Monthly Archives: May 2017

NSW Pollies ‘Keep the Faith’ on Abortion Bill

To cries of “shame” from the pubic gallery, the NSW parliament, this week, voted against a bill which sought to decriminalise abortion. The bill’s other reforms included a requirement for anti-abortion doctors to refer patients to doctors who are willing to help them and called for 150 metre safe-access zones around abortion clinics to protect women from ‘pro-life’ protestors.

As journalist, Tracey Spicer, reminded us on Twitter this afternoon:

“One-in-three Australian women will have an abortion during their lifetime. I did. We deserve better than to be treated as criminals.”

Spicer quoted from her recent memoir, The Good Girl Stripped Bare:

“The ability of women to control their bodies is critical to civil rights. If the government forces you to continue a pregnancy, what about using contraception or undergoing sterilisation? It’s a slippery slope. Bottom line? It’s my body, not yours.”

It beggars belief that Dr Mehreen Faruqi’s (Greens) sensible and humane bill was rejected by the NSW parliament. The views of those who voted against the bill are completely out of step with their constituents.

Polls and surveys undertaken over the last 30 years have consistently shown majority community support for abortion rights.

Importantly,  a 2010 study of practicing obstetricians and gynaecologists in Australia identified  “broad support among responding specialist obstetricians and gynaecologists and trainees for the availability of induced abortion in Australia”.

If politicians are elected to represent the views and interests of their constituents in consultation with experts in relevant fields, why was this bill defeated?

It seems clear there is some other agenda at play.

I looked at the list of politicians who voted against the bill.

I found five (21 percent) of the 24 politicians who opposed it have the dubious honour of being listed on the Australian Christian Values Institute’s  ‘Hall of Fame’: Robert Brown, David Clarke, Shoquette Moselmane, Fred Nile and Duncan Gay.

That was an incentive to explore the religious connection further.

My investigation found 66 percent (16) of the dissenting politicians seem to have some religious affiliation or belief.

I was unable to find no religious connections or convictions for only 7 of the 24 dissenters (29 percent).

Of those who opposed the bill:

  • 25 percent (6) were Catholic: Robert Borsak, David Clarke, Greg Donnelly, Greg Pearce, Ernest Wong and Catherine Cusack.

“My high school years were spent under the guiding influence of the Brothers and the devoted lay teachers at Christian Brothers College in Fremantle … [Pope John Paul II’s] tireless promotion of the innate dignity of the human person and life itself was, and will continue to be, an inspiring example for all of us.” – First Speech – Greg Donnelly (Labor)

David Clarke is a co-operator of the Opus Dei prelature of the Roman Catholic Church, and is considered to have conservative Christian views. His wife is a member of Opus Dei.” – Wikipedia

“Another layer of cultural influence was added by my parent’s choice of a Jesuit senior school in which the additional values of Catholic social justice, ethical thinking and deep respect for education featured prominently.” – First Speech – Ernest Wong (Labor)

29 percent (7) seem to identify with or have connections with various Protestant faiths:  Scott Farlow, Scot MacDonald, Shayne Mallard, Paul Green, Fred Nile, Natasha MacLaren-Jones, Bronnie Taylor

“I enter this place a Christian and wish to acknowledge in this Chamber Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour, the King of Kings. I bring my Christian values to this place, as much as they are the values that define me.” – First Speech – Scott Farlow (Liberal)

Perhaps Farlow should be reminded of the disclaimer he made after making such a strong declaration of faith:  “I believe in Christian values and I seek to uphold them, I do not believe it is my place to legislate them … I do not believe the Bible, Torah, Quran or any religious text should be used as the yardstick for determining public policy.”

“I value our Judea [sic] Christian foundations.”  – First Speech – Scot MacDonald (Liberal)

“… over the years I have also worked constructively with Hillsong and the Salvation Army as an elected local councillor” – First Speech – Shayne Mallard (Liberal)

“… I must acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ, who has led me to this place to serve the people of this great State … The Christian Democratic Party seeks to support and promote pro-Christian and pro-family policies for the benefit of all Australians, and to ensure that all legislation is brought into conformity with Christian principles …” – First Speech – Paul Green (Christian Democratic Party)

“My parents instilled in me the important values and beliefs of personal responsibility, Christianity … Being part of a very close-knit family myself, based on Christian values ….” – First Speech – Natasha MacLaren-Jones (Liberal)

Two (8 percent) are ‘Christian’ but I was unable to pinpoint a denomination: Lou Amato, Rick Colless.

“It is with a joyful heart that I thank God for granting me the privilege of serving as a member of the Legislative Council. I also ask God to continue to offer me guidance and wisdom so that I may discharge my duties with honesty and integrity. “ – First Speech – Lou Amato (Liberal)

In 2012 Rick Colless refused to vote in favour of a motion to urge the federal parliament to support same-sex marriage on the basis of his “Christian background”

One (4 percent) is Muslim: Shaoquette Moselmane.

I was unable to find any religious connections for Robert Brown, Ben Franklin, Duncan Gay, Trevor Khan, Niall Blair, Taylor Martin, Peter Phelps, or Sarah Mitchell (33 percent) – although that does not mean there are none.

“Given the overwhelming public and medical support for decriminalising abortion, Duncan Gay also seems to have ignored his own guidelines in voting against the bill:  ““My own overriding belief is that Government should reflect the views of the people whose franchise we all hold and most definitely not lead in the direction of our own philosophies. The lessons of history, of what happens when governments do not reflect the true feelings of the people, should be acknowledged.” – First Speech – Duncan Gay (Nationals)

Whether for religious or political reasons, none of these 24 politicians represented the views of the majority of NSW residents, nor the best interests of women. None of them acted in line with expert medical opinion.

As Catholic MLC Catherine Cusack said in her opening speech to Parliament:

“I close by drawing on the great example and words of the Hon. Virginia Chadwick on the occasion of her maiden speech some 25 years ago: It is my hope that I may give account of myself in this Parliament so that at the end I can say, in the words of St Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” – First Speech – Catherine Cusack (Liberal)

You certainly have, Ms Cusack. But, only in a theocracy is ‘keeping the faith’ of St Paul the role of a politician. Your job is not to ‘keep the faith’ but to represent the views of the people who elected you.

In this instance, neither you, nor your colleagues, have kept faith with the people you represent.

Chrys Stevenson

Hillsong Church vs a Woman of ‘Impeccable Character’

Tanya Levin – a woman of impeccable character

What kind of bastardry does it take to for a multi-million dollar enterprise (in league with the NSW Police) to pursue a criminal conviction against a single mother for two years over a minor infringement she had no clue she had committed?

What if that single mother’s career – her only source of income – depended on a clean record?

What if the woman’s only crime was standing in a non-ticketed area, on a public concourse, outside a publicly owned convention venue?

Petty? Nasty? A waste of police resources and precious court time? Lacking in common sense? Yes!  All of these things. But, what if it’s far worse than that?

What if the organisation intent on destroying the life, career and financial security, (not only of this woman, but her teenage son), was a church? Hillsong Church.

And what if this church, which put a woman through hell for two years for the crime of walking on a public footpath, was closely linked to the state’s commissioner of police? What if the commissioner of police was so closely allied to this church and its leadership, he actually attended the conference where she was arrested?

That’s the position my friend, writer and social worker, Tanya Levin, found herself in over the past two years.

When Hillsong held their annual convention at Olympic Park in Sydney in 2015, the television show, A Current Affair, asked her for an interview outside the convention venue.

Tanya grew up in Hillsong Church. In 2007, her memoir, People in Glass Houses: An Insider’s Story of a Life In and Out of Hillsong, was published to great acclaim and wide publicity. Tanya wrote the book critically, but with no malice. As she transitioned from teenager to adult, Tanya’s religious and political views changed and she became increasingly uneasy about the church’s values, priorities and wealth. But, her book (which I’ve read twice) was not a hatchet job. At worst, it was a fair and balanced account of her personal views on a very public and very wealthy organisation. As Hillsong sued neither Tanya nor the publisher, one can only assume any negative claims made in the book were truthful and not defamatory. Yet, hyper-sensitive to any kind of questioning or criticism, the church slapped Tanya with a life-time ban in 2005 for daring to disagree publicly with church leader, Bobbi Houston.

In her book, Tanya describes how she tried hard to do the right thing by Hillsong. She wrote twice to church leaders, Brian and Bobbi Houston, asking for an interview to get their side of the story, but she was refused. She genuinely didn’t want to be unfair. Tanya went back to the church to observe a service in case things had changed since she was a member of the congregation: the Houstons had her forcibly removed by security!

Eight years later, the Houstons’ wrath had clearly not cooled. As Tanya stood with the television crew, outside the convention venue, on a public concourse, they were approached by police and told they were ‘trespassing’. The claim was that Hillsong had rented both the stadium and the area surrounding it. Despite the concourse area being open to passing members of the public, as an outspoken critic of the church, ‘banned-for-life’ Tanya Levin was not welcome. Tanya and the ACA team complied and moved to another area. In fact, the police record states Tanya ran to comply with their request!

After the interview, Tanya inadvertently stepped back into a space designated as ‘private’ (although there was no barrier, marking or other indication to delineate it). Now, she was beckoned back well inside the ‘perimeter’ by a police officer. She was astonished to be told, as this was her second infringement, she was under arrest.

As Tanya said to me privately, “I’m South African and terrified of the police. It’s weird. If a policeman tells me to move, I move!”

There is absolutely no way she would have trespassed intentionally. Anyone who knows Tanya knows that. The irony is that two people who know Tanya best – who have known her since childhood – are Hillsong’s leaders, Brian and Bobbi Houston.

The police record also notes, ominously, that Tanya was seen ‘speaking to children’. The truth is, after her interview, a 15 year old approached Tanya to ask why she’d been moved on by police. Natural curiosity. Tanya, politely, asked the young lady  if she enjoyed attending Hillsong. The girl replied “no”: she was forced to attend by her foster family. She said Brian Houston made disparaging remarks about people suffering from mental illness and it made her uncomfortable because she had ‘mental problems’. That was the extent of the conversation – entirely at the instigation of the young lady. God forbid she should grow up to voice any criticism of the Houstons or their church or she may find herself in the same position as Tanya!

Tanya was removed and interrogated before being allowed to leave. The people at A Current Affair wanted nothing to do with it and gave her no support – certainly, no financial support – to fight the charges.

Tanya was traumatised. And the trauma was dragged out for 2 years as she was forced to find the financial and emotional resources to fight a multi-million dollar organisation and the NSW police in court to prevent being branded a criminal.

At her first hearing, Tanya was found guilty and a criminal conviction was recorded.  It was devastating. The decision severely limited her ability to find a job in her chosen profession – as a social worker – or in any other profession for that matter. She was innocent, but did not have the financial resources to fight it. And yet, her only recourse was to appeal.

Tanya’s friends rallied and helped raise some funds for costs. Through her social network, an experienced solicitor and barrister with a distaste for religious bullies offered to represent her pro bono.

Last week, a magistrate decided, while there was no technical error in her previous conviction, Tanya’s ‘impeccable character’ and previously clean criminal record, together with the fact she could not, reasonably, have known she was committing a crime, warranted the conviction being overturned.

Tanya was deemed to be a person of ‘impeccable character’; it is a great deal more than can be said for the church which pursued Tanya out of fear, spite and raw hatred. Ironically, if Brian Houston had emulated the religious figure he exploits to fund his multi-million dollar empire, he would have stepped in to ask for the charges to be withdrawn. Instead, he did nothing. He certainly never stopped to ask himself, “What would Jesus do?”

And what of the police service which aided Hillsong in this ridiculous, costly and unfair persecution? One can only hope now-retired Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, a close friend of Brian Houston and his church,  was not involved in this tawdry and unjust witch hunt.  And what is the relationship between Hillsong and the NSW Police now Scipione is gone? If there is an  alliance between Hillsong and the NSW Police, it seems a hell of an unholy one, to me.

Chrys Stevenson


A note from Tanya