The forum began with a keynote address by Professor the Hon Kristina Keneally, the first woman to become Premier of NSW. Reflecting on her personal journey as an “openly Catholic” feminist woman, she explored the complex linkages between religion, faith, values and politics in a secular society. She said it was wrong to say that religion has no role to play in political discourse, as we are all influenced by the experiences, beliefs and worldview that we bring to public life; we are all spiritual beings. The more important question to ask, she said, is how well our politicians understand the faith of their fellow citizens, and how it shapes and motivates them.
NSW Minister for Multiculturalism, the Hon Ray Williams MP, and NSW Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism, Ms Sophie Cotsis MP, both spoke to the forum, expressing their appreciation for APRO and its important work of bringing faith communities together. The federal Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs, Senator the Hon Zed Seselja, addressed a message to the forum in which he stated “APRO plays a vital role in fostering community harmony through interfaith dialogues such as this national forum. I believe in the power of people of all faiths in join in conversation, and help build an even more united Australia”.
A panel discussion moderated by the Rev Dr David Gill, former General Secretary of the Uniting Church in Australia and the National Council of Churches in Australia, brought leading members of the various faith communities into a conversation which explored what are religious values, whether there are values shared across the faith traditions, what value religion can add to our public discourse, and how faith communities can work together to demonstrate and strengthen the value of religion in Australian society. The members of the panel were Buddhist nun Ven. Wu Chin, Muslim Shaykh Haisam Farache, Hindu nun Rev Pravrajika Gayatripana, Sikh Council Secretary Mr Bawa Singh Jagdev OAM, Jewish Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio, Uniting Church Moderator Rev Myung Hwa Park, and Baha’i discourse officer Ms Ida Walker.
In roundtable discussions, the participants were invited to identify key issues facing contemporary Australia that have a real bearing on the spiritual and material progress of our society. Among the major issues identified were:
- Inclusion and social cohesion: overcoming intolerance and prejudice
- Freedom of religion and freedom of speech
- Loss of faith in our institutions (religious and secular)
- Education about religion and religious literacy
- Violence and abuse
- Environment and sustainability
- Engagement with secular society and institutions
- Inequality: Creating a more equitable world
- Women’s leadership
- Migration and refugee policy
- The role of youth and the search for meaning
Subsequent roundtables identified shared religious values that can help address these issues, explored how people from different faiths could work together on them, and developed recommendations to government, faith communities and individuals (see attached outcomes document).
A presentation by Michelle Hamlin on behalf of the Organ and Tissue Authority provided a practical demonstration of religious values in action by describing its work with religious leaders to improve education about organ donation within Australia’s diverse faith communities.
The forum was co-convened by Josie Lacey OAM and Dr Natalie Mobini on behalf of the Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations (APRO), with sponsorship by the Organ and Tissue Authority and the Australian Multicultural Foundation.
The Uniting Church is involved with APRO through its membership of the National Council of Churches in Australia.