HSV Submissions Archive 2000 to 2009
The Humanist Society of Victoria (HSV) regularly makes submissions to various responsible bodies, including Senate Committees, Royal Commissions and Government policy reviews. HSV also communicates humanist concerns to politicians of all political persuasions. The content of these communications is formulated by the members at specially convened discussion meetings. This advocacy forms an important part of the work of HSV in disseminating and promoting the humanist view in ethics and religion. Through these representations, HSV is making valuable contributions to civil society.
In the list of submissions below, the titles of a series of submissions on a single issue are appended (1), (2), (3), etc.
Access a short note on a submission by clicking on the note number in [square] brackets.
|2009||National Human Rights Consultation||Attorney-General||FED|
|National Security Legislation Amendments 2009 ||Attorney-General||FED|
|Affordable Social Housing ||Minister for Housing||FED/VIC|
|Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace||Office for Women||FED|
|Anti-discrimination Exemptions Read Update …||Attorney-General, Rob Hulls||VIC|
|Patentable Subject Matter: Options ||Advisory Council on Intellectual Property||FED|
|Inquiry into Suicide in Australia ||Senate Community Affairs References Committee||FED|
|Corporate School Funding||Minister for Education and Training||VIC|
|2008||Census 2011 Read Update …||Australian Bureau of Statistics||FED|
|National Bill of Rights ||Attorney-General, Hon. Robert McClelland||FED|
|Education Revolution Read Update …||Minister for Education, Hon. Julia Gillard, and Deputy Prime Minister||FED|
|Euthanasia Laws Repeal Bill 2008 ||Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee||FED|
|Violence against Women and Children Read Update …||Department of Family and Community Services||FED|
|Medical Treatment (Physician Assisted Dying) Bill 2008 Read Update …||All Members of Parliament of Victoria||VIC|
|What Should Be Patentable? Read Update …||Advisory Council on Intellectual Property||FED|
|Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century Read Update …||Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission||FED|
|Review of ABC and SBS Read Update …||Department of Communication and Digital Economy||FED|
|2007||Genocide in Darfur||Prime Minister, J. Howard and Minister for Foreign Affairs||FED|
|Humanitarian Migration Program 2007–08 ||Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs||FED|
|Global Warming and Climate Change ||Minister for Environment, Hon. Malcolm Turnbull||FED|
|Access Card (1) ||Minister for Human Services||VIC|
|Assisted Reproductive Technology ||National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)||FED|
|Joint ACOSS Letter on Northern Territory Action on Child Abuse||Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mal Brough||FED|
|Community Organisations ||Department for Communities||VIC|
|Access Card (2) ||Department of Human Services||VIC|
|Performance Bonuses for Teachers Read Update …||Minister for Education, Hon. Julie Bishop||FED|
|Cluster Bombs||Prime Minister, J. Howard and Minister for Foreign Affairs||FED|
|Abortion Law Reform ||Law Reform Commission of Victoria||VIC|
|Crimes (Decriminalisation of Abortion) Bill 2007 ||Attorney-General, Rob Hulls and all MPs||VIC|
|2006||Humanitarian Migration Program 2006–07||Minister for Immigration and Department of Immigration||FED|
|Use of Drug RU486 ||Members of Parliament||FED|
|Ethical Principles in Gene Technology||Gene Technology Ethics Committee Secretariat||FED|
|Ethical Conduct in Human Research ||National Health and Medical Research Council||FED|
|Ethics in Organ and Tissue Donation after Death ||National Health and Medical Research Council||FED|
|Equity in Access to Education ||Minister for Education, Science and Training, Hon. Julie Bishop||FED|
|Ethics of Living Organ and Tissue Donations||National Health and Medical Research Council||FED|
|Stem Cell Research: Lockhart Review Read Update …||Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee||FED|
|Chaplains in State Schools ||Minister for Education, Science and Training||FED|
|Human Rights Charter for Victoria (2) ||Human Rights Consultative Committee, Department of Justice||VIC|
|2005||Ethics in Biotechnology (Victoria) (1) ||Department of Human Services||VIC|
|Humanitarian Program Policy, 2005–06||Department of Immigration||FED|
|ATSIC Amendment Bill 2004 (Supplementary) ||Senate Select Committee on Aboriginal Affairs||FED|
|Corporal Punishment of Children ||Victorian Law Reform Commission||VIC|
|Ethics in Research on Humans ||National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)||FED|
|Ethics in Biotechnology (Victoria) (2) ||Department of Human Services||VIC|
|Review of the Education Act Read Update …||Minister for Education||VIC|
|Human Rights Charter for Victoria (1) Read Update …||Human Rights Consultative Committee, Department of Justice||VIC|
|ASIO Amendment Act 2005||Premier, Attorney-General||VIC|
|Gene Technology Ethics ||Gene Technology Ethics Committee (GTEC)||FED|
|Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005 ||Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee||FED|
|Victorian Human Rights Charter Recommendations||Department of Justice||VIC|
|2004||Humanitarian Migration Program 2004–05 ||Department of Immigration||FED|
|Ethical Aspects of Xenotransplantation ||Health Ethics Section, National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)||FED|
|Aboriginal Justice Agreement (Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Victoria) ||Department of Justice||VIC|
|Administration of Aboriginal Affairs (ATSIC Amendment Bill) ||Senate Select Committee on Administration of Indigenous Affairs||FED|
|Civil Union and Relationship Bill (New Zealand) ||Justice and Electoral Committee||NZ|
|Commercial Confidentiality in Government ||Attorney-General and Shadow Ministers||FED|
|2003||Humanitarian Program 2003–04 ||Department of Immigration||FED|
|Ethics in Human Stem Cell Research ||Department of Human Services||VIC|
|National Health Privacy Code ||Australian Health Ministers Council||FED|
|ASIO Powers Bill ||Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee||FED|
|Human Rights Commision Bill 2003 ||Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee||FED|
|The Growing Rich–Poor Divide ||Department of Community Affairs and Senate Legislation Committee||FED|
|National Census 2006: Religion Question ||Australian Bureau of Statistics||FED|
|Tertiary Education Funding and Equity of Access ||Minister for Education, Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson||FED|
|Changes to Medicare ||Senate Select Committee on Changes to Medicare||FED|
|Definition of a Charity ||Board of Taxation, The Treasury||FED|
|Same-Sex Couples’ Rights||Prime Minister||FED|
|MedicarePlus Proposals ||Senate Select Committee on Changes to Medicare||FED|
|Senate Reform (Sect. 57 of Constitution) ||Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet||FED|
|2002||Migration and Humanitarian Programs ||Department of Immigration||FED|
|Religion, Diversity and Social Cohesion ||Australian Multicultural Foundation||FED|
|Revision of Ethical Issues in Organ Donation||National Health and Medical Research Council||FED|
|Higher Education Review||Department of Education, Science and Training||FED|
|Oaths and Affirmations in Court ||Law Reform Committee||VIC|
|Aging ||House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aging||FED|
|Cloning and Stem Cell Research ||Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee||FED|
|Funding for Radio Australia||Chairman, ABC Board||FED|
|Aboriginal Health Research Guidelines ||National Health and Medical Research Council (NMHRC)||FED|
|2001||ABC Board Appointments Read Update …||Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and Information Technology and Arts References Committee||FED|
|Definition of Charities and Related Organisations ||Department of Treasury||FED|
|Racial and Religious Tolerance Legislation ||Department of Premier and Cabinet, Department of Multicultural Affairs||VIC|
|Victorian Youth Strategy||Department of Education, Employment and Training||VIC|
|National Privacy Principle Guidelines ||Privacy Commissioner||FED|
|Ethical Guidelines on Assisted Reproductive Technology ||National Health and Medical Research Council||FED|
|2000||The Stolen Generation ||Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee||FED|
|New South Wales Bill of Rights ||Committee on Law and Justice, Legislative Council||NSW|
|Responsible Gaming Policy ||Gaming Policy Unit, Department of Treasury and Finance||VIC|
|Interim Report on Welfare Reform ||Reference Group on Welfare Reform||FED|
|Northern Territory Mandatory Sentencing ||Chief Minister of Northern Territory, Hon. Denis Burke, MLA||NT|
|Safe Injection Facilities ||Minister for Health and Professor David Pennington||VIC|
|Health Records Bill ||Information Privacy Steering Committee, Department of Human Services||VIC|
|Essential Services ||Services, Markets and Regulation Strategy, Victorian Government||VIC|
|Availability of RU-486 ||Minister for Health, Hon. Michael Wooldridge||FED|
|Asylum Seekers ||Minister for Immigration, Philip Ruddock and Prime Minister||FED|
|Religious Instruction in State Schools – Position Paper View PDF …||VIC|
 Asylum Seekers – submitted 30 December 2000 – In the HSV submission on the Treatment of Asylum Seekers, we made the following points:
(a) Conditions in which the asylum seekers are detained breach the guidelines of the UN High Commission for Refugees.
(b) The remoteness and the prison nature of the detention camps prevents contact with support groups and scrutiny of management procedures.
(c) The private prison management is trained to deal with criminals only: most asylum seekers are genuine escapees from political and religious persecution.
(d) The length of detention under punishing conditions compares poorly with other countries with comparable number of asylum seekers, e.g., Sweden, where the maximum time is two months. Given good will and modern technology, health and security screening and status assessment should be a matter of a few weeks only.
(e) The extraordinary refusal to allow the UN, NGOs and church working groups to visit and observe our system of dealing with asylum seekers justifies suspicions of malpractice.
(f) We strongly urge the Government to heed the call by Amnesty International to release children and their mothers held in this type of detention.
(g) The current investigation into these matters should an impartial, full and open inquiry and not a departmental one.
(h) We note that Australia was one of the original drafters and a signatory of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees.
 Aging – submitted 31 August 2002 – In the HSV submission, we made the following points:
(a) As people age they should be supported and encouraged to remain living within the wider community, rather be congregated in retirement villages or “homes” for the elderly.
(b) Domestic and public buildings should automatically include design features suitable for all ages and degrees of mobility, e.g step height, mandatory railings, door widths.
(c) Labour regulations should be modified to permit older members of the community who wish to continue in paid employment to do so.
(d) There should be education campaigns that draw attention to the wastage of experience and skills that arise from retirement age limitations.
(e) People, while fit and well, should be encouraged to prepare an “advanced directive” which make clear the limits to medical treatment they desire if their health deteriorates.
(f) We strongly endorse the proposition that voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide should be available for those who request such an option.
 National Census, 2006: Religion Question – submitted 28 July 2003 – In the HSV submission, we made the following points:
(a) We proposed changing the current question “What is the person’s religion?”
(b) The current question elicits misleading responses, and thus produces inaccurate data.
(c) It does not inquire about present religious practice. Many people therefore mark the religion of their parents though they do not identify with these beliefs.
(d) The question implies that each person is expected to be religious and puts a negative connotation on the answer “No religion”, the last choice after listed denominations.
(e) We strongly support the proposal to put “No religion” at the top of the listed categories.
(f) Past Census figures did not reflect the marked departure from religious practices and the general continuing secularisation of the Australian population. Surveys of church attendance report significant decrease.
(g) Many important grants and allocations are made on the basis of Census data. Thus the question should seek to determine the number of people who actually use these subsidised services.
(h) We propose that the question should be “Does the person have a religion?” with No or Yes, followed by a list of major denominations. A subsidiary question should ask: “Is the person an active religious participant? No . . . Yes . . .”
(i) In its present form the question will continue to elicit misleading data and be at variance with other surveys.
 ASIO Powers Bill (ASIO Legislation Amendment Bill 2002) – submitted 17 June 2003 – In the HSV submission, we made the following points:
(a) After minor changes this Bill still contains measures that Humanists see as the hallmark of a police state, unacceptable in a liberal democracy like Australia.
(b) Secret detention, including minors of 16 years on a mere suspicion of possessing information about terrorist activity, is a draconian method of gathering intelligence, a violation of our civil rights.
(c) We believe that existing laws and ASIO powers are adequate to deal with terrorist activities. The proposed additional powers create the potential for basic human rights abuse.
(d) The detention of and interrogation of a minor is in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989.
(e) In some rare case the proscription of an organisation might be justified on the basis of its program of violence and criminal activity. However, the power to ban such groups must not be in any one MP as proposed by the Bill. We urge that both Houses of Parliament be involved in such a decision.
(f) This Bill creates excessive, unchecked and potentially dangerous powers.
(g) We welcome the addition of a three year sunset clause.
 Administration of Aboriginal Affairs (ATSIC Amendment Bill) – submitted 28 July 2004 – In the HSV submission, we made the following points:
(a) In absence of an Australian Bill of Rights it is vital that this ATSI Commission Amendment Bill protects the rights of indigenous people.
(b) The right to have elected representatives is fundamental. Appointed representation would be a regression into paternalism.
(c) On all measures the well-being of indigenous Australians is far below average. Long-term and continuing failure of mainstream service delivery accounts for this inequity. This Inquiry offers an opportunity to redress this situation.
(d) Knowledge of cultural values, sensitivities and aspirations is vital in appropriate and successful service delivery. Thus such services should be under the control of the new national indigenous representative body.
(e) Good health, education, employability and social cohesion underpin well-being. The many devastated, dysfunctional Aboriginal communities stand as an indictment of our disregard for human rights.
(f) Time and resources must be given to the new management. It is not clear whether present assets of ATSIC† would be sufficient for this purpose.
(g) Enshrining the rights of indigenous Australians in law would aid in reducing the prejudice, and racism many still experience.
[ATSIC = Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission]
[See also 2005.3, ATSIC Amendment Bill, supplementary]
 Aboriginal Justice Agreement – submitted 21 June 2004 – In the HSV submission, we made the following points:
(a) The terms of reference indicate a further welcome shift from the previous policies of paternalism and assimilation towards self-determination and co-operative decision making.
(b) We believe the difficulties of aligning diversity with justice can be overcome.
(c) We support the concept of Koori Courts where justice can be administrated with cultural understanding and wisdom.
(d) We regard the educational disadvantage of Kooris as a major cause of their over-representation in the criminal justice system.
(e) We expressed the view that the Worawa Aboriginal College has an impressive curriculum and range of programs which deal with youth problems.
(f) Indigenous ill health and deaths in custody are closely linked. Given that cultural values and beliefs play an important role in successful therapy, we suggested that careers for indigenous care givers — doctors, nurses, psychiatrists — be encouraged through the provision of scholarships and reserved places in tertiary courses.
(g) To increase the economic opportunities of indigenous Australians’ enterprises structured as cooperatives would, we believe, better reflect the ethos of sharing inherent in Aboriginal culture.
(h) A Bill of Rights, preferably in the Australian, rather than a State, Constitution, would aid in the full implementation of all recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and might significantly reduce the prejudice, racism and social marginalisation still experienced by many indigenous people.
 Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005 – submitted 9 November 2005 – In the HSV submission, we made the following points:
(a) We acknowledge that current circumstances require measures to deal with terrorism. However, recent arrests of suspects indicate that adequate measures are in place and we question the need for more draconian legislation.
(b) Regrettable invasions of privacy, such as inspection of bags or parcels, checks of identity and public video surveillance, are justifiable at present, provided they are applied to all citizens without selective aim.
(c) More time is required to consider these significant changes that affect our civil rights and way of life. Without a wide-ranging public and parliamentary debate we run the risk of having bad laws enacted in haste.
(d) Potential for abuse of powers is created by greatly widening the powers of Australia’s security organisations without adequate scrutiny of their operations.
(e) The proposed legislation is in breach of our signed obligations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on these points: arbitrary detention, insufficient access to judicial review, possible conflict in separation of executive and judiciary powers.
(f) In the absence of a Bill of Rights in this country there is need for a set of strong safeguards to protect systems of justice and democracy. A biannual audit to Parliament from an independent panel monitoring the use of this new law would be a minimum safeguard.
(g) The law of sedition, even in its modernised form, carries the risk of stifling free expression of views, [and] debates in public and in the media. Laws of sedition are a hallmark of totalitarian regimes and are inimical to democracy. We urge that this section be deleted.
(h) For a variety of reasons there should be frequent review of this legislation. We strongly urge that a two-year, rather than the proposed 10-year, sunset clause be enacted.
 Human Rights Charter for Victoria (2) – submitted 20 January 2006 – The Human Rights Consultative Committee asked the HSV to comment on their report to the Victorian Government. We made the following points in response:
(a) We find the report an impressive and informative document.
(b) Victorian Humanists are pleased by the inclusion of responsibilities in the Charter as we always supported a nexus between rights and responsibilities.
(c) We support most of the recommendations made and comment on some.
(d) Breaches of compliance with the Charter should incur a specified penalty.
(e) Old statutes as well as new legislation should be examined for compatibility with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
(f) We express our disappointment that the vital economic, social, and cultural rights will not be included in this Charter at present and hope that at the review of this Bill in four years these essential rights will be included.
 ATSIC Amendment Bill 2004 (Supplementary) – submitted 15 February 2005 – Following our submission in 2004 on the ATSIC Amendment Bill 2004, HSV was invited to augment our comments and answer questions before the Senate Select Committee dealing with this matter. The meeting was, however, cancelled and a written supplementary submission invited. We made the following points:
(a) Humanists regard a nation’s laws as a reflection on the degree of civilisation it has reached. Positive discrimination towards the disadvantaged is one of the marks of a civilised society.
(b) By all measures the indigenous Australians are greatly disadvantaged. We submit that the ATSIC Amendment Bill should state our commitment to eliminate this disadvantage. This would be of importance in the absence of an Australian Bill of Rights.
(c) Humanists value greatly the ideal of liberal democracy and human rights. Imposition of appointed representatives, in place of elected ones, violates these principles.
(d) We quote the former Liberal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Fred Chaney) in favour of having elected representatives.
(e) We regard health and education as the crucial social areas and urge that special rather than mainstream approach be adopted to alleviate disadvantage.
(f) Adequate funding is essential to deal with these problems.
 Chaplains in State Schools – submitted 2 October 2006 – Regarding the proposal to install Christian chaplains in government schools, HSV submitted the following points:
(a) This political initiative violates the separation of State and religion.
(b) It is based on the stated belief that schools are “anti-religious” and that the Commonwealth must intervene to close the “gaping hole in religious education”. This violates the law by which State schools must provide only secular education.
(c) The Chaplains are to act as counsellors and crisis managers. While some chaplains may help in the absence of school Welfare Officers, this very important role demands professional impartiality and should be performed by qualified specialists.
(d) The Council for Christian Education in Schools, which trains chaplains, states: “A school chaplain in a state school operates as a Christian in public ministry on behalf of the Christian Community” and “it is understood that the chaplain represents the body of Christ on earth, the Church.”
(e) In our multicultural, multifaith society such a chaplain may not gain the necessary trust of students who follow another belief system or are secular.
(f) The proposal assumes that, (i) teachers in State schools are incapable of imparting ethical values and standards, and (ii) that Christianity has a monopoly on proper values. We dispute both assumptions.
(g) Humanists advocate the teaching of comparative belief systems to engender understanding and tolerance of diversity and to prepare students for a harmonious interaction in our multicultural society. (We quoted a similar view expressed by the Rev. Dr. Bob Fraser – letter to The Age editor.)
(h) We submit that secular education of morals and ethics should be part of personal and social relationships classes as a core subject. Young people should learn to bear responsibility for their own actions rather than passing it on to a higher authority. They should learn to give meaning to their own life. Universal human values of liberty, equality, tolerance and respect for others should be taught along with personal and social obligations. Clear critical thinking should be encouraged and practiced in discussions. This important subject should be taught by a specially trained and independent teacher and be free from sectarian dogma.
 Crimes (Decriminalisation of Abortion) Bill 2007 – submitted 13 August 2007 – In the HSV submission, we made the following points:
(a) Humanists regard abortion as an unfortunate necessity for many women. According to research, unplanned pregnancies are due to lack of sex education, intimate partner’s violence, contraceptive failure and restricted access to contraception.
(b) Therefore it is vital that safe and legitimate services are available for terminations of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. The present legislation jeopardises these requirements by legal uncertainties which lead to cases of prosecution, harassment and stigmatisation.
(c) Recent surveys show a large majority (81-92%) of public support for the woman’s right to make decisions in this matter.
(d) We applaud the success of a similar Bill enacted in the ACT in 2002 and note a rise in the number of abortions there, as predicted by its opponents, has not resulted there.
(e) In the interest of repealing outdated laws we strongly urge for the removal of Sections 65 and 66 from the Victorian Crimes Act and thus for the right of choice for women. This is a right well accepted by the community whose support crosses religious and political affiliations.
(f) We add comments on related issues: (i) Sex education, the key to lower abortion rates should be a compulsory subject in schools. (ii) Pregnancy counselling should be free from sectarian influences and coercion. (iii) The Federal Minister for Health denies the availability of RU-486 [mifepristone] in spite of the approval of Parliament. This abortifacient, safer than the surgical procedure, is now used throughout the world and offers the confidentiality and privacy much needed in this matter. We regard this restriction as an abuse of our rights and of the democratic process.
[Note: An abbreviated version of this submission was circulated to all members of Victorian Parliament.]
 Abortion Law Reform – submitted 16 October 2007 – In answering specific questions, the HSV submission made the following points:
(a) Legal and ethical principles underpinning this law should be: respect for the autonomy of a competent adult; recognition that abortion is an unfortunate necessity for many women; that this often-performed procedure needs safe and legitimate services; recognition of the large majority support for decriminalisation of terminations of unplanned pregnancies; and that every child should be a wanted child.
(b) To regulate termination and remove ambiguities in present legislation.
(c) Factors considered in lawful termination should be: informed request of the pregnant woman, threat to her life, her physical and mental health, her social and economic factors, rape, incest, foetal abnormality, heritable disease. We believe these reasons should be valid for all stages of gestation.
(d) The medical practitioner’s role should be to provide an informative and sympathetic consultation, advise but not coerce the woman to attend counselling sessions. The doctor should not be required to notify any authorities of this procedure. Statistical data to be obtained anonymously from service centres. A minor or mentally incompetent female to have a guardian appointed.
(e) It is imperative that counselling sessions be run by professionals and be free from any coercion or religious influences.
(f) All service providers who have conscientious objections to terminations of pregnancies should be exempted from obligations to participate in this procedure.
(g) Section 10 of the Victorian Crimes Act should be retained for cases of wilful, violent attack on a pregnant woman, perpetrators to be charged with offences against the woman and the foetus.
(h) Key elements in the new abortion law to be: removal of abortion from the criminal code, placing this procedure under relevant regulations in the Department of Human Services and the Health Professionals Regulation Act 2005; ensuring that terminations are performed in registered and accredited facilities; ‘backyard abortionists’ to be prosecuted.
(i) We strongly support the action taken by the ACT in 2002, which removed abortions from the criminal code and which explicitly allowed for legal abortions on request at all stages of pregnancy. (We note that the predicted increase in the number of abortions in the ACT did not occur.)
(j) We urge for a strong recommendation on the need for better sex education as the key to lower abortion rates.
(k) The restricted availability is a violation of rights.
(l) We congratulate the Commission on modernising an archaic law and suggest a 3 to 4 year sunset clause on the new law, given the rapid developments in biotechnologies.
 Access Card – submitted 16 July 2007 – On the redrafted Access Card Bill 2007, HSV added the following main points:
(a) The extension of public debate on this important issue is welcomed.
(b) We support Privacy Commissioners’ recommendation that the biometric information handling be subject to Privacy Act restrictions.
(c) Our remaining concerns are: (i) the ease and dangerous consequences of forgery of the card; (ii) the unavoidable “function creep”, i.e. added information beyond the present intentions for the card and the future possibility of its use for social control; (iii) the large number of agencies exempted from protection by the Privacy Act will allow unwarranted intrusions into our privacy; (iv) there is no provision for compensation persons wronged under this Act; (v) the statement in the Bill, that there must be disclosure of chip or register content to the individual, is qualified by giving the Secretary the power of discretion on this matter. We argue that honest disclosure is imperative.
 Access Card – submitted 18 February 2007 – In the HSV submission, we made the following points:
(a) Benefits of modern technologies have to be balanced against the risks they carry for data misuse and violations of rights to privacy.
(b) Humanists regard a right to privacy as a salient right, a main aspect of human dignity. And they regard a government’s respect for personal privacy as a mark of a democratic and civilised society.
(c) Wide consultation with society should be undertaken before the legislators change its human rights.
(d) The call for submissions on 22 December 20006 for January 2007 was a most peculiar timing to seek public opinion on this important matter.
(e) Assessments (KPMG) reports not open to scrutiny cause justified mistrust.
(f) Well-known breaches of privacy by unauthorised access (police, ATO, etc.) are of concern. The new databases will be available to a wide range of agencies and we expect frequent access, some of which may cause serious problems, such as disclosure of the address of a victim of domestic violence now at a secret location.
(g) Such large databases will be tempting to hackers. The Pentagon failed to prevent hacking.
(h) So-called “function creep” cannot be prevented; it has already occurred in the UK. An extension of function into an ID card cannot be averted: the card can be exploited or misused by future governments, as admitted by the Attorney-General.
(i) Arguments in favour of the card are spurious. It is not like a driver’s licence (limited information known to us), not compulsory to have (but essential for services access); it is not anti-terrorist; and it has been shown that it may protect criminals once they acquire false identity as the 11 September 2001 and Madrid bombers did.
(j) The dedicated and sophisticated will be able to insert false data or make duplicates.
[Note: A copy of the submission was sent to Legal and Constitutional Senate Committee.]
 The Stolen Generation – submitted 14 March 2000 – In response to the call for submissions on the Inquiry into the Stolen Generation, HSV made these main points:
(a) Historical evidence shows that the forcible removal of ‘half-castes’ were not based on concerns for child welfare, but on a policy to ‘breed out the colour’, as recorded in a Government document.
(b) The recommendation of the Bringing Them Home report provides an opportunity to rectify the present effects of forced separation.
(c) We congratulate the Government on adopting some of the recommendations and funding their implementation, but regret that some key issues were rejected and many relegated to the States and Territories.
(d) We argue that Indigenous Affairs should be solely under Commonwealth jurisdiction.
(e) We support monetary compensation to members of the stolen generation. Among them, victims of physical or sexual abuse should have additional claim, as would the non-indigenous in similar circumstances.
(f) The handling of the test case of Gunner-Cubillo brings Australia into international disrepute.
(g) We regret that a sincere apology was not offered by the Leader of the Government on behalf of the nation, given the very recent history of the stolen generation.
(h) We hope that the next report will be able to show better progress on ‘Bringing Them Home.’
 New South Wales Bill of Rights – submitted 30 March 2000 – To the inquiry on the NSW Bill of Rights, HSV made the following main points:
(a) We strongly support the inclusion of a Bill of Rights and responsibilities in our Federal Constitution, given that Australia is alone amongst developed nations without such provision.
(b) We believe that such overriding legislation is preferable to State Bills of Rights that may not be uniform.
(c) Responsibilities and obligations should be strongly linked to rights.
(d) Rights stated in the International Covenants and Declarations to which Australia is a signatory should be included in the Federal Bill of Rights.
(e) The rights of Indigenous Australians should be a high priority, as we may be in violation of Articles 9 and 29 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.
(f) All nine jurisdictions in Australia should formulate new laws that are in line with international human rights instruments.
(g) As well, laws that are obsolete should be rescinded, such as the law of blasphemy. It is contrary to the separation of state and church and a penalty on free speech and opinion.
(h) We urge that the separation of church and state be reinforced in legislation so that the secular state may not fund sectarian religious instructions, which foster disharmony and conflict. A subject on comparative beliefs taught in schools would promote tolerance and understanding. Specific religious instruction should be funded privately.
 Responsible Gaming Policy – submitted 12 April 2000 – HSV made the following main points in our submission:
(a) Irresponsible and compulsive gambling causes severe and costly consequences, and for this reason we support strict regulation of this industry.
(b) We support the proposed measures to limit venues, facilities, hours of access, size of bets.
(c) ATMs should not be available on gaming premises.
(d) Local councils should have a say on the allocation of gaming licenses, but be obliged to justify their decisions.
(e) For players to make an informed choice, chances of winning should be stated on each machine.
(f) Enhancing text and pictures in gaming advertisements should be prohibited. We propose a series of brief TV ads on the negative aspects of gambling, as is done for safer driving.
(g) Unethical practices, such as bussing target groups to the casino, offering meals in gaming venues, etc., should be prohibited.
(h) A percentage of revenue from bingo and poker machines should be spent in local communities on charities and projects, as was done in the past.
(i) Governments at all levels should reduce their dependence on gambling revenue.
(j) In spite of the competition between Tattersall and Tabcorp, the commercial-in-confidence principle should not apply in this industry, given its potential for criminal activity. More than most industries, it should be transparent in its operations, accountable and audited publicly. This should apply to the Victorian Casino and Gaming authority as well.
(k) There should be a process of strict accreditation of licensees.
 Interim Report on Welfare Reform – submitted 28 April 2000 – Following our submission on the proposed Welfare Reform, HSV was asked to answer additional questions. We made the following points:
(a) Social participation is contingent on economic circumstances and cannot be expected of those living below the poverty line. Their means and energy are spent on the problems of daily survival. It is an alienating existence. The social benefits should, therefore, be lifted above the poverty line, prior to demands of meaningful social and economic participation.
(b) We support the proposal for an integrated payment structure for those of workforce age, provided that it is a sum adequate to eliminate poverty traps. The additional funds required for this, we regard as a cost-effective long-term investment.
(c) We support the notion of mutual obligation when practised by all sections of the community.
(d) We propose that a set of guidelines for community projects, based on past or existing successful enterprises, be used to popularise this approach.
(e) Structures need to be developed at a local level, e.g., as in the Boroondara Council (a.k.a. Camberwell, Victoria), to identify and facilitate voluntary work.
(f) Job creation must be of the highest priority. Shorter working week, overtime disincentives, land repair, major capital works in transport, recycling industries. There are still six unemployed persons, with higher rates regionally, for every available job. It is imperative to structure welfare support in such a way that prevents the emergence of a permanent underclass where unemployment and poverty is heritable over generations.
 Northern Territory Mandatory Sentencing – submitted 30 May 2000 – In response to a letter on mandatory sentencing from the Prime Minister’s Department, which suggested we make our views known to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, the HSV responded with the following points:
(a) Humanists follow a long tradition of activism for human rights and against social injustice. Mandatory sentencing violates basic rights to a fair trial.
(b) In our condemnation of this practice, we are in the excellent company of seven High Court Judges, noted Australian leaders, former Prime Ministers, NGOs, churches and a great majority of caring citizens.
(c) As a derivative of the Californian ‘three strikes and you are out’ law, which was intended to deal with serious crimes of violence, mandatory jailing for petty crime is a travesty of justice.
(d) For the law to be just, the rendering of any judgement demands that the judge reasons his/her opinion based only on logic and a sense of fairness and equity. Mandatory jailing excludes these precepts from the administration of justice and renders the judge an automaton.
(e) These patently discriminatory laws’ racial element damages Australia’s reputation as a fair and equitable society. Good reputation on the international forum is a valuable asset: we lose it by practicing these draconian measures.
(f) Mandatory jailing failed to act as a deterrent: incidence of property crime has risen 20 per cent since its introduction and there are huge and escalating costs.
(g) The NT is the recipient of the largest subsidy from other States. In the recent referendum, it has rejected the option of statehood. For these reasons, it is obliged to respect and heed the views of the taxpayers and their representatives.
(h) The deal struck by the Prime Minister introduces an additional concern in that it shifts the burden of judgement to the police.
(i) Other issues aside, this is primarily a serious violation of human rights and we urge you to rescind mandatory incarceration laws.
 Safe Injection Facilities – submitted 4 August 2000 – In response to a call for submissions, HSV quoted research findings and statements by experts in support of the following main points:
(a) The alarming increase in deaths and injuries caused by heroin overdose makes the safe injecting facilities a matter of urgency. It would be an abrogation of duty of care by those in power not to trial these programs while they are proven effective in saving lives in other countries.
(b) We support these trials as part of the Government’s broad approach in drug policy: prevention, saving lives, expanding treatment and effective law enforcement of illicit trafficking.
(c) The whole community stands to benefit from the reduced nuisance and the health risks of drug use.
(d) We believe the problem is exacerbated by the policies of prohibition and tougher sentencing of drug users.
Therefore we urge:
(a) that heroin use be decriminalised
(b) that special clinics dispense heroin on prescription to those who failed detoxification treatment
(c) that accommodation, food, clothes, counselling and medical care is offered to drug users as an aid to rehabilitation. This should reduce the level of petty crime committed to support the drug habit and thus the time and involvement of the police, lawyers, courts, prisons, emergency health services all stretched to their limits at present
(d) Thorough research into causes and preventative measures of drug addiction is paramount. Residential safe injecting facilities for users would provide the basis for such research. Selective prohibition of some addictive substances but not others (alcohol, tobacco cause much greater health damage) cannot be supported rationally. Support of such a policy undermines the credibility of our leaders.
We strongly support the proposed public education program through the media.
 Health Records Bill – submitted 23 August 2000 – In the HSV submission on the draft Bill proposed by the Victorian Minister for Health, we made the following main points:
(a) We strongly support the principle of privacy of personal health information and the right of access to these records for individuals.
(b) The rapid extension of biotechnology (e.g., genomics) and information technology (computerised records) makes the provisions of this Bill a matter of urgency.
(c) We urge that this Bill carries a short sunset clause for frequent reviews.
(d) In cases of serious threat to life of an individual or to the public, disclosure should be mandated.
(e) After the required seven years of storage, records should be placed in archives where, properly de-identified, they could be used for epidemiological and other research, rather than destroyed.
(f) To validate the concept of confidentiality, all personal information relating to provision of a health service should be regulated by this Bill.
(g) Collection and disclosure of health data for law enforcement purposes should be defined and monitored strictly.
(h) The Bill should provide for referral of complex cases of ‘family circumstances’ to an Ethics Committee to assess individual, cultural and personal needs.
(i) The public should be encouraged to prepare ‘advance directives’ on all aspects of their health care.
(j) We support the sections of the Bill that ensure continuity of treatment by transfer of records.
(k) We believe that improper collection and disclosure of health information by the media should incur strong sanctions.
 Essential Services – submitted 18 September 2000 – On the establishment of an Essential Services Commission (ESC) by the Victorian Government, HSV commented as follows:
(a) We support the concept and hope that the ESC will act not only as an economic regulator, but will regard the social and environmental aspects of delivery of gas, water and electricity as highly important.
(b) In privatised services, the needs and expectations of shareholders often prevail over those of the general public.
(c) The private sector avoids accountability under the commercial-in-confidence principle. We urge that this rule be rescinded for delivery of essential services so that their operations are transparent.
(d) We urge that Ambulance Services be included and regulated by the ESC.
(e) We list several compelling reasons to retain and regulate public transport under the ESC charter.
 Availability of RU-486 – submitted 10 October 2000 – On urging the Federal Minister for Health to rescind the ban on the abortion pill RU-486 (mifepristone), HSV made the following points:
(a) The right of access to products that represent medical progress should be universal.
(b) We quoted the French Health Minister who legislated for the release of RU-486, saying that it is the moral property of women, not just the property of the drug company.
(c) We mentioned the now established safety of this procedure under medical supervision and cautioned against its unsupervised use when obtained via the Internet.
(d) We listed the large number of advantages of this drug and argued that RU-486 should not be denied to Australian women while being available in most countries. We challenged the rationale on which the RU-486 is banned; i.e., the religious tenets of the few imposed on the whole society. In a secular state, such a position is untenable, particularly when abortion is no longer illegal.
 Definition of Charities and Related Organisations – submitted 16 January 2001 – To the enquiry, HSV made these points:
(a) Humanist lifestance: its precepts and aims and areas of interest.
(b) The HSV’s activities; it is a voluntary, not-for-profit organisation; its provisions for continuing education, for participation in debates on ethical and social issues and contributing an informed view to surveys of public opinion, and for social interaction and group participation.
(c) Charities should be defined as organisations that offer constructive help irrespective of recipients’ commitment, gender, ethnic origins and in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
(d) The current social environment in Australia is increasingly secular, as shown by several indicators.
(e) Commercial and non-commercial activities of charities and related organisations should be distinguished in their classification.
(f) Lobbying should be defined as an action that fosters commercial or political gain, and not that which responds to calls for public opinion (such as this submission).
(g) The HSV is excluded from obtaining tax deductibility status and other privileges accorded to the churches in Australia. We contrast this with systems in some other countries, such as Norway, Holland and Belgium, where state funds are allocated on an equal basis to secular groups and churches.
 Racial and Religious Tolerance Legislation – submitted 22 February 2001 – The following points were made in HSV’s response to the proposed legislation:
(a) We support this initiative and the proposed educational campaign against racial vilification, which we regard as an abuse of freedom of speech.
(b) We strongly support the inclusion of those who do not hold a belief in the supernatural and do not engage in religious activities.
(c) Freedom from vilification, threats and persecution is a part of charters, covenants and Bills of Rights in most civilised countries.
(d) The context in which abusive words or actions occur is vital to their interpretation.
(e) The following should not constitute vilification:
(i) serious and critical debate on religious tenets and laws
(ii) condemnation of acts of brutality that are religious and cultural practices
(iii) ‘blasphemy’: this legislation should not protect the honour or reputation of gods
(iv) satire: good natured mockery or lampooning
(f) Only individuals should be protected from personal abuse and threats.
 National Privacy Principle Guidelines – submitted 4 July 2001 – On the draft guidelines, HSV made the following comments:
(a) We regret that these guidelines are not legally binding, as are the Data Directive enacted by the European Union in 1995. The Data Directive gives full protection, in all member countries, of the privacy of citizen’s personal information.
(b) We suggested that, in view of the rapid growth in both bio- and information technology, these guidelines and accompanying legislation should carry short ‘sunset’ clauses and so be open for regular reviews.
(c) Health issues are of primary concern: information on genetic data, disability and the donation of body parts is to be regarded as strictly confidential.
(d) Collection and disclosure of health information by law enforcement agencies (e.g., private prisons) should be defined with precision and monitored by an independent agency.
(e) Where a serious threat exists to the life of an individual or to the public, disclosure should be mandatory. We recall the 1987 shootings in Hoddle and Queen Streets, Melbourne, where the perpetrators were known to their counsellors as potentially dangerous to others.
(f) Properly de-identified health records should be released after some years for epidemiological research, rather than destroyed.
(g) The public should be informed and encouraged to prepare ‘advance directives’ or so-called ‘living wills on all aspects of health care, including the matter of records disclosure.
(h) Though cultural issues require a sensitive approach, we do not believe that practices that violate the statutes of this country should be able to claim the right to nondisclosure on the grounds of confidentiality. We refer to harmful practices by some pseudo-religious groups: child marriages, female genital mutilation, social isolation, etc.
(i) We observe that the claim ‘commercial-in-confidence’ is sometimes used to avoid scrutiny and thus is abuse of the right to privacy. Organisations in all sectors should be accountable.
 Ethical Guidelines on Assisted Reproductive Technology – submitted 10 November 2001 – HSV made the following main points:
(a) Short ‘sunset’ clauses should accompany laws and guidelines on biotechnology to enable frequent reviews.
(b) Secular morality should underpin the approach to problems posed by modern medical advancements.
(c) Research carried out on a cluster of cells from the early pre-embryo offers major therapeutic benefits for all. We believe that there is a moral and societal obligation to promote such research.
(d) We believe that life starts at the beginning of consciousness in the foetus and not with the fertilised egg, given that some 50 per cent of these fail to implant and develop into an embryo.
(e) We reject the notion that assisted reproduction violates human dignity and state that dignity is born of love, respect and acceptance from parents, peers and community.
(f) We oppose instructions that allow the pre-embryo to succumb rather than be used for research. We support those who offer to create fertilised ova for research, as in the UK.
(g) We strongly support research on stem cells, given its great potential to alleviate human suffering.
(h) We oppose reproductive cloning of human beings and support its present ban.
(i) Research Ethics Committees should ensure that research is open to peer scrutiny and results become public property and should not be patented as ‘intellectual property’.
(j) We argue in favour of equal access to assisted reproduction by single and lesbian women. as emotional security in childhood appears to be the main factor in the well-being of the child.
(k) We enclosed the Position Statement and Recommendations of the Australian Academy of Sciences in support of our views.
 Migration and Humanitarian Programs – submitted 20 Feb. 2002 – In response to a call for submissions on 2002-2003 Migration and Humanitarian Programs and Associated Settlement Issues, HSV made these points within the set terms of reference:
(a) It is regrettable that the Swedish system of handling asylum seekers was deemed unsuited here.
(b) Australia’s reproduction rate falls below replacement levels. Adult migrants and those who overstayed their visits (some 60,000 illegals) make for our population growth.
(c) A large initially unskilled labour force could be utilised in regional areas to replace the drift of that population to the city, to carry out large scale repairs of our environmental degradation, and in large projects of transport and inland development.
(d) We believe that Australia can and should accept a proportion of refugees larger than the 12,000 we do now. Two decades ago, the number was 20,000.
(e) Hungarian and Czech migrants escaping the Soviet invasion of their countries arrived here without identity papers and have integrated and contributed to our society.
(f) Volunteers from established ethnic communities could help with language and ‘orientation’ courses for the new arrivals.
(g) As a signatory and one of the original drafters of the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, Australia should be compassionate and generous to the asylum seekers. Its present harsh treatment will be seen in the future as another dark period in our history.
 Religion, Diversity and Social Cohesion – submitted 7 April 2002 – HSV made the following main points in answer to specific questions:
(a) We see injustice and intolerance towards some sections of the community, e.g., indigenous Australians.
(b) Comparative Beliefs as a core subject in schools would engender tolerance rather than sectarianism.
(c) Self righteous, critical comments on the beliefs of others by many churches, the vilification of gays and lesbians and the denial of equal rights and status to women hinder the creation of social and moral capital.
(d) Matters of religion and State should be clearly separated and sectarian religious instruction be privately funded.
(e) Attempts to impose sectarian attitudes on the rest of the community are a matter of concern.
(f) The Law should be changed to acknowledge the equal value of secular services to the community, e.g., those provided by civil celebrants to be GST free, as is the case when provided by churches.
(g) We listed organisations we regard as harmful to social cohesion, such as Christian Identity Ministries, League of Rights, National Action and White Supremacists.
 Oaths and Affirmations in Court – submitted 14 July 2002 – HSV was invited to put a Humanist view to this committee at a public hearing on 1 August 2002. After giving a brief overview of Humanism as a life stance or philosophy, we made the following points:
(a) Use of an affirmation rather than an oath was non-discriminatory.
(b) Oath taking originated in a country with a State religion, something that does not apply in Australia.
(c) Though Australia was a largely Christian country in the past, it is now a distinctly pluralistic society.
(d) Those who claim the continued dominance of Christianity cite Census figures, which are derived from a single, biased question.
(e) A national social survey has shown Australians to be far less religious than indicated by the census data.
(f) Many application forms, e.g., for passports, opening a bank account, senior citizen’s card, expect truthful answers without relying on oath taking.
HSV received a copy of the Report by the Victorian Parliamentary Law Reform Inquiry into Oaths and Affirmations with Reference to the Multicultural Community after 52 submissions were received. Only one other secular group made a submission; Adelaide-based Atheist Foundation of Australia. Rosslyn Ives and Ray Dahlitz for HSV were among 28 witnesses who appeared before Committee of Inquiry. HSV was among several groups strongly advocating the removal of sworn oaths and favouring the use of a simple affirmation to ‘tell the truth’. In her evidence, Rosslyn used the CAHS ‘40%’ leaflet, which was quoted extensively in the final Report, as being critical of the accuracy of ABS census data on contemporary patterns of belief in Australia.
 Cloning and Stem Cell Research – submitted 11 September 2002 – HSV was invited to make a submission on the new aspects of research on human embryos and prohibition of human cloning that arose when the relevant Bills went before the Federal Parliament. We made the following points:
(a) We oppose reproductive cloning and support the licensed research on human cells, embryonic or adult, in the belief that this research offers potential treatment for people with damaged organs and offsets the great shortage of organs for transplantation.
(b) We note the opposition to such use of the surplus and to the discarded embryos is based on religious grounds. Problems arising from modern biotechnology should be resolved on the basis of secular morality, concerned with the needs of sentient human beings.
(c) We are concerned that a majority decision in favour of such research was overturned by a small minority of religious adherents. In our secular and democratic country, the credibility of our decision-making processes is thus diminished.
(d) We believe there is a moral obligation to use these cells for medical purposes, rather than discard them.
(e) We are encouraged in these views by the support given for this research by such individuals and organisations as Sir Gustav Nossal, Professor Peter Doherty, Professor Ian Lowe, the AMA, Australian Health Ethics Committee and the Australian Academy of Science.
(f) Should the proposed ban be imposed on this research, Australia will lose its leading place in biotechnology and our experts will emigrate to countries that allow this research, e.g., UK and Canada.
(g) We would like to see this research free from commercial constraints, open and accountable. We would like its benefits to be affordable to all in need.
(h) Any legislation or regulation should have a short sunset clause, in view of the rapid progress in biotechnology.
The published Report from these latest submissions showed that the churches and Right to Life groups greatly predominated on the list of submittals. Our main point on ‘supporting licensed research on human cells’ was quoted verbatim and noted as a minority view shared by the ethicist Professor Peter Singer and by Julian Savulescu, Professor of Applied Ethics, Oxford University.
 Aboriginal Health Research Guidelines – submitted 30 December 2002 – HSV responded to the call for submissions on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Health Research. In answer to specific questions, we made the following main points:
(a) Whenever cultural aspects and their profound effects on health and well-being are disregarded, medical treatments are at risk of failure.
(b) Mutual trust among all research stakeholders is pivotal to successful outcomes. Transparency and accountability of processes are essential.
(c) Wherever possible, the Aboriginal community should be involved in the implementation of research activity.
(d) The notion of ‘benefit’ is based on a value judgement. The Ethics Committees and the researchers must therefore establish that the research subjects share their concept of benefit.
(e) Legitimate community representatives should offer cultural advice. There must be agreements on the publication of outcomes and the degree of confidentiality.
(f) We find the concept of knowledge ownership of concern; sacred and secret knowledge held by some and not shared with others defies the issue of equality.
(g) The ‘risks and benefits’ equation common to all undertakings must be fully considered prior to research approval.
(h) Cultural distinctiveness should be respected and valued. But cultures are not static and evolve to adapt to change, to maximise survival and hopefully to eliminate harmful practices.
(i) We believe it is possible to accept the benefits of modern medicine and science to improve health without subjugation of values.
(j) As stated, indigenous communities, researchers and their proposals may be judged by differing sets of values.
(k) We urge that in view of the disproportionately high rates of morbidity and mortality among indigenous Australians, we provide:
(i) assisted training of indigenous health workers, e.g., doctors, nurses, therapists
(ii) resources and priority to research leading to immediate improvement of the health and longevity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
 Humanitarian Program 2003–04 – submitted dd mmm 2003 – HSV made the following main points within the terms of reference:
(a) Australia’s humanitarian programs are greatly discredited by events such as the ‘Tampa crisis’, ‘Children overboard affair’ and the ‘Pacific solution’, unlike the New Zealand’s prompt and compassionate way of dealing with their asylum seekers.
(b) We hope this program can revert to accepting 20,000 refugees per year, as was done in the past, rather than 12,000 as at present, as the countries where most refugees are fleeing from are rife with political and religious persecution.
(c) We recommend the Swedish model of dealing with asylum seekers and regret this process was deemed unsuitable here.
(d) Australia should give more funds to the UNHCR programs to assist countries of first asylum. Compared with countries closer to disturbances, we have a very small resettlement rate: one per cent of our population over 15 years.
(e) Sending refugees back to their country of origin should not be used as a deterrent to others. Australia should set up consular agencies in Indonesian ports and conduct interviews there.
(f) We are appalled by the decisions to expel almost all of the asylum seekers from East Timor, who escaped massacres in their country over a decade ago. They are well integrated into Australian society and have wide and warm support. This fact demonstrates the inherent Australian generosity and ‘fair go’ that cannot be expressed towards those asylum seekers who are imprisoned for years in distant isolation, treated as criminals, driven to despair and demonised by government propaganda.
 Ethics in Human Stem Cell Research – submitted dd mmm 2003 – To the call for submissions on the Code of Ethical Practice for human stem cell research, HSV made these main points in answer to questions:
(a) We regret the restrictions and prohibitions on this research that were imposed by the Federal legislation. The potential of this important work is thus curtailed. We note that the UK has a much less restrictive approach.
(b) There is a moral and social obligation to use the surplus IVF embryos for medical research rather than discard them as proposed.
(c) Problems presented by modern technology should be dealt with on the basis of secular ethics and morality, concerned with the benefits and needs of sentient human beings.
(d) Rules, legislation and codes of practice should be reviewed bi-annually, given the rapid growth in biotechnology.
(e) This code should not be applied retrospectively to work in progress.
(f) The autonomy of those who wish to donate their gametes for research should be respected.
(g) This research should be open, accountable and free from any commercial restraints, such as patents or confidentiality.
(h) The Government should foster public debate on this subject and respect the majority view.
(i) Compliance, monitoring and review should be carried out by bodies, such as the human research Ethics Committee and Biotechnology Safety and Ethics Unit.
 National Health Privacy Code – submitted 17 April 2003 – On the draft of the National Health Privacy Code, HSV made the following points:
(a) The Code should be as legally binding as that enacted by the Council of Europe.
(b) It should carry a sunset clause to deal with rapid IT changes.
(c) Health records should include: Advance Directives on end-of-life decisions, persons appointed with the Enduring Power of Attorney (Medical Treatment), instructions regarding organ donations and permission or otherwise on disclosure of health records for teaching and research.
(d) Law Enforcement Agencies’ access to health records should be authorised and monitored by an independent body.
(e) We oppose the destruction of any data. After seven years, data should be de-identified and placed in archives for demographic and epidemiological research.
(f) The selling of health records should be regulated by law. While government research is open to scrutiny, commercial organisations are not. We suggest that the sale of non-identifiable health information for commercial purposes be made on the condition that the use of this data is open to scrutiny.
(g) Corporatised medical services have greater potential to breach the Privacy Code. We urge that they be subject to special, legally binding rules and open to scrutiny.
 Human Rights Commission Bill 2003 – submitted 17 June 2003 – HSV’s submission to the Committee made the following points:
(a) We are deeply concerned about the proposed changes to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), as they undermine its independence and greatly reduce its power.
(b) Following significant cuts to HREOC’s budget, the Government now seeks to transfer much of its power to the Attorney-General’s office. This politicises HREOC’s activities.
(c) In its present structure, HREOC underpins the concept of separation of powers and is the main watchdog dealing with infringements of human rights by governments and NGOs.
(d) As Australia is the only Western democracy without a Bill of Rights, it is vital that HREOC maintains its independence, is better funded and has its powers strengthened.
(e) Of further concern in the area of human rights is Australia’s refusal to ratify and sign the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or the Convention against Torture, or the new UN statement on the Right to Self-Determination of Indigenous Peoples.
(f) Given Australia’s pioneering and proud role in formulating the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), we find the present disengagement from our former commitment alarming.
(g) Our continued mistreatment of the asylum-seekers, condemned both by the UN Committee on Human Rights and Amnesty International, casts a shadow on our record in this area.
(h) Combined, these regressive and harsh reforms damage our culture of tolerance, respect for human rights, compassion and fairness, and diminish us in the eyes of the civilised world.
 The Growing Rich–Poor Divide – submitted 20 July 2003 – HSV made the following main points:
(a) We support the calls for a summit to deal with this alarming trend.
(b) We listed findings by a number of authoritative reports on this subject.
(c) Economic and public sector changes imposed in the past decade resulted in a more unequal society.
(d) Governments must intervene to moderate the negative outcomes of reforms.
(e) Primary poverty should be target for special direct or indirect relief.
(f) The growing inequality of opportunity causes social polarisation and stress.
(g) Poverty denies access to education, adequate housing and good child nurture.
(h) The relegation of social support to charities and religious bodies may be seen as an abrogation of the government’s duty of care for its citizens.
(i) Accepting charity demeans and stigmatises.
(j) There is a rise in both excessive and inadequate hours of work, while the rise in casualisation of jobs compounds the inequality of income distribution.
(k) We support proposals for voluntary reallocation of work hours.
(l) We stress the need for job creation and suggest areas of priority such as Landcare, public transport infrastructure and water conservation.
(m) Long-term, unrelieved poverty causes social exclusion and polarity, loss of talent and an underclass that threatens the stability and health of society.
(n) Understandable resentment and cynicism develops in the community when tax avoidance schemes for the rich (e.g., off-shore tax havens) are tolerated.
 Changes to Medicare – submitted 11 August 2003 – HSV made the following main points:
(a) Medicare was established as a universal health cover system on the basis that along with schooling and the justice system, health services are a public good and underpin social equity.
(b) The proposed changes to Medicare will destroy this equity and create a two- or three-tiered health system based on income, as it is in the USA.
(c) We believe that the 30 percent subsidy to private health insurance destroys the integrity of a civil and egalitarian society.
(d) Hospital privatisation and the corporatisation of many medical clinics opened health care to market forces, which are noted for causing social inequity.
(e) Value for money from the private health insurance continues to decline in spite of the generous subsidy. The $2.5 billion private health insurance rebate should be put into the public health system, which covers everyone, and which is often used by the privately insured for emergencies. We applaud the proposed funding of additional medical school places, increase in GP trainees and nurses in GPs’ rooms.
(f) We urge the government to maintain the present universal health cover, to abolish the Private Health Insurance rebate, legislate to prevent the emergence of a tiered health care system and to invest in the cost-effective measures to prevent ill health.
 Tertiary Education Funding and Equity of Access – submitted 26 August 2003 – On the proposed changes to tertiary education, HSV made the following main points:
(a) Humanists believe that education is a public good, a significant national investment, and not a private benefit.
(b) The ‘user pays’ principle applied to the pursuit of skills and knowledge is a false economy. The nation benefits from high levels of expertise.
(c) Equality of access to educational opportunities underpins the concept of democracy. To deny this equity is to cause social exclusion and polarisation.
(d) Present access to university places is skewed in favour of private school students. The proposed changes will compound this inequity.
(e) The proposed 4,000 scholarships for disadvantaged students will not meet the needs of the 28,000 people from low-income families who seek to start higher education each year.
(f) Selection of students on their capacity to pay, rather than on academic merit, fosters financial elitism and is cost-ineffective.
(g) The prospect of rising course fees and a large increase in HECS debts will be a deterrent to all but those from wealthy families.
(h) Australia shows poorly compared with other OECD countries, where students pay a lower share of the cost of education.
(i) We propose:
(i) The creation of subsidised dedicated places in medical schools for country students to relieve the shortage of doctors in regional areas
(ii) A levy — a targeted tax as for Medicare — to be imposed to fund all levels of education adequately and equitably.
In the UK, a similar dispute drew sharp criticism from Jim Herrick, the Editor of New Humanist. He wrote: “Our present cabinet, most of whom have been so well served by their research-rich university experience, are planning to perform that most odious of tricks. They’ve got to the top and are about to remove the ladder.”
 Definition of a Charity – submitted 28 September 2003 – HSV made the following points within the terms of reference:
(a) Not-for-profit, voluntary organisations collectively play a vital social role.
(b) We support the Government’s proposal to accord charitable status to some child care and self-care groups.
(c) We disagree with the recommendation that closed or contemplative religious orders qualify as charities.
(d) We argue that public advocacy, as distinguished from lobbying, be allowed as a secondary purpose of charities.
(e) Encouraging religious organisations is inappropriate for secular Government.
(f) Public benefit purpose should include services that create ‘social capital’ by creating opportunities for community involvement and inclusion.
(g) Any commitment to religion we regard as a personal matter, which should not be funded in any way by the State.
(h) We strongly argue that altruistic purpose be a required feature in the definition of charity, for it underpins its very concept.
(i) Charities should dispense their benefits without unjust discrimination and in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN.
 MedicarePlus Proposals – submitted 15 December 2003 – HSV made the following main points:
(a) We regard the universality and equity of access to high quality, publicly-funded health services as a mark of a civilised society, as practiced in the UK and continental European countries.
(b) Such services are more efficient and less costly than the two-tier USA model.
(c) It is disappointing and regrettable that, in spite of election promises, the Government proposes to introduce social divisions among health care users based on their income.
(d) The provision of a ‘safety net’ ends our egalitarian system and introduces the notion of public health care as charity for the poor.
(e) We support incentives for doctors to bulk bill everyone. The argument that the well-off should not expect to be bulk billed at the taxpayers’ expense loses its validity in the context of the 30 per cent rebate from taxpayers’ money for their private health insurance. The $2.5 billion used for this rebate is an inequitable as well as inefficient distribution of public money.
(f) We support the proposed measures to increase the number of doctors and nurses for busy medical practices. The provision for additional places in medical schools, providing students can afford the cost of study, is a wise investment for the future.
(g) The recruitment of foreign doctors would provide a rapid relief to the current shortage of GPs. We suggest they should be selected from the well-qualified and be experienced. A short crash course on specifically local conditions (e.g., Ross River, Barmah Forest viruses) and some months of work, under supervision, in a range of public hospitals’ services, (wards, casualty, intensive care, etc.) would appear a useful required introduction to our health care standards.
(h) The outcome of the MedicarePlus Bill, in terms of increase in bulk-billing rates, is uncertain. We therefore urge that it carry a short sunset clause to enable an early review of its effect.
 Senate Reform (Sect. 57 of Constitution) – submitted 25 December 2003 – On proposed changes to the Senate’s powers, HSV made the following points:
(a) We welcome all measures to modernise our constitution and quote Sir Gerard Brennan’s comments on this matter.
(b) The evolution of the Senate from a States’ house to a house of review is an enhancement of our democracy; its system of committees is of particular value.
(c) The Senate’s role should not be as a rubber stamp for all attempts at reform, but as part of checks on executive power.
(d) Having passed 90 percent of all Bills of this Government, it cannot be seen as obstructionist. Its power to block supply—the ultimate obstruction—should be repealed.
(e) The concept of total mandate for all Government actions is disputed by several aspects of our electoral system. Voters appear to give a mandate to the Senate by voting for a major party in the lower house and a minor one in the upper.
(f) We support the second option to change Section 57 to deal with deadlocks, provided a fixed, four-year term of office is introduced and supply blocking is repealed.
(g) Joint sitting of both houses to resolve deadlocks to take place only after a general election following a full term in office.
(h) We expect that issues at the core of the deadlocked Bills be canvassed in the election campaign.
(i) We suggest some other urgent changes to our constitution, such as the repeal of Section 25; more federal powers to regulate the modem economy and to mitigate the negative aspects of globalisation; to include or attach a Bill of rights to our constitution.
 Humanitarian Migration Program, 2004–05 – submitted 16 February 2004 – HSV made the following main points:
(a) We urged that Australia’s harsh detention regime be modified by a speedier processing system and for the controlled release into the community, particularly of women and children.
(b) The appeals systems, often the cause of lengthy delays, should be restructured to provide an independent assessment of cases. The Department should not be able to appeal the cases it loses, thus causing more delays.
(c) The Immigration Department should be obliged by law to inform asylum seekers of their rights.
(d) We believe we can and should return to the previous quota of around 20,000 annual intake and not the reduced number of 12,000.
(e) Rapidly changing geopolitical circumstances require adjustments in policy. Most migrants now originate from places in political, religious and ethnic turmoil with life-threatening conditions. It would be reprehensible to force these people to return under our refoulement policy.
(f) The offshore selection of skilled and educated migrants and the influx of overseas tourists, students, business and other short-term visitors who decide to remain here meets our traditional migration goals, but does not qualify as a humanitarian approach.
 Ethical Aspects of Xenotransplantation – submitted 8 March 2004 – On research into xenotransplantation, HSV made the following main points:
(a) The HSV supports strict regulation of this research.
(b) Proposed regulations are based on highly ethical principles.
(c) We support the advice of the Australian Infection Control Association on possible emergence of a new infective agent.
(d) We suggest that initially research be carried out in an isolated facility well-equipped for infection control.
(e) This research should be centralised to avoid duplication of procedures.
(f) It should require a licence restricted to carefully selected experts in this field.
(g) On funding: we strongly urge that this research and practice remain in the public domain to ensure equity of access and prevent any new knowledge becoming the property of sponsoring companies.
(h) Close cooperation with overseas research in this area would be highly desirable.
 Civil Union and Relationship Bill (New Zealand) – submitted August 2004 – To the NZ Parliament, HSV submitted the following points in support of the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists:
(a) Given the tragic consequences of homophobia, it is incumbent on the legislators to protect the rights of gays and those in long-term committed, de facto relationships.
(b) Legal recognition would protect the emotional and economic well-being of these families, protect the legal rights of their children and remove judicial discrimination.
(c) It is often stated, but untrue, that only the traditional marriage can provide a happy childhood. Many children suffer appalling treatment within unions recognised by law.
(d) Condemnations of same-sex couples stem from religious proscriptions restricting sexual activity to procreation. Modern partnerships also express commitment and love through intimate contact.
(e) The number of committed de facto and same-sex couples continues to rise and several jurisdictions have passed laws recognising such unions (e.g., Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Portugal, Greenland, State of Ontario, City of New York).
 Commercial Confidentiality in Government – Submitted 2 September 2004 – HSV made the following points:
(a) We are concerned about the over-use of the clause ‘commercial: in confidence'(CIC) to avoid disclosure, accountability and scrutiny. This denies the citizen’s ‘right to know’ about the conduct of their government and various enterprises, and the ability to make informed decisions.
(b) Privatization, outsourcing and public-private-partnerships (PPS) create secrecy, which causes suspicion, mistrust and cynicism towards government.
(c) Most Freedom of Information (FOI) requests are rejected on CIC grounds and therefore no longer serve their initial purpose.
(d) We quote experts in support of the view that disclosure would enhance rather than inhibit competition. In UK, NZ and USA, full details of contracts are routinely published.
(e) Some outsourced activities result in human rights abuses, e.g., in some private prisons and detention centres, manufacturing in sweatshops, the use of child labour, and the use of mercenaries in military operations that do not comply with the Geneva Convention. Such outsourcing is an abrogation of duty of care and of due process by the government. We quote some instances of such abuse.
(f) We list the disadvantages of lack of disclosure in PPSs and quote public accountability and disclosure as the core value of good corporate citizenship, as set out in the UN Global Compact.
(g) We made several recommendations to amend existing laws towards more open and democratic governance.
 Ethics in Biotechnology (Victoria) – submitted 12 January 2005 – In response to an invitation from the Department of Human Services to comment on the final draft of Ethical Principles to Guide Biotechnical Research in Victoria, HSV submitted the following comments (supported by two relevant articles from New Scientist):
(a) Humanists believe that ethical problems arising from modern biotechnology should be resolved on the basis of secular morality concerned with the needs and benefits of sentient humans, and not by the tenets of various belief systems.
(b) Openness and transparency should be paramount in ethical research and the ‘commercial in confidence’ clause should be seen as unethical.
(c) A well-informed consent should be sought from all persons taking part or being affected by the research.
(d) Prevention of poorly tested medicines (e.g., Vioxx) and chemicals (e.g., DDT) being released and providing a more thorough modelling of likely risks of Genetically Modified (GM) foods.
(e) Commercial interests and constraints (patents, claims of intellectual property) must not affect the fair distribution of research benefits.
(f) Compliance with the Code of Conduct should be monitored and the Code reviewed biannually.
 Corporal Punishment of Children – submitted 26 February 2005 – HSV made the following main points to the Commission reviewing assault laws (1987):
(a) Humanists regard all forms of corporal punishment as a legacy of our barbaric past. We oppose the old, common notion that discipline comes ‘through the rod’.
(b) Smacking is a failed, destructive and costly method of discipline. Ill effects persist for years in destroying the sense of dignity, self-worth and security. Violence becomes acceptable.
(c) We quote large-scale national research in support of this view.
(d) We point out instances where the civilising process was achieved by legislative change.
(e) We list countries where child smacking was declared an assault and outlawed. This complies with the UN and UNICEF charters on the needs and rights of the child.
(f) We quote from the address given to HSV by the former Chief Justice of the Family Court, Justice Alastair Nicholson OA (10 October 1997, at the Fred Hollows Memorial Dinner, Dallas Brook Hall) and enclose a copy of his speech.
 Ethics in Research on Humans – submitted 15 March 2005 – On the new, reviewed National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research on Humans, HSV made the following brief comments:
(a) We congratulated the authors of this Statement on establishing a high ethical standard for this type of research.
(b) The changes incorporated in this revised Statement will greatly reduce the potential for abuse that is inherent in this type of research.
(c) On the composition of Human Research Ethics Committees (HERC) that approve or do not approve any given research project, we believe that there should be one member with a background in applied, secular ethics to balance the presence of the religious leaders.
 Ethics in Biotechnology (Victoria) – submitted 13 April 2005 – In response to questions on the Victorian Statement of Ethical Principles for Biotechnology, HSV made the following main comments:
(a) The format, definitions and explanations are clear, necessary and adequate.
(b) Of particular value is the now enlarged list of Ethical Principles (Section 6).
(c) The map of ethical controls is a very informative and useful document.
(d) We suggest that the field of embryo research into early human development, genetic transmission of disease, causes of miscarriage, means of safe contraception, etc., should be added to this Statement.
(e) On a definition of ethical principles, we favour the Consequentialist Theory of Ethics where actions are aimed at the best possible outcomes in a given set of circumstances.
(f) We are concerned with the entirely voluntary nature in the adoption of this set of principles and we recommend that they be given legislative status.
(g) We strongly support the principle of respect for persons, based on their dignity and autonomy, but we do not extend that inherent dignity to the genome. We, therefore, do not believe the notion of human dignity applies to the zygote or embryo.
(h) Justice requires the prevention of special privilege, which would curtail equal distribution of the benefits of research.
(i) We queried the use of the ‘commercial in confidence’ clause and asked how it could avoid being seen as a smokescreen for unethical activity.
 Gene Technology Ethics – submitted 7 October 2005 – To the Gene Technology Ethics Committee (GTEC) on their final (third) Consultation Draft, National Framework of Ethical Principles in Gene Technology, HSV made the following points:
(a) We congratulate the GTEC on formulating a set (10) of good principles.
(b) Of particular value is the attention given to the long-term protection of the environment.
(c) Principle 9—the equitable distribution of the benefits of gene technology, sharing knowledge, particularly with those in developing countries—underpins ethical behaviour in all medical and scientific research.
(d) We are concerned that the need for transparency of aims and procedures has not been adequately stressed. This essential aspect of new technologies may be curtailed by commercial interests or scientific rivalry.
(e) The expedient, frequent use of the commercial-in-confidence clause prevents scrutiny. It should be deemed unethical in the context of all medical and scientific research.
(f) Without total transparency in this research, the public will be justifiably suspicious and averse to the products of gene technology.
 Use of Drug RU486 – submitted 20 January 2006 – HSV expressed support for the medically supervised use of the drug RU486 (mifepristone) as an abortifacient for the following reasons:
(a) Women have a fundamental right to decide and make choices about their bodies.
(b) Every child should be a wanted child.
(c) Evidence shows that around 50 percent of women seeking an abortion would prefer a chemical option to surgery.
(d) Medical bodies (W.H.O., A.M.A., Australian and NZ College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Public Health Association of Australia) regard the use of RU486 as less likely to result in serious complications than abortion by surgical procedure.
(e) The continued use for several years in 33 countries (e.g., US, most of Europe, Russia, Israel, China) has established a strong case for the safe use of RU486 in Australia.
(f) It is an anomaly for a minister, with or without medical training, to decide on the safety of a drug, rather than the experts in the T.G.A.
(g) We deplore the use of political pressure exerted by sectarian bodies, intolerant of the rights of others, to make different personal and social choices from the position they advocate so vociferously.
 Ethical Conduct in Human Research – submitted 30 March 2006 – Invited to comment on a revised National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, HSV made the following main points:
(a) The changes incorporated into the new statement meet complexities and current concerns in biotechnology.
(b) In addition to the basic ethical principles (respect for human beings, research merit and integrity, justice, beneficence), we would like to see more emphasis on other values, such as altruism, and social goals, which are being eroded in the current climate of individualism and materialism.
(c) Collected data and specimens should be re-identifiable in the interest of increasing knowledge.
(d) Compliance with requests for anonymity or time embargo should be mandatory.
(e) We suggest that foetal tissue be included in the chapter on human tissues. Its use for transplantation or research falls into the category of organ donation.
(f) Inherent difficulties of research involving children are dealt with sensitively.
(g) We strongly support a national register for Advance Directives. The existing Organ Donor Register should be augmented to contain directives regarding medical treatment, artificial life supports in hopeless conditions and preference for burial or cremation. Directives of competent adults or their agents with power of attorney should be acted upon out of respect for a person’s autonomy and to prevent non-compliance by family members.
(h) Ethics Committees should have at least one member with a background of applied secular ethics to balance possible religious bias of other members.
 Ethics in Organ and Tissue Donation after Death – submitted 18 April 2006 – On the Consultation Draft of Ethical Guidelines in Organ and Tissue Donations after Death, HSV made the following points:
(a) Humanists everywhere strongly support the altruistic act of organ donation.
(b) HSV commends the current review of ethics involved in this issue and hopes that the changes to the Australian Organ Donor Register will result in higher rates of donations here.
(c) We suggest that the Donor Register be updated periodically to note any changes in donors’ consent and in their health status as a safe organ donor.
(d) We support the proposed mutual consent register to deal with the sensitivities of contact between donor families and transplant recipients.
(e) This very complex but vital health service requires adequate funding, which is lacking at present. We see such funding as cost-effective in the long term.
(f) The needs of grieving family members are well considered and provided for.
(g) We strongly support the ethical guidelines underpinning the allocation process, which must be just and free from bias and discrimination on any but medical grounds.
(h) We state our firm belief that a person’s autonomy and clearly stated expression of altruism and responsibility should be respected at all times. Thus, we cannot agree with a recommendation allowing family objection to donation to prevail over the known intention of the potential donor.
(i) To alleviate the distress felt by family members unable to accept the decision of the donor, we suggest a brochure on the relevant aspects of this problem, issued to the donor to aid in family discussion on the need to respect one’s wishes and autonomy.
 Equity in Access to Education – submitted dd Mmm 2006 – HSV made the following main points:
(a) We are concerned about the growing erosion of educational equality.
(b) Access to education is vital now, when knowledge and expertise form the basis of national and personal prosperity.
(c) We urge increased public funding for all levels of schooling and regard this as a cost-effective investment in the nation’s human resources.
(d) When left to market forces, society and education lose much of its human potential.
(e) The very high cost of tertiary education—prohibitive for many—creates a divide between the educational haves and have-nots, leading to an upstairs-downstairs society. Egalitarianism, an attractive Australian value, is thus violated.
(f) Globally, there is an increasing trend to invest in education. This is not evident in Australia. Our schools and universities have to rely on fund raising.
(g) Decreasing funding and legislation shift the cost of education on to our students, who already meet a greater share of cost of their studies than students in other countries.
(h) Discounts on up-front payments favour the more affluent; this discrimination should be removed by granting Austudy payments to those who find the fees beyond their means.
(i) Public funding is needed to protect universities from commercial pressures, which erode the pursuit of excellence.
There is a widening disparity in the provision of resources in our secondary education system, evident in the two-tiered private-public school divide. Thus, it is difficult for government school students to gain admission to universities, while the resource-rich private schools produce a much higher proportion of such students. Clearly, parental wealth and not academic merit is the determinant here. We oppose the notion of elite schools. It is important that society’s future leaders, be they judges, public servants, educators, scientists, artists or medicos, should come from all social levels, not only the privileged. It is beneficial for such future leaders to have interaction and experience with a wide cross-section of the community.
 Humanitarian Migration Program 2007–08 – submitted 25 January 2007 – On invitation from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, HSV submitted the following main points on the offshore programme:
(a) HSV continues to support the underlying precepts of this section.
(b) In answering the question on how to find those in greatest need of resettlement, we point to the situation in Darfur, now called ‘the first genocide of the 21st century’.
(c) As many villages in Darfur have been obliterated by bombing, the few people who do survive will not have homes to return to at the end of this tragic conflict. More than a million refugees are now in squalid camps in Chad. All qualify under our categories for the Humanitarian Programme, as they face not just discrimination but death.
(d) We urge that Australia offer to accept a large contingent of Darfurin refugees, as we did in response to the Tiananmen Square massacre in China.
(e) We propose a scheme to facilitate their integration into our community and quote comments made by experts in this area.
On the onshore programme, HSV submitted the following main points:
(a) We deplore the suffering inflicted on the asylum seekers in the detention centres, which destroy their dignity and identity and violate their basic rights.
(b) The high security jails, such as Baxter, should be replaced by reception centres run by the state and not by private agencies. Checks of health, identity and security should be made with no delay.
(c) When granted permission to apply for refugee status, asylum seekers should be free to stay with supportive individuals and be given interim visas, so they can work or use the assistance scheme until refugee status is granted.
(d) Our offshore detention centres on excised islands are a mean device and inhumane. This treatment of asylum seekers damages our reputation as a generous nation.
 Global Warming and Climate Change – submitted 17 February 2007 – HSV made the following points:
(a) Victorian Humanists are convinced that unrestricted use of fossil fuel is no longer sustainable.
(b) We urge the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and the use of our potential to lead in solar, wind and geothermal technologies.
(c) Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced promptly and markedly. They should become costly, while development of renewable energy technologies are given every support.
(d) Strict and mandatory energy efficiency should be required in all appliances and, especially, in cars.
(e) At present, we are not convinced that the use of nuclear energy is beneficial. Dangers of waste disposal, high cost and time lag in development argue against it. We need immediate, clean energy production.
(f) We urge the Government to resist vested interests’ pressures and to act promptly for the whole nation.
(g) We suggest the formation of a special commission with high expertise on climate change and powers to implement appropriate measures and oversee their compliance.
(h) This generation will stand accused of gross irresponsibility by subsequent generations if we do not act urgently to preserve their living space.
 Assisted Reproductive Technology – submitted dd June 2007 – On Ethical Guidelines for the use of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), HSV made the following main points:
(a) We express general support for the stated principles guiding ART and find the complex issues well considered.
(b) Gamete donors should have the prerogative to have excess embryos created for their IVF so that this excess can be used for research. We applaud such acts of altruism.
(c) Humanists regard the disposal of excess IVF embryos, rather than their use, an irresponsible action. It denies the opportunity to gain vital knowledge of early development, transmission of genetic disorders and other disease processes.
(d) Issues of privacy and confidentiality should be highlighted, given the unprecedented ease of access to personal data.
(e) We strongly oppose commercial trading in human gametes, for ethical and safety reasons.
(f) We urge that sex selection be used only to avoid transmission of genetic disorders and not as a matter of preference or to create a ‘balanced family’.
(g) We believe that surrogacy should not be prohibited by law and should be regulated by uniform national legislation to prohibit conditions in which harm or exploitation can occur.
(h) While we would prefer that all surrogacies be altruistic, there will inevitably be demand for commercial ones. Prohibition will drive the practice ‘underground’, where safeguards and health checks might not be observed.
 Community Organisations – submitted 15 July 2007 – On the inquiry into the Stronger Community Organisation Project, HSV made the following points:
(a) Humanists regard not-for-profit organisations as important parts of the social fabric.
(b) We describe the activities and areas of interest of the HSV.
(c) Such activities and the participation in public debates are an important part of the democratic process.
(d) To increase the capacity and improve sustainability of such groups, we propose:
i) provision of low-cost venues for the meetings and other activities (debates, lectures , etc.)
ii) subsidies for the cost of insurance and security at these venues
iii) regular training courses for managers and committees of such groups
iv) provision of technical support for videoconferencing to overcome geographic barriers and rural isolation.
In response to our submission, HSV received the Report, recommendations and Victoria’s Action Plan to strengthen such organisations. $13.87 million was committed for this action. We received a letter of thanks for our input from the Minister for Community Development, the Hon. Peter Batchelor MP.
 National Bill of Rights – submitted 20 March 2008 – In its submission, HSV made the following general and specific points:
(a) We join a growing number of prominent citizens and legal experts to call for a national Bill of Rights.
(b) We support the nexus between rights and responsibilities and consider that both should be enshrined in law.
(c) A number of abuses of basic human rights during the previous government revealed deficiencies in protection of individual rights in Australia and created a climate of fear and insecurity. A Bill of Rights is now a matter of urgency.
(d) We view the formulation of human rights conventions by the UN in 1948 as one of the great civilising steps in the progress of humankind.
(e) It is a matter of pride to us that Australia played such a leading role in formulating these conventions sixty years ago.
(f) It is a matter of embarrassment that Australia is now alone in the Western world without a national Bill of Rights.
(g) We favour a statute-based Bill, such as the UK Human Rights Act, which retains the legislative power of the Parliament.
(h) Human rights in Australia are poorly protected by common law: there are gaps and ambiguities. Minority groups and the disadvantaged need a specific statute of protection.
(i) The Bill should incorporate principles of human rights covenants to which Australia is a signatory and adopt the best aspects of existing Bills in UK, NZ, Canada and South Africa.
(j) Humanists consider that the law in all its forms has a powerful educative role and shapes a civilised society. Therefore, all aspects of human rights should be detailed in law.
In his response, the Federal Attorney-General advised that the Federal Government will undertake an Australia-wide consultation to determine how best to protect human rights, with a national Charter or Bill of Rights being an option. He encourages us to make our views known to this future enquiry.
 Euthanasia Laws Repeal Bill 2008 – submitted 2 April 2008 – In support of the Repeal Bill, HSV made the following points:
(a) Humanists regarded the Northern Territory Rights of the Terminally Ill Act as a compassionate and civilised approach to dying with dignity.
(b) We were dismayed when this bill was overturned. It denied the democratic rights to the territories. It omitted the operative voluntary and denied in Australia the rights now being granted in other countries.
(c) We respect the rights of those who wish to prolong their dying, and submit that the rights of those who seek assistance in shortening this process while terminally ill should be respected. At the core of the issue is the person’s autonomy.
(d) A law that denies the relief of prolonged suffering in terminally ill humans, but enforces it in cases of other animals is an incongruous, wrong law.
(e) Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Oregon USA permit voluntary euthanasia under strict legal and medical supervision. There is no evidence of the predicted slippery slope.
(f) Three Australians over the age of 75 commit suicide every week. 80 per cent of Australians support PAD (physician-assisted dying) and this attitude cuts across religious and political divides. 58 per cent of doctors now support this proposal.
(g) The practice now occurs in a clandestine manner and it is essential that it be open to scrutiny.
(h) The present law puts the caring physician in breach of it.
The Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee notified HSV that our submission has been released as a public document.
 National Security Legislation Amendments 2009 – submitted dd Mmm 2009 – HSV made the following main points:
(a) We support the aim to correct the draconian measures introduced by the previous government.
(b) We complained about the inadequate time allowed to examine the new proposals.
(c) We asked that the changes be consistent with our human rights commitments as signatories to international covenants, particularly in view of the regrettable absence of a Bill of Rights in this country.
(d) We urge an education campaign be run on acceptable social behaviour.
(e) The crime of urging violence should also protect individuals’ sexual orientation as well as the stated race, religion, national origin and political allegiance.
(f) We support the removal of the crime of sedition, as it violates the right to free speech.
(g) We urge that Control Orders and Preventative Detention Orders be removed for they violate the presumption of innocence, a hallmark of a civilised jurisdiction. A detained person must be given the right to contact a lawyer and inform the family of their detention.
(h) We strongly oppose the extension of police powers to search premises without a warrant. In case of emergency, as stated, the permit should be sought from authorities immediately after the event.
(i) The proposed penalty of ten years jail for a terrorist hoax offence requires further clauses that would exclude, for example, a schoolboy making a bomb threat to his school.
 Affordable Social Housing – submitted dd Mmm 2009 – In its submission, HSV stressed the importance of more spending on public and social housing to ensure people have secure and decent accommodation. HSV also made these additional points to State and Federal ministers:
(a) We deplored the lack of affordable housing for those who are homeless, at risk of becoming homeless, have a disability, receive a pension or are on a low income.
(b) We suggested that the money allocated for rent assistance could be better spent as it has proved inflationary and negative gearing has gone to the top end of the market.
(c) We pointed out that approximately 250,000 rental units are needed, but current spending will only provide 20,000.
(d) We noted $750 million has been diverted away from public housing by the Federal government.
 Inquiry into Suicide in Australia – submitted dd Mmm 2009 – HSV made the following main points and recommendations:
(a) Suicide should be openly acknowledged and confronted as an issue of mental and medical health. Programs of self-empowerment for high risk groups should be developed. The high rate of suicide among males deserves special methods of prevention. (We listed several initiatives.)
(b) The recently published alarming rates of suicide among Indigenous people (40% higher than the national average) require culturally sensitive remedies, such as the programs introduced in the Gove Peninsula in the Northern Territory.
(c) Gay and lesbian (bisexual, transgender and intersex) young people are among high-risk groups, due to their social stigma and invisibility created by pervasive homophobia of our society. Such prejudice, like racism and xenophobia, can lead to grave consequences and should be countered in a vigorous educational campaign for schools and the general community.
(d) The high incidence of suicide among older persons (twice that of the general rate) is mostly due to the fear of suffering an undignified death in the absence of legal assistance by physicians. We stress the need for such legal means for death with dignity.
(e) We comment on the need for teachers to be alert to symptoms of depression or self-harm. Of recent concern are the suicides as a result of bullying in schools including cyber-bullying. We ask that laws be enacted to criminalise such activities, similar to sanctions imposed for hate incitements. We suggest that the internet be used to promote positive attitudes and behaviour.
 Patentable Subject Matter: Options – submitted dd Mmm 2009 – Following HSV’s submission in September 2008, we were invited to make a submission. HSV made the following main points:
(a) There is a need for consistency of language and concepts with other jurisdictions.
(b) There needs to be a list of subject matters that are specifically excluded.
(c) A ‘mere discovery’ should certainly be excluded.
(d) There needs to be a mechanism to revoke a patent when unforeseen, unacceptable results occur in its use and to establish the role of the courts in assessing such cases.
(e) We expressed support for the proposal to establish an advisory panel to the Commissioner of Patents to create a greater community input.
(f) We reiterated our previously stated Humanist view that matters of ethics and human well-being should take precedence over the commercialisation of intellectual properties.
(g) Patenting of some human genes and allowing monopolies on genetic testing are examples of the unacceptable aspects of the present system.
We enclosed a newspaper report in support of our views.