View from The Hill: Morrison rewards friends, avoids making enemies and announces new ambassadors


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison’s new ministry mixes stability with dashes of innovation, box ticking, and the rewarding of friends.

The Prime Minister has maintained his record number of women (seven) in cabinet, and created a new entry to the history books by appointing the first Indigenous cabinet minister, Ken Wyatt, who will become minister for Indigenous Australians.

Let’s hope this is not a poisoned chalice for Wyatt, who previously held aged care and Indigenous health in the outer ministry. It is one of the hardest jobs and the expectations and pressures on him from Indigenous people will be enormous.

Morrison has highlighted the priority he wants to give to improving program implementation, including and especially the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Rewards for friends

Stuart Robert, one of the Morrison friends and supporters promoted in the reshuffle, becomes minister for government services and minister for the NDIS, and is elevated to cabinet.

Robert will oversee a new Services Australia agency to “drive greater efficiencies and integration” of service delivery.

Addressing senior public servants the other day, Morrison lectured them on the need for “congestion busting” in the bureaucracy. The NDIS has had serious teething problems. Time will show whether Robert, who moves from assistant treasurer, can deliver on improving delivery. He personally has been the centre of political controversies and last year had to pay back about $38,000 for excessive internet use at home.




Read more:
Scott Morrison hails ‘miracle’ as Coalition snatches unexpected victory


Ben Morton, a Morrison confidant who travelled with him in the campaign, becomes assistant minister to the prime minister and cabinet, one of those nice “in close” positions that are all about relationships.

Greg Hunt, much praised by Morrison during the election, adds to his health job the position of minister assisting the prime minister for the public service and cabinet, which gives him extra access to the PM’s ear.

Energy and emissions together

In a major move, Morrison has brought together energy and emissions reduction under Angus Taylor. This means Taylor, whose performance as energy minister has been underwhelming, has responsibility for the climate change area as well as continuing to try to achieve lower power prices.

The government skated through the election with climate change not having as much electoral bite as expected and high energy prices failing to extract the political toll they might have. But this is going to be a hard policy area in the coming term, as industry will be looking for more investment certainty, and consumers will want better results on prices. Taylor will need to lift his game.

As expected and despite Morrison’s commitment during the campaign, Melissa Price is out of environment and out of the cabinet. She’s now in the outer ministry, in defence industry, where she can continue to be neither seen nor heard. As Morrison put it with delicate understatement: “Melissa and I discussed her role and she asked to be given a new challenge and I was happy to give her one”.

Senators to New York, Washington

Two top level diplomatic jobs make space for appointments to the Senate. Mitch Fifield, who held communications, is off to be United Nations ambassador in New York, and Arthur Sinodinos, who seemed a monty for a cabinet post after his return from sick leave, will replace Joe Hockey in Washington. Morrison said Fifield’s exit was by choice – that he could have stayed in his portfolio.

Jim Molan, who unsuccessfully attempted to survive as a senator by appealing for people to vote for him “below the line”, will hope to get the NSW Senate spot; Sarah Henderson, who lost Corangamite, will seek preselection for the Victorian vacancy.

Paul Fletcher, with a background in Optus, takes over Fifield’s communications portfolio.

A minister for housing

The core economic team of Josh Frydenberg in treasury and Mathias Cormann in finance remains, with Michael Sukkar, from the hard right in Victoria, becoming assistant treasurer and housing minister. He will be in charge of implementing the Coalition’s election promise for a deposit guarantee for first home buyers.

Alan Tudge keeps population, cities and urban infrastructure while being promoted to cabinet.

Notably, responsibility for industrial relations (previously with the now-departed Kelly O’Dwyer), has been handed to Christian Porter, who stays attorney-general and becomes leader of the House. Porter immediately signalled his law-and-order priority in industrial relations: “my initial focus will be on the law enforcement aspects of the portfolio, ensuring adherence with Australia’s industrial relations laws, particularly on building sites across Australia”.

Promotions for women

Of the females in cabinet Marise Payne, who retains foreign affairs, is the new minister for women, while Michaelia Cash, who was in a heap of trouble last term, has employment, skills, small and family business, gaining employment.

As he promised, Morrison has elevated Linda Reynolds, whom he appointed to cabinet in March, to defence, formerly held by Christopher Pyne, who left parliament at the election. This is a huge job for Reynolds, regardless of her background in the military. Alex Hawke, who is close to Morrison, becomes assistant defence minister, and minister for international development and the Pacific.

Sussan Ley is back in cabinet after a break, taking the downsized environment portfolio. Anne Ruston is promoted to cabinet, as minister for families and social services. Karen Andrews remains in industry and in cabinet.

Victorian senator Jane Hume, with a background in the superannuation industry, becomes an assistant minister in that area; former whip Nola Marino also becomes an assistant minister.

Fewer Nationals

The Nationals have lost a cabinet position, going from five to four – this results automatically from the change in their ratio within the Coalition – despite the fact they did well at the election.

Morrison confirmed that McCormack chose who went into the portfolios the Nationals have. Nationals sources say McCormack pressed for a better deal on portfolios, Liberal sources deny this.

Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie has got agriculture (first womanin that job), which means David Littleproud, who previously held agriculture and water resources, ends up with water resources, drought and other bits and pieces.




Read more:
VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on Morrison’s ‘miracle’ election win – and Labor’s leadership search


Among those not moving, Peter Dutton stays in home affairs, Dan Tehan in education and Simon Birmingham in trade.

Morrison has put his stamp on his team without being radical. Notably, no one was dumped to the backbench.

And the chance of an early return for parliament

Meanwhile Morrison also hinted he was hoping that, despite the current advice, there was a chance parliament could be brought back before July 1 to pass the tax cuts so the first tranche could be delivered from then.

He told his news conference:

We are awaiting advice from the [Australian Electoral Commission] as to when the return of writs will be provided.

At present they’re saying that’s June 28 and there’s a possibility of that occurring earlier. That presents different opportunities for when [we] might be able to recall parliament.

Delivering those tax cuts right on time is something Morrison would really like to do. It’s a fair bet the AEC is being urged strongly to “deliver” those writs early, if it’s humanely possible.

Meanwhile on the Labor side, Richard Marles is now assured of becoming deputy leader to Anthony Albanese, after Clare O’Neil – who like Marles is from the Victorian right – said on Sunday she would not contest the deputy leadership.


For the fridge door:The Conversation


pm.gov.au

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Advertisements

Karen Christians pressed between Thailand and Myanmar


The Thai government and local military leaders want to force Karen Christians back into Myanmar, and they’re willing to use military force to clear refugee camps within the next two weeks, reports MNN.

The camps are full because the Burmese army is wiping out the Karen. Wes Flint with Vision Beyond Borders says, "I’m shocked that the free world is just allowing this to continue."

The ruling junta has been battling Christian-majority Karen rebels for decades. Similar army crackdowns forced thousands of villagers to flee their homes, and they found their way across the border to Thailand’s refugee camps.

Many of the more-recently displaced were forced to hide in the Burma jungle.

Human rights groups protested the Thai plan to repatriate the refugees in Burma over concern that once back in Myanmar, the refugees will be subject to "severe human rights violations, including forced labour and rape by soldiers of the Burma Army," according to a leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

No one expects the situation to improve, but VBB teams are trying to intervene. "We try to create a safe environment for them, to bring them in, to provide food for them, and medical care."

VBB’s Patrick Klein wrote this from Myanmar: "Due to rice fields and crops being destroyed and attacks on villagers by the Burmese army, we have a group of 100 children who are in urgent need of food. They are on the brink of starvation. Currently they are in hiding with their parents inside Burma. Our caretaker in our Shekinah children’s home in one of the official refugee camps asked if we can help those children with food and get them out of Burma."

It’s dangerous work, but there are friends of the ministry who are trying to get those 100 children to the VBB camp in the mountains.

Klein says, "If we are able to get them out, we will build housing for them. The parents are ready to die and give whatever food they find to their children for now. Please pray with us that God will make a way for these children and help our attempts to get them safely into one of the camps where we have a Children’s Home."

The VBB team delivered 45 bags of rice and medicines to partners who will take all the supplies to the Internally Displaced People inside Burma–those hiding from the Burmese Army.

It’s hard to imagine what is going unnoticed in front of so many international eyes. Flint explains, "There’s what they would call an ‘ethnic cleansing’ going on, but it seems that most of their targets are Christians."

Does their identity as a Christian mark them as Karen–or possibly something more? Flint says, "This persecution has really refined them. They have been great ambassadors to reach out to the Buddhist community–even to those that are persecuting them."

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

PAKISTAN: TWO FEMALE NURSING STUDENTS ACCUSED OF BLASPHEMY


Two female Christian students of Fatima Memorial Hospital’s nursing school in the Pakistani city of Lahore, have been accused of desecrating verses of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, days after their Muslim roommates desecrated a picture of Jesus Christ which they had hung in a shared hostel room, reports Dan Wooding and Sheraz Khurram Khan, special to ASSIST News Service.

ANS has learnt that some days back the Muslim nursing students took a strong exception to the hanging of Jesus’ picture on the wall.

Islamic tradition explicitly prohibits images of Allah, Muhammad and all the major figures of the Christian and Jewish traditions.

Muslim students desecrated the picture by tearing it up and hurling it down after the Christian students refused to remove it voluntarily.

The administration of the Nursing School allegedly took no action against the Muslim students, who committed the alleged profanity.

Christian-Muslim tension among students of the nursing school escalated on Feb. 13 when the Muslim students, who still harbored acrimony against their Christian roommates, accused them of desecrating Quranic verses.

The National Director of Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), Mr. Joseph Francis, and Chief Coordinator of the Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan, Mr. Sohail Johnson, visited scene of the incident after a Christian woman Fouzia informed Sohail by phone about the incident on Saturday morning (Feb. 14).

Talking to ANS by phone, Mr. Sohail Johnson, pointed out a dichotomy between the versions of the Muslim Medical Superintendent, Ayesha Nouman, and the Christian hostel warden, Martha.

In an apparent bid to cover up the matter, Ayesha told the visiting activists that things had returned to normal and the Christian girls who were accused of blasphemy were at the hostel.

Martha, the Christian hostel warden, however, disputed her superior’s version, claiming that the Christian girls accused of blasphemy were not currently staying at the hostel, Sohail told ANS.

“She expressed ignorance about the whereabouts of the nursing students and would not speak any further on the subject for fear of getting into possible trouble herself,” said Sohail Johnson, whose ministry primarily works for Christian prisoners.

ANS further learnt that an “anti-blasphemy” demonstration was staged in front of Iqbal Avenue Hostel near Shaukat Khanum Cancer Memorial Hospital in Lahore on Feb. 13. The demonstrators included Muslim nursing students and people, who were not students of the Nursing School. The angry protesters demanded stringent legal action against the Christian nursing students, one of whom has been identified as Sitar.

Giving out statistics, Sohail said the Fatima Memorial Hospital Nursing School enrolled some 160 nursing students for year 2009.

“I regret that the two Christian students have to face blasphemy accusation. Of course, they managed to get enrolment at the nursing school after a cut-throat competition with Muslim students,” said Sohail Johnson. “The nursing school, Sohail said received some 1400 applications for 2009 session.”

In May 2007, four female Christian Nursing students of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, were accused of blasphemy. The blasphemy charges were dropped as the committee that was constituted to probe into the blasphemy allegations found the Christian girls innocent.

Sohail Johnson expressed concern over recent abuse of the law by educated people.

He stated, “One could see why ignorant or illiterate people could abuse the law but the misuse of the law by the educated people is a cause of serious concern and has made non-Muslims more vulnerable to the rampant abuse of the law.”

He hailed Christian nurses’ services in the medical sector.

“By implicating Christian nurses in blasphemy cases, it appears some elements want to discourage Christian women from entering medical sector,” he feared. He underscored the need for drawing up a strategy to deal with blasphemy complaints.

Asked how one could expect the police to exercise their duties in an impartial manner while handling blasphemy-accused or blasphemy-related complaints, the human rights activist suggested that workshops should be offered to them (Police) with a view to reform their attitude towards people accused of blasphemy.

“The police often play in the hands of the influential people that also include politicians,” alleged Sohail.

Asked how the international community could influence the Pakistan government to scrap laws perceived as discriminatory by minorities, Sohail Johnson said it could do a number of things. The concerned people, he said, could write letters to the ambassadors of Pakistan in their respective countries.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

SRI LANKA: PARLIAMENT TO VOTE ON ANTI-CONVERSION LAWS


Draft ‘Bill for the Prohibition of Forcible Conversions’ enters final phase.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, January 26 (Compass Direct News) – The Sri Lankan Parliament may soon enact laws designed to restrict religious conversions.

A standing committee assigned to consider a draft “Bill for the Prohibition of Forcible Conversions” presented its report to Parliament on Jan. 6, suggesting minor amendments that clear the way for a final vote in February. The provisions of the bill criminalize any act to convert or attempt to convert a person from one religion to another religion by the use of force, fraud or allurement. Those found guilty of breaking the law could be imprisoned for up to seven years and/or fined up to 500,000 rupees (US$4,425).

The Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero, a member of the Buddhist Jathika Hela Urumaya party (JHU or National Heritage Party), first proposed the draft in 2004. While the JHU claims the bill is designed to stop unethical conversions, civil rights groups and Christian churches say it will infringe on the constitutional rights of freedom of religion and legitimize harassment of religious minorities.

Buddhists form a 70 percent majority in Sri Lanka, with Roman Catholics constituting 7 percent and Protestant Christians only 1 percent of the population.

After the first reading of the bill in Parliament in August 2004, 22 petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the draft legislation.

The Supreme Court determined the draft bill to be valid except for clauses 3 and 4(b), which it deemed unconstitutional. These clauses required any person who converted or participated in a religious conversion ceremony to report to a government official and prescribed punishment for failure to report such conversions.

The draft was then referred to a parliamentary standing committee for further review. In its report, presented to the House on Jan. 6, the committee made a few amendments to the original draft in keeping with Supreme Court recommendations. The most notable amendment was the deletion of the need to report conversions and the punishment prescribed for not reporting them.

These amendments paved the way for the draft bill to be passed by a simple majority vote when it is presented for a final reading in Parliament this February.

Chief Opposition Whip Joseph Michael Perera, however, has requested a two-day debate on the draft bill on grounds that it would affect all religions.

 

Fulfilling Campaign Promises

The JHU, founded and led by Buddhist clergymen, made anti-conversion legislation a cornerstone of its debut election campaign in 2004, when it won nine seats in Parliament. With the possibility of an early general election this year, the bill has become a matter of political survival for the JHU.

At a press briefing on Jan. 7, Ven. Ellawela Medhananda Thero, a Buddhist monk and Member of Parliament representing the JHU, called on all political parties to vote in favor of the bill.

“People expected us to fulfill two goals,” he said. “One was to end unethical conversions and the other was to liberate the country from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. That is why we entered politics.”

Ven. Medhananda Thero added that the purpose of the bill was to protect all major religions in the country from fundamentalists and unethical conversions.

Sri Lanka’s Christian community and civil rights groups have strongly objected to the draft legislation. Far from stemming alleged forced conversions, they claim the bill will become a weapon of harassment through misapplication, limiting the fundamental rights of thought, conscience and religion. These rights include the right to adopt a religion and the right to practice, observe and teach religion.

The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) said in a recent press statement that, “It is our gravest concern that this bill will grant legal sanction for the harassment of religious communities or individuals, and offer convenient tools of harassment for settling personal disputes and grudges, totally unrelated to acts of alleged ‘forced’ conversion.”

 

Banning Compassion

According to Section 2 of the draft bill, the offer of any temptation such as a gift, cash or any other gratification to convert or attempt to convert a person from one religion to another is punishable with up to seven years of prison and a maximum fine of 500,000 rupees (US$4,425) – equal to approximately three years’ wages for the average Sri Lankan citizen.

Sri Lankan Christians have repeatedly expressed concern that key sections of the draft bill are open to wide and subjective interpretation that could criminalize not only legitimate religious activity but also legitimate social action by faith-based organizations or individuals.

“A lady who heads a charitable trust caring for orphans asked if she could be charged under this law, since she is a Christian and some of the children she cares for are not,” a lawyer told Compass. “Many people will now think twice before helping the poor or needy, for fear of being accused of committing a criminal act.”

Ironically, on June 4, 2008, in his address to the new Sri Lankan ambassador to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI had acknowledged the Sri Lankan government’s appreciation of the Catholic Church’s charity work in the country.

“Such action is a concrete example of the Church’s willing and prompt response to the mission she has received to serve those most in need,” he said. “I commend any future measures which will help guarantee that Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies can continue to care for the sick, the young and the vulnerable regardless of ethnic or religious background.”

He went on to assure the government that “the Church will continue in her efforts to reach out with compassion to all.”

On Jan. 8, at his traditional New Year meeting with all ambassadors to the Holy See, the pope appeared to be addressing concerns over anti-conversion legislation.

“The Church does not demand privileges, but the full application of the principle of religious freedom,” he said. He also called on Asian governments to ensure that “legislation concerning religious communities guarantees the full exercise of this fundamental right, with respect for international norms.”

Since the first draft anti-conversion bill was presented to Parliament in 2004, the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, NCEASL and Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka have repeatedly called for an alternative solution based on inter-faith dialogue with fair representation of all religious communities.

“Enactment of laws to regulate something as intrinsically personal as spiritual beliefs will not contribute towards resolving disagreements and promoting religious harmony,” said Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission. “On the contrary, it will create mistrust and animosity.”  

Report from Compass Direct News