Representatives of the peak national Christian, Jewish and Muslim bodies - the National Council of Churches of Australia, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, met in Sydney last week to discuss ways in which the three groups can work together to build bridges of understanding and cooperation for a better, fairer Australia.
One Muslim delegate said, "We have a golden opportunity in Australia to move forward with good intentions." All delegates shared a desire to promote and educate for justice and peace. They agreed to meet on a regular basis, to discuss ideas, to break down stereo-types and caricatures that exist in the community and to consider possible joint action.
The second of two planning meetings bringing together delegates from the three national faith communities, the meeting took place in the offices of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils in Sydney's Zetland. Delegates also visited the Mosque in the Centre and were present during the afternoon prayers, and discussed ways in which Muslims practise their faith.
The meeting was co-chaired by Jeremy Jones, President of the ExecutiveCouncil of Australian Jewry, and Reverend John Henderson, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Australia. Mr Amjad Mehboob, the Chief Executive Officer of AFIC, led the Muslim delegation.
Other participants in the meeting were: Sheikh Amin Hady, Mr Muhammad Khan, Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins, Sister Trish Madigan, Mr Hafez Malas, Mr Yair Miller, Ms Peta Pellach, Mr Kuranda Seyfi Seyit and Ms Wendie Wilkie.
Amjad Mehboob Chief Executive Officer, Australian Federation of Islamic Councils ph: 0408 234 434
John Henderson General Secretary, National Council of Churches in Australia ph: (02) 9299 2215 Or 0419 224 935
Jeremy Jones President, Executive Council of Australian Jewry (02) 9360 1600
Key leaders of the Uniting Church in Australia have expressed their anger and outrage over the Australian Government's vote against the United Nations anti-torture protocol.
Rev Professor James Haire, National President of the Uniting Church said, "By voting against the draft optional protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Government has severely compromised Australia's right to speak out against cruelty and torture around the world.
"They have aligned our country with some of the most questionable regimes around the world.
"There is now a moral vacuum in this country. When the government of the day actually votes against a measure to eliminate torture, we have hit an all time low. I can't believe it.
"I never thought I would see the day when Australia would be giving comfort to those with the mentality of the Dark Ages who use electric shocks, branding irons and sharp blades to administer pain to their fellow human beings," he said.
The Rev Elenie Poulos, Director of Social Justice and Responsibility said, "The Uniting Church is proud of Australia's good record of advocating on behalf of those who suffer cruel and torturous treatment at the hands of authoritarian regimes. We spoke out when our neighbours in East Timor suffered at the hands of the Indonesian military. We spoke out against apartheid in South Africa. How will we be able to speak out now and what right will we have do so?
"Australia's proud record in human rights has suffered a terrible blow.
"Our right to speak for the well-being of all people has been compromised and traded for the right to ke the UN out of our detention centres. We can only assume the Government has something to hide.
"To be a moral and responsible member of any community includes accepting some level of accountability to that community. By refusing to be accountable, the Federal Government has placed our country outside the bounds of international law. At what cost to our nation's reputation and good-standing does the Government continue to maintain the arrogant stance that no-one has a right to tell us what to do?"
In reply to the government line that it was not in Australia's strategic interest Professor Haire said: "How could it be in our national interest not to stamp out torture? This is a vote of shame".
MediaContact: Kim Cain, Media Liaison 0419 373 123
Uniting Church Frontier Services has appointed Rev John Case as Patrol Minister to provide a ministry of physical and spiritual support to people living in remote parts of South West Queensland.
Mr Case took over the Burke and Wills Patrol from retiring Patrol Minister, Brian Henman, in July.
The Charleville-based patrol covers an area of some 320,000 square kilometers that stretches west to Birdsville and includes part of the north-east corner of South Australia.
Although a minister of the Uniting Church, Mr Case will undertake an ecumenical ministry
to people from a wide range of Christian traditions. He's expecting to conduct baptisms, weddings, funerals and ecumenical worship services. In addition to this, Mr Case expects to be spending a great deal of time on the road visiting individuals and families in remote stations and settlements and lending a hand wherever he can.
"The role of a Uniting Church Patrol Minister is very hands on", said Mr Case. "My role is to be available to support people in whatever way I can - to share their joys and concerns and provide emotional and spiritual counsel as it is needed. No matter whether the needs are great or small, one thing I hope to achieve with all I meet, is to simply extend the hand of care and friendship. That's the vision that Rev John Flynn (Flynn of the Inland) had when he set out on his first outback patrols in 1912. If I can earn people's trust and be a help in some small way, then I will feel I am making a difference and my ministry is worthwhile."
Frontier Services has 18 Patrol Padres throughout the country, who together travel a combined distance of over 1 million kilometres each year. They reach more than 80% of the Australian continent and provide care and support to more than 15,000 isolated families and individuals. The patrol regions reach from Cape York to Central Australia and the West Coast of Tasmania.
Media Contact: David Sullivan - National Development Manager
Phone: 0407 276 796 or (02) 8267 4247
Interviews can be arranged upon request.
Coolamon College will become a constituent member of Adelaide College of Divinity (ACD) in 2003. The national office of the College will re-locate to Adelaide at the end of 2003.
"Being part of ACD and co-located on the ACD site opens up some important new partnership possibilities for us, as well as a whole range of new study options for our students," said Revd Dr Anita Monro, Acting Principal of Coolamon.
"2003 will be a year of transition for us," she continued. "We will need to consider many students' programs individually to assess their best options for completing awards. Delaying the office re-location to the end of 2003 will give us time to make the administrative move."
New students with Coolamon for accredited award programs in 2003 will commence with ACD. Some existing students will complete their programs with Brisbane College of Theology or Sydney College of Divinity, and others will transfer into ACD programs.
On 1 January 2003, Coolamon College also celebrates its 10th anniversary as the Uniting Church's national provider of distance theological education. For the first 10 years of the College's life, the Uniting Church's Queensland Synod has provided substantial support.
"It's great that on Coolamon's 10th anniversary, the college is taking such a significant step for its future ministry," endorsed Revd Terence Corkin, General Secretary of the Uniting Church's National Assembly. "The Assembly acknowledges the extensive support given by the Queensland Synod during the first 10 years of the College's life, and looks forward to the new partnership relationship with South Australia through Coolamon College."
Current constituent members of ACD are Parkin-Wesley College (UCA), St Barnabus' Theological College (Anglican), Catholic Theological College and Nungalinya College (Ecumenical). Parkin-Wesley, St Barnabus' and Catholic Theological College are co-located on the Adelaide Theological Colleges Campus site at Brooklyn Park, Adelaide, SA. ACD also forms the School of Theology for Flinders University.
Media contact: Rev. Dr Anita Monro, Acting Principal ph: 07 3377 9940
Christian churches will unite in Kuta, Bali on Friday 29th November 2002 in a vigil for peace and healing in the wake of Bali bomb blasts on 12 th October 2002.
The service will demonstrate a commitment by international churches to supporting the local community and assisting in the re-establishment of Bali as safe place.
The president of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev Professor James Haire and Rev John Barr, Acting Director of Unity and International Mission, Uniting Church in Australia, will participate.
Professor Haire condemns the terrorist attacks that took place on 12 th October and he expresses his deep concern for the whole of Indonesia where fear and terror are daily realities.
Professor Haire says the Uniting Church's participation in the vigil on 29th November "will demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Bali and Indonesia". "We must at all costs demonstrate our commitment to overcoming terror and supporting peace initiatives in Indonesia".
Professor Haire says the Uniting Church in Australia is involved in a long partnership with the Protestant Christian Church in Bali.
"We will not walk away from our friends in this time of crisis" says Professor Haire. "The people are suffering trauma and the impact on their way of life is serious as the economy declines. Australians have a responsibility to support our neighbours in this time of real crisis."
Professor Haire will be back in Australia on Saturday 30th November and can be contacted on 0409363362 (mobile). He can also be contacted in Bali on +62 361 424862 or +62 361 730442 (hotel).
Speaking from Bali this week, the President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev Professor James Haire, says that “I am deeply troubled by the obvious impact the Bali bombings are having on the local community.”
“People are in desperate trouble”, says Professor Haire. “They are traumatised by recent events and as many as 80% of Bali’s population are in some way dependent on tourism.” After visiting the bomb site on Jalan Legian and travelling around the tourist district, Professor Haire says “Kuta is like a ghost town. Local Balinese have no income and future is very bleak. This situation will continue to get worse while tourists stay away.”
Professor Haire is in Bali to participate in a special joint church service this evening, Friday 29th November 2002. The service will focus on healing and peace in Bali. Up to 5,000 people will meet in Bali’s cultural centre in Denpasar and the occasion will involve the Governor of Bali, the Protestant and Catholic Bishops of Bali together with the President of the Uniting Church in Australia.
“I am here to support the local Balinese church and the local Balinese community”, says Professor Haire. “It is vital this community knows that the church in Australia and the church around the world supports them in their time of crisis.”
While possible threats remain and the Australian Government is warning people against travel to Bali and Indonesia, Professor Haire says we must not overlook the plight of the Balinese people. “Bali has been a significant holiday destination for Australians over many years and the Balinese have been great hosts.
“We must never forget this.”
Professor Haire is available for comment today in Bali on his mobile phone (+61 409363362) or tomorrow in Sydney (0409363362).
The National President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev. Professor James Haire, today condemned the Australian Government for its “own pre-emptive strike” by sending troops the Middle East.
“This move pre-empts the Australian people, the Australian Parliament and the United Nations,” Professor Haire said.
“It is a move that takes us further from peace and closer to war.
“The Australian people have not been consulted nor has our Parliament had a chance to debate the issue. The UN Security Council has not yet reported and nothing new has occurred for Australia to ratchet up its military response.
“The Christian message is one of peace and human dignity for all. Jesus urged us to be peacemakers.
“Peace-making is hard work and not for the impatient, but the alternatives being offered to us at the moment will only lead to despair, hatred, fear and death.”
“Another war lead by the so-called ‘Christian West’ will only add a new layer of enmity in the Middle East producing another 50 years of instability and death.
“In the meantime the Uniting Church will pray for the safety of our troops, including our defence force chaplains. And we will pray for peace.”
Media Contact: Kim Cain, Media Liaison 0419 373 123
James Haire is available for media interviews
Uniting Church leaders today condemned the Federal Government for its agreement with the Iranian Government to accept the forced deportations of failed Iranian asylum seekers. The National President of the Uniting Church, the Reverend Professor James Haire said, “Recent High Court decisions have exposed serious flaws in Australia’s processing of claims for refugee status. As a consequence, our confidence in the Government’s approach has been eroded. We are extremely concerned that there are people who have failed the Government’s tests for refugee status, but who do indeed have a genuine fear for their safety. Even if people’s claims do fall outside of the UN definition of a refugee, they may still have a need for protection for other reasons.”
The National Director for Justice in the Uniting Church, the Rev. Elenie Poulos said, “Reports by the US State Department confirm serious human rights abuses in Iran including summary executions and torture.
It is clear that the Iranian Government cannot guarantee their willingness or ability to offer effective protection to people in their country.”
“That the Australian Government would return people to a country where such abuses are know to occur, is an abrogation of our responsibility as decent human beings not to endanger peoples’ lives,” Prof. Haire said.
“The Iranian refugees themselves have already pleaded to be sent to any other country which is a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention. The Uniting Church in Australia calls on the Federal Government to make alternative arrangements for every Iranian currently held in immigration detention. We do not want the blood of innocent people on our hands.”
Media Contact: Elenie Poulos, National Director, UnitingJustice Australia 0417 431 853
The Defence Force Chaplaincy Committee meeting in Adelaide today has given its unequivocal support to its chaplains who have been deployed in connection with the war in Iraq. It asks all Uniting Church members, regardless of their views on the rights and wrongs of this deployment, to support their chaplains and all Defence Force members and their families with their prayers and goodwill.
The leader of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev Prof. James Haire, today said the Australian government had to take seriously its responsibilities to rescue the tiny island nation of Tuvalu as it faced the prospect being swept into the Pacific Ocean due to climate change.
Recently returned from Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, Prof. Haire said: "Tuvalu is the world's smallest nation and it is at risk of literally being drowned by rising sea waters caused by global warming. Yet, Australia has insisted it will not make special provision for the acceptance of its residents should this happen.
"In fact through the Minister for Immigration, Mr Ruddock, Australia has said 'they will have to apply to come to Australia just like anyone else'.
"Australia can become an ark for the 11,000 Tuvaluans who desperately need to know they have a future. The best thing Australia could do is to help prevent their drowning by signing the Kyoto protocol; next we can assure them they can 'call Australia home' if the ocean does swamp their islands.
"Australia is by far the largest polluting nation in the South Pacific. We are therefore, a prime cause of this problem now being imposed on a host of small Pacific island states, and our response so far has been lacking in generosity, to put it mildly.
"The law of the sea demands that people left drowning must be rescued. The same principal must surely apply to our neighbours as their country slowly but surely sinks into the sea.
"Already one island in the Tuvalu group has disappeared off the face of the map.
"Australia has lolled around like a tourist on a li-lo in the Pacific on issues like the Kyoto protocol, and has all but ignored the pleas of the Tuvalu people whose homeland is drowning.
"It would help greatly if Australia would sign up to the Kyoto protocol, and therefore make a real contribution to secure the future existence of Tuvalu. But if the worse comes to worst we as the regional power must generously accept the people of Tuvalu into our nation."
Professor Haire has had three meetings with the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Mr Saufatu Sopoanga, whilst on a tour of Pacific nations. The Uniting Church in Australia has long term historical relations with the Church of Tuvalu, (through its Congregational Church background) which makes up about 95 percent of the population.
Kim Cain, Media Liaison 0419 373 123
James Haire is available for media interviews
“The books may be balanced, but many of those most in need have been left further behind by this budget,” said Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director of UnitingCare Australia.
“It is tragic that a budget focussed on security delivers nothing for those who are least secure.”
“We live in an increasingly divided society. Real security is about having a roof over your head. Real security is about having a job. Real security is about feeling that you belong. Security for all requires a fair go for everyone. Poverty and social exclusion hurt us all.”
“Addressing poverty and encouraging full participation requires sustained commitment. The longer we ignore these challenges the harder they will be to address.”
“While the Budget contains some much needed extra funding for valuable programs such as Community Aged Care Packages, the Home and Community Care Program, and the Special Needs Subsidy Scheme for children with high support needs, the long term effects of the changes to Medicare remain unclear and there are no major initiatives to build stronger families and communities.”
Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, said, “This Budget represents a missed opportunity to put forward a vision for a fair and inclusive society. It is more about being seen to be tough on people on income support than addressing the real issues. It is mean-spirited and demonstrates the Government’s lack of interest in Australians living on the edges.”
Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director UnitingCare Australia ph: 0408 402 222
Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director UnitingJustice Australia ph: 0417 431 853
The Four Corners report on the conditions at Woomera detention centre (19 May) has finally exposed the horrific consequences of the Federal Government’s policy of mandatory detention.
Leaders of the Uniting Church in Australia believe that it is now time to act. A full judicial inquiry must be held. Two years ago, the national president of the Uniting Church, Rev. Prof. James Haire, called for an independent inquiry into Australia’s detention centres. That need has now been fully exposed.
“The Federal Government, in line with its policy of deterrence, has succeeded in building one of the harshest detention regimes anywhere in the world,” said Professor Haire.
“It is the cruellest irony that among those who have suffered so much in our detention centres were so many people fleeing regimes against which we have waged war. We said we were fighting for their liberation. We could have helped those few who came to us seeking freedom but we chose to add to their misery and compound their oppression.”
The National Director of UnitingJustice, Rev. Elenie Poulos, said, “The evidence obtained by Four Corners shows that where these cruel regimes failed, the Australian Government has succeeded.”
“It has succeeded in finally breaking the spirits of people who, until their arrival here, had managed to survive conditions we can’t even imagine. It has succeeded in destroying all their hopes for better lives. And with complete contempt for people’s human rights, it has succeeded in abusing people’s dignity and destroying their mental and physical health.”
“The responsibility for such shocking situations lies squarely with the Government.”
Professor Haire said: “The Uniting Church in Australia supports the call for a full judicial inquiry into the conditions and management of all immigration detention centres in Australia.
“There must be no room for cover-ups. It is time that all Australians knew the truth about the horrors that have been perpetrated in our name.”
Media contact: Kim Cain, Media Liaison 0419 373 123
James Haire and Elenie Poulos are available for comment