The Coalition’s record on social policy: big on promises, short on follow-through


Anja Hilkemeijer, University of Tasmania; Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle; Katharine Gelber, The University of Queensland, and Peter Whiteford, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


Religious freedom

Anja Hilkemeijer, Law Lecturer, University of Tasmania; and Amy Maguire, Associate Professor, University of Newcastle Law School

In December 2017, joyous scenes accompanied the long-awaited enactment of marriage equality in Australia. This joy was soon replaced by outrage, however, when the community learned of the extent to which religious schools may legally discriminate against students and staff on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

In response, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last October that parliament would swiftly act to disallow religious schools to expel students on the basis of their sexuality.




Read more:
Talk of same-sex marriage impinging on religious freedom is misconceived: here’s why


However, action on removing the special exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (SDA) for religious schools quickly stalled. Following a number of private members’ bills, a range of amendments and two Senate inquiries, it became clear the Coalition government wanted religious schools to retain some special exemptions.

In a Senate committee report in February, Coalition senators insisted the matter of religious school exemptions from the SDA be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission.

To date, no referral has been made. And given the few parliament sitting days scheduled before the federal election, it appears this issue will fall to the next parliament to resolve.

The Coalition has also announced a number of initiatives to boost protections of religious freedom following the release of the long-awaited Ruddock Religious Freedom Review in December.




Read more:
Why Australia needs a Religious Discrimination Act


Contrary to the panel’s recommendation, Morrison said the government would appoint a religious freedom commissioner to the Australian Human Rights Commission. He also said he wanted to pass a Religious Discrimination Act before the next federal election, but the government has not provided any details on what form such a statute might take.

While the Liberal Party’s election policies have yet to be released, it is safe to assume the Coalition would seek to implement all the proposals announced in response to the Ruddock report if re-elected.

What about Labor?

If Labor wins the May election, it will feel pressure to follow through on removing exemptions for religious schools in the SDA, as it has committed to doing.

Labor has also indicated it supports enacting a federal law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs, but it needs to see the details of such a proposal before committing to it.


Freedom of speech

Katharine Gelber, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, The University of Queensland

Freedom of speech has become a prominent topic in public debate in recent years. One trigger was the 2017 marriage equality survey. During the campaign, the Australian Christian Lobby argued that marriage equality would “take away” people’s right to free speech and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott insisted that a “no” vote was essential, “if you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech”.

A second trigger was the 2017 parliamentary inquiry into freedom of speech, which raised the question of whether the wording of the racial vilification provision in federal law (Section 18C) should be changed, and whether the procedures under which complaints are dealt with by the Australian Human Rights Commission should be altered. Subsequent attempts to change the text of Section 18C were unsuccessful.




Read more:
Free speech: would removing Section 18C really give us the right to be bigots?


What has received far less media attention, though, are the multiple ways in which the Coalition has undermined free speech while in government. The Coalition appears to be a friend of free speech only when it suits them.

The list includes extensive laws that restrict free speech far more than is necessary for legitimate national security purposes.

These include counter-terrorism laws prohibiting the unauthorised disclosure of information that does not have a public interest exemption. Another new law ostensibly designed to prevent foreign interference in Australian affairs exposes journalists and charities to risk of prosecution.

In addition, the Coalition included secrecy provisions in the 2015 Border Force Act intended to prevent people who work in offshore detention centres from disclosing information. The legislation was so draconian, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants cancelled a planned visit to Australia in September 2015 on the grounds it would prevent him from doing his work. Eventually, in the face of a High Court challenge in 2017, the government removed the provisions.

What about Labor?

Labor’s position on free speech is less clearly stated. On the one hand, it has a record of support for national security laws that restrict free speech. However, Labor takes a different stance from the Coalition on anti-vilification laws, which it defends as narrow, valid restrictions that prevent racism, bigotry and discrimination.

Perhaps the biggest shift in public discourse around free speech has been the degree to which politicians from One Nation, Katter’s Australian Party and the United Australia Party, as well as some from the Coalition, have been emboldened to promote harmful stereotypes of migrants, asylum seekers, LBGTQI and other marginalised groups.

Indeed, in some quarters, political rhetoric has become so caustic that it has separated informed public debate from evidence and reasoning, and undermined core democratic institutions.

If Labor wins the election, its biggest challenge will be to provide the leadership to shift public discourse away from this and facilitate a political culture that embraces diversity and provides free speech to as many people as possible.


Social security and welfare

Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Social security and welfare remains the largest component of government spending. In the latest budget released by the Coalition government, spending is projected to increase from A$180 billion in 2019-20 to just over A$200 billion in 2022-23. This represents a slight fall, however, from 36.0% of total spending to 35.8%.

Compared to previous budgets, there are no major proposed cutbacks in assistance. The Coalition government has attempted to slash funding for social security and welfare in its past six budgets, with little success.

There are some welcome initiatives set out in the budget, including a commitment of A$328 million over four years to the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children, and a commitment of A$527.9 million over five years to establish the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.




Read more:
Future budgets are going to have to spend more on welfare, which is fine. It’s spending on us


But the budget also extended the government’s Cashless Debit Card trials, which have courted controversy. The Australian Council of Social Service has argued the card curtails people’s freedoms and hasn’t resulted in any positive effects. This followed an Australian National Audit Office report, which concluded that the card had major flaws and it was difficult to see where social harm had been reduced due to a “lack of robustness in data collection.”

The Coalition government has attempted to play up its social security and welfare successes in recent years, pointing to the fact that the proportion of the working-age population receiving income support is at its lowest level since the early 1980s.

But this appears to be the result of fewer people applying for benefits rather than people moving off benefits more rapidly, as has been claimed. It also reflects a somewhat stronger labour market in recent years and changes introduced to the Parenting Payment Single and Disability Support Pension programs under the Rudd/Gillard governments.

What about Labor?

Whoever wins the next election will face pressure to further increase welfare and social security spending as the National Disability Insurance Scheme ramps up and the Aged Care Royal Commission releases its findings. The recent report by the Parliamentary Budget Office projects that real spending on aged care will increase by around A$16 billion over the next decade as a result of Australia’s rapidly ageing population.

Newstart, the main payment for unemployed Australians, is also increasingly being seen as inadequate. It has slipped relative to pensions and wages each year because it is indexed to the slower-growing consumer price index.

Labor has promised that, if elected, it will use a “root and branch review” to look at lifting the rate of the Newstart unemployment benefit. However, it is not just Newstart that is inadequate, but support for single parents and families with children, which has been cut by both major parties over the last 15 years.The Conversation

Anja Hilkemeijer, Lecturer in Law, University of Tasmania; Amy Maguire, Associate professor, University of Newcastle; Katharine Gelber, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, The University of Queensland, and Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

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Five projects that are harnessing big data for good



File 20181101 78456 77seij.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Often the value of data science lies in the work of joining the dots.
Shutterstock

Arezou Soltani Panah, Swinburne University of Technology and Anthony McCosker, Swinburne University of Technology

Data science has boomed over the past decade, following advances in mathematics, computing capability, and data storage. Australia’s Industry 4.0 taskforce is busy exploring ways to improve the Australian economy with tools such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data analytics.

But while data science offers the potential to solve complex problems and drive innovation, it has often come under fire for unethical use of data or unintended negative consequences – particularly in commercial cases where people become data points in annual company reports.

We argue that the data science boom shouldn’t be limited to business insights and profit margins. When used ethically, big data can help solve some of society’s most difficult social and environmental problems.

Industry 4.0 should be underwritten by values that ensure these technologies are trained towards the social good (known as Society 4.0). That means using data ethically, involving citizens in the process, and building social values into the design.

Here are a five data science projects that are putting these principles into practice.




Read more:
The future of data science looks spectacular


1. Finding humanitarian hot spots

Social and environmental problems are rarely easy to solve. Take the hardship and distress in rural areas due to the long-term struggle with drought. Australia’s size and the sheer number of people and communities involved make it difficult to pair those in need with support and resources.

Our team joined forces with the Australian Red Cross to figure out where the humanitarian hot spots are in Victoria. We used social media data to map everyday humanitarian activity to specific locations and found that the hot spots of volunteering and charity activity are located in and around Melbourne CBD and the eastern suburbs. These kinds of insights can help local aid organisations channel volunteering activity in times of acute need.

Distribution of humanitarian actions across inner Melbourne and local government areas. Blue dots and red dots represent scraped Instagram posts around the hashtags #volunteer and #charity.

2. Improving fire safety in homes

Accessing data – the right data, in the right form – is a constant challenge for data science. We know that house fires are a serious threat, and that fire and smoke alarms save lives. Targeting houses without fire alarms can help mitigate that risk. But there is no single reliable source of information to draw on.

In the United States, Enigma Labs built open data tools to model and map risk at the level of individual neighbourhoods. To do this effectively, their model combines national census data with a geocoder tool (TIGER), as well as analytics based on local fire incident data, to provide a risk score.

Fire fatality risk scores calculated at the level of Census block groups.
Enigma Labs

3. Mapping police violence in the US

Ordinary citizens can be involved in generating social data. There are many crowdsourced, open mapping projects, but often the value of data science lies in the work of joining the dots.

The Mapping Police Violence project in the US monitors, make sense of, and visualises police violence. It draws on three crowdsourced databases, but also fills in the gaps using a mix of social media, obituaries, criminal records databases, police reports and other sources of information. By drawing all this information together, the project quantifies the scale of the problem and makes it visible.

A visualisation of the frequency of police violence in the United States.
Mapping Police Violence



Read more:
Data responsibility: a new social good for the information age


4. Optimising waste management

The Internet of Things is made up of a host of connected devices that collect data. When embedded in the ordinary objects all around us, and combined with cloud-based analysis and computing, these objects become smart – and can help solve problems or inefficiencies in the built environment.

If you live in Melbourne, you might have noticed BigBelly bins around the CBD. These smart bins have solar-powered trash compactors that regularly compress the garbage inside throughout the day. This eliminates waste overflow and reduces unnecessary carbon emissions, with an 80% reduction in waste collection.

Real-time data analysis and reporting is provided by a cloud-based data management portal, known as CLEAN. The tool identifies trends in waste overflow, which helps with bin placement and planning of collection services.

BigBelly bins are being used in Melbourne’s CBD.
Kevin Zolkiewicz/Flickr, CC BY-NC

5. Identifying hotbeds of street harassment

A group of four women – and many volunteer supporters – in Egypt developed HarassMap to engage with, and inform, the community in an effort to reduce sexual harassment. The platform they built uses anonymised, crowdsourced data to map harassment incidents that occur in the street in order to alert its users of potentially unsafe areas.

The challenge for the group was to provide a means for generating data for a problem that was itself widely dismissed. Mapping and informing are essential data science techniques for addressing social problems.

Mapping of sexual harassment reported in Egypt.
HarassMap



Read more:
Cambridge Analytica’s closure is a pyrrhic victory for data privacy


Building a better society

Turning the efforts of data science to social good isn’t easy. Those with the expertise have to be attuned to the social impact of data analytics. Meanwhile, access to data, or linking data across sources, is a major challenge – particularly as data privacy becomes an increasing concern.

While the mathematics and algorithms that drive data science appear objective, human factors often combine to embed biases, which can result in inaccurate modelling. Digital and data literacy, along with a lack of transparency in methodology, combine to raise mistrust in big data and analytics.

Nonetheless, when put to work for social good, data science can provide new sources of evidence to assist government and funding bodies with policy, budgeting and future planning. This can ultimately result in a better connected and more caring society.The Conversation

Arezou Soltani Panah, Postdoc Research Fellow (Social Data Scientist), Swinburne University of Technology and Anthony McCosker, Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications, Swinburne University of Technology

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

Why big projects like the Adani coal mine won’t transform regional Queensland


John Cole, University of Southern Queensland

Queensland election campaigns often focus on big projects for the regions, such as for roads, power plants and mines. But research suggests that mega projects, such as in gas and coal, have not transformed skills or improved employment prospects in regional Queensland.

Take away the temporary booms from construction and other short-term jobs, and employment growth overall is no better than before the global financial crisis. Certainly Queensland’s regions are no more resilient. Instead of these mega projects, what’s needed are new sources of economic value in knowledge, services, and technology.


Read more: Here’s 49 small communities innovating as well as the big cities


Between 2010 and 2013 investment in coal mining surged 400% in the Bowen Basin. Further south, in the Surat Basin and at Gladstone, four international consortia spent more than A$70 billion fast-tracking a coal seam and liquid natural gas industry.

These projects fell far short of generating new skills and enduring businesses in the regions. Continuing dependence on resources and agriculture also creates its own vulnerabilities, as both are challenged by market and investment volatility, and increased climate risk.

Overall the focus on mega projects has weakened social and economic resilience in communities across Queensland. Resilience refers to the capacity of regional communities to handle risks and manage change. Resilient regions deepen and diversify their economies.

Megaproject sugar highs

Annual construction spending in the resources sector peaked at A$36.6 billion in Queensland in 2013-14, and has dropped by 70% since. Unemployment has doubled in Queensland’s northern, central and outback regions.

The impact is seen in Townsville, Rockhampton, and Gladstone, who are now pitching to become bases for “Fly In Fly Out” workers. Rather than drive their own local economic development, these cities are punting on the next big mining project.

Gladstone is already the pin-up of the construction boom-bust development model. The port city boasts a highly trained workforce in alumina and aluminium processing, cement, liquid natural gas and chemical manufacturing. Still, it waits on the next big mining construction boom.


Read more: If Queenslanders vote on economic issues the Labor government is looking good


What regional Queensland really needs is politicians to abandon short-term economic fixes, in favour of a sustainable long term vision. Policies would have greater impact if they focused on skills and enterprise training. Stronger regional collaboration to broker opportunities for smart businesses is essential.

Just north of Brisbane, Moreton Regional Council is showing the way by transforming a former industrial site into a university campus. Tertiary education will come to the fast growing region along with a research and technology park, creating the jobs of the future.

Regional Queensland can also learn from the European Commission’s “smart specialisation” structural assistance programs that help regions build knowledge-based competitive industries through strategic public funding and support for research and development etc.

By 2020, smart specialisation in Europe is expected to deliver 15,000 new products to market, 140,000 new startups and 350,000 new jobs.

Integral to the European strategy is strong collaboration between the research and university sectors, and regional industries. Strong cooperation between levels of government is key to the success. The industries are as varied as cheese manufacturing in Spain, new transport systems in Finland, and materials manufacturing in France.

The Europeans have found that changing business culture and boosting entrepreneurship are just as important to creating opportunity as large infrastructure projects.

What Queensland should do

Queensland should rethink its big projects for a big country approach. Regional jobs that depend on project investment without generating local income are not sustainable. Small business and community must be restored to centre stage in development strategy.

Small and medium businesses collectively account for more than 99% of all business in Queensland, and three times as many people work in the state’s A$20 billion manufacturing sector (169,000) as work directly in the resources sector (48,000).

But small and medium businesses lack the profile of the “big end of town”, and the large resources companies have been effective at selling the narrative that they are central to the A$300 billion Queensland economy.


Read more: Bust the regional city myths and look beyond the ‘big 5’ for a $378b return


The priority for developing Queensland’s regions should be investment that generates small business growth, local income, new skills and communities. Particular emphasis has to be given to attracting and retaining talented people.

The state government can best help regional Queensland by heeding the Productivity Commission’s call to help regional Australia adapt and exploit the opportunities of ever present change. This requires greater local initiative, making the most of competitive strengths, and training people to better engage with the world.

The global services sector is a $US47 trillion industry. For regional Queensland to tap into this sector will require skills in fields as diverse as big data, biotechnology, genetics, robotics, communications, and digital manufacturing.

A good start has been made in the Advance Queensland Regional Innovation Programs which have challenged regions to think outside the box, collaborate, and come up with their own strategies. It complements the federal government’s Building Better Regions Fund.

The ConversationThis approach challenges the current politically dominated top down model of regional development. It’s a vision for regional Queensland that extends beyond resources, agriculture, tourism and construction to the people themselves.

John Cole, Executive Director, Institute for Resilient Regions, University of Southern Queensland

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

Budget bank levy: too big to fail, not too big to take a hit


Kevin Davis, Australian Centre for Financial Studies

The budget announcement of a 0.06% levy on a subset of bank liabilities looks arbitrary, and is certainly politically opportunistic. But it could be rationalised as a response, albeit probably not the best response, to offsetting a number of distortions in Australia’s banking market. The Conversation

The levy will certainly have consequences for bank pricing, forms of funding and competition – and will interact in complex ways with other prudential regulatory changes in the pipeline.

The levy will affect the four major banks and Macquarie. It will apply to liabilities other than deposits protected by the Financial Claims Scheme (ie. under A$250,000) and additional Tier 1 capital instruments.

As a ballpark estimate, it will apply to around 50% of a bank’s total funding, raising the overall cost of funding for the affected banks by around 0.03%.

The large banks are perceived to receive a competitive benefit (lower borrowing costs) from an implicit government guarantee associated with being “too big to fail”. On this basis, the levy could be seen as a charge for that benefit.

As it is in Europe, Australia could establish a “resolution fund” to enable the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) to facilitate a smooth exit (ie by merger) of a failing bank. Although this levy is going to be set aside by the government for budget repair, rather than being set up in another separate fund, it could be argued that it strengthens the government to support APRA in regulating the banks.

The nature of the regulatory system (such as capital adequacy requirements) creates a competitive imbalance favouring the big four banks. The imposition of higher minimum capital requirements for mortgage loans by banks (five banks were actually subject to this levy) was only a partial response to this imbalance.

It’s often argued Australian banks have relied too much on funding, other than “core/stable” deposits and capital, with potential consequences for safety and systemic stability. Indeed, the large banks have funded their increased share of home mortgage lending since the global financial crisis to a significant degree from wholesale borrowings.

However there are better ways of dealing with these perceived distortions than the government’s quick, politically opportunistic, measure. And, together with other bank accountability measures introduced in the budget, it may neutralise whatever support exists for a Banking royal commission.

The levy is likely to have a number of significant effects on financial markets and consumers of financial services. The levy will flow through the banks’ funds transfer pricing systems to affect loan pricing.

In this regard it is somewhat silly to simultaneously suggest that the big banks shouldn’t increase loan interest rates, as the Treasurer has, but that the measure will improve the competitive position of smaller banks. The latter will only happen if the large banks do respond in that way!

The large banks will have incentives to fund loans differently. In particular, by originating and then securitising loans (pooling various types of contractual debt, to get them off-balance sheet and funded by the capital market) they will avoid the levy on that part of their activities.

However, that benefit won’t apply if they use “covered bond” securitisation. This is when debt securities are issued by a bank and collateralised against a pool of assets, giving the investor a claim against both those assets and the bank in general. The levy is thus likely to give a kick to traditional securitisation over on-balance-sheet lending, but stymie the growth of covered bond funding.

The levy will also affect the structure of bank deposit interest rates. Because retail deposits are exempt from the levy, the large banks can be expected to bid for these deposits – pushing up the interest rates offered relative to the cost of borrowing in wholesale and large deposit markets.

That’s going to compound the already apparent effect on relative interest rates due to recent and forthcoming liquidity regulations being applied by APRA. But it will worsen the relative returns that superannuation funds can get on (their large) bank deposits and possibly induce them to look towards investing more in securitised products.

It’s also worth noting that the budget involves changes which will increase competition for retail deposits. One example is the measure allowing individuals to make limited, tax advantaged, contributions to superannuation which can be subsequently withdrawn for a house deposit.

A further likely effect is to encourage banks to make more use of equity capital and additional Tier 1 (AT1) capital funding (that preferences share structures listed on the ASX and held by many retail investors), relative to Tier 2 capital funding (provided by the wholesale and institutional markets), or other wholesale funding. While more capital funding is still required to meet the “unquestionably strong” criteria proposed by the Murray inquiry, and accepted by the government, it’s far from clear that increased reliance on the complex AT1 is a desirable outcome.

The revenue to be raised is large in absolute dollar amount – but is relatively small as a percentage of current bank profits (in the order of 4-5%).

It could be expected that some part of the levy will be passed on to customers, or avoided by the banks shifting to other forms of funding which do not incur the levy, such that the short run direct impact on after tax profits and shareholders is somewhat less than that 4-5% figure.

But the big unknown is how the change, in conjunction with a plethora of other ongoing regulatory changes affecting the financial sector, affects the competitive balance between the big banks, smaller bank competitors and capital markets and their prospects in the long run.


This piece was co-published with Pursuit.

Kevin Davis, Research Director of Australian Centre for FInancial Studies and Professor of Finance at Melbourne and Monash Universities, Australian Centre for Financial Studies

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

Australian IT Costs More – 50% More!!!


The link below is to an article that should have Aussies seeing red – we are paying up to 50% more than we should be for IT products, which is of little real surprise to most of us. Right across the board we have been paying more and there seems to be no real reason for it to be so other than the greed of big business.

For more visit:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/australian-it/personal-tech/australians-pay-50-per-cent-more-for-tech-goods/story-e6frgazf-1226687429151

Cricket: Australia – Australia Defeat India 4 Zip and the Big Bash 2012 Final


What a great day for Australian Cricket, with Australia wrapping up the test series against India 4 – 0 and the hugely successful 1st season of the Twenty20 Big Bash being completed tonight, with the Sydney Sixers defeating the Perth Scorchers.

It has been a massive day of cricket, with Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting, David Warner, Peter Siddle and Co, playing great cricket in the series win against India. Who will forget the massive triple century of Michael Clarke, the partnerships of Clarke and Ponting, the dominance of Australia’s bowling attack and the capitulation of the Indian team under relentless pressure from Australia. Both Shaun Marsh and Brad Haddin should be concerned about their immediate future in the team, with poor performances by them both throughout the series. Both Ponting and Michael Hussey silenced their critics with very solid performances in the series and David Warner has cemented his place in the team for the time being.

India however were very disappointing and several big name players should be looking at retirement – if not, they should perhaps be replaced. All the big names struggled, none more than Dravid and Laxman. Even Sachin Tendulkar struggled and at no time did it seem likely he would make his 100th international hundred.

The Big Bash Final win for the Sydney Sixers was set up right from the beginning with a brilliant first over by Brett Lee. It was a brilliant opening partnership between Moses Henriques and Steve O’Keefe that ensured the Sixers could chase down the total set by the Scorchers comfortably.

For more visit:
http://www.cricket.com.au/news-list/2012/1/28/australia-seal-whitewash

http://www.bigbash.com.au/
http://www.espncricinfo.com/big-bash-league-2011/content/story/551379.html

Plinky Prompt: What I’ll Remember Most About 2011


View from the Grand High Tops

This is a difficult question to answer – because there has not really been any ‘big’ events or happenings in my life this year (that I can remember anyway). I must lead a really boring life – which is probably true.

I guess the thing I will most remember, for the next little while anyway, will be the last month of the year. I have been on vacation from work for the entire month of December and have had a great time travelling around the state – well northern NSW anyhow. It has been just the break I have needed and will perhaps save my sanity for a bit.

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Hindu Extremists in India Beat Pastor Unconscious


Evangelist was traveling with sons from one village to another.

NEW DELHI, April 22 (CDN) — Hindu extremists beat a pastor and evangelist unconscious in front of his sons earlier this month in Madhya Pradesh state.

Ramesh Devda, 30, from Dhadhniya, Meghnagar district, said he was attacked on April 4 at about 11 a.m. after leading a prayer meeting in Chikklia village. He said he was on his way to Bhajidongra, at the border of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat states, by motorcycle with his two sons, 10-year-old Elias, and 8-year-old Shimon, to lead another prayer meeting.

When he reached Raseda village, he said, suddenly three people on two motorcycles blocked his way and forced him to stop.

“Suddenly out of nowhere these three men appeared in two motorcycles – they blocked me and tilted my motorcycle,” Pastor Devda told Compass. “We fell down. They were carrying big bamboo sticks and clubs. They started beating me, and then they called and three more men came and started to attack me.”

He said he was thankful that his sons were spared from beating, though his older son sustained a leg injury in the course of the attack.

“They were angry at me and were threatening to kill me and were warning me not to come to their area again,” he said. “My sons were screaming at the top of their voices, and they were afraid. One of the men hit me on my forehead with a big bamboo stick, cracking my skull. The others were also beating me on my body, especially my back with bamboo sticks.”

A blow to the forehead temporarily blinded him, he said.

“My eyes were darkened, and I fell down, and they proceeded to beat me even more,” he said. “The men were also abusive in the foulest language that I had heard, and they were drunk.”

People passing by heard the two boys crying out and came to help, and the attackers fled, he said, leaving the unconscious pastor and his sons.

“I do not know who helped me, as I was unconscious,” Pastor Devda said. “But I came to know later that local Christians also came in and called the emergency helpline. As a result, an ambulance came, which then took me to the hospital.”

He was taken to Anita Surgical Hospital on Station Road in Dahod, Gujarat. There a physician identified only as Dr. Bharpoda told him that he had fractured his skull.

“I am being treated for my wounds now, but there is still a lot of pain,” Pastor Devda said.

A Christian for 15 years, Pastor Devda has been in Christian leadership for 11 years and now serves with the Christian Reformed Fellowship of India. He has two other children, Ashish and 4-year-old Sakina, and his wife Lalita, 28, is active with him in Christian service.

Pastor Devda leads congregations in Chikklia, Bhajidongra and Dhadhniya villages.

“I have heard that I was attacked because the people of Chikklia did not like me conducting the Sunday service there,” he said. “The people who beat me up do belong to a Hindu fundamentalist outfit, and some believers in Chikklia know them. I can recognize them if I see them again.”

He said, however, that he does not want to file a First Information Report (FIR) with police.

“There is no one supporting me or standing with me in my village or my mission, and I am myself fearful, as I have to continue to minister to these very people,” Pastor Devda said. “I know my attack was pre-planned, but I do not want to report it to the police.”

A Christian co-worker from Rajasthan was also attacked about a month ago in equally brutal fashion, he said, but also refrained from filing an FIR because of fear of repercussions.

Vijayesh Lal, secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission, said the tribal belt that extends to the border areas of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan, has been a hot spot for anti-Christian activity since the late 1990s.

“Only recently a 65-year-old evangelist was beaten and stripped by Hindu extremists,” he said. “It is a worrisome trend, and one that should be dealt with not only by the government but by the secular media and civil society in general.”

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Plinky Prompt: My Favorite Celebrity


Bourne Ultimatum

Who is my favorite celeb? Now there’s a question. Now to answer this I’m thinking of my favorite current movies. My favorite movies at the moment are the Jason Bourne movies – they have been for a while. So with that in mind I’ll have to say Matt Damon.

Having commented above, I have to say I know nothing about Matt Damon, so my thoughts relate simply to the movies and his performance in them. I’m also a fan of Mel Gibson in Braveheart and The Patriot, Russel Crowe in Master and Commander, Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, etc – but their lifestyles are not big on my ‘like’ list. It is simply about their performances as actors and actresses, and that is all.

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