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Uniting Church in Australia Assembly - News

Uniting Church leaders today condemned the Government’s proposed industrial relations reforms and the limited safeguards announced yesterday which do little to protect the rights and conditions of Australia’s most vulnerable workers.

Uniting Church President, Reverend Dr. Dean Drayton, said the Government’s ‘WorkChoices’ reform package is more about choice for business than protecting the country’s workers.

“We are not comforted by the very minor safeguards which have been included. The Government is so focussed on the economy as an end in itself that it has lost sight of the real purpose of economic systems. The economy is a tool which should serve the needs of people.

“Workers are not commodities in the service of greater profits – they are people trying to make a decent life for themselves and their families. ‘WorkChoices’ claims it will make our labour market and our economy more competitive - but where does it legislate for cooperation, collaboration and community?”

Rev. Drayton said the Prime Minister has made an art form out of the use of the word ‘choice’. “The ‘WorkChoices’ package wrongly assumes all employees can negotiate a fair deal for themselves and that employers will not take advantage of the most vulnerable in the pursuit of profit,” he said.

UnitingJustice Australia National Director, Rev. Elenie Poulos said the Church was very concerned about the plight of low-paid workers on AWAs, especially casual employees and younger workers.

“These are people who cannot risk saying no to an employer’s request for a change in wages and conditions.

“The membership of the Fair Pay Commission is skewed in favour of economists and big business. The Government must act to ensure that workers earn enough to provide for themselves and for their families and we’ve seen nothing in the package that shows the Fair Pay Commission will do this.

“On top of this, the changes to unfair dismissal laws mean that many workers will be unable to challenge their termination, even if it is grossly unfair. The removal of unfair dismissal laws is a disgraceful and excessive over-reaction to a system that may have needed some reform.”

Rev. Drayton said that the Uniting Church will continue to advocate for the well-being of those most in need and for a society that has justice and community at its heart.

“Christian teaching has, from its beginning, named the pursuit of wealth as the priority in life as a fool’s errand. Happiness requires a great deal more than wealth and will not be created by a continued focus on a free and unfettered market,” Rev. Drayton said.


This is a statement by the National President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev Dr Dean Drayton, following a meeting with the Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone, in Adelaide on Friday, January 7, while he was attending the National Christian Youth Convention. A baptised member of the Uniting Church was forcibly deported from Baxter Detention Centre on the night of January 3, the New Year’s Day public holiday.

I immediately emailed both Senator Vanstone and the Prime Minister to express the Church’s disappointment at the decision

I was able to meet the Minister Vanstone personally while I was in Adelaide for the National Christian Youth Convention to personally explain the concerns we had.

I was encouraged by the meeting. The Minister was gracious, warm and open to our concerns.

Neither the Minister nor the immigration authorities will reconsider material which has already been examined in any case. But we have authenticated and documented the conversion of some asylum seekers who are baptised members of the Uniting Church.

We believe this should be considered ‘new information’ and so allow a new stage in their applications for humanitarian visas, permitting the Minister to consider them on a case by case basis.

The Minister also left the way open for further communication between us, which we appreciate.

It is my fear that members of the Uniting Church who are forcibly returned will face persecution and possible death at the hands of fundamentalist Islamic governments or groups.

Religious persecution is a reality in many parts of the world. It is expressly prohibited under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and as President of the Uniting Church in Australia, I have a duty to see that members of our church are not persecuted for their faith. This is not matter of choice, but one of deep pastoral responsibility.

As I said at the National Christian Youth Convention: “We are most concerned about former Muslims who have converted to Christianity being forcibly returned to fundamentalist Islamic countries.

“It’s hard for Christians in these countries. It’s even harder for people who have converted from Islam to Christianity. Under Islamic law they are seen as apostates – people who are traitors to Islam. In some countries this may be punishable by death.

“The Minister acknowledged that the Uniting Church has been careful and thoughtful in the way we have authenticated people’s conversions.”

The President of the Uniting Church, the Reverend Dr. Dean Drayton today cautioned against the apparent religious politicisation surrounding the appointment of the Chair of the new Fair Pay Commission.

“It appears the Prime Minister is disturbed by the questions that religious leaders are asking. While Churches are being urged to applaud the appointment of someone of deep religious convictions to this position, the Uniting Church is concerned that the Prime Minister has bound the Chair’s hands with the very mandate of the Fair Pay Commission. It is not the person that is important but the policy which is the central issue in this debate.

“It is our fundamental concern that this new system is creating an uneven playing field for those who have to bargain from a position of weakness. The Fair Pay Commission’s mandate is geared towards keeping wages low rather than assessing the minimum wage according to what workers need to live a decent life.

“Christians are called to challenge, in word and deed, systems and structures that breed hate, greed, oppression, poverty, injustice and fear. Anything less than this is a watered down expression of our faith. The Fair Pay Commission will be tasked with putting economic prosperity and wealth ahead of the needs of people.

“We are concerned individuals will be considered commodities in the service of greater profits and left open to exploitation. There is more to being human than simply being a piece in the economic jigsaw puzzle.”

Rev. Drayton said the appointment ahead of the release of the legislation and its passage through Parliament appeared to exploit the Coalition’s Senate majority.

“This is significant legislation that will affect the shape and character of Australian society for generations to come. It deserves more than a fleeting public debate followed by a hasty passage through Parliament.

“We will always be more concerned with the upholding of democratic principles, human rights and policies which support the most vulnerable, than the particular religious affiliation of the individuals charged with supporting and enacting those principles and policies,” Rev. Drayton said.


Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674


The Federal Government’s anti-terror legislation puts Australia on a dangerous path according to the Uniting Church President, the Reverend Dr. Dean Drayton.

“While every Government has a responsibility to protect its citizens, these new laws send a clear message that the only way to do this is to erode people’s rights. They have the potential to create an atmosphere of fear and distrust in Australia.

“We are concerned the Government has failed to allow adequate time for public discussion and debate about the proposed laws. It is unacceptable that the community is being told to accept measures that radically curtail civil liberties without widespread and substantial consultation.

“Preventative detention without judicial sanction is out of step with community expectations of accountability and transparency. Administrative detention has a dark history in some of the most oppressive regimes in the world. It is imperative, therefore, that a very clear case is made for its introduction and that appropriate and stringent safeguards be put in place. The Government must ensure that this legislation is not open to abuse,” Rev. Drayton said.

“We are concerned about the erosion of community trust. What will it do to the psyche of the Australian people to know they can be detained with no recourse and no way of telling their loved ones what is happening or making arrangements for work commitments?” Rev. Drayton said the Church was also concerned that these new laws could threaten freedom of association and speech.

“We are especially concerned that these laws will result in suppression of peaceful activism, religious freedom and expression, and may encourage discrimination against members of the Islamic community. The recent deportation of peace activist Scott Parkin was conducted with no explanation. We do not know and cannot know why he was determined to be such a grievous threat and we are concerned that these new laws will further entrench this culture of secrecy.”

Rev. Drayton said that politicians must remain accountable to the electorate and vigilant in their protection of civil liberties.

“We all want to live in security, but laws which take action against citizens without the sanction of the judicial system damage trust and needlessly engender fear. We urge our political leaders to work for an open and tolerant Australia committed to overcoming violence through peaceful means.”


Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674


Wednesday, 02 November 2005

Time needed to consider Anti-Terror laws

“While our nation stopped for three and a half minutes for a horse race this week how many Australians have spent three and a half minutes considering the new anti-terror laws to be introduced into Parliament? How many of us have really thought about the impact they could have on ordinary Australians"
asks the Uniting Church President Rev. Dr Dean Drayton.

The world is a very different place today than it was 30 years ago. Sadly, we are confronted by people who are so committed to a particular cause that they are willing to take lives in the name of that cause.

National Security is now the big issue and political leaders of all persuasions in Australia have, rightly or wrongly, campaigned on the issue in recent years.

The so called War on Terrorism is in full swing, and as our political leaders have taken steps in recent years to protect Australians, they have unashamedly played the fear card.

More recently, as part of the latest battle in the war, we have been confronted with harsher, more authoritarian laws that give authorities unprecedented powers deal with that threat.

Our leaders now expect us to give away the basic common law right of habeas corpus (the right for a prisoner be brought before a judge to determine if they are being held lawfully), the right to due process and the presumption of innocence, because they say this is the best way to track and intercept terrorist activity.

If recent polling is anything to go by, our political leaders have succeeded in their fear campaign. An AC Nielsen survey released this week showed three quarters of respondents support the toughest elements of the proposed new laws - locking up suspected terrorists without charge, putting them under house arrest or shackling them with tracking devices.

Australians have been convinced by the rhetoric and accepted that these “difficult” times require exceptional laws that give more power to the authorities to deal with the threat of terrorism. In the race to track down and weed out terrorists, Australians appear willing to accept laws that take away the very building blocks of our democracy – the very building blocks that underpin our quintessentially Australian traditions of dignity, respect and a fair go for all.

We’ve agreed to place our trust in the administrative arm of Government that any infringement of a citizens existing civil rights will be reserved only for those who’ve done the wrong thing – the rest of us law abiding citizen should have nothing to fear.

The Rau and Alvarez cases are a stark reminder of what could happen under the proposed laws. My own experience of working with Asylum Seekers in a Departmental culture that could not be questioned, was frightening. Thank God the Minister in charge was helpful when the Department was not.

Where is the justice in detaining someone, who later turns out be innocent, without charge or trial for up to seven days with the possibility of seven more at ASIO’s discretion?

Have you considered the possibility of mistakenly being detained with no right to contact any person, including family, friends, or lawyers, other than to say you are safe but not able to be contacted at this time?

What if through no fault of you own, you fail to answer the authorities' questions satisfactorily and are liable for five years' imprisonment?

Would you willingly accept a control order being made against you or a family member on the application of a Federal Police officer when the person being “controlled” has no chance to attend, or be represented by a lawyer when a court hears that application?

How many of those surveyed recently would still consider Australia the lucky country and the land of a fair go, if they, or a loved one, were subjected to electronic tracking, phone intercepts and even home detention for up to a year without being told the reason why? How then could they possibly get a fair hearing in a court if they apply to have the order overturned?

Of course, we have been reassured that these laws will only be used in exceptional cases where national security is threatened.

While we all hope mistakes or injustices will never occur, can we really accept these new laws in their current form with no more than a promise from our political leaders that the rights of innocent people will not be jeopardised? What will it do to the psyche of the Australian people if innocent people are detained, interrogated or placed under control orders and they are unable to easily prove their innocence?

The history of those responsible for administering the mandatory detention of asylum seekers is not encouraging. They gave us Baxter. Do we want to give authorities even greater powers like the ones contained in this latest Australian Solution? How long before we have our own Guantanamo Bay?
All Australians want to live in security, as Gerard Henderson points out in one of his recent columns, “… social democratic leaders alike understand that there is a demand among a clear majority of Australians for a greater focus on national security at a time of terrorist threat.”
The problem occurs when that focus results in laws which take action against citizens without the sanction of the judicial system. Yes, we live in changed times and it would be irresponsible for any Government not to take steps to protect it citizens from a terrorist attack.

Yes, we do need new anti-terrorism laws but we need laws that are open and accountable to the Australian people, which don’t remove our basic rights. We shouldn’t be asked to relinquish our right to be charged if we are imprisoned, our right to a lawyer and our right to defend any charges made against us with full access to the details of why we were charged.

The minute we give those rights away, the land of the fair go may become a thing of the past.

From: Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, President Uniting Church in Australia

How did it happen that we were sitting in the Hon. Kevin Andrews’ Parliament House Office, watching the Minister for Workplace Relations presenting the Government’s Industrial Relations legislation on his own television?

I had some weeks before said on radio that the Prime Minister had replied that he was too busy to speak to the National Council of Churches. Within 24 hours I had been informed that it would be possible to see the Minister for Workplace Relations in a few weeks time. By accident, our appointment turned out to be at the same time as the legislation was tabled in the House of Representatives.

I had taken with me the Rev. Ann Wansborough, Mr Mark Zirnsak and Alicia Pearce representing Uniting Justice. We told the Minister we were concerned at the plight of vulnerable Australians under the new legislation. This reflects the decisions of the 1994 National Assembly of the Uniting Church which stated that: “the market is not an adequate way of organizing paid employment, since not everyone has equal power in the market.”

It seemed to us that a hard employer could drive down wages and conditions under the proposed system, far below the current Award minimums. The example of “Billy” on page 15 of the Government’s own WorkChoices document showed a person forced to accept far lower entitlements than those available to existing workers, even though he uses a bargaining agent. If he wants a job, he must accept what he is offered. In the workplace, once one person accepts less than the existing safety net, future employees will have to reckon this as the new standard.

It is even more worrisome to consider what would happen if Billy did not accept the AWA. If Billy then went to Centrelink he would be penalised because he had not accepted the job available to him - he would not be entitled to unemployment benefits for several weeks. The pressure is very high on the person who needs a job to sign the AWA. This is not a level playing field.

We also discovered that the balance of the membership of the Fair Pay Commission depends on the initiative of the Minister. It became plain to us that the membership should be clearly spelt out in the legislation and that it should be a balanced group from the whole community on the five member Commission, including a person representing the union movement. More particularly, the legislation requires the Fair Pay Commission to use market and economic guidelines to set the minimum wage. There is no mention of employees’ basic needs, or Australia’s international obligations. We told the Minister that the Commission should consider factors in addition to the market and the economy, something such as a ‘living wage’ which included a social element, so that then at least the safety net would reflect community values and wider treaty considerations.

Further discussion did not find any way to address the issues of unfair dismissal, which directly affects 4 million Australian workers in companies of less than 100 employees. If the boss says an employee is no longer needed, then the employee can be dismissed and has no means of redress (unless an unlawful dismissal can be proved in an expensive court case). In an expanding market this is not much of a threat, but in a time of economic downturn the power of the boss to shed jobs will be very difficult to challenge.

While acknowledging the Minister’s concerns for the vulnerable in the workplace, we were not able to see how the legislation dealt with these issues. A further meeting with the Shadow Minister for Workplace Relations Steven Smith could not take place because of his involvement in the ongoing and passionate parliamentary debate. We did meet with Senator Barnaby Joyce, who agreed with our concerns, especially those for first time job applicants, and afterwards with an advisor to Senator Steve Fielding from the Family First Party, who also echoed what we were saying.

At each step along the way our concern for vulnerable Australians in the workplace increased.

While walking out of Parliament house, we passed the Prime Minister and the Attorney General holding a press conference. At this conference, they had announced that an immanent threat to Australian security had led to them seek a special session to quickly pass the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which was also before the Parliament. A letter I had written to the Prime Minister on the previous Friday outlined concerns with this legislation’s effect on civil liberties.

It seemed to me a Worrying Wednesday, when a more restrictive future for Australia was announced and an uncertain time for the vulnerable and poor in our land; foreshadowing a greater division between the wealthy and the rich, as well as greater legal restrictions on personal liberty. I hope my forebodings are proved incorrect.

"Uniting Church going in circles, says Minister" (click to read the full story)

I join with those who are giving thanks for the ministry of the Rev. Gordon Moyes this week in special celebrations as he prepares to retire at the end of December. As one who worked with Gordon on the Board of Wesley Mission I have a great respect for his drive and energy as the Superintendent of Wesley Mission.

I know well Gordon’s particular evangelical position which he holds within the broad framework of the Uniting Church.

I am saddened that at this time Gordon has seen fit to criticise those whom he calls the bureaucrats in the Church In particular I am disappointed that Gordon does not realise that being Superintendent of Wesley Mission is quite different from being National President of the Uniting Church.

This three year appointment as the representative of the Church requires me to speak what the Assembly has decided, rather than state my own position. He wrongly asserts that I made a mistake in not referring Resolution 84 to the other councils of the Church for concurrence. That was a decision the Assembly made. This 280 strong body is one of the most representative groups of any group in Australia with membership from every part of the country. His claim that it is made of church bureaucrats is a way of avoiding the fact that the Assembly has made decisions that he does not agree with. His assertion that Resolution 84 approved the ordination of homosexuals is also wrong. The Assembly continued to assert as it had done in 1991 and 1994 that the Presbytery, the regional body of the Uniting Church makes the decision as to who is ordained.

Nevertheless we uphold the Basis of Union of the Uniting Church which gives the right for each of us to express our convictions with the proviso that we respect the opinions of others as we search for the way to be faithful to Jesus Christ in our time.

The leaders of 7 migrant communities from across the Uniting Church gathered in Sydney recently with the leadership of the Assembly to discuss the impact of the decision on Membership, Ministry and Sexuality made at the 10th Assembly.

The 17 leaders representing 6 National Conferences and the Korean Commission, joined with the President and General Secretary on October 12 to explore ways the voices of migrant communities can be heard in discussions on membership and ministry at the 11th Assembly.

The meeting was an opportunity for honest sharing and open conversation and while there were a variety of views expressed, there was an overwhelming sense of goodwill expressed and a general confidence that migrant communities value and want to remain within the Uniting Church.

“While those present acknowledged that the migrant communities of the Uniting Church do not speak with one voice, the meeting discussed ways to ensure that the variety of perspectives and views can be heard at next year’s Assembly,” Rev. Terence Corkin said.

“We know the decision made by the members of the last Assembly has impacted on the mission of many migrant congregations, but what this meeting reminded us is that despite the difficulties faced by some of our migrant communities, they have a genuine spirit of community and belonging to the Uniting Church as we journey together.”

Rev. Corkin said three clear points of view were expressed about how best to deal with the issue of ministry, membership and sexuality at the 11th Assembly.

They were:

1) The continued debate is unhelpful at this time because a number of communities are not able to even hold such discussions and/or find it distracting from their mission;
2) Support for Resolution 84 because it affirms the polity and processes that have always existed within the Uniting Church and that the Presbytery is best placed to discern whether someone is called by God to be a minister and does this on a case by case basis through a fair, thorough and careful process;
3) Conviction that the Christian ethic upholds celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage

Rev. Corkin said those who attended were re-assured to hear that processes would be put in place at the 11th Assembly to ensure the views of Pacific and Asian congregations were heard.

“Those who attended told us they wanted to be able to maintain and hold on to the cultural heritage and the biblical and theological perspectives that have formed them. They wanted an assurance the Uniting Church would respect these perspectives and listen to them when making decisions that shape the future of this church at the 11th Assembly. They were pleased to hear the current position of the UCA gives this assurance.”

Those who attended the meetings were keen to name the things we agreed on in the UCA. Some of the affirmations shared included:

• We appreciate the Uniting Church and are glad to share our journey of faith within it. We appreciate the Uniting Church’s openness to receive and welcome people from different cultural backgrounds.

• For many there is the conviction that their biblical, theological and cultural backgrounds have taught that homosexuality is a sin. A key issue is whether we can live with those who have different views. A question for us is whether we can go along together with these differences? For this to happen we need respect and understanding for one another.

• We affirm that our Church seeks to be a community of faith that embraces a great diversity of people and perspectives. We affirm this diversity but we also acknowledge that it also presents us with a great challenge. We confess that we do not find it easy to listen to and respect those who have a different biblical and theological perspective from ourselves.

• We are thankful for our common faith in Jesus Christ.

• It is sometimes difficult to be Uniting. This journey brings joy as well as struggle. We know that walking together in this Church family means doing so even if we do not find agreement all of the time. • It is important that all persons, regardless of their views, receive appropriate pastoral care.

Those who attended the meeting were: Rev. Jason Kio (Chairperson Tongan National Conference); Rev. Jovili Meo (Chairperson Fijian National Conference); Rev. Apwee Ting, (Chairperson Indonesian National Conference); Rev. Samata Elia (Chairperson Samoan National Conference); Rev. Subramanian Manopavan (Chairperson Tamil National Conference); Isaac Cheung (Community Minister Chinese National Conference); Rev. Sang Jin Lee (Chairperson Korean Commission); Rev. Kisoo Jang, (Executive Secretary Korean Commission); Rev. Sani Vaeluaga ( Secretary Samoan National Conference); Mrs Eseta Maneilly; Rev. Liva Tukutama (Chair Multicultural and Cross-cultural reference Committee); Rev. Lu Senituli; Rev. Hedley Fihaki; Rev. Myung Duk Yang (Assembly Working Group on Cross-cultural Education); Mr. Johnny Obed (NSW Board of Mission); Rev. Swee-Ann Koh (Chair Multicultural Ministry Committee Vic/Tas Synod); Rev. James Latu (Multicultural and Cross-cultural reference Committee)