Yesterday, all the members of the Assembly, many of the guests and visitors and local Uniting Church members walked from the Assembly venue to the Parliament House of South Australia to hold a vigil in response to the passing of the Federal Stronger Futures legislation. I write to explain what led the Assembly to take this action.
This week is the first time an Assembly has met with the new Preamble to our Constitution in place. We have experienced in many profound and moving ways, the difference this has made to our time together. It has enabled the members of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) to speak to us, and the other members of the Assembly to speak with Congress in a new shared language of trust and hope.
We heard stories of the impact of the Northern Territory Intervention on the lives, wellbeing and dignity of many people in Indigenous communities and their cries of despair at the passing of the Stronger Futures legislation which continues many of the harmful and discriminatory policies of the previous Intervention.
Some of the discriminatory measures that were introduced by the Stronger Futures legislation include suspension of social security payments for parents whose children do not attend school regularly; up to six months imprisonment for breaching alcohol bans in communities; a continued ban on the use of Indigenous customary law in bail and sentencing decisions; and income management programs to be extended to five new regions.
One of the most hurtful aspects of this legislation has been the lack of genuine consultation with Indigenous communities and the imposition of policies that were not developed in partnership with those who would be most affected.
The Assembly, in consultation with UAICC, determined that it would seek to honour the testimonies of hurt that were shared, with a public act of worship and lament. Together we walked to Parliament House to sing, pray and mourn the continuing disregard shown to the First Peoples of this land.
I commend to you the accompanying statement to this letter by the Chair of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Reverend Rronang Garrawurra.
This Thirteenth Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia recommitted itself to stand with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, working together for the healing and true reconciliation of all Australians.
Please continue to pray for the ongoing journey towards reconciliation in this land. I encourage you to find ways in your own context to express our partnership with our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
Grace and peace,
Reverend Professor Andrew Dutney
President, Uniting Church in Ausralia Assembly
To the Members of the Uniting Church in Australia
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Our covenantal relationship with the Uniting Church of Australia was made stronger and deeper in its meaning as all the members of the Assembly walked together with Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress members to conduct a vigil of prayer and lament on the steps of the South Australian Parliament.
This public act of solidarity was in support of our Congress members who have felt the pain and frustration of the Northern Territory Intervention in their communities.
Together the Uniting Church and Congress lamented the passing of the Stronger Futures legislation by the Federal Parliament with its prospect of 10 more years of the same painful and dehumanising policy.
We give thanks to God for our brothers and sisters in the Uniting Church who are standing with us.
Reverend Rronang Garrawurra
Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress