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Uniting Church in Australia Assembly - News

The Uniting Church believes that it is time for our political leaders to redefine the meaning of the national interest.

The President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton today said that too often the national interest is invoked to describe policy directions and decisions which are selfish and greedy.

“Australia’s real national interest lies in our commitment to the well-being of all people. Our future will never be secure while the world still suffers the effects of inequality, poverty, greed and violence.

“Australia’s national interest will always be served when we take seriously the costs of our policies to people living in other parts of the world. It will always be served when we behave as a generous and compassionate country and it will always be served when we act in the world to improve the lives of as many people as possible,” Rev. Drayton said.

“For Australia to be a good global citizen we need to be willing to take a lead in working to transform the world into a community that operates on principles of social, economic and environmental justice and peace.”

The Uniting Church believes that Australia’s support for the United Nations is a vitally important aspect of our global citizenship.

Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of UnitingJustice, said that this is why the Uniting Church has been concerned about the Howard Government’s reactions to critique by some UN human rights treaty committees.

“The Government has been disdainful and dismissive of many recent UN committee reports, refusing to engage in constructive conversation. This sends a message to other countries that it is acceptable to hide behind the claims of national sovereignty and national interest whenever adverse criticism is offered.

“We are also concerned that the Government has sought changes to the UN treaty system that would reduce the ability of committees to critique democratic governments.”

“One sign of a truly democratic country is its commitment to accountability and transparency. How can we call for such openness on the part of other countries while claiming an exemption for ourselves? It is both hypocrisy and poor international leadership.

“The Howard Government has reduced Australia’s reporting to UN committees and restricted their visits to Australia. They have even refused to allow Australian women to seek any recourse for human rights abuses from the UN Committee charged with eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.

“The Labor Party, in its National Platform, promises to ‘advance more than self interest’ in its foreign policy and to actively contribute to the UN. It has, however, recently demonstrated a willingness to contradict its own party platform. In light of the apparent ease with which policy backflips are managed, we call on the Labor Party to recommit its support for the UN and detail how its promise to deliver a less selfish foreign policy will take effect.

“We call on all parties to support a return to generous funding of the UN and commit Australia to working with UN agencies in a positive and constructive manner. We must not continue down the destructive path of withholding funding to the UN and its agencies and undermining its authority.

“The UN is not perfect but it is one of the key institutions for the development of good global order. Australia’s role as a global citizen must include supporting its healthy, democratic reform. Australia’s national interest will be served by working with the UN for a just and peaceful world,” Rev. Poulos said.


Media contacts: Reverend Elenie Poulos, 0417 431 853
Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674

 

Friday, 17 September 2004

Let's not forget the real battlers

The Uniting Church today urged the Liberal Party not to forget the 3.6 million Australians living in poverty.

The economic growth of the last two decades has passed many Australians by and Australia now ranks fourth in the developed world in the United Nations Human Poverty Index.

Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said the Church wanted a serious bi-partisan commitment to tackle poverty.

“The Labor party and State and Territory leaders have signed a communiqué committing to put poverty on the agenda of the Council of Australian Governments and to develop a plan of action but so far we have not seen a similar commitment from the Liberal Party.

“As both sides try to woo the traditional Aussie battler, we are concerned that the needs of the 3.6 million real battlers struggling to live on a household income of less than $400 a week are being sidelined from political debates.

“The Uniting Church believes that all Australians are entitled to a decent life, secure from the fear of poverty. Everybody should have access to work, education, housing, food and recreation. It’s a disgrace that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world 860,000 children live in jobless households and 3.6 million Australians live below the poverty line.

“Poverty is everyone’s business and we ask the Liberal Party to commit to the development of a national plan to address it,” Rev. Drayton said.

UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said UnitingCare, the Church’s national community services network, works with over one million Australians every year and has seen the growing economic divide emerge in Australia.

“Today 10 per cent of Australian households own 45 per cent of our wealth while half of households own only 7 per cent of Australia’s wealth.

“Every year more and more Australians are suffering an unacceptable standard of living.

‘Poverty is no longer just about those who don’t have a job. Many working Australians now find themselves struggling with poverty and it is time our leaders stood up and took a stand against it,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.

“The causes of poverty are many and varied. Tackling poverty needs a whole of Government approach with the Federal Government taking a national leadership role.

“This election, we ask the Liberals to match their national economic growth plan with a national plan to address poverty, developed in partnership with all levels of government, local communities, business and research sectors. Australia’s real battlers deserve nothing less,” she said.


Media contacts: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
Lin Hatfield Dodds, UnitingCare Australia, 0408 402 222

 

Thursday, 16 September 2004

Homeless Australians need a voice

It’s time for our political leaders to find answers for the tens of thousands of homeless Australians who have no safe place to sleep each night according to Uniting Church National President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton.

Rev. Drayton said homeless people were among the most marginalised and disadvantaged in Australia and had no voice in the political landscape.

“For homeless people simply finding a clean, safe place to sleep each night is a struggle. Everybody deserves a secure and reasonable standard of housing but for these forgotten people this is not the case.

“In a political landscape where security is at the core of our leaders’ rhetoric, we must remember that there can be no real security without justice for the tens of thousands of homeless people who come to organisations like the Uniting Church for help day after day,” Rev. Drayton said.

UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said UnitingCare agencies across Australia provide emergency relief and a range of other support to homeless people.

“In recent years we have seen more and more people coming to our services with a number of problems at once. These include homelessness, unemployment, mental health problems and drug and alcohol dependency.

“People who are homeless are more likely to experience poverty, are far more likely to suffer violence and frequently go without basic food and health requirements,” she said.

“Political leaders should develop a national housing strategy targeting homelessness and providing more affordable housing for low-income households.

“A national housing strategy must be backed up with a commitment to extended funding for the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program so that homeless people have access to safe and secure housing.

“Cooperation between State Governments and the Federal Government is required to increase the availability of public housing and address the shortage of affordable rental housing across Australia’s major cities,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.

“Now is the time for the Federal Government to take leadership on this issue.”


Media contacts: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
Lin Hatfield Dodds, UnitingCare Australia, 0408 402 222

Wednesday, 15 September 2004

Don't forget our older Australians

The Uniting Church has called for a fresh policy debate around aged care in Australia to ensure quality of life and quality of care for older Australians.

Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said politicians need to focus more on quality aged care which leads to a decent quality of life for older Australians.

“The strength of any nation is measured by how well it looks after its most vulnerable. The Uniting Church wants to make sure that the aged care debate is about more than bed numbers and staff ratios, but that it focuses primarily on ensuring access to quality care for older Australians - particularly those who are socially and economically disadvantaged,” Rev. Drayton said.

UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said funding levels, increased access to in-home care and better support for carers are all critical areas that need addressing by the incoming Government.

“Through our national network of caring agencies, UnitingCare provides services to over 18,000 Australians - 12 per cent of all aged care services in Australia.

“We know there is a significant need for more community care funding to meet the demands for respite care and in-home care for those who do not want to enter a nursing home,” she said.

“A commitment to improved funding must also include a specific commitment to improve the planning and integration of community care programs to avoid duplication and to ensure that services can be quickly and easily accessed by all.

“Policy must focus on the quality of care given to older Australians because research shows this directly impacts on the quality of life they experience. Funding must be sufficient to provide high quality person-focused care. At the moment current indexation arrangements for funding are not keeping up with the cost of providing care.

“In one UnitingCare agency for example, wages for staff rose between 7 and 18 per cent from 2002 to 2004 and other expenses like insurance and utilities rose by 15 per cent in the 2002/03 year. This current financial year the government has agreed to indexation totalling only 3.76 per cent.

“UnitingCare is committed to ensuring that access to aged care is based on need, not somebody's ability to pay. The current system often excludes the most disadvantaged and marginalised simply because they cannot pay a bond – whoever wins government must change this,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.


Media contacts: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
Lin Hatfield Dodds, UnitingCare Australia, 0408 402 222

 

Wednesday, 08 September 2004

Our forgotten communities

The Uniting Church is urging our leaders to build communities which are more than just houses and infrastructure, but places where people can grow and work together for a better future.

Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, expressed concern at the growing disconnection between people who live in the same neighbourhood.

“The strength of a country is measured by the strength of its communities and this election is a perfect time for Australia’s political leaders to outline how they would work together with state and local governments, business and community groups to re-energise and enliven our local communities,” Rev. Drayton said.

The Uniting Church’s National Director of UnitingJustice, Rev. Elenie Poulos said the Church is concerned that the health of Australia’s communities is under threat.

“We can see it in places where unemployment begins its third generation, where amenities are few and services overstretched, and where the physical environment is damaged and polluted,” Rev. Poulos said.

“We also see it in the pressure to work longer hours and to consume more.

“This makes our communities vulnerable to cynicism, violence, greed and the intolerance of difference. The end result is that neighbours don’t get to know each other and local support networks fail those in need.

“There can be no security for Australian communities without a nationally coordinated approach to providing the services, resources and support they need to flourish.

“We need a commitment to careful planning in the development of new communities. We can’t afford to see more housing estates built where little or no consideration is given to local employment opportunities and the long-term need for essential services like hospitals, public transport, schools, childcare centres, parklands and recreation facilities.

“We also need a commitment to transforming existing communities. This calls for family and community friendly work policies, proper support for local spaces like libraries and parklands, decent funding for public schools, hospitals and transport, and encouragement of local initiatives that build supportive and inclusive neighbourhoods.

“No one level of government can do it alone, which is why we need real leadership from the Federal Government combined with a commitment from all levels of Government to work with communities to find solutions,” Rev. Poulos said.


Media contacts: Reverend Elenie Poulos, 0417 431 853
Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674

 

The Uniting Church today called for real leadership on Indigenous issues and for a vote on Indigenous health at the October 9 poll.

Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said reconciliation is more than just overcoming the legacy of our history and requires practical measures and committed leadership. He said the Church was calling on all parties to recognise past wrong-doings, apologise and commit to treaty with Indigenous Australians during the course of the election.

“Foundational issues like recognition, apology and a process of treaty or negotiations on how to achieve better outcomes for Indigenous Australians are more than just symbolic. They create a framework through which practical issues can be addressed in a context of trust and dignity.

“It is only then that we can deal with the shocking poverty, ill-health and disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians,” Rev. Drayton said.

The National Administrator of the Uniting Church Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Congress, Rev. Shayne Blackman, said Australia needed to immediately follow the lead of countries like Canada and New Zealand where similar rights-based approaches had already been successfully implemented.

"The health of Indigenous people in Australia is the worst in the developed world.

"The health crisis began with colonisation and dispossession then social and economic disadvantage became entrenched. In 2004, Indigenous disadvantage continues. Indigenous infant mortality is 2.5 times higher than that of other infants and the life expectancy of adults is 53 years with no improvement since 1990 compared to non-Indigenous people whose life expectancy is 77.

"We need immediate policies to address these issues and the Uniting Church believes that an immediate injection of funding - $475 million as suggested by the AMA - and restoration of a culturally appropriate representative Indigenous voice - could turn these statistics around.

"The Australian people have the courage and integrity to work with Indigenous communities to redress this national scandal. We call on the parties to make real and binding commitments to Indigenous health and Indigenous self-determination during this election campaign," Rev. Blackman said.


Media contacts: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674

 

 

The Uniting Church has again called for the immediate release of all children from Australia’s detention centres, joining today’s Sydney community protest.

UnitingJustice Australia National Director, Rev. Elenie Poulos, said she was outraged the Government has ignored the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Report into Children in Detention and its recommendation that all children be released from Australia’s immigration detention centres by today.

“This is a Government which claims to be supportive of families and children yet its policies are destroying children’s lives. There is absolutely no excuse for robbing children of their innocence.

“The HREOC report painted a terrible picture of life for children who are held in Australia’s detention centres, but the Government has refused to acknowledge that the detention of children is wrong.

“The Minister, Amanda Vanstone, has said that releasing these children would send a message to people smugglers that we are a soft target if they bring children.

“It is horrendous to place children in an abusive situation to make a point to criminals. People smugglers don’t care what happens to the vulnerable people they take advantage of,” Rev. Poulos said.

Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton said he hoped today’s protest would help to end the detention of children once and for all.

“The Uniting Church opposes the policy of arbitrary and indefinite detention of all asylum seekers, especially children.

“Any Government that would allow children to suffer physical and mental abuse in a detention centre is effectively sanctioning violence against them for its own political gain.

“This Government seems to think this is an issue about border protection and border integrity – the church believes it’s an issue about humanitarian protection and Australia’s moral integrity.

“We must immediately end the detention of children and their families and treat these people with the dignity and respect we would all expect for ourselves.”

 

The national leader of the Uniting Church in Australia today expressed deep grief and sorrow at the announcement by Prime Minister John Howard, that he was committing Australia troops to a war in Iraq.

“Today is a day of grief and sorrow because the announcement of war is an admission of failure. Yet another new century begins with bloodshed and destruction as a means of solving our problems, said Rev Professor James Haire..

“Jesus urged his followers to be peacemakers. He spoke in favour of love, justice and hope for the world.

“This war is wrong. It will not produce peace. It will lead to untold suffering for innocent people in and around Iraq. We must remember that the Iraqi people have had no say in who rules them, or the actions of their government, but their names will make up a large part of the causality list of this war.

I fear that this action will set off renewed Middle East tensions that could take another 30 years to resolve.

One outcome will be increased terrorism against innocent people extending to Indonesia and South-East Asia. The road for religious reconciliation between moderate Christians and Muslims has become much, much harder.

“Two months ago Mr Howard said a second United Nations resolution was necessary before a strike on Iraq. Today he says there is already enough justification to launch an attack. These mixed signals do not help.

“If the USA, UK and Australia truly believe in justice for oppressed peoples they would have done more for the Iraqi population much sooner, and would have acted against other oppressive regimes in places like Burma, China, Zimbabwe and Sudan.

We will continue to pray for the safety of all caught up in this conflict including our troops and chaplains. I urge, still, that Australians pray for peace in Iraq, and that God will truly bless the peacemakers.


Media Contact: Kim Cain, Media Liaison 0419 373 12
James Haire is available for media interviews