Chinese whistleblower granted political asylum

‘Rebecca’ Jun Mei Wu has told SBS News she is relieved to have been granted asylum in Australia.

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Ms Wu worked for the digital arm of the People’s Daily state media empire from 2012 to 2016. She fled the city of Wuhan for Sydney after being detained and questioned by security officers over her affiliation with an underground Protestant church.

“I’m very thankful to the Australian government for saving me from certain imprisonment in China,” Ms Wu told SBS.

“My relatives are still under surveillance back home. The situation journalists face in China is dire.”

In a series of interviews with SBS last year, Ms Wu described the personal crisis she underwent when she was confronted by the systemic repression and censorship involved in the state media which is controlled by the Communist Party.

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“I left because I didn’t want to work in party propaganda anymore,” Ms Wu said.

“Telling the truth was not how we did business.”

Her husband remains in China, where authorities have placed him under a domestic travel restriction, which prevents him from leaving the city in which he works.

Ms Wu’s flight from China provided a rare insight into the workings of state media there, which has seen an increase in censorship directives and online surveillance under the watch of President Xi Jinping.

The former Communist Party member also documented several cases of extortion involving the People’s Daily, in which reporters were told to find evidence of corruption before blackmailing companies.

“It was cash for silence, basically,” she told SBS.

In one instance, she alleged that the Daily’s Wuhan bureau extorted more than 627,000 RMB every year from chemical manufacturer Chuyuan Technologies, which had done massive ecological damage to nearby villages after dumping effluent in the Yangtze River.

“This was our arrangement: Chuyuan would pay us $119,000 per year, and we would hold off on reporting any of these things that were affecting local people,” she explained.

“In addition to that, Chuyuan would get advertising space – as well as good press in our reportage.”

Ms Wu was detained by public security officials last year after managers discovered psalm notes at her workplace.

After intense questioning, she was asked to “infiltrate and monitor” her church group and to pass the information to security forces.

Her detention came at the height of a state crackdown on underground churches in China, in which a prominent pastor Father Gu Yuese was detained by authorities alongside his lawyer.

Reverend Bill Crews of the Uniting Church in Ashfield, who gave Ms Wu sanctuary upon her arrival to Australia, praised the Immigration Minister for his decision to grant asylum.

“I am so pleased by this decision,” Reverand Crews said.

“The immigration department and the minister have acted commendably.”

Watch The Feed’s interview with Jun Mei Wu about her case:

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Listen to coverage of the case on SBS Mandarin.

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Turnbull backtracks on GST promise in WA

Six months after getting a standing ovation for promising to fix the GST system that was short-changing WA, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has backtracked and now says the floor he promised to set for the states is years away.

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The comments are a significant election blow to Premier Colin Barnett, who said over the weekend he wanted an answer from the prime minister during his visit this week about where the floor would be.

“The GST is our one major financial issue. I’ve been banging on about that for the last eight years, and I’ll continue to do so,” he said at the Liberal Party’s campaign launch.

The state’s GST share fell to 30 cents in every dollar raised by the tax in WA last year, equating to a $4.7 billion shortfall compared to the state’s population share.

It is blamed by the Barnett government for its record $3 billion-plus deficit.

Mr Turnbull now says WA will have to wait until its share increased to about 70-75 cents in the dollar.

He wrongly said that was forecast to be in about 2020, but Treasury says it will only be about 60 cents.

“Clearly you want to set a floor at a time when no state will be a loser and we need to wait a few years until the Western Australia share under the current formula climbs back up to a more normal level,” he told reporters.

It will also require the agreement of other states, he says.

Mr Turnbull said he was being consistent with last year’s promise, but last August there was no mention of the change taking until 2020 or requiring the agreement of the other states and Treasury being unable to act.

He also said Labor leader Mark McGowan should not be promising to divert federal funds to help pay for Labor’s flagship election policy – the $2.54 billion Metronet train system.

Labor plans to scrap the $1.9 billion controversial Perth Freight Link road project, tear up contracts already signed for it and redirect part of the $1.2 billion in federal funds to Metronet.

“That’s not his money … the Perth Freight Link project is one of the top priority projects and was assessed very carefully by Infrastructure Australia, was fully costed and engineered and is ready to go,” Mr Turnbull told ABC radio.

“If he wants federal money for another project, he will have to make a case for it.

“Mr McGowan has no business case, even if this is the best idea in the world it will take years before it gets through all those hoops and governments can responsibly allocate the funds and get the work started.”

Mr McGowan says he is prepared to “have a war” with the federal government.

“We’ll get the money out of the commonwealth and if I have to have a war with the federal government I will, but they will cave in because Western Australia will not be intimidated or bullied,” he told reporters.

Mr McGowan said the federal and state Liberals had failed WA by not delivering changes to the GST.

Pence reassures Europe, demands NATO funds

Capping a European trip aimed at allaying fears about the new administration’s support, Pence said Washington’s backing for the EU remained “steadfast and enduring”.

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“Today it is my privilege on behalf of President Trump to express the strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the European Union,” Pence said after talks with EU president Donald Tusk in Brussels.

European allies have all been unnerved by Trump’s criticism of the EU as a vehicle for Germany, his praise of Britain’s decision to leave the bloc and his dismissal of NATO as “obsolete” even as he praises Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But Pence pledged the United States would keep working with Europe to boost the world’s two biggest economies, fight terrorism and defend eastern EU states against Russian encroachment.

Tusk, a former Polish premier, said that Europeans “truly needed” the meeting with Pence and that the 28-nation bloc counted on “wholehearted and unequivocal” US support.

“Too much has happened over the past month in your country and in the EU … for us to pretend that everything is as it used to be,” Tusk said.

Pence also met European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, a former Luxembourg premier, who stressed that the United States “needs a strong united Europe.”.

NATO ‘actions not words’

Scores of protesters gathered in the EU quarter of the Belgian capital during Pence’s visit, criticising the Trump administration’s attitude toward women, gays and climate change.

Two female protesters went topless and carried banners saying “Pence get out of our pants,” while another placard read “Love Trumps Hate”.

At NATO headquarters, Pence said Trump expects NATO allies to make “real progress by the end of 2017” towards meeting a goal they set in 2014 of raising defence spending to two percent of GDP over a decade.

“If you don’t yet have a plan — these are my words, not his (Trump’s) — get one. It is time for actions, not words,” Pence told a press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

So far, of the 28 NATO members, only the United States, Britain, Poland, Greece and Estonia have met the two percent target.

“America will do our part but Europe’s defence requires Europe’s commitment as much as ours,” Pence said Monday.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis delivered a similar message at a NATO defence ministers meeting last week, saying Washington could “moderate” its commitment if allies fail to pay up.

Pence, Mattis and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have stuck close to established policy during their first foray into Europe despite Trump’s previous pronouncements.

But they have also been left to cope with their president’s unpredictable remarks, and by a growing scandal over the new White House’s links to Russia.

Pence admitted on Monday he was “disappointed” that former US national security adviser Michael Flynn had given him “inaccurate” information about his contacts with Russia over US sanctions before he resigned last week.

However he said he fully backed Trump’s decision to accept Flynn’s resignation.

‘Very positive’

Pence’s visit came two days after Trump referred, during a rally in Florida, to a non-existent Swedish terror incident and urged people to “look at what’s happening in Brussels” as he listed a series of European cities struck by deadly terror attacks.

Pence said the United States would remain “full partners” with the EU in fighting terrorism, a Trump priority.

He also pledged it would defend Europe’s “territorial integrity” and said the Trump administration will “continue to hold Russia accountable” for the violence in eastern Ukraine and demand that Moscow honour the Minsk agreements for a ceasefire due to begin Monday.

Trump is expected to attend a NATO summit in Brussels at the end of May and he has also been invited to meet EU leaders.

An EU source told AFP that Pence’s meeting with Tusk was “very positive”.

“Will it allay all Europeans fears about Trump? No but it was the best we could have hoped for,” the source added.

Sharks can go back-to-back, says Ennis

They may have spluttered into the NRL finals but Michael Ennis predicts Cronulla are about to find another gear and are poised to pull off a premiership boilover.

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The Sharks must do it the hard way if they’re to be the first team in 24 years to win back-to-back titles after finishing fifth.

Not only is every game do-or-die, the black, white and blue are swimming against the tide of history with no team in the NRL era (since 1998) having come from outside the top four to win the grand final.

While Shane Flanagan’s men are widely considered one of the few teams capable of beating runaway pacesetters Melbourne, they must find form quickly.

The Sharks looked far from convincing in the closing rounds, winning just two of their last five, failing to win consecutive matches since round 21 and being pushed all the way by wooden-spooners Newcastle last week.

But Ennis, who was a part of the Sharks’ drought-breaking title win last year, said Jack Bird (shoulder) and Wade Graham (leg) shape as game-changers ahead of Sunday’s elimination final with North Queensland.

“Bird and Graham are huge inclusions,” Ennis said at the Fox League finals launch.

“Having those guys on the park, the Sharks play that semi-final-type football.

“I’ve got a feeling they are about to put the foot down. Sunday is huge in terms of building some real confidence.”

Also important, Ennis says, is the fact they have fallen on the softer side of the draw.

Should they beat the Cowboys, they would not be drawn to meet the Storm until the grand final – unless Parramatta can spring an upset against the minor premiers on Saturday.

“They’ve fallen on a good side of the draw. They are healthy. They get Bird and Graham back, they play the Cowboys at home,” Ennis said.

“We saw what that did for the Sharks last year. The Cowboys are depleted. They’ve been gallant with the injuries they’ve faced but Paul Green has done a tremendous job, I would imagine the Sharks would win that.

“Then they will face the loser of the Melbourne and Parramatta game and they have had success against both those sides in the regular season.

“I certainly think with their experience that they are well in contention to go back-to-back. “

No regrets staying with Cowboys: Taumalolo

Two years ago Jason Taumalolo very nearly became a Cronulla Shark.

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But the North Queensland enforcer has no regrets sticking with the Cowboys despite their dire plight ahead of Sunday’s NRL elimination final with his former suitors Cronulla.

Taumalolo was reminded of just how close he came to joining this weekend’s foes after Sharks captain Paul Gallen chewed his ear at the 2015 All Stars game.

“At the time I was (close),” Taumalolo agreed.

“I was still young and weighing up my options.

“I didn’t think Gal would be playing too much longer but the way he has been showing us young boys how to play, he’s still one of the big boys.”

However, Taumalolo said he did not wonder what might have been despite the Sharks’ success.

The NRL’s oldest player Gallen – who turned 36 last month – has found another gear to ensure the defending premiers are overwhelming favourites against the depleted Cowboys.

Reeling from an injury list that ballooned out to 12 players three weeks ago, North Queensland had to rely on other results to scrape into the top eight.

“I think the boys around me made my decision easy,” Taumalolo said of staying at North Queensland.

“I had the respect of my teammates and the coaching staff and I had it for them so that made my choice easier.

“And I love living in north Queensland and that won’t change any time soon.”

Taumalolo is on a collision course with Gallen on Sunday after amassing the most total run metres (4243m) and averaging the most metres per game (192.9m) this season.

But Taumalolo scoffed at the suggestion he was carrying the Cowboys’ finals hopes.

“We are not a one-man team,” he said.

“We have strike weapons right across the park, hopefully on Sunday they all fire.”

Problems linger as Australia dodge defeat

Relieved after Australia dodged a humbling series defeat to Bangladesh, skipper Steve Smith says his side must address their constant batting collapses or risk losing the Ashes.

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Australia escaped from their first visit to Bangladesh in 11 years with a 1-1 series draw, winning the second Test in Chittagong by seven wickets after losing in Dhaka by 20 runs.

Set a target of 86 runs to win after bowling out Bangladesh for 157 in their second innings, Australia needed just 16 overs to claim victory on Thursday with a day to spare.

Much of the credit will rightly go to man of the match Nathan Lyon, who became the first Australian to take 13 wickets in a Test in Asia.

Lyon’s 6-60 in the second innings took his wicket tally for the tour to 22, just one shy of Sri Lankan tweaker Rangana Herath’s record for the most dismissals in a two-match Test series.

He shared man of the series honours with David Warner, who backed up his drought-breaking triumph in Dhaka with a gutsy century in stifling heat during Australia’s first innings.

Recalled spinner Ashton Agar and electrifying quick Pat Cummins were also impressive, showing the fortitude necessary for them to forge long Test careers for Australia.

But while Bangladesh proved to be tougher opponents than their No.9 ranking would suggest, Lyon and Warner’s heroics helped to obscure some deep-rooted issues.

Australia undid the good work of their bowlers with dismal batting collapses in both Tests, and Smith admitted it was an issue they desperately needed to address.

“We would have much preferred 2-0 but it’s nice to get over the line here and have a 1-1 draw,” Smith said.

“I still think we have a lot of improvement in us. We probably let ourselves down at times throughout this Test match.

“I thought our first-innings bowling was very good to restrict them. Our first-innings batting, obviously the partnership between (Peter Handscomb) and Davey was fantastic.

“And then we got ourselves into one of our collapses that we’ve had.

“I think we’ve had 15 collapses in our last 14 games … that’s not good enough for an Australian cricket team.

“That’s something we really need to work on. We need to rectify that come the next series and the Ashes.”

Warner, Smith and Handscomb were the only Australians to make 50s during the series but Smith suggested Australia’s batting problems were largely above the shoulders.

“I’d say that probably 95 per cent of batting is mental and decision-making,” Smith said.

“I don’t think it’s technical a lot of the time. Guys just have to make better decisions consistently and hopefully be able to build some partnerships in the middle.

“You have to find ways to work with your partner out there, get another partnership going and stop the rut as such.”

GWS beaten, not broken by AFL loss: coach

Greater Western Sydney coach Leon Cameron saw enough in his side’s second-half fightback against Adelaide to suggest the Giants’ premiership dream is still alive.

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The rampant Crows kicked 5.3 to 0.1 in the second quarter at Adelaide Oval in a 12.12 (84) to 6.12 (48) qualifying final win on Thursday night.

GWS managed just one goal in the first half and now face a cut-throat semi-final against the winner of Saturday night’s elimination clash between Port Adelaide and West Coast.

“They’re a super side, they finished top for a reason and they’re hard to beat here, but I’d just love to have our time over again in that second quarter,” Cameron said.

“But we finished top four for a reason, we get a second chance, and we’ll bounce back.

“I couldn’t sit here and say that we’d bounce back if we had a really poor second half.

“But I was pleased with the second half … I think there’s a lot of light at the end of the tunnel for us.”

The Giants will be without star forward Jeremy Cameron for the Spotless Stadium encounter after he left the game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury.

Cameron missed four matches with hamstring problems in the second half of the season and could struggle to feature again this year.

“It’s his other hammy, it’s not the one that he had a few weeks ago, but we’ll scan it and see where it’s at,” Cameron said.

“It’s disappointing because his back half of the year with those hamstrings have worried him a bit.

“As disappointing as it is to lose one tonight there will be opportunities for boys to plead their case.”

Cameron also forecast more changes to the team, with Steve Johnson and Ryan Griffen to feature in a scratch match against Adelaide’s reserves on Friday.

Crows have unique AFL bond: coach Pyke

The death of Phil Walsh has given AFL flag favourites Adelaide a unique bond, Crows coach Don Pyke says.

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The Crows flew into a home preliminary final with a 36-point drubbing of Greater Western Sydney in Thursday night’s qualifying final.

Pyke is in his second season as Adelaide coach, appointed after the killing of Walsh, who was stabbed to death by son Cy in July 2015.

Cy Walsh was found not guilty by reason of mental incompetence of murdering his father, who was in his first season as Adelaide coach.

“Our group has been through something really unique,” Pyke said after Adelaide’s 12.12 (84) to 6.12 (48) thrashing of GWS.

“Obviously the passing of the previous coach in Phil Walsh has challenged them. It’s an unprecedented event and these guys have gone through that.

“And often loss is an opportunity for growth.

“So they have got something unique as a group and that is good to be able to work with that because the guys now have a sense of each other.”

Pyke said his players’ “genuine care” for each other was evidenced in their reaction to stalwarts Sam Jacobs and Brodie Smith on Thursday night.

Smith is expected to require a knee reconstruction and be denied a shot at a premiership after being hurt just over 10 minutes into the match.

Jacobs fronted despite still grieving the death of his 31-year-old brother last week from an undisclosed illness.

“It’s never easy when a player is dealing with a tragedy in his family,” Pyke said of Jacobs.

“It was always going to be difficult, to be honest, for Sam. And that is a credit to him that he is able to come in and perform the way he did under those circumstances.

“His commitment to being a professional player and also his commitment to the team, that he didn’t want to let them down.

“You could see that afterwards each player and coaching staff were super-proud of Sam and what he was able to do, but at the same time sad for Sam as well.

“He has lost his brother and the result, as happy as we all are, we’re still sad in our hearts for Sam.”

Stokes grabs six wickets for England before Windies hit back

With all eyes on Anderson as he edged towards his 500th test wicket it was all rounder Stokes who ripped through the West Indies either side of tea with career-best figures of six for 22 from 14.

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3 almost unplayable overs.

The flame-haired 26-year-old seemed to have given England a stranglehold on the winner-takes-all match but by the close of play on a murky day made for swing bowling West Indies had reduced their hosts to 46-4, still 77 runs behind.

Kemar Roach removed opening duo Mark Stoneman and Alastair Cook, both nicking behind to keeper Shane Dowrich.

Skipper Jason Holder had under-pressure batsman Tom Westley lbw and then captured the prize wicket of Joe Root for one to keep alive West Indies’ dream of a first series win in England since 1988.

England were 24-4 at that stage before Stokes and Dawid Malan saw the hosts through to the close without further loss.

“It was a difficult pitch to bat on, we would have liked to have had only one or two wickets down but overall we are happy,” Stokes, who grabbed his first five-wicket haul at the historic London ground to become only the eighth player to get his name on both Lord’s honours boards, said.

Difficult was something of an understatement as batsmen from both sides endured a torrid day, with the ball hopping around under the Lord’s lights that blazed under grey skies.

The toss was one neither West Indies skipper Holder or Root would have relished winning but Holder guessed right and felt obliged to bat first, hoping his side could reproduce the form that earned them a stunning five-wicket win at Headingley having been thrashed in the first test at Edgbaston.

After battling their way to an encouraging 78-2 with opener Kieran Powell and Headingley hero Shai Hope sharing a fluent 56-run third-wicket partnership it seemed West Indies had weathered the storm which saw Anderson reduce them to 22-2.

They lost their last eight wickets for 45 runs though with Stokes their chief tormentor.

500-CLUB

Anderson, beginning the day needing three wickets to join spinners Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne, Anil Kumble and fellow pacemen Glenn McGrath and Courtney Walsh in the 500-club, was frustrated when Cook dropped Kraigg Brathwaite on three.

But he got his man soon enough when keeper Jonny Bairstow pouched a catch and after a 40-minute rain delay Anderson moved to 499 when Kyle Hope edged him to a diving Bairstow.

Shai Hope struck seven boundaries in his 29 before he was caught by Cook off the bowling of Toby Roland-Jones.

In the next over Stokes stooped to catch Powell’s drive off his own bowling for 39, the highest score of the day.

Jermaine Blackwood’s wild swing saw him bowled by Roland-Jones to leave West Indies on 100 for six before a fired-up Stokes polished off West Indies.

Roston Chase had no chance with a devilish ball that straightened and hit off stump and two balls later Shane Dowrich nibbled at one to give Cook another catch.

Holder had his middle stump clattered by a huge Stokes inswinger and Roach and Shannon Gabriel were lambs to the slaughter as Stokes got them in consecutive balls.

“Bowling in the warm-up this morning, the ball was swinging, so it wasn’t surprising when we saw how much the ball was doing,” Stokes said.

Soon it was England’s turn to suffer though as Roach and Gabriel steamed in with a series of 90mph deliveries.

Stoneman went in the third over, nicking a Roach delivery to Dowrich. Cook scratched around for 43 balls before edging a superb delivery to Dowrich before Westley and Root succumbed to leave the game tantalisingly poised.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)

Israeli defence chiefs warn Iran, Syria after air strike

Syria’s army accused Israel of hitting one of its positions, killing two people in an attack earlier the same day that a monitor said targeted a site where the regime allegedly produces chemical weapons.

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“We are determined to prevent our enemies harming, or even creating an opportunity to harm, the security of Israeli citizens,” Avigdor Lieberman said in Hebrew, in remarks broadcast on Israeli television.

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“We shall do everything in order not to allow the existence of a Shiite corridor from Tehran to Damascus.”

The site struck near Masyaf, between the central city of Hama and a port used by the Russian navy, is reportedly used by forces from Syria’s allies Iran and the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.

Israeli planes have previously carried out strikes believed to have targeted the transfer of weapons to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which fought a devastating war with the Jewish state in 2006.

#BREAKING : Israel Airstrikes now on #Syria Regime Technology (chemical) building in #Hama pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/S24ZknPQv1

— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) September 7, 2017

Israel has long warned it would not allow the transfer of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and has accused Iran of building sites to produce “precision-guided missiles” in both Syria and Lebanon.

In comments made earlier, the head of Israeli military intelligence, Major General Herzl Halevi, did not mention Thursday’s strike directly but warned his country’s enemies “near and far”.

“Serious security threats to Israel are presented by armed organisations most of them financed and aided by Iran,” he said in a public address.

“We are dealing with these threats, both near and far, with determination and our enemies in every arena know very well the combination of (our) precise intelligence and operational capabilities.”

UK hate crimes against LGBT people double

Hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Britain have almost doubled in the past four years, campaigners say, with one in five people targeted in the past 12 months.

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A newly-released survey of 5000 LGBT people by pollster YouGov found 16 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents reported experiencing hate crimes, such as abusive language, threats and violence, in the past year, up from nine per cent in 2013. Transgender people were not included in the 2013 poll.

Gay rights group Stonewall described the trend as “alarming”, with these high levels of abuse leaving many people feeling unsafe in their daily lives and almost a third avoiding certain streets.

Stonewall’s campaigns director Paul Twocock said four in five LGBT people who experienced a hate crime or incident didn’t report it to the police.

“Although we’ve come a long way in creating legal equality for LGBT people, the reality just hasn’t caught up with that,” Twocock told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Although Britain is one of a handful of countries where LGBT people have equal constitutional rights, abuse and discrimination against them remain rife, say activists.

One in 10 LGBT people surveyed reported discrimination when seeking to rent or buy a home or at a live sporting event, with higher rates when visiting cafes, nightclubs or places of worship.

Also one in 10 of the respondents said they had experienced abuse online in the last month, with the number increasing to one in four – or 26 per cent – for transgender people.

“There’s a sense of distrust of the authorities among LGBT people, who may not report hate incidents against them out of fear they won’t be taken seriously,” said Twocock, calling for stronger legislation and improved police training.

‘Insulting portrayal’: Anglican community slams ‘trivialising’ lamb ad after complaints

Australia’s Anglican community has expressed their outrage over the controversial lamb advertisement that has angered the Hindu people.

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Melbourne Anglican Bishop Philip Huggins said Meat and Livestock Australia’s campaign was “cleverly disrespectful”.

He said many Anglicans shared the disappointment and anger of the Hindu community.

Bishop Huggins said the ad put “Jesus Christ at the same table as L. Ron Hubbard and trivialises one of Jesus’ most beautiful miracles”.

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“Jesus at the last supper before his crucifixion and then resurrection – [the ad] seems to be using that wonderful, deep and mystical event as something they are just appropriating to their sell their sheep,” he told SBS World News.

He was referring to the depiction of Jesus turning Greek goddess of love Aphrodite’s glass of wine back into water after she told him she was driving in the ad.

Bishop Higgins said he had quite extensive feedback from the community that people were ‘hurt’ and the ad was ready to ridicule people’s religion just to make a profit and get people eating more lamb than cows, pigs or chickens.

The moment in the ad where Jesus turns Aphrodite’s glass of wine back into water.YouTube / We Love our Lamb

“The advertisement is cleverly disrespectful. It seems that for an ad to stand out there has to be some bizarre or shocking component. Otherwise the fear is it will not be noticed,” Bishop Huggins said.

He said he did not want to address the ad as it would draw attention to it but he decided not to stay silent on the “insulting portrayal” because it may have been construed as “tacit acceptance”.

“Australia’s wool industry has thrived for more than two centuries without having to insult anyone to sell its product,” Bishop Huggins said.

“Like most depictions of my faith in the public domain, this ad just left me feeling sad.”

MLA came underfire this week after they launched its latest marketing campaign featuring actors portraying Jesus, Lord Ganesh, L. Ron Hubbard and Buddha.

The Australian Advertising Standards Bureau has received about 30 complaints about the ad.

An ASB spokesperson told SBS World News most people who complained cited discrimination and vilification on the grounds of religion.

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But Meat and Livestock Australia said it had never intended to offend anyone with its new campaign.

“Lamb is the meat that brings people together. Our ‘You Never Lamb Alone’ campaigns have promoted the value of unity and inclusivity. This latest campaign instalment is no different,” MLA Group marketing manager Andrew Howie said.

“The campaign features gods, prophets and deities from across a wide range of religions alongside atheism, in a clearly fantastic nature, with the intent of being as inclusive as possible. To achieve this we undertook extensive research and consultation.”

Mr Howie also pointed out Ganesh was sitting across the table from Buddha who was another vegetarian.

“Neither of them are eating meat or drinking wine but they were willing participants at the party which we would hope everyone can come together and celebrate their difference,” he said.

Hindu Council of Ausralia spokesperson Balesh Dhankhar said they were “very hurt and angry about this ad campaign”.

“The reason being the Hindu community cannot imagine their deity, Lord Ganesh in this case, as eating meat,” he told SBS World News.

Mr Dhankhar said most people who follow Hinduism were vegetarians and seeing Lord Ganesh in this manner was “very insulting”.

Council of Indian Australians president Mohit Kumar demanded an apology from MLA and wanted the ad to be scrapped.

Mr Kumar also pointed out the release of the ad had come at a time where Hindus were celebrating a religious holiday dedicated to the deity, Ganesh Chaturthi, which ran from August 25 to September 5.

It is an event celebrated by millions of Indians who believe Lord Ganesh appears on earth for 11 days.

“All we ask of MLA is to take [down] the ad voluntary and just apologise to the Indian community and move on, that’s it,” Mr Kumar told SBS World News.

FBI sees no Trump meddling in Russia probe

FBI Director Christopher Wray says he has “not detected any whiff of interference” by the White House into the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

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Speaking publicly on Thursday for the first time since being confirmed as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wray also expressed confidence in Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating whether President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia during the election.

“I can say very confidently that I have not detected any whiff of interference with that investigation,” Wray said during a panel discussion at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington.

Wray was installed as FBI director after his predecessor, James Comey, was fired by Trump in May. In an interview with NBC after Comey’s removal, Trump admitted he was thinking about “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire the then-FBI chief.

Comey later told Congress he believed Trump had tried to get him to drop an FBI probe into former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, as part of the broader Russia investigation – testimony that has raised questions about whether Trump was potentially trying to obstruct justice.

The White House has repeatedly denied the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the election.

Trump’s advisers and allies also have questioned Mueller’s independence and credibility, with some pointing out that he has hired attorneys who have given political donations to Democrats.

But Wray said he has “enormous respect” for Mueller, who is also a former FBI director. He stressed that Mueller is running the probe but said the FBI is assisting by dedicating agents and providing other support to the investigation.

Wray also reiterated his confidence in a January report compiled by US intelligence agencies which concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election and tried to tilt it in Trump’s favour – a finding Trump has often questioned.

Prior to his confirmation as FBI director, Wray had only read a non-classified version of the report.