is important to present to you all, in drawing this blog article to a close, is that for people addicted to internet porn, there are resources they can use to help them liberate themselves from this trap that harms them and others:

  1. Honesty – develop your self-awareness and commitment to face the truth about yourself, without a debilitating sense of guilt and self-recrimination that only serves to weaken your resolve.
  2. Spiritual Plan – seek God’s grace and know that God is on your side and wants your good. Also there are faith based recovery programs that you can utilize.
  3. Education – get the truth about addiction to pornography and recovery. Lots of information can be obtained from websites and Church groups such as “Integrity Restored.”
  4. Counselling – seeing a counsellor for therapy can unmask the underlying issues of self-loathing and help the person work at self-acceptance and healing.
  5. Support – support groups with a 12-step program exist (an adaptation of Alcoholics Anonymous). Having a group that you can share with helps you to feel less isolated, relieving this pressure. Such groups can also help you to be accountable.
  6. Purifying you life – rid your life of porn and the access to it such as getting blocking software to block access to pornographic sites.

Many good men can get trapped in this area. I am convinced that they genuinely do not wish to harm anyone. The insidiousness of internet pornography is the incredibly easy access to such material, and the perceived anonymity involved. My hope is that by publishing this article that it may serve as a help for those who wish to be liberated from this addiction and the self-loathing that it brings.

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Trafficking Too Close to Home

Last month’s news report that 9 people died after being crammed into the back of a truck in the sweltering midsummer Texas heat, brought to our attention the reality of human trafficking in a particularly shocking way. I certainly hope it made us, in Australia, ask the question, ‘is it happening here in our country?’ The tragic event in the US forced us to consider that it could be happening right under our noses and we might be blissfully unaware. Tragically, many people in this country believe that, while this is happening overseas, it couldn’t be happening here in Australia. As a member of ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans), I have become sadly aware that our country has not escaped this scourge.

Contrary to popular belief, slavery didn’t end with the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In fact, it is more prevalent today than at any time in human history. Modern slavery includes forced labour and wage exploitation, child labour, involuntary servitude, debt bondage, human trafficking, forced marriage and other slavery-like exploitation, particularly in the supply chains for products we use everyday.

Australia has taken great strides to develop a strong foundation for anti-slavery efforts, both domestically and regionally, but much more needs to be done to address the problem. To that end ACRATH, in conjunction with the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania; Business & Human Rights; the Salvation Army Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery; and the Federation of Ethic Communities Council of Australia (FECCA) have made a submission to the government inquiry into establishing a ‘Modern Slavery Act.’

To date, most cases of slavery in Australia have involved migrants. Sex trafficking or servitude of migrant women accounts for the majority of convictions. Over time, an increasing number of cases have been reported to the Australian Federal Police involving suspected victims on a range of visas, including tourist, student, and temporary work visas. Reports of labour trafficking have risen in recent years with referrals involving foreign domestic workers and people exploited in the hospitality, agriculture, cleaning and construction industry.

The following case studies provide some examples of what modern slavery looks like in Australian today:

  1. Samuel Kautai

“In 2006, Samuel Kautai, a young man from the Cook Islands, along with another four young men, all about 17–18 years of age, had been living with and working for Manuel Purauto. Samuel was recruited by the employer’s brother for construction work, who promised that while he would not get any wages for the first three weeks, after that he would get paid the full amount and that Mr Purauto would send money back to his family in the Cook Islands. However, he was never paid more than $50 per month.

Samuel and some of his coworkers were physically abused, underfed, and endured long working hours without decent breaks. Samuel’s passport was also confiscated. In an affidavit provided to the court, Samuel stated: “If Manuel Puruto was not satisfied with our progress he would get very angry. I often saw him become very aggressive to the other workers. On several occasions, I suffered injuries from being physically abused and hit by Manual Puruto.”

The case was pursued by the CFMEU under industrial mechanisms and by the NSW Police Force under state criminal law. The case was decided both times in favour of the applicant, which resulted in Mr Purauto having to pay back Sam Kautai and another employee. In criminal proceedings, the Magistrate said this case was sufficiently serious that it should have been prosecuted in the District Court as they can sentence up to seven years—but that the Magistrate was bound by the decision of the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions on this. Accordingly, he imposed the maximum sentence possible in Magistrates Court (2 years). In sentencing, the Magistrate noted Mr Purauto was ‘deliberately and calculatedly violent and abusive’ to his workers and he hit Mr Kautai, ‘knowing that he was a subservient young man who would not dream of defending himself or complaining’.”

  1. Indian Stonemasons

“A group of seven Indian stonemasons were recruited by a temple committee in approximately 1999 to work on a temple in regional New South Wales. The men were brought to Australia on 457 visas and lived on the work site in two shipping containers, where the only ventilation was the door. The men bathed with the hose on the construction site. The construction site had a fence all the way around it with barbed wire on top. The gates were permanently locked. At various points, they sought permission to have the key to the locked gate so they could leave the site but this was denied. They were taken out once a month for about half a day under the direct supervision of a person from the temple. Their passports had been confiscated and they were threatened if they complained (CFMEU NSW personal communication 2009). The men had been promised decent wages but were, in fact, paid approximately $10–15 per week. They generally worked seven days a week. They were only taken to a doctor very occasionally when they were very ill, otherwise they just had to suffer through bouts of illness. The CFMEU ran a lengthy case against the temple. This resulted in a negotiated settlement (CFMEU NSW personal communication 2009).”

  1. Filipino Carpenter

“A Filipino carpenter was recruited to work with a stonemasonry company. Once on the job site, he was required to do manual labour, such as lift heavy slabs of rock and other odd jobs. He lived in accommodation provided by the employer. After lifting some heavy stones, he nearly injured himself. He asked about his working conditions and was shown a bullet by his employer, who threatened him, told him he owed money to the recruiter and to the company and that the recruiter in the Philippines has a direct line to his family. He made contact with a volunteer from Migranté who assisted him to make contact with a union. He was very scared. The community organisation and the union were able to assist him to find a place to live but not another job. While he was trying to sort out his situation, his family in the Philippines was visited by an associate of the recruiter who threatened them should they not be able to encourage him to return to his employer (Migranté WA personal communication 2009; Unions WA personal communication 2009).”

  1. Maritime Industry – The Pocomwell Case

The Pocomwell case involved four Filipino workers hired as painters on drilling rigs off the coast of Western Australia. The workers were paid only AU$3.00 AU per hour, worked 12 hours per day, seven days per week. The manner of recruitment mirrored common tactics of traffickers with layers of recruitment agents, contractors and subcontractors. According to K & L Gates:

Each painter was employed by Pocomwell Limited, a company incorporated in Hong Kong. The terms of their contracts of employment were agreed in the Philippines and governed by the law of the Philippines. Survey Spec Pty Ltd, an Australian company, hired the painters from Pocomwell through agent Supply Oilfield and Marine Services Inc. (SOMS), incorporated in the Philippines. The drill rig operator (Operator) then hired each painter from Survey Spec at a daily rate of approximately AU$300. Survey Spec was hiring out the painters to the Operator at a rate more than nine times greater than the monthly payments made to the painters by Pocomwell.

The FWO filed a case in the Federal Court alleging contravention of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (Fair Work Act), however, the judge ruled the Act did not apply on the basis that the platforms were not “fixed” to the seabed and the crew were not majority Australian. This decision raised significant questions about employer accountability in the zone and gaps within the Fair Work Act affording adequate and equal protections for migrant maritime workers.

  1. Domestic Worker Trafficked by Foreign Diplomat

Cristina (not her real name) was recruited to work for a foreign diplomat in Australia. Cristina had a written contract that said she would be paid $2,150 per month for 40 hours per week as a live-in housekeeper. Cristina was granted an Australian domestic worker visa subclass 426 (diplomatic or consular). From the time she arrived, Cristina’s conditions and pay were not as agreed. Cristina’s passport was taken by her employer, she worked seven days per week, was not allowed out, not paid according to her contract and was forced to sign false declarations about payment of her salary. Cristina’s employer told her there were cameras in the house watching her.

She described feeling like a prisoner. “I’m not allowed to talk, I’m not allowed to go out, even throwing out the rubbish.” Cristina’s employer also threatened that there were many poor people in her country where “there is a lot of corruption and a man’s life is only worth $100.” He told her about his many friends and connections in her country. Cristina began to feel increasingly unsafe and contacted her country’s embassy to help her escape. She was referred to the Support for Trafficked People Program for a short period; however, she was later discharged from the program and was unable to access the visa framework.

Cristina’s only successful remedy for redress was a private lawsuit brought by Salvos Legal on her behalf under the Fair Work Act against her employer after efforts with criminal justice agencies failed (due to diplomatic immunity) and the Fair Work Ombudsman declined to pursue her case. It took Cristina over 3 years to get an outcome in relation to her case.

  1. Private Domestic Worker

Susan was trafficked from her home country into domestic servitude in the private home of an Australian family who confiscated her passport. After months of providing domestic and child care services without pay, deprived of food and proper living conditions, restriction of movement and verbal abuse Susan requested access to her own passport. Susan was told by her employer that she had no rights in Australia and to do as she was told. Susan sought help from a neighbour and an altercation ensued with her employer who assaulted her and ordered her to return to the house. Susan feared that she would suffer physical violence if she returned. The NSW Police arrived on scene shortly thereafter, at which point, Susan’s employer began throwing her belongings out of the house and told the police to deport her as she was “illegal.” Susan states that when the police arrived they only took information from her employer and she was given no opportunity to tell her side of the story.

Susan was taken to the police station which she described to be very unjust as the police were not willing to hear her side of the story; “I was there to tell them what was happening to me…they didn’t give me a chance; they were just listening to my employer. It felt like … my country, because the people who have power are the people from high class (who) don’t allow the people from the lower class to talk…I find it’s another country without freedom of speech.”

During the five hours Susan spent at the police station, the police did not ask her what had happened, why her passport had been held or how she came to be in Australia. She was referred to two other community organisations before coming into contact with The Salvation Army. Once referred to The Salvation Army, staff noted that Susan was in pain and had not been offered any assistance/medical care in relation to being assaulted. To date, Susan still has health issues related to this injury.

 

This is the human face of modern slavery in Australia today. One of the greatest challenges those seeking to end modern slavery must deal with involves the structural and systemic social problems that drive inequality and entrench portions of humanity into persistent vulnerability to exploitation. Another challenge involves the significant barriers victims face to leaving their exploitative circumstances, including fear, ignorance of rights and limited pathways out of slavery.

ACRATH’s hope in being involved with this submission to the government is that an Australian Modern Slavery Act would bring together all of Australia’s anti-slavery efforts under a central role for better coordination, transparency and performance measurement. It would require large businesses to disclose publicly the steps they are taking to ensure their supply chains are free of slave labour. It would also empower consumers to make more informed decisions in purchasing goods that are guaranteed to be free of slave labour in their supply chains or production.

We all need to be aware that this is happening here, not just abroad. We can’t do anything about it if we are not aware that it is taking place.

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South Australia’s Blackout and the Climate Debate.

Since September of last year, here in Australia, the debate regarding climate change and renewable energy has hotted up. First of all to give you all a bit of background.

On Wednesday evening, the 28th of September 2016, a severe storm system passed through South Australia causing a state-wide blackout. The storm of words and accusations that resulted focused on whether the push by the South Australian government to move towards renewable sources of energy was to blame. Premier Jay Weatherill was quick to point out that the latest blackout, which saw the entire state plunged into darkness, was a “weather event”, not a “renewable energy event” but it has drawn attention to issues with the state’s electricity network.

The state gets 40 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy but there are now concerns wind and solar will not be enough to provide reliable electricity. The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, weighed into the debate saying that several state Labor governments — not just in SA — had set “extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic” targets for renewable energy use.

Mr Weatherill said the blackout appeared to be related to severe “almost cyclonic force winds” and 80,000 lightning strikes that battered the state about 3.48pm. The strong winds and lightning strikes damaged power transmission towers, mainly in the mid-north of the state. ElectraNet, which owns the transmission towers, said 23 towers appeared to have been damaged, including three out of the four transmission lines moving power between Adelaide and the north of South Australia.

The damage triggered an automatic cut at the interconnector, which as the name suggests, links South Australia and Victoria. It allows the states to share electricity, and acts like a large surge protector, which automatically cuts off supply if there is a fault in the system to protect the entire system from being damaged. South Australia gets its electricity from wind, solar and gas but no longer has coal power after Alinta’s Northern Power Station and Playford A station at Port Augusta closed in May.

At the time, Australian Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said the closure would mean the state would need to rely on renewable energy and the interconnector that provides electricity from Victoria for base-load power. “The reality for South Australians is that we’re in uncharted waters,” Mr Warren said in May. “There’s an increased level of risk that we really haven’t seen before anywhere in the world, so it doesn’t mean we’ll have more blackouts, hopefully if we’re smart we can sort out solutions so power supply can be the same as usual, but it’s an increased risk.”

ElectraNet acknowledged South Australia had relied on Victorian power for a long time. “We always rely to some extent on the Victorian interconnector, it’s been there for some 25-30 years, it is part of our supply mix,” an ElectraNet spokesman Paul Roberts told ABC at the time. “Many times other supply will kick in and there’s always stuff on standby, but in this case it may well have been the size of the load.”

The closures of the Port Augusta power stations was partly blamed on the rise of renewable energy sources and an oversupply of power in the National Electricity Market. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said he thought that SA had become too reliant on renewables and independent SA Senator Nick Xenophon has called for an inquiry into what happened. But Mr Weatherill has blamed people’s “political agendas” for the “ignorant remarks”, noting that Mr Joyce hated wind farms. “I mean this is a weather event, not a renewable energy event, and the truth is this, when there’s a crisis people pull out their agendas.”

This issue was a concern for me as I believe that Climate Change due to human activity is a reality and renewable energy is the way to go. So I posted an article in our latest JPIC Newsletter in May of this year, 2017, entitled, “Clean Coal.” I used, as my source material, an article from the website of an organisation called, ‘The Australian Climate Council.’ The article I wrote read as follows:

When dug up and burned, coal pollutes the environment and damages our health. Burning coal for electricity emits toxic and carcinogenic substances into our air, water and land, severely impacting on the health of miners, workers and communities. The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering estimated coal’s health impacts cost taxpayers $2.6 billion every year.

More efficient coal plants labeled “ultra supercritical” (what the Federal Government calls “clean coal”) emit significant greenhouse gases. A new high-efficiency coal plant run on black coal would produce about 80% of the emissions of an equivalent old plant, while

Pollution

renewables (e.g. wind and solar) emit zero emissions.  

So-called “clean coal” does not help Australia meet its obligations to reduce its emissions 26-28% by 2030 below 2005 levels.

Building new coal plants is far from the cheapest option for replacing Australia’s ageing, inefficient coal fleet. New wind and solar plants both in Australia and overseas are beating new coal, gas and nuclear plants hands down on price. AGL’s Silverton Wind Farm will deliver power to the grid at a price of $65 per MWh compared to new coal potentially costing as much as $160.

Also fossil fuels drive climate change, and
 that is bad news for all of us. It means more extreme weather events such as catastrophic bushfires, severe storms and deadly heatwaves. Climate change endangers homes, businesses, communities and us. It even led to an entire state being plunged into darkness when storms in South Australia took out over 20 transmission towers.

This is why the whole world is moving away from coal. They are shutting down existing coal-fired power stations, and embracing renewable energy.

A good friend of mine, and a one-time student in formation with the Passionists, Steve McDonald, with whom I often have great debates over these issues, received a copy of the newsletter (which incidentally can be accessed through this blog as with all back issues of the JPIC newsletter). Steve is quite passionate about the need for hard science in this debate as opposed to what he sees as propaganda. He wrote me of his concerns, on reading it, so I sent him a link to the Australian Climate Council website from which I sourced the material. Having been a scientist myself before joining the Passionists, I do respect his views. So below is his well considered response, which I offer you, the reader, to consider your own opinion on this matter:

Hi Ray,

Interesting article.…. It has many errors, is internally inconsistent and frequently uses emotive language to promote it cause, sounds a lot like propaganda to me. And unfortunately such propaganda prevents us from moving to a less carbon intensive economy as quickly as we could because it scares away rational investment.

Just a couple of things to note about it:

  • It blames the storm for the power outage in SA and coal because it is responsible for the storm. Are they seriously suggesting we didn’t have storms like this in the early 20th century? because I would bet the weather records show quite a few.
  • They claim coal is no good because it relies on a big distribution grid, well unfortunately so do Hydro and Wind and even Solar today because battery storage is as yet uneconomical for the average suburban household.
  • They argue that coal is dangerous and therefore not secure, frankly this is grasping at straws, from what I can see we have very successfully run coal powered plants for over 100 years with a very high degree of security, in fact much more than SA just experienced depending on wind.
  • They promote greater interconnection as a solution to energy security and stability – unfortunately this requires the grid which they have just argued is a problem we have with coal fired plants.
  • They of course promote battery storage but batteries in large part depend on lithium at the moment its a very expensive metal mined at concentrations of 1% – 3% in ore which means you move a massive amount of waste to get a tonne of ore which then contains around 30kgs of lithium. This is expensive and uses lots of energy to mine and process, there is also only a relatively small amount of know lithium reserves in the world so it would be interesting to work out how much electricity we could actually store in batteries if we mined it all, I would bet a lot less than we need. I’m all for battery storage it makes renewable energy much more useful but lets look at the whole equation not present it as an answer to everything without adequate research. You can also use lead acid batteries but the environmental aspects of that are pretty horrible as well.
  • The $65Mwh they quote for the Silverton project is based upon what they sell it to the grid at not what the real cost is. This project claims Large Scale Generating Certificates and sells them on the market to subsidies this number. This is basically a dishonest comparison to a coal cost which they note at $80Mwh, the certificates trade at a varying rate which has been between $80 – $90 per Mwh over the last year hence the real cost at Silverton is likely to be around $145Mwh. I think this more than anything else shows you that this is an article that is designed to hide the truth not reveal it.
  • They then go on to say that coal could cost $160Mwh which is directly contradicted by their own words when they say it is currently costing $80Mwh. Of course they speculate this as a future cost but all energy sources are likely to go up in price over time so this is just plain scaremongering.
  • The Mundine article I sent you uses a far more reliable measure of the relative cost of energy generation called the Levelised Cost of Electricity Generation (LCOE) you will note that these figures are pretty consistent with my calculations above, though wind appears to be cheaper at $103Mwh which suggests that AGL will make a killing at Silverton.
  • It quotes the anti Coal climate institute as an authority on coal generation, this would seem like preaching to the converted to me, and the figures it quotes don’t line up with the costs that they themselves have quoted of $80Mwh.
  • It says that because coal will become obsolete we shouldn’t use it now, well from what I can see lots of technologies become obsolete and that doesn’t stop us using them while they aren’t obsolete. Quite simply if coal fired power stations can be replaced by renewables I would support the government buying them out when that situation exists, unfortunately it doesn’t at the moment and to pretend it does is dangerous.
  • It claims the government has to phase out coal by 2035 to meet its targets, not sure where they get that from but its certainly not what the government is saying.
  • They also claim Victoria will require “Demand Management” what this means is that they will have to have planned blackouts or rationing to large businesses, particularly the aluminum smelters. It will work but I think they are using soft sounding words for something people would not support, again being less than truthful.
  • As the article I sent you yesterday shows the world is not generating less electricity from coal and isn’t likely to for a very long time. There are countries like China that are closing old dirty plants and opening newer cleaner coal plants, I think this is a good thing but it doesn’t mean that they are depending less on coal than they currently are.
  • The claim that Ultra Super Critical Coal won’t help Australia meet its greenhouse targets is just plain illogical if you generate the same amount of electricity but generate less carbon doing it then it will lower Australia’s overall carbon emissions, I can’t figure out how anyone could conclude anything else.
  • Finally their list of authorities is pretty thin quoting selectively from various authorities many of whom seem to be other green lobby groups and even the ABC on one article but conveniently ignoring the fact that the ABC published several articles on the SA blackout that said the primary reason for it happening was the high dependence on renewable energy.

Sorry to rant at you again but it upsets me greatly when people use very selective “facts” to support their own argument and refuse to look at things in a logical and scientific manner. The great pity about this is that it causes us to go backwards not forwards in our search for a low carbon economy because only certain solutions are “acceptable”, this is a very poor scientific process at least as I understand it.

On another front there is a very interesting article on the ABC today about a potential advance in the use of Hydrogen from the CSIRO, this would be excellent news if it can work on a commercial scale and I trust the CSIRO much more than I do the Climate Council, however, currently this would be expensive and only a solution for first world countries which isn’t really where the carbon emissions growth is unfortunately.

No doubt you will try and convince me that my views above are incorrect on Saturday, I look forward to it!

Regards, Steve

 

 

 

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A Human Face on Asylum Seekers

The global refugee crisis could not have come at a worse time for them given the current fears fuelled by the recent terrorist activity world-wide. Indeed, earlier this week, One Nation Leader Senator Pauline Hanson wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to call for a return to policies from the Second World War for internment camps to be set up for those on terror “watch lists” who should be interned to neutralise their possible threat. While Australia does not have a specific ‘terror watch list’ there are ongoing terror investigations.

Last month Senator Hanson attempted to link terrorism to Middle Eastern refugees. She quizzed ASIO’s Director-General of Security, Duncan Lewis, asking, “Do you believe that the threat is being brought in possibly from Middle Eastern refugees that are coming out to Australia?” Mr. Lewis responded, “I have absolutely no evidence to suggest there’s a connection between refugees and terrorism.”

Amidst the fear that terrorist attacks ferment, the tragedy is we lose the human face of those who seek asylum in Australia or other countries around the world. In last month’s JPIC newsletter I shared the story about how Australian singer and song writer, Missy Higgins, was so moved by the story of 3-year old Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body, still in red T-shirt and shorts, was found lying face down on a beach in Turkey in September of 2015, that she wrote a song as an awareness raiser. The boy was among 23 migrants who Turkish naval officials said had set off in 2 small boats from the Bodrum peninsula in a failed attempt to reach the Greek island of Kos, where thousands of migrants had arrived in those weeks.

It appears that his family may have been trying to reach Canada. In the June of that year, newspapers reported, Aylan’s family had been desperately trying to get permission to emigrate to Canada where the boy’s father, Abdullah’s sister lived in Vancouver, but their refugee application was rejected by Canadian authorities.

Missy Higgins first saw the photos while in her living room, nursing her newborn son. She was deeply shocked and overwhelmed by emotion, and realised she wanted to write about it. She wrote a song that tells the story of Aylan and his family’s escape told from the perspective of his father. The song, “Oh Canada,” and film clip are easily accessed on Youtube. Missy Higgins donated the profits from the song to the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre.

David Peter Folkes, an ex-Passionist from our province, on reading this story in our newsletter, wrote to me and shared with me a story he told on an ABC Darwin morning show, later it rebroadcast on ABC’s national Kathy Kelly show. He told this story on the ABC program wanting to put a human face on one refugee family in the hope that it might be a pebble into the pond of public opinion:

“It was in 2012, and I was visiting one of the Detention Centres each day.  St Vincent de Paul had a contract with the Federal Government Immigration Services to do humanitarian visits to a family detention centre, euphemistically called “The Darwin Airport Lodge.”  Eventually certain asylum seekers from that Centre were allowed to be accompanied to events in the community, like to attend church, concerts, cultural events and even Saturday market.

I had permission to accompany an Iranian family—father, mother, son (15) and young daughter (6) on a Saturday morning. We headed off to the Parap Market, where I hoped they would meet fellow Iranians, or at least other Persian or Arabic speakers. I described where we went and what we saw to the son, whose English was quite good, and he translated for the parents. They all loved seeing the rich variety of cultural life and food at the market, and the little girl was delighted to see the pretty beads and flowers.  She took my hand and danced along, jabbering excitedly all the time, as if I understood. She captured my heart right then and there. 

From there we went to the beachfront.  We all got out and looked back across the bay to the City of Darwin, on a beautiful crystal clear day.  The little girl played hopscotch (in Persian), and the parents sat on a rock under a tree quietly talking.

Then I saw the young boy, hanging his arms and torso over the fence, looking out to sea, quiet for a long time. I hung over the fence beside him, and eventually he pointed out to sea and whispered, “there are people in there.”  

I asked what he meant. 

“My Nephew is in there.”  Long pause. 

“When we left Malaysia, my mother’s family, two sisters, husband and four children were on the next boat. Three days ago they went down in a storm, and all were lost.  My nephew was 15.”  

“My closest friend is in there.” 

We hung some more.  I shoulder-hugged him, and we moved on.

On the way back, they wanted to look at a new car lot. Each posed for photos with their favourite, laughed and shared their dreams.

Last Summer, my fiancé and I travelled from our home in America to Australia, and spent quite some time in Darwin.  The camps were closed.  No more men.  No more women and children.  No more slivers of hope for the young families who must look for safe harbour on other shores.

Most mornings we walked to the beach, and looked out to sea, where—in too many places—too many people had been lost. It was, and is, unfathomable. But I can save room in my heart for one little family, four human faces, the imprint of a day that turned out to be the best day of my life.”

 

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The Price of Palm Oil

If you look up Wikipedia for general information on palm oil, it explains that it is an edible vegetable oil derived from the reddish pulp of the fruit of the oil palms, primarily the African oil palm. Along with coconut oil, palm oil is one of the few highly saturated vegetable fats and is semisolid at room temperature. It is a common cooking ingredient in the tropical belt of Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of Brazil. Its use in the commercial food industry is widespread because of its lower cost and the high oxidative stability (saturation) of the refined product when used for frying. Palm oil is a commodity in massive demand for its use in a wide range of basic products from ice-cream and chocolate to shampoo and toothpaste.

The use of palm oil in food products has attracted the concern of environmental activist groups as the high oil yield of the trees has encouraged wider cultivation, leading to the clearing of forests in parts of Indonesia and Malaysia to make space for oil-palm monoculture. This has resulted in significant losses to the natural habitat of the orang-utan, of which both species are endangered (one of these, the Sumatran orang-utan, has been listed as critically endangered).

Currently, Amnesty international is conducting a campaign to raise awareness that the reason for its lower cost is that the palm oil industry uses child labour and exploits its workers. Children as young as eight are doing back-breaking work to produce palm oil for household brands that we use everyday. In fact, some of the world’s best known companies, including Nestlé, Colgate-Palmolive and Kelloggs, are using palm oil from Indonesian plantations where child labour is the norm and workers suffer from hard labour and long hours

These big brand producers source palm oil from Wilmar International, one of the largest Indonesian palm oil plantation owners. Most of these companies will tell you that the palm oil they use is ‘sustainable,’ meaning that it is environmentally friendly and that workers are treated fairly. But an investigation by Amnesty International has uncovered some disturbing exploitation of plantation workers including:

  • Children as young as eight are doing hard labour which can cause physical damage. A 10-year-old boy told Amnesty investigators that he works six days a week. He doesn’t go to school and he carries the sack with the loose fruit by himself but can only carry it half full. He reported that he does this also in the rain.
  • Women are forced to work long hours under threat of pay cuts, and are paid below minimum wage – earning as little as $2.50 USD a day in extreme cases.
  • Workers labour for long hours to meet high targets with tasks that are physically demanding, such as cutting fruit from 20-meter-tall palm trees.

The abuse of workers on these plantations is clear – yet these producers are failing to do even basic human rights checks on their supply chain. Something is wrong when six companies turning over a combined revenue of $325 billion in 2015 won’t do something about the abuse of palm oil workers earning a pittance.

The list of companies that Amnesty International names as implicated include:

  • Ben & Jerry’s – in their Chocolate Peppermint Crunch ice cream;
  • Unilever – a Dutch-British transnational consumer goods company co-headquartered in Rotterdam, Netherlands and London, United Kingdom. Its products include food, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products.
  • Colgate – in its toothpaste;
  • Kelloggs – in their breakfast cereals;
  • Dove – in its soap products
  • Magnum – ice cream;
  • Pantene – in its shampoo;
  • Nestlé – in many of its food products;
  • Head & Shoulders – shampoo;
  • Covergirl Australia – in its cosmetics.

This campaign by Amnesty International is current, so if you want to do something about this issue, go to Amnesty International’s website. It will give you options such as signing petitions, which also can appear of social media such as Facebook and Twitter; sending messages via Facebook or Twitter directly to the companies listed above; or making a donation towards this campaign.

Such exploitation is rife in developing countries because, though the Free Market Economy is touted as the fairest system, with its trickle down economics ideology, the scam is that this is only true in a perfect world where there is total employment. In such a world, say you have 40 people employed in the palm oil industry getting paid $3.00 a day, and 3 companies want to attract workers, they would have to offer more pay or better working conditions to be able to do so. So this means that things continue to improve for workers.

In the real world there is no 100% employment. So in a situation where 20% are fully employed, 30% partially employed, and 50% not employed, and 3 companies want to attract workers, they can offer what they want, as for those unemployed poor wages are better than no wages. So instead of a perfect world where it becomes a race to the top, without 100% employment, in the real world it becomes a race to the bottom.

As a member of ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans) I have a particular interest in this issue as it is a perfect environment for the abuse of slave labour as well. Please join me in supporting this campaign by Amnesty International to stamp out exploitation of children, workers, and the conditions that fuel human trafficking and slave labour.

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Power Over Justice

As members of the Passionist Congregation of the Province of the Holy Spirit, which takes in Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and Vietnam, I can confidently say that my Province has been greatly heartened by the efforts of Pope Francis to put our Church back on track to implementing the reforms of Vatican II. The more traditional elements of our Church have had a good run in holding things back, which, while disappointing for us, can be understood. It is normal to grieve for something that has been part of your life for so long and now you are asked to let go of it. It is also to be expected that they will put up a resistance to the forward direction that Pope Francis is driving. But when that resistance includes holding back the reform of the Church in the area of protecting minors from clerical sexual abuse, that is where they cross the line of justice that cannot be accepted.

On the 1st of March of this year, Marie Collins, an Irish national and one of two survivors of clergy sex abuse who had been appointed to serve on Pope Francis’ Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, resigned from that position. She wrote the following statement for the National Catholic Reporter about her decision:

“The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors has had difficulties to overcome in its three years of existence.

Obviously I intend to respect the confidentiality of my former colleagues on the Commission and the work they are doing, but some of the main stumbling blocks that I can mention have already been detailed by Commission members who gave testimony Feb. 23 to Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

These stumbling blocks include: lack of resources, inadequate structures around support staff, slowness of forward movement and cultural resistance. The most significant problem has been reluctance of some members of the Vatican Curia to implement the recommendations of the Commission despite their approval by the pope.

In her testimony, Kathleen McCormack, the Commission’s Australian member, summed up the struggles and emphasized the need to keep hope. “Like water on a rock,” she said, “we’ve just got to keep at it.”

I have come to the point where I can no longer be sustained by hope. As a survivor I have watched events unfold with dismay.

During our first year we had to go forward without an office or staff. Then finding a method by which the Commission could enter into dialogue with Vatican dicasteries was difficult for a very prolonged period.

This was eventually overcome in 2016 when liaison persons for each Vatican department were appointed to be available to interact with the Commission but there was a long delay in this very important area of communication and cooperation.

The Commission’s recommendation for a Tribunal to be put in place whereby negligent bishops could be held accountable was approved by Pope Francis and announced in June 2015. Yet it was found by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as Baroness Sheila Hollins stated to the Royal Commission, to have unspecified “legal” difficulties, and so was never implemented. 

With his motu proprio “As a Loving Mother,” Francis followed up last year with another accountability initiative. This would not only cover negligent bishops but also negligent religious superiors. It was to come into effect Sept. 5 but it is impossible to know if it has actually begun work or not.

The Safeguarding Guidelines template developed by the Commission, intended to be used by bishops’ conferences around the world as a basis for drawing up their own policy documents has not yet been disseminated. The dicastery which has the responsibility for reviewing existing bishops’ conference policy documents and which has its own template is refusing to cooperate with the Commission on the combining of the work.

In his testimony to the Royal Commission, member Bill Kilgallon from New Zealand, who is the Chair of the Guidelines working group, used the analogy of government to understand how this sort of resistance can come about. He spoke of “how jealously government departments guard their own domain and there can be some pushback about taking advice from others.”

The reluctance of some in the Vatican Curia to implement recommendations or cooperate with the work of a commission when the purpose is to improve the safety of children and vulnerable adults around the world is unacceptable.

Is this reluctance driven by internal politics, fear of change, clericalism which instills a belief that ‘they know best’ or a closed mindset which sees abuse as an inconvenience or a clinging to old institutional attitudes?

I do not know the answer but it is devastating in 2017 to see that these men still can put other concerns before the safety of children and vulnerable adults.

The last straw for me, on top of the refusal to cooperate on the Safeguarding Guidelines, has been the refusal, by the same dicastery, to implement one of the simplest recommendations the Commission has put forward to date.

Last year at our request, the pope instructed all departments in the Vatican to ensure all correspondence from victims/survivors receives a response. I learned in a letter from this particular dicastery last month that they are refusing to do so.

I find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the church for the care of those whose lives have been blighted by abuse, yet to watch privately as a congregation in the Vatican refuses to even acknowledge their letters! It is a reflection of how this whole abuse crisis in the Church has been handled: with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors.

When I accepted my appointment to the Commission in 2014, I said publicly that if I found what was happening behind closed doors was in conflict with what was being said to the public I would not remain. This point has come. I feel I have no choice but to resign if I am to retain my integrity.

I know my former colleagues on the Commission will forge on and I hope in time succeed in overcoming the difficulties and bringing the real change that is needed. 

There is still a survivor member in the group, though he is on leave of absence. I do not know if when his term of office ends another survivor will be brought on board. I do hope in whatever way things go forward that a survivor’s voice will be included.

In the past three years I have never had the opportunity to sit and talk to the pope but if I had I would ask him to do three things: 

  • 
Give the Commission the responsibility and the power to oversee implementation of the recommendations when they are approved. No matter how much work is put into the recommendations given to the Holy Father and no matter how much he supports them they must be properly implemented to have any effect.
  • Give the Commission an adequate, independent budget to do its work without having each item of expenditure go through the internal Vatican approval process.
  • Remove the restriction on the recruitment of professional staff from outside the Vatican.

                                                                                                   Despite everything I have said, I do believe there is value in the Commission continuing its work. The members are sincerely putting every effort into very important projects with the intention of moving things forward.

Notwithstanding recent disappointing news on the reduction of sanctions for convicted perpetrators, I believe the pope does at heart understand the horror of abuse and the need for those who would hurt minors to be stopped.

Although I do not agree with them, as far as I am aware none of his actions have put a perpetrator back into a position where children would be at risk. If they did I would have a very different view.

Those who appeal to his commitment to mercy in these cases do a disservice to all, including the man himself, who I feel does not appreciate how his actions of clemency undermine everything else he does in this area including supporting the work of the Commission.

I wish my former colleagues well as they go forward. The issue of improving safety of children and vulnerable adults is so important it has to continue no matter the stumbling blocks in its path.”

Marie Collins statement was taken from ncronline.org, and was an exclusive statement given to the NCR for publication.

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