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Steve Richards ‘The Rise of the Outsiders’

This book by BBC political commentator Steve Richards is an essential read for anyone wanting to understand why the level of mistrust in mainstream political parties and politicians continues to grow.

This book by BBC political commentator Steve Richards is an essential read for anyone wanting to understand why the level of mistrust in mainstream political parties and politicians continues to grow. The mistrust is creating space for the rise to power of outsiders like President Donald Trump and the UK Independence Party (UKIP). This impacts on the ability of governments around the world to deliver good government, providing important high-quality services and properly enforcing laws to benefit communities.

Mr Richards points out that the voters have developed unreasonable expectations of governments and political representatives. He points out that mainstream politicians that are honest with voters often find themselves punished at a ballot box for doing so. By contrast, outsiders can often be dishonest or outright lie and get away with it. The outsiders inability to deliver on unrealistic promises is only exposed if they are elected. He points that that Daniel Dale, a journalist at the Toronto Star newspaper, monitored Donald Trump's statements from 15 September 2016 to 8 November 2016. Mr Dale recorded 560 cases where the information provided by Mr Trump was false, an average of 20 a day.

He makes a convincing case that those in government often have the illusion of power to voters on the outside, but in reality are constrained by international forces beyond their control and often having to negotiate with minor parties in parliaments. The constant feedback on social media also adds to the weight politicians feel, knowing that any mistake or misstep they make will be lambasted within seconds on social media.

He points out that voters often have an irrational level of criticism for politicians, well beyond what their actions or inaction would justify. The mistrust is often fed by a media that wishes to paint all those on the political ‘inside' as liars, corrupt and criminal. The media do the public a disservice when they pursue this ideological position. It means voters are not provided with an accurate picture of why a political leader might be behaving in a certain way and hold them to account for their actual behaviour rather than a more negative artificial media construction.

Mr Richards provides a good summary of his key arguments that:

As well as choosing to be powerless, and rendered powerless, by constitutional constraints, elected leaders rule in an era of extreme mistrust. If they do not do x, y or z, the instinct of some voters is to assume that those they elected are liars and, in some cases, criminals. At the very least, some voters feel ignored and overlooked.

Such feelings are a gift to outsiders, who promise vaguely to take back control and to act on behalf of those who feel ‘left behind’. The instinct to mistrust elected leaders is fuelled by some media outlets, which regard their main duty in relation to elected leaders as being to ask, as one interviewer put it, ‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’ It goes without saying that sometimes politicians fuel the mistrust because they do not deserve to be trusted. They can be indiscriminately greedy, self-serving and, in a few cases, corrupt. But on the whole there is a more interesting and reassuring set of explanations as to why leaders behave in the way they do. As they seek to resolve the conundrums and dilemmas, they cannot always be candid and sometimes have to go back on previous pledges or declarations. Such scheming is part of politics and is preferable to the alternative way of resolving disputes, which is the use of force.

The book is a helpful read to people concerned about social justice and truth. Having a realistic understanding of politics and what must be overcome is vital if we are to achieve a more just world. The book's one failing is that it paints a clear picture of the problem, but fails to provide much in terms of how to address the problems. Mr Richards does point out that to be successful, mainstream political leaders need to be both leaders and teachers to overcome the cynicism of a majority of voters. They also need to get better at their use of social media to reach voters directly

Images credit: Atlantic Books, 3rd May 2018, $44.99

Helping Our Neighbours

Imagine leaving your country of birth in the middle of the night, without preparing, taking only what you can carry in a back pack.

Picture moving through darkness and dealing with people smugglers to get you across a border, not knowing what may come of this. Imagine having to take this journey as a last resort, because staying put would mean further torture and detention for just being who you are and practicing your faith.

I attended a meeting where I met a man this happened to. Saadat* (not his real name) spoke about his journey and mental health at the 13 June Community Forum on Refugees and People Seeking Asylum at Swan Hill Uniting Church.

Saadat recounted the brutal beating he endured at the hands of the Taliban, for merely having spoken up about the plight of his people. After the beating, he was informed that he would be picked up again by the Taliban and that he should hide. Soon after this tip-off, Saadat decided to leave Afghanistan. 

He ended up in Australia and arrived by boat in late August of 2012. Saadat is currently on a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV), a temporary protection visa that requires renewal every five years. On this visa, Saadat can work and be covered by Medicare so long as he remains in a regional area. He has chosen Swan Hill to live and work in, and despite his history of trauma and torture, he comes across and friendly and enthusiastic.

The SHEV visa means the Australian Government has accepted you as a refugee.  However, you will have to re-apply over and over again as punishment for having come by boat. Additionally, because he came by boat, Saadat is banned from being reunited with his family as he is not allowed to sponsor them for migration to Australia. He would have to apply for special permission to visit his family overseas, a permission which is not achieved very often and can only be granted under compelling and exceptional circumstances. He explained to the 30 people at the forum, representatives from community health organisations, local police and volunteer groups, how he has considered suicide on several occasions due to the deep sadness he feels as a result of being apart from his wife and his elderly mother. The thought of never seeing them again is at the forefront of his mind every day. 

At the Community Forum, we heard stories like that of Saadat’s, but also stories from the local Uniting Church volunteers and service providers struggling to assist people. Asylum seekers used to be able to receive 500 hours of free English classes. However, this is no longer the case and instead, volunteers at the Swan Hill Uniting Church are filling this important gap. Volunteers in the Community Issues Group at this church are also offering driving lessons, swimming lessons, and excursion trips. They are also undertaking the role of what a government agency should be doing, in the form of family support including provision of basic material needs, assistance with school enrolment, and legal assistance with form filling. The church members at Swan Hill are rolling their sleeves up and helping their neighbours, despite government cuts to assistance for people seeking asylum. 

While in Swan Hill I also heard stories from mothers anxious about their 20 year old children wasting away in low paid agriculture jobs, not being able to pursue their dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, business administrators or social workers. People seeking asylum on temporary visas are not able to attend university because their temporary status does not allow them to accrue a HECS debt, having to pay international student fees to attend. This is a barrier which essentially means that university education is out of reach for most asylum seekers, with one study showing that out of 30,000 asylum seekers living in Australia, only 200 of them have attended university classes. This adds a further layer of otherness and marginalisation that an already vulnerable part of the community has to endure.

The Community Issues Group has been going since the year 2000.  That's when the social justice group decided that they would focus on helping the local Afghani men working on farms and facing difficult situations with little support. In the future, they hope to help the people with family reunion applications, currently prohibited for people who have arrived by boat.

When I asked Jill Patten, leader of the group at Swan Hill UCA, why she does this work, she replied “Because we are the church and our work follows the mission statement, sharing God's love and gifts.  All our work in the community with people seeking asylum is based on our Christian Faith.  This brings us into discussion with the Islamic faith and sharing our beliefs.” Jill’s last sentence there reminds me that there is no mosque in Swan Hill, and so the Uniting Church there has opened up its doors, allowing the local Hazara community to practice their Islamic faith there in the church hall, converting it into a Prayer House for both Sunnis and Shia to worships and celebrate life.

The Swan Hill Uniting Church has done heaps for their local neighbours seeking asylum, including shifting the perceptions of community members who weren't so warm to the idea of having refugees in town. They accomplished this by organising storytelling sessions where people told their stories of their journeys to Australia and why they left their country of birth. Sometimes just hearing someone's story can shift hearts and minds, as we see ourselves reflected in the life and struggles of another.

Are you looking for ways to do more for people seeking asylum? Would you like to plan a community forum similar to the one in Swan Hill? Join us for a volunteer planning conference phone call on Monday 26 August at 6pm or Thursday 29 August at 10am. If you are keen to join the call, or would like to organise a forum, email Denisse at denisse.sandoval@victas.uca.org.au.

The Climate Crisis: The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn

Many of us who are concerned about the climate crisis have been feeling a sense of despair since the federal election.

 It’s clear that the party that has done most to stifle progress on the issue intends to maintain its intransigence over the coming three years. But there are plenty of reasons for hope. That was the key message from Al Gore when he was in Australia recently to train a group of volunteer presenters on climate change.

Gore highlighted the fact that the costs of new large-scale solar and wind projects, even without subsidies, are making new coal power plants unviable. He pointed out that while a lot of blame for the election result is being directed at Queensland where empty promises of mining jobs may have been a factor> However, with solar panels on one third of homes, Queensland also has the highest take-up of residential solar anywhere in the world.

In addition, although President Trump announced his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, the earliest date any country can leave the Agreement is 4 November 2020. Coincidentally, that will be the day after the 2020 US presidential election so a new president could easily overturn Trump's decision.

That the crisis will only be turned around with the involvement of all sectors of society was clear from the diversity of guest speakers introduced by Mr. Gore. These included:

 

  • Pacific Islander and member of the Uniting Church NSW/ACT Synod, Liuanga Halaifonua Palu, spoke of her work as Campaign Coordinator with Voices for Power which promotes clean, affordable power for multicultural and religious communities. She made a case for ‘going fast by going slow' and building relationships through active listening.
  • Conversely, within an Indigenous context, Yorta Yorta woman Karrina Nolan of Original Power said if engagement for developing policy is done properly then climate equity and a rapid transition to renewables is possible. She called on all Australians to passionately support the Statement from the Heart made at Uluru.
  • Mike Cannon-Brookes, CEO of software company Atlassian, recounted his role in the surreal high-stakes exchange over social media with Elon Musk of Tesla which led to the installation within 100 days of the world’s biggest battery in South Australia.
  • Mayor Fred Gela of the Torres Strait Island Regional Council pleaded for urgency to prevent his community from becoming the first climate refugees in Australia. He relayed the traumatising effects of islanders having to rebury remains of ancestors on higher grounds because rising tides have eroded burial sites.
  • Emma Herd of the Investor Group for Climate Change challenged Australians to be ‘climate-conscious investors’ through their superannuation and investments.

With so much to reflect upon, the highs and lows of the three-day emotional rollercoaster took time to settle. But Al Gore’s wrapped up proceedings on a hopeful note: “the will to change is itself a renewable source of energy.” Indeed, our earth depends on it.

 

If you would like to know more, please contact Ciaran on (03) 9251 5936 or Ciaran.McCormack@uethical.com.

A Climate of Change

The recent release of David Attenborough’s documentary “Climate Change: The Facts” has had the positive effect of alarming more people on the issue of climate change. Recently we also saw the release of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service’s (IPBES) report which informed us all that one million species are in danger of becoming extinct in the next few decades. The report included 450 researchers who used 15,000 scientific and government reports to paint a stark picture, earth is in deep, deep trouble.

Species loss is accelerating to a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past, the report said. More than half a million species on land "have insufficient habitat for long-term survival" and are likely to go extinct, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored. The oceans are not any better off.

Preserving creation for future generations is an essential part of our faith.  Luckily, the younger generations are starting to take to the streets, as we have seen in the school-strike movements.

Join us as we discuss this and delve into the very serious and urgent crisis we are all facing. How do we respond to the threats facing the natural environment as Christians? How do we find hope in our faith to take what actions we can? Let us ask ourselves what we can do, and what can our institutions do, about this mass extinction we may be facing? Where can the church make a difference to Australia’s impact on environmental issues?

On September 7th, we will be joined by panellists David Ritter from Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Vicky Balabanski from the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, South Australia, Tuvalu Indigenous rights defender Maina Talia from the Uniting Church partner church in Tuvalu, and Amelia Telford from Seed (an indigenous youth climate justice organisation).

Workshops at the event may cover the following themes, depending on the level of interest from participants: Displaced people as a result of climate change, Eco Theology, Electric vehicles, Illegal Logging, Renewable energy, ethical investments, and Indigenous youth perspectives on climate change.

Saturday September 7th 2019, 9:30am – 4pm

Centre for Theology and Ministry, 29 College Crescent, Parkville

To register online visit: https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=486826&

Framed Journalists Released in Myanmar - JustAct

In February we requested that you write letters seeking the release from prison of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar who had been sentenced to seven years in prison for reporting on a massacre of the Rohingya ethnic group.

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NAIDOC Week 2019 (July 7-14)

NAIDOC (The National Aborigines and Islander Day Observance Committee’) Week is a time for celebration. It’s a time where across Australia, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians celebrate the history, culture and achievements of First Peoples. The theme for the 2019 NAIDOC Week is “Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together.”

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Post 2019 Federal Election: What Will a Re-Elected Morrison Government Mean for Social Justice?

A re-elected Morrison Government will be a disappointment for further action on many of the social justice issues of greatest concern to Uniting Church members. However, there is some good social justice news as well.

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2019 Refugee Week

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

From its beginnings the Hebrew story was the story of a people in exile, of aliens resident in foreign lands suffering oppression and persecution.  This history of exile and exodus, particularly the escape from slavery in Egypt, revealed to the Israelites the nature of their God and defined their relationship with God and other people. Throughout the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), God is identified as the God who cares for the exiled and the persecuted refugee. Hospitality to the stranger became one of the strongest moral forces in ancient Israel.

The Christian story continued to uphold God's call to solidarity with the homeless. Mary and Joseph were forced to take Jesus and hide in Egypt as Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus. Jesus travelled through strange lands, choosing to spend time and share meals with the most marginalised and oppressed people of his society. He called on people to love their enemies, give all they had to the poor, and offer hospitality to strangers. He taught that faithful obedience to God was marked by such deeds. In fact, it would be the way people responded to strangers and to the poor that would identify them as people of faith.

There is no question about the Christian response to asylum seekers and refugees. The Church is called to be a place of welcome. As faithful disciples we are to provide care and comfort to those who come to this land as strangers, seeking safety.

The Uniting Church advocates for a just response to the needs of refugees that recognises Australia's responsibilities as a wealthy global citizen, upholds the human rights and safety of all people, and is based on just and humane treatment, including non-discriminatory practices and accountable transparent processes.

For more worship resources produced by the Uniting Church, check out this website: https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/refugees-and-asylum-seekers/about 

Resources for Refugee Week, June 16th - June 22nd 2019

Across Australia people are sharing meals in honour of Refugee Week. Conversations over food are a great way to engage in the issue and talk about values surrounding the issues that many refugees and people seeking asylum face today.  If you and your church would like to participate, head to this website where you can learn how to run your own event and register it on the Refugee Week website. Thanks to the Refugee Council of Australia for organising this project. 

 

You could also choose to help out people seeking asylum during Refugee Week. How about making a donation to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre's Winter Appeal? Check out all their great work at this site: https://www.asrc.org.au/bethedifference/ 

 

Another idea for Refugee week is advocacy. You could:

- hold a letter writing party and get your friends and family to write to your local senator or MP on the plight of people seeking asylum 

- set up a meeting with your local MP or Senator to discuss the issue 

- Sign the SRSS petition to help asylum seekers make ends meet:  http://backyourneighbour.com.au/petition/

- Sign and share on social media,  the I CHOOSE HUMANE Pledge https://www.choosehumane.org.au/

- send a postcard to the Victoria State government asking for concessions for water and energy bills by emailing us at jim@victas.uca.org.au

  

National Reconciliation Week

May 27th - June 3rd

& May 26th :  SORRY DAY

Ngulu Festival
Honouring Sorry Day & The Indigenous Community

Sunday May 26th 1-5pm. 

Ngulu Festival presented by Yarra Valley ECOSS & Sponsored by The Australian Government Indigenous Languages and Arts Program. Is the Official Opening for the ‘Woiwurrung Translations signage’ displayed around ECOSS to help preserve the critically endangered Woiwurrung language of the local Wurundjeri people.

The day will comprise of Indigenous performers such as Kutcha Edwards & Amos Roach.

Welcome to Country with Aunty Kim Wandin

Wayapa Wuurrk & Didgeridoo workshop and more....
Get Tickets at this link:
https://events.humanitix.com.au/ngulu-festival

May 27th - June 3rd : Reconciliation Week


Click here for further resources:
https://www.reconciliation.org.au/national-reconciliation-week/

https://www.tear.org.au/resources/tear-reconciliation-resources

A National Reconciliation Week guide for places of worship:
https://www.reconciliation.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Guide-for-Places-of-Worship.pdf

2019 Election Resource

The 2019 Federal Election is coming up this May 18th.

Have you considered hosting a candidates forum?
Election forums are a great way to engage with the local community and express your values as a congregation.

If you would like to organise a candidates forum, we have resources to assist you in that.

Click here to download the resource.