Grattan on Friday: Josh Frydenberg has a great job at the worst time


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Josh Frydenberg is highly ambitious – in the fashionable jargon, you’d call him a “forward-leaning” politician. But even he must be
surprised, reviewing the past 12 months, at where he is, given where he was.

Mid last year he was working up the National Energy Guarantee for the Turnbull government. By August that had imploded, decapitating the then prime minister but catapulting Frydenberg into the treasurership.

Great job. Just an unfortunate time to have it. Rather a parallel with the situation of Chris Bowen, appointed treasurer in the ill-fated second Rudd government, and now Frydenberg’s opposite number.

As Scott Morrison is trying to persuade people that voting Labor will land them in a recession (he is careful with the wording but that’s his thrust) Frydenberg this week had to counter the economic
pointy-heads seizing on the latest national accounts as showing a “per capita recession”.

To put this notion in simple terms, the low December quarter growth
rate (0.2%) when looked at against population, meant that on a per
person basis growth has now gone backwards for two quarters.

The technical definition of “recession” is two quarters of negative growth.

It should be stressed that Australia is NOT in a recession. But you
see the political risk for the government of these musings. No wonder Morrison dismissed the “per capita recession” term as a “made up” statistic.




Read more:
Vital Signs: Australia’s sudden ultra-low economic growth ought not to have come as surprise


Leaving the “per capita” debate aside, with the government campaigning on its economic management, it is not good for it to have the latest numbers showing growth slowing to an annual rate of 2.3%, though Morrison tries to feed the economic challenges into his don’t-trust-Labor narrative.

The national accounts are the last big set of economic numbers before the April 2 budget. The Treasury boffins, under secretary Phil Gaetjens, are now putting them into the figuring as Morrison, Frydenberg and other members of cabinet’s expenditure review committee work on the policy measures in a budget that will be driven almost totally by the needs of the election to be held within weeks of its delivery.

Gaetjens and Frydenberg might reflect, incidentally, that this, the first budget for each of them as secretary and treasurer, is likely to be their last in these roles – if the opinion polls are right.

Labor has indicated it would probably sack Gaetjens (who was chief of staff to Morrison when he was treasurer). And a treasurer ousted in an election wouldn’t normally expect to get another bite at that job, though Bowen looks like he will be the exception.

The stakes could hardly be higher for Frydenberg’s maiden budget. It will needs a certain “wow” factor to appeal to as many voters as it can reach. It has to avoid landmines (sometimes even small things can blow up) and dubious numbers; either could give the opposition grist for the scrutiny that will follow.

The political climate in the run up to the budget will be influenced by another election – on March 23 in NSW.

With the two sides in that state close in the opinion polling,
doubt about what’s going on in the regions and an optional
preferential voting system, there is a lot of uncertainty about the result.

In a legislative assembly of 93, 47 is the number for a majority. If the Coalition loses six seats it will be forced into minority government. At present the Berejiklian government has 52 seats, Labor 34, Greens 3, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers 1, and there are 3 Independents.

If there is a big swing in NSW, it will further rattle the federal
Coalition before the budget. The only upside would be the Morrison
government might hope NSW voters had got rid of some of their general angst in the first of the two visits they are making to the polls this year.

On the other hand, if the Berejiklian government did better than
anticipated, that would give a morale boost to the Feds (whether
justified or not).




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Ian McAllister on voters and issues in the coming election


Once budget week (which will include Bill Shorten’s reply on the
Thursday night) is finished, the question will be whether Morrison
announces the election immediately for May 11, or opts for a May 18 poll.

(There has been speculation he could go even later, to the extreme inconvenience of the Australian Electoral Commission, but that would seem pointless.)

As things stand, it is hard to see what the government would gain by delaying until May 18. With campaigning already in full swing, voters will be totally sick of it by budget time and surely will want the election over as soon as possible after that.

If the government did not call the election immediately budget week was finished, this would allow more Senate estimates hearings. That week contains two days of hearings; without a poll announcement, they would continue another week.

These interrogations of ministers and officials work to the advantage of an opposition. Remember how in 2016, Labor extracted the decade-long cost of the proposed company tax cuts (nearly $50 billion) which it used to effect in its campaign?

Whether the election is May 11 or 18, the campaign will be much about the budget, putting huge pressure on Frydenberg, only months into the treasury job. Not least, colleagues will be able to look at his performance through the lens of his potential suitability for another job – opposition leader.




Read more:
Event: your Q&A with Michelle Grattan in Melbourne


The week brought some added pressure on the Treasurer, this time on
the home front, with high-profile barrister and refugee advocate Julian Burnside declaring he will run for the Greens in Frydenberg’s seat of Kooyong. Burnside will be campaigning hard on
climate change. A former member of the Liberal party, Oliver Yates,
was already in the Kooyong field, with messages on climate and Liberal divisions.

In 2016, Frydenberg had about 58% of the primary vote with Labor and the Greens nearly equal (almost 20% and nearly 19% respectively).

Frydenberg’s primary vote would have to take a huge hit for him to be at any risk (and his record on the NEG has him on the right side of the climate debate). But the presence of Burnside will mean the
Treasurer will have to put extra effort into his electorate just when he’ll be stretched to the maximum in the national campaign.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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View from The Hill: A tax cut that will ‘pay your rego’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Turnbull government has produced a budget that it hopes it can sell as appealing for voters while appearing fiscally responsible.

Its income tax cuts target lower and middle earners in the early stages, delivering a benefit of up to $530 a year for them. If this seems modest, Scott Morrison was anxious to point out that it could pay your car rego, your quarterly electricity bill or half a dozen tanks of petrol.

In the longer run, the cost is not so modest – $140 billion over a decade. While some relief is delivered in the near term, it’s worth noting the structural change, scrapping the 37% bracket, is not timed until 2024-25 – which is beyond the next two elections.

Asked why the government didn’t prioritise attacking debt and deficit over tax relief, the Treasurer told journalists in the budget lock up that it was because “I respect taxpayers”. This was not “spending” – it was people being able to keep their own money, he said.

But in this budget, it was vital for the government that it be seen to be fair dinkum about fiscal repair. Thus it has brought the return to balance forward by a year – a surplus of $2.2 billion is forecast for 2019-20.
It might be minuscule but the surplus is there, in that year, to make a point, including to the ratings agencies. The budget also has net debt peaking in this financial year, a little sooner than previously predicted.

On the spending side, the budget is restrained, with initiatives targeted. It has an eye to older voters with several measures, including increasing the number of high level home care places by 14,000 at a cost of $1.6 billion over the budget period. This is perhaps less dramatic than it seems, because in part it represents a reconfiguration of aged care – more people want to stay in their own homes, rather than move to residential care facilities.

In seeking savings and revenue, a pre-election budget must tread carefully. There are not swingeing cuts. But there are some familiar and soft targets: “social welfare debt recovery”, “encouraging self-sufficiency for newly arrived migrants”, and “streamlining services for refugees”.

The revenue quest includes combatting illicit tobacco, in yet another crackdown on the black economy. Whether the estimated billions will all be collected remains to be seen.

There are forgotten people in this budget, those without electoral or other clout. Most notably, the Newstart benefit for the unemployed has yet again not been raised despite widespread recognition of its inadequacy.

While the budget will come in for its share of criticism, looked at overall it is designed not to offend an electorate that has already turned off the government.

Though people will be pleased to get a tax cut, they are unlikely to be grateful to the government for it. Rather, they will probably be more inclined to see it as simply their due.

But the budget does reinforce the fact that tax is to be a central battleground for the election.

Labor has plenty of money available for its competing tax package, especially in the longer term, because it has set itself against the government’s expensive tax cuts for big business, and so can use these funds for its tax and spending plans.

On income tax, the most intense competition will be around middle and lower earners, on whom the government has concentrated in the early stage of its package.

More generally, the government is pinning a good deal of hope on being able to brand its opponents as high taxers, with their crackdown on negative gearing, trusts and the like.

Hence Morrison’s tax “speed limit”, set at 23.9% of GDP. It’s not a number that is likely to have much resonance with the ordinary voter – nevertheless Labor will face a challenge to persuade people that the tax hikes it does propose are both fair and justified.

The ConversationHow effective this budget will be in helping shape the election debate won’t become clear until we have a detailed counterpoint to it, in the form of Labor’s pitch to the electorate.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Infographic: Budget 2018 at a glance



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Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Jenni Henderson, The Conversation and Wes Mountain, The Conversation

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The Conversationhttps://cdn.theconversation.com/infographics/257/992dfa7926e7347e420475c1588b27f38e4586ee/site/index.html

Jenni Henderson, Section Editor: Business + Economy, The Conversation and Wes Mountain, Deputy Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

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

Morrison’s budget tax plan is another missed opportunity


Richard Holden, UNSW

Even though this year’s budget is pretty good politics and reasonable economics, on almost every front, it is a missed opportunity to be bold.

Last year’s budget was a bank-bashing bombshell, with 4-5% of profits for five of Australia’s biggest banks yanked away, not for financial stability reasons, but because, as Treasurer Scott Morrison hinted at the budget press conference, people don’t like the banks very much.

With that populist mission accomplished, this year’s budget is more mundane.

The much-vaunted return to surplus is now planned for 2019-20 at just 0.1% of GDP. In 2017-18 we are told to expect a deficit of 1% of GDP ($18.2 billion). That’s before the forecast 3% real GDP growth from 2018-19 onward kicks in. An heroic assumption.

Compare that to an actual of 2.1% in 2016-17. That topline forecast is not insane, but it is certainly bullish. One is tempted to ask the Treasurer whether he would bet a year’s salary that real GDP will be above 3% compared to below that. I suspect he wouldn’t.

A new personal income tax plan

Having previously introduced, but not wholly managed to get through the Senate, a 10-year plan to reduce the company tax rate from 30% to 25%, this year the government has a seven-year “Personal Income Tax Plan”.

Under the “PIT plan” (pun absolutely intended) the number of tax brackets will be reduced from five to four. By 2024-25 the tax-free threshold will remain at $18,200 and a 19% tax rate will apply up to income of $41,000, at which point the 32.5% rate will kick in. The top marginal rate of 45% will apply to incomes above $200,000.

One good thing the plan does address (at least in part) is “bracket creep,” where wage growth coupled with fixed tax thresholds, leads taxpayers to pay more. Under the new plan, 94% of Australians will pay no more than a 32.5% marginal tax rate. That compares to 63% of Australians who pay that rate or less, under existing policy settings.

In terms of tax relief, it’s relatively modest. A person earning $50,000 will be $530 better off in 2018-19. Because of changes to the Low and Middle Income Tax Offset, this falls to $215 for someone earning $120,000 (and less still beyond that).

Now $530 post-tax dollars, for someone on $50,000 a year, isn’t nothing. But it doesn’t really make up for wage growth so sluggish (2.2% on average last year) that it barely keeps up with inflation.

This is all part of the government’s newly announced, but thoroughly leaked, mantra that taxes should be no more than 23.9% of GDP. The rationale is, as the budget papers put it “so we do not unfairly burden Australians, nor allow taxes to chase ill-disciplined spending”.

In some sense that’s a fair point, but the 23.9% is completely unscientific. It appears to be the average of what tax as a share of GDP was during the Howard government, which has left most economic commentators wondering “so what?”

The black economy and superannuation

There’s a “crackdown” on the black economy with a $10,000 limit on cash transactions. Who knows how that will be enforced. Perhaps our good friends the banks will start complying with anti-money laundering provisions.

In any case, I prefer a $0 limit on cash transactions by transitioning over three years to a cashless Australia. That would likely raise $5-6 billion a year every year, maybe more.

The sneakiest thing of all is taxing tobacco 12 weeks earlier upon entry into Australia, rather than at present when it leaves the warehouse. That will boost tax receipts once, and once only, in 2019-20 by $3.27 billion. Without that timing trick the return to surplus would be pushed back a year to 2020-21.

Having attacked retirement savings last year, the government is now “reuniting Australians with lost super”. Hard to be against that, but hard to get too excited either. Exit fees on superannuation accounts will also be banned, which is a very good idea and should help consolidation of accounts.

One step better would be making it a net zero cost to transfer all banking arrangements (mortgage, accounts, credit cards, etc) from one bank to another, through a mandate on banks and a subsidy for customers. That would help with competition in the banking sector, which has come under recent scrutiny.

Another small but sensible initiative is increasing the Pension Work Bonus from $250 to $300 per fortnight, which permits pensioners to earn up to that amount without affecting their pension eligibility.

On a more disappointing note there is a reasonably large amount of fanfare but very little substance about “backing regional Australia”. There is $200 million for a third round of the Building Better Regions Fund to support infrastructure on top of the $272 million from the Regional Growth Fund.

That’s fine but falls well short of a systematic plan for regional infrastructure and does not address regional unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, in a meaningful way. Tackling that would require the kind of place-based policies like targeted wage subsidies and reduced payroll taxes that I have advocated before.

There are a host of so-called “integrity measures” to do with taxation. There’s the oft-talked about tightening of thin capitalisation rules, whereby companies load worldwide debt onto an Australian entity to increase interest charges in Australia, instead of in low taxing jurisdictions like Ireland. This is in addition to other attempts to get multinationals to pay more tax. These are more likely to get multinationals to pay lawyers more, but it’s now customary padding in every budget.

The ConversationThe forecasts are pretty rosy in this year’s budget, but they always are. Overall, it’s a hard budget to hate, and a hard budget to like. But it is a classic political pre-election budget.

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW

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

Five ways the Treasurer could boost the budget bottom line


Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute and Brendan Coates, Grattan Institute

Treasurer Scott Morrison faces a difficult balancing act in the federal budget. He wants to cut income taxes, deliver new infrastructure spending and still reach a surplus by at least 2019. If he’s serious about maintaining the surplus, here are five ways the Treasurer could boost revenue to make the numbers work.

1. Scrap age-based tax breaks

Winding back tax breaks for older Australians could boost revenue by A$700 million a year.

Many seniors pay less than younger workers, on the same income, as a result of the Seniors and Pensioners Tax Offset and a higher Medicare levy income threshold. Seniors currently do not pay tax until they earn A$32,279 a year, whereas younger households have an effective tax-free threshold of A$20,542.

These tax breaks – along with the introduction of tax-free superannuation for retirees – have almost halved the proportion of older Australians paying tax in the past 20 years.

For a start, the government could scale back the Seniors and Pensioners Tax Offset so that only pensioners qualify, while those with enough income to not qualify for a full Age Pension should pay some income tax. The higher Medicare levy income threshold for seniors should also be abolished.

2. Better target the research and development tax incentive

The government will forgo A$3.5 billion in revenue this year through the research and development tax incentive. Tightening eligibility could substantially reduce the cost of the scheme.

The research and development tax incentive was introduced in 2011 to encourage activities that otherwise would not be conducted, including by smaller firms. But the cost has blown out and there are concerns that the scheme is being rorted. The scheme now accounts for around one third of total government support for innovation.

A 2016 review of the incentive concluded the scheme could be made more sustainable by tightening the definition of eligible research and development. This includes an emphasis on novelty, capping the annual amount that is refundable in each year (as well as a lifetime cap) for smaller business, and making the scheme available only to larger businesses that allocate more than 1% of their total spending to research and development.

3. Wind back negative gearing and reduce the capital gains tax discount

Winding back negative gearing and reducing the capital gains tax discount to 25% would boost revenue by A$5.3 billion a year.

These tax breaks distort housing investment decisions, leading investors to favour capital gains over rental returns, and to maximise borrowing, to fund the investments. This makes housing markets more volatile and reduces home ownership. Like most tax concessions, the tax breaks largely benefit the wealthy.

Negative gearing should change so that investment losses can’t be written off against labour income, in line with international practice. Reducing the capital gains discount to 25% would still allow some compensation for the effects of inflation on investment returns, but it would reduce some of the distortions in investment decisions created by the current discount.

4. Abandon planned increases in the Super Guarantee

Abandoning plans to increase compulsory super contributions to 12%, could boost revenues by A$500 million in 2021-22, rising to over A$2 billion a year by 2025-26.

The Super Guarantee is legislated to rise from 9.5% of wages today to 12% by July 2025. But increasing compulsory super contributions will reduce wages today and do little to boost the retirement incomes of many low-income workers.

It will also cost the Budget billions in extra super tax breaks. Instead of workers receiving wages tax at full marginal tax rates, the extra super contributions will be taxed at a flat 15%. The 2014–15 budget calculated that delaying an increase to the Super Guarantee of 0.5 percentage points saved A$440 million in 2017–18.

These budget savings would endure even in the long-term: a Treasury analysis estimated the tax revenue foregone as a result of a 12% Super Guarantee would exceed the budgetary savings from lower age-pension spending until about 2060.

5. Offer another scheme in place of company tax cuts

The government could boost investment at a lower long-run cost to the budget by replacing the proposed reduction in company taxes to 25% with a permanent accelerated depreciation scheme.

Accelerated depreciation schemes allow businesses to depreciate their capital investments at a faster rate. These schemes cost less than company tax cuts in the long run for a given boost to investment, but the cost to the budget in the initial years is higher.

An immediate tax deduction of 22% on all new capital purchases would cost the government about a third more than a company tax cut in the first year, and it would not be until the sixth year that the annual budget cost would fall below that of a tax cut. However, by the tenth year the cost of the accelerated depreciation scheme would be 18% lower than a company tax cut and after two decades it would cost 40% less per year in forgone revenues.

The ConversationThis is clearly a pre-election budget. But whatever announcements are made, the planned return to surplus
shouldn’t be sacrificed. The government should tighten spending wherever possible. But they will also need to sure up revenues if they cut income taxes.

Danielle Wood, Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutions, Grattan Institute and Brendan Coates, Fellow, Grattan Institute

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

Evangelical archeologists skeptical about ‘Joseph coins’


Two evangelical archeologists have expressed caution in evaluating reports that ancient Egyptian coins bearing the name and image of the biblical Joseph have been discovered among unsorted artifacts at the Museum of Egypt, reports Baptist Press.

“The scholarly community will need to see the full report and images of the artifacts to make a judgment in regard to the interpretation of these objects as coins,” Steven Ortiz, associate professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said.

“It is more likely that these are amulets or jewelry. The initial reports are probably based on an initial zeal to support the koranic verses that mention coins associated with Joseph rather than a comprehensive study of the finds,” Ortiz told Baptist Press.

Al Ahram newspaper in Cairo first carried a report about the artifacts, and a subsequent report appeared in The Jerusalem Post Sept. 25, based on a translation of the original article completed by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). The research has not appeared in a scholarly journal.

The Post said the significance of the find is that archeologists have located “scientific evidence countering the claim held by some historians that coins were not used for trade in ancient Egypt, and that this was done through barter instead.”

MEMRI’s translation said the artifacts initially were believed to be charms, but a thorough examination revealed that the objects bore the year in which they were minted as well as their value.

“Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait,” the report said. “… This [find] prompted researchers to seek and find Koranic verses that speak of coins used in ancient Egypt.”

Robert Griffin, an ancient Egyptian history scholar at the University of Memphis, noted that he couldn’t make an assessment without seeing the artifacts or scholarly reports, so he wasn’t ready to accept the discovery as it is being promoted.

“My initial response is one of skepticism in that the ‘interpretation’ of the coins is quite subjective,” Griffin told BP.

The Al Ahram article said the coins are from many different periods, “including coins that bore special markings identifying them as being from the era of Joseph. Among these, there was one coin that had an inscription on it, and an image of a cow symbolizing Pharaoh’s dream about the seven fat cows and seven lean cows ….”

“It’s a bit of a stretch, to say the least,” Griffin said, “especially when you consider that one of the most prominent goddesses in Egyptian mythology is Hathor, who is represented as a cow or a woman with cow’s horns as part of her crown.”

Hathor was popular in the late Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period, circa 1800-1600 B.C., which corresponds with the general time period of Joseph, Griffin said.

Also, Al Ahram said Joseph’s name appears twice on that particular coin, written in hieroglyphics, “once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer.”

“I would be interested to see the actual writing of what the researcher claims are the names of Joseph,” Griffin said. “The English transliteration he gives for the ‘Egyptian name’ of Joseph is close in form but not exactly as it would be transliterated from the Hebrew text.”

Based on what he knows at this point, Griffin said he would hesitate to say the artifacts are definitive proof of the existence of Joseph in Egypt.

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

INDIA: FAITHFUL MOURN DEATH OF PRIEST ATTACKED IN ORISSA


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.  

Report from Compass Direct News