Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Now freeways are to blame!

"Road tunnels have been blamed for pollution and fuelling Sydney's obsession with the car. Now NSW Health warns the planned M4 East could make people fat. The department insists the Roads and Traffic Authority conduct an obesity study as part of planning for the tunnel, which will link the M4 at North Strathfield with Parramatta Road and Haberfield. The state's chief health officer, Greg Stewart, said yesterday the loss of parks and open space resulting from the tunnel extension could contribute to worsening child obesity. He said people's physical health was a vital part of urban road planning.

About 20 per cent of NSW children were overweight, he said, and another 6 per cent obese, while more than half of all adults were above a healthy weight. In a submission to the roads authority on the M4 East, NSW Health said planners had to consider what impact the tunnel would have on people exercising, as well as pedestrian safety and access to nearby parks. "Considering the impact of the proposal on physical activity, health impacts of reduced physical activity, such as obesity, should be addressed," it said......

However, the Government's top planning official, Jennifer Westacott, believes health surveys, including those on obesity, are useless when it comes to planning roads. "We also have to stop wasting money on studies and investigations that bear no proof in respect of sound land use planning," she said last week. "Now, unless we're planning to walk on it [the M4 east], I cannot understand what value that [an obesity study] will have but it will cost $3 million."

More here.


Australia's Federal Treasurer addresses a meeting of evangelical Christians in the State of Victoria

"The Age newspaper has reported that my appearance here tonight has been criticised by the Islamic Council of Victoria. According to the president of that council [Yasser Soliman], by speaking here tonight I could be giving legitimacy to parties that the Islamic Council is suing under Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.

"I do not think that we should resolve differences about religious views in our community with lawsuits between the different religions. Nor do I think that the object of religious harmony will be promoted by organising witnesses to go along to the meetings of other religions to collect evidence for the purpose of later litigation. "The proceedings which have been taken [under this new law], the time, the cost, the extent of the proceedings, and the remedies that are available - all illustrate, in my view, that this is a bad law."

Yes, it's a very bad law. Within months of being enacted, the excesses of this legislation became self-evident. The first test case, Islamic Council of Victoria v Catch The Fire Ministries, has cost more than $1 million in legal fees and achieved nothing but enmity. Yet, on August 4, in the Great Hall of Parliament in Canberra, Labor's shadow attorney-general, Nicola Roxon, speaking before at a forum attended by 1000 people, announced Labor would introduce a federal version of the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Suddenly, the Great Hall, which just minutes before had been filled with applause for Roxon was filled with booing.

Labor appears incapable of absorbing a fundamental lesson from its federal election disaster in 1996, after Paul Keating, Gareth Evens, Robert Tickner and Nick Bolkus had poisoned the national debate by repeatedly spraying the word "racist" across the political landscape. Look what happened to their careers.

When the Bracks Government passed the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, it did so after the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission had logged just five complaints of religious vilification in the previous year. Yet the commission's head, Diane Sisely, had warned of a dramatic increase in attacks and insults against Muslims, despite the absence of evidence. Exactly the same was going on in NSW, where the president of the Anti-Discrimination Board, Chris Puplick, warned of endemic abuse of Muslims even as his own annual report reported only 55 complaints lodged by all groups in a year.

While Puplick was publicly eviscerated by the Premier, Bob Carr, Victoria went in the opposite direction. The Equal Opportunity Commission hired May Helou, of the Islamic Council of Victoria, to begin a large program advising Muslims of their rights under the new anti-vilification law. It was Helou who recruited three Muslims to attend a seminar, "The Nature Of Islam", organised by Catch The Fire Ministries, a national, non-denominational evangelical group. After attending the seminar, the three observers prepared a 52-count complaint for the Islamic Council of Victoria. The council then lodged the complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission against the ministry and two of its pastors, thus completing the ideological circle between bureaucratic agitation and litigation.

A mediation session was arranged. It lasted seven hours and 40 minutes. It produced an ideological impasse. The Islamic Council commenced legal proceedings. Hearings began in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in October last year. The hearings went for 40 days, spread over nine months. Final submissions were made in June. The maximum penalties under the act are a $30,000 fine and six months' jail. However, the prospect of jailing people for their religious beliefs has proved so divisive that Judge Michael Higgins felt obliged to announce he saw no grounds to jail anyone.

"This has caused us a tremendous amount of time and stress," the head of Catch The Fire Ministries, Pastor Danny Nalliah, told me. That's the point, Danny. That's why the Equal Opportunity Commission went fishing for business. That's why the Islamic Council went to court. They don't need to win. They just need to send a message. Nalliah was happy to summarise the views that led to this imbroglio: "I have lived in Saudi Arabia and learned the real nature of Islam. It is to dominate other religions and other cultures. The Koran speaks of world domination. I have spoken to a lot of Muslim leaders who say it is easy to exploit the Western system. The say the key is to be patient, to learn the language, and to build up numbers. Then build up political power. "Even Christians believe everyone should know about Christ and want people to follow Christ. But the worry is with Islam, it goes one step further. If peaceful methods fail, the Koran says you can use violence."

The price for these views, so far, has been $300,000 in legal costs. The ministries' solicitors, acting pro bono, assess their costs at $400,000. With the costs of the complainant, plus the publicly funded cost of the hearings, total legal costs exceed $1 million. Eighteen months after the Islamic Council of Victoria lodged its action, the matter remains unresolved. And Labor wants a federal version of this law.

More here.

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