Julie Bishop goes to backbench, Marise Payne becomes new foreign minister


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After five years as foreign minister, Julie Bishop will move to the backbench.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Julie Bishop has chosen to go to the backbench, to be succeeded by Marise Payne as foreign minister, and the energy and environment portfolio has been split, in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ministry announced Sunday.

Dan Tehan replaces Simon Birmingham in education, in a gesture to the Catholic education sector ahead of a special deal to meet its trenchant criticisms of the government’s schools policy.

Bishop, 62, who won only a handful of votes in the leadership ballot after the “stop Dutton” forces rallied behind Morrison, said in a statement she had told Morrison “I will be resigning from my cabinet position as Minister for Foreign Affairs.” She said she had made no decision about whether she would contest the election.

Unveiling an extensive reshuffle, Morrison described his ministry as a “next generation team”. He has rewarded his supporters but also accommodated some Peter Dutton loyalists.

Energy goes to former businessman the conservative Angus Taylor, previously minister for law enforcement and cyber security, who moves into cabinet. Morrison dubbed Taylor as minister for “getting electricity prices down”.

Environment is taken by Melissa Price, previously assistant minister for the environment. The portfolio remains in cabinet.

Asked where the carve up left emissions, Morrison made clear where his priorities lay, saying the challenge in energy was reliability and dispatchable power.

Peter Dutton, the man who launched the leadership coup though failed to win the prime ministership, returns to his portfolio of home affairs. But immigration has been sliced off, going to David Coleman, previously assistant minister for finance, who becomes minister for immigration, citizenship and multicultural affairs.

This flags Morrison’s interest in the economic side of immigration. “Immigration forms part of national security policy but it also has always played an important role in economic and social policy,” he said.

Christopher Pyne becomes defence minister, achieving his long-time wish to be the senior minister in the area; his old job of defence industry goes to Steve Ciobo, who was previously in trade. Birmingham takes his place in trade.

The Morrison cabinet has six women, one extra compared with the Turnbull cabinet. They are Bridget McKenzie (Nat), Payne, Kelly O’Dwyer, Michaelia Cash, Karen Andrews, and Melissa Price.

O’Dwyer moves from revenue to jobs and industrial relations; she keeps responsibility for women. Industrial relations is back in cabinet. Michaelia Cash has gone into small and family business, skills and vocations.

Alan Tudge becomes minister for cities, urban infrastructure and population. Morrison said Tudge would be “the minister for congestion-busting”. Population has become an increasing pressure point.

Mathias Cormann remains in finance and as Senate leader, but his special minister of state job goes to Alex Hawke.

Paul Fletcher will be social services minister and moves into cabinet.

Sussan Ley and Stuart Robert, who both had to leave the ministry over controversies, are back on the frontbench. Robert is assistant treasurer; Ley is assistant minister for regional development and territories.

Michael Sukkar, previously assistant minister to the treasurer and outspoken conservative, has been dumped to the backbench.

Barnaby Joyce, still on the backbench, has been made “special envoy for drought assistance and recovery”.

Tony Abbott has not been given a job, although Morrison signalled he was open to giving him some Joyce-type role if he wanted.

Two Liberals apart from Julie Bishop, and a National, indicated they did not want to be considered for frontbench roles. The Liberals were Craig Laundy and John McVeigh, while the National was Keith Pitt, who had been assistant to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Pitt said in a statement: “I will always put the national interest and the interests of my constituents above my own. I will always put reducing power prices, before Paris.”

Morrison acknowledged at the weekend that ordinary people had been “absolutely disgusted” by the events of last week.

The exit of Bishop, who had developed a high and well-respected international profile, will send a further confusing message to other countries, which have witnessed Australia’s revolving door of the prime ministership.

Bishop, who entered parliament in 1998, has been foreign minister since 2013 and deputy to every Liberal leader since 2007.

In the aftermath of the coup, the bitterness continued to flow as the machinations were revealed.

A WhatsApp chain of messages was leaked to the ABC, in which tactics to stop Dutton ultimately winning, were revealed.

Fletcher, close to Turnbull, said in the chain: “Cormann rumoured to be putting some WA votes behind Julie Bishop in round 1. Be aware that this is a ruse trying to get her ahead of Morrison so he drops out & his votes go to Dutton. Despite our hearts tugging us to Julie we need to vote with our heads for Scott in round one.”

Cormann describes the Fletcher claim as “100% incorrect”.

Birmingham, a strong Turnbull supporter, told the ABC that a “handful of individuals” had wreaked havoc.

“We had Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership confirmed and re-endorsed just last Tuesday with a clear majority, and yet those who wanted to wreak havoc continued to do so during the week. Now, that was terribly destructive and every single man and woman in the Liberal Party room needs to put that type of behaviour behind us and make sure that we do unify for the future.”

On Monday, Morrison, who has put the drought at the top of his priority list, will make a quick trip to a drought-afflicted part of Queensland. At the weekend he met Major General Stephen Day, who is coordinating drought relief and support

Drought was “the thing that I think Australians very much want the attention of their prime minister on and right now”, Morrison told the popular regional program Australia All Over. Morrison reeled off some “encouraging” weekend rainfall numbers while noting this was “nowhere near what’s obviously needed.”

Over the weekend, the new prime minister spoke with US President Donald Trump (inviting him to visit Australia), Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

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The Conversation

Later this week Morrison will visit Indonesia, but he will not undertake the visits to multiple regional countries that Turnbull had slotted in. Australia and Indonesia have been negotiating a free trade deal, which could be signed during the visit.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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Australia: Kevin Rudd Has Resigned as Foreign Minister


The Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, has resigned. Will he now challenge the Prime Minister and try and get his old job back? One thing is for sure, despite the rhetoric coming from Julia Gillard and her supporters, Kevin Rudd is not to blame for the woes of the ALP government. Sure, they can use Kevin Rudd as a scapegoat as they are attempting to do, but everyone knows that the Gillard led government is something of a joke and they have no chance of winning the next election.

To win the next election there needs to be change and that has to start with the leadership. Simon Crean is not the answer – which appears to be something that has been suggested in recent days. That would be a very poor choice. As much as some members of the government would hate it, I do believe as many do, that Kevin Rudd is the best chance the ALP has of winning the next election, whenever that may be. That is my own opinion of course, but to do so (win I mean), he would have to a much better job than he did last time and actually govern.

Government-Incited Gang Attacks House Church


Youths smash walls, rant against evangelist for building home for worship services.

HO CHI MINH CITY, July 23 (CDN) — A gang of youths on Sunday (July 18) attacked a house church as the congregation worshiped in Xi Thoai village in Phu Yen Province on Vietnam’s south central coast, Christian sources said.

The local youths smashed the walls of the home and wreaked havoc within as they railed against evangelist Mang Vuong for being a Christian and for building his home to be a house church, the sources said. The sources noted that on the night of June 10 the same youths, spurred by local authorities, broke into Vuong’s home in Xuan Lanh Commune, Dong Xuan district, stole more than $3,000 and destroyed household furnishings, utensils and books.

Since then this same gang of local youths has been harassing and threatening Vuong, sources said. The pastor reported death threats.

Vuong, of the Hroi ethnic minority, is a worker for the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South), or ECVN(S), Vietnam’s largest government-registered denomination. When the Hroi church at Soi Nga some six kilometers (nearly four miles) away became full, leaders decided to start a congregation in Xi Thoai village where a number of Hroi Christians lived.

In Vietnam, a common approach for church expansion is to build a roomy home for an evangelist to serve also as a meeting place. The evangelist’s house in Xi Thoai was nearly completed when it was first attacked last month.

According to a petition the evangelist sent to commune, district and provincial officials on June 12, it was village officials who assembled young people for a meeting on June 9 and plied them with liquor. Very late at night the youths, including several sons of commune officials, attacked the evangelist’s house.

The petition blames village Chief La Mo Duc, Deputy Chief Le Minh Dien and others for inciting the young people. These two officials are also the local Communist Party leaders.

The gang stole 60 million dong (US$3,091), which had just been borrowed to pay the house contractor, according to the petition. They burned Christian books and either stole or destroyed everything else in the house, including new building materials and the contractor’s tools.

Police from local to provincial levels came to the area several times to “investigate,” visits that village Christians said were attempts to identify the Christians in the village. In the next six weeks, sources said, authorities did nothing to address the crime, and local officials did nothing to stop the daylight raid on Sunday (July 18).

“There was no other reason for this – it is religious persecution, pure and simple, incited and allowed by local government officials,” said one prominent ECVN(S) leader. “The inaction of higher officials casts into doubt our country’s claim to uphold religious freedom.”

A provincial ECVN(S) leader, Pastor Vo Thanh Phe, said that for six weeks he had been urging local and provincial officials to take action, without success. Recently a top national leader of the ECVN(S) visited the village to encourage the beleaguered evangelist and Christians. He informed the provincial ECVN(S) leaders that, having personally verified the facts, he would petition the prime minister.

A source said the ECVN(S) leader needed to make the personal visit as it was assumed that the government had tapped the phones of the local Christians.

Christian groups in Vietnam have found that such petitions rarely accomplish anything. Sources said often the petitions are simply referred back down to local officials, who make life harder on those who have complained.

Phu Yen Province has been the site of other recent abuses. Two ethnic minority Ede evangelists, Y Co and Y Du of the unregistered Vietnam Good News Mission Church, were arrested in January and remain in Phu Lam Prison without charge or trial. This is contrary to Vietnamese law (see http://www.compassdirect.org, “Vietnamese Christian, Family Forced into Hiding,” April 1).

Their wives reported that officials told them their husbands would be freed if the prisoners renounced their faith.

A government seminar in May on national religion policy in Phu Yen Province has apparently had little effect on some local officials.

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, visiting Hanoi on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the normalization of US-Vietnam relations, raised the issue of human rights and religious freedom with Vietnam’s leaders yesterday (July 22). She had been pressed by human rights groups and U.S. lawmakers to raise the cases of jailed democracy and religious rights activists with Vietnam.

Clinton said the U.S. side wanted to work with Vietnam “to support efforts to pursue reforms and protect basic rights and freedoms,” The Associated Press reported yesterday. When the sensitive subject of human rights came up, Vietnam Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem described it simply as “a difference between Vietnam and the U.S.”

“Since Vietnam achieved its goal of obtaining U.S. trade privileges in 2006 and acceded to the World Trade Organization in 2007, it has hardened its treatment of democracy, rights and religious freedom activists,” said one long-time observer. “Some keen observers of the Vietnam scene do not foresee any positive changes in Vietnam’s human rights record at least until after next January’s five-yearly Communist Party Congress. In preparation for the congress, for which all major decisions are made in advance, no party factions can be seen to be weak on perceived threats to the revolution.”

Report from Compass Direct News

Christian Girls Kidnapped in Yemen Are Rescued


Parents, other abducted Christians remain missing.

ISTANBUL, May 18 (CDN) — Saudi Arabian and Yemeni security forces rescued two German girls yesterday, 11 months after the two young sisters, their parents, brother and four other Christians were taken hostage in Yemen.

Reported to be between 3 and 6 years old, the two girls, Lydia Hentschel and her younger sister Anna Hentschel, were part of a group of nine Christian foreigners who were kidnapped on June 12 last year. Three of the adult hostages, a Korean and two German women, were murdered shortly afterwards.

The foreigners worked in a hospital near the city of Saada. No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Although the German family, a British man, and the three murdered women were Christians, it was not clear if they were kidnapped because of their faith.

There was no indication as to the whereabouts of the girls’ parents, Johannes and Sabine Hentschel, the girls’ 2-year-old brother Simon, and the Briton, identified only as Anthony.

The two girls were found in a disputed border region between Yemen and Saudi Arabia during Saudi cross-border raids in the northern region of Saada, according to Reuters. Saudi and Yemeni security forces collaborated in the operation to free the sisters.

Over the last year violent clashes have flared between Yemeni government forces and the Houthi armed group in Saada. The fighting has reportedly hindered efforts to locate the missing foreigners.

Reuters quoted the German foreign minister as saying the two young sisters were in “relatively good health” and would be transported from Saudi Arabia to Germany on Wednesday (May 19). Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he remained concerned about the safety of the rest of the German family.

Westerwelle told Reuters that learning the whereabouts of the remaining hostages remains a high priority, with efforts “continuing undiminished” and hopes still alive.

Today CNN reported that a spokesman for the German family said it was likely that the youngest sibling, Simon, was dead, since he was not found along with the two sisters.

In the last 15 years nearly 200 foreign nationals have been kidnapped in Yemen, and most have been released unharmed, Reuters reported.

Report from Compass Direct News