The Uniting Church today called for real leadership on Indigenous issues and for a vote on Indigenous health at the October 9 poll.
Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said reconciliation is more than just overcoming the legacy of our history and requires practical measures and committed leadership. He said the Church was calling on all parties to recognise past wrong-doings, apologise and commit to treaty with Indigenous Australians during the course of the election.
“Foundational issues like recognition, apology and a process of treaty or negotiations on how to achieve better outcomes for Indigenous Australians are more than just symbolic. They create a framework through which practical issues can be addressed in a context of trust and dignity.
“It is only then that we can deal with the shocking poverty, ill-health and disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians,” Rev. Drayton said.
The National Administrator of the Uniting Church Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Congress, Rev. Shayne Blackman, said Australia needed to immediately follow the lead of countries like Canada and New Zealand where similar rights-based approaches had already been successfully implemented.
"The health of Indigenous people in Australia is the worst in the developed world.
"The health crisis began with colonisation and dispossession then social and economic disadvantage became entrenched. In 2004, Indigenous disadvantage continues. Indigenous infant mortality is 2.5 times higher than that of other infants and the life expectancy of adults is 53 years with no improvement since 1990 compared to non-Indigenous people whose life expectancy is 77.
"We need immediate policies to address these issues and the Uniting Church believes that an immediate injection of funding - $475 million as suggested by the AMA - and restoration of a culturally appropriate representative Indigenous voice - could turn these statistics around.
"The Australian people have the courage and integrity to work with Indigenous communities to redress this national scandal. We call on the parties to make real and binding commitments to Indigenous health and Indigenous self-determination during this election campaign," Rev. Blackman said.
Media contacts: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
Uniting Church President Elect, Rev. Gregor Henderson has seen refugee camps before. But he was profoundly shocked by what he saw in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.
There are refugees from eight African nations in the camp but most are from Sudan.
Rev. Henderson led a small delegation from Christian World Service, the aid and development arm of the National Council of Churches in Australia, to find out more about the situation of Sudanese refugees in Africa.
We spent 24 hours in Kakuma. We slept in one of the refugee camp huts. Like the refugees we were without food for 24 hours.
“I’m going home with a pretty awful feeling,” Mr Henderson said just before we left Kenya.
“My overriding reaction is one of distress.
“I’m distressed at the circumstances that face these Sudanese people. They’re living in such dreadful circumstances in Kakuma.
“I’m distressed that it has gone on for so many years.
“And I’m distressed that we in Australia are not doing more for them, as churches and as a nation.”
As well as distress, Rev. Henderson feels admiration for the way in which the people of Kakuma seem to cope with their circumstances.
“We saw so many expressions of hope in God,” he said. “We saw so many acts of friendship with us, without any sense of resentment towards us, who have so much when they have so little.
“We even saw their ability to celebrate their culture and their Christian faith in the midst all this poverty, hardship and suffering and heartrending stories.
“In such uncertainty we saw people who seemed to be able to find hope from deep down.
“I’m distressed that people have been there eight, nine, 10 years - and a few even longer than that.
“They’ve had no useful employment in that time. They’ve lived grindingly on one meal a day. There’s a sense of the world passing them by and leaving them largely uncared for.”
Rev. Henderson left Kenya determined to do what he can to try to improve the conditions in Kakuma.
“We can’t just leave it there,” he said. “We can’t just tell their story and leave it at that. We have to do something more active - as a church and as a nation - to respond to their needs.”
Sudan’s future is uncertain. There is the tragedy of Darfur. A similar tragedy is looming in the east. And the peace talks between the north and the south have stalled yet again.
There could soon be fighting on three fronts between the Arab north and the Africans in the west, south and east.
Rev. Henderson said there is a great deal of uncertainty about the peace process between the Arab, Muslim north and the African, Christian south.
“We got such mixed messages about it,” he said. “The people from the church agencies seem to be much more optimistic than the people on the ground and the refugees themselves.
“If there is a peace agreement within the next few months, that will create a whole raft of new needs. And the people will be highly vulnerable as they seek to re-establish themselves in their own homelands with all the difficulties they will face there, not only in the initial few months but also in the months to come.”
Rev. Henderson said he is proud that the churches around the world are trying help these people.
“I’m sure that the suffering Sudanese would be even worse off if it weren’t for the churches,” he said.
“Their own churches are obviously doing a tremendous job in the camp, holding them together and seeking to provide what little support for them that they can.
“The wider church community, including the Australian churches through Christian World Service, is offering them some assistance and offering to walk with them.”
Rev. Henderson wants the Australian churches to look at how we can provide more help to refugees who have been approved for resettlement in Australia to get here more quickly.
Too many refugees get visas to Australian only to find that the Sudanese in Australia can’t afford to pay their air fares. So their hopes are dashed and they go back to refugee camps.
Rev. Henderson said Australian churches have been making statements that congregations would be willing to support asylum seekers to live in the community, rather than in detention centres, while their cases are dealt with.
“We should be able to help Sudanese refugees to get a new start in life,” he said.
“Could churches supply no-interest loans for those the Australian Government has accepted as genuine refugees so they can come sooner, rather than later, and not have to depend on the Sudanese community in Australia to muster the money for their fares?”
He also hoped Australia can generate some concern about the paucity of rations for the people in Kakuma.
“Apparently all they are receiving is three kilograms of maize, with a little salt and cooking oil, per person per fortnight, with occasional lentils thrown in,” he said.
“Surely the international community can do better than that. Surely they’re entitled to more than one small meal a day and a bit more nourishment for them and their children.”
Refugees asked the delegation to take up three points with the Australian Government. They would like Australia:
- To increase the number of refugees.
- To support education for refugees in Africa.
- To be ready to help in the reconstruction of Southern Sudan when a comprehensive peace
agreement is eventually signed.
“There’s plenty for us to speak to the Government about - and there’s plenty we can consider as further assistance from the church,” he said.
Rev. Henderson said he was very glad that the delegation had been invited to share the refugees’ conditions for 24 hours.
“I’m pleased we accepted the invitation of the Presbyterian community to live with them for 24 hours as they have to live,” he said.
“Knowing that we were there for only a night and a day meant it was no great sacrifice on our part. But I’m please we made that act of solidarity. We probably gained in credibility because of that.
“Even that taste says to us that they have one very poor meal each day, and each of those meals is the same - what you could call maize porridge - day after day, year after year.
“Eating would be no pleasure. Your body must accommodate to it somewhat. You would go to bed hungry each night and wake up hungry every morning.”
The delegation slept in a mud hut with very little ventilation.
“We were sleeping only two to a room. They sleep eight, or 10, or even 15 to a room. I can’t imagine that being anything but unbearable, night after night.
“There’s a complete lack of privacy and the sanitation provisions are so primitive. So are the cooking facilities.
“And the heat - and we were at the cool time of the year!
“This small taste we had of life in Kakuma makes me admire the spirit of the people.
“They seem so uncomplaining about their lot. If I had to do it for three or four days in a row I’d be at my wit’s end.
“You wonder what it must do to your long term health. Many of them, of course, said they feel sick. That probably speaks of malnutrition and various infections.
“We weren’t given mosquito nets - and we were blessed that there weren’t many mosquitoes.”
Rev. Henderson said there is a high incidence of malaria and digestive infections. “The level of medical care is very basic,” he said.
“We saw people who had had broken limbs that had never been properly set. We met people who needed operations for bladder and other problems. They can’t have them because the facilities just aren’t there.
“So the taste of their life was depressing. It makes you marvel that they can cope with it.
“We heard that every week children die because of inadequate facilities and lack of nutrition.
“I’ve been in refugee camps in the Middle East and Sri Lanka. These are the worst I’ve seen in terms of provisions and facilities.
“There’s no way that people can grow anything for themselves with that climate and the lack of water.
“The welcome we were given, as members of the fellowship and family of Christ, was extraordinary. We weren’t bringing any solution for them.
“I’m pleased we were able to share their conditions, rather than go off at night to somewhere a little better than where they were sleeping.
“It was a solidarity visit, not a spectator visit.
“The grinding hopeless of it all is terrible. It really turns your heart over. It’s appalling. It shouldn’t be.”
- The Rev. Gregor Henderson is chairperson of Christian World Service, the aid and development arm of the National Council of Churches in Australia. He is also national president-elect of the Uniting Church in Australia
The Uniting Church has welcomed the compassion and decency being shown to TPV refugees who have established work and family connections in Australia, but said recent changes will leave many refugees no better off.
UnitingJustice National Director, Rev. Elenie Poulos, said yesterday’s announcement should be followed up by policy changes that address the real problems facing Australia’s refugee protection system.
“These changes prove that all that is required to treat people humanely is political will. But this attempt to address the needs of current TPV holding refugees ignores the fundamental flaws in our humanitarian program.
“This is an initiative which will only benefit some groups of TPV refugees and does not address the real problems. Minister Vanstone’s visa juggling may appear impressive but she is, in fact, dropping the ball.
“The Government is obviously confused: they know that they have been harsh and abusive in their treatment of refugees but do not want to appear ‘soft’ – so now we have a policy that is good for some people while being of no help to others. The attempt to portray themselves as a caring Government lacks credibility as long as they continue to espouse policies that deter and punish people fleeing persecution and harm,” Rev. Poulos said.
Under the Government’s changes vulnerable TPV refugees who have not been able to work and who do not have family or close community connections are unlikely to obtain a visa. The most needy and vulnerable are likely to be left unaffected. Future asylum seekers will continue to be caught up in this messy visa system.
Rev. Poulos said that this is not a policy change – temporary protection visas are one of many of the Government’s punishment and deterrence policies that need to be overturned to restore integrity to our humanitarian program.
“In recent times, the Government’s visa juggling has unnecessarily complicated and confused our migration programs and visa arrangements. Protection claims have been pushed from onshore to offshore, unnecessarily complicating the program numbers. TPV refugees onshore are now being given opportunities usually held for offshore applicants, confusing the important distinction between refugees and migrants. Meanwhile, refugees who have claims processed under the Pacific Solution or offshore processing arrangements on Christmas Island continue to be unable to apply for onshore protection visas.
“No-one could be blamed for being confused. The Government itself is obviously confused.
“The Uniting Church calls on the Government to stop juggling visas, to grant permanent protection to those Australia has recognised as refugees, to restore integrity to the humanitarian program, and to make our visa system sensible and just,” Rev. Poulos said.
Media contacts: Rev. Elenie Poulos, 0417 431 853
Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
The High Court’s decision to uphold the indefinite detention of stateless people is proof that a new system of complementary protection is urgently needed in Australia.
UnitingJustice National Director, Rev. Elenie Poulos, said Ahmed Ali Al-Kateb and Abbas Mahammad Hasan Al Khafaji, who have both been refused asylum, now face the prospect of life-long detention in Baxter.
“This is a shocking outcome that exposes the current policies and the associated legislation as not only unreasonable but abusive. It creates the possibility that refused asylum seekers who have no home to return to may die behind electrified fences in Australia,” Rev. Poulos said.
Rev. Poulos said that this problem stems from the fact Australia does not have an administrative process to assess applications from those who are not refugees, but engage Australia’s protection obligations under other international treaties such as the Convention Against Statelessness.
“Statelessness is an international problem. Australia could be part of the solution. The type of complementary protection system suggested by the Church and others would allow visas to be granted on humanitarian grounds to people who are stateless.
“Minister Vanstone has seen the complementary protection proposal developed by Amnesty, the Refugee Council and the National Council of Churches. We hope that this current situation will encourage her to give it further consideration. We also hope this decision will encourage Labor to do the same because up until now, they have rejected our request, and the request by UNHCR, to consider complementary protection.
“Being stateless is not an individual's fault. It is not a crime and no-one deserves to be locked up for the term of their life just because a country refuses to accept a person as their citizen,” Rev. Poulos said.
“This legislation must change. The land of the fair-go has disappeared. There is no land of the fair-go as long as this legislation remains in place.”
Media contacts: Rev. Elenie Poulos, 0417 431 853
Gavin Melvin, Senior Communications Officer, 0417 416 674
Key family services providers of the Uniting Church have welcomed the Australian Government’s commitment to establishing family relationship centres that will put a focus on mediation and dispute resolution ahead of the court system.
Unifam Counselling, UnitingCare and UnitingCare Australia all welcomed the new changes that build on the existing partnerships between government and non-government agencies who have a track record for evidenced-based service delivery.
Clive Price, Executive Director of Unifam said that the concern that Unifam has had with the current adversarial system is that it in effect equips and encourages parents to fight better, longer, and with greater expertise. “The challenge is to find processes which promote the building of safe and enduring relationships between children and their parents. We hope that the Family Relationship Centres will allow and promote this to happen. The focus needs to be on fostering relationships post separation so that the interests and needs of all those involved are met and that primarily, it’s not about legal solutions” Mr rice said.
Mr Price said Unifam also welcomed the immediate injection of funds to existing services to strengthen the work they are already doing.
“This new funding will help us continue our existing work as the Family Relationship Centre network is set up. It recognises that the current system of mediation and counselling works as an early preventive measure and that counselling shouldn’t just be available when relationships end.”
Burnside CEO Jane Woodruff said the move to a non-adversarial system of mediation outside of the courts would have significant benefits for children and put children’s safety at the forefront.
“We are very pleased to see the Government has responded to the recent Federal Bipartisan Child Custody report in a way that recognises negotiation, family-by-family solutions and a non-adversarial approaches. From our wide-ranging experience working with children we know that joint solutions found outside of the courts deliver far better outcomes for all concerned, especially young children.
“Burnside acknowledges the focus on the important role of fathers particularly the emphasis on their role as parents and the needs of their children. It is refreshing to see the focus on them as fathers. We welcome an extension of these programs and certainty of funding for existing programs like those being run by Burnside.”
UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said it was important that the new Family Relationship Centres worked cooperatively with existing services.
”The UnitingCare network would like to see improved integration between these new services and existing family support services, especially for those families for whom three hours of dispute resolution will not be enough and where children may be at risk.
“We welcome the release of a discussion paper on family law reforms and will be arguing the current processes of the Family Court must streamlined and made less expensive for those families where mediation fails or is not an option.”
Clive Price, Executive Director, Unifam: 0417 681 686
Jane Woodruff, CEO, Burnside: 0402 891 325
Lin Hatfield Dodds, UnitingCare Australia: 0408 402 222
The Uniting Church in Australia today expressed deep concern that problem gambling will increase if new Internet gambling activities are allowed in Australia.
Uniting Church National President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said reports in today’s media suggesting a merger between PBL and Betfair could signal an increase in problem gambling in Australia.
“The Federal Government has banned casino style internet gambling but its decision to allow Internet betting exchanges to operate offshore has opened the door to worrying mergers like the one suggested between PBL and Betfair.
“At the heart of this merger is an attempt to set up new deals with Australian sporting bodies like Cricket Australia, which, until now, have been off limits for Internet gamblers,” he said.
“This merger would make gambling more accessible and appealing by opening the door on a whole new range of sports gambling opportunities. This would inevitably lead to an increase in problem gambling.”
“Government’s have a moral responsibility to ensure that residents are protected from undue risk, especially those whose existing gambling is excessive and causes them harm.
“A 2002 report by UK gambling support service, GamCare showed the number of clients with sports gambling problems increased from about 2% of all clients to over 25% of clients in just one year after exchanges were introduced.
“In the 2002 - 2003 year Australians gambled $128.3 billion and 300,000 Australians were identified as having gambling problems. 1
“The Internet makes gambling easier and less personal and allows problem gamblers to remain anonymous,” he said.
"The Uniting Church calls on the Federal government to hold its nerve, maintain the current ban on Internet gambling in Australia and resist overtures by BetFair, PBL Broadcasting and other Internet-based gambling providers," Rev. Drayton said.
Media contacts: Reverend Dean Drayton, 0400 354 237
In his report the Assembly Standing Committee, President, Rev. Dean Drayton, told delegates that his first year has been one of growth in a national and international perspective.
“Being in this position changes you,” Rev. Drayton told the ASC.
“When I came into this position I really thought that I had a good perspective on the life of the Church. Now, after a year, I have realised that it’s a job I am still growing into and that as I travel across the country and meet with people, I get a better understanding of the local and national issues facing them.”
“If the Church also thinks globally and nationally, then we will get a different perspective and a different appreciation of God’s calling,” he said.
He emphasized, “Since the gospel is the heart of our message, we need to find the language of today so that people can hear again the wonder of God’s new possibilities.”
“Our experience in Indonesia, which was focused by the past President, Rev. James Haire has shown us the importance of interfaith dialogues and in realising that we need to express the gospel in a way that will speak into this issue of the twenty first century.
“Our current political landscape has created a society where many people have an individualised view, to the extent of creating suspicion of those who are different.
“Interfaith dialogue is an important first step in addressing these issues both internationally and within Australia and our Church is leading the way in this area.”
Rev. Drayton said he was heartened by the number of people who expressed support for the Church’s commitment to a fair society.
“We have an inhumane immigration system that is denying basic human rights, and the fourth highest level of poverty in the developed world.”
“As a Church, we are already doing great things to help address these issues and wherever I have travelled, I am thrilled that people are living out their faith in their community life and engaging widely on these sorts of issues.”
“Despite being a broad Church serving many different people, these are the type of things that bring us together as the Uniting Church and bind us in a shared expression of our faith,” Rev. Drayton said.
The Uniting Church will enter a new era, working with the NCCA and the Federal Government to develop interfaith dialogues across the Asia Pacific region. Uniting Church President Rev. Dean Drayton, said the Standing Committee at its July meeting agreed to participate in regional interfaith dialogues that will build on the work already being undertaken by the Church within Australia. It follows a recent announcement by the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, to investigate the possibility of the Australian and Indonesian Governments to developing interfaith regional conferences in South East Asia.
“After that announcement at the NCCA forum, we moved a resolution that the NCCA look to play an active role in developing these conferences because of the experience Churches like ours already have in this area. “Flowing from this I felt it was important that the ASC endorse Uniting Church participation so that we could share our own very broad experience at the table and play a part in making these conferences a success. “I’m pleased that the ASC agreed to support the National Council of Churches resolution to try and work with the Federal Government to develop interfaith dialogues because I think we have some very useful experiences to share,” Rev. Drayton said. “We know from our work in Australia and overseas in Ambon that interfaith dialogues are often a vital first step in addressing broader social problems.” “Of all the Churches in Australia, the Uniting Church knows better than any other about understanding difference and focusing on the things that unite us, and it is from this experience that we have worked so hard to support interfaith dialogues already.” “I look forward to working with the NCCA to develop similar dialogues across our region,” Rev Drayton said.
The Uniting Church recently signed a new covenant with Australian Churches that President Rev. Dean Drayton believes, would not be possible anywhere else in the world.
Rev. Drayton told the Assembly Standing Committee that the covenant, signed on Sunday July11 by National Council of Churches members was a milestone in the life of the Church in Australia.
“While I was sitting in the Cathedral on the night the covenant was signed, the realisation of what we were doing finally struck home.
“We had been able to put aside a range of differences and focus on the things that we shared together. I really had to ask myself in what other country could churches who are so involved in their communities sign such a covenant?”
“The covenant is wide and varied and includes things such as resource sharing, common mission and ministry, common sacrament and shared ordained ministers.
“The nature of the covenant varies between churches, but one thing that we all share is the common commitment to the process and an understanding that ecumenical renewal is integral to the church's mission.
“It acknowledges that within the one faith community – the body of Christ – we all have a wider responsibility to spread the word that God is totally committed to all humankind.
“The covenant will open possibilities, provide guidelines and give encouragement to congregations locally to covenant together.
“It is only by finding the limits of what is permissible between Churches, that we can define what is possible for all of us.”
The full text of the covenant is available at htttp://www.ncca.org.au/departments/faith_&_unity_commission
The Uniting Church will enter a new era, working with the NCCA and the Federal Government to develop interfaith dialogues across the Asia Pacific region.
Uniting Church President Rev. Dean Drayton, said the Standing Committee at its July meeting agreed to participate in regional interfaith dialogues that will build on the work already being undertaken by the Church within Australia.
It follows a recent announcement by the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, to investigate the possibility of the Australian and Indonesian Governments to developing interfaith regional conferences in South East Asia. “After that announcement at the NCCA forum, we moved a resolution that the NCCA look to play an active role in developing these conferences because of the experience Churches like ours already have in this area.
“Flowing from this I felt it was important that the ASC endorse Uniting Church participation so that we could share our own very broad experience at the table and play a part in making these conferences a success.
“I’m pleased that the ASC agreed to support the National Council of Churches resolution to try and work with the Federal Government to develop interfaith dialogues because I think we have some very useful experiences to share,” Rev. Drayton said.
“We know from our work in Australia and overseas in Ambon that interfaith dialogues are often a vital first step in addressing broader social problems.
“Of all the Churches in Australia, the Uniting Church knows better than any other about understanding difference and focusing on the things that unite us, and it is from this experience that we have worked so hard to support interfaith dialogues already.
“I look forward to working with the NCCA to develop similar dialogues across our region,” Rev Drayton said.