Friday, February 11, 2022

Christians across Australia furious over religious bill drama

A number of Christian groups across the country have reacted with fury over the drama surrounding the government’s barely breathing religious bill, claiming they are also facing discrimination.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) and Christian Schools Australia (CSA) are among the high profile names to trash the PM and the federal government, with the Director of Public Policy for CSA particularly unhappy on Sky News.

Conservative Christian organisation Family Voice questioned the Prime Minister “why the hostile attacks?” and Liberal MP Jason Falinski claimed Australians of belief “remain unprotected under the law”.

“This is an open and tolerant society, we have protections under law on issues of gender, disability, sexuality – and that should be … extended to freedom of thought, freedom of belief and freedom of association,” Mr Falinski told Sky News host Chris Kenny.

“It’s not just a failure for the government, it’s a failure for our nation, and most importantly, it’s a failure for Australians.

“We do not have in our laws now, embedded, the rights and the freedoms and protections of law for people for freedom of belief, freedom of thought and freedom of association.”

The Morrison government shelved its controversial religious freedom laws after a high adrenaline day which saw the bill, with amendments, pass the House of Representatives in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Those amendments mean protections for gay and transgender children from discrimination by religious schools.

The move shocked many conservatives, with political party Australian Christians calling it “simply unacceptable”.

As the furore grew on Thursday afternoon, the government shelved the bill, reasoning that it doesn’t give the Senate enough time to debate it before the election.

Labor MP Stephen Jones dubbed the move a “big dummy spit” by the Coalition.

As it stands, the religious discrimination bill is technically still breathing, but the likelihood of it being passed is incredibly slim.

Overnight, Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker told Sky News host Peta Credlin the bill in the end was not “workable”.

“With the amendments that were passed in the wee hours of this morning, we were left as a government with no option but to pull the entire package because the changes that were made would’ve actually exposed religious people to more discrimination.


Muslim men awarded $61,755 in costs after court played police bodycam vision

Five men who were wrongly accused of assaulting police have been awarded $61,755 in legal costs after a magistrate noted there were “glaring and serious discrepancies” between the police version of events and video footage of the incident.

Khaled Zreika, 21, and Hussein Zraika, 22, had just bought disposable face masks at a petrol station at Guildford in Sydney’s west on September 24 last year when police entered the store and arrested them for failing to wear masks.

The situation rapidly deteriorated when the men followed police outside and questioned why they were being arrested, with the officers from Raptor Squad wrestling the pair to the ground and calling for assistance.

Noah Obeid, 19, Fadi Zraika, 20, and Zachariya Al-Ahmad, 20, who approached police to criticise them for the arrest, were also arrested as scores of officers responded.

The five were charged with various offences including assaulting police, harassing police, hindering police and resisting arrest, however all charges were later withdrawn apart from a breach of the public health order.

On Thursday, Magistrate Greg Grogin said it was “abundantly clear” there was a “major” discrepancy between vision of the incident and the officers’ claims.

He found the proceedings against the men were initiated without reasonable cause, and ordered police pay $61,755.80 of legal costs.

Police had earlier conceded there was no reasonable cause to bring the charges and agreed to pay costs, but argued the amount sought by the men was manifestly excessive.

In bodycam footage played to Parramatta Local Court on Thursday, Constable James Katsetis and Constable Dylan Leyshon from Raptor Squad can be seen walking into the service station, with one of the officers greeting the men by saying “hey brother, how you going”.

“No mask, both you boys,” Constable Katsetis continues. “You’re both under arrest ... can you hop outside for us?”

The officer, who initially admonishes Hussein Zraika for swearing in a public place, is depicted a short time later wrestling with him on the ground before telling him, “you f---ing move, I’ll knock you out c--t”.

Constable Katsetis then moves to where Khaled Zreika is being restrained nearby and knees him multiple times, causing him to shout in pain, before telling him: “don’t f---ing move c--t”.

Mr Grogin said lawyers representing the men had criticised the actions of police, but the award of costs could not be viewed as being a punishment.

“The fact that costs are not punitive does not require this court to come to a decision as to the actions of the police on the day,” he said. “Suffice to say, a picture paints a thousand words.”

Mr Grogin said he had viewed the facts sheets prepared by police, as well as CCTV footage and bodycam vision, and “there are obvious, glaring and serious discrepancies, to my eyes”.

“It would be obvious to anybody involved with the criminal law and the criminal courts the reason why these charges were withdrawn,” he said. “To say that the video showed nothing but a very serious physical altercation between police and the defendants would be an understatement.”

Police prosecutor Lachlan Kirby told the court he has not been informed why charges against the five men were withdrawn, but there is a “clear inference, having watched that footage, that this matter was not going to end in favour of the prosecution”.

“I’m drawing the same inference as everyone else as to the reason the matters were withdrawn” Senior Sergeant Kirby said. “I’m not an idiot.”

Mr Grogin said the lawyer for the men, Abdul Saddik, began to carry out his own investigation including sourcing CCTV from the petrol station due to fears the footage would not be disclosed by police.

“It would appear his concerns were well-founded,” Mr Grogin said.

The court heard police did not serve a brief of evidence containing CCTV or statements, in defiance of a court deadline, before the charges were withdrawn. Some documents were given to the men for the first time on Thursday.

Mr Grogin said the costs proceeding was “not a forum for criticism” or the “airing of grievances” and “I am not determining the actions of anybody, particularly any police officers involved”.

It is understood that lawyers for the men will ask for police to investigate the officers’ actions and consider criminal charges. If this is not done, the lawyers will consider a private prosecution.


Australia leads world on standing up to China, Blinken says

China’s trade sanctions on Australia have backfired, and by standing up to Beijing Australia “set an incredibly powerful example” for the world, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“I think China has lost more than Australia has in its efforts to squeeze Australia economically,” Mr Blinken said. Beijing would be “thinking twice about this in the future”, he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in an interview.

The Biden administration’s chief diplomat is in Melbourne for talks with his counterparts from the Quad nations – Australia, India, Japan and the US – while simultaneously negotiating to deter Russia from attacking Ukraine.

His visit in the midst of the Ukraine crisis “only reinforces the point that for us, as a Pacific nation ourselves, we see the future, we see it here and you have got to keep focus on the core thing even as you deal with the challenge of the moment”, he said.

Mr Blinken said that if Russia did attack its neighbour, he would expect Australia to contribute to imposing “massive costs” on Moscow, diplomatic and political as well as financial and economic, but not military.

The Quad ministers, meeting on Friday, are expected to discuss the Ukraine crisis in an effort to reach a joint position. The leaders of the four Indo-Pacific democracies are due to hold a summit in the next few months.

“I think China has lost more than Australia has in its efforts to squeeze Australia economically”

While China has imposed boycotts on more than $20 billion worth of Australian products, US companies have taken their place in some areas of the Chinese market. Asked whether there was a more effective way that countries could deal with Beijing’s trade coercion, Mr Blinken had no direct solution to offer.

He first paid tribute to “the very good and effective work that Australia has done, and Australian companies have done, in terms of diversifying markets and supply chains, tremendous resilience that I think will have China thinking twice about this in the future”.

Australian trade economist Tim Harcourt concurred with Mr Blinken’s assessment that China had lost more than Australia through its punitive sanctions.

“China disrupted their own supply chains – they have shortages now in coal and iron ore and Australian exporters have been able to effectively diversify.

“They have energy security issues, they have food security issues, they have 300 million middle-class kids wanting to go to uni, so anything aggressive was going to hurt China.”

Coincidentally, the Financial Times on Wednesday carried the headline: “Australia offers timely lessons in resisting Chinese trade coercion”.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in September that total exports to China in affected sectors “are estimated to have fallen by around $5.4 billion over the year to the June quarter” but that exports of those goods to the rest of the world have increased by $4.4 billion. The implied loss to affected Australian industries was $1 billion over the year.

Mr Blinken pointed out that the US supported Australia’s economy as the biggest foreign investor by its accumulated stock of investment, although Japan was the biggest source of new investment in Australia last year.

He said that while the five-month-old AUKUS security partnership between Australia, the US, and the UK was new, “there’s a lot of focus” on how best to get US nuclear propulsion technology into submarines for Australia.

He said Washington was “looking at the most effective and efficient pathways to move that forward – there’s a lot of focus on that now. As well, of course, as setting the standard when it comes to upholding the non-proliferation regime.”

Mr Blinken was keen to draw attention to “the flip side of the AUKUS coin, which is collaboration among us – and potentially other countries coming in – on other things that are going to be vital to our security and wellbeing, particularly collaboration on emerging technologies, on AI, on quantum, but also on supply chains and building more resilience there.

“That’s also a part of AUKUS and that’s going to make a profound difference to sustainable security for all our countries.”


Getting new power sources to market needs more attention

Transmission links are expensive but indispensible if new power sources are going to be used

The federal government-owned Snowy Hydro has attacked a planned national energy blueprint, warning a failure to push ahead with crucial investment in new electricity transmission could trigger higher power prices, blackouts and dangerous system instability.

Snowy, currently building a giant expansion of its hydro scheme, has written to the Australian Energy Market Operator saying its 20-year plan for the national electricity market released in December has gone backwards in recognising the urgency of transmission reform, and contains false modelling assumptions.

The major energy player, which owns retail power companies Red Energy and Lumo, has also attacked assumptions AEMO makes in its integrated system plan about the value of Tasmania’s wind farms, and says global energy investors are worried their spending on generation and storage may be put at risk due to the glacial pace of progress pushing on with more than $10bn of ­urgent transmission links.

“Transmission augmentation which takes place later than required not only leads to higher prices and slower decarbonisation, but also blackouts and dangerous system instability,” Snowy chief executive Paul Broad said in the company’s submission to AEMO, obtained by The Australian.

The 2022 integrated system plan “seeks to delay transmission upgrades until the last moment while retaining the flexibility to bring forward or yet further delay projects as needed. That may ­appear to be sensible policy but it is unworkable in practice.

“It is impossible to reconcile AEMO’s forecasts of an increasingly rapid structural shift towards renewables with its recommendations to delay key transmission links.”

Snowy is worried whether there will be enough transmission in place to transport power from its Snowy 2.0 expansion to market once it is completed in 2026. That includes TransGrid’s proposed Hume Link to southern NSW and the southern transmission link to Melbourne called VNI West.

AEMO, which runs the national electricity network, has plotted a “step-change” scenario after consultation with industry to guide power grid investment over the next decades and ensure Australia hits goals to cut pollution.

Under the plan, coal is set to be extinguished from the electricity system up to a decade earlier than planned, ­exiting three times faster than ­expected, under a radical blueprint for the power grid that ­requires a nine-fold increase in wind and solar capacity by 2050 to meet the nation’s net zero emissions targets.

Snowy also hit out at what it regards as the prioritisation of the Marinus Link, a second power cable connecting Tasmania to Victoria, ahead of transmission needed in NSW and Victoria under the latest draft of the power market scheme.

The plan “prioritises Marinus Link over VNI West, seemingly valuing Tasmanian wind resources (which, in fact, offer little diversity value) over the larger renewables investment in Victoria and access to Snowy 2.0, the single best asset for shoring up system security in the national electricity market. This is dangerous for consumers and industry,’’ Snowy said.

Mr Broad casts doubt on plans for Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation and the Marinus Link ever being built.

“Given that Snowy 2.0 is under construction, what is the probability that Battery of the Nation and Marinus will even exist? Deferring VNI West for four years (compared to ISP2018 and ISP2020) in the hope that a marginally economic and geographically remote undersea cable and remote storage will save the day is playing Russian roulette with ­national electricity market reliability and efficiency,’’ he said.

Snowy has previously warned the lack of transmission could kill the transition to ­renewables – with a string of major players weighing into the debate – and singled out concerns over infrastructure as a major issue that needs to be confronted to ensure supplies can flow to users.

Renewable developers and network operators are worried a pipeline of power generation and clean energy supplies faces delays or gridlock unless major electricity transmission projects are delivered across the national power system.

It cautioned that major global energy investors could be put off by the uncertainty in the transmission sector, an assertion that may raise heckles from other big market players that have previously accused Snowy of distorting the market with its govern­ment ownership.

“It does not help Australia’s case that these participants (many of whom already deliver renewable energy to Snowy via long-term offtakes negotiated across 2019-21) look on in dismay at the fate of VNI West’s role in transmitting their energy to the load centres and to Snowy 2.0,’’ Snowy said in its submission. “These investors are … typically global energy investors who cross-invest in generation and storage, and therefore know that Snowy 2.0 is a key piece to ensuring generation backup and storage for Victoria. The treatment to which Snowy 2.0 has been subjected provides them no comfort that their own investments would be treated ­equitably or transparently.’’

AEMO has said transmission projects will add $29bn in value while allowing ­renewables to be spread across the grid, with the Victoria NSW Interconnector and HumeLink projects both seen as critical to guard consumers against the risk of faster-than-expected coal ­retirements.

Consultation on the draft 2022 plan will be open until Friday


‘Taiwan should join trade bloc’: Parliamentary committee recommends

A bipartisan committee has called for the government to back Taiwan’s bid to join one of the world’s biggest trade agreements, and block consideration of China’s membership until it ends its coercive trade measures and re-establishes ministerial dialogue with Australia.

In a report tabled on Thursday, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade recommended the government “encourage and facilitate the accession of Taiwan” to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agree­ment for trans-Pacific Partnership, and consider a bilateral trade agreement with Taipei.

The unanimous report says Australia should also support CPTPP membership applications by the UK and South Korea, encourage the United States to reconsider joining the agreement, and back informal talks with Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines on joining the pact.

But it warns talks should not even be considered with China until it demonstrates its commitment to global trading rules.

“The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with other CPTPP members to encourage China to re-establish full trading relations including ending its coercive trade measures and re-engaging in ministerial dialogue, and to demonstrate an ability and willingness to commit to the CPTPP’s high standards, prior to supporting the commencement of an accession process,” it says.

The committee’s chairman Ted O’Brien said Australia should support the expansion of the CPTPP’s membership, “but not unconditionally”.

“The ball is in (China’s) court,” Mr O’Brien said. “It’s up to China if it wishes to re-engage with Australia and I hope it does because that would enable the discussions that are necessary to determine whether an accession process should commence.

“Only aspiring economies that support an open, transparent and stable trading environment and those that demonstrate an ability and willingness to meet the agreement’s high standards should be considered.

“The CPTPP is one of the world’s most comprehensive trade agreements and its quality must be maintained.”

He said consideration of a bilateral FTA with Taiwan – which would infuriate China – could assist efforts to secure its efforts into the CPTPP.

“A lesson from our experience with the UK is that benefits accrue from negotiating a bilateral FTA and the CPTPP at the same time, and we see merit in replicating this approach with Taiwan,” Mr O’Brien said.

Taiwan, the UK, South Korea and China have all announced bids to join the regional trade bloc, which currently has 11 members representing about 13.4 per cent of global GDP.

Scott Morrison warned late last year that China had little hope of gaining entry into the CPTPP following its campaign of economic coercion against Australia.

Amid fallout for exporters from $20bn in targeted Chinese trade bans against Australia, the Prime Minister said it would struggle to meet the high bar for entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agree­ment for trans-Pacific Partnership.

“The CPTPP sets a very high benchmark that you have to be able to achieve and it is important that those who are seeking to ­become part of an arrangement like that wouldn’t want to have a track record of coercing other trade partners,” Mr Morrison said in November.




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