Why big projects like the Adani coal mine won’t transform regional Queensland


John Cole, University of Southern Queensland

Queensland election campaigns often focus on big projects for the regions, such as for roads, power plants and mines. But research suggests that mega projects, such as in gas and coal, have not transformed skills or improved employment prospects in regional Queensland.

Take away the temporary booms from construction and other short-term jobs, and employment growth overall is no better than before the global financial crisis. Certainly Queensland’s regions are no more resilient. Instead of these mega projects, what’s needed are new sources of economic value in knowledge, services, and technology.


Read more: Here’s 49 small communities innovating as well as the big cities


Between 2010 and 2013 investment in coal mining surged 400% in the Bowen Basin. Further south, in the Surat Basin and at Gladstone, four international consortia spent more than A$70 billion fast-tracking a coal seam and liquid natural gas industry.

These projects fell far short of generating new skills and enduring businesses in the regions. Continuing dependence on resources and agriculture also creates its own vulnerabilities, as both are challenged by market and investment volatility, and increased climate risk.

Overall the focus on mega projects has weakened social and economic resilience in communities across Queensland. Resilience refers to the capacity of regional communities to handle risks and manage change. Resilient regions deepen and diversify their economies.

Megaproject sugar highs

Annual construction spending in the resources sector peaked at A$36.6 billion in Queensland in 2013-14, and has dropped by 70% since. Unemployment has doubled in Queensland’s northern, central and outback regions.

The impact is seen in Townsville, Rockhampton, and Gladstone, who are now pitching to become bases for “Fly In Fly Out” workers. Rather than drive their own local economic development, these cities are punting on the next big mining project.

Gladstone is already the pin-up of the construction boom-bust development model. The port city boasts a highly trained workforce in alumina and aluminium processing, cement, liquid natural gas and chemical manufacturing. Still, it waits on the next big mining construction boom.


Read more: If Queenslanders vote on economic issues the Labor government is looking good


What regional Queensland really needs is politicians to abandon short-term economic fixes, in favour of a sustainable long term vision. Policies would have greater impact if they focused on skills and enterprise training. Stronger regional collaboration to broker opportunities for smart businesses is essential.

Just north of Brisbane, Moreton Regional Council is showing the way by transforming a former industrial site into a university campus. Tertiary education will come to the fast growing region along with a research and technology park, creating the jobs of the future.

Regional Queensland can also learn from the European Commission’s “smart specialisation” structural assistance programs that help regions build knowledge-based competitive industries through strategic public funding and support for research and development etc.

By 2020, smart specialisation in Europe is expected to deliver 15,000 new products to market, 140,000 new startups and 350,000 new jobs.

Integral to the European strategy is strong collaboration between the research and university sectors, and regional industries. Strong cooperation between levels of government is key to the success. The industries are as varied as cheese manufacturing in Spain, new transport systems in Finland, and materials manufacturing in France.

The Europeans have found that changing business culture and boosting entrepreneurship are just as important to creating opportunity as large infrastructure projects.

What Queensland should do

Queensland should rethink its big projects for a big country approach. Regional jobs that depend on project investment without generating local income are not sustainable. Small business and community must be restored to centre stage in development strategy.

Small and medium businesses collectively account for more than 99% of all business in Queensland, and three times as many people work in the state’s A$20 billion manufacturing sector (169,000) as work directly in the resources sector (48,000).

But small and medium businesses lack the profile of the “big end of town”, and the large resources companies have been effective at selling the narrative that they are central to the A$300 billion Queensland economy.


Read more: Bust the regional city myths and look beyond the ‘big 5’ for a $378b return


The priority for developing Queensland’s regions should be investment that generates small business growth, local income, new skills and communities. Particular emphasis has to be given to attracting and retaining talented people.

The state government can best help regional Queensland by heeding the Productivity Commission’s call to help regional Australia adapt and exploit the opportunities of ever present change. This requires greater local initiative, making the most of competitive strengths, and training people to better engage with the world.

The global services sector is a $US47 trillion industry. For regional Queensland to tap into this sector will require skills in fields as diverse as big data, biotechnology, genetics, robotics, communications, and digital manufacturing.

A good start has been made in the Advance Queensland Regional Innovation Programs which have challenged regions to think outside the box, collaborate, and come up with their own strategies. It complements the federal government’s Building Better Regions Fund.

The ConversationThis approach challenges the current politically dominated top down model of regional development. It’s a vision for regional Queensland that extends beyond resources, agriculture, tourism and construction to the people themselves.

John Cole, Executive Director, Institute for Resilient Regions, University of Southern Queensland

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

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This is how regional rail can help ease our big cities’ commuter crush



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Rail investments have brought Ballarat, Geelong and other regional centres closer in travel time to Melbourne than many outer suburbs.
Tony & Wayne/flickr, CC BY-NC

Michael Buxton, RMIT University

In Sydney and Melbourne, the squeeze is on. Population is booming; house prices are still rising; roads and trains are congested. Australian governments generally have ignored the benefits of relating metropolitan and regional planning.

However, some state governments are now investigating more integrated sectoral and spatial planning strategies, initially through shifting public sector jobs to regional centres.

In particular, improved regional rail connections do work. Already rail investments have brought Ballarat, Geelong and other regional centres closer in travel time to Melbourne than many outer suburbs, and this trend will continue.


Further reading: Commuters help regions tap into city-driven growth


Sydney has similar opportunities with regional rail connections, but has not yet exercised them. Rail services to and from Gosford, Newcastle and Wollongong have improved little over recent decades.

Rail bypasses clogged arteries

For decades, policymakers’ preferred solution to congestion has been adding and widening freeways. But promises of faster travel times and freer movement have been illusory. New roads and freeway lanes induce more traffic and will provide short-lived solutions in our biggest cities.


Further reading: Traffic congestion: is there a miracle cure? (Hint: it’s not roads)


These cities are the main drivers of Australia’s national economy, attracting advanced business service professionals and knowledge providers.

Access to high-value jobs, transport arteries that function well, and better-managed population growth will become critically important to urban economies as these cities move towards populations of 8 million people.

In Sydney and Melbourne, critics are claiming that major new road projects such as WestConnex and the Western Distributor will increase central city traffic congestion, particularly for work-related journeys.


Further reading: Modelling for major road projects is at odds with driver behaviour


Victoria proves regional rail works

Contrast that with the success of regional rail development. Victoria has invested several billion dollars in a series of projects. These have raised maximum regional train speeds to provincial cities to 160kph, increased reliability, provided new and much faster trains and transformed frequency.

Victoria’s investment in regional rail has quadrupled train services and almost halved travel time between Ballarat and Melbourne.
Hugh Llewelyn/flickr, CC BY-SA

The 119km peak-hour trip from Ballarat to Melbourne before these investments took two hours, with four trains a day on offer. Today 22 daily trains operate in each direction between Melbourne and Ballarat. Boarding the 4.33pm from Southern Cross delivers passengers to Ballarat 65 minutes later.

From Geelong, the transformation has been even greater. The recently completed Regional Rail Link runs 55 daily trains each way. The project was the first to be approved by Infrastructure Australia, backed by A$3.8 billion in state and Commonwealth funding.

Patronage boom calls for more work

These upgrades, however, have become victims of their own success. Some lines have recorded a 300% increase in patronage. Similar increases are projected for the next decade.

Remarkably, within two years of opening, patronage growth has already reached capacity on the inner part of the Regional Rail Link (which segregates metropolitan from country trains for travel to and from central Melbourne). There is little or no capacity for extra trains to be run in peak times.

Trains are becoming ever more crowded. Long-distance commuters have valued their ability to work, read or sleep on these trains, especially during their homeward journeys. They must now compete for seats with others from rapidly expanding western suburbs, which are yet to gain their own suburban train services.

A short-term fix would create longer trains of eight carriages instead of six. A medium-term fix would electrify and provide separate services to the part of the Geelong line that serves the new dormitory suburbs.

These changes need to be complemented by more frequent and better co-ordinated feeder bus services to stations. In addition, easily accessed large commuter carparks need to be built on vacant land on the Melbourne side of the major regional centres.

In the longer term, the answer lies in providing more multiple tracks to fully segregate suburban and regional trains in suburban areas. Providing robust double-line railways in each corridor will prevent the cascade effect that occurs when trains delay each other on single lines.

The completion of level-crossing removals will also allow higher operating speeds and safer operations. Trains will be able to move progressively to maximum speeds of 200kph where feasible rather than 160kph.

Regional cities must avoid past mistakes

These rail investments will further promote population growth in regional cities. Already, regionally developed services, more affordable housing stock and less frantic lifestyles are acting as attractors.

It is essential to integrate the planning of major regional transport projects with spatial planning to avoid the undesirable results of fragmented policy.

Some regional centres are repeating the worst mistakes of metropolitan low-density urban sprawl by expanding on greenfield sites far from town centres. Modelling of Victorian regional towns has shown that they contain in-fill opportunities to at least double existing populations and provide a range of affordable housing options.

To maintain liveability for expected high population growth, heavy rail investment is vital. Carefully targeted regional rail investment can shrink distance, provide access to more jobs and better lifestyles, and contribute to wider housing choices.

This investment is a critical requirement for continued prosperity in Australia’s largest urban centres.


This article was co-authored by Bill Russell of the Rail Futures Institute, Melbourne.

The ConversationFind out more about what Victoria can do to overcome the commuter crush at Railway Remedies: Cutting the Crush on Geelong Trains, hosted by the RMIT Centre for Urban Research (CUR) and Deakin University at the Percy Baxter Theatre, Deakin Geelong campus, on Wednesday, August 9.

Michael Buxton, Professor of Environment and Planning, RMIT University

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

Migrants are stopping regional areas from shrinking



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International migrants are key contributors to the unskilled workforce.
World Bank/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Emily Longstaff, Australian National University

Population growth has profound impacts on Australian life, and sorting myths from facts can be difficult. This article is part of our series, Is Australia Full?, which aims to help inform a wide-ranging and often emotive debate.


Rather than being an unsettling force, international migrants are helping to provide stability to the regional Australian communities they settle in. A considerable number of new arrivals are also younger and have the potential to build families and work in these communities.

Research with the Regional Australia Institute, examining the latest 2016 Census data, found 151 regional local government areas were helping to offset declining population in regional areas by attracting international migrants.

We can see that, for many small towns, the overseas-born are the only source of population growth. A majority of these places rely on primary industry for economic viability. Although predominantly rural, these places are not in the most remote parts of Australia.

Growth of Australian-born and overseas-born population, 2011-16


Regional Australia Institute, Author provided

Of the 550 local government areas we reviewed, 175 regional areas increased their population, while 246 did not; 151 increased their overseas-born and decreased their Australian-born population. Only 20 areas increased in Australian-born population and decreased in overseas-born population.

We also found that 128 regional areas increased both Australian-born and overseas-born population. Another 116 regional areas decreased in both Australian-born and overseas-born population.

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

Darwin is one example of where international migration has helped counter population decline. At the 2011 Census, Darwin had 45,442 people recorded as born in Australia and 19,455 born elsewhere. By 2016, the number of Australian-born locals had reduced to 44,953 and the number of overseas-born had increased to 24,961.

Without this increase in overseas-born residents, the Darwin population would have decreased. The local economy would likely have suffered as a result.

The problem of shrinking regional towns

Ever since the influx of immigrants following the second world war, the settlement of international migrants has been overwhelmingly focused on large metropolitan centres. This has been especially evident for recently arrived immigrants and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Migrants perceive metropolitan areas as presenting a higher likelihood of finding compatriots and better access to employment, as well as education and health services. Large cities have therefore been considered the most appealing settlement locations, with Sydney and Melbourne the most popular.

If settlement of international migrants had been proportional to the overall population distribution in Australia, an additional 125,000 migrants would have settled in regional Australia between 2006 and 2011.

In a concerted effort to promote the social and economic viability of regional communities, in 2004 the federal government started a campaign to increase migrant settlement throughout different areas of the country.

Regional settlement of migrants has since been encouraged across levels of government as a “win-win scenario” for new arrivals and host communities alike.

What international migrants bring

In the past decade, there has been a particular focus on secondary migration to regional areas. That is, relocating international arrivals from metropolitan areas to regional ones.

Proactive community-business partnerships and local government initiatives have propelled this process. For example, in the Victorian town of Nhill, the local arm of the poultry production company Luv-a-Duck worked with settlement service provider AMES Australia to help more than 160 Karen refugees find work in the area between 2010 and 2015.

In another town, Dalwallinu in Western Australia, the population was in decline and local infrastructure was deemed underused. In response, the local council has worked closely with residents since 2010 to attract skilled migrants.

Notwithstanding the challenges involved in attraction and retention, international migrants remain a vital asset for building regional economies and communities. They help stem skilled labour shortages in these areas – for example, by filling much-needed doctor and nursing positions.

International migrants are also key contributors to the unskilled workforce, often filling positions that domestic workers are unwilling to take on. For example, abattoirs and poultry plants are important businesses in regional Australia. Many would be unable to operate without international migrants, as many local residents do not consider this kind of work “acceptable employment”.

As a consequence of the various efforts to spread the settlement of overseas arrivals, the number of international migrants living and working in non-metropolitan Australia has increased. Between 2006 and 2011, 187,000 international migrants settled outside the major capital cities.

Still, regional areas have remained underrepresented as a settlement location. Despite regional Australia being home to about one-third of the population, less than one-fifth of all new arrivals between 2006 and 2011 settled in a regional area.

For regional areas to make the most of the many advantages migrants have to offer, there needs to be more focused policy that encourages and assists regional settlement across the country. This policy needs to be informed by the work in a growing number of regional communities (like Nhill and Dalwallinu) that already draw on international migration to combat population loss and persistent labour shortages. By encouraging more international migrants to call regional Australia “home”, we can start focusing on ensuring regional prosperity for the long term.


The ConversationYou can read other articles in the Is Australia Full? series here.

Emily Longstaff, PhD Candidate (Sociology), Australian National University

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

Bust the regional city myths and look beyond the ‘big 5’ for a $378b return



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Geelong’s relatively high creative industries score, coupled with a robust rate of business entries, provides a solid foundation for steady growth.
paulrommer from www.shutterstock.com

Leonie Pearson, University of Canberra

Investing in regional cities’ economic performance makes good sense. Contrary to popular opinion, new research out today shows regional cities generate national economic growth and jobs at the same rate as big metropolitan cities. They are worthy of economic investment in their own right – not just on social and equity grounds.

However, for regional cities to capture their potential A$378 billion output to 2031, immediate action is needed. Success will see regional cities in 2031 produce twice as much as all the new economy industries produce in today’s metropolitan cities.

Drawing on lessons from the UK, the collaborative work by the Regional Australia Institute and the UK Centre for Cities spotlights criteria and data all Australian cities can use to help get themselves investment-ready.

Build on individual strengths

The Regional Australia Institute’s latest work confirms that city population size does not determine economic performance. There is no significant statistical difference between the economic performance of Australia’s big five metro cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide) and its 31 regional cities in historical output, productivity and participation rates.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/LSkSm/1/

So, regional cities are as well positioned to create investment returns as their big five metro cousins. The same rules apply – investment that builds on existing city strengths and capabilities will produce returns.

No two cities have the same strengths and capabilities. However, regional cities do fall into four economic performance groups – gaining, expanding, slipping, and slow and steady. This helps define the investment focus they might require.

For example, the report finds Fraser Coast (Hervey Bay), Sunshine Coast-Noosa and Gold Coast are gaining cities. Their progress is fuelled by high population growth rates (around 2.7% annually from 2001 to 2013). But stimulating local businesses will deliver big job growth opportunities.

Rapid population growth is driving the Gold Coast economy, making it a ‘gaining’ city.
Pawel Papis from www.shutterstock.com

Similarly, the expanding cities of Cairns, Central Coast and Toowoomba are forecast to have annual output growth of 3.2% to 3.9% until 2031, building on strong foundations of business entries. But they need to create more high-income jobs.

Geelong and Ballarat have low annual population growth rates of around 1.2% to 1.5%. They are classified as slow and steady cities. But their relatively high creative industries scores, coupled with robust rates of business entries, means they have great foundations for growth. They need to stimulate local businesses to deliver city growth.

Get ready to deal

Regional cities remain great places to live. They often score more highly than larger cities on measures of wellbeing and social connection.

But if there’s no shared vision, or local leaders can’t get along well enough to back a shared set of priorities, or debate is dominated by opinion in spite of evidence, local politics may win the day. Negotiations to secure substantial city investment will then likely fail.

The federal government’s Smart Cities Plan has identified City Deals as the vehicle for investment in regional cities.

This collaborative, cross-portfolio, cross-jurisdictional investment mechanism needs all players working together (federal, state and local government), along with community, university and private sector partners. This leaves no place for dominant single interests at the table.

Clearly, the most organised regional cities ready to deal are those capable of getting collaborative regional leadership and strategic planning.

For example, the G21 region in Victoria (including Greater Geelong, Queenscliffe, Surf Coast, Colac Otway and Golden Plains) has well-established credentials in this area. This has enabled the region to move quickly on City Deal negotiations.

Moving past talk to be investment-ready

There’s $378 billion on the table, but Australia’s capacity to harness it will depend on achieving two key goals.

  • First, shifting the entrenched view that the smart money invests only in our big metro cities. This is wrong. Regional cities are just as well positioned to create investment returns as the big five metro centres.

  • Second, regions need to get “investment-ready” for success. This means they need to be able to collaborate well enough to develop an informed set of shared priorities for investment, supported by evidence and linked to a clear growth strategy that builds on existing economic strengths and capabilities. They need to demonstrate their capacity to deliver.

While there has been much conjecture on the relevance and appropriateness of City Deals in Australia, it is mainly focused on big cities. But both big and small cities drive our national growth.


The ConversationYou can explore the data and compare the 31 regional cities using the RAI’s interactive data visualisation tool.

Leonie Pearson, Adjunct Associate, University of Canberra

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

Egypt: Regional Intervention or Coup?


The links below are to articles reporting on developments both within and without Egypt, concerning the current crisis in that country and the persecution of Christians.

For more visit:
http://www.wnd.com/2013/08/saudis-credited-for-egyptian-coup/
http://www.wnd.com/2013/08/muslim-brotherhood-taking-anger-out-on-christians/
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/world/middleeast/official-urges-restraint-by-military-in-egypt.html

Two Christians Slain in Attack Outside Church in Pakistan


Muslim youths kill two, wound two others after dispute over teasing of Christian women.

KARACHI, Pakistan, March 22 (CDN) — Two Christians were gunned down and two others are in a serious condition with bullet wounds after Muslim youths attacked them outside a church building in Hyderabad last night, witnesses said.

Residents of Hurr Camp, a colony of working-class Christians in Hyderabad in Sindh Province, were reportedly celebrating the 30th anniversary of their Salvation Army church when a group of Muslim youths gathered outside the building and started playing music loudly on their cell phones. They also started teasing Christian women as they arrived for the celebration, according to reports.

Christians Younis Masih, 47, Siddique Masih, 45, Jameel Masih, 22, and a 20-year-old identified as Waseem came out of the church building to stop the Muslim youths from teasing the Christian women, telling them to respect the sanctity of the church. A verbal clash ensued, after which the Muslim youths left, only to return with handguns.

Witnesses told Compass by phone that the Muslim youths opened fire on the Christians, killing Younis Masih and Jameel Masih instantly, and seriously injuring Siddique Masih and Waseem. The injured men have been transferred to a hospital in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh.

Younis Masih is survived by his wife and four children, while Jameel Masih was married only a month ago, and his sudden death has put his family into a state of shock.

“My son had gone to the church to attend the anniversary celebrations from our family…a few hours later we were told about his death,” a wailing Surraya Bibi told Compass by telephone from Hyderabad. “I got him married only a month ago. The cold-blooded murderers have destroyed my family, but our most immediate concern is Jameel’s wife, who has gone completely silent since the news was broken to her.”

She said the local police’s indifference towards the brutal incident had exacerbated the Christians’ sorrow.

“The police were acting as if it was not a big deal,” she said. “They did not register a case until late at night, when all of us blocked the main Hyderabad Expressway along with the two dead bodies for some hours.”

Jameel Masih’s paternal uncle, Anwar Masih, told Compass that police were biased against the Christians, as “none of the accused has been arrested so far, and they are roaming the area without any fear.”

He said police had taken into custody some teenagers who had no involvement in the killings.

“This has been done just to show their senior officials that they are not sitting idle,” he said.

Anwar Masih said the families had little hope for justice, because “if we have to dishonor the dead bodies by placing them on the roads to get a case registered, what should we hope for when the investigations begin?”

He said that during their protest, some leaders of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a regional political party known for its secular but often violent ideology, arrived and suggested the Christians retaliate against the Muslims.

“We told them that as Christians we are not going to take the law into our hands,” Anwar Masih said.

He said that Jameel Masih’s father, Sardar Masih, and the other Christians would visit the Baldia Colony police station Wednesday morning (March 23) to see whether there has been any progress in the investigation.

“Please pray for us,” he said.

Compass made efforts to contact Hyderabad District Police Officer Munir Ahmed Sheikh to ask about progress in the case and whether any of the named suspects have been arrested by police, but the calls were unanswered.

The killing of the two Christians comes a week after another Christian, sentenced to life imprisonment on false blasphemy charges, died in Karachi Central Prison. The family of Qamar David claims he was murdered on March 15, while conflicting reports from the jail suggest that he died of heart failure.

If David died from torture, yesterday’s killings bring the number of Christians murdered in March alone to four, the most prominent among them being Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, who was assassinated in Islamabad on March 2 for opposing the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.

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

Orissa, India Christians Still Face Boycott, Forced Conversion


Hindu nationalists continue to oppress Christians in Kandhamal district, report says.

NEW DELHI, November 11 (CDN) — More than two years after losing relatives and property in anti-Christian violence, there is no sense of relief among survivors in India’s Orissa state, as many are still ostracized and pressured to “return” to Hinduism, according to a private investigation.

“Despite the state administration’s claim of normalcy,” the preliminary report of a fact-finding team states, “a state of lawlessness and utter fear and sense of insecurity” prevails among Christians of Kandhamal district, which saw a major anti-Christian bloodbath in 2008.

The team, consisting of local attorney Nicholas Barla and another identified only as Brother Marcus, along with rights activists Jugal Kishore Ranjit and Ajay Kumar Singh, visited four villages in three blocks of Kandhamal on Nov. 5.

In Bodimunda village in Tikabali, the team met a pastor who said he has been closely watched since Hindu extremists forced him to become a Hindu. The pastor, whose name the report withheld for security reasons, said he had to convert to Hinduism in 2008 “to save his old mother, who could not have escaped the violence as she was not in a position to walk.”

He is still closely watched in an effort to prevent him from returning to Christianity. While the attorneys and activists were still at the pastor’s house, a man who identified himself as from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, India’s most influential Hindu nationalist conglomerate) came to inquire about his visitors. The pastor felt compelled to tell them that they were “bank officials.”

In the same village, Hindu nationalists have also imposed a de facto ban on any private or public vehicle to ferry Christians or their belongings, said the report.

The team met the family of a paralyzed Christian, Bamadev Pradhan, whom auto-rickshaw drivers refused to take to a hospital when he recently ran a high fever. Eventually a Christian driver took him to the only hospital in Tikabali, around eight kilometers (nearly five miles) from his village of Bodimunda, but as the Christian was driving back, some local men confiscated his vehicle.

With the help of the auto-rickshaw union, the driver (unnamed in the report) got the vehicle released after paying a fine of 1,051 (US$24) rupees and promising that he would not transport any Christians in the future.

Another Christian said area Hindus extremists prohibited Christians from procuring basic necessities.

“We are not allowed to bring housing materials or food provisions or medicines, and nor are we allowed to buy anything from local shops,” he said. “We do not have any shop of our own. Here, we are struggling to live as human beings.”

The team also met a Hindu who had to pay 5,000 rupees (US$112) to get his tractor returned to him, as he had transported housing material for the construction of the house of a Christian.

In the house of a Christian in Keredi village in Phulbani Block, the team found a picture of a Hindu god. The resident, who was not identified in the report, explained that he had to display it in order to protect his family from harm.

The team found pictures of Hindu gods also in the house of a Christian in Gandapadar village in the Minia area, Phiringia Block. A woman in the house told the team that local Hindu nationalists had given her pictures of Hindu gods for worship.

“We have kept them, as they often come to check whether we have reconverted to Christianity,” she said.

Almost all Christians the team met complained that the local administration had done little to protect them and suspected that officials colluded with area Hindu nationalists.

Released on Nov. 8, the report asserts that Christians have been barred from taking water from a government well in Dakanaju village, under G. Udayagiri police jurisdiction in Tikabali Block. The village head, Sachindra Pradhan, has promised to take action “at the earliest,” it added.

Violence in Kandhamal and some other districts of Orissa state followed the assassination of Hindu nationalist leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008. The rampage killed over 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions, according to estimates by human rights groups.

The spate of attacks began a day after Saraswati’s killing when Hindu nationalist groups blamed Christians for his murder, although Maoists (extreme Marxists) active in the district claimed responsibility for it.

John Dayal, a Christian activist in Delhi, told Compass that “the apparatus of 2008 remains undisturbed.” The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was part of the ruling state alliance with the regional Biju Janata Dal (BJD) party at the time of the violence. Although the BJD broke up with the BJP in 2009, blaming it for the violence, the former cannot be excused, said Dayal.

“While the BJP is mainly to be blamed, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is not entirely innocent,” Dayal said. “Not  just that he allowed the BJP and RSS cadres to run amok when they were part of his government, turning a blind eye to their  very visible anti-Christian activities, but he was his own home [interior] minister and cannot really shirk command responsibility for the carnage together with his BJP ministerial colleagues and senior officers.”

Kandhamal district Magistrate Krishan Kumar, who was on a tour at press time, could not be contacted for comment despite repeated attempts.

Of the 648,201 people in Kandhamal district, 117,950 are Christian, mostly Dalit (formerly “untouchables” in the caste hierarchy in Hindu societies), according to the 2001 Census. Hindus, mainly tribal people and numbering 527,757, form the majority.

Report from Compass Direct News

Burma’s Ethnic Christians Fear Bleak Future after Election


Military hostilities against insurgents may result in Christian casualties and persecution.

CHIANG MAI, Thailand, October 22 (CDN) — With Burma’s first election in over 20 years just two weeks away, Christians in ethnic minority states fear that afterward the military regime will try to “cleanse” the areas of Christianity, sources said.

The Burmese junta is showing restraint to woo voters in favor of its proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but it is expected to launch a military offensive on insurgents in ethnic minority states after the Nov. 7 election, Burma watchers warned.

When Burma Army personnel attack, they do not discriminate between insurgents and unarmed residents, said a representative of the pro-democracy Free Burma Rangers relief aid group in Chiang Mai, close to the Thai-Burma border. There is a large Christian population in Burma’s Kachin, Karen and Karenni states along the border that falls under the military’s target zone. Most of the slightly more than 2 million Christians in Burma (also called Myanmar) reside along the country’s border with Thailand, China and India.

The military seems to be preparing its air force for an offensive, said Aung Zaw, editor of the Chiang Mai-based magazine Irrawaddy, which covers Burma. The Burmese Air Force (BAF) bought 50 Mi-24 helicopters and 12 Mi-2 armored transport helicopters from Russia in September, added Zaw, a Buddhist.

Irrawaddy reported that the BAF had procured combat-equipped helicopters for the first time in its history. Air strikes will be conducted “most likely in Burma’s ethnic areas, where dozens of armed groups still exert control,” the magazine reported, quoting BAF sources.

“Armed conflicts between ethnic armies and the military can flare up any time,” said Zaw. “However, to boost the morale of its personnel, the military is expected to attack smaller ethnic groups first, and then the more powerful ones.”

Seven states of Burma have armed and unarmed groups demanding independence or autonomy from the regime: Shan, Karenni (also known as Kayah), Karen, Mon, Chin, Kachin, and Arakan (also Rakhine).

The junta has designated many areas in this region as “Black Zones” – entirely controlled by armed ethnic groups – and “Brown Zones,” where the military has partial control, said the source from FBR, which provides relief to internally displaced people in states across the Thai-Burma border.

“There are many unarmed Christian residents in these zones where Burmese military personnel attack and kill anyone on sight,” the source said.

A Karen state native in Chiang Mai who identified himself only as Pastor Joseph, who fled Burma as a child, referred to the junta’s clandestine campaign to wipe out Christians from the country. At least four years ago a secret memo circulated in Karen state, “Program to Destroy the Christian Religion in Burma,” that carried “point by point instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state,” reported the British daily Telegraph on Jan. 21, 2007.

“The text, which opens with the line, ‘There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced,’ calls for anyone caught evangelizing to be imprisoned,” the Telegraph reported. “It advises: ‘The Christian religion is very gentle – identify and utilize its weakness.’”

Persecution of Christians in Burma “is part of a wider campaign by the regime, also targeted at ethnic minority tribes, to create a uniform society in which the race and language is Burmese and the only accepted religion is Buddhism,” the daily noted.

The junta perceives all Christians in ethnic minority states as insurgents, according to the FBR. Three months ago, Burma Army’s Light Infantry Battalions 370 and 361 attacked a Christian village in Karen state, according to the FBR. In Tha Dah Der village on July 23, army personnel burned all houses, one of the state’s biggest churches – which was also a school – and all livestock and cattle, reported the FBR.

More than 900 people fled to save their lives.

 

Vague Religious Freedom

The Burmese regime projects that close to 70 percent of the country’s population is ethnic Burman. Ethnic minorities dispute the claim, saying the figure is inflated to make a case for Burman Buddhist nationalism.

The new constitution, which will come into force with the first session of parliament after the election, was passed through a referendum in May 2008 that was allegedly rigged. It provides for religious freedom but also empowers the military to curb it under various pretexts.

Article 34 states, “Every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution.” Article 360 (a), however, says this freedom “shall not include any economic, financial, political or other secular activities that may be associated with religious practice,” apparently to bar religious groups from any lobbying or advocacy.

Further, Article 360 (b) goes on to say that the freedom “shall not debar the Union from enacting law for the purpose of public welfare and reform.”

Adds Article 364: “The abuse of religion for political purposes is forbidden. Moreover, any act which is intended or is likely to promote feelings of hatred, enmity or discord between racial or religious communities or sects is contrary to this Constitution. A law may be promulgated to punish such activity.”

Furthermore, Article 382 empowers “the Defense Forces personnel or members of the armed forces responsible to carry out peace and security” to “restrict or revoke” fundamental rights.

The Burmese junta is expected to remain at the helm of affairs after the election. The 2008 constitution reserves one-fourth of all seats in national as well as regional assemblies for military personnel.

A majority of people in Burma are not happy with the military’s USDP party, and military generals are expected to twist the results in its favor, said Htet Aung, chief election reporter at Irrawaddy.

Khonumtung News Group, an independent Burmese agency, reported on Oct. 2 that most educated young Burmese from Chin state were “disgusted” with the planned election, “which they believe to be a sham and not likely to be free and fair.”

They “are crossing the border to Mizoram in the northeast state of India from Chin state and Sagaing division to avoid participating,” Khonumtung reported. “On a regular basis at least five to 10 youths are crossing the border daily to avoid voting. If they stay in Burma, they will be coerced to cast votes.”

There is “utter confusion” among people, and they do not know if they should vote or not, said Aung of Irrawaddy. While the second largest party, the National Unity Party, is pro-military, there are few pro-democracy and ethnic minority parties.

“Many of the pro-democracy and ethnic minority candidates have little or no experience in politics,” Aung said. “All those who had some experience have been in jail as political prisoners for years.”

In some ethnic minority states, the USDP might face an embarrassing defeat. And this can deepen the military’s hostility towards minorities, including Christians, after the election, added Aung.

For now, an uneasy calm prevails in the Thai-Burma border region where most ethnic Christians live.

Report from Compass Direct News

Algerian Christians Acquitted of Eating during Ramadan


Judge throws out case against men arrested during Islamic fasting period.

ISTANBUL, October 5 (CDN) — An Algerian court today acquitted two Christian men of eating during Ramadan in spite of a prosecutor’s demand that they be punished for “insulting Islam.”

Authorities on Aug. 12 arrested Salem Fellak and Hocine Hocini for eating lunch on a private construction site where they were working. Ramadan, Islam’s month of fasting during daylight hours, started this year on Aug. 11.

The incident took place in Ain El-Hammam, a town in the province of Tizi Ouzou about 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of the Algerian capital. Tizi Ouzou is part of Kabylie, an area of Algeria where the country’s Protestant church has grown with relative freedom in recent years.

Officers at a nearby police station saw the two men eating and confronted them for not fasting. When police realized the two men were Christians, they accused them of insulting Islam, according to local French-language press reports.

“I do not apologize for anything, and I regret nothing,” Fellak said before the verdict, according to Dernieres Nouvelles d’Algerie. “I have the right to not fast. I am a Christian, and until found guilty, the Algerian constitution guarantees respect for individual freedoms.”

The Algerian Constitution gives the right to all citizens to practice their faith, although it declares Islam the state religion and prohibits institutions from behavior incompatible with Islamic morality. Proposing other faiths to Muslims is also forbidden.

After police arrested Hocini and Fellak, authorities interrogated them for two hours and “admonished” them, according to a French-language news site. Authorities took them to court, where a state prosecutor questioned them. When the men explained to her that they were Christians, she said that Algeria was a Muslim country with no room for Christians and that they should leave the country, according to a local news site.

Today the judge at the court in Ain El Hamman, however, dismissed the case since “no article [of law] provided for a legal pursuit” against the two Christians, according to the BBC.

A small group of Christians standing on the steps of the courthouse reportedly shouted “Hallelujah!” when they heard the outcome of the case. After the verdict, Fellak said he was happy and that he had done nothing wrong, according to Reuters.

Local media also reported cases of Muslim Algerians arrested for eating during Ramadan.

 

Worshipping without Permit

The charges against the two Christians and a case of four Christians on trial for worshipping without a permit in Tizi Ouzou Province have some wondering what has caused authorities to turn their attention to this small community.

This Sunday (Oct. 10), the four men will appear in court for holding Christian meetings at a residence without permission. One of the men, Mahmoud Yahou, has told a local newspaper, “This story concerns all Christians in our country. We are a community intimidated around the country.”

Yahou cited other recent cases of persecution, including that of Habiba Kouider, who in 2008 was tried for practicing Christianity “without a license.” Her case is still pending. Another Christian, Rachid Muhammad Essaghir, has three court cases against him, all in appeals process since 2008.

In most cases, Christians have been charged under a presidential decree from February 2006 that restricts religious worship to government approved buildings. The decree, known as Ordinance 06-03, also outlaws any attempt to convert Muslims to another faith.

“This law of 2006 is contradictory to the constitution,” said a regional researcher who requested anonymity. “It creates a gray zone in which the government and police have room to act against the church. This law gives permission to the government to condemn believers for their faith or illegal worship even if the constitution guarantees religious freedom.”

Also in Tizi Ouzou city, church leaders who were expanding their building to fit their growing congregation received a letter in August from the governor of the province ordering them to stop all construction and demolish the extension.

Algerian Christians and observers say that the two court cases, along with the order to the Tizi Ouzou church to cease expansion of their building, are unusual because they happened in such a short span of time and because the region is regarded as more tolerant of Christianity.

“Perhaps a new wave of persecution is coming,” said the regional researcher. “It’s difficult to know, but in a few weeks we encountered a few problems.”

An Algerian church leader told Compass the government is finding more subtle ways to pressure Christians.

“I think they don’t want to do anything openly,” said the leader, who requested anonymity. “So they are using opportunities they can find, like not giving authorization to build the church in Tizi Ouzou, [and the men] not fasting during Ramadan.”

Report from Compass Direct News

Julia Gillard has Announced New Ministry for Minority Government


Prime Minister Gulia Gillard has announced the make up of her new ministry in Australia’s 43rd national government, in the current ALP minority government supported by the Greens and Independents. A Regional Ministry position was turned down by Independent Rob Oakeshott. There are several changes to the ALP team. The entire ministry can be viewed at:

http://alp.org.au/federal-government/news/prime-minister-announces-new-ministry/