The contribution and value of the National Conferences of migrant communities within the Church was affirmed by the Assembly Standing Committee.
The Standing Committee heard a report from Multicultural Ministry National Director, Rev. Helen Richmond about the ways National Conferences assist migrant congregations to play a more active role in the life of the church.
“National Conferences enable the voice of different communities within the Uniting Church to be heard as they make a distinctive contribution to the life of the Uniting Church,” Rev. Richmond said.
The ASC also resolved to encourage the Councils of the Church to consult with National Conferences, particularly when they are making decisions that impact these communities.
“As national networks that bring together representatives of congregations of the same culture for consultation and sharing, the National Conferences enable issues and concerns of different communities to be communicated to the appropriate Councils of the Church.” The Assembly declared itself a multicultural church in 1985 and acknowledged the need for migrant communities to be able to come together in worship, sharing and discussion in their own language. In 1987, the Togan community was the first to hold a National Conference and today there are 8 National Conferences in the Church. A review done in 2003 showed that National Conferences benefit the communities as well as contribute to developing leadership capabilities of people from the different communities which enriches the whole church.
Rev. Richmond told the ASC the Church took a major step forward at the last Assembly in increasing the number of ASC appointed members of people from non-Anglo backgrounds in the Assembly from 6 to 12.
“This was a very welcome step for migrant communities and congregations. Having the National Conferences involved in nominating people to the Assembly is one way the Assembly can increase the number of members from non-English speaking backgrounds as well as recognise the important place of the National Conferences in the life of the Uniting Church.”
The decision of increasing the number of people appointed by the ASC from non-Anglo cultural and linguistic backgrounds will come into effect at the 11th Assembly. The Standing Committee is to find the most appropriate means of implementing this desire.
Uniting Church National President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, today welcomed a doubling of Australian Government funding to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS.
“We applaud the Government for committing an extra $300 million to combat the virus in the Asia-Pacific region – a region where last year 1 million people were infected and half a million people died.
“While infections have been relatively stable in Australia, the Uniting Church has constantly made the point that Australia has an obligation to the rest of the world, especially our neighbours in the Pacific.
“Two of our National Directors wrote to the Prime Minister late last year urging for an increase in the level of government funding to combat HIV/AIDS.”
“Australia has been a leader in tackling HIV/AIDS in our own country and this new funding sends a message that Australia takes its role in the region seriously and is prepared to commit to working for a better future.”
“It’s heartening that the Government has listened to groups like the Uniting Church and committed to a new strategy at the Asia/Pacific Ministerial Meeting
on HIV/AIDS,” Rev. Drayton said.
UnitingJustice Director, Rev. Elenie Poulos, who co-signed last year’s letter to the Prime Minister, said the Government’s latest commitment in the local region would help to reduce the number of new infections.
“Poverty increases the likelihood of HIV infection and poverty combined with the stigma that is often associated with infection means that treatment is often out of the question for many people.”
“Over 7 million people living in the Asia/Pacific region live with HIV/AIDS. Without a positive commitment, our region runs the very real risk of facing a crisis like the one being faced now in Africa.”
“The Church welcomes the announcement of an Australian International HIV/AIDS strategy and looks forward to studying it more closely in the coming days,” Rev. Poulos said.
Reverend Dean Drayton, 0400 354 237
Reverend Elenie Poulos, 0417 431 853
The importance of good relationships between Indonesia and the Australia and transparency on all sides was the focus of a meeting between Uniting Church Officials and the Indonesian Ambassador in Canberra recently.
Uniting International Mission Reference Committee Chair, Professor James Haire and UIM Executive Secretary, Rev John Barr were received by Indonesian Ambassador, his Excellency, Mr Imron Cotan.
Rev Barr said the meeting focused on the need for transparency from all sides and on developing a good working relationship between the Uniting church and the Indonesian Government.
“Ambassador Cotan indicated his willingness to engage in further dialogue with the Church on issues of concern, especially those which concern out partner churches in Indonesia.
“He listened to our concerns about Ambon and the concern relayed to us by our partner church the Protestant Church in Maluku that Ambonese Christians as being portrayed as separatist and seeking to undermine the unity of the Indonesia Republic.
“Professor Haire and I reaffirmed the GPM's support for the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia and our Churches support for the GPM’s position. He also indicted he would voice these concerns with official in Jakarta,” Rev Barr said.
He said another pleasing aspect of the meeting was Mr Cotan’s generous offer to make himself available to the Uniting Church in Australia to further dialogue with us or to speak at a meeting or a gathering.
“This meeting was an important and strategic meeting. The Ambassador indicated that he is available for further meetings and I believe this may provide strategic opportunities for the Uniting Church in Australia to be an effective advocate on behalf of our partner churches in Indonesia; an effective educator and a positive facilitator concerning the development of positive relationships between Australia and Indonesia. “
Church leaders from across Australia, including the Uniting Church, gathered in Canberra last Friday to keep poverty on the agenda in the lead up to the Federal election.
Vote  No More Poverty is a joint campaign of the Uniting, Anglican and Catholic Churches and their social services agencies and aims to raise awareness among members of our community and our political leaders about the growing rate of poverty.
The Uniting Church was represented at the launch by UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds and National Assembly ex President, Rev Prof, James Haire.
Ms Hatfield Dodds, said poverty is a growing problem in Australia and not just among unemployed people.
“While Australia has experienced economic growth in the last two decades much of this prosperity has passed by many Australians. Today, we have the dubious honour of being ranked fourth on the OECD list of countries with the highest percent of population living in poverty,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.
“Today, 852,000 Australian children live in jobless households and 3.6 million Australians live on a household income of less than $400 a week.
“Agencies like UnitingCare which deliver the majority of community support in this country, see the despair and deprivation of Australia’s poor every day.
“Each year more and more Australians are suffering an unacceptable standard of living and poverty is no longer just about unemployed people.
“Many working Australians now find themselves struggling with poverty and as a caring church it is time we took a stand to see something done. That’s why we started this campaign.”
The campaign was launched at Parliament House in Canberra on June 24 following a national newspaper advertisement in the Australian that day.
Church leaders, including Prof Haire, told politicians and media representatives of the desperate need for the Federal Government to take a national leadership role in tackling poverty.
“Our faith and ethical traditions call us to ensure the health and well being of our communities. With this in mind we believe all Australians have the right to a decent life including access to work, education, housing, food and recreation.
“The message that we sent to our political leaders was that sadly, for more and more Australians, this is a pipe dream.
“There are no easy answers to solving poverty – it is a multi faceted problem often caused by more than one factor. However, the first step is to acknowledge the problem and work together at all levels of government to find real solutions.
“We called on the Federal Government to take a national leadership role on this issue and work through the Council of Australian Governments with State and Territory Government’s to develop a well resourced national action plan working across government and in partnership with the broader community.
“This is an issue we all need to be concerned and we are asking church members for their help to make politicians and political candidates aware of this issue. Please, in the lead up to the next election take the time to write to them or call them and ask …‘Do you care about poverty in Australia and what will you do to address it?”
The Uniting Church has again called for the immediate release of all children from Australia’s detention centres, joining today’s Sydney community protest.
UnitingJustice Australia National Director, Rev. Elenie Poulos, said she was outraged the Government has ignored the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Report into Children in Detention and its recommendation that all children be released from Australia’s immigration detention centres by today.
“This is a Government which claims to be supportive of families and children yet its policies are destroying children’s lives. There is absolutely no excuse for robbing children of their innocence.
“The HREOC report painted a terrible picture of life for children who are held in Australia’s detention centres, but the Government has refused to acknowledge that the detention of children is wrong.
“The Minister, Amanda Vanstone, has said that releasing these children would send a message to people smugglers that we are a soft target if they bring children.
“It is horrendous to place children in an abusive situation to make a point to criminals. People smugglers don’t care what happens to the vulnerable people they take advantage of,” Rev. Poulos said.
Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton said he hoped today’s protest would help to end the detention of children once and for all.
“The Uniting Church opposes the policy of arbitrary and indefinite detention of all asylum seekers, especially children.
“Any Government that would allow children to suffer physical and mental abuse in a detention centre is effectively sanctioning violence against them for its own political gain.
“This Government seems to think this is an issue about border protection and border integrity – the church believes it’s an issue about humanitarian protection and Australia’s moral integrity.
“We must immediately end the detention of children and their families and treat these people with the dignity and respect we would all expect for ourselves.”
The Uniting Church today welcomed the decision by Senator Kerry O’Brien that the Labor Party will refer the ATSIC Bill to a Senate Inquiry.
Uniting Church General Secretary, Reverend Terence Corkin said the decision would allow the indigenous community and Australian citizens to have a voice on the future of ATSIC.
“This decision ensures all Australians will have a say on the future of ATSIC and most importantly, the principles of indigenous self determination are adhered to before any decision is made.
“Most Australians think it’s fair for people to have a say in the decisions that affect their life. The Church believes Indigenous Australians should have a voice in their future – the legislation to abolish ATSIC without a replacement body would have silenced this voice.
“We should not remove the indigenous voice from political affairs and the Church hopes this inquiry will find a way to ensure that voice is heard through a National Indigenous body.
“It is now up to the Greens, Democrats and Independents to support this step and ensure the inquiry commences. The Church calls on them to support this measure and ensure a just future for Indigenous Australians,” Rev Corkin said.
Reverend Terence Corkin, 0407 220 677
Gavin Melvin, Senior Communications Officer, National Assembly, 0417 416 674
“The Uniting Church condemns the Federal Government’s insult to Reconciliation Week by choosing yesterday to introduce the bill to abolish ATSIC without replacement,” Shayne Blackman, National Administrator of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, the Indigenous body of the Uniting Church said today.
“May 27 is the first day of Reconciliation Week and celebrates the successful 1967 referendum granting citizenship rights to Indigenous peoples,” he said.
“For the Howard Government to put before the House of Representatives a bill which denies Indigenous people a voice and a say in our own affairs is a sign that this Government has total disregard of the reconciliation process in this nation.”
“We call on the Labor Party, the Greens, the Democrats and the Independent to block this bill in the Senate and demonstrate their commitment to reconciliation and the Indigenous peoples of Australia.
“While we have concerns with the current ATSIC structure, ATSIC must remain until an appropriate and Indigenous approved representative structure at national and regional levels as been put in place. They must not let this bill pass,” Mr Blackman said.
Media contacts: Rev Shayne Blackman on 0418 784 463 or (07) 4773 5077
Gavin Melvin, Senior Communications Officer, National Assembly on 0417 416 674
The Uniting Church today expressed its support for greater choice in Government maternity payments for all mothers.
UnitingCare Australia’s National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds said yesterday’s debate in Parliament about lump sum maternity payments to young mothers had missed the point.
“The suggestion that lump sum payments will encourage young women to have children is flawed."
“The experience of UnitingCare providers across Australia is that young women enter relationships seeking the support and comfort which is often missing from their home lives.”
“While these relationships often lead to pregnancy they are almost never planned. Across our range of national programmes you don’t find women who would choose to fall pregnant to access a $3000 payment,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.
“There is not one right way of making this payment to mothers and any maternity payment policy should provide flexibility and choice.”
“For some women, accessing a lump sum will help with the major up front costs associated with having a baby, and for others who might be vulnerable or financially inexperienced fortnightly payments backed up with financial planning support would be more appropriate." “We believe in giving mothers flexibility and choice in how they access these payments and in ensuring they provide direct assistance to the child.”
“Political leaders need to recognise this will not happen unless mothers have choice in how they access payments.”
Media contact: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communications Officer, Uniting Church National Assembly – 0417 416 474
Contacts: Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director, UnitingCare Australia: (bh) 02 6290 2160 (m) 0408 402 222
Leaders of the Uniting Church in Australia are calling on the Government to immediately release children and their families from detention and implement all the recommendations of the report from the Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Children in Detention.
“The report from the Inquiry into Children in Detention confirms what we have always known”, said Rev Dr Dean Drayton, President of the Uniting Church in Australia.
“The Government’s policies in this area have lacked compassion and perpetrate abuse upon the most vulnerable of people. This is not the Australia that we want.”
Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of UnitingJustice said, “Instead of caring for children as precious individuals, we have robbed them of their childhood and stripped them of hope. Jesus would weep.”
The Uniting Church has been calling for an end to the Government’s inhumane detention policy for many years. We have seen how it destroys the lives of both children and adults.
The report confirms that we have breached our international obligations but we have also breached our moral obligations to care for and protect people in need.”
Rev Drayton said, “We must immediately release all children and their families from detention and change our policies to ensure that no more children are ever subjected to such harm in our name.”
Media information contact:
Rev. Elenie Poulos 0417.431.853
Rev. Dr Drayton is also available for comment
Stronger commitment from the Federal government is needed if Australia is to be a nation which offers opportunities for all.
According to UnitingCare Australia National Director, Ms Lin Hatfield Dodds, ‘Australia is still a nation in which many people living with disabilities experience financial hardship and limited opportunities. People living with disabilities must be given a chance to live well within our communities.’
‘The Federal Government’s disability employment package will help some of Australia’s most vulnerable workers. It will also go some way towards assisting supported employment services experiencing pressure under the Government’s disability employment reforms.’
‘However, it is unclear whether the additional $99 million will be enough and whether ‘targeted support’ to be offered to workers whose productivity is low but whose vulnerability is high is adequate.’
‘Also, access to open employment agencies must be improved to meet the high demand.’
UnitingCare Australia welcomes the boost in assistance for carers and recognition of the diversity of situations in which care is given signaled in this year’s budget. It also welcomes the enhanced access to Auslan interpreting services funded in the budget.
However, the Australian government must show stronger commitment to people with disabilities, their families and carers. Unmet need still hasn’t been adequately addressed and is growing.
Careful planning focused on the needs of people with disabilities and cross-portfolio resource sharing is required to address the growing number of Australia’s ageing population with disabilities.
According to Ms Lin Hatfield Dodds, ‘Australia needs a policy framework backed up with resources that will enable people with disabilities, their families and friends to live a decent life.’
Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director, UnitingCare Australia: (bh) 02 6290 2160 (m) 0408 402 222