View from The Hill: Fleeing ministers fray hayband round embattled government



File 20190302 110107 1k091pv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Linda Reynolds was today sworn in as defence industry minister and promoted into cabinet.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government likes to issue the list of Labor MPs retiring at the election, to argue that Coalition senior people jumping ship is nothing out of the ordinary.

That, of course, is sophistry. However many ALP people are leaving, no-one can suggest it is because they are pessimistic about Labor’s chances in May.

It’s also implausible for the government retirees to maintain their coming exits have nothing to do with assessments of the Coalition’s prospects.

Kelly O’Dwyer might have sounded credible when she explained she wished for another child. Some might have sympathised with Michael Keenan wanting to see more of the four kids he has.

And no doubt politicians in their 40s (Steve Ciobo) and 50s (Christopher Pyne) can desire new fields after long parliamentary stints. (In Pyne’s case, it became clear last August, after Julie Bishop stepped down, that his political career would never include the job he’d always coveted, foreign affairs.)

Look at these retirements collectively, however, and ask one blunt question: would they all be departing if the government were leading Labor 55-45% in Newspoll?

Of the five who are going from the ministry (four of them from cabinet) only Nationals Senate leader Nigel Scullion, at 62, is within cooee of a workforce retirement age. (Scullion has said he doesn’t know what his future holds beyond some shooting and fishing.)

The loss of a batch of ministers leaves an even bigger hole because some of those remaining are wounded (think Small and Family Business Minister Michaelia Cash) or sub-optimal (think Environment Minister Melissa Price).

The overall impression left is of an administration held together with a frayed hayband.

Morrison has kept all the departees in their current jobs except Ciobo who has been replaced in the defence industry post by West Australian senator Linda Reynolds.

Reynolds, previously an assistant minister, has been elevated into cabinet (where Ciobo was) and promised the defence portfolio, now held by Pyne, if the government is returned.

Her military reserve background giving her a no-nonsense style, Reynolds has so far been a good performer. She chaired a parliamentary inquiry that sensibly highlighted the need to overhaul section 44 of the constitution (which the government ignored). She deserves promotion.

But Morrison’s motives were transparent. With this addition he can now point to seven women in cabinet, more than in any former government.

That won’t deal with the problem of too few women in Liberal ranks generally, or prevent gender arguments coming into preselections. But it gives him something positive to say. On Saturday, as he went to the swearing in of Reynolds, he promised that if he were re-elected he’d keep that many women in his new cabinet (just don’t call it a “quota”).

Reynolds will obviously be working full bore through the campaign (she also retains her previous responsibility for emergency management, which has come to the fore with the Queensland flood disaster).

But the departing ministers will be winding down, reducing the government’s fire power in the coming weeks.

And what about the efforts of that other high profile retiree, Bishop?

Bishop delayed her announcement about leaving parliament so she had the best chance of influencing the choice of her successor in her seat of Curtin. But now she and Senate leader Mathias Cormann, who’ve long vied within the WA Liberal party, are at odds over the preselection.

The field includes four women and a man. Bishop is understood to back foreign affairs specialist and academic Erin Watson-Lynn, but Cormann is believed to support former University of Notre Dame Vice-Chancellor Celia Hammond.

If Bishop, a superb fundraiser, does not see her preferred candidate win, will she be even angrier than she has been following her WA colleagues failing to vote for her in the leadership contest? As a safe seat Curtin doesn’t need much money but several WA marginals do. If Bishop dropped off the money trail the Liberals would feel the pinch.

And speaking of marginal seats, the Liberal Party is in the extraordinary position that in the Sydney seat of Reid (on 4.7%) Craig Laundy, a former minister, has yet to announce his future. He is widely expected not to recontest, making the electorate harder for the government to hold.

Whatever Morrison thinks privately about his thinning senior ranks, publicly he is stoic. “I don’t get flapped by things like this. I just keep going,” he said on Saturday. Not much choice really.

SUNDAY UPDATE:

Julie Bishop has reopened wounds in the Liberal Party with a
provocative interview declaring she could have beaten Bill Shorten if
she had become prime minister and attacking Christopher Pyne and
Mathias Cormann over their behaviour in last year’s leadership coup.

Bishop told Perth’s Sunday Times that at the time she was “confident”
she could defeat Shorten, and “that was Labor’s thought too”.

In the August ballot Bishop received only 11 votes, when the moderates
got behind Scott Morrison, judging he had the better chance of
stopping Peter Dutton winning. Bishop was angry at her colleagues’
behaviour, especially that none of those from her home state of
Western Australia voted for her.

In the interview she said that before the party meeting she believed
she had the support of at least 28 colleagues.

“I am now told that there was a view, led by Christopher Pyne and
others, that even though I would have 28 votes – which was many more
than Scott Morrison – it wouldn’t be enough to beat Peter Dutton. So,
they wanted to make sure that happened.

“If I had known that was what their thinking was, I could have
dissuaded them of it but also I would have pointed out that the
question was: Who could beat Bill Shorten? And I was confident that I
could”.

In a direct challenge to Cormann, whose decision to support Dutton was
one of the pivotal factors in Turnbull’s fall, Bishop said: “I don’t
understand his motives in seeking to change the leadership to Peter
Dutton last year.

“You still wish he would explain his motives in backing Peter Dutton
over Malcolm Turnbull and causing enormous instability within the
Liberal Party.

“He backed Peter Dutton who had very little support in WA and who
fought against WA getting a better GST deal.”

Bishop explained her decision to step down as foreign minister thus:
“I didn’t want to endorse what had happened and by continuing to
accept what had happened I would have been endorsing it.

“And also, there had to be a level of trust with your cabinet
colleagues and I thought that had broken down and it would be better
for them to have a new team and for me to step back”.

Bishop denied she was backing anyone in the preselection for her seat
of Curtin, despite the speculation she supported Erin Watson-Lynn. She
also denied she was pushing for a woman. “I didn’t say I want a woman.
I want the best person. I will back whoever the preselectors come up
with,” out of the field of four women and one man.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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PAKISTAN: PASTORS ARRESTED FOR USE OF LOUDSPEAKERS


Police claim amplified Easter Sunday service defamed Islam.

ISTANBUL, May 27 (Compass Direct News) – Nine pastors from two neighboring villages in Pakistan could face prison time for using loudspeakers to broadcast prayers and sermons from their churches on Easter Sunday.

Martinpur and Youngsnabad, 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of Lahore, are majority Christian villages. The nine pastors who lead congregations there say that local Muslim security forces have twisted the law to solicit a bribe.

Police arrested and detained Hafeez Gill, Fahim John, Maksud Ulkaq, and a catechist from the Catholic Church in Youngsnabad identified only as Saqab at 10 a.m. on May 16. While en route to the police station, the officers told them they would be released if they offered a bribe, according to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). The pastors refused and were detained, but following a public outcry from their parishioners they were released at 2:30 p.m.

Reports indicate the arrest was premeditated. A leader in the village council invited the pastors to his house for a meeting, but when they arrived in the morning local police were waiting for them.

They were taken to the police station, where Station House Officer Mirza Latif showed them two First Instance Reports (FIR) registered on May 11 claiming they had misused their speakers. The FIRs, however, state the pastors misused the speakers on Easter Sunday, which happened nearly a month earlier.

The FIRs accused the pastors of misusing their loudspeakers under Section 3/4 of the Amplifier Act. Their attorney said the reasons for their arrest were both religiously and financially motivated.

Police claimed that the church leaders had used their loudspeakers to amplify messages defaming Islam. The FIRs, however, make no mention of the content of their remarks.

“The police wanted to cause humiliation to the pastors and were also asking for money,” said CLAAS attorney Akhbar Durrani.

The case was registered by a special branch of local police forces charging the four Youngsnabad pastors. On the same day, they filed charges against the five pastors in Martinpur: Shahazad Kamarul-Zaman, Mumbarab Kuhram, Hanuk Daniel, Amar Sohail, and a fifth pastor unnamed in the police report.

Nasir Bahatti, president of the Youth Welfare Association in Youngsnabad, a Christian social organization, said the church had permission to amplify the service and that the arrests were religiously motivated.

“There is no reason to ban the loudspeaker,” he said. “They are banning our worship and prayer. But we have permission [to use them] on particular days such as Christmas and Easter.”

If the FIRs are not withdrawn, the pastors will go to court over the alleged loudspeaker violation. Police released them from jail on May 16 under the condition that they obtain bail at an upcoming hearing.

The church loudspeakers broadcasted the church prayers and sermon for villagers unable to attend the service, as is custom in some Christian villages. Pakistani law limits the use of loudspeakers in Christian worship services to a specific time allotment (and usually to villages and towns with a small Muslim population), but these restrictions were not enforced in the almost-entirely Christian villages of Youngsnabad and Martinpur.

Few such restrictions, however, are placed on Pakistani mosques. The five daily calls to prayer, Friday sermons, and Quran recitations on Islamic holidays are frequently amplified on loudspeakers. The double standard follows a traditional Islamic dictum in which church bells were not allowed to ring in areas under Islamic rule.

“The Muslims in this nation can worship according to their prayer method, so why can’t we if we are all given equal rights?” Bahatti said.

The standard of living is relatively high in these villages due to a well-educated population. There are longstanding missionary schools in the villages, and much of the population has lived abroad. English missionaries founded Youngsnabad and Martinpur 120 years ago during British colonial occupation.

Some rights groups worry that the harassment of Pakistani Christians in villages such as Martinpur and Youngsnabad could mean deteriorating conditions for religious minorities in areas once considered secure.

CLAAS reported that vandals completely ransacked a church in Bannu Cantt, in the North West Frontier Province, on May 12. They destroyed the altar, burned Bibles, and broke pews. Although the city is located in a province that borders Afghanistan, where Taliban rebels have been active, it was thought to be a relatively secure area, according to the report.

Pakistan remains in turmoil as the military moves into Swat Valley to uproot the Taliban, which has established Islamic law (sharia) in the embattled area. An estimated 2 million Pakistanis have become refugees by fleeing the area after a government evacuation order.

Report from Compass Direct News