Pacific church leaders and 200 Australian Christians in Parliament to discuss what it means to be a part of the 'Pacific family'

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Last week 200 Australian Christians and 15 Pacific church leaders held almost 100 face-to-face meetings in Parliament with the nation’s politicians, including senior government ministers, as a part of the Micah Australia Voices for Justice Conference.

They were joined by Rev Paul Goh, Justice and CALD Multicultural and Cross Cultural Officer of the Uniting Church in South Australia, Lachlan Barton, a member of the Uniting Church in South Australia and Helen Birch, a Disaster and Recovery Ministries chaplain with the Uniting Church in South Australia.

The Voices for Justice Conference, held from 30 November to 3 December, was hosted by Micah Australia to share their support for Australian Aid and discuss what the Pacific Stepup means for Pacific people. The meetings in Parliament were led by Tim Costello AO.

The delegation was in Canberra on the back of news that there will be an upcoming aid review, which has been welcomed by Micah Australia. 

“At a time when our region needs Australia more than ever, we have cut aid to the lowest level ever in history,” explained Tim. “We believe that as a blessed nation, we have a moral obligation to ensure Australian aid is generous and is supporting the world’s poorest, most vulnerable and oppressed, beyond just their ‘strategic’ value.” 

He continued: “In the geopolitical competition for the Pacific, we must ensure poverty reduction is not lost. We must retain our focus on improving the lives of our Pacific friends and neighbours.”

Paul, Lachlan and Helen in CanberraIn 2015 the Uniting Church Assembly affirmed that Australian development aid, funded by the Government, church and individuals, is an effective and powerful way of combating poverty and injustice throughout the world. Over the last 25 years, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, and the global poverty rate is now lower than it has ever been in recorded history (just 10% now from 35.9% in 1990). And every day, there are 20,000 less children dying in poverty compared to 1990.

But Australia’s aid budget has been significantly diminished and Paul expressed his concern and hope in a meeting with Labor Senator for South Australia Marielle Smith, along with other South Australian Christians, sharing his personal story.

“Australia’s Aid program has meant a lot to me. I was born in 1969 in South Korea and as a child I experienced what living in poverty truly means. Korea was one of recipients of foreign aid from some countries, including Australia, and now South Korea prospers and gives aid to other countries! Australian Aid changed my mother country and me, for which I’m immensely grateful. For this reason I’m proud to be an Australian citizen and I hope to see many more developing countries like South Korea changed by Australian Aid.”

“As a new Australian I was surprised and disappointed to know that according to OECD’s report,Australia was ranked 20th out of 30 nations that gave aid in 2018. Our neighbour New Zealand was ranked 14th, Canada 15th, and Korea 25th. We want Australia to be in the top half of donors which can be achieved by raising our aid budget from 0.22% of Gross National Income to 0.29%,” said Paul.

According to Tim the delegation was able to discuss how the Pacific Step-up can be done in a smart and inclusive manner, which puts people and relationships at the centre.

“We know how you do this. It’s by coming together and actively listening to the issues our Pacific brothers and sisters say need addressing most – like work on gender equality, development partnerships and climate change. That’s what we’ve been doing in Parliament with our delegation,” said Tim.

Rev James Bhagwan, General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, said the Pacific leaders want to encourage conversations about how Australia can best love its Pacific neighbours.

"Our journey with our Australian Christian brothers and sisters is an example of the kind of partnership the Pacific is looking for from Australia," he said.

“The truth is we don’t want a ‘hand out’, or even a ‘hand up’. What we want is genuine consultative partnership. It is this kind of partnership that we know has two-way benefits in leading to the deeper connection and flourishing of Australian and Pacific societies and their people.”

Lachlan says he went to Canberra representing the many worried citizens who believe that Australia should be considered a generous and loving nation, which is actively committed and engaged in looking after the most vulnerable in our region.

“I am also committed to social justice through Christ's call to minister to the poor, oppressed and often overlooked. Pacific church leaders and everyday Aussies standing together in support of Australian Aid is a powerful message that I believe was heard in the halls of Parliament.”

The South Australians meet Senator Marielle SmithDuring their meeting with Senator Smith the South Australians discussed how Parliament can empower local communities in the Pacific to lead their own inclusive and sustainable development as well as recognise the needs of the most vulnerable though often resilient members of our Pacific family - women and children.

“It was a privilege and honour to represent the electorate of South Australia and speak out for those whose voices are sometimes not heard in Canberra. It was very special to me,” said Paul, who became an Australian citizen only this year.

While lobbying meetings took place, there were eight workshops in Parliament House on topics such as ‘Climate Change, Poverty and Australia’s Role’, ‘Ending Violence Against Children,’ and ‘Biblical Theology for Foreign Aid’. At one workshop, ‘Theology and Social Change in the Pacific’ hosted by UnitingWorld, Pacific Christian leaders spoke about the importance of theology in their work addressing family violence, gender inequality and climate change.

Handing over UnitingWorld’s Bible study resources on Human Dignity and Equality for Pacific Churches to the Senator, Paul’s advocacy group recommended that Australia’s aid program can be more effective through leveraging the strength of existing partnerships and relationships between Australian Churches and Christian development agencies with Pacific Churches.

In his final comment, Paul emphasised that shifting Australia’s aid focus to the Pacific should not be funded by cuts from an already diminished aid budget at the cost of ending life-saving projects in other parts of the world such as Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.


Micah Australia is a coalition of churches and Christian organisations, including the Uniting Church in Australia’s UnitingWorld, raising a powerful voice for justice and a world free from poverty.



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