As New York Celebrates Pride, Australia Debates Freedom

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Isabella Kwai, a reporter with the Australia bureau.


In New York, celebrations are underway today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, when clashes in Greenwich Village helped ignite the modern gay rights movement.

But Australia was having a different kind of conversation around gay rights this week: Can freedom of religion and equality rights truly coexist?

Christian advocates have backed Israel Folau, the rugby player whose multimillion-dollar contract with Rugby Australia was terminated over his anti-gay social media posts. Mr. Folau, a devout Christian, wrote on Instagram that gays would go to “hell.” He has raised more than $2 million to finance legal action against his former employer.

If Mr. Folau begins a legal case, it would most likely be over whether employers imposing values on employees is an undue burden on the freedom of religious expression, said Gillian Triggs, a lawyer and former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Two years ago, Australia was in the throes of a fierce debate about whether gay people should have the right to marry. Same-sex marriage was eventually legalized in December 2017, with a majority of Australians voting “yes” in a public opinion survey. But religious dissenters put up a fight, arguing that it would impinge on freedom of religious expression.

Australia is “manifestly and demonstrably behind” in human rights compared to the United States and Europe, Professor Triggs said. But the country doesn’t have an official human rights charter, and many of its protections, if not officially legislated, are implied, she added.

While some laws make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender or sexual orientation, there are no federal protections against public vilification on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Half of the population identifies as Christian, according to the latest census, but secularism is on the rise. In the survey on same-sex marriage, nearly 40 percent of Australians who voted — 79.5 percent of the population — were against it. One poll found that Australia is less inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people than countries like France and Canada, although it scored higher than the global average.

ImageStudents and other demonstrators at a climate rally in Sydney, Australia, in March.
CreditMick Tsikas/EPA, via Shutterstock

She’s 83 and a Famous Nun. Australia’s Catholic Leaders Want Her to Stay Away: Sister Joan Chittister, a well-known American nun and feminist, was planning to speak at a Catholic conference in Melbourne, but the archbishop apparently intervened.

Sydney to Declare a Climate Emergency in Face of National Inaction: The mayor said it was important that Australia’s largest city, which has made ambitious pledges to reduce greenhouse emissions, raise its voice in a global demand for action.

Steve Dunleavy, Brash Face of Murdoch Journalism, Dies at 81: A hell-raising Australian who transfused his adrenaline into tabloid newspapers and television as a party crasher to American journalism, died on Monday at his home in Island Park, N.Y.

HPV Vaccines Are Reducing Infections, Warts — and Probably Cancer: An analysis covering 66 million young people has found plummeting rates of precancerous lesions and genital warts after vaccination against the human papillomavirus.

The Best Movies and TV Shows New to Netflix Australia in July: ‘Stranger Things,’ ‘Orange Is the New Black’ and more.


CreditSaumya Khandelwal for The New York Times

Slack Wants to Replace Email. Is That What We Want? As the office chat start-up prepared to go public, some of us are still figuring out how available we want to be — and whether it’s O.K. to ping the C.E.O.

A Mystery Disease Is Killing Children, and Questions Linger About Lychees: Researchers said the fruit was behind the annual outbreaks of a fatal syndrome in Eastern India. But local doctors say that theory can’t explain all the cases.

Photo of Drowned Migrants Captures Pathos of Those Who Risk It All: The image of a father and daughter on the banks of the Rio Grande recalled other disturbing photos that have galvanized public attention to the horrors of war.


Last week, I wrote about my father’s emotional reaction to the Hong Kong protests. Thanks to those of you who wrote in with your own stories about activism. (And for complimenting him — he was tickled to hear that too.) Today’s response, from a reader from Hong Kong.

“I am 65, Australian, born in Hong Kong, and live in Hong Kong at present.

The protests were so touching, because so many young people showed us that they might not have a lot of experience in politics or current affairs, but they have natural sensitivity toward what is good and bad, have the courage to speak up and reach out, thinking about the greater good before their own comfort and safety.

The protests were, 99.9% of the time, so amazingly peaceful and orderly. Something that any liberal country would envy, be proud of. Did you see news clips of how the young protesters picked up rubbish and debris and swept clean the streets before they went home? It really makes you cry seeing the nice sides of our youngsters, who have unfortunately earned some bad repute from the 2014 Occupy Central movement.

Net net, I view the two protests as the best days of one country-two systems since 1997.”

— J.P.

We’re collating a list of the best Australian podcasts— and we want your input. What are you listening to that you can’t forget, and why? Write to us at

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