Australian Embassy Jakarta, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Image has been cropped for the article.
The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, introduced the Religious Discrimination Bill to parliament last week. This bill is not a new idea and has been a contentious piece of legislation for years. It was first released by the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, on 11th December 2019. Morrison told MPs on Tuesday that he wanted to introduce the bill in the lower house to fulfil the pledge he made to faith leaders before the 2019 election. The Prime Minister said the laws will “protect citizens in a tolerant, multicultural, liberal democracy” and the bill “balances freedom with responsibilities”.
“Many people from various religious traditions are concerned about the lack of religious protection against the prevalence of ‘cancel culture’ in Australian life. It’s true, it’s there, it’s real,” Morrison told parliament. “The citizens of liberal democracies should never be fearful about what they believe.”
The bill makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the ground of religious belief or activity in a range of areas of public life, including work, education, access to premises and the provision of goods, services and accommodation. But this discrimination if it occurs, for example, because of a religious belief or activity that the person holds or engages in, then that person cannot be persecuted under this bill.
Why is the bill generating so much controversy?
The main part of the bill that gives protection from religious discrimination is not an issue, as there are already laws present in Australia that protect against discrimination for race, sex, marital status, sexuality, age and ability. The reinforcement of these laws is commendable.
This bill gives precedence to people’s religious beliefs over other aspects of life. For example, it will allow people to let their employers know that they would not be attending a Friday afternoon meeting because of their religious duties – Sabbath for Jews or Friday prayers for Muslims – and their employers are bound under the law to work around it. Additionally, employers would not be able to ask their female employees to wear or not wear certain clothes if it is their religious requirement. This will potentially give rise to significant legal complexity and challenges for large companies.
But what concerns people most, is that some parts of the bill go beyond what a standard anti-discrimination law should be, because it has clauses that take precedence over other discrimination laws. For example, a nurse or a doctor might refuse to give treatment to an HIV patient citing the fact that they are cursed or that it’s a punishment from God. In such a case, they wouldn’t be able to be prosecuted because as stated by law “certain conduct is not discrimination at all “when it is a “statement of belief”. It will also allow health professionals to resist and object to giving health services such as abortions and contraception. A dilution of ‘health practitioner conduct rules’ risks increasing barriers to healthcare for people in regional areas or from low socio-economic backgrounds.
Similarly, LGBTQIA+ members could be refused jobs or their contracts lawfully terminated since their employers would not be discriminating – they would simply be making a statement of belief. Religious or private schools affiliated with Churches already discriminate on the basis of religion when appointing the religious studies teacher but with this new bill they will be able to do this with all teaching positions.
Religious belief will override all other anti-discrimination laws such as the Sex Discrimination Act. For instance, a CEO of a company, using his religious belief as a reason, could potentially decline to put women in leadership positions, delay or refuse promotions and he would lawfully be protected as long as he was deemed not to be malicious or guilty of harassment.
It also gives legal protection to people’s ‘Statement of belief’ made in lieu of their religion, making lawful an opinion or viewpoint that would otherwise be considered hate speech. This clause is also commonly called the ‘Folau clause’ following the Rugby Australia’s decision to terminate Mr. Israel Folau’s contract after his Instagram posts mentioned that gay people among others were going to hell. Under this bill, statements like these would have no repercussions as they would be considered lawfully acceptable. However, this clause, at least, has been scrapped in the latest iteration of the bill after much criticism.
Freedom from religious discrimination and the freedom to practice one’s faith is something that we all wish to protect and celebrate. But at the same time and with the same rigour, we should protect the right to not be discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or age. The liberal party may say as much as they like that this bill is “a shield not a sword”, but it is encroaching too heavily on other human rights.
In the end, we should all think about what type of society we want to build in Australia. A tolerant and harmonious one? Or one where anyone’s peace of mind can be disturbed without any provocation and the offender will be protected by the law? Religion should not be used as a tool to generate more votes for political parties and at the expense of human rights.
China Threatens Consequences if Pelosi Visits Taiwan
- US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has landed inTaiwan. Prior to the visit, China’s Foreign Ministry has voiced their disapproval, stating that “China will take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized in response that “The speaker will make her own decisions about whether or not to visit Taiwan,” and that the US is looking to Beijing to “act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward.”
- The US has made it clear that members of Congress routinely visit Taiwan and that this trip is non-threatening and has precedent. Even so, some officials have expressed concern that China may invade Taiwan’s air defense zone or send missiles near Taiwan in retaliation.
- Pelosi has criticized China’s leadership and vocalized support for Taiwan in the past. She is currently on her tour of Asia, with scheduled visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.
First Grain Ship Departs Ukraine After Six Months of Russian Blockade
- The first shipment of grain departed the port of Odesa on Monday after Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports for the last six months trapped around 20 million metric tons of wheat and corn.
- Russia recently made a deal with Ukraine, brokered by the UN and Turkey, allowing grain exports to resume, appeasing fears of a global food supply crisis and rising prices.
- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba celebrated the shipment, calling it a “day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.”
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was more hesitant to celebrate the shipment, stating “it is too early to draw any conclusions and make any forecasts” and he wants to “see how the agreement works and whether security will be really guaranteed.”
‘Don’t forget them’: millions of Afghans face hunger, economic crisis
International aid workers share stories of children and families struggling to make ends meet
“Winter is coming.”
That’s how Ammar Ammar, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan, describes the situation in Afghanistan. The current hunger crisis, the result of a collapsing economy and drought, will only get worse if the country doesn’t get help, he says, especially in the colder months when people also have to stay warm.
“It’s not Game of Thrones here, it’s reality.”
Almost a year after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the world has become silent about the plight of the country and its people, who are facing one of their worst humanitarian and economic crisis in decades.
After the fall of Kabul, the international community declined to recognize the Taliban regime. Countries paused foreign aid and imposed sanctions. The United States also froze billions in Afghan state assets.
A country that had become reliant on external aid was left on its own. In the process, millions of Afghans were abandoned, too.
On a recent lunch break in Kabul, Ammar saw two girls, one about six years old and the other about three. One of them was lying down on the sidewalk, while the other was squatting next to a big nylon bag. They’d been collecting pieces of scrap metal on the streets to make ends meet.
“You could see that they were exhausted,” Ammar said. “You are going for your break and at the same time you can see two kids on the street, where they have no break at this age. It strikes you.”
And there are thousands of children like them.
“We are doing a massive job,” Ammar says. “But the sad reality is we can’t help everyone at the end of the day.”
A woman in Qala-e-Naw, the capital of the Badghis province recently told the UN-run World Food Programme (WFP) in Kabul how she made ends meet after her husband died five years prior.
“In the past, she said, she had a fair life, just getting by cleaning and washing for other people. After the economy collapsed, families have no money anymore to pay her and her work dried up,” said WFP spokesperson Philippe Kropf in an email. As a result, she borrows money to buy food, going further into debt.
“She told me she has not been able to buy cooking oil for weeks. She eats bread with tea and sometimes rice,” he said.
A young man told Kropf that “his family went to sleep many evenings without anything to eat in the past months.”
“They borrowed food with neighbours, but increasingly the neighbours have nothing to share,” he added, noting the young man had only completed second grade and was trying to find labour jobs to make ends meet. “But these jobs are getting rarer and rarer because of the collapse of the economy, too.”
The man participated in a training program to gain skills such as tailoring or mobile phone repair to earn a livelihood. The program trains 200 men and women over six months, during which participants receive food assistance for their families.
“After the training, (the young man) hopes to either open his own little shop, sewing clothing for men and children or to find work in a tailor shop and work for a salary,” Kropf said.
Prospects of famine remain
With the country reeling from recent droughts, and facing high inflation, a difficult situation is becoming even worse.
“For the first time, urban residents are suffering from food insecurity at similar rates to rural communities, marking the shifting face of hunger in the country,” Kropf said, noting some people are seeking help from WFP for the first time in their lives.
“The scale of the crisis in Afghanistan is immense, and needs continue to outpace available funding,” he added. The WFP needs nearly US $1 billion by the end of 2022 to help 18 million people – nearly half the population of Afghanistan.
Of that, the group urgently needs US $172 million to secure 150,000 metric tonnes of food to support 2.2 million people in remote parts of Afghanistan, which can get cut off by ice and snow in winter.
“We need these even more urgently because of the long lead-times for food commodities that we need to buy internationally,” Kropf said, including vegetable oil and specialized nutritious foods. “We need to get them into (the) country and then drive them into the mountains.”
The lack of funds in state bank accounts means civil servants aren’t being paid regularly, companies are shutting down and ordinary civilians face restricted access to their own savings.
Prospects of famine remain, said Ammar, noting that the main indicator is farming, which most people depend on to make ends meet. Farmers say climate change is resulting in less food production, resulting in extended periods when people don’t have adequate access to food.
Need for international aid
At the end of June, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit southeast Afghanistan, killing over 1,000 people and causing damage the International Rescue Committee described as “catastrophic.”
“This earthquake is a catastrophe for the people affected, but the response to the wider crisis in Afghanistan remains a catastrophe of choice for the international community,” said David Miliband, the group’s CEO and president in a release at the time.
“While humanitarian aid has averted famine for now, policies of economic isolation, the halting of development funding, and the lack of support for Afghan civil servants are unraveling the two decades of development progress that western leaders vowed to protect.”
He noted that families across the country face unemployment, leading to lower demand among local businesses which in turn leads to further job losses. He called for the international community to urgently provide funding to the country as well as “the phased and closely monitored unfreezing of assets.”
The question of frozen assets
Advocates for Afghanistan have criticized U.S.’s decision to freeze a portion of the country’s assets and decried a proposal for the U.S. to use some of them to support families affected by 9/11.
Afghanistan’s assets rightfully belong to Afghanistan, said Zubair Iqbal, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
However, while unfreezing the funds would help bring immediate help to alleviate Afghanistan’s crisis, the country will need more support in the long-term, said Iqbal, who previously worked at the International Monetary Fund for more than 30 years.
The solution is to grant foreign aid to Afghanistan in a sustainable way to allow recovery, while managing its spending through an independent entity, he said.
Concerns around a proposal in the U.S. to use some of the Afghan assets to support families affected by 9/11 prompted a group of Afghan women to write an open letter to U.S. President Joe Biden in February.
“Taking funds from the Afghan people is the unkindest and most inappropriate response for a country that is going through the worst humanitarian crisis in its history,” the letter reads. “It is the squeezing of a wounded hand.”
Freezing the assets from the Taliban was the right decision, said one of the signatories in an interview, but they belong to the Afghan people and must be released to address the humanitarian crisis.
“My expectation from the international community is to put serious attention on Afghanistan,” said Roshan Mashal, former deputy director of Afghan Women’s Network, who left Afghanistan after the takeover and is now a fellow at the University of Texas at Arlington.
She called for coordination on how countries engage with the Taliban and to support the country’s people, as millions of Afghans face hunger and economic crisis.
“Don’t forget them,” she said.
Concerns Rise As US Teeters on the Brink of Recession
- The US economy declines for the second quarter in a row, causing, what other countries would consider, an economic recession.
- The prices for groceries, gas, and other basics are rising at the fastest pace since 1981. The US Central Bank is quickly trying to raise borrowing costs in order to cool the economy and ease the prices on goods, but with the contraction, at the annual rate of 0.9% in the 3 months to July, many are still getting concerned.
- President Biden struggles to convince the public that the economy is sound, with the unemployment rate at a low 3.6%. But with inflation in the US hitting 9.1% in June, the fastest price appreciation in 4 months, consumer spending has slowed at an annual rate of 1%.
- Many other countries, such as China and the UK, have been hit harder by the surge in energy prices and the War in Ukraine, causing risks from abroad. Other countries are facing much more serious problems and once they’re hit, their problems can spill over and affect the US.
North Korea Could Possibly Be Preparing another Nuclear Test￼
- North Korea could be preparing a seventh nuclear test, especially after Mr. Kim announced that the country is fully ready for any military confrontation with the US at a Korean War Anniversary event.
- A US special representative in North Korea states that Jong-Un has tested an unprecedented number of missiles this year—31 to 25. Jong-Un also stated that threats from the US required North Korea to achieve the urgent historical task of strengthening its self-defense.
- Jong-un also stated that South Korea is reviving a plan to counter North Korea’s threat by mounting precautionary strikes; in June alone, South Korea launched 8 missiles of its own.
- The North Korean regime is especially angry with South Korea’s new president Yoon Suk-yeol and his so-called Kill Chain strategy. This strategy allows South Korea to launch ballistic missiles and air strikes on North Korean targets if it ever feels threatened.
- North Korea has also not been getting as much engagement with Washington ever since Biden replaced Trump, and could be hinting at some sort of deliberate escalation by the North, and preparations have been underway at the Punggye Ri test site since March.
Russia cuts Germany’s Gas Supply causing Prices to Soar ￼
- Over the course of the Russian-Ukrainian War, Russia began to slowly cut off Germany’s gas supply through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
- Before the war, over half of Germany’s gas came from Russia. By the end of June it was reduced to a quarter of its normal captivity, and now it operates at less than a fifth of it.
- Russia’s energy firm Gazprom has stated that this need to cut off Germany’s gas supply was due to maintenance work on a turbine that is needed. Critics have disagreed, claiming that Russia is using it’s gas as a ploy to cause terror to Europe.
- The cut of Gas supply to Germany and other central European countries has caused gas prices to rise almost 2%, causing the trade to close to a record high similar to that of when Russia invaded Ukraine.
- While Germany scrambles to find a solution to this, Poland states it will be fully independent from Russia by the end of the year in order to avoid blackmail from Russia.
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First Grain Ship Departs Ukraine After Six Months of Russian Blockade
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