The Uniting Church today expressed frustration and disappointment with the regulations for the new Bridging (Removal Pending) Visa which gives the Minister for Immigration absolute power and offers no rights of appeal for people who take up this visa.
National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, Rev. Elenie Poulos, said that while the visa is an acknowledgement by the Government that the indefinite detention of asylum seekers is unacceptable, DIMIA has again failed to demonstrate compassion or decency.
“We are very concerned that people can only apply on invitation from the Minister. On what grounds will people be invited and on what grounds will they be denied?
“There is no right of administrative appeal in relation to this visa and it could well be used by the Minister and DIMIA to keep people locked up indefinitely on the grounds of undisclosed issues of ‘character’,” Rev. Poulos said.
“DIMIA has once again demonstrated their lack of regard for transparency and accountability. The Minister’s discretionary powers are increasing at an alarming rate. When people’s lives are at stake, surely we must develop systems that provide at least some reasonable checks and balances.
“To take up this invitation, people must be willing to trust the Minister’s assessment about when their removal might be ‘reasonably practical’. We know that the Government has wrongly imprisoned and deported people, and the Uniting Church believes that they have also deported people into extremely dangerous situations,” she said.
“Who could blame asylum seekers for now not trusting any advice that the Minister would receive from her Department?
“We are also concerned that people will only have seven days to reply in writing to the Minister’s offer. This is an unreasonable expectation for people whose English is limited, and who are locked away in remote desert and island locations that have been proven to damage people’s health and well-being. Will they have time to take advice before accepting this visa and will they be psychologically well enough to make such a critical life decision?
“When announcing this visa seven weeks ago, the Minister promised that it would come with work rights and access to Medicare. It appears that holders of this visa will be able to work (if they can find someone to employ them) but that they will not have access to Medicare because they have to give up any application for a permanent visa,’ Rev. Poulos said.
“This visa is a rotten deal for people who need care and compassion. We were hoping that it would offer a chance for a decent life for those asylum seekers with nowhere to go. It is unlikely that this hope will ever be fulfilled with this sad and inadequate visa.”
Rev. Poulos is available for interview on request
The Uniting Church in Australia today urged the Federal Government to continue to oppose the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons and put pressure on countries who threaten the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) ahead of the upcoming review of the treaty in New York.
Uniting Church President, the Reverend Dr Dean Drayton, said the Church was concerned that pressure might be brought against countries like Australia to soften their stance on nuclear weapons during the Review of the Treaty being held from May 2-27.
“Nuclear weapons pose the single greatest threat to peace in the world. There are about 30,000 nuclear warheads ready for use and about 5000 of these are on hair-trigger alert. There can be no room for human error when it comes to nuclear weapons – they must be taken off ‘ready-to-launch’ status and complete disarmament must happen.
“Australia has a always taken a strong stand against the proliferation and development of nuclear weapons and I have written to the Foreign Minister, the Hon. Alexander Downer, urging him to take a lead role in ensuring that the 2005 Review Conference focuses on both nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
“Every Australian dreams of a world without conflict and violence and the Uniting Church hopes that at this NPT Review Mr Downer works to bring those dreams closer to reality.
“We have asked that the Australian delegation express our country’s unwavering commitment to Article VI of the Treaty, which calls for a complete nuclear disarmament, and push hard for the implementation of the 13 point action plan of the 2000 Review Conference, which includes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We have also called on Mr Downer to seek a resolution which requires all nuclear weapons-holding States to immediately lower the operational status of their weapons systems.
“At our Tenth Assembly in 2003, the Uniting Church stated its belief that genuine global security will only ever be achieved by working for an end to the arms trade, preventing the proliferation of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction and requiring progressive disarmament of all nations.
“The Church believes that the ownership, use, or threatened use, of nuclear weapons is evil and threatens peace every single day. In an increasingly unstable global environment it is now more important than ever that Australia continues to work toward total nuclear disarmament,” Rev. Drayton said.
Rev. Drayton is available for interview on request
Three Uniting Church members will be spend a week living near Athens in early May participating in one of the great global Missionary Conferences.
Over 500 participants will gather from May 9th to May 16th for the World Council of Churches Conference on World Mission and Evangelism.
The 13th of its kind, the conference is the successor to the great Edinburgh Conference held in 1910 which is seen as the symbolic beginning of the ecumenical movement in the 20th Century under the famous banner of “evangelise the world in our generation”.
Led by Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, the Australian delegation will explore the theme of ‘Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile’.
Others attending include Catherine Lambert a candidate for Minister of the Word in WA. She has been involved in Confronting Racism Workshops, the Walking Together Consultation, was a previous volunteer in mission in Tonga, and About Face 4 participant.
Rev. Helen Richmond, the National Director for Multicultural and Cross-Cultural Ministry in the Assembly has had extensive involvement in giving a voice for a multicultural Uniting Church after serving as a chaplain at the famous Selly Oak Mission Centre in the UK
Rev. Drayton, who brings a lifetime of work in the field of mission and evangelism including lecturing in Missiology and Evangelism at United Theological College in Sydney, said the conference promised an enriching experience for delegates.
“It is fascinating reading the preparatory papers. Not surprisingly reconciliation and healing are at the centre of the discussion. On the Tuesday the main theme will be presented, followed by Wednesday’s themes ”Called in Christ to be reconciling and healing communities” On Thursday we will explore “Mission and Violence”, followed by sessions on “Healing on Friday. The conference will conclude on Saturday with a final message – “Reconciliation”
“I was surprised to see the number of times the subject of miraculous healing was mentioned. Clearly there is a strong emphasis on justice in society and communities as well as healing for individuals in body mind and spirit, as well as in community. It promises to be an important time of considering how we are God’s people in this time. This is the first Conference since 9/11 so it will be important to hear how healing and reconciling relate to other world faiths. We wait to hear how this meeting in the Decade to Overcome Violence speaks to this the first decade of the 21st Century,” Rev. Drayton said.
On Sunday April 10th an earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter Scale was recorded 120 kilometers south west of the Sumateran city of Padang. Located close to the Mentawai Islands, this recent earthquake lies in the same fault line as the March 28th earthquake (registering 8.7) and the December 26th earthquake and consequent tsunami (registering 9.0). This is a highly unstable region with 5 earthquakes registering above 6 in the past 5 days.
No reports have been received as yet from the the remote Mentawai Islands concerning damage or loss of life. Meanwhile the latest report from Nias indicates the number of dead resulting from the March 28th earthquake is around 1,500 people. Approximately 5,000 people have injuries while 71,000 people are homeless. Following the March 28th earthquake, the local hospital in Gunungsitoli collapsed and the local airport was severely damaged. Schools, government buildings, churches and mosques were severely damaged or destroyed. Around 80% of the major town, Gunungsitoli, has been severely damaged with other major centres suffering similar levels of damage. Acess to Nias is via a 12 hour ferry trip from Sibolga on the island of Sumatera. Roads and major bridges in Nias have been destroyed while electricity and telephone lines are down. Hundreds of people are fleeing Nias each day on the ferry due to food shortages and the fear of futher devastating earthquakes.
Uniting Church Overseas Aid sent $A.10,000 to Nias on 6th April. This was in response to a call from the Protestant Christian Church in Nias for emergency humanitarian assistance. The Uniting Church in Australia is also contributing to the relief effort in Nias through ACT International. This is an ecumenical emergency humanitarian relief agency. Implementnig partners in Nias include Church World Service, Yayasan Tanggul Bencana (YTB) and Yakkum Energency Unit (YEU).
Today, April 12th, Rev Yono Abadi from the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania left for Medan in Indonesia. Rev Abadi will travel to Nias to visit local churches and to demonstrate our concern to those who are suffering in the region. Rev Abadi will also gather further information and develop contacts with grassroots community organisations. This will enable the effective distribution of aid in Nias by Uniting Church Oversea Aid.
Rev John Barr
Executive Secretary (Asia)
Uniting International Mission
I was deeply saddened by the earthquake which so damaged Gunungsitoli, the principal town on the island of Nias. This Easter devastation followed on from the Christmas tsunami which killed at least 3,000 people on the island, and wrecked an already fragile economy, especially on the West of this Island made up principally of Christians. Nearly a thousand people are known to have died in the town itself.
I visited Nias in middle February, and we met the representatives of the Protestant Church there called the BNKP, and Bishop Geya. We met near the principal church building on the island, and drove often along the main street and visited some of the restaurants there, and a village not far to the South. There is a sense this earthquake brings home the devastation to me more than in Banda Aceh because I know the people there and know their town. Most of the two story homes are gone, the main Church and other Churches flattened, and the main road into town is the place where rescue efforts continue hoping to free people alive from beneath the masonry. Far less were killed than the 200,000 killed in Banda Aceh, but it is another tragedy that calls out for help from us, sister Churches to the Churches in Nias.
Updated reports are available from the UIM web site, documenting ways that congregations and individuals can help. We had already determined a course of action prior to the earthquake, but now, since Gunungsitoli has been hit, the communications nerve centre for the island no longer is functional. We are sending people to visit there and doing all we can to make contact again, and find the best way to add to our previous plans to provide assistance. Already money has been sent to the church for emergency purposes. Please pray for the Christians and Muslims in Nias, and the surrounding islands, and encourage your communities to continue giving.
Grace and Peace
Rev Dr Dean Drayton
President of the Uniting Church in Australia
The 8th International Christian Youth Conference on Evangelism (ICYC) is being held in Rio de Janeiro from July 19 to 26. Arranged by the World Methodist Council, it will attract young adults from around the world.
ICYC will be set in a missional context and will provide opportunities for young people from Australia to spend time with the Church in Brazil and Chile before and after the conference.
Input will come from world leaders like Grace Imathu, Eddie Fox, Paulo Lachlan’ Mvumi Dandala and key Youth ministers from around the world.
Rev. Ken Anderson, the Regional Secretary for Evangelism of the World Methodist Council is hoping to take a group to the conference from Australia.
“Pope John Paul was an amazing man who will be sadly missed. He was the most important religious figure of the twentieth century.
“He helped bring the Iron Curtain down and thereby initiate a new era in international relations. He was a strong advocate for peace in world events He reached out to Orthodox and Protestant Churches in ecumenical initiatives,” Rev Dean Drayton said.
“He galvanised Roman Catholics with a global vision, making the world his parish. Who will ever forget his kneeling to kiss the earth on the various continents?
“He gave a special place to the young in amazing meetings of the faithful which were often more than a million strong.
“He was cautious in implementing the directions of Vatican 2 and in the last decades hesitant to admit any change. He finally became a strong advocate for conservative voices in the Church while continuing a public call for the right of all to live human lives to the full.”
Rev. Drayton is available for interview on request
“The Tsunami Wall” is one creative response to the Tsunami being offered at the Flinders University of South Australia by Uniting Church Chaplain, Geoff Boyce.
Geoff and Rabbi Patti Kopstein, members of Flinders Multifaith Chaplaincy, invited staff and students to paint, draw or scribble their thoughts and feelings on “The Wall” during the month of March.
“Asian students, in particular, have stopped to paint and draw using their own languages and symbols,” said Rabbi Patti.
‘Some students have been touched by this opportunity and have said that they are going away to ‘think about it before returning to add their expression”.
Panels will now be hinged together to form an artistic installation as a memorial to those who lost their lives and a tribute to those who have donated their money and lives in the rebuilding effort.
“The Tsunami has had a big impact on Universities because of the number of students, past and present, who come from affected areas and because university staff and graduates are rising to the challenges in >response to the devastation,” said Geoff.
The inaugural President of the Uniting Church in Australia Rev Davis McCaughey died on March 26 at the age of 90.
Dr McCaughey, who was also Victorian Governor from 1986 to 1992, died at his North Melbourne home with his wife Jean and his family by his side. A service of Worship celebrating the life of Dr McCaughey will be held at St Michael’s Uniting Church Melbourne, at 2.30pm on Thursday, March 31.
Dr McCaughey was a theologian, master of Ormond College at the University of Melbourne, and inaugural president of the Uniting Church in Australia.
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 12, 1914, John Davis McCaughey came to Australia in 1953 to be Professor of New Testament Studies for the Theological Hall at Ormond College.
Dr McCaughey was a key architect in bringing together the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches to form the Uniting Church in Australia and and was president of the first Assembly of the Uniting Church in 1977 to 1979.
He was the primary author behind the Basis of Union, the foundational theological document that led to the formation of the new denomination.
Uniting Church President, Rev Dr Deam Drayton, said Davis McCaughey has had a lasting influence on the shape of spiritual and social consciousness in Australia.
“He provided much of the vision, wisdom and intellectual strength behind the union of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches.
“We see his graceful and intellectual touch on the Basis of Union, the foundational document of the Uniting Church. His insight and commitment was in response to the real movement of the Holy Spirit to bring the Uniting Church into being.
“Dr McCaughey also served the people of Victoria with compassion and distinction as Governor of Victoria.
“His commitment to education and learning was also profound.
“He served as Master of Ormond College for twenty years, was Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, sat on the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and was responsible for the theological formation of many hundreds of Ministers in Victoria and Tasmania.
“We give thanks to God for a man of great insight, wisdom and gentle spirit. I extend the whole of the Uniting Church’s condolences to Jean and all the McCaughey family.”
Dr McCaughey is survived by his wife of 64 years, Jean, and by five children - including former National Gallery of Victoria director Patrick McCaughey - 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A service of Worship celebrating the life of Dr McCaughey will be held at St Michael’s Uniting Church Melbounre, at 2.30pn on Thursday, March 31. The McCaughey family has respectfully requested no flowers and asked that donations be made to Uniting Church Overseas Aid for its project to develop a secondary school in Leos, East Timor.
The President of the Uniting Church, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said today that he was relieved that the cruelty of detention will be over for a small number of people, but expressed disappointment that nothing is being done for the majority who remain in detention.
“What we see today is a minimalist approach which does nothing to address the policy of mandatory detention and gives a relatively small number of people some short-term relief while they wait to be sent home.
“We remain deeply concerned for the well-being of these people, who will remain stateless even though they will be living in the community. They are being released because they cannot be resettled but who knows if they will ever have a place to go!
“Today’s decision leaves these people with no more long-term certainty than they have ever had and is a sad indictment that the lack of generosity continues. Even while the Government has acknowledged that more compassion should be shown, it has refused to make the policy changes necessary for a just system,” Rev. Drayton said.
UnitingJustice Australia National Director, Rev. Elenie Poulos said thousands of people have been damaged and traumatised by a cruel detention and visa system.
“This approach requires people to drop their review and court processes and trust a Government that has kept them incarcerated for years.
"The Removal Pending Bridging Visa is just another example of this cruel approach. People who have had no home will remain in a state of limbo with some access to services but no opportunity to rebuild their shattered lives," Rev. Poulos said.
Rev. Drayton said while the Government remains so intransigent, the Uniting Church will continue to advocate for asylum seekers and refugees in the community and in detention both here and in Nauru.
“We have been supporting all detainees, especially those who have had a religious experience that would mean life threatening situations if they were to express their new faith in their home country.
“I am personally responsible for those people in detention centres who have worshipped faithfully as Uniting Church members over the last five years. They have studied hard and undergone long preparation before being baptised into the Uniting Church.
“We are also committed to finding answers for all others who suffer daily the abuse of current Government policy,” Rev. Drayton said.
"We look forward to the release of more people from detention. At this Easter time, we call on the Government to act with greater compassion – to return to asylum seekers some of the dignity we have stolen from them.”
"We call on the Government to change its approach, to treat people as we ourselves would want to be treated. It is time for Australia to offer hope and security to people who have lost all hope and remain in fear for their lives," Rev. Drayton said.
Dr. Drayton and Rev. Poulos are available for interview on request