Federal health minister Greg Hunt has unveiled a A$48.1 million COVID-19 mental health plan, featuring A$7.3 million for research and data collection, A$29.5 million for outreach to vulnerable people, and A$11.3 million for communication and other outreach programs.
This is on top of the A$1.1 billion Medicare package to tackle mental health and domestic violence, announced in March, which included funding for telehealth mental health services by GPs and mental health practitioners.
Is the funding needed?
Mental health experts have warned of a “second curve” of mental ill-health in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic. This will result from widespread anxiety and depression, both about the disease itself and the knock-on social and economic effects of the lockdown.
Modelling has predicted that suicides could increase by 25-50% per year for up to five years, if urgent action is not taken.
It is hard to rely on any prediction with confidence, given this situation is unprecedented. Recent research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that the mental health effects of the pandemic are not dramatic so far. The graph below shows data from a national survey of symptoms carried out in April 2020, compared with earlier national survey data collected in 2017-18.
There has been a significant increase in feeling “restless or fidgety” and a trend towards more people feeling “nervous”. This probably reflects the confinement of the lockdown and anxiety about infection. Increases in anxiety are not necessarily a bad thing, as they motivate people to protect themselves against infection. Fortunately, the more serious symptoms of depression did not increase; in fact, there has been a signficant decrease in the number of people who report feeling “depressed”.
Yet it has long been recognised that suicides can decrease during times of war if there is a greater sense of purpose and social cohesion. Whether our national response to the COVID-19 pandemic will also produce these protective effects is unclear, but the potential is there and should be encouraged.
While the early effects on mental ill-health have not been dire, it is very early days, and the predicted adverse consequences of the pandemic and lockdown may yet be seen. Given the uncertainties, the government’s planned investment in gathering better data seems wise.
Will it make a difference?
The biggest slice of the government’s new and previous funding packages will go towards extra Medicare services. But although this seems an obvious response, past experience indicates it is unlikely to have a major impact.
What seems more likely to have a beneficial effect is the funding put into the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes. The evidence is clear that mental ill-health is associated with job loss and low income. These schemes are keeping people in employment and providing incomes, which means they are directly tackling key risk factors for mental ill-health.
If this preventive benefit is to be maintained, it will be necessary to extend these schemes beyond the planned six months. Now that would be a real investment in the nation’s mental health.
In most countries, the question of whether to produce guns or butter is a metaphor for whether a country should put its efforts into defence or well-being. In New Zealand, this debate is much more literal and has been won easily by butter.
Big ticket items such as warships and military aircraft last for decades and purchases are often years in the planning. Platforms purchased for the New Zealand military, including some acquired during the Vietnam War, are now reaching the end of their life.
New Zealand is facing significant bills as major aircraft, ships and army vehicles will need to be purchased in the next few years. The timing is particularly awkward for the government as it is shifting its spending towards well-being.
The first purchase to come consists of new C-130J-30 Super Hercules transport planes. They will replace the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s existing C-130s which are now more than 50 years old. At the time of writing, all five of these planes have been grounded due to maintenance problems. A major justification for the upgrades is greater need for a variety of relief, monitoring and peacekeeping missions caused by the effects of climate change.
A recent New Zealand Defence Force report warned that extreme weather patterns will threaten water, food and energy security in the region and shortages could spark violence. New Zealand’s military provides humanitarian aid and disaster relief in the Pacific and the climate crisis is shifting the rationale for defence spending and the politics of defence in general.
This shows the complexity of defence politics in New Zealand, as different political parties represent distinct strands of public opinion on the role of the military.
Balancing pacifist and martial traditions
The last 50 years have seen significant disagreement over how the country should engage with the rest of the world and what it should do with its military in particular. Decisions over big purchases and overseas deployments can open up major divisions over New Zealand’s strategic identity.
New Zealand’s strong martial and pacifist traditions are both represented in the current government and major defence decisions have to be made with care.
Jacinda Ardern’s coalition is managing this complex balancing act. The coalition is made up of the centre-left Labour Party and the moderately populist New Zealand First Party, with the Green Party providing confidence and supply.
NZ First is the strongest supporter of the country’s martial traditions. It has always had a hawkish attitude towards China, which has become more relevant in recent years.
Labour has generally differentiated itself by being slightly more willing to criticise allies and placing more faith in collective security, the United Nations and disarmament.
To limit criticism that it is spending on “tanks not teachers”, Ardern’s coalition has skilfully outsourced the job of replacing ageing defence equipment to NZ First’s minister of defence Ron Mark. It was probably no coincidence that last year’s announcement that NZ$2.3 billion would be spent on new maritime patrol aircraft was made by NZ First leader Winston Peters while Ardern was on maternity leave.
Ardern has let NZ First claim the political credit and take the political risk with expensive defence replacements, lest they take the shine off Labour’s focus on social policies. That balancing was on show again last week when Ardern announced that New Zealand was ending its military training deployment to Iraq.
Pacifism in the age of climate change
By sitting outside cabinet, the Greens are able to represent the pacifist end of the political spectrum. The party has its roots in the Values Party of the 1970s, which helped make anti-nuclear attitudes mainstream in New Zealand and, by 1984, Labour Party policy.
The party’s defence spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman described the transport plane purchase as “war making capability” when New Zealand is good at humanitarian aid delivery, monitoring and supporting Antarctic research. She reconfirmed the Green Party’s commitment to peacekeeping through the UN.
This attitude is problematic as it forgets that the tools for war fighting are the same as those for peacekeeping and disaster relief. As the focus of Green movements worldwide has shifted to climate change, the commitment to disarmament is becoming more at odds with the realities of climate change. Rising sea levels, crop failures and mass migration will be massively destabilising to the international system.
It is not tenable to criticise the purchase of aircraft that will be largely used to send relief missions to the Pacific, scientists to Antarctica and peacekeepers to UN missions, simply because they could be used to send soldiers into combat. The challenge for the Greens will be to find a coherent message on the military that tackles the climate crisis and represents the views of its pacifist base.
The challenge for New Zealand’s allies will be to understand and respect how these contradictory threads of New Zealand’s strategic culture direct and constrain its defence spending.
Two months ago, the Australian minister for international development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, argued that “80% of Australians do not support any further spending on foreign aid”.
This was reflected in the 2017 Lowy Institute Poll where, when the Australian respondents were told exactly how much Australia invested in aid, $3.8 billion, only 22% supported an increase.
But dollar amounts can be misleading, so the 2018 Lowy Institute Poll took a different approach to the question of public support for Australian aid. Instead of asking Australians whether our current aid investment was right, we asked how much they thought we invested. The results, which back up other research into public opinions on foreign aid, are in striking contrast to reality, revealing how fraught polling of public perceptions on foreign aid can be.
Our 2018 results show that Australians have a highly inflated perception of the size of our aid program. The average Australian believes we invest about 14% of the federal budget on foreign aid and that we should actually invest about 10%. In reality, we invest 0.8%.
On average, Australians think we invest 17.5 times more than we actually do, and would like us to be 12.5 times more generous than we are. Only 6% of respondents guessed anywhere close to the actual number. If that’s how much they think we invest, it’s no wonder there is little support to increase it.
When told how much we actually invest, be it $5 billion (1.2% of federal expenditure) in 2015 or, after significant cuts, $3.8 billion (0.8% of federal expenditure) in 2017, the results are remarkably sticky. The majority thought it sounded reasonable, and only 21% in 2015 and 22% in 2017 supported an increase. When given no baseline, they think we invest more than we do, and think it should be less.
How do we reconcile these results, which appear completely at odds with one another?
To me, this shows how little Australians think about foreign aid. We think of ourselves as a generous nation and expect that to be reflected in our aid program. We don’t give any real thought to it, and in the end trust the government to do what’s right.
But the government is not doing what is right. Since the Coalition government came to power in 2013, Australian aid has been cut by close to 25% when adjusting for inflation.
Australian aid is now at its lowest point in our history, when measured as a proportion of national income. As peers like the United Kingdom and New Zealand are rapidly stepping up, we are slipping into the bottom third of rich country donors.
We are the fifth-most-prosperous country in the OECD but rank 21st in generosity. By 2021, our donor peers down the bottom will be Spain, the United States, Portugal, Slovenia, Greece, Korea, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovak Republic and Hungary.
For me, the answer is that the Abbott and Turnbull Coalition governments do not see the efficacy and importance of aid. They don’t see the critical national interest of our aid program in building goodwill and strong institutional linkages with our immediate neighbours, or the impact it has on improving people’s lives.
They know it will only ever be a marginal election issue, and what few votes there are for it tend to sit on the other side of the aisle. If MPs don’t believe in its importance and don’t see any election implications or widespread public outcry at the cuts, it starts to make sense why the aid program has been such an easy target for this government.
Fierravanti-Wells instead argues forcefully that it is impossible to increase the aid budget when the public does not support it.
Academic literature points to this being a critical flaw of foreign aid. Normal feedback mechanisms of domestic government expenditure that promote effectiveness and support do not apply to foreign aid. Taxpayer money is collected in one country and spent in another, with taxpayers having little knowledge of, or interest in, how it is being spent.
Beneficiaries of aid, on the other hand, have a strong interest in aid, but no direct political influence or voice to advocate for it. These flaws result in a marginal constituency for foreign aid, reflecting its marginal place in government expenditure.
What’s surprising about foreign aid is the public scrutiny it receives from our political class over other investments in Australia’s national interest. Our diplomatic, defence and intelligence expenditure receive less public scrutiny despite far larger (and growing) sums.
The development community has in part allowed this to happen by failing to build and maintain a bipartisan political constituency for Australian aid by selling the importance of foreign aid as a critical investment in Australia’s national interest. It is an important complement to our investments in diplomacy and defence, particularly because we are surrounded by developing nations that have significant financing challenges.
Having just a few political champions can do more than any campaign to deepen public support for Australian aid. Our politicians have the loudest megaphone to support the aid program, but at the moment are choosing not to use it.
There are ways out of this. Aid advocacy efforts could be professionalised and targeted at members of parliament. There should be more study tours for politicians, like those run by Save the Children with the support of the Gates Foundation, to see Australian aid in action in supporting the unprecedented humanitarian and development needs in our region. More effort should be made to highlight the foreign policy and strategic imperative for Australian aid, particularly in response to the growing competition from China, which has finally captured the attention of Australian media in the Pacific.
The Australian aid program is at a disappointing low point, and our poll shows that there is expectation for us to be doing more. It’s time for some political leadership to turn things around.
Successive Australian governments are usually judged on how they balance the budget and spend taxpayers’ dollars. The stereotypes are that Liberal governments keep a tight hold on the purse strings, while Labor governments are spendthrifts.
While total government spending has increased from around A$240 billion in 1998-99 to a predicted A$451 billion in the 2016-17 financial year, it’s also accompanied by an increase in revenue from around A$250 billion to A$417 billion over the same period.
But the pressure on the budget under a Turnbull government is more acute now than ever before, because spending is outpacing revenue. It’s now at an estimated 26.6% of GDP in 2016-17, higher than at any point since before the start of the millennium.
When you look at the mix of government spending over the past fifteen years, you start to see some of the drivers of the growth.
To compare spending over time, we have adjusted for the effect of inflation by using real measures.
Social security continues to dominate government spending at A$161.4 billion, constituting around 35% of all government outlays on latest figures. This has fallen from a high of 39% during the Rudd government stimulus package in 2009-10 and is similar to levels at the beginning of the millennium.
In the graph below “other” spending includes the distribution of GST revenues to states and territories as well as spending in areas such as job seekers assistance, industrial relations, vocational training, tourism and immigration. This constitutes the second highest share of government spending, at 18% (A$83.4 billion) of the total spend. General revenue assistance to states and territories accounts for two thirds of spending in this category.
Governments spend almost as much on defence and public safety (around A$32.6 billion) as they do on education (A$34.3 billion), although the states ultimately pick up most of the education bill.
The global financial crisis saw a temporary blip in the mix of general government spending. Social security spending rose by 22% in the year to June 2009, and education expenditure jumped 60% a year later as a result of Rudd’s economic stimulus package.
Government spending on public debt interest has more than tripled in real terms to A$15.4 billion since the start of the global financial crisis, and now accounts for 3.7% of all government spending.
Many of the changes in real government spending between 2008 and 2010 were driven by the impact of the global financial crisis, which resulted in a slowdown in economic growth, rising unemployment and a negative hit on the sharemarket.
The Rudd government response was a stimulus package. The main spending increases came from a combination of accelerating public debt interest, increased payments to assist the unemployed, but mainly the government’s stimulus measures channelled through increased spending on education, housing and cash payments to families.
If a spending measure is truly temporary, a rise in real spending should be followed by an equivalent fall in subsequent years when the spending runs out or the program ends. This is evident to some degree for the social security and welfare and fuel and energy portfolios, but less so in other areas.
For example, the 45% rise in fuel and energy spending in 2008-09 was primarily driven by the introduction of the Energy Efficient Homes package within the Rudd stimulus suite. The scheme ended in February 2010, resulting in a 33% drop in spending.
On the other hand, spending on education rose by A$16 billion as part of the Rudd stimulus package, but remained A$10 billion higher than pre-global financial crisis levels in subsequent years.
Overall government spending has continued to grow since 2010-11, but less dramatically than during the heart of the global financial crisis, by around 8% in real terms over the five years to 2015-16.
Social security and welfare spending constitutes the largest spending commitment of any government budget. It has risen by 70% in real terms over the past fifteen years, from A$91 billion at the turn of the millennium in 1999-00 to A$155 billion in 2015-16.
The biggest welfare spending is for assistance to the aged, families with children and people with a disability. Together, these three items make up almost 85% of all welfare spending.
The 2008-09 Rudd stimulus package had a substantial yet temporary effect on welfare spend, with “bonus” cash payments to families in the 2009 calendar year increasing assistance to families by around A$10 billion. Additional cash payments were also made to students, pensioners and farmers under the stimulus program. And 8.7 million Australian workers earning $100,000 or less also received a cash payment.
Australia’s ageing population and increases in both disability prevalence and disability support are the main driving forces behind welfare spending growth. These factors will continue to exert pressure on future government budgets, especially with the full rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
More than 40% of the government’s 2015-16 health budget of around A$71.2 billion was committed to community health services spending. At A$28.7 billion, spending in this sector has nearly doubled since the start of the millennium and by a quarter since the start of the global financial crisis in 2008-09.
This stems from the need to deliver medical services to a growing – and ageing – population, and the increased prevalence of chronic disease. In this respect, Australia is little different to most countries around the world.
Specific measures contributing to this growth included the expansion of health infrastructure, the costs of enhanced primary care attracting higher Medicare rebates, and indexation of health related payments to states and territories. Pharmaceutical spending increased by 12%, from A$1.4 billion year-on-year to A$12.1 billion in 2015-16.
Education spending rose dramatically during the global financial crisis, with spending on primary and secondary education increasing 81% to A$24.7 billion in the year to 2009-10 as part of the economic stimulus package.
Rudd’s “education revolution” led to a 12% growth in education spending in the 2008-09 budget, quickly followed by a further 61% spending increase in 2009-10 as part of the economic stimulus package. Spending in the following year fell as the temporary stimulus measures came to an end, but overall, education spending has remained significantly higher in real terms than pre-global financial crisis levels.
Spending on the university sector rose to around A$10.9 billion over the same period, but has remained relatively stable since.
Federal government money given to the states and territories
The federal government committed A$60.8 billion in general revenue assistance to states and territories in 2015-16, almost all of which came through the distribution of GST revenue. General revenue assistance spending rose A$3.8 billion in real terms in 2014-15, up 7% on the previous year, but has since stabilised.
Spending on superannuation interest has grown by a quarter since the end of the Howard years, reflecting the increase in the government’s superannuation liability. Lower public sector wages and employment have led to superannuation interest payments stabilising over the last two budgets to around A$9.4 billion in 2015-16.
Immigration spending rose between the Gillard and Abbott governments to a peak of A$4.7 billion in 2013-14, but has since fallen back to around A$3.8billion in 2016 dollars.
Much of the growth in immigration spending occurred during the Rudd and Gillard governments, by an average of 23% annually. This compares to an average of 7% during the previous Howard years. Additional government spending on detention facilities for irregular arrivals was the principal reason for this spending growth.
Natural disaster relief spending spiked between 2009 and 20-11 to assist with the damage and recovery costs from the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2009, and the 2010 Queensland floods.
Government approaches to supporting various industries has typically been applied on an ad hoc basis. Budget spending on specific industries has risen from A$3.2 to A$5.6 billion in real terms. Agriculture, forestry and fishing typically received a greater share of industry spending during the Howard budgets, reaching a high of A$4.8 billion in Swan’s final 2007-08 budget.
Growth in industry spend slowed during the Rudd years, picking up again with the Gillard and Abbott governments, with a greater preference towards spending in mining, manufacturing and construction projects.
Spending on housing and community amenities has increased from A$2.7 billion to A$7.6 billion, reaching a high of almost A$12 billion in the Rudd years. Spending in this portfolio increased with the Rudd stimulus package, incorporating a number of housing affordability measures including the First Home Buyers Grant Scheme and a boost in investment in social housing.
Spending on sanitation and protection of the environment also expanded rapidly during the Rudd/Gillard government, relative to the Howard years. The establishment of the Climate Change Action fund introduced by Rudd in 2009-10 and the Clean Energy Futures package in 2010-11 have been the main drivers behind this increase. Spending in each has been pared back since the Liberals came to power with Abbott at the helm.
Commonwealth spending on transport and communications projects has more than doubled from A$3.1 to A$7.5 billion over the last 15 years. Spending remained relatively stable under Howard’s government, and then got a further injection on roads in the last two Swan budgets. The Rudd government continued this trend, with Gillard following suit with increases in both road and rail projects.
Spending in this portfolio has been clawed back since the Abbott government, falling from A$9.2 billion to A$7.8 billion between the final Labor government budget (2013-14 financial year) and the first Liberal government budget (2014-15 financial year). The most recent Turnbull/Morrison budget has reaffirmed spending commitments under this portfolio, committing to more than A$11 billion in 2016-17.
The Howard/Costello years were characterised by good economic times, with an extended period of strong revenue growth, yet this prosperity wasn’t matched with any significant spending growth. In fact, overall government spending fell as a share of GDP – from 25.7% in 2000 to 23.6% in 2006-07 – the lowest share since the start of the millennium. And the combination of strong revenue and limited spending commitments under Howard drove down public debt, and public debt interest payments.
We saw some pretty dramatic increases in real spending when Rudd came into power in December 2007. Rudd’s first budget in 2008-09 saw some substantial spending commitments in the area of education but nothing exorbitant.
However, the major turning point in government spending has been driven by the response to the global financial crisis. There were significant spending commitments over the course of the crisis, some of which are still present.
Spending on public debt interest has increased to A$15.4 billion since the global financial crisis – more than the spending on transport and housing combined. And it’s projected to increase further to A$18.7 billion by 2019-20. This just emphasises how high the stakes are for Scott Morrison in delivering a credible budget repair strategy.
The spending of incumbent governments inevitably draw from the commitments of previous administrations, especially for those programs – in infrastructure, education or housing – that involve medium-term funding commitments.
The growth in real spending in areas that directly affect households – social security, NDIS, health or pensions – is an issue that no government can ignore. NDIS costs have been hugely underestimated already, and social security and health spending will inevitably increase with the ageing population.
Set against this context, it’s clear that a piecemeal approach to budget repair is unsustainable. A drop in revenue has ramped up budget pressures, and highlights the compelling need to return to a sustainable spending path and a credible budget repair strategy.
The Turnbull government cannot shy away from making the big decisions that secure a sustainable future for Australia. And the roadmap towards a sustainable future has to include revenue as well as spending as part of the recovery narrative.
The graphs in this article were created by The Conversation’s Multimedia Editor Emil Jerayatnam
Members of a home-based church in the city of Ahvaz are very concerned about their detained member and have reported that after more than a month from his arrest there are no precise information about his condition, reports FCNN.
According to the reports received by the Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN) from the city of Ahvaz, the capital city of the rich petroleum province of Khoozestan in the Southwestern part of Iran, members of a home-based church have informed this news network that more than a month ago one of their members, Neshan Saeedi, has been detained and there are no specific information regarding his condition. This has caused serious worry and concern for the members of the church as well as his family and friends.
The 27 years old Mr. " Neshan Saeedi" , on July 24, 2010 at 9:00 pm, while spending a quiet evening with his wife and young daughter at their home at the Golestan neighborhood of Ahvaz, was attacked by plain-clothes security forces that had entered his house and was arrested.
The security officers searched the home and seized personal belongings such as a computer, CDs containing films of Christian seminars and teachings, Christian books and Bibles, and family photo albums.
Following a rude and intimidating encounter with the security personnel the entire family was then taken to Chaharshir detention center in Ahvaz where after several hours of questioning and harsh interrogation the wife and the 6 years old daughter of Mr. Saeedi were released, but no one has been given permission to contact Mr. Saeedi himself.
The security officers not only insulted the wife of Mr. Saeedi, but indicated that they were apostates and not worthy of raising their 6 years old daughter. They threatened her that if they continue in their Christian activities they may lose their right to her daughter.
They were also accused of threatening the national security of the country and anti-government activities. They were told that they were spies of foreign powers and were leading people to pro-Israel ideology.
The members of the home-based church who fellowshipped with Mr. Saeedi and his wife, out of fear for their lives and the possibility of further arrests and persecution, have since scattered and dismantled the fellowship. It seems that the security agents are desperately seeking two other leaders of this church by the names of Ebi and Omid and are following all leads to pursue and arrest them. Members of this church, who call themselves Unity Church (movahedin) , in their contact with FCNN indicated that not only they are worried about the arrest of their assistant pastor, Neshan Saeedi, but fear further arrests and detentions.
One of the members of the church told FCNN that Mr. Saeedi is one of the older Christians in Ahvaz and he accepted the Lord Jesus as his savior many years ago. During all these years he has been a man of prayer and a worshipper in the house church in Ahvaz. Now, a month after his arrest and detention there has been no permission granted to him to retain a lawyer or contact his family. Moreover, he is under extreme pressure to reveal the names of his church members and to admit his affiliation with foreign powers and his acceptance of financial and other forms of help from them.
The members of the Unity Church (movahedin) not only deny any affiliation and connection to any external organization and foreign powers, but have resorted to exposing this news through FCNN to international media in hope that through prayers and other humanitarian efforts Mr. Saeedi would be released and rejoin his worried and hopeful family.
Encouraged by attendance exceeding 8,600 registered messengers on the first day of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 23 — twice as many as he expected — SBC President Johnny Hunt said there is a “sense of urgency” among the brethren, reports Baptist Press.
Hunt attributed much of the interest at this year’s meeting to his Great Commission Resurgence initiative. In a news conference following his re-election to a second term, he also addressed questions ranging from his opinion of controversial Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll to his view of Calvinism among Southern Baptists.
“I feel there’s a lot of energy in the halls,” said Hunt, pastor of Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock. “Everybody’s talking the same talk: ‘We need this Great Commission Resurgence.’
“We are saying times have been desperate,” Hunt added. “Now I really do sense fellow Southern Baptists are saying we need to get serious.”
Asked about Driscoll, Hunt responded: “I don’t know him, never met him. A lot of young men like to follow his blogs and podcasts. It’s just been interesting.”
Referring to motions from the floor placing Driscoll and the network he founded, Acts 29, in a bad light, Hunt said, “[T]he entire premise of being a Baptist is sort of thrown under the bus when you start telling someone who they can or cannot fellowship with.” He said it is a matter that it should be left to the conscience and the priesthood of the believer.
About church methodology, Hunt said the SBC is a “great family fellowship” using varied methodologies which provide a healthy balance.
Hunt said it might be that some of the perceived tension across generations of Southern Baptists is rooted in several things, including methodology, dress and music.
Encouraged by what he said is the turnout of younger Southern Baptists, Hunt said, “[I]f we can move beyond our perceptions” and begin to “listen to heart of some of these young leaders,” Southern Baptists might be encouraged “to catch their passion.”
Hunt relayed his experience at a recent International Mission Board appointment service in Denver where 101 mostly young missionaries were sent out, with the “majority going to extremely hard and dangerous places.”
“With that type of commitment to Jesus Christ that they’re willing, many of them, to write their will before they leave with the understanding some of them will probably never return, I have a very difficult time spending my time talking about their jeans, whether hair is spiked or colored” or their musical tastes, Hunt said.
By building relationships with younger leaders, “if we see some areas of concern, at least we have earned the right to speak into them.”
On the continuing banter between Calvinists and those critical of the doctrine that attempts to describe God’s work in salvation, Hunt said the debate has raged for more than 400 years and is part of Baptist history.
“We have wonderful men and women on both sides. I think the Baptist tent is large enough for both,” he said.
Asked by a reporter if an invitation was made for President Barack Obama to address the SBC, Hunt said he knew of no such invitation.
But Hunt, the first known Native American SBC president, said, “I feel like we will have a resolution to really honor our president, especially in the context of being the first African American to be elected. We have much to celebrate in that.”
Hunt said he had ample opportunity to invite Republicans to speak, “but we felt that would send a wrong signal because we wanted to send prayer support to the new president and we are mandated to pray for our president.”
Speaking to proposed federal hate crimes legislation that some say could infringe on biblical preaching, Hunt said he was not overly worried as long as pastors “stay in the context of preaching biblical truth. And if the day comes that we would be imprisoned for the proclamation of the Gospel becoming that much of an offense, we would join about two-thirds of the rest of the planet.
“God forbid that I would travel to the Middle East to encourage those already in hostile settings while at same time being afraid to proclaim the message that I encourage,” Hunt said.
Returning to the Great Commission Resurgence, Hunt answered a question regarding media access to the meetings of the proposed GCR task force. He said media presence would be “counterproductive because we want people to be at liberty to share their heart.”
It could be “embarrassing where we’re just seeking wisdom,” Hunt added, “but we would love to have any and all of you at the meetings and as soon as it is over we’d be delighted to share what we came to by way of context.”
Hunt said he has “no desire whatsoever to touch the structure of the SBC and the truth is, I couldn’t if I wanted to. It would violate policy.” Hunt said perhaps more clarity in his early statements about the GCR document could have helped ease fears of drastic change.
Even if the GCR task force were rejected, traction already has been gained by efficiency studies at the Georgia and Florida conventions and at the Southern Baptist mission boards, Hunt said.
In responding to the first question asked at the news conference, Hunt predicted if the GCR were to pass that evening, he likely would name the members of the task force June 24 and it would include several seminary professors, a college president, an associational director of missions, pastors of churches of varied sizes spanning the country and ethnically diverse members.
“I don’t have all the names so I’d probably miss some,” Hunt said. “But I’d be quick to say it will be a very fair committee.”
Hindu extremists beat Fr. Bernard Digal unconscious, leaving him bleeding in forest.
NEW DELHI, October 31 (Compass Direct News) – More than 3,000 people today attended the funeral in Bhubaneswar, Orissa of a Catholic priest who died on Tuesday (Oct. 28) from injuries sustained in anti-Christian violence that began in August.
Father Bernard Digal died in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, after an operation to remove a blood clot that developed in his brain due to a head injury from Hindu extremists attacking him on Aug. 25-26 in Kandhamal district, Orissa state. He was 46.
“He was smashed like a pulp,” Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, told Compass. “Because of the hate campaign of the [Hindu extremist] Sangh Parivar, the attackers lost their humanity and they became devils. Human beings can’t do what they have done.”
Archbishop Cheenath flew with Fr. Digal’s remains from Chennai to Orissa. Treasurer of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese in Orissa, Fr. Digal was visiting Sankarakhole parish when violence flared after Maoists killed Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and his disciples on Aug. 23.
Though police suspected Maoists from the start and the outlawed Marxists had claimed responsibility for the murders by Sept. 1, Hindu extremists bent on stoking anti-Christian flames continued to publicize that Christians had committed the crime – and have not stopped doing so.
Fr. Digal and Father Alexander Chandy, along with driver Sisir Pradhan, had taken shelter in a forest after a furious mob gathered outside the parish shouting slogans to kill all missionaries. After spending two days in the forest, they left the forest after Fr. Chandy became ill, moving from village to village.
They finally took refuge in a gutted church building in Dudukangia village. It had been torched and only its walls were standing. Legs swollen from walking, the refugees hoped that the enraged Hindu mobs would not come, Archbishop Cheenath said.
But the mob tracked them down by midnight, the archbishop said, and the clerics and driver ran. The crowd caught hold of Fr. Digal, who later told Archbishop Cheenath, “The mob shouted to each other to kill me. I pleaded for my life, but in vain.”
Stripping Fr. Digal naked, the Hindu mob then hit him with crowbars, iron rods, cycle chains, axes, sticks and other weapons, the archbishop said.
“They made a bonfire to burn him alive,” he said.
Seeing the fire, Fr. Digal managed to escape and run through some thorny bushes but was caught shortly after. The intolerant Hindus continued to hammer him until blood flowed from his head and he lost consciousness, and they left him for dead, Archbishop Cheenath said.
“He lay there on the wet ground and in the cool breeze for six to seven hours,” he added. Two villagers who found him in the forest carried him to Phulbani.
After much pressure, the state administration took Fr. Digal to a private hospital in Bhubaneswar, under security cover, and from there he was taken to Holy Spirit Hospital in Mumbai.
Discharged the first week of October after more than a month in the hospital, he reached Chennai, Tamil Nadu on Oct. 12 to visit his friend the vicar general of the archdiocese, who was undergoing a heart treatment in St. Thomas Hospital.
“Fr. Digal, after coming to Chennai, complained of high fever, blood in the urine and headache, and lastly his lungs collapsed,” Archbishop Cheenath told Compass.
Tests revealed he had a blood clot in the brain, and he underwent emergency surgery on Sunday evening (Oct. 26), reported The Times of India. The next day, he developed acute respiratory disorder and slipped into a coma.
Kandhmal district Police Chief Pravin Kumar told the national daily that he had no knowledge of the attack on Digal.
“So many incidents took place,” he reportedly said. “I don’t know whether there was any formal complaint pertaining to the attack on him. The police can begin an enquiry into the incident if a complaint is lodged even now.”
The Orissa state government has ordered a probe into the death of Fr. Digal, according to The Statesman News Service.
Fr. Digal was ordained on May 29, 1992. He was a native of the village of Tiangia in Kandhamal.
Orissa Rape Victim’s Plea
Two months after a nun was raped and paraded half-naked on Aug. 25 in the anti-Christian violence in Orissa, the victim went before the media in New Delhi on Oct. 24 and recounted her traumatic experience.
Her head and face covered by a black scarf, Sister Meena Lalita Barwa accused police of being “friendly” with the attackers and of not being responsive to her plea. Expressing her distrust in Orissa police for failing to protect her from those who raped her and other attackers, she demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe.
The nun had gone into hiding after the attack but decided to come forward after the Supreme Court turned down her initial request for a CBI investigation last week.
Sr. Barwa read from her handwritten statement, giving stark details of the incident. Archbishop Cheenath accompanied her in the press conference.
“Two of them were holding my neck to cut off my head with an axe,” she said. “Others told them to take me out to the road; I saw Fr. [Thomas] Chellan also being taken out and being beaten.”
The 40 to 50 men were armed with axes, spades, crowbars, iron-rods and sickles, Sr. Barwa added. She said she was taken to a building full of ashes and broken glass and raped there, with the mob subsequently parading her and Fr. Chellan for about a half a kilometer. Upon reaching a market she asked about a dozen Orissa police to help her, she said, “but they did not move.”
“This hate campaign,” Archbishop Cheenath said, “is done under the very nose of the authorities, and they are mere spectators of these shameful deeds.”
At the Balliguda police station, the nun recounted, she told the inspector in charge and other government officers how she was attacked, raped, taken away from policemen and paraded half-naked, and how the officers did nothing as she wept bitterly. The inspector asked her, she said, if she knew “what will be the consequence” of filing a First Information Report (FIR).
On Aug. 26, as she was writing the FIR, the inspector told her to hurry and not write it in detail, she said.
“State police failed to stop the crimes, failed to protect me from the attackers, they were friendly with the attackers,” she said. “They tried their best that I did not register an FIR, not make complaints against police, [and] police did not take down my statement as I narrated in detail and they abandoned me half of the way. I was raped and now I don’t want to be victimized by the Orissa police. I want a CBI enquiry.”
Since her press conference, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has called for a detailed report on the sequence of events from the district collector and superintendent of police.