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Flexible, affordable child care should be a priority of the next Federal Government to ensure all families are able to balance the needs of work and family life.

Uniting Church National President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said the Church wanted to see a child-centred approach to children’s services that focuses on what is in the best interest of children and recognised their developmental, spiritual and social needs.

“Family friendly policies have been a key issue for both major parties during the campaign, yet none have given a real commitment to making child care more accessible.

“Access to child care is a major part of ensuring we have cohesive families. More and more families need to use child care to balance work and family commitments but so far we’ve only had passing commitments from all parties that they will make child care more available,” Rev. Drayton said.

Rev. Drayton said families deserved real answers on how each of the major parties would ensure child care is more affordable, within close proximity, and available to all families at the times they need it.

“Without clear details of how they will make child care more accessible and affordable, promises of extra places are empty promises,” he said.

UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds said the UnitingCare network has witnessed the growing shortage of centre-based child care places now available to working families.

“While both sides of politics pledge more government funded before and after school places and in-home care this is simply playing at the edges. The real answer must focus on the growing demand from working families for centre-based care, which receives no direct Federal Government operational assistance.

“UnitingCare’s not-for-profit centre-based care providers are facing an on-going battle to recruit and retain staff, pay wage costs – which account for around 80 per cent of our running costs - and keep fees at an affordable level for families.

“The stringent regulatory standards required and our focus on providing quality care means it is imperative our centres recruit professionally trained staff. Unfortunately, the low award wages offered to child care workers have made the profession unattractive and there are now widespread staff shortages.

“We struggle to fill vacancies in existing centres, let alone find the staff needed to consider opening more centres to meet the growing demand for places,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.

Ms Hatfield Dodds said simply increasing Federal Government rebates or offering free care to families was not the answer.

“Increasing the CCB rebate means parents will get more back after paying their child care fees - it won’t help meet the costs of paying staff wages and it will do nothing to help attract more staff into the sector. The Federal Government needs to consider training and wage subsidies to attract more staff to child care. It is only then that providers will be able to attract the high quality staff that are needed to expand existing centres or open new ones. Without this, the promise of more places will be a very empty one for Australian families.”


Media contacts: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
Lin Hatfield Dodds, UnitingCare Australia, 0408 402 222

 

Monday, 27 September 2004

The "Forgotten Australians" Report

The Uniting Church today expressed regret and sorrow to the children who suffered neglect and abuse while in institutional care provided by the Uniting Church and its agencies during the last century.

"On behalf of the Uniting Church and our agencies, I apologise unreservedly for any physical, psychological or social harm that might have occurred," National President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton said.

“I deeply regret that some children were let down while in the care of the Uniting Church and former Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches.”

Rev. Drayton said the recent Senate Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care highlighted a number of cases where children suffered at the hands of caregivers.

“The Inquiry painted a disturbing picture of life for many young people who lived in institutional care. The Uniting Church through its agencies managed a number of these facilities and sadly, some did not provide the love, nurturing and care that the children in them so rightly deserved.

“The Inquiry highlighted the flaws in institutional care models and the need to ensure they are never repeated,” Rev. Drayton said.

“The Uniting Church, through our family and community services networks, has developed new models for providing care and services to children. The Church is committed to ensuring that children and families receive the best facilities and care possible and we are constantly working to improve them.

“The Senate Inquiry reminds everybody involved in delivering services and care to children that we all need to work together so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

“The Uniting Church welcomes the Inquiry and its recommendations – they provide a basis on which Governments at all levels and care providers may move forward together by acknowledging past wrongs and addressing them appropriately. We are committed to working with government to respond to the issues raised during the Inquiry,” Rev. Drayton said.

This statement was endorsed by the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia and the Moderators of the Synods of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Synod.

Rev. Allan Kuchler Mr. Jim Mein Rev. George Woodward
Moderator of Queensland Moderator of NSW Moderator of the Northern Synod

Rev. Dr Graham Humphris Rev. Sue Gormann Rev. Gemmel Sherwood
Moderator of South Australia Moderator of Victoria and Tasmania Moderator of Western Australia


Media contact: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674

Last Saturday (18 September) Julia Baird wondered “why the religious left are such pussycats when it comes to politics”. While she offered several explanations for why this may be the case, she failed to consider that the premise itself may be wrong.

Those of us who stand for a more progressive Christianity and who might be regarded as ‘religious left’ (or just ‘mainstream’ if the point of reference is the ‘religious right’ Christianity made famous by Jerry Falwell) try hard to little effect – the Uniting Church has made a number of public statements every week of the election campaign only to be ignored by the media.

It is distressing that the most prominent Christianity that figures in public consciousness these days is the reductive faith Julia writes about – faith concerned more about personal morality and judgement than caring for our neighbours. While this brand of Christianity may indeed find expression in party politics, most of the mainstream churches express their politics from within the church—speaking to government as the church—and in the day-to-day non-party political work of making life better for people. Through church agencies such as UnitingJustice we also work to encourage people’s participation as active citizens in our democratic state so that we don’t just have ‘leaders’ speaking out but local congregations and individuals enabled to discuss and raise issues in ways appropriate for them. In his piece ‘Labor blunders in bidding war’ (20 September), Robert Manne remarks on ‘the absence of any vision of the future’. It is not a point he comes back to as he assesses the effectiveness of Labor in the bidding war that is this election campaign. So maybe another reason that the mainstream churches appear absent is that we are calling for visionary leadership and this is obviously not what election campaigns are about.

What we do have in this election is a small-minded battle for the same tiny garden – the choice is between two gardeners working with the same plants but with slightly different methods of watering and feeding. The aim is to convince us to trust one or other of them to deliver more produce from that tiny garden.

The social, political and economic agenda that defines contemporary Australia is an agenda held without question by both major parties. This is why there are so few differences between the major parties and why talk about vision is unnecessary. The Church, however, does question the values and ideological assumptions behind this agenda.

When the potential prime ministers are fighting about who will fight better, who wants to talk of peace? When they are fighting over who can put more money into our pockets each fortnight, who wants to hear about homes for the homeless? Who wants to hear about justice when economic growth is what matters most? The pussycats are growling, Julia, but no-one is listening.

Rev. Elenie Poulos
National Director
UnitingJustice Australia

 

The Uniting Church believes that it is time for the issue of global poverty to make a splash in this election campaign. “We do our country’s future no good while we continue to play around the edges of ending global poverty,” Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton said today.

“As a thriving nation, Australia must be a responsible global citizen that looks out for those countries most in need.”

Rev. Drayton said Australia had a good record when it came to overseas aid and development but was in danger of jeopardising it with its response to debt relief and low levels of aid and development funding. He urged politicians to commit to do more, especially in our own region.

“In a world where 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 a day, 113 million children do not attend school and 11 million die prematurely each year, Australia needs to recognise that security cannot be found by blindly pursing our own economic agenda and closing ourselves off from the world’s pain.

“We have a responsibility to use some of our wealth and prosperity to help those countries ravaged by war, natural disaster, endemic poverty and unsustainable levels of foreign debt. It’s appalling that so many impoverished countries are forced to spend more on servicing their foreign debt than they do on services and basic necessities for their own people.

“The Government needs to recognise that there is little point in giving aid and development funds when debt repayments swallow up any revenue and long-term economic benefit generated by that funding.

“We call on all political parties to commit Australia to cancelling the unpayable component of debt in countries like the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Iraq, Vietnam, Nepal and Bangladesh. These debts cannot be paid without long-term harm to the well being of those nations,” Rev. Drayton said.

Uniting International Mission National Director, Rev. Bill Fischer, said the Church’s decades of experience delivering government aid and privately funded development projects in the Asia-Pacific region has shown the importance of meeting our promises to fight international poverty.

“In September 2000, Australia was one of 191 United Nations members that signed the Millennium Development Goals which outlined specific and achievable ways to eradicate poverty and make development a reality for those in the poorest nations on earth.

“Part of our commitment was a ten-year pledge to commit 0.7 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product to aid and development. The Australian Government has failed to live up to its promise. In 2001 and 2002 only 0.25 per cent was spent and there is no sign of any improvement in the future.

“In the face of the huge need we must rise above our economic self-interest. There can be no security for Australia while so many millions of people continue to live in poverty throughout the world,” Rev. Fischer said.


Media contacts: Reverend Bill Fischer, 0408 448 801
Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674

 

Monday, 20 September 2004

To answer to terrorism must be peace

In a time of violence Australia must lead the way for peace.

The Uniting Church is concerned that in response to terrorism, defence and security are becoming synonymous with the idea that violence is acceptable.

The President of the Uniting Church, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said that the language used by our leaders, of ‘hunting them down’, of ‘long and bloody battles’, is the language of a nation which has lost its way.

“What the Church seeks from the leaders of our nation is a vision which takes us beyond fear and towards hope – the hope that peace is possible,” Rev. Drayton said.

“As Christians, we believe in God who is on the side of all humankind. We must take seriously Jesus’ command to ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’.

“This is why the Church does not support aggression, retaliation, or people using one violent act to justify other violent acts. Complex issues require considered responses, even when they manifest themselves in dramatic and threatening forms.

“Extending love and prayers to those who treat us badly isn’t always easy. It can be difficult enough to respond with love when our family or friends upset us, let alone when we see extreme injustices or cruelty inflicted on others. The desire to prevent perpetrators of violence from repeating their crimes can make violence appear as the appropriate and necessary response. But violence will never bring an end to violence. Only peacemaking will end violence.

“Peacemaking is hard work. It takes patience and a great deal of courage, but the alternatives currently being offered will only promise further despair, hatred, fear and death,” Rev. Drayton said.

Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of UnitingJustice, said that Australia must find ways to break the cycle of violence rather than give in to it.

“An act of terrorism is not only a criminal act but an attack on humanity. Terrorists must be brought to justice, but we should never gloat at their death. It has been shocking to hear our nation’s leaders express delight at someone being shot dead, regardless of who they are, and shocking to hear their support for the death penalty in other countries.

“The methods we use to end terrorism and the society we create in the process will be the legacy we leave to our children. We cannot afford to abandon the hard won systems and institutions of international law and diplomacy.

“Whenever we commit violence in response to terrorist acts, the terrorists win. In setting aside justice and proclaiming the way of peace as too hard we give in to fear and condemn our world to a violent future.

“We must catch the perpetrators of terrorism and bring them to trial for their crimes against humanity. We must certainly work to disempower terrorist groups throughout the world. This work includes building respect and understanding between all peoples and encouraging respect for human rights world-wide. It includes the provision of good and appropriate development aid, focussing especially on education in the communities in which terrorists find fertile ground.

“This election, if our national leaders are serious about ending terrorism, they should stop talking of war and pre-emptive strikes and instead commit to defending and securing Australia’s future by prioritising our support for local peace-building programs throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

“The Uniting Church in Australia is just one institution with experience in such programs. It is the only long-term solution to terrorism and it is the only sure way to peace,” Rev. Poulos said.


Media contacts:
Reverend Dr Dean Drayton, 0400 354 237
Reverend Elenie Poulos, 0417 431 853
Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674

 

The Uniting Church believes that it is time for our political leaders to redefine the meaning of the national interest.

The President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton today said that too often the national interest is invoked to describe policy directions and decisions which are selfish and greedy.

“Australia’s real national interest lies in our commitment to the well-being of all people. Our future will never be secure while the world still suffers the effects of inequality, poverty, greed and violence.

“Australia’s national interest will always be served when we take seriously the costs of our policies to people living in other parts of the world. It will always be served when we behave as a generous and compassionate country and it will always be served when we act in the world to improve the lives of as many people as possible,” Rev. Drayton said.

“For Australia to be a good global citizen we need to be willing to take a lead in working to transform the world into a community that operates on principles of social, economic and environmental justice and peace.”

The Uniting Church believes that Australia’s support for the United Nations is a vitally important aspect of our global citizenship.

Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of UnitingJustice, said that this is why the Uniting Church has been concerned about the Howard Government’s reactions to critique by some UN human rights treaty committees.

“The Government has been disdainful and dismissive of many recent UN committee reports, refusing to engage in constructive conversation. This sends a message to other countries that it is acceptable to hide behind the claims of national sovereignty and national interest whenever adverse criticism is offered.

“We are also concerned that the Government has sought changes to the UN treaty system that would reduce the ability of committees to critique democratic governments.”

“One sign of a truly democratic country is its commitment to accountability and transparency. How can we call for such openness on the part of other countries while claiming an exemption for ourselves? It is both hypocrisy and poor international leadership.

“The Howard Government has reduced Australia’s reporting to UN committees and restricted their visits to Australia. They have even refused to allow Australian women to seek any recourse for human rights abuses from the UN Committee charged with eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.

“The Labor Party, in its National Platform, promises to ‘advance more than self interest’ in its foreign policy and to actively contribute to the UN. It has, however, recently demonstrated a willingness to contradict its own party platform. In light of the apparent ease with which policy backflips are managed, we call on the Labor Party to recommit its support for the UN and detail how its promise to deliver a less selfish foreign policy will take effect.

“We call on all parties to support a return to generous funding of the UN and commit Australia to working with UN agencies in a positive and constructive manner. We must not continue down the destructive path of withholding funding to the UN and its agencies and undermining its authority.

“The UN is not perfect but it is one of the key institutions for the development of good global order. Australia’s role as a global citizen must include supporting its healthy, democratic reform. Australia’s national interest will be served by working with the UN for a just and peaceful world,” Rev. Poulos said.


Media contacts: Reverend Elenie Poulos, 0417 431 853
Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674

 

Friday, 17 September 2004

Let's not forget the real battlers

The Uniting Church today urged the Liberal Party not to forget the 3.6 million Australians living in poverty.

The economic growth of the last two decades has passed many Australians by and Australia now ranks fourth in the developed world in the United Nations Human Poverty Index.

Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said the Church wanted a serious bi-partisan commitment to tackle poverty.

“The Labor party and State and Territory leaders have signed a communiqué committing to put poverty on the agenda of the Council of Australian Governments and to develop a plan of action but so far we have not seen a similar commitment from the Liberal Party.

“As both sides try to woo the traditional Aussie battler, we are concerned that the needs of the 3.6 million real battlers struggling to live on a household income of less than $400 a week are being sidelined from political debates.

“The Uniting Church believes that all Australians are entitled to a decent life, secure from the fear of poverty. Everybody should have access to work, education, housing, food and recreation. It’s a disgrace that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world 860,000 children live in jobless households and 3.6 million Australians live below the poverty line.

“Poverty is everyone’s business and we ask the Liberal Party to commit to the development of a national plan to address it,” Rev. Drayton said.

UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said UnitingCare, the Church’s national community services network, works with over one million Australians every year and has seen the growing economic divide emerge in Australia.

“Today 10 per cent of Australian households own 45 per cent of our wealth while half of households own only 7 per cent of Australia’s wealth.

“Every year more and more Australians are suffering an unacceptable standard of living.

‘Poverty is no longer just about those who don’t have a job. Many working Australians now find themselves struggling with poverty and it is time our leaders stood up and took a stand against it,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.

“The causes of poverty are many and varied. Tackling poverty needs a whole of Government approach with the Federal Government taking a national leadership role.

“This election, we ask the Liberals to match their national economic growth plan with a national plan to address poverty, developed in partnership with all levels of government, local communities, business and research sectors. Australia’s real battlers deserve nothing less,” she said.


Media contacts: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
Lin Hatfield Dodds, UnitingCare Australia, 0408 402 222

 

Thursday, 16 September 2004

Homeless Australians need a voice

It’s time for our political leaders to find answers for the tens of thousands of homeless Australians who have no safe place to sleep each night according to Uniting Church National President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton.

Rev. Drayton said homeless people were among the most marginalised and disadvantaged in Australia and had no voice in the political landscape.

“For homeless people simply finding a clean, safe place to sleep each night is a struggle. Everybody deserves a secure and reasonable standard of housing but for these forgotten people this is not the case.

“In a political landscape where security is at the core of our leaders’ rhetoric, we must remember that there can be no real security without justice for the tens of thousands of homeless people who come to organisations like the Uniting Church for help day after day,” Rev. Drayton said.

UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said UnitingCare agencies across Australia provide emergency relief and a range of other support to homeless people.

“In recent years we have seen more and more people coming to our services with a number of problems at once. These include homelessness, unemployment, mental health problems and drug and alcohol dependency.

“People who are homeless are more likely to experience poverty, are far more likely to suffer violence and frequently go without basic food and health requirements,” she said.

“Political leaders should develop a national housing strategy targeting homelessness and providing more affordable housing for low-income households.

“A national housing strategy must be backed up with a commitment to extended funding for the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program so that homeless people have access to safe and secure housing.

“Cooperation between State Governments and the Federal Government is required to increase the availability of public housing and address the shortage of affordable rental housing across Australia’s major cities,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.

“Now is the time for the Federal Government to take leadership on this issue.”


Media contacts: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
Lin Hatfield Dodds, UnitingCare Australia, 0408 402 222

Wednesday, 15 September 2004

Don't forget our older Australians

The Uniting Church has called for a fresh policy debate around aged care in Australia to ensure quality of life and quality of care for older Australians.

Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said politicians need to focus more on quality aged care which leads to a decent quality of life for older Australians.

“The strength of any nation is measured by how well it looks after its most vulnerable. The Uniting Church wants to make sure that the aged care debate is about more than bed numbers and staff ratios, but that it focuses primarily on ensuring access to quality care for older Australians - particularly those who are socially and economically disadvantaged,” Rev. Drayton said.

UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said funding levels, increased access to in-home care and better support for carers are all critical areas that need addressing by the incoming Government.

“Through our national network of caring agencies, UnitingCare provides services to over 18,000 Australians - 12 per cent of all aged care services in Australia.

“We know there is a significant need for more community care funding to meet the demands for respite care and in-home care for those who do not want to enter a nursing home,” she said.

“A commitment to improved funding must also include a specific commitment to improve the planning and integration of community care programs to avoid duplication and to ensure that services can be quickly and easily accessed by all.

“Policy must focus on the quality of care given to older Australians because research shows this directly impacts on the quality of life they experience. Funding must be sufficient to provide high quality person-focused care. At the moment current indexation arrangements for funding are not keeping up with the cost of providing care.

“In one UnitingCare agency for example, wages for staff rose between 7 and 18 per cent from 2002 to 2004 and other expenses like insurance and utilities rose by 15 per cent in the 2002/03 year. This current financial year the government has agreed to indexation totalling only 3.76 per cent.

“UnitingCare is committed to ensuring that access to aged care is based on need, not somebody's ability to pay. The current system often excludes the most disadvantaged and marginalised simply because they cannot pay a bond – whoever wins government must change this,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.


Media contacts: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
Lin Hatfield Dodds, UnitingCare Australia, 0408 402 222

 

Wednesday, 08 September 2004

Our forgotten communities

The Uniting Church is urging our leaders to build communities which are more than just houses and infrastructure, but places where people can grow and work together for a better future.

Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, expressed concern at the growing disconnection between people who live in the same neighbourhood.

“The strength of a country is measured by the strength of its communities and this election is a perfect time for Australia’s political leaders to outline how they would work together with state and local governments, business and community groups to re-energise and enliven our local communities,” Rev. Drayton said.

The Uniting Church’s National Director of UnitingJustice, Rev. Elenie Poulos said the Church is concerned that the health of Australia’s communities is under threat.

“We can see it in places where unemployment begins its third generation, where amenities are few and services overstretched, and where the physical environment is damaged and polluted,” Rev. Poulos said.

“We also see it in the pressure to work longer hours and to consume more.

“This makes our communities vulnerable to cynicism, violence, greed and the intolerance of difference. The end result is that neighbours don’t get to know each other and local support networks fail those in need.

“There can be no security for Australian communities without a nationally coordinated approach to providing the services, resources and support they need to flourish.

“We need a commitment to careful planning in the development of new communities. We can’t afford to see more housing estates built where little or no consideration is given to local employment opportunities and the long-term need for essential services like hospitals, public transport, schools, childcare centres, parklands and recreation facilities.

“We also need a commitment to transforming existing communities. This calls for family and community friendly work policies, proper support for local spaces like libraries and parklands, decent funding for public schools, hospitals and transport, and encouragement of local initiatives that build supportive and inclusive neighbourhoods.

“No one level of government can do it alone, which is why we need real leadership from the Federal Government combined with a commitment from all levels of Government to work with communities to find solutions,” Rev. Poulos said.


Media contacts: Reverend Elenie Poulos, 0417 431 853
Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674