In recent days there has been increasing discussion about abortion in the media. A number of persons have spoken on this matter. The President of the Uniting Church Assembly has today released a press statement that presents the Uniting Church position. The statement draws heavily on decisions taken previously by the Synods of NSW, Queensland, (as it then was) Victoria and Western Australia.
The Uniting Church believes that human life is God given from the beginning. We believe that all human beings are made in the image of God and that we are called to respect the sacredness of life.
We also believe Christians are called to respond to life with compassion and generosity.
When abortion is practised indiscriminately it damages respect for human life. However, we live in a broken world where people face difficult decisions. Respect for the sacredness of life means advocating for the needs of women as well as the unborn child.
We reject two extreme positions: that abortion should never be available; and that abortion should be regarded as simply another medical procedure.
It is not possible to hold one position that can be applied in every case because people’s circumstances will always be unique.
It is important that women have the space they need to make an appropriate decision after careful consideration. The current abortion laws allow women to do this in whatever circumstances they face.
Women must be free to discuss their situation before they make a decision. The Church needs to be a place where such discussion can happen. We can offer spiritual, moral and pastoral support to a woman at this time.
Whilst we encourage our Ministers to remind people of the sacredness of life, the Church’s role should be to offer care and support leading up to and following a decision, not stand in judgement.
The Uniting Church is disturbed that recent comments could imply that women make the decision to have an abortion without proper consideration. Most women who have abortions do so only after a great deal of searching and anguish. There are a range of well informed spiritual, medical and emotional support services available to women and it is offensive to imply that these decisions are made lightly or without access to suitable consultation.
The decision to have an abortion is not just a moral issue but a social one. While the current debate attempts to pass moral judgement on the act itself, it ignores the many emotional, physical, financial and social issues that often create a situation where a woman is forced to consider an abortion.
The Uniting Church hopes that those engaged in this debate do not lose sight of the complexity of the issues.
Rev. Dr Dean Drayton
President Uniting Church in Australia National Assembly
Rev. Drayton is available for interview on request
The President of the Uniting Church, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said today that he was relieved that the cruelty of detention will be over for a small number of people, but expressed disappointment that nothing is being done for the majority who remain in detention.
“What we see today is a minimalist approach which does nothing to address the policy of mandatory detention and gives a relatively small number of people some short-term relief while they wait to be sent home.
“We remain deeply concerned for the well-being of these people, who will remain stateless even though they will be living in the community. They are being released because they cannot be resettled but who knows if they will ever have a place to go!
“Today’s decision leaves these people with no more long-term certainty than they have ever had and is a sad indictment that the lack of generosity continues. Even while the Government has acknowledged that more compassion should be shown, it has refused to make the policy changes necessary for a just system,” Rev. Drayton said.
UnitingJustice Australia National Director, Rev. Elenie Poulos said thousands of people have been damaged and traumatised by a cruel detention and visa system.
“This approach requires people to drop their review and court processes and trust a Government that has kept them incarcerated for years.
"The Removal Pending Bridging Visa is just another example of this cruel approach. People who have had no home will remain in a state of limbo with some access to services but no opportunity to rebuild their shattered lives," Rev. Poulos said.
Rev. Drayton said while the Government remains so intransigent, the Uniting Church will continue to advocate for asylum seekers and refugees in the community and in detention both here and in Nauru.
“We have been supporting all detainees, especially those who have had a religious experience that would mean life threatening situations if they were to express their new faith in their home country.
“I am personally responsible for those people in detention centres who have worshipped faithfully as Uniting Church members over the last five years. They have studied hard and undergone long preparation before being baptised into the Uniting Church.
“We are also committed to finding answers for all others who suffer daily the abuse of current Government policy,” Rev. Drayton said.
"We look forward to the release of more people from detention. At this Easter time, we call on the Government to act with greater compassion – to return to asylum seekers some of the dignity we have stolen from them.”
"We call on the Government to change its approach, to treat people as we ourselves would want to be treated. It is time for Australia to offer hope and security to people who have lost all hope and remain in fear for their lives," Rev. Drayton said.
Dr. Drayton and Rev. Poulos are available for interview on request
“Pope John Paul was an amazing man who will be sadly missed. He was the most important religious figure of the twentieth century.
“He helped bring the Iron Curtain down and thereby initiate a new era in international relations. He was a strong advocate for peace in world events He reached out to Orthodox and Protestant Churches in ecumenical initiatives,” Rev Dean Drayton said.
“He galvanised Roman Catholics with a global vision, making the world his parish. Who will ever forget his kneeling to kiss the earth on the various continents?
“He gave a special place to the young in amazing meetings of the faithful which were often more than a million strong.
“He was cautious in implementing the directions of Vatican 2 and in the last decades hesitant to admit any change. He finally became a strong advocate for conservative voices in the Church while continuing a public call for the right of all to live human lives to the full.”
Rev. Drayton is available for interview on request
The Uniting Church today expressed frustration and disappointment with the regulations for the new Bridging (Removal Pending) Visa which gives the Minister for Immigration absolute power and offers no rights of appeal for people who take up this visa.
National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, Rev. Elenie Poulos, said that while the visa is an acknowledgement by the Government that the indefinite detention of asylum seekers is unacceptable, DIMIA has again failed to demonstrate compassion or decency.
“We are very concerned that people can only apply on invitation from the Minister. On what grounds will people be invited and on what grounds will they be denied?
“There is no right of administrative appeal in relation to this visa and it could well be used by the Minister and DIMIA to keep people locked up indefinitely on the grounds of undisclosed issues of ‘character’,” Rev. Poulos said.
“DIMIA has once again demonstrated their lack of regard for transparency and accountability. The Minister’s discretionary powers are increasing at an alarming rate. When people’s lives are at stake, surely we must develop systems that provide at least some reasonable checks and balances.
“To take up this invitation, people must be willing to trust the Minister’s assessment about when their removal might be ‘reasonably practical’. We know that the Government has wrongly imprisoned and deported people, and the Uniting Church believes that they have also deported people into extremely dangerous situations,” she said.
“Who could blame asylum seekers for now not trusting any advice that the Minister would receive from her Department?
“We are also concerned that people will only have seven days to reply in writing to the Minister’s offer. This is an unreasonable expectation for people whose English is limited, and who are locked away in remote desert and island locations that have been proven to damage people’s health and well-being. Will they have time to take advice before accepting this visa and will they be psychologically well enough to make such a critical life decision?
“When announcing this visa seven weeks ago, the Minister promised that it would come with work rights and access to Medicare. It appears that holders of this visa will be able to work (if they can find someone to employ them) but that they will not have access to Medicare because they have to give up any application for a permanent visa,’ Rev. Poulos said.
“This visa is a rotten deal for people who need care and compassion. We were hoping that it would offer a chance for a decent life for those asylum seekers with nowhere to go. It is unlikely that this hope will ever be fulfilled with this sad and inadequate visa.”
Rev. Poulos is available for interview on request
The Uniting Church today welcomed the proposed changes to the Migration Act 1958 and urged the Coalition backbench to support the Private Members Bills when they come before Parliament.
The President of the Uniting Church, the Reverend Dr Dean Drayton, expressed the Church’s thanks to Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan and Bruce Baird for their ongoing commitment to changing what is an inhumane and unjust policy.
“We know that they are not the only Coalition members to visit immigration detention centres and we call on those who have to remember the faces of the people they met and the hopelessness in their eyes. These are people who have done nothing more than seek our protection and care but we have destroyed their lives with a harsh and unjust policy. We ask Government members to support these Bills so we can have a decent immigration policy,” Rev. Drayton said.
“The proposed changes to the mandatory detention regime recognise that the current policy is unsustainable and damaging to people’s well-being, as well as being contrary to our international human rights obligations.
“They propose a fairer and more accountable system, providing checks and balances such as judicial and independent review. They seek an end to the indiscriminate and indefinite detention of asylum seekers in favour of a system that is a more accurate reflection of Australia’s generous and compassionate heart,” he said.
“These Bills show that what the Uniting Church has long been calling for is possible. It is possible for identity and security checks to be done quickly and for people’s refugee claims to be assessed while they are living in the community. It is possible to institute a more flexible, transparent and accountable system.
“They acknowledge that there is no evidence or reason to believe that people who are seeking our protection would abscond. There is no need to detain or demonise people assuming that they are a threat to Australian society and there is no need to expose them to such damaging environments.
“Last year I wrote to the Prime Minister asking for an act of compassion similar to the one being proposed in the second Bill. We have been seeking permanent protection for refugees and for those who cannot be returned home. We have asked for the release of all children and their families and for compassion to be extended to long-term detainees. These proposals offer some hope of a decent life to those whose lives we have made a misery.
“This year the Uniting Church celebrates its 20th year as a multicultural church. Our church has been formed out of the multicultural diversity of Australia. Most of us began our life in this land as strangers – we are who we are, as a church and as a nation, because those before us welcomed strangers and because we have continued to do the same. We believe that it is time our immigration policies reflected our true identity,” Rev. Drayton said.
“It is time for a policy that welcomes all strangers and treats them with the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings.”
The Uniting Church today called on the Federal Government to rethink its approach to further deregulation of the Industrial Relations system.
National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, the Reverend Elenie Poulos, called on the Government to protect the wages and conditions of Australia’s lowest paid workers.
“We must remember that the purpose of a strong economy is to help Australians access secure and equitable standards of living. The labour market is not like any other market. People are not commodities in the service of greater profits and should not be exploited.
“The Government’s proposal to strip so many workers of their rights to challenge unfair dismissal is immoral. What avenues will there be for redress for a worker who feels they have been unfairly dismissed? Can we trust employers to put the needs of their workers before their desire for profits?
“The current unfair dismissal laws provide important checks and balances on employment relationships. It is a simple fact that single employees do not have as much power as their employers – the current legislation recognises this,” said Rev. Poulos.
“The Government’s deregulation agenda has already taken its toll on Australians. While the Prime Minister claims responsibility for the current low levels of unemployment, he neglects to mention the cost to the wages and conditions of many low paid employees.
“We are concerned for the well-being of the increasingly high numbers of people in casual employment, especially women. Too many Australians already have no access to very basic needs-based entitlements, such as sick leave, and there is nothing in these proposals which will improve the situation for casual employees,” Rev. Poulos said.
“In addition, we believe the plans to reduce the role of the independent Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) and to replace its wage-setting function with a new ‘Fair Pay Commission’ are ill-considered,” she said.
“We are concerned for the 1.5 million Australians who rely on minimum wage determinations – what parameters will the FPC use to determine the wages of these people? Will those parameters be based on need or the need for profit? How fair will the Fair Pay Commission really be?
“We are very concerned that the composition of this new Commission may well include only government and business representatives, with no input from trade unions or community groups. This would be a poor second to the current independent body which operates without fear or favour.”
Rev. Poulos said that the Uniting Church would continue to push for equality and social justice in employment matters.
“We are concerned that in the rush for profit, the basic needs of employees will be forgotten. We appeal to the Government to protect the needs of those most vulnerable from the excesses of the market, while actively working towards a better deal for all Australians at work.”
In 2003 I stood representing the Uniting Church at the first anniversary service of the October 12, 2002 Bali Bombing, watching grieving families throw their sprig of frangipani and wattle into the memorial pool, aghast at the number of people affected by that terrible event.
Yudhoyono, the man who is now President, gave the principal address promising to hunt down those who had betrayed our common humanity. The economy of Bali was still reeling from the effects of that day a year later. Then last Saturday night, the terrible sinking feeling of seeing again the news report on the bottom of the television screen. How could anyone be so callous?
Again this predominantly Hindu island, with Christians principally involved in the tourist business, and a source of valuable tourist dollars for Indonesia, was considered once more to be a ‘strategic target’ for those whose beliefs are able to use human pain and suffering for their own ends. At 3 am that morning Rev. John Barr sent me a text message to say all UIM workers were safe. But for many families the horror was just starting to unfold.
We pray for those killed and maimed by human bombs in Bali. Oh God, the pain, the loss, the people lost, and the slow realisation by the injured of nightmare and disablement. We feel like helpless observers, wanting to know more of what happened, yet aware that we are intruding on the most vulnerable feelings of people and families laid bare through camera and microphone.
Help us to pray for justice to be done, for perpetrators to be stopped, for support and comfort to be given. Thank you for the sensitivity of doctors and nurses who give all they can to help the healing of broken and penetrated bodies. May there be long term support so that wounded and battered spirits will know the balm of your healing presence bringing light again into darkened worlds.
And Eternal God we seek to understand why this destruction keeps on happening, breaking in upon the unsuspecting, wreaking havoc.
Lord we pray not only for victims but for those who walk into the midst of unsuspecting and innocent people, and with a last squeeze of a detonator, give their lives to destroy others.
In the midst of this horror, tragically done in the name of religion, help us to see beyond the blame and the anger to the danger of using your name for our own ends. May we be true to who we know you to be, Emmanuel, God with us, in the midst of this suffering. In the name of the suffering Jesus we pray.
Rev. Dr Dean Drayton
President Uniting Church
“Domestic and sexual violence devastates the lives of women in Australia and in countries around the world. White Ribbon Day provides a unique opportunity for all of us to show that we believe violence against women is unacceptable and that we stand with those women who have suffered physical, sexual and
Uniting Church President, the Reverend Dr. Dean Drayton, has urged Australians to wear a white ribbon this Friday in support of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW).
psychological abuse.” Rev. Drayton expressed his deep concern at the devastating social and psychological cost of violence against women and their children. “Violence against women is at epidemic levels in Australia. More than half of all Australian women will experience an incident of physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes and one quarter of Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner.”
“This is a shameful statistic that should be of grave concern to all Australians. The personal cost to women, children and their families is incalculable. Violence against women also inflicts long-term damage on the social fabric of communities and diminishes our common humanity. It is time to say, ‘No more!’” Rev. Drayton said the Uniting Church has made public statements speaking out against violence against women, including the 1991 Assembly resolution opposing sexual violence.
“As Christians, we are called to strive for the reconciliation of humanity and an end to violent and cruel behaviour. The Uniting Church will continue to support the elimination of violence in all its forms. Sexual violence is a sin against God and against humanity and at its root is the practise of inequality between the
sexes. We must ensure that a concerted community effort is made to address this endemic violence against women. Wearing a White Ribbon is a public and practical way for all Australians to make this commitment.”
Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674
The Uniting Church today expressed its disappointment at the Government’s handling of its counter-terrorism, Welfare to Work and workplace relations changes.
Uniting Church President, the Reverend Dr Dean Drayton said the Church was concerned at the haste in which these Bills had been put to Parliament and called on the Federal Government to ensure that the integrity of the democratic process is maintained.
“We acknowledge that Governments must make difficult and often unpopular decisions. However, there has been no justification given for restricting public and parliamentary debate on these major pieces of legislation. The haste with which they have been pushed through the Senate is completely at odds with their significance for the future of all Australians.”
Rev. Drayton also expressed concern at the Government curtailing the length and scope of the Senate inquiries into WorkChoices and Anti-Terrorism legislation. “Decisions of this magnitude must be made with the utmost transparency and a high level of community and specialist consultation and awareness. But the passage of these pieces of legislation has instead been characterised by an unwillingness to provide any substantial justification, an absolute minimum level of community consultation and a marked cynicism towards criticism of any kind.
“The short times allocated for the inquiries – in the case of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, only one day – were entirely inadequate to address the wide range of concerns and the hundreds of submissions.
In both cases, the Government has declined to make necessary valid changes to protect the rights and basic needs of its citizens.
“The Government must fulfil its responsibility to ensure that unintended consequences of new legislation are avoided and that all citizens are dealt with fairly and equitably under legislative change. The fact the Government now has control of both houses of Parliament only increases its responsibility to use that power carefully and wisely.”
Rev. Drayton said that the Church would continue to advocate for open and transparent democratic decision making.
“We are deeply concerned that the Government is so easily prepared to gag debate in the Senate. This is an abuse of power and shows scant regard for the democratic processes that are so fundamental to our national identity,” Rev. Drayton said.
The Uniting Church in Australia today called on the Queensland Government to extend the deadline for Stolen Wage claimants or risk a public backlash.
Uniting Church President, Reverend Dr. Dean Drayton and the National Administrator of the Uniting Church Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) the Reverend Shayne Blackman said they supported the moves by The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation to oppose the imminent reparations offer deadline from the Queensland Government on the 31st December 2005.
“Stolen wages is a serious issue close to the hearts of many Indigenous people and it requires further time and more avenues to be worked through by all Indigenous stakeholders if a satisfactory outcome for all parties is to be achieved,” Rev Blackman said.
“This deadline imposed by the Queensland Government for reparations is suggestive of an administration increasingly becoming misaligned to their responsibilities in improving Indigenous outcomes and I feel saddened by their resolve.”
Dr Drayton said the Church has long called for practical measures and committed leadership on Indigenous issues as a way to help overcome the legacy of our history.
“This attempt by the Queensland Government to enforce a December 31 deadline for reparation applications runs counter to this type of approach. I urge the Queensland Government to reconsider its position on this matter in the interests of equality and justice that Indigenous people yearn for,” Rev. Drayton said.
Uniting Church Contact: Gavin Melvin, 0417 416 674
The Uniting Church has urged the Federal Government to take seriously the claims of the West Papuans who arrived in Cape York yesterday and ensure any allegations of human rights abuses are properly investigated.
Uniting Church President, the Rev. Dr Dean Drayton said while it was impossible to know the background of specific cases, many West Papuans continue to live in fear and face abuse in Indonesia.
“While we do not know the individual circumstances of these people, as long as there continue to be abuse and violence in West Papua, there is the possibility of groups arriving in Australia who have claims as refugees under the Refugee Convention.
“The Uniting Church’s experience in working in West Papua confirms that regular abuse and violence has occurred in recent years. The Uniting Church and its partner churches in the region have witnessed the effects of these abuses first hand.
“As a country we must take seriously any claims made by these people and ensure our response takes into account the on-going fear and abuse faced by many West Papuans in Indonesia”
Rev. Drayton said it was important that these asylum seekers were processed speedily and humanely, in line with our international obligations.
“The Government’s response to the arrival of these West Papuans will not only send a message about our treatment of asylum seekers – it will send a clear message about how, as a nation, we respond to human rights abuses in our own region.
“Ät the same time, it is critically important that the Australian Government continue express our concerns about the plight of indigenous people in West Papua..
“This is even more vital given that our Government is currently moving to negotiate a far-reaching treaty with Indonesia.
“We hope that the Government’s response to the arrival of these people will reflect Australia’s commitment to uphold the basic human rights of all people and our condemnation of human rights abuses as unacceptable.”
Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674
The Uniting Church has welcomed the Government’s decision to grant protection visas to 42 West Papuans who arrived in Cape York on January 18.
Uniting Church President, the Rev. Dr Dean Drayton said the decision to grant protection sends a clear message that the Australian Government is taking seriously the issue of human rights abuses in Papua.
‘By making this decision, the Australian Government has acknowledged there are human rights abuses occurring in Papua. The Uniting Church’s experience in working in Papua confirms that regular abuse and violence has occurred in recent years. The Uniting Church and its partner churches in the region have witnessed the effects of these abuses first hand,” Rev Drayton said.
Rev. Drayton said the recent tensions in Papua were a stark reminder that reform is desperately needed in the province.
“We recognise that the current situation in Papua is very tense. Church and civil leaders have been encouraged by the steps being taken by the Indonesian Government to put in place measures to prevent further human rights violations following the demonstrations last week.
“We are saddened by the recent violent outbreaks and condemn the brutal killing of 5 Indonesian security officers and one civilian. This recent violence highlights the level of anxiety and fear in the community – tensions which can only be addressed through genuine dialogue and reform.
“It’s important to acknowledge the progress which has been made in reforming the democratic and human rights situation in some parts of Indonesia. The recent democratic reforms in the country are encouraging but at this time, they are not sufficiently reflected in Papua. I urge the Indonesian Government to continue the process of reform in Papua through open dialogue and just processes.
“There are still major issues to be resolved in Papua. We hope and pray the decision to grant protection to these 42 Papuans will keep the issue of human rights on the agenda in our region.”
Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674