Budget 2018 boosts aged care, rural health and medical research: health experts respond



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A$1.6 billion over four years will allow 14,000 more older Australians to remain in their home for longer.
Tanoy1412/Shutterstock

Kees Van Gool, University of Technology Sydney; Andrew Wilson, University of Sydney; Helen Dickinson, UNSW; Lesley Russell, University of Sydney; Peter Sivey, RMIT University, and Rosalie Viney, University of Technology Sydney

The winners of this year’s health budget are aged care, rural health and medical research.

The government has announced A$1.6 billion over four years to allow 14,000 more older Australians to remain in their home for longer through more high-level home care places. For those in aged care, an additional A$82.5 million will be directed to improve mental health services in the facilities.

The budget includes A$83.3 million over five years for a rural health strategy, which aims to place more doctors and nurses in the bush and train 100 additional GPs.

There’s A$1.3 billion over ten years for a National Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan, which includes A$500 million for new research in the field of genomics.

Other key announcements include:

– A$1.4 billion for new and amended listings on PBS
– A$302.6 million in savings over forward estimates by encouraging greater use of generic and bio similar medicines
– A$253.8 million for a new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.




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Infographic: Budget 2018 at a glance


Aged care

Helen Dickinson, Associate Professor, Public Service Research Group at UNSW

It was well foreshadowed that this budget would bring with it significant provisions for aged care. It has been widely reported that reforms to pension and superannuation tax have resulted in disaffection in the Coalition within older age groups.

Making older Australians the cornerstone of budget measures is a calculated political tactic in a budget that in the short term makes only limited tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners.

The A$1.6 billion for 14,000 new places for home-care recipients will be welcome, but are a drop in the ocean, given there are currently more than 100,000 people on the national priority list for support.

Additional commitments around trials for physical activities for older people, initiatives to improve connections to communities and protections for older people against abuse will bolster those remaining in homes and communities.

Commitments made for specific initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and aged care facilities in rural and remote Australia will be welcomed, although their size and scope will likely result in little to address older age groups with complex needs.

While investment in aged care services will be welcome, it remains to be seen whether this multi-million-dollar commitment will succeed in clawing back support from older voters.

Recent years have seen around A$2 billion of cuts made to the sector through adjustments to the residential care funding formula. The current financial commitments go some way to restoring spending, but do not significantly advance spending beyond previous levels in an area of the population we know is expanding substantially in volume and level of need and expectation.

A number of new budget commitments have been announced in relation to mental health services for older people in residential aged care facilities, for a national mental health commission, and for Lifeline Australia.

However, given the current turbulence in mental health services, it’s unclear whether these will impact on the types of issues that are being felt currently or whether this will further disaggregate an already complex and often unconnected system.

It’s unclear whether this will be enough to win back older Australians’ support.
U.J. Alexander/Shutterstock

Equity, prevention and Indigenous health

Lesley Russell, Adjunct Associate Professor, Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney

The government states its desire for a stronger economy and to limit economic imposts on future generations, but this budget highlights a continued failure to invest in the areas that will deliver more sustainable health care spending, reduce health disparities, and improve health outcomes and productivity for all Australians.

We know what the best buys in primary prevention are. But despite the fact that obesity is a heavy and costly burden on the health care system, and the broad agreement from experts on a suite of solutions, this can is once again kicked down the road.

There is nothing new to address the harms caused by excessive alcohol use or opioid abuse.

The crackdown on illegal tobacco is about lost taxes rather than smoking prevention.

There is A$20.9 million over five years to improve the health of women and children – an assorted collection of small programs which could conceivably be claimed as preventive health.

There is nothing in this budget to address growing out-of-pocket costs that limit the ability of many to access needed care.

Additional funding (given in budget papers as A$83.3 million over five years but more accurately described as A$122.4 million over 2018-19 and 2019-20, with savings of A$55.6 million taken in 2020-21 and 2021-22) is provided for rural health that should help improve health equity for country Australians.

Continued funding is provided for the Indigenous Australians’ Health Program (A$3.9 billion over four years); there is new money for ear, eye and scabies programs and also for a new Medicare item for remote dialysis services.

There are promises for a new funding model for primary care provided through Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (but no details) and better access for Indigenous people to aged care.

The renewal of the Remote Indigenous Housing Agreement with the Northern Territory will assist with improved health outcomes for those communities.

PBS, medicines and research

Rosalie Viney, Professor of Health Economics at the University of Technology Sydney

The budget includes a notable increase in net expenditure on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) of A$1.4 billion for new and amended listings of drugs, although most of these have already been anticipated by positive recommendations by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC).

Access to a number of new medicines has been announced. The new and amended medicine listings are clearly funded through savings in PBS expenditure from greater use of generic and bio-similar medicines, given the net increase in expenditure over the five year outlook is around A$0.7 billion.

The budget includes A$1.4 billion for pharmaceuticals.
Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

In terms of medical research, there is an encouraging announcement of significant further investments through the Medical Research Futures Fund. This will be welcomed by health and medical researchers across Australia.

What is notable is the focus on the capacity of health and medical research to generate new jobs through new technology. While this is certainly important, it is as much about boosting the local medical technology and innovation industry than on improving health system performance. And the announcements in the budget are as much about the potential job growth from medical innovation as on providing more or improved health services.

There is new funding for medical research, development of diagnostic tools and medical technologies, and clinical trials of new drugs. The focus on a 21st century medical industry plan recognises that health is big business as well as being important for all Australians.

All of this is welcome, but it will be absolutely critical that there are rigorous processes for evaluating this research and ensuring the funding is allocated based on scientific merit. This can represent a major challenge when industry development objectives are given similar standing in determining priorities as health outcomes and scientific quality.

Rural health

Andrew Wilson, Co-Director, Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney

Rural Australians experience a range of health disadvantages including higher rates of smoking and obesity, poorer survival rates from cancer and lower life expectancy, and this is not solely due to the poor health of the Aboriginal community.

The government has committed to improving rural health services through the Stronger Rural Health Strategy and the budget has some funding to underpin this.

The pressure to fund another medical school in rural NSW and Victoria has been sensibly addressed by enhancing and networking existing rural clinical schools through the Murray Darling Medical Schools network. This will provide more opportunities for all medical students to spend a large proportion of their studentship in a rural setting while not increasing the number of Commonwealth supported places.

There is a major need to match this increased student capacity with a greater investment in specialist training positions in regional hospitals to ensure the retention of that workforce in country areas. Hopefully the new workforce incentive program will start to address this.

The budget includes a Stronger Rural Health Strategy.
jax10289/Shutterstock

Hospitals and private health insurance

Peter Sivey, Associate Professor, School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University

There was no new money in today’s budget for Australia’s beleaguered public hospitals. The government is still locked in a deadlock with Queensland and Victoria, which have refused to agree to the proposed 6.5% cap on yearly funding increases from the Commonwealth. With health inflation of about 4% and population growth close to 2% the cap doesn’t allow much room for increased use due to ageing or new technology.

There is no change in the government’s private health insurance policy announced last year and nothing to slow the continuing above-inflation premium rises.

The ConversationOn the savings side, there was also no move yet on the private health insurance rebate which some experts think could be scrapped.

Kees Van Gool, Health economist, University of Technology Sydney; Andrew Wilson, Co-Director, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney; Helen Dickinson, Associate Professor, Public Service Research Group, UNSW; Lesley Russell, Adjunct Associate Professor, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney; Peter Sivey, Associate Professor, School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University, and Rosalie Viney, Professor of Health Economics, University of Technology Sydney

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

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Australia can do a better job of commercialising research – here’s how


Ian Jacobs, UNSW

Australia can benefit much more than it does currently from the world-leading research in our universities. It ranks near the top of the OECD for research excellence but is less effective at collaboration between industry and researchers to drive the economic benefits of research. I suggest two important measures that could go a long way to achieving more translation of research to achieve commercial outcomes.

The first is to create a separate fund to support the translation of non-medical research. (The translation of medical research is already supported via the Medical Research Future Fund.) The second is to reform the tax incentives for business and enterprise research and development to better reward industry-university collaboration in the translation of research.




Read more:
Five things to consider when designing a policy to measure research impact


Commercialising an idea, innovation or great piece of research is a key driver of new sources of revenue, jobs and industries, and the lifeblood of increasingly knowledge-intensive economies.

But it is not an easy process. For an idea to make the successful journey from discovery to commercialisation, basic research must be tested through prototypes and trials. If we want this to happen, we need funding that specifically targets the research translation process.

A future fund for research translation

We should create an Australian Research Translation Future Fund (ARTFF). Its role would be to focus on translation of the research currently funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC). In so doing it would mirror the role played by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) in translating research funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).



Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

The importance of funding medical research is beyond question, but there are many challenges facing our society that fall outside the medical category. Advances in science, technology, engineering, humanities, social sciences, arts, design and mathematics are also critical to our prosperity and wellbeing.

Grants for fundamental research and industry linkages in all these areas are administered by the Australian Research Council (ARC) which has funding broadly equivalent to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

But while the NHMRC funding is complemented by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), the ARC has no equivalent. A new translation fund for ARC-funded research could support research in priority areas such as food, soil and water, transport, energy, environmental change and cyber security.

While there is still some debate about the best way to administer the relatively new Medical Research Future Fund, in broad terms it presents a model that could be followed in the creation of research translation fund for non-medical research.

Established in 2015, the Medical Research Future Fund is an endowment fund that will hit A$20 billion upon maturity in 2020-21. It is expected to spend A$1.4 billion over the forward estimates to 2021. The average annual spend over this period is shown in the schematic. Beyond 2021, annual expenditure is expected to be some A$1 billion.




Read more:
$20 billion for medical research: but who will do the research?


Ideally, an Australian Research Translation Future Fund (ARTFF) would make an annual investment in research translation of similar scale.

A tax incentive for research translation

My second proposal addresses Treasurer Scott Morrison’s recent call for an overhaul of the research and development Tax Incentive. It aims to reward R&D undertaken on projects additional to business-as-usual.

The Australian Government refunds about A$3 billion of the A$16.7 billion that business spends on research and development through its R&D tax incentive scheme. Currently, this scheme does nothing to encourage collaboration with publicly-funded research organisations such as universities.

This needs to change. Both the 2016 review of the tax incentive and the the government’s Australia 2030 innovation report recommended a collaboration premium to encourage industry to partner with publicly-funded research institutions.




Read more:
Starting next year, universities have to prove their research has real-world impact


We should endorse the 2016 review’s recommendation for a collaboration premium up to 20% for the non-refundable R&D tax offset for companies with a turnover of A$20 million or more (a rise from 38.5% to 58.5%).

With company tax at 30% this would deliver a net saving as a percentage of eligible R&D expenditure of 28.5%, that is substantially higher than the current 8.5%. The recommended premium also applied to the cost of employing PhD or equivalent graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths in their first three years of employment.

A collaboration premium would pull industry towards universities. If implemented alongside a proposed cap on the annual cash refund to small to medium enterprises and a threshold R&D percentage, the R&D tax incentive collaboration premium could be largely budget-neutral.

Tackling the problem from both ends

A university push toward collaboration through an ARTFF, and an industry pull through an R&D collaboration premium, would be a powerful combination. It would help us deliver on education minister Simon Birmingham’s goal of promoting “good research ideas that can be applied or commercialised to provide real-world measures that benefit all Australians and our economy.”

The current R&D ecosystem has imbalances in the funding of medical and non-medical research, coupled with insufficient engagement between industry and universities. Both are factors in the worrying discrepancy between Australia’s research excellence and our ability to apply and commercialise our ideas.

The ConversationA tax incentive coupled with a new fund to support research translation could go a long way toward closing that gap.

Ian Jacobs, Vice Chancellor, UNSW

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

Plinky Prompt: What Non Profit Organizations Do You Support? Would You Ever Start Your Own?


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I don’t have any non profit organizations that I support on a regular basis. I do support various non profit organizations from time to time, but it tends to be a bit all over the shop.

I have supported such environmental organizations as Bush Heritage Australia and WWF, among others. I have also supported Compassion and other similar organizations from time to time, such as when the appeal went out for assistance during the tsunami crisis on Boxing Day a few years ago.

I do have an interest, should I have access to any money, to start a foundation-type organization for diabetes research and support. The reason for this interest is that a dear friend died a few years ago who suffered badly from diabetes.

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Pakistani Woman Appeals Death Sentence for ‘Blasphemy’


District judge bows to pressure of local Muslims, handing down stunning sentence to Christian.

LAHORE, Pakistan, November 13 (CDN) — Attorneys for a Christian mother of five sentenced to death by hanging for allegedly speaking ill of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, have filed an appeal of the verdict, they said.

Bowing to pressure from Muslim extremists in Pakistan, according to the Christian woman’s husband and rights groups, a district court judge handed down the stunning sentence to Asia Noreen on Monday (Nov. 8). Additional District and Sessions Judge Naveed Ahmed Chaudhary of Nankana Sahib district delivered the verdict under Pakistan’s controversial “blasphemy” statute, the kind of law that a resolution before the United Nations condemning “defamation of religions” would make legitimate internationally.

Noreen is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s widely condemned law against defaming Islam.

Noreen’s lawyer, Chaudhry Tahir Shahzad, said that among other allegations, she was accused of denying that Muhammad was a prophet.

“How can we expect a Christian to affirm a Muslim belief?” Shahzad said. He added that he and lawyer Manzoor Qadir had filed an appeal against the district sessions court’s verdict in the Lahore High Court.

Asia (alternately spelled Aasya) Noreen has been languishing in isolation in jail since June of last year after she argued with fellow field workers in Ittanwali village who were trying to pressure her into renouncing Christianity. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, told Compass that the argument began after the wife of an Ittanwali elder sent her to fetch water in Nankana Sahib district, about 75 kilometers (47 miles) from Lahore in Punjab Province.

The Muslim women told Noreen that it was sacrilegious to drink water collected by a non-Muslim, he said.

“My wife only said, ‘Are we not all humans?’ when the Muslim women rebuked her for her faith,” Masih, a field laborer, told Compass by telephone. “This led to an altercation.”

Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) General Secretary Katherine Sapna told Compass that the women told Muslim cleric Muhammad Salim about the incident, and he filed a case with police on the same day, June 14, 2009.

On June 19, 2009, Masih said, the Muslim women suddenly raised a commotion, accusing Noreen of defaming Muhammad.

“Several Muslim men working in the nearby fields reached the spot and forced their way into our house, where they tortured Asia and the children,” said Masih, who confirmed that his wife is 45 years old and that they have five children – four girls and a boy, the oldest daughter 20.

Police arrived and took his wife into custody, presumably for her own protection, he said.

“They saved Asia’s life, but then later a case was registered against her under Sections 295-B and C [blaspheming the Quran and Muhammad, respectively] at the Nankana police station on the complaint of Muhammad Salim, the local imam [prayer leader] of the village,” he said. “Asia has been convicted on false charges. We have never, ever insulted the prophet Muhammad or the Quran.”

Salim reportedly claimed that Noreen confessed to speaking derogatorily of Islam’s prophet and apologized. Under immense pressure from local Muslims, according to Masih, CLAAS and Sohail Johnson of Sharing Life Ministry, local judge Chaudhary ruled out the possibility that Noreen was falsely accused. In spite of repeated efforts by the Muslim women to pressure her into renouncing her faith, the judge also reportedly ruled “there were no mitigating circumstances.”

Chaudhary also fined her 100,000 rupees (US$1,150), according to CLAAS.

Ataul Saman of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) said that lower court verdicts in blasphemy cases are usually overturned by higher courts. He said lower court proceedings take place under intense pressure, with local Muslims gathering outside and chanting slogans to pressure judges. Saman added that NCJP research showed that up to 80 percent of blasphemy charges are filed against people to settle personal scores.

Rights groups have long criticized Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as too easily used to settle grudges or oppress religious minorities, such as the more than 4 million Christians that Operation World estimates out of Pakistan’s total population of 184.7 million. To date no one has been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, as most are freed on appeal after suffering for years under appalling prison conditions. Vigilantes have killed at least 10 people accused of blasphemy, rights groups estimate.

Noreen was convicted under Section 295-C of the defamation statutes for alleged derogatory comments about Muhammad, which is punishable by death, though life imprisonment is also possible. Section 295-B makes willful desecration of the Quran or a use of its extract in a derogatory manner punishable with life imprisonment. Section 295-A of the defamation law prohibits injuring or defiling places of worship and “acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class of citizens.” It is punishable by life imprisonment, which in Pakistan is 25 years.

Between 1986 and August 2009, at least 974 people have been charged with defiling the Quran or insulting Muhammad, according to the NCJP. Those charged included 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 from other religions.

Johnson of Sharing Life Ministry, which is active in prisons and has been following Noreen’s case from the onset, said he was impressed by her continued faith.

“A week before the verdict, I went to visit Asia in jail,” he said. “I asked her what she was expecting. She told me that Jesus would rescue her from this fake case.”

The verdict was shocking in that no one was expecting a death sentence for a woman, he said. Masih agreed.

“Asia was hoping that the judge would free her and she would come home to be with us, but this conviction has dashed our hopes for now,” Masih said.

He said that since the sentencing, authorities have not allowed him or other members of their family to visit his wife.

“We don’t know yet how she is, but we trust the Lord,” he said. “Asia is suffering for Jesus, and He will not forsake her.”

Report from Compass Direct News

Christianity Fades in Great Britain Youth


According to research conducted in the United kingdom, Christianity is little more than a faded memory among young people in that country.

See more at:

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20101005/christianity-a-faded-memory-for-most-young-people/

 

Sterilize the unfit says British professor David Marsland


The mentally and morally “unfit” should be sterilized, Professor David Marsland, a sociologist and health expert, said this weekend. The professor made the remarks on the BBC radio program Iconoclasts, which advertises itself as the place to “think the unthinkable,” reports Hilary White, LifeSiteNews.com.

Pro-life advocates and disability rights campaigners have responded by saying that Marsland’s proposed system is a straightforward throwback to the coercive eugenics practices of the past.

Marsland, Emeritus Scholar of Sociology and Health Sciences at Brunel University, London and Professorial Research Fellow in Sociology at the University of Buckingham, told the BBC that “permanent sterilization” is the solution to child neglect and abuse.

“Children are abused or grossly neglected by a very small minority of inadequate parents.” Such parents, he said, are not distinguished by “disadvantage, poverty or exploitation,” he said, but by “a number or moral and mental inadequacies” caused by “serious mental defect,” “chronic mental illness” and drug addiction and alcoholism.

“Short of lifetime incarceration,” he said, the solution is “permanent sterilization.”

The debate, chaired by the BBC’s Edward Stourton, was held in response to a request by a local council in the West Midlands that wanted to force contraception on a 29-year-old woman who members of the council judged was mentally incapable of making decisions about childrearing. The judge in the case refused to permit it, saying such a decision would “raise profound questions about state intervention in private and family life.”

Children whose parents are alcoholics or drug addicts can be rescued from abusive situations, but, Marlsand said, “Why should we allow further predictable victims to be harmed by the same perpetrators? Here too, sterilization provides a dependable answer.”

He dismissed possible objections based on human rights, saying that “Rights is a grossly overused and fundamentally incoherent concept … Neither philosophers nor political activists can agree on the nature of human rights or on their extent.”

Complaints that court-ordered sterilization could be abused “should be ignored,” he added. “This argument would inhibit any and every action of social defense.”

Brian Clowes, director of research for Human Life International (HLI), told LifeSiteNews (LSN) that in his view Professor Marsland is just one more in a long line of eugenicists who want to solve human problems by erasing the humans who have them. Clowes compared Marsland to Lothrop Stoddard and Margaret Sanger, prominent early 20th century eugenicists who promoted contraception and sterilization for blacks, Catholics, the poor and the mentally ill and disabled whom they classified as “human weeds.”

He told LSN, “It does not seem to occur to Marsland that most severe child abuse is committed by people he might consider ‘perfectly normal,’ people like his elitist friends and neighbors.”

“Most frightening of all,” he said, “is Marsland’s dismissal of human rights. In essence, he is saying people have no rights whatsoever, because there is no universal agreement on what those rights actually are.”

The program, which aired on Saturday, August 28, also featured a professor of ethics and philosophy at Oxford, who expressed concern about Marland’s proposal, saying, “There are serious problems about who makes the decisions, and abuses.” Janet Radcliffe Richards, a Professor of Practical Philosophy at Oxford, continued, “I would dispute the argument that this is for the sake of the children.

“It’s curious case that if the child doesn’t exist, it can’t be harmed. And to say that it would be better for the child not to exist, you need to be able to say that its life is worse than nothing. Now I think that’s a difficult thing to do because most people are glad they exist.”

But Radcliffe Richards refused to reject categorically the notion of forced sterilization as a solution to social problems. She said there “is a really serious argument” about the “cost to the rest of society of allowing people to have children when you can pretty strongly predict that those children are going to be a nuisance.”

Marsland’s remarks also drew a response from Alison Davis, head of the campaign group No Less Human, who rejected his entire argument, saying that compulsory sterilization would itself be “an abuse of some of the most vulnerable people in society.”

Marsland’s closing comments, Davis said, were indicative of his anti-human perspective. In those remarks he said that nothing in the discussion had changed his mind, and that the reduction of births would be desirable since “there are too many people anyway.”

Davis commented, “As a disabled person myself I find his comments offensive, degrading and eugenic in content.

“The BBC is supposed to stand against prejudicial comments against any minority group. As such it is against it’s own code of conduct, as well as a breach of basic human decency, to broadcast such inflammatory and ableist views.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

‘Unchecked Extremism’ behind Attacks on Churches in Indonesia


Christians, moderate Muslims blame growth of Islamism under ‘weak’ government.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, August 17 (CDN) — The country that is home to the world’s largest Muslim population celebrated its 65th Independence Day today amid a widespread sense of distrust in the government’s ability to check attacks on churches by Islamist groups.

Muslims and Islamic organizations, Buddhists and Hindus joined hundreds of Christians for an ecumenical worship service near National Monument Square in Jakarta to protest “government inaction” over attacks on Christians and “forced closure of churches,” reported The Jakarta Globe. They had planned to hold the service outside the State Palace, but the government prohibited it due to preparations for Independence Day celebrations, the daily reported.

“Why did it take President [Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyono so many days to speak against the attacks?” the Rev. Dr. SAE Nababan, president of the World Council of Churches from Asia, told Compass. “Such carelessness can be dangerous for our democracy. Officials must not forget that they are accountable to the people.”

Nababan was referring to President Yudhoyono’s call for religious harmony a day before the month-long Islamic festival of fasting, Ramadan, began here last Wednesday (Aug. 11). According to the Globe, it was the president’s “first public comment” addressing “a recent rash of violence against religious minorities.”

The president’s statement came after a fifth attack on the Batak Christian Protestant Filadelfia Church (HKBP Filadelfia) in Bekasi city, a suburb of Jakarta, on Aug. 8.

More than 300 members of the extremist Islamic People’s Forum (FUI) and Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) broke through a police barricade and injured at least a dozen people during the Sunday worship in a field. The church has faced attacks since November 2000, when it was constructing the church building. (See http://www.compassdirect.org, “Hundreds Injure Church Members in Bekasi, Indonesia,” Aug. 9)

 

Rising Christian Persecution

Endy Bayuni, former editor of The Jakarta Post, told Compass that churches were being attacked every week but that media were avoiding coverage because it is an “emotional and controversial issue.”

“You also risk being accused of taking sides when you report on religious conflicts,” he said, adding that Christians and the Ahmadiyya, a Muslim sect regarded as heretical because it does not believe that Muhammad was the last prophet, bear the brunt of Islamism in Indonesia.

A report by the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy stated that violations of religious freedom of Christians had grown from previous years. It recorded at least 28 violations — mostly by Islamist groups – between January and July – up from 18 in 2009 and 17 in 2008.

The violations included forced closure of churches, revocation and delays in issuing building permits, and attacks such as torching and damaging churches. Political motives, economic interests involving illegal extortion, and ideological clashes of “intolerant groups” refusing the presence of those of a different religion impeded justice in most cases, noted the report.

 

Powerful Minority

Most Muslims in Indonesia are moderate and tolerant, said Nababan, former bishop of the HKBP Filadelfia church, but he added that the extremist minority poses a “great threat” to the nation.

“Extremism always starts in small numbers,” he said, alluding to alleged government inaction.

Dr. Musda Mulia, a Muslim research professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, told Compass all Indonesians have a right to freedom of faith.

“It seems the government doesn’t want to deal with the radicals,” she said. “Persecution of Christians and other minorities has been my concern for many years, but the government is very weak.”

Extremism in Indonesia, now a republic with a presidential system, dates back to the country’s struggle for independence, when Islamists called for an Islamic state. The Dutch transferred sovereignty to Indonesia in 1949 after an armed struggle.

Not heeding the Islamists’ call, the country’s leaders chose “Pancasila” as the official philosophical foundation comprising five principles: belief in the one and only God; just and civilized humanity; the unity of Indonesia; democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations among representatives; and social justice for all.

In line with Pancasila, “Unity in Diversity” (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika) became the official national motto of Indonesia. The Indonesian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the government only recognizes six religions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Confucianism.

Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,508 islands – about 6,000 of which are inhabited – has around 300 distinct native ethnicities and 742 languages and dialects. Over 86 percent of the over 138 million Indonesians are Muslim. Christians are around 8 percent, Hindus 3 percent and Buddhist 1.8 percent.

Islamist militant groups remain active and growing and are still fighting pluralism. According to the Globe, police recently unearthed a terror plot against President Yudhoyono, “part of a larger trend as militant groups widened their targets from Westerners to include state officials” considered to be “symbols of secularism.” One of their aims was to “accelerate the transformation of the country’s democratic system into one controlled by Islamic law.”

In 2002, over 200 people (including 164 foreigners) were killed in a terror attack by Islamist militants in Kuta town on the island of Bali. Indonesia has also fought violent Islamist insurgents, such as in Aceh Province, which now has a special status and implements sharia (Islamic law).

Mulia of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, who is the first woman to obtain a doctorate degree in Islamic political thought, identified the FPI and the Forum Betawi Rempung (Betawi Brotherhood Forum or FBR) as two of the Islamist groups chiefly responsible for Christian persecution.

The FPI, a national-level organization infamous for vigilante violence and allegedly part of the al Qaeda network, was established on Aug. 17, 1998. The FBR, a similar group based in Jakarta, was formed to fight for the interests of the ethnic Betawi Muslims on July 29, 2001.

Both groups exist legally in the country.

In June, several Indonesian parliamentarians asked the government to ban the FPI, which “has threatened ‘war’ against Christians in Jakarta and urged mosques to set up militia forces,” reported the Globe on July 26. The government, however, thinks that banning such groups will only lead to re-formation of the same organizations under new names.

The deputy chairman of Setara, Bonar Tigor Naipospos, was quoted in the Post’s July 29 edition as saying that local administrations, especially in cities in West Java Province, see these groups “as assets for local elections.”

“They [local governments] bow to pressure from mass organizations that insist the churches’ presence and activities have caused unrest,” he reportedly said.

As for the national government, added Nababan of the World Council of Churches of Asia, “it is preoccupied with its free market economy and apparently has no time to uphold the Constitution.”

 

Church Building Permits

The sealing of churches and the refusal to grant building permits top the list of major violations of Christians’ religious rights in Indonesia, according to Setara. The Aug. 8 attack on the HKBP Filadelfia church was also rooted in denial of permit for constructing its church building.

Setara’s deputy chairman told the Post that churches in Jakarta mainly faced trouble in renovating and expanding their buildings, which require building permits.

“They have to start over again by obtaining 60 signatures from residents living around the church, and sometimes residents refuse to provide signatures,” he said. The Setara report recommended that President Yudhoyono review a 2006 joint ministerial decree that requires signatures from congregations and residents living nearby, as well as approval from the local administration, to build a house of worship.

According to Setara, at least three churches in east and south Jakarta were experiencing difficulties in obtaining permits for church building at press time.

Nababan complained that some local governments would not give permits for churches for years without stating any reason.

“If this current government can become courageous enough to prosecute those who break the law and allow religious freedom, including the freedom to construct churches where we live, there is hope for Indonesia,” added Nababan.

A Christian source who requested anonymity said he agreed that there was hope for minorities in Indonesia.

“Violent attacks awaken the silent majority, which then speaks up and holds the government accountable,” he said.

Report from Compass Direct News

Plinky Prompt: If You Had Unlimited Resources What Would You Create?


I would create a Diabetes Research Foundation. Why would I do this? Because I would like to do something in memory of my friend Rebecca who had diabetes.