How many people have eating disorders? We don’t really know, and that’s a worry



Eating disorders disproportionately affect females and young people.
From shutterstock.com

Laura Hart, University of Melbourne

Last week, federal health minister Greg Hunt announced that more than 60,000 Australians will be asked about their mental health and well-being as part of the Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study.

The mental health survey will be run in 2020, with new data on how common mental illness is due the year after. This is a welcome announcement for the mental health sector, because information gathered in a survey like this can be used to shape policy reform.




Read more:
If we’re to have another inquiry into mental health, it should look at why the others have been ignored


But eating disorders, a major category of mental illnesses, have been neglected by all previous important data collection initiatives in Australia so far. Notably, they were missing from the last national mental health surveys in 1997 and 2007.

Eating disorders are not yet an official part of this new survey, but we understand they are being considered.

If people with eating disorders are not counted, they don’t count. In other words, we need to know who has these severe and debilitating conditions, and then work towards improving the treatment and supports available for them.




Read more:
FactCheck Q&A: do eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses?


Surveys are important

National surveys ask the public if they have experienced symptoms of various mental illnesses, either in their lifetime or during the past 12 months.

People who answer “yes” to particular clusters of symptoms are “diagnosed”, or assumed to have had the illness.

Asking the public about their symptoms is the best way to understand how common mental illnesses are. This is because most people with a mental illness don’t seek treatment and may never have had a diagnosis. So collecting data from health services or based on reported diagnoses doesn’t provide a full picture.

Also, for some mental illnesses, such as anorexia nervosa or psychosis, people might not realise they have a diagnosable illness. But they are likely to respond “yes” to direct questions about their experiences with body dissatisfaction or thinking difficulties.

Eating disorders are more than just anorexia

A person with anorexia nervosa engages in dangerous behaviours to maintain a very low body weight, or to lose more weight. Although most people have heard of it, anorexia is not common. We know this from other countries who have previously studied the prevalence of anorexia in community surveys.

That being said, it’s very serious and can be fatal. It has the highest mortality of all non-substance use mental disorders, and one in five of those deaths is by suicide.




Read more:
Disease evolution: the origins of anorexia and how it’s shaped by culture and time


Other eating disorders include bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and “other specified feeding and eating disorders” (OSFED), a catch-all group for those who don’t fit anywhere else.

People with bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorder experience cycles of binge-eating, often after periods of restricting foods, which cause shame, guilt and discomfort.

Those with bulimia compensate for binge-eating through vomiting, fasting, exercise or other methods, while those with binge-eating disorder do not.

Binge-eating disorder is the most common of all eating disorders and occurs more equally across men and women than other eating disorders.

As well as continued weight gain, people with binge-eating disorder are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, and other significant health problems (such as asthma, diabetes, and arthritis) than people with a high BMI (body-mass index) but no binge-eating disorder.

Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder.
From shutterstock.com

One example of OSFED is atypical anorexia nervosa – when someone shows all the symptoms of anorexia and has lost a significant amount of weight but their BMI is in the “normal” or “high” range.

Eating disorders disproportionately affect females, young people, LGBTIQ individuals, and those with a high BMI.

People with eating disorders often have a negative body image, and a strong perception their self-worth is tied to their appearance or body weight.

Burden of disease

Every year in Australia, millions of years of healthy life are lost because of injury, illness or premature deaths in the population. This is known as “burden of disease”.

Like national surveys, burden of disease studies are extremely important for planning and funding health services. They use prevalence statistics, or how many people per 100,000 Australians are assumed to have a particular illness. Given we don’t have good data on how prevalent eating disorders are, we likely underestimate their burden of disease.




Read more:
To the Bone: creating eating disorder awareness or doing harm?


The recently released Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015 lists eating disorders among the most burdensome illnesses for Australian females, being the tenth leading cause of total burden of disease for females aged 5-14 and women aged 25-44.

Importantly, the most common eating disorder – binge-eating disorder – is not included in burden of disease studies, meaning all these figures miscalculate the impact of eating disorders by a long way.

Eating disorders are on the rise

Despite our lack of prevalence data, there is evidence showing eating disorders are an increasing problem and should be regarded as a national priority.

Consecutive population surveys in South Australia showed the numbers of people with eating disorders climbed over a ten-year period.

Annual youth surveys demonstrate body image, the most potent risk factor for eating disorders, is year after year among the top concerns for young people.

A recent study on adolescents in the Hunter Valley region of NSW found one in five had experienced an eating disorder.

Treatment and prevention

People with eating disorders use more health services than people with all other forms of mental illness, but often don’t receive appropriate and effective treatment. They typically receive treatment for weight loss, depression or anxiety, but are rarely treated for their disordered eating.

Eating disorders were estimated to cost the health system A$99.9 million in the year 2012 alone.

Better treatment and prevention of eating disorders would reduce the cost and the burden of disease. But we need the data to show where the treatment gaps are and how to fund better services.

There are many promising elements of the proposed Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study. These include surveying multiple people in a family, gathering physical and mental health data, and a target of more than 60,000 Australians. But it’s time eating disorders were included.




Read more:
Therapy for life-threatening eating disorders works, so why can’t people access it?


The Conversation


Laura Hart, Senior Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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No surplus, no share market growth, no lift in wage growth. Economic survey points to bleaker times post-election



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Things will continue to look good enough for long enough to help the government fight the election. Beyond that, the Conversation Economic Panel is worried.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Peter Martin, The Conversation

The Australian economy will remain healthy for long enough to enable the government to claim it as a strength in the lead-up to the May election, but the first Conversation Economic Survey points to a fairly flat outlook beyond that, with a 25% chance of a recession in the next two years.

The Conversation has assembled a forecasting team of 19 academic economists from 12 universities across six states. Among them are macroeconomists, economic modellers, former Treasury and Reserve Bank economists, and a former member of the Reserve Bank board.

Taken together their forecasts point to no recovery in the share market during 2019, no recovery in wage growth, no further improvement in the unemployment rate, further modest home price falls in Sydney and Melbourne, and to a budget deficit next financial year despite the official forecast of a surplus and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s commitment that the government will fight the election continuing to forecast a surplus.

Weighing heavily on Australia’s economy during 2019 will be a much weaker US economy, with what the forecasting team says is the possibility of a US recession, and weaker growth in China. Australian consumer spending is forecast to continue to grow during 2019, but no faster than it did during 2018. The best measure of living standards is forecast to advance at a crawl.

Most of the team expect the Reserve Bank to sit on its hands throughout all of 2019, leaving its cash rate unchanged at the all-time low of 1.5% for what will be a record 40 months.

Economic growth

The panel expects the Australian economy to grow more slowly in the year ahead, by 2.6%, down from recent annual growth of 2.8% and 3.1%. None of the panel expects growth to exceed 3%. One, Steve Keen, formerly of the University of Western Sydney and now at University College London, expects growth of only 1%.

Most of the panel expect China’s growth to continue to slow, from the annual growth of 6.7% typical over recent years to just 6.2%, the weakest growth since the 2008 global financial crisis and the weakest calendar year growth since 1990.

Former Treasury economist Nigel Stapledon now at the University of NSW nominates China as the biggest threat to Australian and global growth. He says it has a good record of stimulating its economy to get out of difficult corners but one day it might get it wrong.


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The panel expects US economic growth to hold up at 2.8% during the year ahead but to weaken or go into reverse by year’s end as the “sugar hit” from the Trump tax cuts goes into reverse.

Former Treasury and International Monetary Fund economist Tony Makin points to US high public debt that will need to be rolled over, soaking up funds that could have been more productively used for investment, to higher US interest rates imposed by a central bank concerned about inflation, and to the escalating trade war with China.

ANU modeller and former Reserve Bank board member Warwick McKibbin says the US economy is “very likely” to begin to go backwards towards the end of the year. Craig Emerson, a former Australian trade minister now with Victoria University, says the US is likely to enter a recession in 2020. Former Treasury economist Mark Crosby at Monash University says if there is a US recession, it won’t hit until late 2019, with the impact greatest in 2020.

Rebecca Cassells from the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre says a lot depends on the outcome of the US-China trade war: “The two biggest economies are going head to head, but both are almost as reliant on the other to sustain their growth trajectories,” she says.

Australia should look to other parts of the world to drive its economic growth. “India is one of them, and is rising rapidly with no downgrading of its growth trajectory of 7.75% for 2019.”

Living standards

Nominal GDP, the money earned in Australia unadjusted for price changes, is forecast to grow more slowly in 2019, by 4.5%, down from recent growth in excess of 5%, reflecting weaker iron ore prices.

The best measure of living standards, real net disposable income per capita, is expected to barely grow, climbing just 1.1% over the year to December, much less than recent growth in excess of 3%, but much more than its performance in the dismal years between 2012 and 2016 when it went backwards.

Forecasts for the unemployment rate cluster around its present 5.1%, with only four below 5% and one above 6%.


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Wages and prices

Wage growth is forecast to climb no further in 2019, finishing the year at its present 2.3% instead of climbing to 2.75% on its way to 3% by mid 2020 as forecast in the budget update.

Rebecca Cassells points out that much of the increase we have had has been driven by the Fair Work Commission’s decision to lift the minimum wage 3.5% from June 2018, suggesting very low growth elsewhere. Disturbingly, she says more and more enterprise bargains are being terminated, with employees falling back on awards.

Overwhelmingly, our panel is of the view that the only thing that will lift wage growth out of its slump (and budgets have been incorrectly forecasting a bounce out of the slump for eight years now) is higher productivity: producing more per worker.

Victoria University economic modeller Janine Dixon notes that the December budget update actually downgraded its forecast of productivity growth, from 1.5% to 1%, and so is not optimistic.

She says even if productivity growth did pick up, excessive market power in some industries combined with weakness in labour market institutions means it might not easily be passed on to workers.

Tony Makin, a supporter of company tax cuts, says the best thing to lift productivity would be new (perhaps foreign) investment embodying productivity-enhancing technology.


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The saving grace for workers facing yet another year of historically-low wage growth is that price increases will also remain low.

Inflation has been right at the bottom of (or below) the Reserve Bank’s 2% to 3% target band for four years now, meaning that even at the continuing low rates of wage growth forecast, wages should continue to climb just faster than prices.

The panel expects consumer spending to climb by only 2.5% in real terms in 2019, most of which will reflect population growth of 1.6%.

The average forecast for inflation is at the very bottom of the Reserve Bank’s target band. Only two panel members expect inflation to edge back up to the middle of the band. They are Warwick McKibbin and former Treasury and ANZ Bank chief economist Warren Hogan, at the University of Technology Sydney.

Interest rates and the budget

Without either a lift in inflation or a substantial weakening in the economy there is little reason for the Reserve Bank to move interest rates in either direction.

Governor Philip Lowe took the job in September 2016, just after the board cut the cash rate to a record low of 1.5%. He hasn’t moved the cash rate since, although on several occasions he has said the next move is most likely to be up.

Five of the panel do expect at least move up this year, including the two who think inflation might approach the bank’s target. Three expect cuts, taking the rate below 1.5%.

The remaining eleven expect no change, all year.


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The government says it will deliver a budget surplus next financial year, of A$4.1 billion, the first surplus in a decade.

The panel doesn’t think so, all but one member predicting a lower budget surplus than the government, and seven predicting deficits. The average forecast is for a deficit of A$3.5 billion rather than a surplus of A$4.1 billion.


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Monash University macroeconomist Solmaz Moslehi identifies optimistic wage growth, weaker than expected mining investment and a hit to consumer spending from the housing downturn as the biggest risks to the forecast surplus.

Julie Toth, adjunct professor at Deakin University’s Master of Business Administration program and chief economist at the Australian Industry Group, says the latest indicators suggest that neither employment nor wage growth will accelerate by as much as the government expects.

Michael O’Neil from the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies says the biggest immediate risk to the forecast surplus is thermal coal prices, given China’s efforts to cut coal imports and the shift to renewables in China and India.

The biggest long term risk is the scale of the company tax cuts and the ongoing shift of income from highly-taxed labour to more lightly-taxed capital.

Margaret McKenzie of Federation University identifies the biggest risk to the surplus as a change of government, something she says she welcomes because with extensive idle capacity and underemployment, a surplus would be unhelpful.

Home prices

The panel expects Sydney home prices to fall by another 5.8% and Melbourne prices by another 5.1% in 2019, taking the slides over two years to 14.7% and 12.1%.

Only Macquarie University and former Reserve Bank economist Jeffrey Sheen expects prices to move back up throughout 2019, by 2% and 3%.

Reassuringly, none of the forecast falls are bigger than 10%. The biggest are predicted by Steve Keen, Tony Makin, Margaret Mckenzie and Craig Emerson.

The lower prices will be accompanied by much slower growth in housing investment, expected to climb only 2.1% in 2019 after climbing more than 7% in the year to September 2018.


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Business

Non-mining business investment is forecast to grow more slowly this year, by 5.7% instead of 11.4%, and mining investment is expected to keep sliding, losing a further 3.4% after losing 11.2% last year rather than climbing as the government’s budget update predicts.

Five of the team believe that mining investment to turn the corner in line with the budget forecast. Nine expect it to fall further.

The Australian share market will for practical purposes not grow not at all during 2019 according to the average forecast, which is for barely perceptible growth of 0.1%. A steady share market would come as a relief to super funds and share owners after last year’s slide of about 7%.

The range of forecasts for the ASX 200 is wide, from slides of more than 6% to gains of more than 6%.


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Markets

Fortunately for a government the panel expects to need to continue to borrow more in order run continued budget deficits, what it pays for to borrow via the 10-year bond rate is expected to remain little changed at 2.6%. Only Warwick McKibbin expects a much higher bond rate, of 3.5%.

The panel’s average forecast is for an broadly unchanged Australian dollar, of around 70.5 US cents. The highest forecast is for US$0.80, the lowest for US$0.62.

The iron ore price, at present close to US$74 a tonne, is expected to fall to around US$64. Only one panelist, Warwick Mckibbin, expects it to stay near where it is, at US$75. The government itself is cautious, using a price of US$55 in its budget forecasts, a number it might lift in the April budget, allowing it to forecast more revenue.


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The risk of recession

On average, the panel believes there is a 25% chance of a conventionally-defined recession within the next two years.

Half of the probability estimates are between 20% and 30%. Averaging all of them together other than Steve Keen’s estimate of 95% produces an estimate of 22%.


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A recession is conventionally defined as two consecutive quarters in which gross domestic product falls instead of rises. Australia hasn’t had two consecutive quarters of negative growth since 1991.

The most recent negative quarter was in September 2016. Before that there was one in March 2011, and before that in during the global financial crisis in December 2008.

Ross Guest of Griffith University makes the point that his estimate of 20% should be considered low. There will always be a risk of a recession. By itself two quarters of negative growth needn’t be a disaster. The impacts on the government and on consumer and business confidence would be more important than the downturn itself.

Guay Lim of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research assigns the lowest probability of any of our panel to a recession, 5%, saying the most likely catalyst would be a global trade war.

Warren Hogan assigns the highest probability to a recession after Steve Keen, 40%, saying Australia is facing the end of a major construction boom and has heavily indebted households. It will be vulnerable to any negative shocks and especially vulnerable to higher inflation and interest rates.

Steve Keen says the only thing that has kept Australia afloat since the China boom has been the housing bubble, which the banking royal commission has been discovering was built on fragile, and in places fraudulent, foundations.

Nigel Stapledon says the biggest drag on the economy will be the collapse in the construction of residential investment units. Labor’s proposed increase in capital gains tax will make it worse, notwithstanding Labor’s decision to exempt new construction from its crackdown on negative gearing.

Rebecca Cassells says on the bright side Australia is set to become the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, the biggest exporter of iron ore to India and the world’s biggest producer of lithium, needed for batteries.

And if there is a global economic downturn within the next few years, she says another positive is that Labor is likely to be in power, making the successful deployment of a stimulus package more likely than if the Coalition had been in office.


The Conversation Economic Panel

Click on economist to see full profile.

https://cdn.theconversation.com/infographics/368/924e6755a686ec80378dcc381368eb0ee0c37f39/site/index.htmlThe Conversation

Peter Martin, Editor, Business and Economy, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Just like home’. New survey finds most renters enjoy renting, although for many it’s expensive



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Fewer than than 5% of renters are unhappy with their landlord, but rent can be expensive.
Shutterstock

Steven Rowley, Curtin University and Amity James, Curtin University

One in every four Australian households rents, and it’s not just those on low incomes.

A new nationally representative survey of 3,182 renters, funded by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, finds that while 60% of renting households have a household incomes below A$78,000, 30% are on incomes of more than A$100,000.

Although many households on low incomes and those headed by single parents are undoubtedly struggling to meet rental costs, those on moderate or higher incomes are generally positive about the experience.

Many of us rent

Despite its reputation as a nation of homeowners, Australia has the 10th largest private rental sector in the 37 nations that make up the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.


Comparison of international private rental sectors.
OECD Housing tenure distribution 2014 or later. ABS Census data 2016

Six in ten renters do it because they can’t afford to do anything else. The rest rent by choice.

Most are happy with what they rent

Perceptions of dwelling quality are positive with only 6% reporting that their dwelling is in a poor or terrible condition. 81% report a good or excellent relationship with their landlord.

Add a property manager into the mix and this falls to a still respectable 69%. Fewer than than 5% of respondents reported a poor or terrible relationship.

Around half of respondents claim to have a good to full understanding of their rights as tenants.


Relationship with property manager or landlord.
Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre 2018 Private Rental Sector Survey., Author provided

Overall, when asked whether their rental property felt like home, just over 60% reported it did, with less than 20% being negative about their experience.

The longer a tenant lives in a rental dwelling, the more it feels like home, highlighting the importance of security of tenure.

Generally, levels of satisfaction with the sector are high given the proportion of tenants who would rather be owners.


Satisfaction with the private rental sector by age group.
Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre Private Rental Sector Survey

Security of tenure matters

Security of tenure is a major concern of private renters.

Two thirds of renters have been in their current property for less than three years. Almost 40% have rented four or more properties during their time as renters.

While two thirds of moves are by choice, around one third are forced with the primary reason being the owner selling the property.




Read more:
Home ownership foundations are being shaken, and the impacts will be felt far and wide


Moves are stressful, expensive and disruptive, particularly for households with children. Around half of all renters say they would gladly choose to sign a lease longer than 12 months if given the option because it would offer greater security and a stronger sense of home.

As does discrimination

One in five renters report some form of discrimination when applying for rental properties.

Those households most likely to suffer from discrimination are single parents with children.

In September Victoria passed landmark leglislation intended to improve the rights of renters.




Read more:
Life as an older renter, and what it tells us about the urgent need for tenancy reform


Some important issues addressed in the legislation are highlighted in the BankWest Curtin Economics Centre report which found the vast majority of respondents are on short-term leases (12 months or less).

NSW is following suit, although, disappointingly, it does not plan to outlaw no-grounds evictions.

And rent can be expensive

The typical proportion of gross income spent on rent is 28%, with almost half of all renters paying more than 30%, a figure that rises to 63% for renters over 55.

One in seven renters are paying more than 60% of their income in rent.

When asked the reasons for such high rental payments, almost six in ten report being forced to pay that much through a lack of available alternatives.

Commonwealth rent assistance was regarded as important or very important by nine out of ten of those receiving it.

What we could do to help

One of the best ways to make rent more affordable would be to reintroduce a subsidised rental scheme that offered a financial incentive for developers to invest in housing that would be leased to low-income households at below-market rents along the lines of the National Rental Affordability Scheme by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008.

It was wound up by his successor tony Abbott in 2014.

Workable build to rent schemes could also help boost supply and security of tenure, and the negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions tax available to mum and dad investors could be tied to the delivery of long–term, below market rental dwellings.

Our survey finds the private rental market is performing quite well for those on moderate to high incomes. But not for those on low incomes who will never access home ownership and need secure long term tenure.The Conversation

Steven Rowley, Director, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, Curtin Research Centre, Curtin University and Amity James, Lecturer, School of Economic, Finance and Property, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Anti-vilification legislation for marriage ballot to pass this week


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Mathias Cormann gave an assurance that there would be a bias towards freedom of speech.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The parliament is preparing to rush through anti-vilification legislation to apply during the postal ballot on same-sex marriage.

Under the bill a person must not vilify, intimidate or threaten another person because of their views, expressed or believed to be held, or because of their religious conviction, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

The safeguards bill will be introduced on Wednesday and passed before parliament rises on Thursday. It has a sunset provision that means it only lasts for the duration of the ballot, the result of which will be announced on November 15.

Civil penalties will apply, to a maximum of A$12,600. But the attorney-general, George Brandis, must consent to a person taking enforcement action under the vilification and related provisions.

People are also protected from being discriminated against – in employment or by being denied access to membership of a union, club or other body – for making a donation to the campaign.

The bill requires that broadcasters, if they give opportunities for one side to put their views, must provide the other side with reasonable opportunities.

The government negotiated the emergency legislation with the opposition over the last few days.

The bill also includes requirements for authorisation of advertising and other provisions that apply to ordinary elections but did not automatically cover this voluntary postal ballot.

In the Coalition partyroom meeting one person objected to the anti-vilification provisions. But Acting Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann gave an assurance that Brandis’ approach would have a “bias towards freedom of speech”.

Labor claimed credit for securing “important concessions from the government that prohibit vilification and hate speech” during the ballot. But opposition spokespeople Mark Dreyfus and Terri Butler said in a statement: “Let’s be clear – this safeguards bill does not in any way legitimise this survey process, which has been foisted upon Australians at a massive cost”.

The ConversationThe ballot papers started to go out on Tuesday.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/fr3g9-72ed6d?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The postal survey is both bizarre and typical in the history of Western marriage


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Marriage reform of any kind has been historically slow to take hold.
Shutterstock

Timothy W. Jones, La Trobe University

The High Court’s decision to allow exceptional government spending on the marriage postal survey makes way for the latest bizarre, but typical, episode in the history of political responses to changing social attitudes to marriage.

The voluntary postal survey is unique and bizarre, in that no government has yet conducted such a statistically unreliable exercise in gauging public opinion on a contentious social issue. Yet it is typical, in that political responses to social change in areas of sex and morality are usually slow, fiercely contested, ideologically confused, but nonetheless important.

Political change in response to changes in social values is slow

The slow and strange political processes in Australia over the political recognition of same-sex marriages are actually typical of those around the world. The legislative histories of many previous changes to marriage law have been far longer and more drawn out than the recognition of same-sex marriage in Australia is likely to be.

One of the most contested changes in British marriage law was the now-obscure reform to allow a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister.

In an era of high maternal death and limited social welfare, it was common for deceased women’s sisters to marry their brothers-in-law and assume their sister’s role as wife and mother. The churches regarded such marriages as incestuous, and fiercely opposed law reform to legalise them. It took almost 70 years for this now forgotten reform to pass.

Reforms to permit divorce, interracial marriage and to administer traditional polygamous marriages were similarly contested and slow to be formed and reformed.

It should, therefore, not be a surprise that legislative reform in Australia to allow same-sex couples to marry is taking longer than a decade.

The complex relationship between religion, law and marriage

In some jurisdictions, in some times, religious institutions have legislated and adjudicated for marriage. This has never been the case in Australia. Between 1753 and 1836, the Church of England did enjoy sole political jurisdiction and administration of marriage in the British world.

However, from federation, Australian marriage law has always been secular. Religious organisations have made their own rulings about what marriage practices their own members should engage in. But while “churches, mosques or synagogues might bless nuptials, marriage itself is not a religious institution”.

Nor is it the law’s role in Australia to impose moral standards on society. Since at least 1971, when censorship law was reformed, lawmakers have sought to use legislation to enforce current community standards, rather than impose ideologically based absolutes.

The government’s ostensible rationale for the optional postal survey is actually in line with this norm: to assess community standards. Both proponents and – especially – opponents of change have been careful to frame their arguments in relation to shared community values.

Marriage equality is about more than marriage

The case for marriage law reform to allow same-sex couples to marry has been relatively simple and consistent around the world: a claim that to include same-sex couples in marriage will increase equality and social inclusion.

As this case has gained traction in the West, opponents of change have had to innovate in order to combat rapidly changing community standards.

As I have argued elsewhere, opponents of marriage law reform are primarily motivated by religious conviction. However, in a largely secular context, where moral values cannot easily be imposed on a population, “they are attempting to hide religious and moral arguments in the Trojan horse of health and human rights discourse”.

The “No” campaign has so far largely sidestepped the social justice argument of the “Yes” campaign. Instead, they have raised fears about children in rainbow families.

Conservatives have argued that children have a “right” to a mother and a father, and that same-sex parenting necessarily involves the “removal” of a child from one of its natural parents. These are innovative arguments.

Same-sex parenting is clearly not in contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The right to a mother and a father is a completely novel human right for children, and one that is impossible to guarantee. And research clearly shows that children raised by same-sex parents show no different health or wellbeing outcomes to children raised by opposite-sex parents.

Similarly, when donor assisted reproduction became popular and was debated 70 years ago, governments and churches considered it at length. However, the major objection raised in these historical debates was that donor assistance in reproduction was equivalent to adultery.

Today, individuals and couples of all sexualities access assisted reproduction technology and have done so for many decades. Equating the donation of sperm or eggs to child removal is a completely novel argument.

The ConversationAs the postal survey goes ahead, we can expect to see more of these novel arguments from the “no” campaign. But it’s important to remember that legal change around marriage is historically slow, and that this debate is not about religious values, but community values. Specifically, it is about how we value LGBTI people, their relationships, and their families.

Timothy W. Jones, Senior Lecturer in History, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

USA: Protestant Numbers Declining


The number of Protestants in the USA has fallen in percentage terms, with now just 48% identifying as Protestant. The link below is to an article reporting on the latest survey.

For more visit:
http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/10/09/protestants-no-longer-majority-in-us-study-says/

USA: ‘No Religion’ Growth According to Survey


The number of people in the USA with no religion is growing rapidly according to a recent survey.

For more visit:
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/09/survey-one-in-five-americans-is-religiously-unaffiliated/

Persecution News: What was Missed While on My Break – Part 1


The following are articles from Compass Direct News from the period I was on my break:

 

‘Pinpricks’ of Truth Making Way into North Korea


Citizens increasingly enlightened about world’s worst violator of religious freedom.

DUBLIN, April 26 (CDN) — As refugees from North Korea and activists from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) gather in Seoul, South Korea this week to highlight human rights violations in the hermit kingdom, there are signs that North Korean citizens are accessing more truth than was previously thought.

A recent survey by the Peterson Institute found that a startling 60 percent of North Koreans now have access to information outside of government propaganda.

“North Koreans are increasingly finding out that their misery is a direct result of the Kim Jong-Il regime, not South Korea and America as we were brainwashed from birth to believe,” Kim Seung Min of Free North Korea Radio said in a press statement. The radio station is a partner in the North Korea Freedom Coalition (NKFC), which is holding its annual North Korea Freedom Week (NKFW) in Seoul rather than Washington, D.C. for the first time in the seven-year history of the event.

“We set out to double the radio listenership of 8 or 9 percent, and we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people who have access to information,” said NKFC Co-Chair Suzanne Scholte. She described the flow of information as “pinpricks in a dark veil over North Korea. Now those pinpricks are becoming huge holes.”

The radio station now air-drops radios into North Korea and broadcasts into the country for five hours a day, adding to information gleaned by refugees and merchants who cross the border regularly to buy Chinese goods.

In recent years the government has been forced to allow a limited market economy, but trade has brought with it illegal technology such as VCR machines, televisions, radios and cell phones that can detect signals from across the border. Previously all televisions and radios available in North Korea could only receive official frequencies. 

“The government hasn’t been able to stamp out the markets, so they begrudgingly allow them to continue,” Scholte confirmed. “This means North Koreans aren’t relying solely on the regime anymore.”

Holding the annual event in Seoul this year sends a significant message, Scholte told Compass.

“This is a spiritual conflict as well as a physical one – some people didn’t want us to call it freedom week,” she said. “But we’re making a statement … God gives us freedom by the very nature of being human and North Koreans are entitled to that too.”

All people say they would never allow the World War II holocaust to be repeated, Scholte said, “but this is a holocaust, a genocide. I firmly believe we will be judged if we fail to intervene.”

The coalition hopes this week’s event will empower the 17,000 strong North Korean defectors in South Korea, awaken the consciousness of the world about human rights conditions in North Korea, and inform all who are suffering in North Korea that others will “work together until the day their freedom, human rights and dignity are realized,” Scholte said in the press statement.

As part of the week’s activities, the coalition will send leaflets into North Korea via balloon stating in part, “In the same year the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed, Kim Il-Sung was ensuring that you wouldn’t have any of those rights.”

Religious freedom in particular is almost non-existent. The only accepted belief is Juche – an ideology that strictly enforces worship of the country’s leaders.

“The regime is a perversion of Christianity,” Scholte told Compass. Juche has a holy trinity just as Christianity does, with Father Kim Il-Sung, son Kim Jong-Il, and the spirit of Juche said to give strength to the people.

“Kim Il-Sung is God; a real God can’t replace him,” a former North Korean security agent confirmed in David Hawke’s 2005 report, “A Prison Without Bars.”

While four churches exist in the capital, Pyongyang, experts believe these are largely showpieces for foreign visitors.

The government has allowed token visits from high-profile foreign Christians such as Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, who preached at Bongsu Protestant church in Pyongyang in August 2008; and two U.S. Christian bands, Casting Crowns and Annie Moses, attended and won awards at the Spring Friendship Arts Festival in April 2009.

Worship outside limited official venues is simply not tolerated, giving North Korea first place on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2010 World Watch List for persecution of Christians.

Ordinary citizens caught with a Bible or in a clandestine prayer meeting are immediately labeled members of the hostile class and either executed or placed in prison labor camps, along with three generations of their immediate family. Every North Korean belongs to either the “hostile,” “wavering” or “core” class, affecting privileges from food and housing to education and physical freedom, according to Hawke’s report.

There are no churches outside the capital, but the regime in 2001 estimated there were 12,000 Protestants and 800 Catholics in North Korea. In July 2002 the government also reported the existence of 500 vaguely-defined “family worship centers” catering to a population of approximately 22.7 million, according to a September 2009 International Religious Freedom report issued by the U.S. State Department.

By contrast, South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo newspaper in July 2009 put the estimate at 30,000 Christians, some NGOs and academics estimate there may be up to several hundred thousand underground Christians.

Uncertain Future

As North Korea celebrated the birthday of Kim Jong-Il on Feb. 16, rumors spread that the elderly leader, currently battling heart problems, had chosen third son Kim Jong-Eun as his successor.

Documents extolling the virtues of Kim Jong-Eun began circulating as early as November, according to the Daily NK online news agency. An official “education” campaign for elite officials began in January and was extended to lesser officials in March. One document obtained by the agency described the “Youth Captain” as being “the embodiment of Kim Il-Sung’s appearance and ideology.”

“Kim picked this son because he’s ruthless and evil,” Scholte said, “but I don’t think they’re quite ready to hand over to him yet. There is an uncertainty, a vulnerability.”

Scholte believes this is the ideal time to “reach out, get information in there and push every possible way.”

“There are many double-thinkers among the elite,” she explained. “They know the regime is wrong, but they have the Mercedes, the education for their kids and so on, so they have no incentive to leave.”

The coalition is trying to persuade South Korea to establish a criminal tribunal, she said.

“North Koreans are actually citizens of South Korea by law,” she said. “We have to let these guys know there’s going to be a reckoning, to create a good reason for them not to cooperate [with authorities].”

Those in other countries have an obligation too, Scholte concluded. “When people walk out of the camps, it will haunt us. They’ll want to know, ‘What were you doing?’ We will be held accountable.”

Article 26 of North Korea’s constitution declares that the people have freedom of religion. The organizers of this year’s freedom week fervently hope that this declaration will soon become a reality.

SIDEBAR

The Cross at the Border: China’s Complicity in Refugees’ Suffering

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) estimate anywhere from 30,000 to 250,000 refugees from North Korea are living in China, either in border areas or deeper inland. Few are Christians when they emerge from North Korea, but the whispered advice among refugees is to “head for a cross,” signaling a Chinese church that may assist them, according to a February 2009 National Geographic report.

Since China will not allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to border areas, Chinese Christians work with Christian NGOs to provide an “underground railroad” moving refugees via several routes to safety, most often in South Korea.

Chun Ki-Won, director of Christian NGO Durihana, admits that some of the refugees adopt Christianity to win favor with their rescuers, but others retain and strengthen their faith on arrival in South Korea.

China insists that the refugees are economic migrants and pays police a bounty to arrest and return them to North Korea. On arrival, North Korean officials pointedly question the refugees about contact with Chinese Christians or Christian NGOs. If any contact is admitted, execution or imprisonment is likely, according to David Hawke’s 2005 report, “A Prison Without Bars.”

As one refugee told Hawke, “Having faith in God is an act of espionage.”

Still others choose to return to North Korea with Bibles and other Christian resources at great risk to themselves. For example, officials in June 2009 publicly executed Ri Hyon-Ok, caught distributing Bibles in Ryongchon, a city near the Chinese border, South Korean activists reported.

China remains impervious to the refugees’ plight.

“China fears being flooded by refugees if they show compassion,” said Suzanne Scholte, co-chair of the North Korea Freedom Coalition. “But refugee flows aren’t going to collapse the [North Korean] regime. If that was going to happen, it would have happened already during the famine, so their argument doesn’t hold water.”

She added that North Koreans don’t want to leave. “They leave because of Kim Jong-Il,” she said. “Those [North Korean refugees] in South Korea want to go back and take freedom with them.”

Two U.S. Christians entered North Korea in recent months with the same goal in mind. Robert Park, an evangelical Christian missionary, crossed the border on Dec. 25 with a letter calling for Kim Jong-Il to resign.

Officials immediately arrested Park, according to the regime’s Korean Central News Agency. He was later sentenced to eight years of hard labor but released in late February after making what many experts believe was a forced confession.

Fellow activist Aijalon Mahli Gomes entered North Korea on Jan. 25, the same news agency reported. Officials sentenced Gomes to nine years of hard labor and fined him 70 million new Won (US$518,520). At press time Gomes remained in detention.

Report from Compass Direct News