Religious freedom in China is, and should be, limited

The Jesus People consider their tiny sect to be a religion. With beliefs based on hippiedom and Christian fundamentalism, they follow an ascetic way of life. Members also, allegedly, violently abuse women and practise polygamy, as a way of getting closer to God.
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Another sect, or “new religious movement,” the Children of God, sexually abused young children in the name of Jesus Christ. This was not ancillary to their religion; it was part of their observance.

Then there is the sub-section of Muslim believers who mutilate girls’ genitalia.

Illegal behaviour of this kind is subject to criminal sanction by worldly authorities. We’re happy to say these practices are wrong, abhorrent, bizarre, even though they are expressions of sincere religious belief.

Religious freedom has its limits. And nobody questions it.

So why is the right-wing of the Liberal Party now arguing that religious belief should provide a talisman against some of the laws the rest of us need to follow?

That is what Victorian senator James Paterson’s Marriage Amendment (Definition and Protection of Freedoms) Bill 2017 tried to do before he announced on Tuesday that he would not be introducing it.

The Paterson bill wanted to exempt the wedding industry – planners, bakers, accommodation providers, florists – from the federal Sex Discrimination Act and state anti-discrimination laws. These are laws the rest of us accept in the name of a civilised society, in not discriminating against people for who they are.

Why should the “conscience” of a homophobic florist be able to override those laws? Why should he or she be able to humiliate a same-sex couple by denying a service in the lead-up to that couple’s happy day?

Let’s be clear here. This is not a question about protecting mainstream religious observance from same-sex marriage. That is already protected in the mainstream bill, put forward by Dean Smith and the Liberal moderates. No religious minister under that bill need marry a gay couple against his or her conscience.

Paterson’s bill radically extended this existing principle to any “conscientious objectors” who call themselves a “proponent of traditional marriage”. This bill said they should be able to voice their objection by refusing a commercial service.

The law on that is also very clear.

In 2008, a group talking about suicide prevention with at-risk LGBTI teens from country Victoria booked a getaway at the Phillip Island Adventure Resort. The group, Way Out, did not realise the resort was owned and run by a conservative religious group, the Christian Brethren.

When the Brethren found out who they were hosting, they cancelled the booking, saying the group’s activities were “contrary to God’s teaching as set out in the Bible”, and contravened the resort’s “safety” policy.

“Our definition of safety, because of our Christian faith, does not support or include the promotion of homosexuality,” the camp said at the time.

It was, no doubt, a sincere religious belief.

Even so, the camp lost the case all the way through the courts until the High Court refused special leave to appeal. The camp, the courts said, was a commercial enterprise, and did not have a “religious purpose”. It was therefore not protected by the general exemption that religious organisations have under anti-discrimination laws.

It turns out this is another limit on freedom of religion: businesses run (tax free) by religious groups cannot discriminate against potential customers on the grounds of sexuality.

People generally support religious freedom and the Constitution requires it. But none of the commercial enterprises run by “conscientious objectors” that Paterson’s bill sought to exempt from discrimination law has a religious purpose.

So let’s not be hoodwinked into changing the law to pander to bogus religious freedom lobbyists.

Like the Jesus People, the Children of God, or genital mutilators, they should all be required to obey the same laws as the rest of us.

Cashed-up New Zealanders, leaf blowers: The truth about Noosa

Sometimes it takes a TV show to put a place on the map. Sylvania Waters is a case in point; suddenly everyone was talking about living in a canal estate in ‘The Shire’. And in the 70s, there wasn’t a kid alive who watched Skippy, that didn’t want a tour of ‘Waratah Park’ in Terry Hills.
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Will The Circle do the same for Noosa?

The Circle is the brainchild of Felix Williamson, who also worked on Domain’s Avalon Now series. It’s a razor-sharp observational comedy, following the lives of two cosmopolitan couples from Melbourne and Sydney who have made the sea-change to Noosa.

But it’s The Circle’s fictional locals who steal the show, especially Felix Williamson as Lesley, the sexually ambiguous New Zealander, and his partner Tonni (Rebecca Gibney). Chris Hayward is brilliantly cast as Gordon, a bloke who is always armed with a leaf blower. While Richard Roxburgh is fabulously gauche as wealthy South African alpha-male, Julius Du Toit.

While Hibiscus Circle featured in the series may be a fictional street, there’s little doubt it’s based on the real-life Witta Circle, Noosa’s most exclusive address, and surrounded by waterfront views.

And while The Circle pokes fun at Noosa’s fitness fanatics, lurid sarongs, lack of nightlife and monoculture, what’s living in the Circle really like?

Most of the series was shot in the house of writer/director Felix Williamson’s mother-in-law, who lives in Witta Circle.

“I’m very familiar with the whole area,” Williamson says. “My parents have a home in Sunshine Beach, and I have a number of relatives living up there, including my brother Rory.”

Rory says a whole new market is emerging in Noosa, comprising 35 to 45-year-olds who work as web designers and copywriters from Sydney and Melbourne who have cashed in their city apartments to work remotely.

When it comes to Witta Circle, he says it’s well out of his price range, but would make for an idyllic lifestyle. “There’s little jetties with boats, and it’s close to Hastings Street. It’s pretty nice,” he says. “A lot of the owners are cashed-up New Zealanders, like the character Felix portrays in the show … he hit the nail on the head there.”

One of the other periphery characters in the show is Gordon, a neighbour and avid user of the leaf blower. Turns out you’ll find plenty of types like Gordon in Noosa, too.

“I drove around Witta Circle last week and spotted a bloke with a leaf blower. He looked exactly like the one in the series,” said a Noosa agent who didn’t want to be named.

And he’s not the only one. Veronica and Peter moved into Witta Circle in 1970s. For the past 43 years, the Circle has been home. “We love it here and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” says Veronica.

“Do we have a leaf blower? Yes, and so does the lady next door,” admits Veronica.

Witta Circle comprises 16 internal blocks, and 30 blocks on the water. The dry blocks are around 900 square metres, while the waterfronts are 600 square metres.

Veronica and Peter purchased two dry -internal- blocks there for $10,000 each in 1974. Nowadays a dry block would fetch upwards of $2.3 million.

The property price record for Noosa Sound was set in Witta Circle, with No. 25 going for a tidy $8.25 million in 2009. Waterfront land alone is just a snip under the $4 million mark.

Their son, 42-year-old PJ, a Noosa real estate agent, said Witta Circle was a tight-knit community as he was growing up.

“There were about 30 kids in Witta Circle and we’d play together after school, riding our pushbikes to the end of Noosa Sound, having tinny races around the island, diving off the bridge, or swimming across the estuary to swing on the Tarzan ropes on the other side.”

“Everyone knew each other back then. Now it’s like one big holiday resort and a lot of the houses are empty, or rented during the holidays. My parents are two of the only original residents left there.

“The only problem now is that on weekends it’s a car park. People drive over to Witta Circle to park and go to the beach. Luckily, dad doesn’t mind, because he rides a motor scooter everywhere.”

Veronica says the biggest change she has seen over the years is the loss of permanent residents. “I like the idea of having a neighbour where I can pop in and have a cup of tea.”

The advent of holiday homes on Witta Circle has seen some impressive builds. Architects such as Ken Robertson, Tim Ditchfield, Noel Robinson, and Kidd and Co have all created a distinctive “Noosa style” on the island.

Andrew Le is an architect with Brisbane-based Red Door Architecture. One of his more recent projects is a home for the Daffy family in Witta Circle. The five-bedroom concrete and glass house looks out over the estuary to a protected coastal forest. Most of the spaces in the home, including the enormous bathrooms, take full advantage of the water views.

The home’s owner, Troy Duffy, says he used to holiday in Noosa as a teenager, and often wondered who could afford the lovely big houses on Witta Circle. After establishing a successful property development company in Brisbane, Duffy had his answer. He could.

“I was lucky enough to fulfil a dream and buy a block of land on Witta Circle four years ago,” he says. “We love the new house. It’s basically our sanctuary. I drive up with the wife and kids every school holidays; it’s about 90 minutes on the freeway.”

Planetary alignment will be worth getting up early for

This image, taken in Brisbane in 2016, shows a Jupiter-Venus conjunction, with Venus the lower star in the centre of the image. This year’s conjunction will bring the two even closer together in our sky. Photo: Peter Lieverdink / FlickrEarly every morning this week, glimmering Venus and Jupiter will slide up from below the eastern horizon.
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In a rare celestial event, the two brightest planets in our solar system will appear so close together that it will look as if they are almost touching.

On Friday they’ll be joined by the faintest sliver of a crescent moon. And Mars will be coming to the party too, keeping close to its fellow planets in the morning sky and putting four celestial orbs in one place at the same time.

But the main event and the thing that has our local astronomy community particularly excited is the Jupiter-Venus conjunction – or, more poetically, the “dance of the planets”.

But it won’t last long.

Beginning about 5.15am (5.45 in Melbourne) there will be a brief window to see the dance, says David Reneke, editor ofAstro-Space News.

On Friday at 5.42 the sun will break through the horizon (5.58 in Melbourne), its brightness almost immediately obscuringthe planets. Each subsequent night the planets’ orbits will carry them across the sky, further and further away from each other.

Mr Reneke advises aspiring viewers tofind an elevated vantage point with a clear view of the horizon, and look east.

Mars will also appear in the same section of the sky, he said.

“If you ever wanted to find where Mars and Jupiter were, this is a night where you won’t need to go searching for them,” he says.

Don’t worry, they won’t be this close. Photo: EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY

“You don’t need binoculars or telescopes to do astronomy, you just get up and have a look.”

They’ll appear so close, you should be able to just slide an outstretched thumb between them.

Conjunctions happen when the orbits of Earth and other planets converge in such a way that it appears as if they’re lining up, despite being separated by billions of kilometres.

In this case, despite Venus being closer to the Sun than Earth and Jupiter being much further away, it will look as if they are in almost the same spot in our sky.

Each planet in the solar system follows a different orbit at a different speed. The gas giant Jupiter, for example, takes almost 12 years to orbit the sun; Venus does a lap in just 225 days.

About once a year those differing speeds will put them in what looks from Earth like orbital alignment.

What makes this year’s conjunction special is how close the two planets will come in our sky; there is likely to be only one repeat performance in the next hundred years.

Early risers on Friday who look to the skies between 3 and 5am will be rewarded with an even better view – the Earth will pass through the debris field of an old comet, parts of which will burn up in the earth’s atmosphere, producing as many as 20 shooting stars an hour, astronomers predict.

Mr Renekesays he has previously received worried phone calls when planetary conjunctions were looming.

“There used to be a lot of hype – people would say the combined gravity of all the planets would cause earthquakes,” he laughs.

This is not something sinister or dangerous, he says. “It’s just luck.”

[email protected]: Soggy start in store for ASX

The information of stocks that lost in prices are displayed on an electronic board inside the n Securities Exchange, operated by ASX Ltd., in Sydney, , on Friday, July 24, 2015. The n dollar slumped last week as a gauge of Chinese manufacturing unexpectedly contracted, aggravating the impact of declines in copper and iron ore prices. Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg MARKETS. 7 JUNE 2011. AFR PIC BY PETER BRAIG. STOCK EXCHANGE, SYDNEY, STOCKS. GENERIC PIC. ASX. STOCKMARKET. MARKET.
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Stock information is displayed on an electronic board inside the n Securities Exchange, operated by ASX Ltd., in Sydney, , on Friday, July 24, 2015. The n dollar slumped last week as a gauge of Chinese manufacturing unexpectedly contracted, aggravating the impact of declines in copper and iron ore prices. Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg

Despite further subdued moves in US equities, which ultimately sets Asia up for quite a soggy start, there have been a number of interesting macro factors worth exploring.

1. Global moves: Moves in G10 FX markets are perhaps the most interesting dynamic, with the EUR finding its mojo again and having a few traders questioning whether the liquidity forever stance from the ECB is appropriate, with German Q3 GDP smashing expectations at 0.8%qoq. This takes the annualised rate of growth in German out to 2.8% (the highest since 2011) and hardly thematic of central bank still buying six times the debt issuance from the broader Eurozone area governments. Giving the GDP data real backbone was the Eurozone ZEW economic sentiment survey, with the index pushing out to 30.9 (from 26.7), with Eurozone industrial production growing at a 3.3%yoy clip. All very positive indeed.

We also saw UK inflation running at 3.0%, which was a small miss to consensus, but still resulted in a reasonable position unwind from GBP longs. The world was also treated to a heavyweight panel discussion in Frankfurt, with Draghi, Yellen, Carney, and Kuroda all speaking, but the conversation failed to really shake the markets, although Janet Yellen made mention that US stocks have high earnings multiples, which again reinforces the message that the current Federal Reserve are focusing part of their efforts on managing financial risks. With that point in mind, it’s worth highlighting that we have seen speculation (source: Politico) that current Kansas State Bank Commissioner Michelle Bowman is set to be nominated for a seat on the Fed, while interestingly Dow Jones reported: “WHITE HOUSE CONSIDERING NOMINATION OF MOHAMED EL-ERIAN FOR FEDERAL RESERVE VICE CHAIR???SOURCE”.

Recall Mohamed El-Erian recently described the Fed’s move to lift the fed funds rate and allowing its balance sheet to run-off as a “beautiful normalisation”, while suggesting the market was too sanguine when understanding the concern central bankers hold about financial instability down the road.

2. Trump’s ‘major statement’: There are always headlines around the US political arena and we look forward to Trump’s “major statement”, which is scheduled to be unveiled at the House Republican conference (and of course the trading world) Friday morning 03:30 aedt (16:30 GMT). This comes at the same time as the House is expected to push through a vote on tax reform, while the Senate should push forward their own bill for a vote next week, which precedes the arduous task of trying to reconcile the two plans. One could argue that the allegations towards Republican nominee Roy Moore are also having an impact, and while this is a complex issue, the market is somewhat concerned any fallout here could weaken the GOP’s hand.

3. US data: There is seemingly also some anxiety around tonight’s (00:30 aedt) US core CPI print, which has really become the new non-farm payrolls for markets, that is in its importance. Economists expect core inflation to remain anchored at 1.7%, while headline inflation should drop 20bp to 2%. Ahead of this we have seen modest buying in the US Treasury curve, with the US 10-year Treasury yield dropping just two basis points to 2.37%, but the reaction in the USD has been far greater. The USD index, really driven by the 57% weight of the EUR, has smashed through the September uptrend at 94.14 and also the August/September double-top of 94.00 and there is a chance for USD bears to build on this, so I would be cutting back on USD exposures on this development. EUR/USD has pushed up to $1.1800 and through the November consolidation, although it has some work to push through the 12 October high of $1.1879. EUR/GBP has some good flow on the long side and is eyeing a move into the 90 handle.

4. Aussie dollar: EUR/AUD looks bullish too, with the pair now breaking convincingly through to trade at the strongest levels since June 2016 and as I write is at the highs of the day. AUD/USD was well supported yesterday after the blockbuster NAB business conditions release, but traders have faded the pair into $0.7650, although we still haven’t seen the daily close through the 27 October low of $0.7625. In theory, this support level could be taken out today, with the AUD likely to get a working over today, where at 11:30 aedt we get the Aussie Q3 wage data, which has to be up there as key economic data. The market expects a 30bp increase in wages to 2.2%, so anything below 2% will be welcomed by those currently short. A reading above 2.4% and those calling for hikes in 2018 will feel further conviction in their call.

5. Wall Street: Aside from the clear event risk in the upcoming 24-hours, moves in US equities have been modestly to the downside, with the S&P 500 currently lower by 0.1%, the Russell 2000 -0.3%, while in the credit markets we can see the now widely talked about HYG ETG lower by 0.3% and high yield spreads widening a touch. SPI futures currently sit 36 points from the 16:10 aedt official ASX 200 cash close, indicating the bears will build on yesterday’s move, which to be fair caught me by surprise.

6. ASX: So we see an open in the ASX 200 at 5940 and the question is why would you put new money to work in the market and buy today? Clearly yesterday’s move looked like a move to cash and locking in profits and this should be in play today, so it seems likely that the bid comes out of the market to an extent and the index could fall under its own weight.

7. Commodities: A nice rally in iron ore, looks set to be offset by a 2% fall in US crude, with the large speculative position built in the oil futures market being partially unwound and the selling assisted by the IEA cutting tis forecast global crude demand growth.

8. Market watch:

SPI futures down 26 points or 0.4% to 5950

AUD flat at 76.25 US cents

On Wall St: Dow -0.3%, S&P 500 -0.2%, Nasdaq -0.6%

In New York, BHP -2.7% Rio -2.7%

In Europe: Stoxx 50 -0.5%, FTSE flat, CAC -0.5%, DAX -0.3%

Spot gold +0.2% to $US1280.34 an ounce

Brent crude -2% to $US61.91 a barrel

US oil -2.1% to $US55.55 a barrel

Iron ore +1.2% to $US63.17 a tonne

Dalian iron ore -4.6% to 444 yuan

LME aluminium -1.2% to $US2082 a tonne

LME copper -2% to $US6759 a tonne

10-year bond yield: US 2.37%, Germany 0.39%, 2.65%

This column was produced in commercial partnership between Fairfax Media and IG

China’s carbon market ready – but waiting

Beijing: The world’s largest carbon market is ready and waiting on Chinese government approval, but may miss a goal of launching in 2017.
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China’s special representative on climate change, Xie Zhenhua, said in Bonn that all preparations for the carbon market in China are ready and it has entered the “examination and approval process”.

“It will be launched as soon as possible after being approved,” he said.

Pilot schemes in seven provinces and cities had seen 197 million tons of carbon dioxide worth 4.5 billion Chinese yuan traded by September.

The market would play the decisive role in setting carbon prices under the national scheme but the government may also provide guidance, he said.

His update came as a global report forecast that China’s CO2 emissions would rise 3.5 per cent this year, after being flat in 2016, because coal fired electricity generation had risen in first nine months of 2017.

Greenpeace said on Tuesday that China’s thermal power use had since fallen for two months.

Greenpeace energy analyst Lauri Myllyvirta said it was a “significant signal” for China to create a national carbon market and it could become an important policy tool in the long term.

But short term, the carbon trading scheme would have limited impact because it is initially limited to the power sector where prices are regulated, he said.

Mr Myllyvirta said the 2017 growth in China’s emissions, highlighted in a report by the Global Carbon Project, was due to an “aggressive construction boom” by local governments trying to inflate GDP numbers “and shore up indebted smokestack industries”.

“We’ve been expecting this surge to abate as the central government clamps down on the real estate bubble and moves to contain the buildup of debt,” he said.

The latest monthly data from China shows thermal power generation falling 3 per cent, as solar leapt 36 per cent, hydro grew 17 per cent, wind generation grew 12 per cent, and nuclear grew 15 per cent.

China’s solar and wind generation are growing at “a very impressive pace”, he said.

“We think coal consumption has peaked structurally, but whether what we are seeing now is the surge turning back into a decline, or whether it will still take some time, is hard to say.”

From Wednesday, as part of China’s unprecedented campaign to reduce winter air pollution, the Beijing area implements factory closures which will affect 25 per cent of China’s steel making and 10 per cent of cement capacity. Such measures could speed up the turnaround in China’s emissions.

Another outlook report on Tuesday from the International Energy Agency said a cleaner and more diversified energy mix from China was driving a transformation of the global energy system.

The report said the “boom years of coal are over”.

The Chinese government’s strong emphasis on cleaner energy technologies, largely to improve air quality, is catapulting China to a position as world leader in wind, solar, nuclear and electric vehicles, the agency said.

Mr Myllyvirta said the IEA “make it clear that [China’s] coal consumption has already peaked structurally, and CO2 emissions are going to see either a long plateau or a peak and decline, depending on both the rate of growth of clean energy and the direction the economy takes – continued reliance on polluting heavy industry sectors or successful transformation to a more modern economy”.

In Bonn, Mr Xie said China was on track to meet its commitment to reach a peak in carbon emissions around 2030. There were 87 low carbon provinces and cities, 51 low carbon industrial parks and 400 low carbon communities in China which will peak sooner, he said.