27 May 2008

'UQ President Calls for Pro-Life Referendum'

On 15 May I had a post under the title ‘Pro-Life Students muzzled in universities in Queensland and Wisconsin’. There has been a positive follow-up in the University of Queensland. ‘yBenedict’, a website connected with this year’s World Youth Day in Sydney, carries a story by Bridget Spinks dated 16 May under the headline ‘UQ PRESIDENT CALLS FOR PRO-LIFE REFERENDUM’:

In a dramatic turn-around, University of Queensland student union president Josh Young has now encouraged UQ Catholic students to campaign for a pro-life ‘referendum.’
Mr Young’s unexpected comments come following yesterday’s article in The Australian , which reported on the threatened disaffiliation of the Catholic Newman Society from the UQ Students Union for distributing literature displaying an image of an eight week old foetus earlier this month.

Mr Young explained that the union’s ‘pro-choice’ policy dated back to 1993 but was changeable.

"We've had a referendum that the union was pro-choice in 1993 which is concurrent until another referendum is held. The Newman Society or other bodies need to follow procedures to activate … [another referendum], which I encourage.”

Mr Young explained that the Newman Society's twelve month probation period was merely bureaucratic disciplinary action, which had to be taken to uphold a 'pro-choice' policy that as president of the union, he is constitutionally bound to uphold.

Mr Young continued by indicating that there were situations he had inherited this year as president that seemed outdated. “Because of this, we'll most likely be making sweeping changes," he said.

Earlier in the day, national president of ACSA (Australian Catholic Students Association), Camillus O’Kane threw his support behind the Newman Society, describing the UQ student union’s actions in threatening to disaffiliate the Newman Society as ‘outrageous.’

"It is a disgrace that this incident has occurred at one of Australia’s leading universities, a place of learning where we should be able to express our views freely," Mr O’Kane said.

The confrontation originally broke out when secretary of the Newman Society, Elise Nally, expressed dismay at the failure of the Union to properly articulate the problem.

"The image that we used was a scientific image - when pregnant women have scans they don't have problems with it - so we're still waiting for an explanation as to why such an image or wording is inappropriate," said Ms Nally.

"Our stall in no way had distributed information that suggested women could keep the child or put the child up for adoption but the union still chose to take disciplinary action against the society," said Ms Nally.

The UQ Catholic Newman Society and its members will be represented at World Youth Day 2008 at Universitas, the International Students Gathering to be held at Sydney University during the week of WYD2008.

For more information on the Catholic Newman Society or the Australian Catholic Students Association visit

Interestingly, nobody mentioned this in the comments under my post. But the whole episode shows that positive action can lead to more positive action.

Here is the media release of the Australian Catholic Students Association (ACSA) dated 15 May, which was before the story about Mr Young broke:

15 May 2008

Catholic students concerned over attack on free speech andsupport for pregnant women.

The Australian Catholic Students Association (ACSA), the peak body representing Catholicstudents in Australia, expresses its solidarity with the Newman Society at The University ofQueensland, which has been gagged in its efforts to support pregnant women through its campusactivities.

ACSA is concerned that the use of a 15-year-old referendum by the UQ Union to take disciplinaryaction against the Society raises serious concerns for students’ freedom of speech and theimplications this might have on other student groups at The University of Queensland.

ACSA National President Camillus O’Kane said that ‘if the truth becomes something we can simplyvote for, it becomes a weapon that can be used against others. This is why freedom of speech isone of the guiding principles of our society.’

ACSA notes that pro-life groups had been active at The University of Queensland for five yearsafter the referendum was passed in 1993, with no disciplinary action taken against them. Furthermore, it recognises that the referendum only established that UQ would be a pro-choicecampus, not that any particular viewpoint would be suppressed.

It is a shame that this incident has occurred at one of Australia’s leading universities, a place oflearning where we should be able to express our views freely,’ Mr O’Kane said.

ACSA fully supports Newman society members in their work, ensuring that students are made aware of the alternatives to abortion. It believes that by distributing pregnancy support information, the UQ Newman Society is contributing to a balanced environment that can offer women a genuinechoice.

ACSA National Treasurer Elise Nally, who is also Secretary of the Newman Society, said that ‘university can be a time when young women might be faced with the difficult challenge of anunplanned pregnancy. Those women not only deserve compassion, but also support.’

ACSA hopes the UQ Union will reconsider its decision to ban the display of pregnancy supportmaterial by the UQ Newman Society.

For further information or comment: ACSA President Camillus O’Kane 0407 538 044
ACSA Treasurer, Elise Nally 0421 004 092


Simon Platt said...

This is very interesting Father. From my own student days in England I know well how pro-life groups can be abused by their opponents, but I had never imagined that a students union in a free country could suppress freedom of expression like this. I'm entirely with Camillus O’Kane, ACSA and the Newman Society. May God bless them all!

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thank you, Simon, for your comment. May God, indeed, bless the members of the Newman society in QU - and Josh Young for responding to the point they were making. It shows what people can do peacefully to raise awareness.

I did mission appeals for the Columbans in many parishes in the Diocese of Lancaster, including your home town, Preston, in 2001. May God shower his blessings on all of you there, especially on your own family.