Labor's asylum policy heads in right direction, but a little more courage, please
The Uniting Church in Australia national spokesperson on refugee and asylum issues says she is encouraged by Labor's Refugee Policy released this morning, "although some areas deserve further work."
"In a nutshell, the Labor policy on refugees is heading in the right direction but it is not quite brave enough", said Rev Elenie Poulos, National Director of Social Responsibility and Justice.
"We are encouraged by the more open and transparent approach evidenced in this policy. We are very happy that Labor will commit to a speedy processing system and put in place a monitoring system for failed asylum seekers who are returned. And we are extremely pleased with the promise to boost aid to source countries, countries of first asylum and the UNHCR.
"We congratulate the Labor Party on its recognition that the management of detention centres should rest with the public sector and that high security detention should only be used for short periods of time and never for children. We are particularly happy with the proposals for media access to detention centres and the provision of health services by independent health care professionals who will be allowed to make public comment.
"While we appreciate the proposal for hostel accommodation we are disappointed with the continued use of Christmas Island and the refusal to reverse the excision of areas from our migration zone.
"Although pleased that the Temporary Protection Visa regime will be radically cut back and more assistance will be given to holders of TPVs, the UCA has been calling for an end to TPVs altogether. We would have also preferred the creation of a class of humanitarian visa that can applied for through the same processes available for Protection Visas, although the more open and transparent system for the use of ministerial discretion is an improvement.
"The aspects of the policy that concern us most are those based on the idea that people do not have a right to move through countries of first asylum. The Uniting Church believes asylum seekers have a right to seek refuge in a safe country that can provide for their needs.
"While increased international aid will help in the long-term, in the immediate future people will still need to seek safety in other countries more able to provide for their well-being.
"The UCA in Australia looks forward to the time when the vilification of asylum seekers ends, when the rhetoric around these issues ceases to be based on fear, misunderstanding and misinformation and when Australian immigration policy on these issues reflects the compassionate heart that resides in Australians.
"We are calling for strong moral leadership as an antidote to the harsh and punitive policies of deterrence and the tactics of fear and race that have marked the public discussion on these issues for far too long," Ms Poulos said.
Elenie Poulos is available for comment.
MEDIA INFORMATION: Contact Kim Cain, Media Liaison 0419 373 123
The leader of the Uniting Church in Australia today expressed concern that comments made yesterday by the Rev Fred Nile may give the false impression that Australian Christian community supports intolerance toward the beliefs and practices of Australian Muslims.
Reverend Professor James Haire, President of the Uniting Church in Australia, condemned the question put to the NSW Minister for Police in Parliament yesterday (Wednesday) by Rev Fred Nile, Christian Democrat MLC, asking whether the Minister would consider prohibition on the wearing of the chador on the basis that it could conceal weapons or explosives.
Professor Haire said that such a request is not supported in any way by the Uniting Church.
“Such remarks are inconsistent with the Christian gospel of freedom and peace and inconsistent with the position of the Uniting Church in Australia which is blessed by an excellent relationship with the Australian Muslim Community”.
“We support the right of Muslim women to wear whatever clothing they feel is appropriate in accordance with their beliefs.
“The Uniting Church opposes all forms of discrimination and seeks to uphold religious freedom in our country,” he said.
Professor Haire also expressed his concern at the linking of religion and ethnicity with violent acts, pointing out that terrorism has been condemned by Muslim, Jewish and Christian religious leaders.
Professor Haire said, “The Uniting Church in Australia is deeply committed to Australia as a multicultural country in which the beliefs and practices of people of all faiths are respected. Now, more than ever, it is vital to the future of our society that we live together in peace and with understanding.”
MEDIA INFORMATION: Contact Kim Cain, Media Liaison 0419 373 123
The leader of the Uniting Church in Australia and long time Indonesian resident/ commentator, Rev Professor James Haire, today expressed his concern and sympathy after the bombing in Bali.
- Condemned totally, on behalf of the Uniting Church, terrorist acts of all kinds and in all places; “they are an evil before God and humanity.”
- Expressed the church’s sympathy and concern for all those who are bereaved and injured.
- Warned against ‘pre-emptive judgement’ about who is responsible – best evidence based on past experience would suggest this is not local Indonesian groups acting alone as the coordinated timing and devices are too sophisticated.
- Suggested this is an extremist Islamic organisation from outside Indonesia;
- Said he believes that the aim of such an act is to destabilise the Indonesian Government of Megawati Sukarnoputri by creating tensions with the West, and to draw Balinese Hindus into inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict to further destabilise Indonesia.
Professor Haire said, “It is important for Australians to understand that Indonesia has been living with the reality of terrorism for many years.
“While we condemn this particular act of violence, we express our concern for the whole of the Indonesian people where fear and terror are daily realities.
“One of the greatest dangers is an extremist response to this extremist act. That will only produce the kind of instability the perpetrators are trying to provoke.
“In the Uniting Church we will be praying for peace. We will be urging our political leaders to continue to use peaceful means to achieve justice: that includes working through the United Nations, to using diplomatic resources, and following international law.
Professor Haire encouraged Uniting Church members to pray for all victims and their families of the Bail massacre.
The national UnitingCare network has asked its counselling and family based care agencies to be available, as they are able, for people who require counselling or ‘someone to talk to’ due to the Bali massacre.
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
The Uniting Church in Australia today condemned the Government’s acceptance of the new draft charges against Guantanamo detainee David Hicks and expressed deep concern for his wellbeing and about the trial process.
Uniting Church President the Rev. Gregor Henderson said that the Australian Government must immediately act to ensure that David Hicks is afforded a fair trial.
“David Hicks has been locked up without being charged or tried for more than five years, and the conditions in which he is detained have been beyond cruel.
“Now the Australian Government is willing to let David Hicks be tried under a system that permits evidence gained through coercion. Both the Australian and US legal systems understand such evidence as unreliable at best and a gross abuse of human rights at worst,” Rev. Henderson said.
“We are also concerned that the Government believes that charges laid retrospectively are unacceptable in Australia but is comfortable and relaxed with Australians facing such a prospect overseas.”
Rev Henderson reiterated the Uniting Church’s strong support for democracy and the human rights of all people.
“The Uniting Church believes that every human being is precious, and that it is a fundamental responsibility of the Australian Government to ensure that its citizens are treated with dignity and respect,” said Rev. Henderson.
At its 10th National Assembly in July 2003, the Uniting Church made a statement calling for David Hicks to be returned to Australia and tried under Australian or international law.
“We believe that the Australian Government has a responsibility to advocate for a fair trial for all its citizens charged overseas regardless of the nature of allegations and charges. We do not condone terrorism and believe that terrorists should be brought to justice, but justice is not served when prisoners are abused and the right to a fair trial is removed.
“The rules of the new Military Commission do not meet basic democratic principles and international standards of justice. If we allow the quality of our democracies to be worn away in the face of terrorism then terrorism wins,” said Rev. Henderson.
The Uniting Church today expressed its extreme dismay at the Prime Minister’s comments that migrants and refugees with leprosy and HIV/AIDS should not be allowed into Australia.
Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of UnitingJustice Australia said, “The Christian church is founded on the words and actions of Jesus, who reached out to those with leprosy and other diseases. He touched them, ate with them, healed them and called for their inclusion into the society.
“We are appalled by the Prime Minister’s comments.
“We believed that, as a society, we were long past stigmatising people who are suffering with illnesses such as leprosy and HIV/AIDS.
“We are concerned that these comments will incite unnecessary fear in the community.”
As a result of its longstanding advocacy and service provision for refugees and asylum seekers the Uniting Church has been aware that the health check requirement within the Migration Act already makes it almost impossible for refugees with major medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS to be accepted into Australia. As it stands, all humanitarian entrants who are 15 and over must undergo an HIV/AIDS screening as part of the screening process for permanent residence. In addition, children may be tested dependent on clinical indications and medical history.
Rev. Poulos said, “Anecdotal evidence suggests that many refugees with disabilities do not even apply to our migration program, as it is well known that they will not be accepted. Considering that this is the case, we have a serious question about the motivations behind the Prime Minister’s comments.
“UnitingJustice has, on a number of occasions, expressed its concern about this exclusion to the Immigration Department. We are most worried about how it affects many refugee women at risk. In these cases it is often the case that HIV infection has occurred as a direct result of the circumstances which would otherwise qualify these women for entry under the Women at Risk visa category. Sexual violence, including rape, is endemic in conflict situations and in refugee camps and settlements. Women who contract HIV/AIDS in this way are dealt a further trauma when told they will not be considered for resettlement.”
“The idea that refugees with complex health needs place an unreasonable burden on the Australian community goes against the Australian Government’s specific commitment to help those ‘most in need’. As a wealthy country it is surely not beyond our capacity to offer healthcare to a small number of sick people,” said Rev. Poulos.
Media Contact: Kathryn Crosby, Senior Communications Officer– 0417 416 674
For immediate release
Leaders of the Uniting Church in Australia have expressed their condolences to families of the people killed and injured in the tragic rail crash at Kerang, in Victoria. The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, the Rev Gregor Henderson and the Moderator of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, the Rev Jason Kioa said Uniting Church members around Australia were profoundly saddened by the events at Kerang and that many prayers of sorrow would be said in churches across the nation this Sunday. Rev Henderson said, “This has been a time of tragedy for so many people. Families and communities have been deeply traumatised. On behalf of the entire Uniting Church in Australia I express our combined condolences to the families most directly affected.” “We are also mindful of the people who remain injured and in hospital, and those who are traumatised by the scenes they have been a part of or have witnessed. May God bless everyone as they individually, and we as a community, come to grips with the reality of this tragedy.” The Rev Jason Kioa also offered his condolences to the families involved: “Most of us imagine that things like this do not happen to ordinary people going about their daily business. Our prayers and thoughts go out to all the families involved. May God bless each and everyone during this time of sorrow, grief and questioning. We pray that at the right time, healing and hope in life will be restored.”
Mr Kioa also expressed gratitude towards the police and emergency services, local clergy, medical teams and the Kerang townspeople for all the help they have offered.
“We pride ourselves as a nation of helpers when such tragedy takes place. This event once again shows the inherent good nature and commitment of our communities. We are thankful for this silver lining on an otherwise devastating tragedy.”
A special ecumenical service of healing and hope will be conducted at Kerang Uniting Church on Sunday 10 June at 2pm. Media are invited to cover this event.
For all media queries or to arrange an interview with a Uniting Church spokesperson, please contact:
Kim Cain Ruth Snelleman-Smith
Uniting Church in Australia Media Liaison, Uniting Church in Australia
0419 373 123 0418 330 483
Uniting Church in Australia President, Rev. Gregor Henderson, and Director of Uniting International Mission, Rev. Dr Kerry Enright have written to the Foreign Minister on behalf of the Uniting Church in Australia to express our deep concern at the abduction at gunpoint of Pastor Berlin Guerrero of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. Pastor Guerrero, aged 46, was abducted on Sunday 27 May by men connected with the Philippines National Police. He has been tortured while in detention. We have asked that the Australian Government raise his case with the Philippines authorities and seek his release and encourage the Philippines government to charge those responsible for abducting him, torturing him and stealing his wife’s possessions.
The UCCP has partnership agreements with the Uniting Church in Australia.
Pastor Guerrero was traveling with his family, wife (Mylene) and three children, after leaving a local church in which he serves when at around 5:30 pm on Sunday 27 May the motor tricycle they were traveling in was cut off by a white van in front of the Seven Star petrol station at Bgy Casile, Binan, Laguna and armed men abducted Pastor Guerrero. The van had its number plates covered. The attackers stole Mylene’s bag, mobile phone, laptop and the money collected in the church service they had come from. Pastor Guerrero had a cloth placed over his head and he was beaten, punched and kicked repeatedly on the journey. He was taken to an unknown location and tortured by being beaten with fists and blunt objects and having a plastic bag placed over his head until he fell unconscious twice.
Those torturing him were able to force him to give them the names and addresses of his family, members of his church, the name of the administrator at the Union Theological Seminary and leaders of local labour right and peasant organisations.
They tortured him to extract the password for his computer and wiped off all his church, school and personal files, replacing them with incriminating files.
Pastor Guerrero was threatened with death and being burnt.
He was taken to Camp platoon Garcia, Cavite Provincial Police Office, Imus, Cavite when they finished torturing him. He has been placed under arrest with charges of murder and sedition.
Police initially denied that he was in detention and then later, on Monday 28 May, admitted that Pastor Guerrero had been arrested.
The letter also expressed our continuing concern at the murders of Yoyoy Duhaylungsod and Renato Pacaida, members of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). It is reported that Yoyoy Duhaylungsod was murdered in January 2007 in Mindanao. Renato Torrecampo Pacaida was murdered on Friday 2 March in Digos City.
The information we have is that on Friday 2 March, UCCP member Renato Torrecampo Pacaida, aged 53, was gunned down in Digos City in front of his daughter. He was the leader of a farmers organization Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa Davao Del Sur and leaves behind a widow and three children. He was attacked at around 10:45 am in the morning by two men on a motorcycle. They fired at him and he ran. They chased him and after wounding him three times, finished him off with a bullet to the head. The assassins used a .45 calibre pistol fitted with a silencer.
We are encouraging the Australian government to raise these murders with the Philippine government.
For immediate release The Uniting Church in Australia is celebrating its 30th Anniversary this Friday, June 22. Congregations all over the country are holding special services or social events to celebrate the milestone. The third largest church in Australia, the Uniting Church was formed on 22 June 1977 when the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches united. The first service, held on the 26th of June, was broadcast live around Australia on ABC television. There are now approximately 2800 congregations and some 300,000 active members. In the 2001 Census, 1.2 million Australians described themselves as Uniting Church. Despite the strength of the Uniting Church in Australia, President Rev. Gregor Henderson says the Church is being far more deliberate in inviting people to faith. “30 years ago we didn’t need to worry about church growth in Australia. Huge cultural shifts of secularism, materialism and individualism have dramatically changed that”, Rev. Henderson said. “We now actively work on growing our church and planning for future growth.” “We are an inclusive, diverse and multicultural church. We have a good number of growing and vibrant congregations, new congregations starting every year, and 160 congregations worshipping in languages other than English - including 16 Aboriginal languages at last count. Looking forward I see a confident and joyful Church which is attractive and welcoming to all sorts of people.” An active voice on social justice throughout its history, the Uniting Church works on issues such as refugees, poverty, and Indigenous rights. The Church directly advocates for changes in Government policies to meet people’s needs better, and works in partnership with other organisations and churches here and overseas. “More than any other church in Australia, the Uniting Church actively seeks to work with other churches and faiths to achieve common goals.” The Uniting Church is also the largest non-government provider of community services in Australia through the UnitingCare network. Rev. Henderson said the 30th Anniversary is a time for all members of the Church to celebrate what we have achieved and our fellowship in Christ. “I invite everyone to share in our celebrations this week, whether it be going to worship or one of the events planned, or just going to the website to find out more about this extraordinary fellowship of Christians we proudly call the Uniting Church in Australia.”
Media Contact: Kathryn Crosby, Assembly Communication Unit – 0417 416 674
For immediate release
The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) of the Uniting Church is urging the Australian Government to revise its approach to its emergency response reforms to tackle Indigenous child abuse in the Northern Territory if it is to affect real improvements.
UAICC National Administrator the Rev Shayne Blackman said he fully supported moves by the Australian Government to provide positive intervention to tackle child abuse but questioned their hasty emergency response approach in an election year which he said lacked full and proper negotiation with relevant Indigenous stakeholders.
‘This rapid reform approach taken by the Government needs to be negotiated from the ground up in conjunction with those Indigenous community leaders with a demonstrable record of achievement and not just solely imposed from Canberra” said Rev Blackman.
‘“The Government’s ferocious and hasty reforms are laced with military style coercion and have not been fully negotiated with those Northern Territory communities in a manner and timeframe that will enable all Indigenous stakeholders in this issue to be in a position to support the reforms in any cohesive fashion.
“While positive intervention is required we do not welcome this fierce approach by the Government which further marginalizes Indigenous community decision makers and which will serve to create further resentment.
“Every Australian child deserves a secure future free of abuse and if the Government is impartial in its dealings with the citizens of this nation then the same heavy handed tactics it is employing in Indigenous communities of the Northern Territory should be applied rights across every town and city, with abuse perpetrators to be dealt with under our existing legal framework.
‘We are calling upon the Government to enact policy in collaboration with Indigenous leadership that encourages individual empowerment and ownership of responsibility and this requires a new structural governance framework that conduits Indigenous wisdom from a community level into legislative decisions.
“In the interests of equality and justice I call upon the Government to reassess its approach” said Rev Blackman.
UAICC Media Contact: Ramon Peachey (07) 4773 5077
The National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia has today welcomed the Rudd Government’s initiative to end the detention of asylum seekers on the island nation of Nauru.
Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, praised Immigration Minister, Chris Evans’ decision to provide resettlement to seven Burmese men currently detained on Nauru.
“We congratulate the Federal Government on taking important steps to provide resettlement opportunities to these seven men who have been held on the island for more than a year,” Rev. Poulos said.
“We are pleased that the Minister has promised to quickly review the cases of the remaining refugees and asylum seekers and to end once and for all this damaging practice of detention on Nauru.”
Rev. Poulos said the Uniting Church was fully supportive of the dismantling of the Pacific Solution, set up by the previous Federal Government.
“The Pacific Solution has placed us in breach of our international refugee obligations and adversely affected our reputation as a country committed to upholding human rights.
“It has been a cruel policy and its detrimental effects on individual refugees, some of whom were detained for more than three years, have been well documented.
“This policy, which has cost millions of dollars, has seen refugees languishing on Nauru and Manus Islands for years with no access to proper services and appropriate representation, and no clear hope for future resettlement, as the Government played politics with their lives.
“We welcome action to dismantle the Pacific Solution policy, and to provide refugees with resettlement opportunities within the Australian community.”
Uniting Church in Australia members, congregations and agencies around the country are involved in caring for refugees and asylum seekers and advocating for just and appropriate policies which uphold their rights and respond positively to their needs.
The Uniting Church has spoken out against the Pacific Solution since its inception.