The Uniting Church has called for an urgent re-think of Aboriginal policy in Australia by all Governments including the recent trend toward mainstreaming services after a church delegation spent three days in Port Augusta this week.
Uniting Church President, the Rev. Gregor Henderson, who led the five person delegation to Port Augusta, said the visit was a stark reminder that on the whole, the policies of various Governments continued to fail Aboriginal people.
The delegation was invited to Port Augusta by the Uniting Aboriginal Islander and Christian Congress (UAICC) to investigate conditions at the State Government run Lakeview Transient Accommodation Centre, where Aboriginal people travelling to the area in summer are offered accommodation in wiltjas (tents).
While in Port Augusta, the delegation met with representatives of the local Davenport Aboriginal Community, representatives of the UAICC, the mayor and senior council staff, the SA Department of Housing, representatives of the SA Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, the Federal Government’s Indigenous Coordination Centre and local Aboriginal people.
“Although our site visit to Lakeview allayed some of my concerns, it is still troubling that in this day and age, any Government would respond to the accommodation needs of Australian citizens of any circumstance by erecting tents inside a wire fenced enclosure.
“While there are mixed opinions about the Lakeview facility in the local community it’s difficult to avoid the sense that Lakeview, which is located well out of town, was built as a quick fix which gets the issue of Aboriginal transients out of sight and out of mind.” “What was even more disturbing was the unavoidable sense that this issue is the result of a far larger set of issues that are simply not being adequately addressed. While we saw the excellent work and commitment of many agencies, there is still a lack of funding, resources and suitable policies that address the issues of health care, homelessness, employment and alcohol and drug addiction.”
Rev. Henderson said the delegation was also deeply concerned at recent moves by the State and Federal Governments to bring specialised Aboriginal services within mainstream services and policies.
“We heard first hand about the effects of the closure of the Indigenous Housing Department in South Australia and the imminent withdrawal by the Federal Government of the Community Development Employment Program and the cessation of funding of municipal services in Aboriginal communities like Davenport.
“By mainstreaming services and support for Aboriginal people in this way we run the risk of further marginalising their voices and making it harder for Governments to provide appropriate and effective support on the ground. I urge all Governments to slow down and consult with Aboriginal people to see if these policies are really going to improve services and ensure their voices are heard when decisions are made which affect them. Otherwise, I fear the result will be a further set-back to the possibility of reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians."
A report on the trip, including recommendations for both Governments and the Uniting Church will now be prepared.
The Uniting Church has urged the Federal Government to secure the immediate release of David Hicks on the eve of tomorrow’s nation-wide protests marking the fifth anniversary of his incarceration.
Uniting Church President, the Rev. Gregor Henderson, said David Hicks should be returned to Australia immediately and that any charges against him should be dealt with under Australian or International law.
“We strongly support the current efforts for David Hicks to be released from Guantanamo Bay and returned to his family and community here in Australia.
“The Uniting Church in Australia deplores the ongoing incarceration of David Hicks at Guantanamo and the continued acquiescence of the Australian Government in his ongoing detention,” Rev Henderson said.
At its 10th National Assembly held in Melbourne in 2003 the church passed a resolution calling for David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib to be returned to Australia and dealt with under Australian or International Law.
“At that time the Uniting Church National Assembly affirmed that God’s love for every human being leads Christians to support those whose human rights are disregarded, including those who are imprisoned unjustly, and that it is a fundamental responsibility of a democratic government to seek to safeguard the human rights of all its citizens, including the unpopular and the alleged wrongdoer.”
After adopting a major new statement on human rights this year at its 11th Assembly, the Uniting Church again called on the Australian Government to act urgently to ensure David Hicks is repatriated to Australia and for the Government to withdraw its support for the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay.
A letter to this effect has been sent to the Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition.
Media Contact: Gavin Melvin, Manager, National Media and Communication – 0417 416 674
Christmas is for all, not just Christians, because the birth of Jesus demonstrated God’s love for the world.
It’s celebrated by people who never go near a church or sing a carol and by people who’ve never even heard the stories of the birth of Jesus. Christmas is for everybody. In the birth of Jesus, in whom we Christians put our trust as the Son of God, God’s love was brought to life for everyone.
The Christmas event speaks to us more than 2000 years later because it is not just a story about divinity. It is a story which is most deeply about what it means to be human – a story of human vulnerability, of hopes, fears and dreams, family and culture, exclusion and acceptance. And because of this, the meaning of Christmas continues to break into our world and challenge us all, but especially Christians, to live lives that reach out in the world without fear or favour.
Because God loves all people, we must care for them too. Generosity towards those in poverty, the homeless and those in trouble anywhere in the world is a Christian responsibility. So part of our Christmas celebration involves giving to appeals like the Christmas Bowl, for people in need across in the world.
Because people of diverse backgrounds welcomed the birth of Jesus – Judean shepherds, Galilean peasants, Persian sages - multiculturalism is to be welcomed and enjoyed – God’s intention for the world was not for people to be integrated into one uniform culture.
Because Jesus came for the whole world, Christians are called to see themselves as world citizens. National boundaries are secondary. National citizenship is secondary. We must carefully examine the values which lie behind Australian policies on border protection, immigration and citizenship tests. Diversity, inclusiveness, and multiculturalism are blessings to be celebrated, not policies that can be shelved.
My hope this year is that Christmas will remind us that so-called “Australian values” are human values and that the birth of Jesus Christ teaches us that they are part of God’s gift to us, for what kind of world would it be without the gifts that lie within us all - compassion, forgiveness, prayerfulness, justice, inclusion, and the celebration of life.
May this Christmas bring you joy and peace, fresh purpose and new life.
Rev. Gregor Henderson
President Uniting Church in Australia
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.