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
In Canberra today, the Uniting Church called for a national Anti-Poverty Agreement. “Poverty is not just about a lack of income,” said Lin Hatfield Dodds, the National Director of UnitingCare Australia.
“It is about lacking the means to live.”
"Australians think a ‘fair go for all’ is important. But sadly this is not the reality in our country. Poverty affects one in nine Australians including hundreds of thousands of children.”
"We urge the Government to take seriously its obligations to build a fair and inclusive Australia,” said Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of Uniting Justice.
“We need a coordinated federal and state strategy, based on targets that can be evaluated, that addresses the causes and symptoms of poverty.”
" Only such an integrated approach will help to end the suffering of Australia’s most disadvantaged people and build a just and peaceful society.”
Lin Hatfield Dodds National Director UnitingCare Australia ph: 0408 402 222
Rev. Elenie Poulos National Director UnitingJustice Australia ph: 0417 431 853
Uniting Church leaders today expressed great concern at the imminent deportation of Iranian asylum seekers. The National President of the Uniting Church, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton said, “How can Australia, in good conscience, force people back to the Middle East when it is clearly not a safe place? Iran, itself is not safe.
“Last week the President of Iran admitted as much in saying that he had failed to institute democratic reforms. It is clear that the Iranian Government cannot guarantee their willingness or ability to offer effective protection to people in their country.”
The Age newspaper has reported that up to 14 Iranian refugees will be forcibly returned to Iran as early as next Saturday (24 August). The National Assembly of the Uniting Church , at its July meeting, condemned the Australian Government for its plans to forcibly deport people to Iran where their safety cannot be guaranteed.
The National Director of UnitingJustice, Rev. Elenie Poulos said, “The Government’s system of processing refugee claims has been shown to be flawed. We cannot be sure that refugees have not slipped through the net. Even if people’s claims do fall outside of the strict UN definition, they may still have a need for our protection for other reasons.” “ The Minister for Immigration has been unwilling to release the Memorandum of Understanding he signed with the Iranian Government. That forced deportations should be conducted in such secrecy is a serious indictment of the Government’s commitment to be open government. While Iran may have requested non-disclosure of the document, Australians expect more from our democratic system,” Rev. Poulos said.
“That the Australian Government would return people to a country so close to a war zone, and to a place where persecution and torture are a fact of life, is an abrogation of our responsibility as decent people not to endanger peoples’ lives,” Rev. Drayton said.
“The Uniting Church in Australia calls on the Federal Government to halt plans for forced deportations and 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: Kim Cain 0419 373 123; (02) 8267 4239
The contribution and value of the National Conferences of migrant communities within the Church was affirmed by the Assembly Standing Committee.
The Standing Committee heard a report from Multicultural Ministry National Director, Rev. Helen Richmond about the ways National Conferences assist migrant congregations to play a more active role in the life of the church.
“National Conferences enable the voice of different communities within the Uniting Church to be heard as they make a distinctive contribution to the life of the Uniting Church,” Rev. Richmond said.
The ASC also resolved to encourage the Councils of the Church to consult with National Conferences, particularly when they are making decisions that impact these communities.
“As national networks that bring together representatives of congregations of the same culture for consultation and sharing, the National Conferences enable issues and concerns of different communities to be communicated to the appropriate Councils of the Church.” The Assembly declared itself a multicultural church in 1985 and acknowledged the need for migrant communities to be able to come together in worship, sharing and discussion in their own language. In 1987, the Togan community was the first to hold a National Conference and today there are 8 National Conferences in the Church. A review done in 2003 showed that National Conferences benefit the communities as well as contribute to developing leadership capabilities of people from the different communities which enriches the whole church.
Rev. Richmond told the ASC the Church took a major step forward at the last Assembly in increasing the number of ASC appointed members of people from non-Anglo backgrounds in the Assembly from 6 to 12.
“This was a very welcome step for migrant communities and congregations. Having the National Conferences involved in nominating people to the Assembly is one way the Assembly can increase the number of members from non-English speaking backgrounds as well as recognise the important place of the National Conferences in the life of the Uniting Church.”
The decision of increasing the number of people appointed by the ASC from non-Anglo cultural and linguistic backgrounds will come into effect at the 11th Assembly. The Standing Committee is to find the most appropriate means of implementing this desire.
The Uniting Church will enter a new era, working with the NCCA and the Federal Government to develop interfaith dialogues across the Asia Pacific region.
Uniting Church President Rev. Dean Drayton, said the Standing Committee at its July meeting agreed to participate in regional interfaith dialogues that will build on the work already being undertaken by the Church within Australia.
It follows a recent announcement by the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, to investigate the possibility of the Australian and Indonesian Governments to developing interfaith regional conferences in South East Asia. “After that announcement at the NCCA forum, we moved a resolution that the NCCA look to play an active role in developing these conferences because of the experience Churches like ours already have in this area.
“Flowing from this I felt it was important that the ASC endorse Uniting Church participation so that we could share our own very broad experience at the table and play a part in making these conferences a success.
“I’m pleased that the ASC agreed to support the National Council of Churches resolution to try and work with the Federal Government to develop interfaith dialogues because I think we have some very useful experiences to share,” Rev. Drayton said.
“We know from our work in Australia and overseas in Ambon that interfaith dialogues are often a vital first step in addressing broader social problems.
“Of all the Churches in Australia, the Uniting Church knows better than any other about understanding difference and focusing on the things that unite us, and it is from this experience that we have worked so hard to support interfaith dialogues already.
“I look forward to working with the NCCA to develop similar dialogues across our region,” Rev Drayton said.
The Uniting Church recently signed a new covenant with Australian Churches that President Rev. Dean Drayton believes, would not be possible anywhere else in the world.
Rev. Drayton told the Assembly Standing Committee that the covenant, signed on Sunday July11 by National Council of Churches members was a milestone in the life of the Church in Australia.
“While I was sitting in the Cathedral on the night the covenant was signed, the realisation of what we were doing finally struck home.
“We had been able to put aside a range of differences and focus on the things that we shared together. I really had to ask myself in what other country could churches who are so involved in their communities sign such a covenant?”
“The covenant is wide and varied and includes things such as resource sharing, common mission and ministry, common sacrament and shared ordained ministers.
“The nature of the covenant varies between churches, but one thing that we all share is the common commitment to the process and an understanding that ecumenical renewal is integral to the church's mission.
“It acknowledges that within the one faith community – the body of Christ – we all have a wider responsibility to spread the word that God is totally committed to all humankind.
“The covenant will open possibilities, provide guidelines and give encouragement to congregations locally to covenant together.
“It is only by finding the limits of what is permissible between Churches, that we can define what is possible for all of us.”
The full text of the covenant is available at htttp://www.ncca.org.au/departments/faith_&_unity_commission
The Uniting Church in Australia today expressed deep concern that problem gambling will increase if new Internet gambling activities are allowed in Australia.
Uniting Church National President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said reports in today’s media suggesting a merger between PBL and Betfair could signal an increase in problem gambling in Australia.
“The Federal Government has banned casino style internet gambling but its decision to allow Internet betting exchanges to operate offshore has opened the door to worrying mergers like the one suggested between PBL and Betfair.
“At the heart of this merger is an attempt to set up new deals with Australian sporting bodies like Cricket Australia, which, until now, have been off limits for Internet gamblers,” he said.
“This merger would make gambling more accessible and appealing by opening the door on a whole new range of sports gambling opportunities. This would inevitably lead to an increase in problem gambling.”
“Government’s have a moral responsibility to ensure that residents are protected from undue risk, especially those whose existing gambling is excessive and causes them harm.
“A 2002 report by UK gambling support service, GamCare showed the number of clients with sports gambling problems increased from about 2% of all clients to over 25% of clients in just one year after exchanges were introduced.
“In the 2002 - 2003 year Australians gambled $128.3 billion and 300,000 Australians were identified as having gambling problems. 1
“The Internet makes gambling easier and less personal and allows problem gamblers to remain anonymous,” he said.
"The Uniting Church calls on the Federal government to hold its nerve, maintain the current ban on Internet gambling in Australia and resist overtures by BetFair, PBL Broadcasting and other Internet-based gambling providers," Rev. Drayton said.
Media contacts: Reverend Dean Drayton, 0400 354 237
Key family services providers of the Uniting Church have welcomed the Australian Government’s commitment to establishing family relationship centres that will put a focus on mediation and dispute resolution ahead of the court system.
Unifam Counselling, UnitingCare and UnitingCare Australia all welcomed the new changes that build on the existing partnerships between government and non-government agencies who have a track record for evidenced-based service delivery.
Clive Price, Executive Director of Unifam said that the concern that Unifam has had with the current adversarial system is that it in effect equips and encourages parents to fight better, longer, and with greater expertise. “The challenge is to find processes which promote the building of safe and enduring relationships between children and their parents. We hope that the Family Relationship Centres will allow and promote this to happen. The focus needs to be on fostering relationships post separation so that the interests and needs of all those involved are met and that primarily, it’s not about legal solutions” Mr rice said.
Mr Price said Unifam also welcomed the immediate injection of funds to existing services to strengthen the work they are already doing.
“This new funding will help us continue our existing work as the Family Relationship Centre network is set up. It recognises that the current system of mediation and counselling works as an early preventive measure and that counselling shouldn’t just be available when relationships end.”
Burnside CEO Jane Woodruff said the move to a non-adversarial system of mediation outside of the courts would have significant benefits for children and put children’s safety at the forefront.
“We are very pleased to see the Government has responded to the recent Federal Bipartisan Child Custody report in a way that recognises negotiation, family-by-family solutions and a non-adversarial approaches. From our wide-ranging experience working with children we know that joint solutions found outside of the courts deliver far better outcomes for all concerned, especially young children.
“Burnside acknowledges the focus on the important role of fathers particularly the emphasis on their role as parents and the needs of their children. It is refreshing to see the focus on them as fathers. We welcome an extension of these programs and certainty of funding for existing programs like those being run by Burnside.”
UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said it was important that the new Family Relationship Centres worked cooperatively with existing services.
”The UnitingCare network would like to see improved integration between these new services and existing family support services, especially for those families for whom three hours of dispute resolution will not be enough and where children may be at risk.
“We welcome the release of a discussion paper on family law reforms and will be arguing the current processes of the Family Court must streamlined and made less expensive for those families where mediation fails or is not an option.”
Clive Price, Executive Director, Unifam: 0417 681 686
Jane Woodruff, CEO, Burnside: 0402 891 325
Lin Hatfield Dodds, UnitingCare Australia: 0408 402 222
The High Court’s decision to uphold the indefinite detention of stateless people is proof that a new system of complementary protection is urgently needed in Australia.
UnitingJustice National Director, Rev. Elenie Poulos, said Ahmed Ali Al-Kateb and Abbas Mahammad Hasan Al Khafaji, who have both been refused asylum, now face the prospect of life-long detention in Baxter.
“This is a shocking outcome that exposes the current policies and the associated legislation as not only unreasonable but abusive. It creates the possibility that refused asylum seekers who have no home to return to may die behind electrified fences in Australia,” Rev. Poulos said.
Rev. Poulos said that this problem stems from the fact Australia does not have an administrative process to assess applications from those who are not refugees, but engage Australia’s protection obligations under other international treaties such as the Convention Against Statelessness.
“Statelessness is an international problem. Australia could be part of the solution. The type of complementary protection system suggested by the Church and others would allow visas to be granted on humanitarian grounds to people who are stateless.
“Minister Vanstone has seen the complementary protection proposal developed by Amnesty, the Refugee Council and the National Council of Churches. We hope that this current situation will encourage her to give it further consideration. We also hope this decision will encourage Labor to do the same because up until now, they have rejected our request, and the request by UNHCR, to consider complementary protection.
“Being stateless is not an individual's fault. It is not a crime and no-one deserves to be locked up for the term of their life just because a country refuses to accept a person as their citizen,” Rev. Poulos said.
“This legislation must change. The land of the fair-go has disappeared. There is no land of the fair-go as long as this legislation remains in place.”
Media contacts: Rev. Elenie Poulos, 0417 431 853
Gavin Melvin, Senior Communications Officer, 0417 416 674
The Uniting Church has welcomed the compassion and decency being shown to TPV refugees who have established work and family connections in Australia, but said recent changes will leave many refugees no better off.
UnitingJustice National Director, Rev. Elenie Poulos, said yesterday’s announcement should be followed up by policy changes that address the real problems facing Australia’s refugee protection system.
“These changes prove that all that is required to treat people humanely is political will. But this attempt to address the needs of current TPV holding refugees ignores the fundamental flaws in our humanitarian program.
“This is an initiative which will only benefit some groups of TPV refugees and does not address the real problems. Minister Vanstone’s visa juggling may appear impressive but she is, in fact, dropping the ball.
“The Government is obviously confused: they know that they have been harsh and abusive in their treatment of refugees but do not want to appear ‘soft’ – so now we have a policy that is good for some people while being of no help to others. The attempt to portray themselves as a caring Government lacks credibility as long as they continue to espouse policies that deter and punish people fleeing persecution and harm,” Rev. Poulos said.
Under the Government’s changes vulnerable TPV refugees who have not been able to work and who do not have family or close community connections are unlikely to obtain a visa. The most needy and vulnerable are likely to be left unaffected. Future asylum seekers will continue to be caught up in this messy visa system.
Rev. Poulos said that this is not a policy change – temporary protection visas are one of many of the Government’s punishment and deterrence policies that need to be overturned to restore integrity to our humanitarian program.
“In recent times, the Government’s visa juggling has unnecessarily complicated and confused our migration programs and visa arrangements. Protection claims have been pushed from onshore to offshore, unnecessarily complicating the program numbers. TPV refugees onshore are now being given opportunities usually held for offshore applicants, confusing the important distinction between refugees and migrants. Meanwhile, refugees who have claims processed under the Pacific Solution or offshore processing arrangements on Christmas Island continue to be unable to apply for onshore protection visas.
“No-one could be blamed for being confused. The Government itself is obviously confused.
“The Uniting Church calls on the Government to stop juggling visas, to grant permanent protection to those Australia has recognised as refugees, to restore integrity to the humanitarian program, and to make our visa system sensible and just,” Rev. Poulos said.
Media contacts: Rev. Elenie Poulos, 0417 431 853
Gavin Melvin, Senior Communication Officer, 0417 416 674
The Uniting Church will enter a new era, working with the NCCA and the Federal Government to develop interfaith dialogues across the Asia Pacific region. Uniting Church President Rev. Dean Drayton, said the Standing Committee at its July meeting agreed to participate in regional interfaith dialogues that will build on the work already being undertaken by the Church within Australia. It follows a recent announcement by the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, to investigate the possibility of the Australian and Indonesian Governments to developing interfaith regional conferences in South East Asia.
“After that announcement at the NCCA forum, we moved a resolution that the NCCA look to play an active role in developing these conferences because of the experience Churches like ours already have in this area. “Flowing from this I felt it was important that the ASC endorse Uniting Church participation so that we could share our own very broad experience at the table and play a part in making these conferences a success. “I’m pleased that the ASC agreed to support the National Council of Churches resolution to try and work with the Federal Government to develop interfaith dialogues because I think we have some very useful experiences to share,” Rev. Drayton said. “We know from our work in Australia and overseas in Ambon that interfaith dialogues are often a vital first step in addressing broader social problems.” “Of all the Churches in Australia, the Uniting Church knows better than any other about understanding difference and focusing on the things that unite us, and it is from this experience that we have worked so hard to support interfaith dialogues already.” “I look forward to working with the NCCA to develop similar dialogues across our region,” Rev Drayton said.
In his report the Assembly Standing Committee, President, Rev. Dean Drayton, told delegates that his first year has been one of growth in a national and international perspective.
“Being in this position changes you,” Rev. Drayton told the ASC.
“When I came into this position I really thought that I had a good perspective on the life of the Church. Now, after a year, I have realised that it’s a job I am still growing into and that as I travel across the country and meet with people, I get a better understanding of the local and national issues facing them.”
“If the Church also thinks globally and nationally, then we will get a different perspective and a different appreciation of God’s calling,” he said.
He emphasized, “Since the gospel is the heart of our message, we need to find the language of today so that people can hear again the wonder of God’s new possibilities.”
“Our experience in Indonesia, which was focused by the past President, Rev. James Haire has shown us the importance of interfaith dialogues and in realising that we need to express the gospel in a way that will speak into this issue of the twenty first century.
“Our current political landscape has created a society where many people have an individualised view, to the extent of creating suspicion of those who are different.
“Interfaith dialogue is an important first step in addressing these issues both internationally and within Australia and our Church is leading the way in this area.”
Rev. Drayton said he was heartened by the number of people who expressed support for the Church’s commitment to a fair society.
“We have an inhumane immigration system that is denying basic human rights, and the fourth highest level of poverty in the developed world.”
“As a Church, we are already doing great things to help address these issues and wherever I have travelled, I am thrilled that people are living out their faith in their community life and engaging widely on these sorts of issues.”
“Despite being a broad Church serving many different people, these are the type of things that bring us together as the Uniting Church and bind us in a shared expression of our faith,” Rev. Drayton said.