Last month, the Australian National University contracted with the Social Research Centre (SRC) to survey more than 3,000 Australian adults about their experiences and attitudes related to the bushfires.
The study is the first of its kind to gauge how people were affected by the crisis and how it changed their views on a range of subjects, from climate change to the government response.
More than half of Australians felt anxiety
Our research shows the vast majority of Australians were touched in some way by the fires. We asked about eight different forms of impact, from lost property to disrupted holiday plans to difficulty breathing from the smoke.
About 14.4% of our respondents experienced direct exposure to the fires, either through their property damage or evacuations.
We can extrapolate further by looking at population estimates from the ABS and the number of visitors to areas impacted by the bushfires from the National Visitors Survey to estimate the total number of people directly affected at around 3 million.
And 77.8% of our respondents reported indirect exposure to the fires, such as having a friend or family member with damaged or threatened property, having travel or holiday plans disrupted, being exposed to the physical effects of smoke or feeling anxious or worried about the fires.
Nearly six in 10 respondents (57%) said they were physically affected by the smoke, while 53.6% said they felt anxious or worried about the fires.
Confidence in the government declined
The long-running Australian Election Study has shown that confidence in the federal government has declined substantially in the past few decades.
Crises have the potential to restore some of this trust if dealt with effectively and transparently. However, the government’s handling of the recent bushfire crisis seems to have had the opposite effect.
Confidence in the federal government declined by 10.9 percentage points from 38.2% in our survey in October 2019 to 27.3% by January 2020.
Confidence in other institutions, meanwhile, was quite stable over the four-month period, and higher than for the federal government. Rural fire-fighting services had the highest level of public trust in our survey at 92.5%.
We also found a significant decline in the percentage of people who said they would vote for the Coalition if an election was held that day. This dropped from 40.4% in October 2019 to just 34.8% in January 2020 – nearly even with those who said they would vote for Labor in January (33.4%).
Significant increase in concern over global warming
We also tracked significant changes in people’s attitudes towards the environment.
For instance, 49.7% of people reported the environment as one of the top two issues facing Australia in January 2020, compared to 41.5% of respondents in October 2019.
Another interesting finding: 10.2% reported fires, natural disasters or extreme weather as the most or second-most important issue facing Australians, up from nearly nonexistent in October 2019.
Our findings showed consistently higher concern among Australians when it comes to specific environmental issues. Comparing responses from our January 2020 survey and a 2008 ANUpoll, we saw two large increases in concern for loss of native vegetation, animal species or biodiversity (13 percentage points) and drought and drying (nine percentage points).
There was an even larger increase in the proportion of people who believe global warming or climate change will impact their lives.
Nearly three-quarters (72.3%) of respondents said global warming was a very serious or fairly serious threat, a substantial increase from the 56% who said so in 2008.
The majority of those living in capital cities said they felt global warming was a very serious problem (62%) or a threat (74.9%). Perhaps even more surprising, however, was the fact these views were shared by people in non-capital cities (52% said it was very serious, 65.5% said it was a threat).
Support for new coal mines has also declined sharply over the past eight months. In our January survey, 37% of respondents said the government should allow the opening of new coal mines, down from 45.3% in an ANU survey from June 2019.
While being exposed to the bushfires appears to have made people more aware of environmental issues, the drop in support for new coal mines does not appear to have been driven by the crisis itself. Rather, it appears to be consistent across the population, with the biggest decline occurring among those who voted for the Coalition in the 2019 federal election (57.5% supported new mines in January 2020, down from 71.8% in June 2019).
There is still much work to be done to fully understand people’s attitudes towards climate change and how this correlates with natural disasters like bushfires.
But the data in our survey provide opportunities for future research and new insights and will be made available through the Australian Data Archive. Future surveys could test for changes in people’s attitudes taking into account different variables and track how those attitudes change over time.
The mental health survey will be run in 2020, with new data on how common mental illness is due the year after. This is a welcome announcement for the mental health sector, because information gathered in a survey like this can be used to shape policy reform.
But eating disorders, a major category of mental illnesses, have been neglected by all previous important data collection initiatives in Australia so far. Notably, they were missing from the last national mental health surveys in 1997 and 2007.
Eating disorders are not yet an official part of this new survey, but we understand they are being considered.
If people with eating disorders are not counted, they don’t count. In other words, we need to know who has these severe and debilitating conditions, and then work towards improving the treatment and supports available for them.
National surveys ask the public if they have experienced symptoms of various mental illnesses, either in their lifetime or during the past 12 months.
People who answer “yes” to particular clusters of symptoms are “diagnosed”, or assumed to have had the illness.
Asking the public about their symptoms is the best way to understand how common mental illnesses are. This is because most people with a mental illness don’t seek treatment and may never have had a diagnosis. So collecting data from health services or based on reported diagnoses doesn’t provide a full picture.
Also, for some mental illnesses, such as anorexia nervosa or psychosis, people might not realise they have a diagnosable illness. But they are likely to respond “yes” to direct questions about their experiences with body dissatisfaction or thinking difficulties.
Eating disorders are more than just anorexia
A person with anorexia nervosa engages in dangerous behaviours to maintain a very low body weight, or to lose more weight. Although most people have heard of it, anorexia is not common. We know this from other countries who have previously studied the prevalence of anorexia in community surveys.
That being said, it’s very serious and can be fatal. It has the highest mortality of all non-substance use mental disorders, and one in five of those deaths is by suicide.
People with eating disorders often have a negative body image, and a strong perception their self-worth is tied to their appearance or body weight.
Burden of disease
Every year in Australia, millions of years of healthy life are lost because of injury, illness or premature deaths in the population. This is known as “burden of disease”.
Like national surveys, burden of disease studies are extremely important for planning and funding health services. They use prevalence statistics, or how many people per 100,000 Australians are assumed to have a particular illness. Given we don’t have good data on how prevalent eating disorders are, we likely underestimate their burden of disease.
The recently released Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015 lists eating disorders among the most burdensome illnesses for Australian females, being the tenth leading cause of total burden of disease for females aged 5-14 and women aged 25-44.
Eating disorders were estimated to cost the health system A$99.9 million in the year 2012 alone.
Better treatment and prevention of eating disorders would reduce the cost and the burden of disease. But we need the data to show where the treatment gaps are and how to fund better services.
There are many promising elements of the proposed Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study. These include surveying multiple people in a family, gathering physical and mental health data, and a target of more than 60,000 Australians. But it’s time eating disorders were included.
The Australian economy will remain healthy for long enough to enable the government to claim it as a strength in the lead-up to the May election, but the first Conversation Economic Survey points to a fairly flat outlook beyond that, with a 25% chance of a recession in the next two years.
The Conversation has assembled a forecasting team of 19 academic economists from 12 universities across six states. Among them are macroeconomists, economic modellers, former Treasury and Reserve Bank economists, and a former member of the Reserve Bank board.
Taken together their forecasts point to no recovery in the share market during 2019, no recovery in wage growth, no further improvement in the unemployment rate, further modest home price falls in Sydney and Melbourne, and to a budget deficit next financial year despite the official forecast of a surplus and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s commitment that the government will fight the election continuing to forecast a surplus.
Weighing heavily on Australia’s economy during 2019 will be a much weaker US economy, with what the forecasting team says is the possibility of a US recession, and weaker growth in China. Australian consumer spending is forecast to continue to grow during 2019, but no faster than it did during 2018. The best measure of living standards is forecast to advance at a crawl.
Most of the team expect the Reserve Bank to sit on its hands throughout all of 2019, leaving its cash rate unchanged at the all-time low of 1.5% for what will be a record 40 months.
The panel expects the Australian economy to grow more slowly in the year ahead, by 2.6%, down from recent annual growth of 2.8% and 3.1%. None of the panel expects growth to exceed 3%. One, Steve Keen, formerly of the University of Western Sydney and now at University College London, expects growth of only 1%.
Most of the panel expect China’s growth to continue to slow, from the annual growth of 6.7% typical over recent years to just 6.2%, the weakest growth since the 2008 global financial crisis and the weakest calendar year growth since 1990.
Former Treasury economist Nigel Stapledon now at the University of NSW nominates China as the biggest threat to Australian and global growth. He says it has a good record of stimulating its economy to get out of difficult corners but one day it might get it wrong.
The panel expects US economic growth to hold up at 2.8% during the year ahead but to weaken or go into reverse by year’s end as the “sugar hit” from the Trump tax cuts goes into reverse.
Former Treasury and International Monetary Fund economist Tony Makin points to US high public debt that will need to be rolled over, soaking up funds that could have been more productively used for investment, to higher US interest rates imposed by a central bank concerned about inflation, and to the escalating trade war with China.
ANU modeller and former Reserve Bank board member Warwick McKibbin says the US economy is “very likely” to begin to go backwards towards the end of the year. Craig Emerson, a former Australian trade minister now with Victoria University, says the US is likely to enter a recession in 2020. Former Treasury economist Mark Crosby at Monash University says if there is a US recession, it won’t hit until late 2019, with the impact greatest in 2020.
Rebecca Cassells from the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre says a lot depends on the outcome of the US-China trade war: “The two biggest economies are going head to head, but both are almost as reliant on the other to sustain their growth trajectories,” she says.
Australia should look to other parts of the world to drive its economic growth. “India is one of them, and is rising rapidly with no downgrading of its growth trajectory of 7.75% for 2019.”
Nominal GDP, the money earned in Australia unadjusted for price changes, is forecast to grow more slowly in 2019, by 4.5%, down from recent growth in excess of 5%, reflecting weaker iron ore prices.
The best measure of living standards, real net disposable income per capita, is expected to barely grow, climbing just 1.1% over the year to December, much less than recent growth in excess of 3%, but much more than its performance in the dismal years between 2012 and 2016 when it went backwards.
Forecasts for the unemployment rate cluster around its present 5.1%, with only four below 5% and one above 6%.
Wage growth is forecast to climb no further in 2019, finishing the year at its present 2.3% instead of climbing to 2.75% on its way to 3% by mid 2020 as forecast in the budget update.
Rebecca Cassells points out that much of the increase we have had has been driven by the Fair Work Commission’s decision to lift the minimum wage 3.5% from June 2018, suggesting very low growth elsewhere. Disturbingly, she says more and more enterprise bargains are being terminated, with employees falling back on awards.
Overwhelmingly, our panel is of the view that the only thing that will lift wage growth out of its slump (and budgets have been incorrectly forecasting a bounce out of the slump for eight years now) is higher productivity: producing more per worker.
Victoria University economic modeller Janine Dixon notes that the December budget update actually downgraded its forecast of productivity growth, from 1.5% to 1%, and so is not optimistic.
She says even if productivity growth did pick up, excessive market power in some industries combined with weakness in labour market institutions means it might not easily be passed on to workers.
Tony Makin, a supporter of company tax cuts, says the best thing to lift productivity would be new (perhaps foreign) investment embodying productivity-enhancing technology.
The saving grace for workers facing yet another year of historically-low wage growth is that price increases will also remain low.
Inflation has been right at the bottom of (or below) the Reserve Bank’s 2% to 3% target band for four years now, meaning that even at the continuing low rates of wage growth forecast, wages should continue to climb just faster than prices.
The panel expects consumer spending to climb by only 2.5% in real terms in 2019, most of which will reflect population growth of 1.6%.
The average forecast for inflation is at the very bottom of the Reserve Bank’s target band. Only two panel members expect inflation to edge back up to the middle of the band. They are Warwick McKibbin and former Treasury and ANZ Bank chief economist Warren Hogan, at the University of Technology Sydney.
Interest rates and the budget
Without either a lift in inflation or a substantial weakening in the economy there is little reason for the Reserve Bank to move interest rates in either direction.
Governor Philip Lowe took the job in September 2016, just after the board cut the cash rate to a record low of 1.5%. He hasn’t moved the cash rate since, although on several occasions he has said the next move is most likely to be up.
Five of the panel do expect at least move up this year, including the two who think inflation might approach the bank’s target. Three expect cuts, taking the rate below 1.5%.
The government says it will deliver a budget surplus next financial year, of A$4.1 billion, the first surplus in a decade.
The panel doesn’t think so, all but one member predicting a lower budget surplus than the government, and seven predicting deficits. The average forecast is for a deficit of A$3.5 billion rather than a surplus of A$4.1 billion.
Monash University macroeconomist Solmaz Moslehi identifies optimistic wage growth, weaker than expected mining investment and a hit to consumer spending from the housing downturn as the biggest risks to the forecast surplus.
Julie Toth, adjunct professor at Deakin University’s Master of Business Administration program and chief economist at the Australian Industry Group, says the latest indicators suggest that neither employment nor wage growth will accelerate by as much as the government expects.
Michael O’Neil from the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies says the biggest immediate risk to the forecast surplus is thermal coal prices, given China’s efforts to cut coal imports and the shift to renewables in China and India.
The biggest long term risk is the scale of the company tax cuts and the ongoing shift of income from highly-taxed labour to more lightly-taxed capital.
Margaret McKenzie of Federation University identifies the biggest risk to the surplus as a change of government, something she says she welcomes because with extensive idle capacity and underemployment, a surplus would be unhelpful.
The panel expects Sydney home prices to fall by another 5.8% and Melbourne prices by another 5.1% in 2019, taking the slides over two years to 14.7% and 12.1%.
Only Macquarie University and former Reserve Bank economist Jeffrey Sheen expects prices to move back up throughout 2019, by 2% and 3%.
Reassuringly, none of the forecast falls are bigger than 10%. The biggest are predicted by Steve Keen, Tony Makin, Margaret Mckenzie and Craig Emerson.
The lower prices will be accompanied by much slower growth in housing investment, expected to climb only 2.1% in 2019 after climbing more than 7% in the year to September 2018.
Non-mining business investment is forecast to grow more slowly this year, by 5.7% instead of 11.4%, and mining investment is expected to keep sliding, losing a further 3.4% after losing 11.2% last year rather than climbing as the government’s budget update predicts.
Five of the team believe that mining investment to turn the corner in line with the budget forecast. Nine expect it to fall further.
The Australian share market will for practical purposes not grow not at all during 2019 according to the average forecast, which is for barely perceptible growth of 0.1%. A steady share market would come as a relief to super funds and share owners after last year’s slide of about 7%.
The range of forecasts for the ASX 200 is wide, from slides of more than 6% to gains of more than 6%.
Fortunately for a government the panel expects to need to continue to borrow more in order run continued budget deficits, what it pays for to borrow via the 10-year bond rate is expected to remain little changed at 2.6%. Only Warwick McKibbin expects a much higher bond rate, of 3.5%.
The panel’s average forecast is for an broadly unchanged Australian dollar, of around 70.5 US cents. The highest forecast is for US$0.80, the lowest for US$0.62.
The iron ore price, at present close to US$74 a tonne, is expected to fall to around US$64. Only one panelist, Warwick Mckibbin, expects it to stay near where it is, at US$75. The government itself is cautious, using a price of US$55 in its budget forecasts, a number it might lift in the April budget, allowing it to forecast more revenue.
A recession is conventionally defined as two consecutive quarters in which gross domestic product falls instead of rises. Australia hasn’t had two consecutive quarters of negative growth since 1991.
The most recent negative quarter was in September 2016. Before that there was one in March 2011, and before that in during the global financial crisis in December 2008.
Ross Guest of Griffith University makes the point that his estimate of 20% should be considered low. There will always be a risk of a recession. By itself two quarters of negative growth needn’t be a disaster. The impacts on the government and on consumer and business confidence would be more important than the downturn itself.
Guay Lim of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research assigns the lowest probability of any of our panel to a recession, 5%, saying the most likely catalyst would be a global trade war.
Warren Hogan assigns the highest probability to a recession after Steve Keen, 40%, saying Australia is facing the end of a major construction boom and has heavily indebted households. It will be vulnerable to any negative shocks and especially vulnerable to higher inflation and interest rates.
Steve Keen says the only thing that has kept Australia afloat since the China boom has been the housing bubble, which the banking royal commission has been discovering was built on fragile, and in places fraudulent, foundations.
Nigel Stapledon says the biggest drag on the economy will be the collapse in the construction of residential investment units. Labor’s proposed increase in capital gains tax will make it worse, notwithstanding Labor’s decision to exempt new construction from its crackdown on negative gearing.
Rebecca Cassells says on the bright side Australia is set to become the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, the biggest exporter of iron ore to India and the world’s biggest producer of lithium, needed for batteries.
And if there is a global economic downturn within the next few years, she says another positive is that Labor is likely to be in power, making the successful deployment of a stimulus package more likely than if the Coalition had been in office.
Although many households on low incomes and those headed by single parents are undoubtedly struggling to meet rental costs, those on moderate or higher incomes are generally positive about the experience.
Many of us rent
Despite its reputation as a nation of homeowners, Australia has the 10th largest private rental sector in the 37 nations that make up the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Six in ten renters do it because they can’t afford to do anything else. The rest rent by choice.
Most are happy with what they rent
Perceptions of dwelling quality are positive with only 6% reporting that their dwelling is in a poor or terrible condition. 81% report a good or excellent relationship with their landlord.
Add a property manager into the mix and this falls to a still respectable 69%. Fewer than than 5% of respondents reported a poor or terrible relationship.
Around half of respondents claim to have a good to full understanding of their rights as tenants.
Overall, when asked whether their rental property felt like home, just over 60% reported it did, with less than 20% being negative about their experience.
The longer a tenant lives in a rental dwelling, the more it feels like home, highlighting the importance of security of tenure.
Generally, levels of satisfaction with the sector are high given the proportion of tenants who would rather be owners.
Moves are stressful, expensive and disruptive, particularly for households with children. Around half of all renters say they would gladly choose to sign a lease longer than 12 months if given the option because it would offer greater security and a stronger sense of home.
As does discrimination
One in five renters report some form of discrimination when applying for rental properties.
Those households most likely to suffer from discrimination are single parents with children.
Some important issues addressed in the legislation are highlighted in the BankWest Curtin Economics Centre report which found the vast majority of respondents are on short-term leases (12 months or less).
The typical proportion of gross income spent on rent is 28%, with almost half of all renters paying more than 30%, a figure that rises to 63% for renters over 55.
One in seven renters are paying more than 60% of their income in rent.
When asked the reasons for such high rental payments, almost six in ten report being forced to pay that much through a lack of available alternatives.
Commonwealth rent assistance was regarded as important or very important by nine out of ten of those receiving it.
What we could do to help
One of the best ways to make rent more affordable would be to reintroduce a subsidised rental scheme that offered a financial incentive for developers to invest in housing that would be leased to low-income households at below-market rents along the lines of the National Rental Affordability Scheme by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008.
It was wound up by his successor tony Abbott in 2014.
Workable build to rent schemes could also help boost supply and security of tenure, and the negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions tax available to mum and dad investors could be tied to the delivery of long–term, below market rental dwellings.
Our survey finds the private rental market is performing quite well for those on moderate to high incomes. But not for those on low incomes who will never access home ownership and need secure long term tenure.
The parliament is preparing to rush through anti-vilification legislation to apply during the postal ballot on same-sex marriage.
Under the bill a person must not vilify, intimidate or threaten another person because of their views, expressed or believed to be held, or because of their religious conviction, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.
The safeguards bill will be introduced on Wednesday and passed before parliament rises on Thursday. It has a sunset provision that means it only lasts for the duration of the ballot, the result of which will be announced on November 15.
Civil penalties will apply, to a maximum of A$12,600. But the attorney-general, George Brandis, must consent to a person taking enforcement action under the vilification and related provisions.
People are also protected from being discriminated against – in employment or by being denied access to membership of a union, club or other body – for making a donation to the campaign.
The bill requires that broadcasters, if they give opportunities for one side to put their views, must provide the other side with reasonable opportunities.
The government negotiated the emergency legislation with the opposition over the last few days.
The bill also includes requirements for authorisation of advertising and other provisions that apply to ordinary elections but did not automatically cover this voluntary postal ballot.
In the Coalition partyroom meeting one person objected to the anti-vilification provisions. But Acting Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann gave an assurance that Brandis’ approach would have a “bias towards freedom of speech”.
Labor claimed credit for securing “important concessions from the government that prohibit vilification and hate speech” during the ballot. But opposition spokespeople Mark Dreyfus and Terri Butler said in a statement: “Let’s be clear – this safeguards bill does not in any way legitimise this survey process, which has been foisted upon Australians at a massive cost”.
The High Court’s decision to allow exceptional government spending on the marriage postal survey makes way for the latest bizarre, but typical, episode in the history of political responses to changing social attitudes to marriage.
The voluntary postal survey is unique and bizarre, in that no government has yet conducted such a statistically unreliable exercise in gauging public opinion on a contentious social issue. Yet it is typical, in that political responses to social change in areas of sex and morality are usually slow, fiercely contested, ideologically confused, but nonetheless important.
Political change in response to changes in social values is slow
The slow and strange political processes in Australia over the political recognition of same-sex marriages are actually typical of those around the world. The legislative histories of many previous changes to marriage law have been far longer and more drawn out than the recognition of same-sex marriage in Australia is likely to be.
In an era of high maternal death and limited social welfare, it was common for deceased women’s sisters to marry their brothers-in-law and assume their sister’s role as wife and mother. The churches regarded such marriages as incestuous, and fiercely opposed law reform to legalise them. It took almost 70 years for this now forgotten reform to pass.
Reforms to permit divorce, interracial marriage and to administer traditional polygamous marriages were similarly contested and slow to be formed and reformed.
It should, therefore, not be a surprise that legislative reform in Australia to allow same-sex couples to marry is taking longer than a decade.
The complex relationship between religion, law and marriage
In some jurisdictions, in some times, religious institutions have legislated and adjudicated for marriage. This has never been the case in Australia. Between 1753 and 1836, the Church of England did enjoy sole political jurisdiction and administration of marriage in the British world.
However, from federation, Australian marriage law has always been secular. Religious organisations have made their own rulings about what marriage practices their own members should engage in. But while “churches, mosques or synagogues might bless nuptials, marriage itself is not a religious institution”.
Nor is it the law’s role in Australia to impose moral standards on society. Since at least 1971, when censorship law was reformed, lawmakers have sought to use legislation to enforce current community standards, rather than impose ideologically based absolutes.
The government’s ostensible rationale for the optional postal survey is actually in line with this norm: to assess community standards. Both proponents and – especially – opponents of change have been careful to frame their arguments in relation to shared community values.
Marriage equality is about more than marriage
The case for marriage law reform to allow same-sex couples to marry has been relatively simple and consistent around the world: a claim that to include same-sex couples in marriage will increase equality and social inclusion.
As this case has gained traction in the West, opponents of change have had to innovate in order to combat rapidly changing community standards.
As I have argued elsewhere, opponents of marriage law reform are primarily motivated by religious conviction. However, in a largely secular context, where moral values cannot easily be imposed on a population, “they are attempting to hide religious and moral arguments in the Trojan horse of health and human rights discourse”.
The “No” campaign has so far largely sidestepped the social justice argument of the “Yes” campaign. Instead, they have raised fears about children in rainbow families.
Conservatives have argued that children have a “right” to a mother and a father, and that same-sex parenting necessarily involves the “removal” of a child from one of its natural parents. These are innovative arguments.
Same-sex parenting is clearly not in contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The right to a mother and a father is a completely novel human right for children, and one that is impossible to guarantee. And research clearly shows that children raised by same-sex parents show no different health or wellbeing outcomes to children raised by opposite-sex parents.
Similarly, when donor assisted reproduction became popular and was debated 70 years ago, governments and churches considered it at length. However, the major objection raised in these historical debates was that donor assistance in reproduction was equivalent to adultery.
As the postal survey goes ahead, we can expect to see more of these novel arguments from the “no” campaign. But it’s important to remember that legal change around marriage is historically slow, and that this debate is not about religious values, but community values. Specifically, it is about how we value LGBTI people, their relationships, and their families.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, July 6 (CDN) — The Gereja Kristen Indonesia (GKI) Taman Yasmin Church in Bogor, West Java has filed a religious discrimination appeal with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, church leaders said.
Since April 11 the congregation has held services on the roadside in front of the sealed church in stifling heat. The church pastor, the Rev. Ujang Tanusaputra, told Compass that the congregation has held Sunday services six times in front of the building that the mayor of Bogor sealed.
“We are going to continue worshipping by the roadside as part of the struggle to remove the seal,” he told Compass.
Tanusaputra said that the church had received an official building permit from the Bogor City government.
“Yet, somehow, because of a group that objected to the presence of a church, our construction was stopped and later sealed,” he said.
He said that even though the church brought suit against the sealing in court – and won – the congregation is not permitted to worship in the building, which is 80 percent completed.
Tanusaputra said he hopes the Lord will intervene to show that Indonesia is a country where laws are followed and all faiths may freely worship.
One of the church elders, Thomas Wadu Dara, said that before the church was constructed, and after the congregation had won the court case, there was a meeting with the Bogor mayor. The mayor told them to go ahead with construction and to build relations with the community so that their presence would be understood and accepted.
The construction was going smoothly until a Muslim group began demonstrating and the government sealed the building to appease them.
“I am greatly disappointed and cannot accept this reasoning in a law-abiding country,” Wadu Dara said.
Wadu Dara said he hopes that the Bogor government will be firm and honor the decision of the court in Bandung, the provincial capital.
“I hope that the seal will be taken away and that we can finish construction,” he said.
Jayadi Damanik, a member of the church’s legal team, added that the sealing of the church is arbitrary and without legal basis.
“We have requested that the Bogor government be aware of the sealing and remove it,” he said, adding that he was astonished that Bogor city officials were not obeying the Bandung provincial court decision in favor of the GKI Yasmin church.
The government wants people to obey the law, yet the government itself is not respecting the rule of law, Damanik added.
“This is most ironical in a law-abiding country such as Indonesia,” he said.
On June 20 Compass visited the church’s Sunday worship, where about 200 people met in a service limited to one hour. Approximately 100 policemen were present with at least 10 vehicles and nearby water cannon.
“If the building were unsealed, we wouldn’t need such tight police security,” said Wadu Dara.
During the service, a 20-year-old woman fainted from the heat of the sun.
Defying the Law
A survey by the denomination showed that there was a need for the church in the Taman Yasmin area. The Taman Yasmin Housing development had land zoned for a church, but that land was used for a worship place of another faith.
The GKI Yasmin development team purchased a 1,720-square meter commercial lot from PT Inti Inovaco and contacted community members, leaders, and civic groups regarding the construction of a church building. On March 10, 2002, the church had collected 170 signatures of citizens agreeing to the presence of a church on West Bogor Ring Road, Curug Mekar village, Bogor City.
The church canvassed the area six times between 2003 and 2006, holding public information meetings attended by hundreds of people, including youth and local leaders. It secured and submitted the necessary recommendations, and on July 13, 2006, the mayor of Bogor issued a decree granting GKI Yasmin a building permit.
On Aug. 18, 2006, the church held a public meeting with the head and the secretary of the Indonesian (Muslim) Cleric Elders (Majelis Ulama Indonesia Bogor), the West Bogor district officer, Muslim leaders, village heads, the chief and deputy chief of the West Bogor police and leaders of community organizations. The next day, a representative of the Bogor government who read a message from the mayor laid the church cornerstone.
Yet less than two months later, on Oct. 11, the church received a letter from the Bogor City secretary ordering the church to stop construction and move to another location.
On Dec. 6, 2006, the church received a letter from PT Inti Inovaco stating that the Taman Yasmin Housing area was not zoned for non-Muslim community facilities. The Taman Yasmin Great Mosque was using the land zoned for community facilities (its foundation had been laid). The church therefore decided to stay where it was, and on Jan. 10, 2007 laid the foundation for its building.
On Feb. 10, 2007 a demonstration took place in front of the Bogor City Legislature demanding that the church building permit be revoked. Four days later, the Bogor government sent a letter to the church freezing the building permit.
The church immediately reacted. It sent letters to the mayor, other involved government bodies, Muslim clerics and Islamic community organizations and filed a complaint with the national human rights commission.
The church argued that according to Article 6, paragraph 1 of Joint Ministerial Decree No. 8 and No. 9 (2006), there is no legal “freezing” of a permit. This decree says that a permit can be cancelled only through court proceedings. GKI Yasmin went to court.
On Sept. 4, 2008, the court in Bandung nullified the Bogor government letter “freezing” the building permit. Bogor City appealed the decision and lost. The Bandung court issued a letter on March 30, 2009 stating that Bogor City had exhausted all appeals.
With the legal issues cleared, the church resumed construction. On Jan. 8, 2010, however, the church received a threatening letter. A short time later, a band of people damaged a fence around the property.
On Feb. 25, Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto retracted his recommendation for the project, citing community pressure and protests since the building permit had been issued in 2006. The church received a letter on March 8 from the Bogor government ordering that construction stop.
On March 11 the Bogor government hung a sign saying “sealed” on the fence without following legal procedures, so the church continued construction. Church leaders wrote a letter to police and a local military commander in April notifying them that worship services would start on April 11. On the day before this initial service, members of the church people were setting up chairs when police – in defiance of previous court decisions – arrived at 5 p.m., cut the lock on the gate, and replaced it with their own lock. They also placed a sign on the gate that read, “Sealed.”
Since April 11 the congregation has been holding services in front of the fence by the roadside.
In Bekasi, Dialogue Fails and Another Church is Closed
JAKARTA, Indonesia, July 6 (Compass Direct News) – After failed dialog between Indonesian officials and representatives of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) Podok Timur Indah Church in Bekasi City, West Java, government officials sealed the house where the church was meeting.
The church pastor, the Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak, said the church that was meeting in Mustika Jaya district had attempted talks with the government, but pressure from Islamic organizations, including the Islamic Defenders’ Front, was so strong that the government could not stand up to it.
On June 20, Bekasi City officials sealed the building. Bekasi City Area Deputy Zaki Hoetomo admitted that the action was taken because of pressure from Islamic organizations upset by expanding Christian influence. Officials sealed it by placing a sign in front of the structure stating that it violated zoning, permit and construction regulations.
The church has been meeting in the house as the local government has delayed the processing of its application for a building permit.
Hoetomo said officials had contacted church leaders three times about the use of the house, but that there had been no response.
Members of the congregation wept as the building was sealed. Representatives of Islamic organizations, including the Anti-apostasy Forum of Bekasi, also witnessed the sealing.
Simanjuntak said the closure was unjust.
“How is it possible to forbid people to worship?” Simanjuntak told Compass, adding that the government was favoring the majority and neglecting others.
The pastor said the congregation will be firm and continue its regular worship at the place.
“We are going to stay at this house and worship according to our faith, even if we have to do it in the street,” Simanjuntak said.
The church of 1,500 members has thrived in the Mustika Jaya district for four years, its building permit application bogged down in bureaucracy.