B16A UnitingJustice Australia

1. INTRODUCTION

UnitingJustice Australia (UJA) has been the justice unit of the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, pursuing national matters of social and economic justice, human rights, peace and the environment.

It has sat within the mandate of Uniting Faith and Discipleship, with its own terms of reference, and worked in collaboration with other Assembly Agencies, Uniting Church Synod justice staff around the country, and with other community and faith-based organisations and groups.

Since the adoption of the “New Ways of Working” strategy, UnitingJustice is now included in the work of the Assembly Resourcing Unit, which is a multidisciplinary team, consisting of Mr Rob Floyd, Assembly Associate General Secretary, as the team leader, with staff of three National Consultants, Rev. Lindsay Cullen, Rev. Charissa Suli and Rev. Dr Apwee Ting, Assembly Theologian-in-Residence Rev. Dr Ji Zhang, Communications and Resources Officer, Rebecca Beisler and Executive Administrative Assistant Anna Catliffe.

2. PARTICIPATING IN GOD'S MISSION OF JUSTICE

UnitingJustice Australia is an expression of the Uniting Church’s commitment to working toward a just and peaceful world. This commitment arises from the Christian belief that liberation from oppression and injustice is central to the incarnation of God through Jesus Christ.

It engages in advocacy and education and works collaboratively to communicate the Church’s vision for a reconciled world. It also provides resources for the Church as it considers its position on issues of national and international importance and public policy.

UnitingJustice advocates nationally on issues of national and international significance. Our work has included advocating for justice for refugees and asylum seekers; positive action to address climate change; peaceful solutions to terrorism and international conflict; international trade and industrial relations policies which support the most vulnerable people; active citizenship; and an end to violence, racism, discrimination and the abuse of human rights. Our work is broad ranging and responsive to contemporary social and political concerns, while setting agendas for reflection on these issues within the Church.

3. UNITINGJUSTICE AUSTRALIA REFERENCE COMMITTEE

The UnitingJustice Australia Reference Committee has been appointed every three years by the Assembly Standing Committee (ASC).

The Reference Committee consists of a Chairperson, the National Director, a representative of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), a representative of the Synod justice staff, and eight members. It can co-opt up to two additional members. The Assembly General Secretary is an ex-officio member.

3.1     MEMBERSHIP

At the Fourteenth Assembly in July 2015, Dr Deidre Palmer was appointed Chair of the Reference Committee. The Reference Committee were appointed by the August 2015 ASC:

Dr Deidre Palmer (Chair), Rev. Elenie Poulos (National Director, UJA), Professor John Langmore, Rev. Dr Chris Budden (UAICC Representative), Rev. Dr Margaret Mayman, Rev. Simon Hansford, Dr Tim Senior, Rev. Susan Pickering, Dr Michael Hewson, Ms Frances Voon, Ms Jemma Whittaker, Dr Bek Christensen, Mr Adrian Nippress (UCA Synod Justice Staff Network Representative), Ms Aletia Dundas (Policy Officer, UJA), Ms Cynthia Coghill (Administration and Communications Assistant, UJA), Assembly Associate General Secretary (ex-officio).

Dr Palmer resigned as Chair of in mid-2016 in light of her responsibilities as President-elect. Professor John Langmore took on the responsibility of Chair.

3.2     REFERENCE COMMITTEE MEETINGS

The UnitingJustice Reference Committee has met twice during the past Triennium:

14-15 October 2015 and 16-17 November 2016.

4. MAJOR PROJECTS COMPLETED (2014/15)

4.1     ECONOMY OF LIFE DECISION-MAKING GUIDE

The Guide was completed and widely distributed before and at the Fourteenth Assembly. It was well-received and people engaged further with the guide through the UnitingJustice Agency sessions.

4.2     ASYLUM SEEKERS AND REFUGEES

“Shelter from the Storm”, the updated refugee and asylum seeker policy, was presented and adopted by the Fourteenth Assembly in July 2015. Printed copies of the background, policy and resolution were distributed across the Church in November 2015.

4.3     SUBMISSIONS

A number of submissions were made in response to Parliamentary inquiries during 2014-2015. Five were on the amendments to the Migration Act.

Additional major submissions included:

  • Review of Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act 2012 and Related Legislation Submission – Joint submission with UAICC
  • Re:Think Tax Discussion Paper
  • Australia Post’s 2020 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Target
  • The matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia

4.4     AN ASSEMBLY STATEMENT ON PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

In 2014 the Reference Committee resolved to develop a proposal for a statement on the Middle East for the Fourteenth Assembly.

In January 2015, the paper entitled Alternatives to Military Intervention: The Case of Iraq was distributed to the Reference Committee.

The previous Reference Committee expressed concern in talking about a ‘just peace’ as an alternative to ‘just war’ especially in the context of the Middle East. On this basis, UnitingJustice placed the proposal on hold.

4.5     WORKSHOP ON CLIMATE CHANGE

On 24 February 2016 UnitingJustice hosted a “Climate Change Statement – First Stage Development” Workshop in Sydney.

This meeting discussed key policy issues that Australia must address in relation to climate change. It reviewed what the Uniting Church has already said, and what might be our focus in a new statement on Climate Change to be drafted and brought to the November 2016 ASC and to the Fifteenth Assembly.

4.6     FOR A WORLD RECONCILED

After much thorough research and careful editing this book is now available. In one volume are the papers, decisions and record of what the Uniting Church believes on an extensive range of justice issues. From the Uniting Church in Australia's first press release calling for a moratorium on uranium mining to current calls for more humane refugee policy, this book covers an incredible range of social justice issues of concern to the Uniting Church over its 40-year lifespan.

It includes:

  • Justice Statements 1977-2015
  • Statements to the Nation
  • A Destiny Together
  • A Just and Inclusive Society
  • For the Sake of the Planet
  • Justice for People in other Countries
  • Seeking to Live Justly as Church

4.7     SANCTUARY MOVEMENT

During 2016, through its membership in the Australian Churches Refugee Task Force, UnitingJustice was involved in the Sanctuary movement, as an expression of our advocacy for those seeking asylum in our country.

At the November 2016 ASC meeting, UnitingJustice reported on the sanctuary movement and key learnings from our participation in the movement.

5. SUBMISSIONS AND MEDIA RELEASES

Submissions:

  • Lifetime visa ban
  • Australia’s Humanitarian Programme
  • Conditions on Nauru and Manus
  • Removal of Complementary Protection
  • Australia’s death penalty advocacy

Media Releases:

  • Asylum seekers and refugees
  • Federal election

6. RESOURCES FOR CHURCH MEMBERS

  • Refugee Week – “Searching for Freedom” resource
  • World Environment Day – “Together for a World Made Whole”
  • International Day of Peace “Three Building Blocks for Peace”
  • A Flourishing Society: Federal Election, 2016. This Federal Election Kit included:
    • Booklet
    • Hot Issues Briefs
    • Advocacy Toolkit
    • Social Media Campaign
    • Faith and values perspective
    • Contributions on issues from UAICC, Frontier Services, UJA, UnitingWorld, UnitingCare Australia

7. OUR PARTNERS IN CIVIL SOCIETY

  • Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce
  • Refugee Council of Australia
  • Amnesty International Australia
  • Human Rights Law Centre
  • Kaldor Centre for International Refugee law
  • “A24”
  • Love makes a Way
  • Beyond Festival
  • JusticeConnect
  • RACS

8. REV. ELENIE POULOS – NATIONAL DIRECTOR – CONCLUSION OF PLACEMENT

In February 2017, Rev. Elenie Poulos concluded her position as National Director and accepted a scholarship for study toward her PhD full-time. 

On 17 February 2017, people gathered at Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney to mark the conclusion of Elenie’s placement. The Church thanked Elenie for her passion, leadership and inspiration.

Messages including a letter from the then President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Professor Gillian Triggs thanked Elenie for her “constant support and inspiration”.

Elenie expressed her thanks for the people she has worked alongside, her mentors and those who have supported her along the way.

“It has been a deep privilege to have been called by the Church to this unique ministry, for so long. I have met so many extraordinary people, learned so much, and been in places and done things that as a teenager growing up in Katoomba, I didn't even know were possible,” Elenie said.

“I have been profoundly changed by this ministry and it is my hope that I have changed something in the world, just a little, for the better.

My hope and prayer for the Church and for us all and is that we can continue to boldly speak and act for justice and peace in the world, not counting the cost.”

9. ASSEMBLY STRATEGIC PLAN

From 2016 significant work was undertaken in developing an Assembly Strategic Plan which was adopted for the period 2017-2020.

In the opening paragraph of the plan the Assembly restates its commitment to ensuring that the UCA is a Church oriented towards justice.

The Plan has four Strategic Directions. Be a voice for justice: encouraging and facilitating a prophetic voice is one of these. Within this Strategic Direction are the following initiatives:

  • Resource and promote public engagement in justice issues for the UCA and our partners
  • Collaborate to provide theologically informed resources
  • Address issues of climate justice and refugee and asylum seeker policy
  • Partner with Congress in our continuing conversations about sovereignty and treaty

10. JULY 2017 - ASSEMBLY RESOURCING UNIT

The Assembly Resourcing Unit took shape through the first months of 2017, coming formally into being from July 2017. The Strategic Plan is guiding the justice work of the Assembly and staff report against this plan to the Assembly Standing Committee at each meeting.

A number of key activities have taken place:

10.1   CLIMATE CHANGE

The work initiated at the February 2016 Workshop on Climate Change was continued with a group established, led by Rev. Dr Seforosa Carroll.

Over the next 12 months a wide range of people from across the Uniting Church and beyond contributed in areas of theological understanding, personal stories of impact, scientific research, policy positions and practical responses that can be made.

The final paper “For the whole creation” is coming before the Fifteenth Assembly as a culmination of this work. In its development, many additional resources were accumulated which will be made available to the Church for further reflection and conversation following the Assembly.

10.2   ASYLUM SEEKERS AND REFUGEES

The ARU remains active in advocacy and resourcing the church in this important area. We maintain the Uniting Church’s membership of the Australian Churches Refugee Task Force and have participated in the current Dignity Not Destitution Campaign.

Resources for Refugee Week were developed with a key focus on calling people to voice their concerns for refugees and asylums seekers with local members of Parliament. The President of the Uniting Church Stuart McMillan has voiced the Church’s concerns for people seeking asylum, both in offshore and onshore detention and living in our community, at various times. These statements have been shared in the Assembly National Update.

We have continued to co-ordinate and work with Synod justice staff and agencies in sharing key messages and resources on this issue.

10.3   MODERN SLAVERY

The Assembly has participated in a number of activities in support of the development of a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. This included appearing before the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Human Rights Sub-Committee’s Inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.

In collaboration with the UCA Synod of Victoria and Tasmania and the Australian Freedom Network (managed by the Salvation Army’s Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery), we have participated in several activities in relation to the abuse of temporary migrant workers particularly in the Australian horticulture sector.

10.4   ROYAL COMMISSION INTO INSTITUTIONAL RESPONSES TO CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

The ARU resourced the President by creating a liturgy for a Service of Lament to be used by Congregations as a response to the Royal Commission and incorporating a statement by the President.

10.5   SUBMISSIONS

The Assembly has made submissions as follows:

  • Submission to the Expert Panel Religious Freedom Review – January 2018
  • Submission to the Review of the ACNC Legislation – contributed to the UnitingCare Australia led submission
  • Submission to Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples – June 2018 working with UAICC Submission to, and appearance before The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade - Status of the freedom of religion or belief

10.6   NATIONAL COLLABORATION

In late 2017 the ARU facilitated a gathering of all social justice focused staff from across the Uniting Church, both within the Church and Agencies. We considered joint priorities, strategies for communication and collaboration, and ways we could jointly use the UnitingJustice identity to describe our collective work across the church. Since that meeting, members of the ARU continue to take the opportunity to meet with Synod Justice Staff and actively pursue opportunities for support and collaboration.

10.7   CIRCLES OF INTEREST

As the Church enters the next triennium, the Assembly will be encouraging all members of the Uniting Church to participate in seven Circles of Interest. Working for Justice is one of the Circles. These Circles will be resourced by an Advocate and Panel Members as well as staff of the ARU, but are primarily a forum to engage and resource the wider membership of the church.

This represents a new way of working nationally in justice, and will be a significant part in realising our Strategic Plan, which commits the Assembly to resource and promote public engagement in justice issues.


Dr Deidre Palmer, President-elect
Rob Floyd, Assembly Associate General Secretary