Governments took the hard road on clean energy – and consumers are feeling the bumps



Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) and Energy Minister Angus Taylor at Snowy Hydro Scheme. The Grattan Institute says the government should better encourage investment rather than build electricity infrastructure.
LUKAS COCH/AAP

Guy Dundas, Grattan Institute

More than two years on from the sudden closure of Victoria’s Hazelwood coal power station, quite a mess remains. It is clear the federal government’s market interventions have not worked. Electricity prices are higher and supply is tight. Consumers are not happy.

In the face of this, federal and state governments have felt pressured to act – especially after several severe blackouts attracted fever-pitch media coverage and prompted a national debate about electricity reliability. But their approach has been ad hoc and has made things worse in the long run.

Australia is in the midst of a great energy transition. The nation’s entire coal fleet will close over the next few decades, and the government must urgently improve its policy response or electricity consumers will continue to suffer. We propose a solution that ensures coal plants close in an orderly way.

A high-voltage electricity transmission tower in Brisbane. A new report says governments are hindering the clean energy transition.
AAP/Darren England

We can’t afford a repeat of the Hazelwood mess

The aftermath of the sudden Hazelwood closure is a good case study in failed government intervention.

Hazelwood closed in March 2017 after supplying Victoria with cheap brown coal-fired electricity for more than half a century. The plant’s owner, French energy company Engie, gave only five months’ notice of the shutdown. This left no time to build replacement electricity generation, so prices rose and supplies became less reliable.

In the years since Hazelwood’s closure, the federal government failed to clear up more than a decade of uncertainty around national climate and energy policy – including last year when it dumped the National Energy Guarantee. This has left investors wondering when a framework to cut emissions in the electricity sector will be imposed.

Instead of creating investor certainty, the federal government has adopted a “picking winners” approach. It plans to build new generation assets such as the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project, and subsidise others through a program of underwriting investments. Alongside this, the government’s proposed “big stick” laws would give it vast powers including those to break up big energy companies. Our research has confirmed this has a chilling effect on investment.

The sudden closure of large coal power stations is challenging enough without being made worse by ill-conceived policy responses. Hazelwood will be the first of many closures. Australia’s entire coal fleet is expected to retire over coming decades as it ages and gets displaced by low-cost solar and wind energy.



The Grattan Institute, CC BY-ND

Flogging the life out of coal plants is not the answer

The crucial lesson from Hazelwood is that Australia needs adequate notice of impending coal plant closures. This allows timely replacement investment to occur, minimising the price and reliability impacts on consumers.

New South Wales’ Liddell power station is due to close next and its owner AGL has given plenty of notice. In 2015 it announced a 2022 closure, and this year firmed up its plans for full closure by 2023. One unit of four will close in 2022.




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When it comes to climate change, Australia’s mining giants are an accessory to the crime


Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor is so concerned at Liddell’s closure he set up a taskforce to examine how to manage it, including extending its life or replacing the lost generation like-for-like.

But his concerns are misplaced. The Australian Energy Market Operator’s 2019 reliability projection for New South Wales is that the outlook is improving more rapidly than it was in 2018. About 2.3 gigawatts of solar and wind energy has been committed in NSW since the start of 2017 – and more is planned.

The best way to maintain reliability is through investment – not by trying to keep an ageing power station running on hot summer days.

The now-closed Hazelwood coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria.
Global Warming Images/Cover Images

Laws on coal plant closures must grow teeth

Liddell’s closure is very likely to prove manageable. But this cannot be taken for granted in all future cases.

A new rule introduced late last year requires generators to give at least three years’ notice of closure. It’s a step in the right direction, but the rule lacks teeth. The penalties for non-compliance are small, and the mechanism could be gamed by generators nominating a closure date and then continuously delaying closure. We need better insurance to avoid future disruptive closures.

Past Australian experience gives some lessons on what not to do. In 2011 the Gillard Labor government proposed paying coal generators to close, on the grounds that otherwise they might continue operating indefinitely. Four of the five short-listed generators have since closed – without being paid a cent of government money. We are now dealing with the opposite problem, but the lesson holds – taxpayers will be taken for a ride if government money is used to delay or otherwise “manage” coal closures.

International experience is not likely to translate well to Australia. Germany’s coal closure commission built on deep cooperation between business, unions and governments that is not present here. The UK and Canada legislated coal phase-outs, but they did so at a time when coal provided only 10% of their power, compared to more than 60% in Australia today.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard during a visit to the Acciona windfarm near Gunning, NSW, in 2011. Labor’s incentives for coal stations to close were also misguided.
AAP/Alan Porritt

Make coal plants guarantee orderly closure

The Grattan Institute’s latest report, Power play: how governments can better direct Australia’s electricity market, proposes a new approach. Coal generators should be required to put money – indicatively several hundreds of millions of dollars each – into a fund, managed by an independent third party, to be held as security. Generators would be allowed to nominate their own closure window, but would get these funds back only if they closed within this window – providing a strong financial incentive for predictable and orderly closure.

Circumstances change and generators cannot reasonably fix closure decades in advance. To balance flexibility and certainty, younger generators would be allowed to nominate relatively long windows, but they would need to tighten these windows as they age.




Read more:
How to transition from coal: 4 lessons for Australia from around the world


Limited exemptions would be available if early closure did not harm the reliability of the market, or conversely if continued operation of the coal plant in question was absolutely necessary to maintain reliability.

This policy would come with costs. Collectively generators would need to place several billions of dollars into the fund. As generators have a higher cost of capital than would be earned on the held funds, this would cost them, collectively, several hundreds of millions of dollars a year. But the measure would provide low-cost insurance against the destabilising effect of poorly managed coal closures on the A$18 billion National Electricity Market.

The policy would give a clear signal for investment in new, clean power supply before – not after – coal closures, and better manage Australia’s energy transition.The Conversation

Guy Dundas, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

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

How often should I get my teeth cleaned?



Teeth cleaning at the dentist can remove plaque that regular brushing and flossing can’t.
From shutterstock.com

Arosha Weerakoon, The University of Queensland

If you went to your dentist for a check-up and dental clean in the last year, give yourself a pat on the back. Not everyone loves the dentist, but research shows people who visit at least once a year for preventative care are happier with their smile.

Regular dental visitors are also less likely to need a filling or have a tooth removed.

So how often do we need to go to the dentist? Most of us can get away with an annual trip, but some people at higher risk of dental problems should visit more often.




Read more:
Child tooth decay is on the rise, but few are brushing their teeth enough or seeing the dentist


Why do I need to get my teeth cleaned?

While we all do the best we can on our own, professional teeth cleaning removes plaque, the soft yellowish build-up, and calculus (hardened plaque) we can’t get to. This soft build-up is made up of billions of different types of bacteria that live and reproduce in our mouth by feeding on the food we eat.

Most bacteria live in our bodies without causing too much trouble. But certain bacteria in dental plaque, when they grow in numbers, can lead to cavities (holes in the teeth) or gum disease.

A dental clean will reduce your chance of getting cavities or gum disease by significantly reducing the amount of plaque and calculus in your mouth.

So how often?

As a dentist, my patients often ask me how regularly they should get their teeth cleaned. My response is usually: “That depends”.

Most private health insurance schemes cover a dental check-up and clean once every six months. But there’s no hard and fast evidence, particularly if you’re a healthy person who is less likely to get a cavity or gum disease.




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However, some people are at higher risk of getting dental cavities or gum disease – and this group should get their teeth cleaned more often.

Hole in one

We know certain health and lifestyle factors can affect a person’s risk of developing cavities. Here are some yes/no questions you can ask yourself to understand whether you’re at a higher risk:

  1. is your drinking water or toothpaste fluoride-free?
  2. do you snack a lot, including on sweets?
  3. do you avoid flossing?
  4. do you brush your teeth less than twice a day?
  5. do you visit your dentist for toothaches rather than check-ups?
  6. do you need new fillings every time you visit the dentist?
  7. is your dentist “watching” a lot of early cavities?
  8. do you have to wear an appliance in your mouth such as a denture or braces?
  9. do you suffer from a chronic long-term health condition such as diabetes?
  10. do you suffer from a dry mouth?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you’re likely to need to see your dentist or hygienist at least every six months, if not more often.

As well as removing the bug-loaded plaque and calculus, people prone to cavities benefit from the fluoride treatment after scaling.

Evidence shows professional fluoride treatment every six months can lead to a 30% reduced risk of developing cavities, needing fillings or having teeth removed.




Read more:
Two million Aussies delay or don’t go to the dentist – here’s how we can fix that


Dental health is related to our overall health

Some people with chronic health issues such as heart conditions or diabetes will need to see their dentists more frequently. This is because they are more prone to gum disease.

People taking blood thinners and other medications, such as pills and infusions for osteoporosis, may need to visit the dentist more regularly too. These medications can complicate the process of an extraction or other dental work, so regular checks and cleans are best to help detect problems before they become serious.

People who visit the dentist regularly are less likely to need a filling or have a tooth removed.
From shutterstock.com

People with bleeding gums should also see their dental practitioners more often. This is especially important if you have been diagnosed with advanced gum disease, known as periodontal disease.

What about the budget?

The average cost of a check-up, dental clean and fluoride treatment is A$231, but the cost can vary from A$150 to A$305. You can contact your local dentist to find out what they charge. Your dentist may offer you a payment plan.

If you can’t afford this, you may qualify for free or discounted treatment if you hold a concession card. Children from families that receive a Family Tax Benefit A may be eligible for free dental treatment through the Child Dental Benefits Schedule.

People with private health insurance with extras or ancillary cover will also have some or all of their dental treatment covered.

Protecting your smile

So you don’t really get cavities or have gum disease, but would prefer to see your dentist every six months? Great. Some people prefer to go twice a year to reduce the chance of a nasty toothache.

Parents often wish to set a good example for their children by making regular check and clean appointments for the whole family.




Read more:
Health care is getting cheaper (unless you need a specialist, or a dentist)


There are many benefits to regular checks and cleans. Visiting your dentist regularly helps reduce the chance of needing more complex and expensive dental treatment later on.

And touching base with your oral health practitioner provides that nudge we all need now and again to eat healthily, brush better and floss more often.The Conversation

Arosha Weerakoon, Lecturer, General Dentist & PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland

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

How the National Energy Guarantee could work better than a clean energy target


David Blowers, Grattan Institute

The Turnbull government has announced its new energy policy, called the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). The NEG contains two new obligations on electricity retailers. The first is to ensure we have enough electricity generation available to meet our needs (the Reliability Guarantee). The second is to drive down the sector’s greenhouse emissions (the Emissions Guarantee).

No, it’s not Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s Clean Energy Target. But it is a policy that will drive down emissions in the electricity sector after 2020 and can be adapted by the Labor Party to hit the emissions-reduction target of any future Labor government.


Read more: Subsidies for renewables will go under Malcolm Turnbull’s power plan


In other words, the NEG can offer the previously elusive prospect of a bipartisan and credible emissions reduction policy, of the kind that industry has been crying out for.

What is the Emissions Guarantee?

Under the Emissions Guarantee, retailers will be required to buy or generate electricity with a set level of emissions intensity – the tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted per megawatt hour – each year. The allowable level of emissions intensity will be reduced each year, to stay in line with Australia’s Paris climate target.

To meet this obligation, retailers will probably build or purchase their own generation assets, or sign contracts with other generators. Over time, retailers’ portfolios will become cleaner and cleaner, as new low-emission generators are built and more high-emission generators are shut off.

There are several benefits to this scheme. Australia’s emissions targets for the electricity sector should be met. And the scheme can theoretically be ramped up to meet more challenging targets over time, simply by lowering the emissions intensity limit for retailers.

It should also be reasonably cost-effective. Rather than the government imposing quotas or limits for various types of technology, retailers will be given a free hand to pick the cheapest mix of generation that will meet their emissions obligations. It is genuinely technology-neutral.

This makes the Emissions Guarantee superior to Finkel’s Clean Energy Target. The CET would have acted as a mechanism to push clean energy technologies into the system, but it would not have cared which generators left the market as a consequence.

Under a CET, a black coal generator could leave the market instead of a higher-emitting brown coal generator, if the black coal generator produced more expensive electricity. Then even more low-emission generation would have to be built to meet the target.

The Emissions Guarantee overcomes this problem. The important outcome is that the mix of generation meets a level of emissions intensity. This can be achieved by pushing in low-emissions generation and/or by pushing out high-emissions generation. The outcome will be similar to that of an emissions intensity scheme: lower levels of renewables than under other schemes, but a cheaper way to reduce emissions.

There are downsides to this approach. First, like an emissions intensity scheme and the CET, the Emissions Guarantee is not linked directly to the absolute emissions that need to be abated if Australia is to meet its Paris targets. But this problem can be overcome if the mechanism allows some flexibility around the setting of the emissions intensity target – which it appears to do.

Nor is the scheme integrated fully with the wholesale energy market – the National Electricity Market (NEM). As a result, it could produce some perverse outcomes in the NEM, where some regions have too much of particular types of generation.

What is the Reliability Guarantee?

This is where the other part of the policy comes in. Under the Reliability Guarantee, retailers will be required to contract (or own) a certain amount of “dispatchable” generation – electricity that can be switched on at will – to meet demand in each state.

The Reliability Guarantee appears to be a type of “capacity mechanism”, aimed at ensuring that generation can always meet demand. It appears to be consistent with the “retailer capacity obligation” proposed in a Grattan Institute report last month.


Read more: Baffled by baseload? Dumbfounded by dispatchables? Here’s a glossary of the energy debate


Many of the precise policy details are yet to be worked out – not least the precise definition of “dispatchable generation” under this scheme. But the hope is that it will ensure all NEM states have sufficient electricity supply. Avoiding any repeat of last summer’s blackouts and shortages has become a political imperative.

While reliability might be guaranteed under the new policy, it should be remembered that capacity mechanisms tend to be both complex and costly. The devil will of course be in the detail. But the fact the government has chosen to impose the obligation on retailers suggests the market will be given the opportunity to find the least-cost solutions to our reliability needs.

A way forward?

So the retailers will now be responsible both for delivering our emissions reductions and for making sure that the lights stay on. These obligations will strengthen the incentives for retailers to own their own generation assets, rather than being hostage to wholesale prices. The issues raised by ACCC boss Rod Sims relating to the power of the big gentailers now have increased importance.

The National Energy Guarantee is not the best policy solution. A carbon price imposed on electricity generators may have avoided the need for either of the two “guarantees” contained in the NEG. But the political reality is that a carbon price of any sort is not going to be adopted in Australia any time soon.

The ConversationSo this is not a perfect solution, but it is better than what we have now. And importantly, it is supported by all members of the newly formed Energy Security Board. Opportunity knocks for this nation’s politicians.

David Blowers, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

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

As the Clean Energy Target fizzles, what might replace it?



File 20171013 31418 1iqrkby.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Indigo Skies Photography/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Alan Pears, RMIT University

Disclaimer: This article does not reflect my views about effective energy policy, which would ideally be comprehensive and deliver deep emissions reductions. Rather, this column explores what options might be attractive to our present prime minister and energy minister.


The energy melodrama continues to escalate. According to some interpretations, renewables are now so cheap that they don’t need any subsidy. Meanwhile, business concerns about energy policy uncertainty are reaching a crescendo, while voters see a government bumbling in the opposite direction to what much of the public actually wants.

Nevertheless, the existing Renewable Energy Target (RET) needs replacement, not least because it only runs until 2020 anyway. It is also too simple: it does not incentivise “dispatchable” renewable energy – that is, technologies that include energy storage to stabilise a grid that depends on intermittent renewables. To be fair, we need to remember that the current RET model was first proposed in 1997 and introduced by the Howard government, in a very different situation.


Read more: Coal and the Coalition: the policy knot that still won’t untie


So we do need a new energy target in some form. A well-designed target will decline in cost as competition and innovation do their work; it would be an effective policy tool to support emerging activities. We might think of it as a government endorsement that helps to focus both industry and consumers. Some degree of certainty is needed to underpin investment. And, as I explain later, a well-designed approach improves system reliability and stability.

So how does the government encourage reliable, affordable, cleanish electricity supply while also meeting its other apparent criteria of supporting coal and not boosting renewable energy “too much”? On top of that, how does it deal with high gas prices, which increase the cost of gas-fired generation? And support Snowy 2.0? It’s a wicked problem.


Read more:
Baffled by baseload? Dumbfounded by dispatchables? Here’s a glossary of the energy debate


A dispatchable reliable energy target – a DRET – could be an attractive solution to a government in trouble. Superficially, it sounds like just a tweak of the popular RET. It mentions the right buzzwords. It could include incentives for “baseload coal”. It might even pass through the Senate.


Read more: Grattan on Friday: Turnbull close to finalising energy package but can he sell it?


The present Renewable Energy Target

It’s worth noting that the present RET certificate price was trending down nicely towards zero – until the Abbott government tried to kill it off and investment collapsed. Renewable certificate prices (actually Large Generation Certificates, or LGCs) had fallen below A$30 due to competition. The Abbott government’s own review found that renewable energy was pushing down wholesale electricity prices by about as much as the cost of the certificates. The scheme was functioning effectively as a cheap net incentive for large-scale renewable energy.

Meanwhile, the price for Small Technology Certificates (STCs) that subsidise rooftop solar on voters’ homes has remained high, but has been politically untouchable.

The Large Generation Certificate price was trending down until investment stalled due to the uncertainty created by Abbott Government efforts to abolish the RET. Note: LGC=Large Generation Certificate STC=Small Technology Certificate.
Clean Energy Regulator

DRET design options

Under a DRET, variable renewable energy projects would need to incorporate or partner with facilities that could store energy, stabilise voltage and frequency, and help restart after a blackout. As the present energy market provides weak signals for these, and they would cost extra, the rationale for a subsidy exists, even for coal-supporting MPs who want to be re-elected. So the subsidy would shift from the energy source, to the delivery of reliable supply.

It would make sense to include incentives for demand-side action, too, as reducing demand reduces pressure on the supply system and energy prices.

Another important question is how incentives can be delivered in ways that support efficient market operation. The present RET certificate approach sends a price signal, but leaves qualifying generators exposed to risk from varying wholesale electricity and certificate prices.

Alternatives such as reverse auctions linked to long-term contracts focus on competitive bidding as the “market” dimension of the subsidies. The successful bidders would also face market forces as they bid their output into the competitive wholesale market.

Reverse auctions potentially provide long term stability for service providers and consumers. These could be traditional Power Purchase Agreements, or the ACT government’s “contract for difference” approach. These approaches could be applied to energy efficiency measures and demand-side options.


Read more: The National Electricity Market has served its purpose – it’s time to move on


Extra features, such as local job creation and grid stabilisation, can be included in long-term contracts, as we have seen in state government programs in the ACT and, recently, Victoria.

An advantage of the reverse auction approach for a government is that it can be tweaked in response to changes in technologies, cost trends, demand and market rules, as we have seen with the Emission Reduction Fund.

Where to for coal?

As I look at the future of coal, I can’t help but be reminded of the famous comment by a Saudi sheikh in the 1970s: the stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.

In a DRET model, new coal plant proposals could bid like other generators. But they would confront their own challenges to provide comprehensive services and meet potential extra requirements built into auctions, such as employment in a wide range of sectors and across broad geographical areas.

Coal plant is not “fast response”, so it may also need storage to meet response requirements. Also, each coal generation unit is large, so a failure at a critical time might not meet dispatchability and reliability criteria without support from other generators, demand response, storage or other solutions.

The climate elephant

A DRET would not actively address climate policy: this exclusion seems to be necessary for any energy policy to survive the Coalition party room. However, it is still likely to help to cut emissions. Future auctions could incorporate a carbon intensity or other climate dimension. And it would provide some certainty for investors in energy solutions.

The ConversationA DRET would operate in a complex environment, where state and local governments, businesses, communities and individuals, and even the Commonwealth government, will continue to act to achieve their own objectives, including climate response.

Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University

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

Pakistani Taliban Kills Three Foreign Christian Aid Workers


Kidnapped relief workers had come to provide aid to victims of massive flooding.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, August 27 (CDN) — Authorities on Wednesday (Aug. 25) recovered the bodies of three Christian relief workers who had been kidnapped and killed by members of the Pakistani Taliban in the flood-ravaged country, area officials said.

Swat District Coordination Officer Atif-ur-Rehman told Compass that the Pakistan Army recovered the bodies of the three foreign flood-relief workers at about 7 a.m. on Wednesday. An official at the international humanitarian organization that employed the workers withheld their names and requested that the agency remain unnamed for security reasons. Military sources who withheld news of the deaths from electronic and print media to avoid panicking other relief workers granted permission to Compass to publish it in limited form.

“The foreign aid workers have been working in Mingora and the surrounding areas,” Rehman said. “On Aug. 23 they were returning to their base at around 5:35 p.m. when a group of Taliban attacked their vehicle. They injured around five-six people and kidnapped three foreign humanitarian workers.”

Pakistan has been hit by its worst flooding in decades, with the United Nations now estimating more than 21.8 million people have been affected. Foreign aid workers are involved in relief activities across the country, including Swat district in Khyber-Paktunkhwa Province in northern Pakistan. At least 8 million people require emergency relief, with hundreds of thousands reportedly isolated from aid supplies.

An army Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) source said rangers have been deployed in Swat and other potential target areas to help provide security for relief workers.

“The Taliban had warned about attacks on foreigner aid workers and Christian organizations,” the ISPR source said. “All the international humanitarian organizations have been notified, and their security has also been increased.”

Rehman noted that the Taliban also has been trying to bring relief to flood victims.

“The Taliban are also trying to support the flood victims, and many other banned organizations have set up camps in southern Punjab to support the victims,” he said. “They intend to sympathize with the affected and gain their support.”

The president of advocacy organization Life for All, Rizwan Paul, said the bodies of the three relief workers had been sent to Islamabad under the supervision of the Pakistan Army.

“We strongly condemn the killing of the three humanitarian workers,” Paul said. “These aid workers came to support us, and we are thankful to the humanitarian organizations that came to help us in a time of need.”

Pointing to alleged discrimination against minorities in distribution of humanitarian aid, Paul added that Christians in severely flood-damaged areas in Punjab Province have been neglected. The majority of the effected Christians in Punjab are in Narowal, Shakargarh, Muzzafargarh, Rahim Yar Khan and Layyah, he said.

“The Christians living around Maralla, Narowal, and Shakargarh were shifted to the U.N.- administered camps, but they are facing problems in the camps,” he said. “There are reports that the Christians are not given tents, clean water and food. In most of the camps the Christians have totally been ignored.”

Life for All complained to U.N. agencies and the government of Pakistan regarding the discrimination, but no one has responded yet, he said.

“There have been reports from Muzzaffargarh and Layyah that the Christians are living on the damaged roads in temporary tents, as they were not allowed in the government camps,” he said.

In Sindh Province Thatta has been flooded, and around 300 Christian families who tried to move from there to Punjab were forbidden from doing so, a source said. Meteorologists are predicting more rains in coming days, with the already catastrophic flooding expected to get worse.

Kashif Mazhar, vice president of Life for All, said that in the northern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa conditions for Christians are better as there are Christian camps established, and Garrison Church in Risalpur is also providing aid to victims.

“It is discouraging to see that the Christian organizations are wholeheartedly supporting the victims regardless of the religion or race, but in most of the areas the Christians are totally ignored and not even allowed to stay,” Mazhar said.

Foreign targets are rarely attacked directly in Pakistan, despite chronic insecurity in the nuclear-armed state, which is a key ally in the U.S.-led war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. On March 10, however, suspected Islamic militants armed with guns and grenades stormed the offices of a Christian relief and development organization in northwest Pakistan, killing six aid workers and wounding seven others.

The gunmen besieged the offices of international humanitarian organization World Vision near Oghi, in Mansehra district, of the North West Frontier Province. Suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan have killed more than 3,000 people since 2007. Blame has fallen on Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants bitterly opposed to the alliance with the United States.

The U.N. decided last year to relocate a limited number of its international staff from Pakistan because of security concerns. Its World Food Program office in Islamabad was attacked in October last year, with five aid workers killed in a suicide bombing.

Then on Feb. 3, a bomb attack in the NWFP district of Lower Dir killed three U.S. soldiers and five other people at the opening of a school just rebuilt with Western funding after an Islamist attack.

Report from Compass Direct News

50 000 Visitors


The Random Thoughts Blog has reached something of a milestone – we have now had 50 000 visitors since we moved to the WordPress.com blogging platform. This isn’t a huge number of visitors when compared/contrasted with other sites, but it is still a big thing for this Blog. I wasn’t sure how many visitors we would get – I certainly wasn’t expecting that many. So thank you to everyone who has ever visited the site – even if you weren’t among our happier site viewers.

To mark this occasion I have changed the appearance of the Blog, to one that I hope is aesthetically more appealing and that will making the reading experience here so much better. The previous red-coloured links were getting to me, so I think this new look improves the reading experience here. Hopefully that proves to be the case. I do prefer the more clean approach to a Blog – much like a magazine or article in a book. It just allows me to enjoy the reading experience without having to struggle to stay focused on what I’m reading.

Anyhow – thanks again – and please come back.

Muslim Teachers in Pakistan Allegedly Abuse Christian Students


Derogatory remarks, beatings, pressure to convert to Islam drive two girls to drop out.

SARGODHA, Pakistan, May 19 (CDN) — Muslim teachers at a girls school here have derided Christian students for their faith, beat them, pressured them to convert to Islam and forced them to clean school bathrooms and classrooms after class hours, according to area Christians.

Muslim teachers at Government Higher Secondary School in village No. 79-NB (Northern Branch), Sargodha, in Punjab Province, have so abused Christian students that two of the dozens of Christian girls at the school have dropped out, said a 16-year-old student identified only as Sana.

“Christian students are teased and mocked by radical Muslim, female teachers from the start of the school day to the end,” she said. “Due to the contemptuous behavior on religious grounds by the fanatical Muslim principal and staff, Christian students feel dejected, depressed and frustrated. I am totally broken-hearted because of the intolerance and discrimination.”

Rebecca Bhatti, a 16-year-old grade 10 student, told Compass she left the government school because her main teacher, along with an Islamic Education & Arabic Language teacher identified only as Sumaira, a math teacher identified only as Gullnaz, other Muslim teachers and Ferhat Naz, the principal, would call Christian girls in to the staff room at recess and demand that they polish their shoes or wash their undergarments and other clothes. 

“If any girl turned down the orders of any of the Muslim teachers, they were punished,” Bhatti said as she spilled tears. “The Muslim school teachers ordered us to wash lavatories daily and clean the school compound and classrooms, even though there is staff to keep the school clean.”

She said that the school also denied Christian students certificates of completion when they had finished their studies.

“This was to bar Christian students from gaining admission to other educational institutions or continue their education,” she said.

The principal of Christian Primary School in the village, Zareena Emmanuel, said that Naz and Sumaira subjected Christian students to beatings. Emmanuel also said that Muslim teachers at the secondary school derided Christian students for their faith.

“I regret that it is the only government school of higher education for girls at the village and adjoining areas,” Emmanuel said, “and therefore Christian girls have to experience such apathy, religious discrimination and bitterness each day of their schooling, which is supposed to be a time of learning and imagination.”

Christian residents of the village said they have been longing to bring abuse at the school to light. The Rev. Zaheer Khan of Maghoo Memorial United Presbyterian Church and Emmanuel of the primary school have asked education department officials of Sargodha Region to investigate, he said.

Khan also said that Naz and Muslim teachers including Gullnaz, Sumaira and Muzammil Bibi have treated Christian students contemptuously and have frequently asked them to convert to Islam.

“The attitude of the Arabic & Islamic Education teacher, Sumaira, toward the Christian students is beyond belief,” he said, “as she has forced the Christian girls to wash toilets, classrooms and clean the school ground, saying they must not be hesitant to do sanitation work because it’s the work of their parents and forefathers handed down to them.”   

Questioned about the abuses, Naz told Compass that she would immediately take note of such incidents if they had occurred.

“Any of the teachers held responsible of forcing Christian students convert to Islam will be punished according to the departmental rules and regulations,” Naz said. “A few Christian girls have abandoned their education because of their domestic problems, but even then I’ll carry out a departmental inquiry against the accused teachers, and no one will be spared if found guilty.”

Naz said the inquiry would focus especially on the accusations against Sumaira, Muzammil and Gullnaz.

Protesting residents gathered outside Naz’s office last week said she had no real intention of investigating the alleged abuses; some said she was making weak excuses to defend her staff members. They urged an independent investigation of Sumaira, Gullnaz, Muzammil and Naz.

“This cannot be tolerated, as it’s a matter of their girls’ careers and education,” said one protestor.

Noureen Austin, a 19-year-old Christian student in grade 12, described the school environment as discriminatory, depressed, gloomy and agitated.”

“No Christian student can get a quality education there,” she said. “Most of the school faculty are fanatical female Muslims who would not waste any chance to target Christian girls because of their belief in Christ.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

Lao Christians Expelled from Village Suffer Critical Illnesses


One dead, two hospitalized; village chief threatens other residents.

DUBLIN, May 14 (CDN) — In spite of assurances of religious rights by officials in March, Lao Christians expelled from a village in Saravan Province in January are suffering from a prolonged lack of adequate food and clean water.

The lack of basic resources has led to diarrhea, dehydration, eye and skin infections, fainting and general weakness for the Christians expelled from Katin village, and one person has died, Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported.

A Christian who went by the single name of Ampheng died suddenly in April while praying for one of two other Christians who were hospitalized with illnesses caused by their living conditions, an HRWLRF spokesman told Compass. The exact cause and date of Ampheng’s death were not immediately known.

Expelled from their village at gunpoint on Jan. 18 for failing to renounce their faith, the 48 Christians were forced to build temporary shelters at the edge of the jungle, about six kilometers (nearly four miles) away from the village.

They have since survived on food found in the jungle and water from a hand-dug well that is unfit for cooking or drinking, sources told HRWLRF.

District officials in early May gave the Christians permission to return to Katin village and take rice from their family rice barns to prevent starvation, said another source on condition of anonymity.

In addition, some of the Christians have returned to tend their family rice fields, fearing that if the fields are completely abandoned they may lose the right to cultivate them next year. Water buffaloes essential for farm work, however, were confiscated in January along with the Christians’ homes and registration papers, according to HRWLRF.

When the Christians interred Ampheng at the local burial ground, district officials fined them for failing to produce the required proof of house registration, according to HRWLRF.

Katin’s village chief recently warned other residents that their personal possessions would be confiscated if they had any contact with the expelled Christians. If any family continued to maintain contact despite repeated warnings, their own homes would be torn down, the chief reportedly said.

Official reactions to the plight of the Christians have been mixed. In March, a delegation of provincial and district officials led by Gov. Khamboon Duangpanya visited the Christians at their jungle site and assured them of their legal right to embrace the faith of their choice and to live anywhere in the district.

Just days earlier, however, the district head, identified only as Bounma, summoned seven of the Christians to his office and said that he would not tolerate the existence of Christianity in areas under his control. (See “Lao Officials Visit Expelled Christians, Give Assurances,” March 19.)

High level officials failed to intervene last July when villagers seized a Christian identified only as Pew and poured rice wine down his throat, killing him by asphyxiation. Village officials later fined Pew’s family for erecting a cross on his grave, and then detained 80 Christians in a school compound, denying them food and pressuring them to renounce their faith.

The heads of 13 families then signed documents renouncing Christianity in order to protect their children, but most resumed attendance at worship meetings within a few months.

Provincial officials did call a meeting in September 2008 asking Katin authorities to respect Lao religious laws and allow the Christians freedom to worship, but their request was ignored.

A communist country, Laos is 1.5 percent Christian and 67 percent Buddhist, with the remainder unspecified. Article 6 and Article 30 of the Lao Constitution guarantees the right of Christians and other religious minorities to practice the religion of their choice without discrimination or penalty.

Report from Compass Direct News