Shorten would need non-Green crossbench to pass bills in Senate: Australia Institute


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A Labor government would likely have to rely on at least one Senate
crossbencher besides the Greens to pass contested legislation, according to an analysis from The Australia Institute, a progressive think tank.

The analysis, based in part on polling but also on
historical data, suggests that, at best, after next year’s half-Senate
election the ALP and Greens combined could have 38 senators – although more likely they would have 37.

To pass legislation, 39 votes are needed.

Releasing the analysis, the institute’s director, Ben Oquist, said this
meant “the Centre Alliance, or independents like Derryn Hinch or a
potentially re-elected Jacqui Lambie, are likely to wield significant
power”.

The 2016 double dissolution produced a very large crossbench. The
larger quota required in a half-Senate election will make it harder
for micro parties and independents, as will some changes to the
electoral system made in 2016.

Most of the non-Green crossbenchers face election – and defeat.
Victorian senator Derryn Hinch, from the Justice Party, told The
Conversation’s podcast that he had got about 220,000 primary votes
last time but now would need about 400,000. It would be “very tough”,
said Hinch, who is campaigning on the slogan “unfinished business”.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Derryn Hinch on a national ICAC and the Victorian election


The Australia Institute says the Coalition and Labor are each likely
to pick up two seats in each state. The Greens are “well-placed” to
win a seat in each of NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and
Tasmania, while One Nation is well-placed to win in Queensland.

“The remaining seat in NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania,
and the remaining two seats in South Australia, are likely to be
highly contested,” the analysis says.

In detail, it says

…NSW – The Coalition, Labor and One Nation are competitive for the last seat.

… Victoria – Labor, the Coalition and Derryn Hinch are competitive for
the final seat.

…Western Australia – The Coalition and One Nation are competitive
for the last seat.

… South Australia – The Coalition, Greens, Centre Alliance and One
Nation are competitive for the final two seats.

… Tasmania – The Coalition and Lambie are competitive for the last seat.

“The polling by itself does not suggest that the Coalition will pick
up the third seat in any state, but our historical analysis suggests
that the Coalition is more competitive than the polls alone would
indicate”, the Australia Institute says.

“Another wild card is the high Independent/Other polling. Although
Jacqui Lambie and Derryn Hinch are contenders in their respective
states, there is also the outside but real possibility of independent
or minor party pick-ups in other states as well.”

The institute predicts a Senate after the election with the Coalition
having between 30 and 35, and the ALP 27-29. It predicts the Greens
having 8 or 9 seats, One Nation between 2 and 5, Centre Alliance 2-3,
Australian Conservatives one, and others between 0 and 2.

Since the last election the Senate has had many changes, in the wake
of the citizenship crisis and defections. The Morrison government
needs eight of the 10 non-Greens from the crossbench to pass
legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens.

Oquist stressed that predictions were harder than usual to make
because of the voting system changes and a volatile political climate.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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Explainer: what is a hung parliament and how would it affect the passage of legislation?



File 20181021 105782 vr1naa.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A minority government is still possible to manage, but will make Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s job that bit tougher.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

If, as predicted, the Morrison government loses the Wentworth byelection, it will have a minority on the floor of the lower house. Although the Coalition would have 75 members and the non-government parties and independents would have 75 members, the Coalition supplies the Speaker (who only votes when a vote is tied). This would leave the Coalition with 74 on the floor of the house, with the possibility of 75 votes opposing it.

The Morrison government could offer the speakership to one of the cross-bench members or a disaffected opposition member in order to restore its majority on the floor. But given the Gillard government’s unhappy experience with making Peter Slipper as Speaker during its minority government, it would seem unlikely the Morrison government would take the same path. This is especially so given the relatively short period left until an election is expected in May.




Read more:
Wentworth byelection called too early for Phelps as Liberals recover in late counting


Does this mean there could be change of government without an election?

Technically, a government may fall on a vote of no-confidence and a new government can be formed, without an election occurring, if the incoming government can command the confidence of the lower house. However, on the current numbers, that appears to be inconceivable.

This is because the Australian Labor Party only holds 69 seats, which is significantly fewer than the Coalition’s numbers on the floor of the House. The rest of the non-government seats are, or are likely to be, held by three independents: Cathy McGowan, Andrew Wilkie and (subject to confirmation) Kerryn Phelps, along with Adam Bandt from the Australian Greens, Bob Katter from Katter’s Australian Party and Rebekha Sharkie from the Centre Alliance. They support views across the political spectrum and would be extremely unlikely, in a bloc, to support Labor to form government.

Moreover, even if it had the united support of the cross-bench, once Labor had to supply a Speaker, it would be in the same position as the Morrison government, having a minority on the floor of the House. So unless the numbers changed dramatically (for example, through MPs defecting from one party to another or changes in seats in other by-elections) this is not going to occur.

It is also in the Labor Party’s political interests to have the backing of the people in an election when it takes office. It would therefore be likely to bide its time until an election.

Does the government have to prove to the Governor-General that it has the confidence of the lower house?

As the Morrison government is already in office, it does not have to convince the Governor-General of anything. The Governor-General has no role to play unless Morrison resigns, or requests a dissolution, or unless extreme circumstances arise that call for the dismissal of the government.

Governments can continue to operate when in minority in the lower House, particularly where no other party has majority support. The Gillard minority government continued to function and pass legislation for a full term, despite being in minority in both Houses.

While Gillard had an agreement on “confidence and supply” with the cross-benchers in the House of Representatives (meaning that they agreed not to vote no-confidence in the government or block the supply of money to the government, except in particular extreme circumstances), it would not be necessary for a minority Morrison government to negotiate such an agreement. Minority governments can operate without such an agreement – which in any case is not in any way legally binding on the parties to it and has no more than “political” force.

What effect will this have on the passage of legislation?

The Morrison government already has to negotiate with a range of cross-benchers in the Senate, or get the support of Labor, to pass its legislation. If it falls into minority, it will have to achieve the support of at least one of the six cross-benchers or Labor in the House of Representatives as well. This does not seem to be a terribly difficult task, particularly as a number of the cross-benchers are generally supportive of a conservative philosophy.

However, there is a small risk that a Labor-supported bill, which achieved the support of all the cross-benchers, could be passed against the wishes of a minority government. The type of bill that might attract the support of the cross-benchers would be likely to be one that increased government accountability. A bill to institute an anti-corruption body at the federal level, for example, might have some prospect of being passed by both houses. A bill to enhance accountability of political donations might also have some prospect of success.

But such a bill could not be passed if it involved the appropriation of money. This is because it requires a message from the Governor-General recommending it, and the Governor-General is advised in this regard by the government. This ensures that a government retains control over the budget, even when it is in minority.

Could the Morrison government advise the Governor-General to refuse to give assent to a bill passed by both houses of parliament against its will? Such action would be extremely unwise, for two reasons.

First, there is considerable controversy about whether the Governor-General, in exercising the role of assenting to bills, is fulfilling a legislative function, acting on the advice of the two houses, or an executive function, acting on ministerial advice. The Governor-General could legitimately take the view that the principle of representative government requires him to act on the advice of the houses in giving assent to a bill that has been validly passed by both houses.

Second, if the government acted in such a high-handed way as to reject the will of both houses, this might galvanise the cross-benchers in the House of Representatives to vote no-confidence in the government. It is therefore unlikely that the government would take such a risk.

What other impacts might a loss of a majority have?

The key consequence of a loss of the government’s majority in the lower house would be that it would no longer have complete control over motions concerning the business of the house. The government would be protected to some extent by a rule that a motion to suspend the standing orders of the House, without notice, requires the support of an absolute majority of members, being 76. However, standing orders can be suspended by an ordinary majority, being the majority of members who happen to vote on the motion, if notice is given. This means that parliamentary tactics will become of heightened importance.

It also means that the government may lose votes on motions on issues such as the referral of a Member to the Court of Disputed Returns for determination of whether or not the member is disqualified from sitting in parliament.




Read more:
Explainer: is Peter Dutton ineligible to sit in parliament?


It is possible, for example, that a majority of the house might refer Peter Dutton to the Court of Disputed Returns, given that a previous resolution to this effect was only lost by one vote last time. This may re-open the cavern of horrors that is section 44 of the Constitution.

Does the government have to resign if it loses a vote in the house?

A government does not have to resign if it loses a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. It only has to act if a vote of no-confidence in the government is passed by the lower house. A vote of no-confidence is one that expressly states the house has no confidence in the government, or one that blocks a supply bill or symbolically reduces the amount of supply granted to the government. It may also include a vote to defeat a major government bill, which the government has declared to be an issue of confidence. The loss of a vote on an ordinary bill or a procedural motion will not usually be regarded as indicating a loss of confidence.

Further, if a no-confidence motion is passed by chance (for example, because a government member did not make it to the chamber in time for the vote or was away sick) there is no immediate requirement to act, as long as restored confidence can be shown within a reasonable time. Governments should not fall by accident.

Even if the government does lose confidence, it can seek to go to an election instead of resigning. Although the Governor-General formally has the power to reject a request for an election, he would only be likely to do so if that request came shortly after the previous election and there was another person who could form a stable government. That is not the case here. We are sufficiently close to the end of the government’s term that a dissolution and fresh election would almost certainly be granted by the Governor-General if the government suffered a loss of confidence. So the consequence of a successful vote of no confidence would be an election.

Governing just became a little harder

The Morrison government would certainly find it more difficult, but not impossible, to manage the House of Representatives if it is in minority. It would require great discipline from its MPs, good organisation and high level negotiating skills to ensure that the business of the house was completed without mishaps.

In the words of a former prime minister, it would need to be “agile” in its management of parliament for the rest of its term.The Conversation

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

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

States want the GST guarantee set in legislative stone


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government hoped to have the pressure on Labor over planned legislation for a new GST carve up but instead it has found itself on the back foot.

At a meeting of state and territory treasurers on Wednesday, there was a general demand across the political spectrum for the legislation to include a guarantee that no jurisdiction will be worse off.

NSW Liberal Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said after the meeting that “all states and territories put forward the strong view” the bill must include this.

“Unfortunately the Commonwealth indicated it would proceed with legislation without that guarantee,” he said.

He said that under the federal government proposal “there are a number of scenarios where NSW would lose substantial funding.

“That is not an acceptable outcome,” Perrottet said.

“In the weeks ahead I will be making every effort to ensure any Commonwealth legislation includes the guarantee the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have previously given – that our state will not be worse off.”

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the legislation would be introduced in the next parliamentary sitting week. He reaffirmed that, “based on the Productivity Commission’s data”, the deal “will make every state and territory better off. This will guarantee an extra $9 billion in funding over the next 10 years”.

Frydenberg said the government was not including the guarantee in the legislation because “we don’t want to run two sets of books … the old system and the new system.”

If the government does not give way beforehand, the issue of the guarantee will likely become one for the Senate.

The new distribution for GST revenue is driven by the need to give Western Australia a fairer share. To win the support of the other jurisdictions the government announced the $9 billion in extra funding, to make for winners all round. But the states are concerned that if the guarantee is not in the legislation, unforeseen circumstances could arise that might disadvantage them.

Anxious to bed down the new GST arrangement without the need to get agreement from all jurisdictions, the government resorted to the unusual course of legislation – only to then run into Wednesday’s problems.

Victorian Labor Treasurer, Tim Pallas said the lobbying would continue to have the guarantee “enshrined in legislation”.

Queensland Labor Treasurer, Jackie Trad said that without the legal guarantee there was a “real risk” some jurisdictions could be worse off in certain circumstances. “We cannot prepare or forecast or model every single scenario.”

The South Australian and Tasmanian Liberal treasurers also declared they wanted legislated protection.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said: “It’s a particularly special day when Josh Frydenberg offers an additional $9 billion in GST top up payments and still manages to get every state and territory Treasurer united against him.”

Bowen said Morrison promised when treasurer that no state would be worse off under the changes. “But he’s been called out this week for the government’s legislation failing to match this guarantee”.

Labor’s position is that it supports legislating the new distribution but wants the guarantee included. Morrison has been challenging Bill Shorten to back the legislation.

While there was a fight over the GST distribution legislation, there was unity over removing the GST on tampons from the start of 2019, ending a battle that began when the tax was introduced.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.

Turnbull dumps emissions legislation to stop rebels crossing the floor


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has done a backflip on his proposal to put the emission reduction target into legislation, in the face of rebel backbenchers threatening to cross the floor.

The new plan is for the energy target – a 26% reduction to carbon dioxide emissions for the electricity sector – to be set by an executive order of the minister. Such an order cannot be disallowed.

The stunning retreat emerged as the energy issue threatened to turn into a crisis for Turnbull’s leadership, and the government worked on measures to reduce power prices to meet the demands of Coalition dissidents.

Cabinet Minister Peter Dutton remained conspicuously silent on Friday in face of a report that conservatives in the Liberal party were urging him to challenge Malcolm Turnbull within weeks.




Read more:
VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the NEG showdown and a ray of parliamentary unity after Fraser Anning’s racist speech


A report in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph injected leadership speculation into the centre of Turnbull’s already highly difficult battle to curb a backbench rebellion over the government’s National Energy Guarantee (NEG).

The government has consistently refused a demand from the Victorian Labor government that the target should be set by regulation not legislation.




Read more:
Infographic: the National Energy Guarantee at a glance


The executive order would be accompanied by an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report to parliament on the price impact of the target.

If Turnbull had gone ahead with legislation, and enough backbenchers had crossed the floor to defeat the bill, it would have amounted to an effective vote of no confidence in his leadership.

While some of the backbench rebels will be satisfied with the price package, it is not clear whether this will include Tony Abbott and his hardcore supporters, who want to bring Turnbull down and have smelled political blood.

Tuesday’s Coalition parties meeting will discuss the new proposals.

On another front, Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is facing mounting criticism of his performance, as the Nationals federal council meets in Canberra at the weekend. The energy issue is likely to be front and centre there.

Despite his public silence, it is understood that Dutton on Friday privately told Turnbull that he was comfortable with the government’s energy policy.

The backbench critics have had two major areas of concern. They did not think the NEG plan did enough to reduce electricity prices. And they were unhappy with the 26% target for reducing emissions in the electricity sector being legislated.

But the retreat from the target being enshrined in legislation will not be enough to satisfy those who want Australia to walk away from the target altogether and pull out of the Paris climate agreement.

Up to 10 backbenchers had threatened to cross the floor on the emissions reduction legislation.

The report about Dutton followed his interview with Ray Hadley on 2GB on Thursday in which Hadley challenged him over whether he was “blindly loyal” to Turnbull.

Dutton said he gave his views privately as a cabinet member and wasn’t going to bag out his colleagues or the Prime Minister publicly.

“If my position changes – that is, it gets to a point where I can’t accept what the government’s proposing or I don’t agree – then the Westminster system is very clear: you resign your commission,” he told Hadley.

The Telegraph report said Dutton was being urged to challenge Turnbull “on a policy platform of lower immigration levels and a new energy policy focusing on cheaper bills rather than lowering emissions.” Conservative MPs had told the Telegraph “a ‘torn’ Mr Dutton was considering his options,” the report said.

Asked on Nine whether Dutton was going to have a crack at the leadership, Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said “absolutely not.”

Pyne also rejected the suggestion the government was on the ropes. In an obvious reference to Abbott and his supporters, Pyne said: “The polls are about 50-50 and there’s a lot of hyperventilating going on, and there’s a few people I think who are trying to put the band back together from the late 2000s, noughties.”




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Malcolm Turnbull’s NEG remains in snake-infested territory


Finance minister Mathias Cormann said he had not heard any talk of some conservatives urging Dutton to challenge.

Cormann, a fellow conservative who is close to Dutton and said they had had four walks this week at 5.30 am, told Sky,: “We are both very committed to the success of the Turnbull Government and to winning the next election.

“We strongly support the Turnbull leadership of course and we want to see the Coalition government successfully re-elected early next year when the election is due.”




Read more:
The National Energy Guarantee is a flagship policy. So why hasn’t the modelling been made public?


The prices package would be based on recommendations made in the recent report of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The government has been briefing that Turnbull is willing to take a “big stick” to companies to ensure consumers get better deals.

The government is looking at cracking down on how companies bid into the wholesale electricity market and secret contracts between different players.

There would be closer scrutiny of energy companies buying and selling electricity internally between their own generation and retail companies at inflated prices.

This would put the contracts of “gentailers” under attention to ensure transfer prices did not disadvantage consumers. The ACCC said high transfer prices “raise concerns about the potential for substantial profit to be allocated to the wholesale businesses.”

The ACCC has also urged more transparency on direct contracts between retailers and individual generators, proposing these be put on a public register.

Among other changes being discusssed are:

  • providing the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) with powers to deal with manipulation of the wholesale market.

  • requiring the reporting and disclosing of over-the-counter trades (in a de-identified format) to make available important market information.

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

    expanding the AER wholesale market monitoring functions to include monitoring, analysing and reporting on the contract market.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Anti-vilification legislation for marriage ballot to pass this week


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Mathias Cormann gave an assurance that there would be a bias towards freedom of speech.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The parliament is preparing to rush through anti-vilification legislation to apply during the postal ballot on same-sex marriage.

Under the bill a person must not vilify, intimidate or threaten another person because of their views, expressed or believed to be held, or because of their religious conviction, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

The safeguards bill will be introduced on Wednesday and passed before parliament rises on Thursday. It has a sunset provision that means it only lasts for the duration of the ballot, the result of which will be announced on November 15.

Civil penalties will apply, to a maximum of A$12,600. But the attorney-general, George Brandis, must consent to a person taking enforcement action under the vilification and related provisions.

People are also protected from being discriminated against – in employment or by being denied access to membership of a union, club or other body – for making a donation to the campaign.

The bill requires that broadcasters, if they give opportunities for one side to put their views, must provide the other side with reasonable opportunities.

The government negotiated the emergency legislation with the opposition over the last few days.

The bill also includes requirements for authorisation of advertising and other provisions that apply to ordinary elections but did not automatically cover this voluntary postal ballot.

In the Coalition partyroom meeting one person objected to the anti-vilification provisions. But Acting Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann gave an assurance that Brandis’ approach would have a “bias towards freedom of speech”.

Labor claimed credit for securing “important concessions from the government that prohibit vilification and hate speech” during the ballot. But opposition spokespeople Mark Dreyfus and Terri Butler said in a statement: “Let’s be clear – this safeguards bill does not in any way legitimise this survey process, which has been foisted upon Australians at a massive cost”.

The ConversationThe ballot papers started to go out on Tuesday.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/fr3g9-72ed6d?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Labor takes a political risk and opposes government’s tougher citizenship legislation



File 20170620 4975 wfwr9b
Peter Dutton says changes to citizenship legislation are a modernisation that would bring Australia in line with other countries.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has finally found an issue it can cast in terms of “national security” on which it can get a fight with Labor.

Bill Shorten usually sticks leech-like to bipartisanship on anything with even a whiff of “security”. But now the opposition has said “enough” on the proposals to toughen the criteria for people seeking citizenship.

In political terms, the question is whether the government can turn this into an effective wedge against Shorten, claiming he is “soft” on citizenship. Labor’s challenge is to keep the debate as one about what are reasonable conditions to place on aspiring Australians.

The government believes it is in tune with the mainstream; its eye to the politics was obvious when Malcolm Turnbull went out of his way to make a statement on the matter at Tuesday’s news conference on his latest energy security initiatives.

“The Labor Party does not value Australian citizenship enough to say, as we do, that it must be more than simply the outcome of an administrative tick-and-flick form-filling process,” Turnbull said. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton invokes national security and claimed Shorten has been “mugged by the left of his party”.

The proposed legislation requires potential citizens to have a higher English proficiency than at present. Additionally, the applicant will need to have lived in Australia as a permanent resident for at least four years (just one at present).

There will be a defined process to assess a person’s commitment to Australian values, helped by the longer residency requirement; people will have to show what they’ve done to integrate into the community.

The immigration minister will acquire the power to override decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on citizenship, subject to a court appeal.

Labor is opposing the bill as a whole; it wants it referred to a Senate inquiry, and says that then, if it considers there are parts worth supporting, it would ask the government to bring them back in separate legislation.

Aware Labor is treading on potentially dangerous ground, citizenship spokesman Tony Burke is trying to fireproof it. “Don’t lie and pretend something is national security when it is not,” he said.

The opposition is challenging in particular the longer qualifying period and the harder English test.

The government has a case with the former; comparable countries make residents wait between five and eight years before applying for citizenship. It is on more dubious ground on English testing, where the standard is to be raised to “competent”.

This is a level where the person has “an effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings. They can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.”

Burke pointed out that the questions now asked of those seeking citizenship are in a test “which is written in English. If you can’t speak English, you can’t pass the test.”

He warned the new requirement would “guarantee there will be a group of permanent residents who live here their entire lives and are never invited to take allegiance to Australia and are never able to be told by the Australian government: ‘you belong’. That is a fundamental change in our country.”

While it is desirable, not least for their own benefit, to have aspiring citizens acquire good English, people can also be excellent citizens even though their English language will always be poor. Many of us know people like that.

One motive for upping the English requirement might be fears about inward-looking communities. But insisting on the proposed level of English proficiency makes for a very un-level playing field, discriminating against those from certain countries.

Immigrants should be encouraged to become citizens – surely that is likely to be a positive for national security because it promotes a more unified nation. A “two-class” situation in the migrant/refugee population, where some can’t make the cut because of the language issue, is not what we want.

Dutton dismisses Labor’s concerns about the longer qualifying period and the harder language test.

Possibly wearing a focus group on his sleeve, he says: “The Australian public wants to see an increase in the English language requirement, they want to see people meet Australian laws and Australian values”.

There have been mild concerns in Coalition ranks about people who are about to qualify for citizenship under current rules but will face waiting longer. Dutton has told colleagues to bring him any particular cases.

If the government is playing politics with its citizenship move, Labor will have its eye on what might be opportunities on the ground.

These changes won’t be popular with some in ethnic communities, where Labor seeks votes.

On the other hand, some of those who’ve entered the citizenship tent can be less than sympathetic to aspirants.

The ConversationThe government may get the legislation through regardless of Labor’s stand, via the crossbench. If so, the opposition would have to decide whether it would undertake to alter the law if it won the election, or just move right on.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/icjdu-6b9a25?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

India: Persecution News Update


The link below is to an article reporting on the passing of legislation requiring Christian converts to give one month’s notice of intent to convert.

For more visit:
http://morningstarnews.org/2013/07/bill-passes-in-india-jailing-converts-clergy-for-failure-to-give-notice-of-conversion/

Asylum Seeker Legislation Passes Lower House… Will not Pass Upper House


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