The Uniting Church in Australia believes that the Federal Government's response to the situation of the Bakhtiari family is cruel and inhumane.
A meeting of the Church's National Assembly Standing Committee yesterday (Sunday 21 July) expressed grave concern and dismay at the Government's unwillingness to put the welfare of children before its harsh and unforgiving policies.
The President of the Uniting Church, Rev Professor James Haire said, "We are extremely concerned about the use and abuse of vulnerable people, particularly children, to score political points.
"It is morally reprehensible for the Government to be using and abusing children in order to prove the strength of their commitment to their policies.
"As the Government itself has demonstrated by excising areas of our country from our migration zone, it is possible to make exceptions when necessary.
"The Uniting Church in Australia believes that Australia's policies and legislation should clearly distinguish our commitment to care for asylum seekers and refugees, including those whose claims have been rejected, from issues of border protection and people smuggling.
"As President of the National Assembly of the Uniting Church I call on the Federal Government to make such an exception now and release all children and their families from detention."
National Assembly Social Responsibility and Justice Director, Rev Elenie Poulos, said, "It is our recommendation that children and their families be placed into monitored community release until they can be returned home or temporary protection visas are granted. The case of the Bakhtiari family has highlighted the awful consequences of detention on young people. The Government must demonstrate that Australia is absolutely committed to the welfare of children and prepared to fulfil its moral obligations to care for the vulnerable, the weak and the oppressed."
Professor Haire also restated his call of August 2000, for a full judicial inquiry or royal commission into the management of detention centres and mandatory detention: "All I can say is we need such a public examination now more than ever. The moral authority of our nation is in question. It is time to act."
MEDIA INFORMATION: Contact Kim Cain, Media Liaison 0419 373 123
Representatives of the peak national Christian, Jewish and Muslim bodies - the National Council of Churches of Australia, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, met in Sydney last week to discuss ways in which the three groups can work together to build bridges of understanding and cooperation for a better, fairer Australia.
One Muslim delegate said, "We have a golden opportunity in Australia to move forward with good intentions." All delegates shared a desire to promote and educate for justice and peace. They agreed to meet on a regular basis, to discuss ideas, to break down stereo-types and caricatures that exist in the community and to consider possible joint action.
The second of two planning meetings bringing together delegates from the three national faith communities, the meeting took place in the offices of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils in Sydney's Zetland. Delegates also visited the Mosque in the Centre and were present during the afternoon prayers, and discussed ways in which Muslims practise their faith.
The meeting was co-chaired by Jeremy Jones, President of the ExecutiveCouncil of Australian Jewry, and Reverend John Henderson, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Australia. Mr Amjad Mehboob, the Chief Executive Officer of AFIC, led the Muslim delegation.
Other participants in the meeting were: Sheikh Amin Hady, Mr Muhammad Khan, Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins, Sister Trish Madigan, Mr Hafez Malas, Mr Yair Miller, Ms Peta Pellach, Mr Kuranda Seyfi Seyit and Ms Wendie Wilkie.
Amjad Mehboob Chief Executive Officer, Australian Federation of Islamic Councils ph: 0408 234 434
John Henderson General Secretary, National Council of Churches in Australia ph: (02) 9299 2215 Or 0419 224 935
Jeremy Jones President, Executive Council of Australian Jewry (02) 9360 1600
The peak bodies of Australia's Jewish community and the Uniting Church met in Sydney last week for their 16th national dialogue.
The Uniting Church in Australia/Executive Council of Australian Jewry Dialogue brings together representatives of the major national policy> bodies of the Jewish community and the Uniting Church to share information, enhance communication and discuss matters of mutual concern.
This week's meeting, held at Shalom College at the University of NSW, included discussion on the way in which key concepts may have completely contrary meanings and resonances to Christians and Jews, with the Dialogue focusing on the terms "Zionism" and "Evangelism".
Members of the ECAJ group explained what they meant when they used the term "Zionist", from where a discussion developed on the relationship between the Australian Jewish community and Israel. The Jewish community representatives noted that identification within the Jewish community with Zionism is natural and positive but that they understood that there is a general misunderstanding of this within the Australian community.
The Uniting Church representatives explained what the term "Evangelism" meant to them, as the basis of a constructive exchange on matters such as the importance of social justice, conversion and spreading the message of God throughout the community.
The UCA acknowledged that the word is often heard negatively by many outside the Christian faith, and often also within the Christiancommunity, but the concept as outlined broadly is a central issue to their faith and continues to be partly informed by respectful and genuine dialogue with others.
Another session at the meeting dealt with the way in which the Jewish community and the Uniting Church formulate and articulate policies on public affairs matters.
The meeting was co-chaired by Wendie Wilkie of the Uniting Church and Jeremy Jones for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. Other participants were Dr John Squires, Rev Michael Barnes, Rev Lorraine
Parkinson and Dr Howard Wallace from the Uniting Church and Peta Pellach and Josie Lacey , and Rabbis Raymond Apple, John Levi and Jacqueline Ninio, fromthe ECAJ.
Jeremy Jones - Ph: 9360-5415
Wendie Wilkie - Ph: 8267-4203
Coolamon College hopes to join Adelaide College of Divinity and move to Adelaide.
Coolamon College, the Uniting Church's specialist provider of distance theological education, has issued a request to become a constituent member of Adelaide College of Divinity (ACD) from the beginning of 2003. Located in Brisbane, Coolamon College would move to Adelaide if the link with ACD happens.
"Productive negotiations have occurred towards the achievement of this goal," said Revd Philip Marshall, President of ACD. "The ACD has received the request from Coolamon College with enthusiasm. We are working to achieve a satisfactory agreement in the near future."
Coolamon College, an agency of the National Assembly of the Uniting Church, aims "to make accessible quality theological education to adults who otherwise do not have the opportunity to participate". The College views the link with ACD and move to Adelaide as a strategic positioning for future ministry.
"ACD has been specifically chosen by Coolamon College because of its range of awards, ecumenical approach, university link and focus on the ministry needs of students," affirmed Revd Dr Anita Monro, Acting Principal of Coolamon College. Adelaide College of Divinity also forms the School of Theology for Flinders University.
The Uniting Church's National Assembly Standing Committee has approved the proposal for Coolamon College to link with Adelaide College of Divinity and move to Adelaide sometime in 2003.
The Uniting Church's Synod of South Australia has also welcomed the proposed move. The recent Council of Synod meeting made a commitment to the future provision of services to Coolamon College, and funding support for transitional costs.
"SA Synod fully supports the request by Coolamon College," said SA General Secretary, Stuart Cameron. "Coolamon College would join the Synod's College, Parkin Wesley, in a significant partnership for the Uniting Church as well as for ACD."
Current constituent members of ACD are Parkin-Wesley College (UCA), St Barnabus' Theological College (Anglican), Catholic Theological College and Nungalinya College (Ecumenical). The Churches of Christ are an associate member of ACD.
Media Contact: Revd Dr Anita Monro, Acting Principal, Coolamon College, Phone: 07 3377 9940
The Federal Government's refusal to close detention centres and implement an alternative refugee and asylum seeker policy is to blame for the dangerous conditions at Curtin Detention Centre according to leaders of the Uniting Church.
Rev Professor James Haire, National President of the Uniting Church Assembly said
"It is the inhumane conditions in the Curtin Detention Centre and the hopeless circumstances faced by the detainees that has led to the riots in detention centres across Australia.
"The Church condemns all violence and vandalism but believes that Australians have a right to understand the circumstances that have led to such appalling actions.
"The Uniting Church is extremely concerned for the welfare of both the detention centre staff and the detainees themselves. But it is not detainees who are ultimately to blame for the riots but rather systems and policies that have bred complete and utter hopelessness and despair".
The Uniting Church's National Director of Social Responsibility and Justice, Rev Elenie Poulos, said "most of the people remaining in detention centres are those who have failed in their refugee applications. They are in detention because they cannot return to their homelands.
"They have committed no crimes yet they are placed in conditions worse than our prisons.
"These people are at the end of the road - they have exhausted all avenues of appeal and have no hope of release. Their daily lives are characterised by boredom at best and depression, anger and violence at worst. It is not the detainees who are the perpetrators of the violence but rather the system.
Instead of building new detention centres and paying out millions of dollars for the ineffective 'Pacific Solution' just a small proportion of that money could fund alternative community release programs for detainees.
"It is a sad irony that while our jails can run community release programs, the Government cannot see past the cruel and inhuman indefinite mandatory detention of a few hundred sad and desperate people", Ms Poulos said.
Contact: Kim Cain, Phone: 0419 373 123
The National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia and the Synods have agreed to partner with the Catholic and Anglican churches to work through Church Resources Savings Plus for the provision of discounts on a wide range of goods and services.
Church Resources is a charitable trust that combines the buying power of Church institutions and its members to achieve substantial savings and improved levels of service.
The General Secretary of the National Assembly, Rev. Terence Corkin, said the partnership with Church Resources was significant in serving the best interests of the Uniting Church in Australia on a national basis.
"The combined purchasing volume of Church institutions (making them the largest non-government organisation in Australia) brings large discounts even for small entities. Even more, this relationship positions Church institutions to act in a planned and cost effective manner," said Rev. Corkin.
Church Resources now has a number of "Preferred Supplier" agreements in place for products and services of which the Uniting Church is able to take advantage.
The range includes photocopiers, telephone systems, travel, motor vehicles, office supplies, and more.
Father Michael Kelly, the CEO of Church Resources said, "Our enduring principle of operation is to be transparent. We pass all benefits on to Church institutions and individuals. We do not have shareholders, or need to pay a dividend."
"But we do have beneficiaries - the Churches of Australia - who receive all the savings we negotiate, short a declared fee for negotiating and administering the savings and service agreement, and a small portion which allows us to expand our mission."
The savings to the Churches are projected to be tens of millions of dollars, with the aim of saving money for many important ministries.
When making enquiries always ask for the Church Resources discount pricing. For additional information on products contact Church Resources on (02) 9439 2622 or visit www.churchresources.com.au or http://nat.uca.org.au/NCagreements
Working together to help Church organisations are:
Fr Michael Kelly (left), CEO, Church Resources; and Rev. Terence Corkin, General Secretary, National Assembly Uniting Church of Australia.
Media Contact: Martin Teulan, Phone: (02) 94392622