Thursday, 05 December 2019

Pacific churches ask Australia to step up

Pacific Church leaders have asked the Australian Government to respect their countries as equal partners in our region at a historic meeting at the Federal Parliament in Canberra.

“We do not seek a hand-out or a hand-up,” Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) General Secretary, Reverend James Bhagwan told Prime Minister Scott Morrison and others gathered for the launch of the annual Voices for Justice campaign.

“We of the Pacific are a resilient people. We seek to journey hand-in-hand, for as we do so, we will contribute to the flourishing of both peoples.”

"Our journey with our Australian Christian brothers and sisters in Christ is an example is the kind of partnership the Pacific is looking for from Australia.''

Representatives from Fijian, Papua New Guinean and Tongan Councils of Churches attended the meeting along with representatives of the Anglican Diocese of Polynesia, Kiribati Uniting Church as well as youth representatives of the Pacific Disability Forum and the Institute of Mission and Research.

They joined 200 Australian Christians in the Federal Parliament speaking to Federal MPs, Senators and senior public servants about Australia's Pacific Step Up program over three parliamentary sitting days

The Pacific Church involvement was facilitated by the PCC with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Micah Australia.

The Pacific Church leaders raised issues of climate justice in the Pacific and human rights abuses in West Papua.

"We're grateful for the opportunity to meet with Australia's decision makers and to discuss what it means to be a part of the Pacific family,'' Rev. Bhagwan said.

UCA Minister of Niuean background and Assembly Circle Advocate Rev. Dr Matagi Vilitama was one of several UCA members who was part of the Australian Christian delegation.

His group met with two MPs from the NSW Central Coast, Emma McBride and Lucy Wicks, and he shared his personal story of being a person of Pacific background in Australia.

“We spoke about climate justice and issues like violence against women and children and how Australian aid was supporting communities in the Pacific,” said Rev. Vilitama.

“It was great that we were able to talk about our lived experiences as Pacific Islanders in Australia as well, because many of us here are struggling to support families and relatives back home.”

Micah Australia CEO Rev. Tim Costello said that the event aimed to achieve the government’s “Pacific step up” in a manner that was “smart and inclusive.”

“We know how you do this,” Rev. Costello said.

“It’s by coming together and actively listening to the issues our Pacific brothers and sisters say need addressing most – like work on gender equality, development partnerships and climate change. That’s why we are here and what we are doing in Parliament with our delegation.”

Australia’s aid program has experienced several cuts under the Coalition Government, which has previously indicated that aid would increase once the federal budget returned to surplus.

“At a time when our region needs Australia more than ever, we have cut aid to the lowest level ever in history,” Rev. Costello said.

“In the geopolitical competition for the Pacific, we must ensure poverty reduction is not lost. We must retain our focus on improving the lives of our Pacific friends and neighbours.”