Senate kills tax cuts for big business as Dutton canvasses for second leadership bid


File 20180822 149475 36pn9.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Senate defeat ends months of wrangling by Senate leader Mathias Cormann to get the tax measure through.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has finally lost its bid to give big companies tax cuts, after the Senate rejected a desperate compromise that would have excluded the big banks.

With the Liberals in free fall over the leadership crisis and Peter Dutton admitting he is shaping up for another tilt at Malcolm Turnbull, the Senate defeat of the tax cuts, by 36-30, although long expected, was yet another blow to a reeling government.

Earlier Dutton, on 3AW, said of his campaign for the prime ministership: “I’m speaking to colleagues, I’m not going to beat around the bush with that.”

“If I believe that a majority of colleagues support me then I would consider my position”.




Read more:
Fierravanti-Wells resigns from ministry, accusing Turnbull of ignoring Liberal party’s conservative base


Dutton said he did not think the government should persist with the business tax cuts to the election.

“I would support that money being applied either to households or to a tax cut for small or micro businesses to allow them to grow”.

His stand on the big business tax cuts is part of the highly populist policy pitch he is putting forward, which includes removing the GST from electricity bills and having a royal commission into power companies.

“One of the things that we could do straight away in this next billing cycle is take the GST off electricity bills for families. It would be an automatic reduction of 10% off electricity bills,” he said.

“We could set up a royal commission into the electricity companies and into the fuel companies. I think Australian consumers for way too long have been paying way too much for fuel and for electricity and something just isn’t right with these companies.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull struggling to shore up his border


“Like we’ve done with the banks, I think the royal commission has the ability to get to the bottom of what is fundamentally wrong in the system, and what could help ease some of that pressure on families and potentially small businesses.”

The Senate defeat ends months of wrangling by Senate leader Mathias Cormann to get the tax measure through. Those against, apart from Labor and the Greens, were crossbenchers from One Nation and Centre Alliance, as well as Derryn Hinch and Tim Storer.

The government has already legislated phased-in cuts for companies with turnovers up to $50 million annually. The defeated legislation would have phased down the corporate rate for the big companies from 30% to 25% by 2026-27.

The proposal to exclude the banks was put by the government as a last roll of the dice. The debate was strung out this week as Cormann tried to swing the critical crossbench votes.

Cormann told the Senate the government understood the politics in relation to the banks, but as for other big companies, it was critical for Australia to have a competitive tax rate. Hinch unsuccessfully promoted a proposal to impose a ceiling of $500 million turnover.

During Wednesday morning’s debate, Labor made merry with the Liberal leadership chaos.

Labor frontbencher Doug Cameron said “The question is when is Senator Cormann going to join his great mate, Peter Dutton? When is he going to join him and when is the end of this government going to actually happen? I hear that it’s on again.” On Tuesday, Cormann declared his backing for Malcolm Turnbull.

The Business Council of Australia said: “The Senate’s failure to support a modest company tax cut over the next decade leaves Australia with the third highest company tax rate in the developed world, and at risk of having the highest.

<!– Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. –>
The Conversation

“It is extraordinary that Senators representing states where business investment is so vital have walked away from this for pure short-term political reasons.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Advertisements

A new study should be the final nail for open-plan offices



File 20180717 44103 1ms7ein.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Who can concentrate under these conditions?
Shutterstock

Libby Sander, Bond University

Open-plan offices have taken off because of a desire to increase interaction and collaboration among workers. But an innovative new study has found that employees in open-plan offices spend 73% less time in face-to-face interactions. Email and messaging use shot up by over 67%.




Read more:
Get out of my face! We’re more antisocial in a shared office space


The study is the first to track the impacts of open-plan offices using objective measures of communication. It used electronic badges and microphones to monitor interactions among employees and tracked changes in email use.

The findings build on previous research, which has found, for instance, open-plan work environments compromise employees’ ability to focus and concentrate on their work.

Why go open plan?

Theoretically there are good reasons to move to an open-plan office. Our social environment plays a big role in our ability to be proactive and motivated.

And success in modern workplaces is often driven by how well individuals interact with each other and with the organisation.

Research has shown that the time employees spend on “collaborative activities” has “ballooned by 50% or more” in the past two decades.




Read more:
Open plan offices CAN actually work, under certain conditions


Workplaces that facilitate more frequent and higher-quality contact with others have been shown to have improved communication and collaboration on tasks, job satisfaction and social support.

The design of the workplace significantly influences this, by supporting or detracting from interdependent work.

Building a strong sense of community has been a key factor in the success of the coworking space provider WeWork. This has been largely achieved through the physical work environment – clean spaces, narrow hallways, communal kitchens and the like.

Privacy and concentration are critical

But despite the pursuit of collaboration in workplaces, the need for concentration and focused individual work is also increasing.

And research shows that when employees can’t concentrate, they tend to communicate less. They may even become indifferent to their coworkers.

Knowledge work requires employees to attend to specific tasks by gathering, analysing and making decisions using multiple sources of information. When any of these cognitive processes are interrupted, inefficiency and mistakes increase.




Read more:
Open plan offices attract highest levels of worker dissatisfaction: study


Being able to focus on a task without interruption or distraction is an essential foundation for effective work.

But research suggests that poor design can have unintended consequences – increasing the cognitive load on workers through high density or low privacy, both of which increase distraction.

Why open plan doesn’t necessarily lead to collaboration

In many open-plan offices, the drive for increased interaction and collaboration comes at the expense of the ability to focus and concentrate.

When distraction makes it hard for employees to focus, cognitive and emotional resources are depleted. The result is increasing stress and errors, undermining performance.

When employees can’t concentrate on their work, their desire to interact and collaborate with others is reduced.

In addition, new research suggests that increased crowding in the workplace and low levels of privacy lead to defensive behaviours and strain workplace relationships.




Read more:
The backlash against open-plan offices: segmented space


Other aspects of workplace design, such as views of nature or access to daylight, can replenish cognitive resources even in the presence of distractions.

An aesthetically pleasing environment may provide an experience that is restorative.

Additionally, research has shown that aesthetically pleasing workplaces can help create trust within organisations.

Getting the balance right

Emerging research has shown that individuals view similar work environments differently. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, as is traditional in open-plan design, work environments should provide various options that support employees working effectively.

Evolving models of workplace design are seeking to achieve this, by providing different zones for different types of work and different needs.

However, the effect of shared desk arrangements in these types of environments requires further investigation.




Read more:
The research on hot-desking and activity-based work isn’t so positive


Many employers are heavily focused on driving collaboration and interaction at the expense of privacy and concentration. This has negative outcomes for both productivity and work relationships.

Organisations should focus on providing workplaces that support the requirements for privacy and focus, as well as interaction and collaboration.

The ConversationTo achieve this, greater emphasis needs to be placed on both visual and auditory privacy, particularly the use of acoustic treatments, as well as the layout and appearance of the workplace as a whole.

Libby Sander, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Bond Business School, Bond University

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

Labor would quash tax cuts for businesses with $10-$50 million turnover


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Bill Shorten has said a Labor government would repeal already-legislated tax cuts for companies with an annual turnover between A$10 million and $50 million, but left its position up in the air for those between $2 million-$10 million.

The decision, announced in response to questions at a news conference on Tuesday, does not appear to have gone through shadow cabinet. Nor did Shorten mention it when he addressed caucus on Tuesday morning.

It opened the opposition leader to immediate attack from the government and business.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said it was Shorten’s “captain’s call”.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said there were 20,000 businesses between $10-50 million turnover, with an average of 75 employees in those businesses.

“This is terrible news for 1.5 million Australians who work in those businesses that will have to face higher taxes under Labor if Labor is elected,” Morrison said. Shorten had turned former leader Mark Latham’s “ladder of opportunity” into “the snake of envy”, Morrison said.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO, James Pearson said Labor had sent a “very bad signal to business today”.

The opposition has had a long-standing policy of leaving the cuts in place for the smallest businesses – with turnovers less than $2 million. But by failing to clarify its position for companies up to $10 million, Shorten has left uncertainty for many smallish businesses.

A spokesperson for Shorten said: “We’ve never supported these tax cuts for big businesses – we voted against them and we haven’t changed our position.

“We’ve always supported tax cuts for small businesses.

“As Bill said, we’re considering a threshold of $2 million or $10 million turnover. That will be decided by the shadow cabinet, in the normal way.”

Shorten’s announcement comes days after the speech by frontbencher Anthony Albanese in which he advocated the Labor strike a better relationship with business. The speech was seen as Albanese differentiating himself from Shorten on a number of fronts and positioning on leadership ahead of the Super Saturday byelections.




Read more:
Anthony Albanese sets out his blueprint for Labor


Asked about the decision apparently not having gone to shadow cabinet, ALP sources argued it had been generally known that a Labor government would not leave in place company tax cuts above the $10 million threshold.

But shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, asked in May how long Labor was going to wait to give certainty to middle-level companies, said for companies above $2 million turnover “it is right and proper that we take some time to carefully work that through. We will be announcing our position, which will be crystal clear, not only to the voters but to the businesses of Australia,” Bowen said.

Labor earlier committed to repealing the tax cuts for big business, now before the Senate, in the event the government manages to legislate them. There is still no indication it can do so.

Whether a Labor government could get any repeals through would depend on the attitude of the Senate of the day.

Shorten’s announcement also comes as he faces criticism over Labor’s controversial advertisement, running in the byelections, that targets Malcolm Turnbull’s personal wealth and how he would benefit from the tax cuts for large companies.




Read more:
Labor makes company tax fight all about Malcolm Turnbull’s money


Shorten doubled down on the attack in the caucus meeting, saying that Turnbull “has no clue about how people actually live, and I do believe his wealth is connected to that”.

The ConversationHe also told caucus that the Longman byelection was very close and Braddon was “very difficult”.

Business size in Australia.
Australian Taxation Office, Taxation statistics 2015/16

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

A closer look at business cases raises questions about ‘priority’ national infrastructure projects


Glen Searle, University of Sydney and Crystal Legacy, University of Melbourne

Infrastructure Australia’s latest infrastructure priority list has been criticised for being “too Sydney-centric” and for giving Melbourne’s East West Link, cancelled in 2014, “high priority” status. The cancelled Roe 8 project in Perth was removed from the list.

So how does a project get onto Infrastructure Australia’s list? This requires submission of a full business case, which then needs to be “positively assessed” to be given priority status.

But our research, yet to be published, has found these business cases leave out highly significant costs. This article looks at three prominent projects – the WestConnex and East West Link motorways in Sydney and Melbourne respectively, and Cross River Rail in Brisbane – to illustrate how business cases submitted to Infrastructure Australia do not follow its requirements in key respects. This casts serious doubt on the business cases used to justify major motorway projects, as well as on how priority projects are selected.


Read more: FOI reform needed in Victoria amid East West Link fallout

Read more: Roe 8 fails the tests of responsible 21st-century infrastructure planning


What do business cases assess?

Ensuring business cases are completed before investment decisions are finalised is critical to “good planning”. Part of Infrastructure Australia’s remit is to head off concerns that projects are committed to before business cases are fully evaluated. This can help minimise “optimism bias” and ensure investments deliver community benefit.




Read more:
WestConnex audit offers another $17b lesson in how not to fund infrastructure


But we must also examine what the business case is actually showing us. The main part of each business case is the cost-benefit analysis. This compares the money value of project benefits and project costs. Economically viable projects should have a benefit-to-cost ratio above 1:1.

Infrastructure Australia requires project business cases to consider non-monetised benefits and costs, including community impacts. These benefits and costs are required to be quantified in some other way, or at least described. The basis used to estimate “external costs” must also be provided.

The cost-benefit methodology requires any significant positive or negative impacts on third parties – externalities – to be included. Examples include air quality, carbon emissions, noise, biodiversity and climate adaptation.

Social impacts to be covered include equity or the distribution of benefits (which Infrastructure Australia says need to be identified since cost-benefit analysis does not explicitly take these into account), and affected local communities and other individuals/groups. The non-monetised benefit and cost categories listed as relevant are: social impacts, cultural impacts, visual amenity/landscape, biodiversity and heritage impacts.

In support of monetary estimates, proponents must “describe and provide supporting material that demonstrates how land use, population and employment projections are modelled”.

The guidelines stress that the supporting conditions for expected land use impacts will be in place – for instance, necessary infrastructure investment where densification is assumed. Factors that can hinder the realisation of such benefits (such as local opposition to increasing density) must also be included.

This process would seem to produce a rational prioritisation of national infrastructure projects. The problem is that the business cases submitted to Infrastructure Australia do not follow its requirements.

High-priority projects with problematic business cases

To illustrate this, we analysed the business cases of three projects designated as “high priority” for Commonwealth funding:

  • East West Link, to which the Commonwealth allocated A$1.5 billion before the new Victorian government cancelled the project

  • WestConnex, which has been allocated A$3.5 billion

  • Cross River Rail, which is yet to receive funding.

A key problem in these business cases is that significant project cost items have not been monetised. These include costs relating to environmental effects such as noise and visual amenity and to other impacts on businesses, households and property values.

For example, none of the three cases includes a valuation of the costs of lost business and disruption to household travel and amenity during construction. (This is a big issue with Sydney’s southeast light rail project.)

There is also no costing of the loss of property values along motorways, especially around exhaust emission vents. The East West Link and Cross River Rail business cases make some allowance for this by including the value of general changes in amenity from noise, urban landscape and visual amenity. None of these are costed in the WestConnex case.

Another significant omission relates to the costing of land use impacts. The WestConnex and East West Link business cases both forecast more, and longer, road trips across the network as a result of the projects.

The WestConnex scheme will increase vehicle kilometres by 600,000 per day and make outer suburbs more accessible relative to the inner city. The potential extra costs from greater sprawl are high, estimated at A$4.99 billion for Sydney over 25 years from 2011 if greenfield housing was 50% of new dwellings rather than 30%.

The opposite is the case for Cross River Rail. Increased higher-density development around rail stations would produce infrastructure savings, but the business case does not give these a value.

Furthermore, the valuation of changes in transport mode resulting from each project is inconsistent.

The Cross River Rail business case includes savings resulting from motorists switching from road to rail after the line is built.

The WestConnex project will have the reverse effect, with 45,000 public transport trips per day being switched to the motorway. But the business case does not put a value on the costs of this. These include bus and train revenue losses, or reduced service frequency and increased waiting time to reduce losses.

Debatable ‘wider economic benefits’

The most contentious business case component is wider economic benefits. These are productivity improvements arising from increased central city job density as a result of the projects improving access.

These benefits needed to be included to lift the East West Link benefit-cost ratio above one. But this is only achieved through sleight of hand – public transport improvements into central Melbourne are included as part of the full project cost. As the public transport component of the business case had low costs compared to its benefits, including these wider economic benefits was enough to push the overall ratio above 1.

Similar benefits are part of the WestConnex cost-benefit analysis. However, these benefits are to be achieved from extra car trips to the centre. This takes no account of the disincentives of road congestion and lack of parking.

Current central Sydney planning controls allow a maximum of one new parking space per 75 square metres of floor area for not-so-tall offices – or one space for about five new workers – and even fewer spaces relative to floor area for higher buildings. This means most increased job density will not come from people driving to work.

By contrast, the wider economic benefits of the Cross River Rail resulting from increased job density in central Brisbane are not valued for inclusion in the cost-benefit analysis.




Read more:
Brisbane’s Cross River Rail will feed the centre at the expense of people in the suburbs


Rethinking the business case

Our work points to several real concerns:

  • a lack of consistency in what is included in business cases
  • questions about how cases can be reasonably compared across projects
  • discretionary inclusion or exclusion of critical items that bias results in favour of projects.

The ConversationWe need more holistic and integrated analysis of projects. This will take into account not only the “nation-building” aspects – the jobs and growth projects might inspire – but also the disrupting and displacing effects they produce across transport modes, land uses and people’s experiences of the city.

Glen Searle, Honorary Associate Professor in Planning, University of Queensland and, University of Sydney and Crystal Legacy, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, University of Melbourne

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

Three (funny) charts on: 2017 in business and economics



File 20171215 17878 p6wc9i.png?ixlib=rb 1.1

The Conversation, CC BY-NC

Jenni Henderson, The Conversation; Josh Nicholas, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, The Conversation

Here in the business and economy team at The Conversation, we love charts. This year we’ve made plenty of good ones with academics.

There were the charts that showed how the wealth gap between old and young was growing and how this was affecting mortgages and home ownership.

Then there were the ones on how our workforce is changing (and how we’re discriminating in it) and what this means for unions.

Charts have a way of showing us that we can be wrong about our thoughts on, say inequality in Australia and financial vulnerability.

But it would be wrong of us to finish the year without just a few more charts, three in fact.

Not so many jobs, maybe forget innovation

We’re hearing a lot less of the “jobs and growth” and the “innovation” mantras from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/4BQ31/4/

Maybe Jesse Stein was right when she suggested at the start of 2017 that it was time to ditch the spin around innovation. It got a very small mention in the Federal Budget, but it’s been hard for the government to make it stick to other policies too.

Speaking of other policies, there’s not much doing in jobs either. Despite the enthusiasm about recent unemployment figures, underemployment (where you can’t get enough hours despite having a job) remains high. For those who don’t have a full time job, like young people in the arts or services industry, it seems the pay off of casual work ain’t what it used to be either.

The Amazon apocalypse that didn’t happen

So far, Amazon’s Australian launch has been a bit of a fizzer. But tales of impending retail “decimination” were everywhere this year.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/cFnKb/2/

At The Conversation, Gary Mortimer correctly predicted that Amazon won’t be the end of shopping as you know it. At least so far.

But this isn’t the end of the story. The likes of JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman will likely feel the heat, considering Amazon’s scale. And shopping centres are already scrambling to offer customers something new.

More worrying are the implications for Australia’s tax system and industrial relations given Amazon’s business model.

Now that Amazon is finally here, it’s time to start thinking about what it means for our own habits. Should we “click and collect”? And what’s with everyone trying to sell you a subscription box?

Maybe I will invest in Bitcoin…

One Bitcoin, as of mid day on December 15, was worth about A$22,000. That could buy you more than 6,000 avocados (because who wants a house anyway), 1,375 kilograms of Vegemite, four Chinese crested dogs or a small to mid-sized car.

Although you’d have to have at least two Bitcoins to buy a Tesla Model 3 Roadster, but as Tesla is not yet ready to deliver this model in Australia, you may want to wait until you only need one Bitcoin.


https://cdn.theconversation.com/infographics/150/8fc5ed9d2a9dde01e982b970ad7862d6c5309a2f/site/index.html


But of course Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency so unless you exchange it for cash at the right time, all these comparisons are meaningless. In fact we’re not quite sure how to value Bitcoin even though we know why the price might be skyrocketing and how much energy it is guzzling.

The ConversationAll we can do is look back on bubbles and crashes of old and hope next year won’t see the worst case scenarios come true.

Jenni Henderson, Section Editor: Business + Economy, The Conversation; Josh Nicholas, Deputy Editor: Business + Economy, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, Deputy Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

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

The Snuggery: Turning Hugging into a Business


  1. In what can only be described as a novel approach to employment, Jacqueline Samuel has turned hugging into a business. What other ‘odd’ and ‘crazy’ ideas can be turned into a business – I’m sure someone out there is thinking about doing it if they haven’t already done so.

Detained Pakistani Christian Released – But Two Others Held


Christian falsely accused of ‘blasphemy’ taken into custody, released – and detained again.

LAHORE, Pakistan, April 18 (CDN) — A Christian illegally detained in Faisalabad on false blasphemy charges was freed last night, while two other Christians in Gujranwala arrested on similar charges on Friday (April 15) were also released – until pressure from irate mullahs led police to detain them anew, sources said.

Masih and his family have relocated to a safe area, but just 10 days after he was falsely accused of desecrating the Quran in Faisalabad district of Punjab Province on April 5, in Gujranwala Mushtaq Gill and his son Farrukh Mushtaq were taken into “protective custody” on charges that the younger man had desecrated Islam’s holy book and blasphemed the religion’s prophet, Muhammad. A police official told Compass the charges were false.

Gill, an administrative employee of the Christian Technical Training Centre (CTTC) in Gujranwala in his late 60s, was resting when a Muslim mob gathered outside his home in Aziz Colony, Jinnah Road, Gujranwala, and began shouting slogans against the family. They accused his son, a business graduate working in the National Bank of Pakistan as a welfare officer and father of a little girl, of desecrating the Quran and blaspheming Muhammad.

The purported evidence against Farrukh were some burnt pages of the Quran and a handwritten note, allegedly in Farrukh’s handwriting, claiming that he had desecrated Islam’s holy book and used derogatory language against Muhammad. A Muslim youth allegedly found the pages and note outside the Gills’ residence.

Inspector Muhammad Nadeem Maalik, station house officer of the Jinnah Road police station, admitted that the charges against the accused were baseless.

“The initial investigation of the incident shows Mr. Gill and his son Farrukh are innocent,” he told Compass.

The two were kept at a safe-house, instead of the police station, out of fear that Islamist extremists might attack them; their subsequent release led to Islamic protests that compelled police to detain them anew today, sources said.

Despite police admitting that the two Christians were not guilty, a First Information Report (No. 171/2011) was registered against them under Sections 295-B and C in Jinnah Road Police Station early on Saturday (April 16).

“Yes, we have registered an FIR of the incident, yet we have sealed it until the completion of the investigation,” Inspector Maalik said, adding that the police had yet to formally arrest Gill and his son. “We registered the FIR for their own safety, otherwise the mob would have become extremely violent and things could have gone out of control.”

The police official said that after the Muslim youth made the accusation, he gathered area Muslims together.

“It seems to be a well thought-out scheme, because the perpetrators chose the time of the Friday prayers for carrying out their plan,” Maalik said. “They were sure that this news would spread quickly, and within no time people would come out of the mosques and react to the situation.”

He added that police were now inquiring of the Gills why they might suspect anyone of wanting to harm them.

“We are also looking for any signs of jealousy or old enmity,” Maalik said.

Soon after the Muslim youth found the alleged pages, announcements blared from the area’s mosques informing Muslims about the incident and asking them to gather at the “crime scene,” sources said.

There are about 300 Christian families residing in Aziz Colony, and news of the alleged desecration spread like jungle fire. Announcements from mosques sparked fear in the already shaken Christian families, and they started packing their things to leave the area, fearing the kind of carnage that ravaged Gojra on Aug. 1, 2009, killing at least seven Christians.

“It’s true…the news of the accusations against Gill and his son and the announcements being made from the mosque calling on Muslims to avenge the desecration sent shivers down our spines,” said Pastor Philip Dutt, who has known the Gill family for several years and lives in the same neighborhood. “The charges are completely baseless. I’m sure no person in his right frame of mind would even think of committing such a vile act. Someone has clearly conspired against the Gill family.”

He added that most of the area’s Christians had left their homes overnight, fearing an attack by Muslims.

Dutt said that a large police contingent arrived in time and took Gill and his son into custody after assuring the enraged mob that a case under the blasphemy laws would be registered against the two men. Police remained stationed in the area to provide protection to area Christians, but the atmosphere was tense.

According to some reports, a group of angry Muslims wanted to torch Gill’s house, but timely police intervention thwarted their plan.

At the same time, a group of Muslim extremists stormed into the house of Anwar Masih, a Christian factory owner in Aziz Colony, and started beating him and his son, sources said. The family managed to save themselves by calling the police and now they too are in “protective custody.”

The Rev. Arif Siraj, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan, which also oversees the functioning of the Christian Technical Training Centre in Gujranwala, said the accusations against Farrukh were yet another example of how the country’s blasphemy laws are misused against innocent people.

“We have been engaged with the police and local Muslim leaders throughout the day to resolve this issue amicably,” Siraj said. “An eight-member committee comprising six Muslims and two Christian pastors has been formed to probe the incident, and they will make a report on Friday.”

The names of the Christians of the eight-member committee are Pastor Sharif Alam of Presbyterian Church Ghakarmandi and the Rev. Joseph Julius.

A large number of Muslims, including members of religious parties and banned outfits, came out to the roads of Gujranwala on Saturday (April 16) to protest the alleged desecration of the Quran and pressure police to take action against Gill and his son. The protestors reportedly gelled into one large demonstration on Church Road and headed towards the CTTC. Siraj said that some participants threw stones at a church on the road, but that Muslim elders immediately halted the stone-throwing.

“The district administration and Muslim leaders have now assured us that no one will target Christian churches and institutions,” he said, adding that both communities were now waiting for the committee’s report.

Sohail Johnson of Sharing Life Ministry expressed concern over the accusations.

“This case is a classic example of how Christians and Muslims continue to be charged with blasphemy on false accusations,” he said. “Isn’t it ridiculous that the accuser is claiming that Farrukh has confessed to burning the Quran in his note and thrown the burnt pages in front of his house – what sane person would even think of saying anything against prophet Muhammad in a country where passions run so deep?”

Arif Masih, the falsely accused Christian released last night, has reportedly been relocated along with this family to a safe location.

The original blasphemy law, introduced in British India in 1860, imposed a prison term of up to two years for any damage to a place of worship or sacred object carried out “with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion…”

The current provision in the Pakistan Penal Code, as amended in 1986, introduces both the death penalty for insulting Muhammad and drops the concept of intent. According to Section 295-C of the Penal Code, “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also
be liable to fine.”

The laws have drawn condemnation across the world, and two senior government officials – Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, a liberal Muslim, and Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, have been assassinated this year for demanding a review of the legislation.

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

Unprecedented Appearance of Foreign Evangelist in Vietnam


Luis Palau preaches at Protestant centennial in spite of government putting up obstacles to event.

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, April 11 (CDN) — The first appearance by a U.S.-based evangelist preaching at a major event since the 1975 communist victory in Vietnam helped the country’s Protestants to celebrate their centennial last weekend after government officials gave last-minute approval.

In what seems to have become standard government procedure in Vietnam, permission requested months in advance was granted – at a venue several kilometers from the one organizers sought – just three hours before the first major celebration of the Centennial of Protestantism in Vietnam (1911-2011) at Thanh Long Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday (April 9) was scheduled to begin. Argentine-born Luis Palau, who has preached in person to 28 million people in 72 countries, delivered the gospel
message.

A second night of celebration began at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

The venue change meant equipment staged in one part of the city had to be moved to the new location before it could be assembled, church leaders said. It also meant notifying many thousands of people invited to one venue about the change to the other, they said.

Given the lack of government cooperation, the leader of Vietnam’s Evangelical Fellowship (of house churches) said the fact that the event went ahead at all was “an absolute miracle.”

By word-of-mouth, Internet, Twitter, Facebook, and especially phone texting, thousands of people got word of the change as technicians and hundreds of volunteers made heroic efforts to ready the stadium. Vietnamese police proved surprisingly helpful in redirecting people from the original site to the new location.

At 9 p.m. – two hours after the schedule start – huge banners reading “PRAY FOR VIETNAM” and “GOD LOVES VIETNAM” were unfurled to welcome the Luis Palau Team and thousands of people to the festival, which joyfully combined the centennial celebration with Easter.

After opening prayers and welcome by Vietnamese leaders, Palau’s son Andrew Palau gave testimony to how God delivered him from alcoholism and drug addiction and called him to Christian service. An Intel Corp. vice-president also gave testimony to how God blessed his life and his business. Pastor-musician Don Moen, known for songs such as “Give Thanks,” “God is so Good,” and “God will Make a Way,” provided inspirational music followed by exuberant congregational singing.

Palau began his message at 11 p.m., delivering a concise and clear evangelistic sermon, and about 800 came forward as he invited people to receive Christ. It was after midnight before people began to depart for their homes.

The second celebration proceeded Sunday evening (April 10) in a more orderly and timely fashion. More than 12,000 people filled the seats and most of the chairs set up on the stadium field. In response to Palau’s second message, more than 1,000 people, according to one organizer, came forward in response to the call to follow Christ.

Photos and Vietnamese text on the events are readily available at http://www.hoithanh.com, and clips of the arrival of Palau and Moen in Vietnam may be found on YouTube. They were welcomed at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhut airport by hundreds of enthusiastic young people carrying banners and flowers.

Dr. Nguyen Xuan Duc, president of the Vietnam World Christian Fellowship, said he was very encouraged about the future of the church in Vietnam.

“These are watershed days for Protestantism in Vietnam,” he said. “There is no fear, but rather wonderful spontaneity and irrepressible joy. Events like this happen in spite of the government and without the blessing of some overly conservative church leaders. What we see is young, vibrant, lay-led, internationally connected and very media-savvy.”

While Moen, Palau and others spoke on Sunday night, also appearing in Ho Chi Minh City was iconic singer/songwriter Bob Dylan – whose performance sold only about half of the 8,000 seats at RMIT university.

A week before in Beijing, censors who reviewed Dylan’s song list allowed an unabashedly Christian song beginning, “Jesus said be ready for you know not the hour in which I come,” but did not allow “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” according to The Associated Press. Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch complained that, in an earlier day, Dylan – whose music contributed to opposition to the Vietnam War – would never have let a government tell him what to sing, according to the AP.  

Vietnamese organizers and the Palau team now travel north to Hanoi for similar events on Friday and Saturday (April 15-16). As yet there is no indication whether authorities there will be more accommodating than they were in Ho Chi Minh City.

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

Turkey Arrests 20 Allegedly Linked to Malatya Murders


Suspects in Ergenekon network long sought in homicide case to be questioned.

ISTANBUL, March 18 (CDN) — In simultaneous operations in nine different provinces of Turkey, authorities yesterday arrested 20 people suspected of playing a role in the murder of three Christians in Malatya in 2007, according to local news reports.

Zekeriya Oz, chief prosecutor overseeing the investigation into a clandestine network known as Ergenekon allegedly aimed at destabilizing the government, ordered the arrests based on information that linked the suspects to both the network and to the Malatya murders, Turkish press reported after Istanbul Chief of Police Chief Huseyin Capkin announced the sweep at a press conference yesterday.

“This was an operation related to the Malatya Zirve publishing house murders,” Capkin said, according to online news agency Malatya Guncel. “They were just arrested. This is connected to the Zirve publishing house. That’s the framework.”

Those apprehended include Ruhi Abat, a Muslim theology professor from Malatya Inonu University, Mehmet Ulger, a retired commander of the Malatya Gendarmerie in service at the time of the murders, and other members of the military. Oz will question the suspects in Istanbul, according to reports.

Police also raided the guesthouse of the Izmir Gendarmerie, seizing computers and documents. News sources listed Malatya, Siirt, Mugla, Mersin and Izmir as some of the cities in which authorities conducted raids and arrests.

A plaintiff attorney in the Malatya murder case, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, told Compass that the names on the list of those arrested were suspects he and his colleagues have been trying to convince the Malatya prosecutor to pursue since the court received a tip in May 2008.

“They are all the usual suspects,” Cengiz said. “All their names were mentioned in the first informant letter. Unfortunately, despite all our efforts, we couldn’t find anyone to investigate these allegations.”

The letter was the first of many informant letters the Malatya court has received since it started hearing the case on Nov. 22, 2007. Penned by someone who identified himself by the pseudonym “Ali Arslan” but unsigned, the letter claimed that Ulger incited Emre Gunaydin, one of the suspects, to carry out the murders and that he communicated with Gunaydin through Abat and two gendarmerie officers, reported Turkish English daily Today’s Zaman.

Cengiz said that, though it was the duty of the Malatya prosecutor to pursue leads in the informant letter, the prosecutor deferred the investigation to the military court, which in turn refused to investigate, claiming that the name on the letter was fake and the letter was not signed.

“It was like a joke,” Cengiz said.

On April 18, 2007, two Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and German Christian Tilmann Geske, were bound, tortured and then murdered at the office of Zirve Publishing Co., a Christian publishing house in Malatya. The suspects, Salih Guler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker, and Abuzer Yildirim, were arrested while trying to escape the scene of the crime, as was alleged ringleader Gunaydin.

From the beginning of the court hearings, plaintiff lawyers have brought evidence to the court showing the five young suspects were connected to a wider plot to kill the three Christians as well as other key Christian leaders across Turkey. Known as the Cage Plan, the plot is believed to be part of the alleged Ergenekon “deep state” operation to destabilize the government.

The Cage Plan centers on a compact disc found in 2009 in the house of a retired naval officer. The plan, to be carried out by 41 naval officers, termed as “operations” the Malatya killings, the 2006 assassination of Catholic priest Andrea Santoro and the 2007 slaying of Hrant Dink, Armenian editor-in-chief of the weekly Agos.

Cengiz told Compass that new evidence in the Ergenekon case might have convinced Oz to pursue those detained yesterday, and he called the move “a very big step” in shedding light on the Malatya case. He and colleague Erdal Dogan said their efforts – especially a request they sent to Oz on Jan. 18, 2010 asking him to investigate the allegations that Ergenekon members were behind the Malatya murders – surely helped to move the process along.

“I believe our efforts had a very big influence on this,” Cengiz said. “We submitted a petition and requested this from Oz last year. He is acting with the Malatya prosecutor on this.”

At the request of the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office, the Istanbul Police Department prepared a report last year revealing links between the Malatya murders and Ergenekon, according to Today’s Zaman. According to the report, Sevgi Erenerol, spokesperson for a bogus ultranationalist association known as the Turkish Orthodox Church, described foreign missionary activity as “spying” and “provoking.”

“A piece of evidence in the report was a conference on missionary activity given by Sevgi Erenerol … at the General Staff’s Strategic Research and Study Center,” reported Today’s Zaman.

Erenerol was arrested in connection with Ergenekon in 2008. Her suspected links with those thought to have masterminded the Zirve murders may have influenced yesterday’s arrests, Today’s Zaman reported.

She is also believed to be one of the key people behind false accusations against two members of Turkey’s Protestant Church, Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal, who were arrested in October 2006 for insulting Turkishness and Islam because they openly shared their faith.

After four years of legal battle, a judge finally acquitted the two Christians of insulting Turkey and its people by spreading Christianity, but not without slapping them with a hefty fine for a spurious charge. The two men are in the process of appealing the fine.

The Turkish Constitution grants all citizens the right to speak about their faith.

Plaintiff attorneys in the Malatya murders case said they believe yesterday’s arrests bring them closer to their requests that the Malatya murders case file be joined to that of the Ergenekon trial.

“From now on, we can predict it is very possible that our case will be sent to Istanbul soon and that these two cases will be merged,” said Cengiz.

The next Malatya hearing is scheduled for April 29.

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