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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)

The University of Ulster recently unveiled its list of honorary graduates for the summer 2006 ceremonies. The Reverend Professor James Haire, past President of the Uniting Church in Australia and Director of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, will receive the degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) in recognition of his promotion of interfaith understanding. A native of Belfast, he was educated at RBAI from 1951-64. He served as Chairperson of the Youth Committee of the Irish Council of Churches in 1966. After moving to Australia, he ultimately became President of Brisbane College of Theology and later was elected President of the Uniting Church in Australia (2000-2003). He serves as a member of the World Methodist Council/Roman Catholic Church International Commission and as such is a leading scholar and contributor to dialogue between the Catholic Church and Protestant churches, both in Australia and internationally.

The President of the Uniting Church, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, will be among a group of 28 Australians visiting Brazil for the 9th World Council of Churches Assembly this week.

The Assembly will meet in Porto Alegre, Brazil, from February 14-23 addressing the theme God, in your grace, transform the world. The Assembly will be a time of encounter, prayer, celebration and deliberation for thousands of Christian women and men from around the world.

“The Assembly is the highest governing body of the World Council of Churches and is held once every seven years. This is the first Assembly to be held in Latin America and is being hosted by the National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil (CONIC) on behalf of churches throughout the region,” Rev. Drayton said.

Rev. Drayton said the Assembly would be asked to grapple with a number if important issues, including how to re-build relationships between the various churches in the new century, the importance of minimising competition and working together ecumenically and the richness of the west and the plight of those living in poverty in the world.

The Australian group includes members of the Churches of Christ, Armenian Apostolic, Anglican and Uniting Churches.

The Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) in East Timor submitted its report on human rights violations to the President of Timor Leste, Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao on the 31st October 2005. In accordance with Timorese legislation, the President then handed the report over to the Timorese parliament and cabinent on 28th November 2005, and to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, on 20th January 2006. The CAVR's final report is a product of extensive public testimony from more than 7,000 victims and of comprehenesive investigations and research that yielded dramatic evidence of at least 102,800 deaths in East Timor under Indonesian occupation. Between 1974 and 1999 the report found that violations were "massive, widespread and systematic". Indonesian forces used starvation as a weapon of war, committed arbitrary executions, and routinely inflicted torture on people suspected of sympathizing with pro-independence forces. This included organized sexual enslavement and sexual torture of Timorese women. A number of recommendations are made in the report including a call for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. While the report covers thousands of pages, it has been released with the short title - "Chega!" - which roughly translates from Portuguese to mean "no more, stop, enough!". A copy of the CAVR 2,500 page final report has been posted by the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) on at www.ictj.org


This morning the Uniting Church in Australia was contacted by Bishop Elmer Bolocon with the news that an entire mountainside collapsed on to the village of Guinsaugon in Leyte, Central Philippines. Covering an area of nine square kilometers, local communities were buried under 30 meters of thick mud.

Bishop Bolocon is the General Secretary of our partner church, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). He reports that Pastor Niel Toyhaco and his six month old son along with 65 other church members are among the 1,484 people who died in the tragedy last Friday. In neighbouring Magatas, 15 other UCCP members are feared dead.

The UCCP has formed a Task Group to assist in the search and rescue operation. Meanwhile, evacuees from neighbouring villages are being housed in UCCP facilities in St Bernard. Rescue efforts are concentrating on a school that was buried along with 206 children and 40 teachers.

Heavy rain hit in the region with 478 millimetres falling since 7th February (this is 5 times the average rainfall for the entire month of February). The National Disaster Coordinating Council warns there could be more landslides as “La Nina” is likely to cause further disasters over the next four months. Villagers in neighbouring communities are being evacuated and relocated.

Materials to construct temporary shelters, medicines, food, clothing, cooking utensils, blankets and equipment to retrieve bodies are all needed. Our partners write… “Our sisters and brothers are in great need. They will greatly appreciate all forms of help: your prayers or some material support or financial support.”

Uniting Church Overseas Aid (UCOA) responded immediately to this call for help. $A.5,000 was sent this morning to support emergency relief being carried out by our partner. We are not setting up a specific disaster appeal however donations to support the work of our partner in the Philippines can be sent to: Uniting Church Overseas Aid (PO Box A2266, Sydney South 1235), freecall 1800 998122 (Mastercard, Bankcard and Visacard accepted). Rev John Barr
Executive Secretary (Asia)
Uniting International Mission
20th February 2006

The Assembly Standing Committee met in Sydney over the weekend and received several reports from our partner Church in Papua, the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua. The ASC passed a resolution calling on the Australian Government to seek a commitment from the Indonesian Government for them to act responsibly and with restraint in Papua and to offer more opportunities for dialogue with Papuan religious and community leaders concerning the present situation. The President has also sent the Foreign Minister a copy of a report written by UIM Executive Secretary, Rev. John Barr who returned from the province recently.