12th Assembly 2009

UnitingCare Australia Q&A

1. Concern was expressed that no action was taken in the establishment of Indigenous Community Services. How will UnitingCare Australia “continue to actively engage in partnership with Congress in support of their ministries to deliver community services?"

While Indigecare was not established, much action was taken in exploration of its establishment. 

After the 11th Assembly, conversations commenced with Congress in July 2006 on progressing the Assembly resolution “to request UnitingCare  Australia to organise a covenanting summit with the UAICC, with a view to establishing an Indigenous Community Service arm of the UAICC and strengthening the partnership between the UAICC and UnitingCare Agencies".

UnitingCare Australia and Congress first met in Melbourne in February 2007. Participants expressed a strong commitment to work together for the benefit of Indigenous Australians, agreed that the most productive way forward is to focus on what can be achieved together as parts of the same church with a shared passion for individual and social transformation, and agreed that strengthening the working relationship between UnitingCare and Congress will need to occur at multiple levels to be effective: national, synod, regional and local.

Subsequent to that meeting, representatives from the UAICC, UnitingCare and others from the Uniting Church (including the Assembly General Secretary and Associate General Secretary) met in Brisbane in August 2007 to progress the dialogue about the establishment of what had become known as Indigecare. There was extensive discussion on the options available for the delivery and support of Congress-based community services. It was recognised that a variety of community service delivery models operating within Congress across Australia already exists. Ways were explored about how the local initiative and work of Congress groups could be supported by the wider Uniting Church.

Participants agreed to Congress working towards the establishment of a network. It was agreed that the network required some coordination resources, including a facilitator, and that the financial resources would be sought from across the Uniting Church for an initial three year start up period. Three goals were agreed upon, namely to:

1. strengthen the capacity of the Indigecare network to engage in issues that impact on Indigenous people;
2. facilitate the development of local community services with Indigenous people; and
3. invite Congress service providers to participate in the Indigecare network.

A budget and a position description for a network facilitator was developed as well as an outline of the facilitator’s relationship to the various systems of Congress and the UnitingCare network. As agreed, the Assembly General Secretary formally wrote to the Synods and UnitingCare organisations requesting assistance in finding funding for the coordination resources required to kick start Indigecare.

While serious advocacy was undertaken it was only possible to raise sufficient funds for a half time position. It is not for us to speculate on the reasons for this outcome. However, a long and committed process was entered into but unfortunately the end goal was not achieved. Nevertheless it is certainly the case that the Assembly resolution to make every effort was faithfully fulfilled.

2. How does Assembly get national perspective/oversight into matters not currently on the national agenda – eg. risk management/analysis re retirement villages and aged care generally?  Are there financial/reputational issues for the whole church?

The Assembly can get national perspective or oversight into matters not currently on the national agenda by seeking a briefing or advice from the National Director, or by communicating directly with UnitingCare Australia’s National Committee.

However, the matters Assembly can receive advice on in this way are only those matters that fall within the Assembly’s areas of responsibility and the Agency’s mandate. Risk management/analysis concerning potential financial/reputational issues around aged care are the responsibility of each Synod.

3. How effective can UnitingCare Australia be in advocacy when much of their income is derived from the Government?  

None of UnitingCare Australia’s recurrent funding is derived from government. Our recurrent funding comes from the UnitingCare network. However, effective advocacy is not contingent on funding sources. There is as strong a case to be made that it is only when an organisation is in receipt  of funding for a particular program that its voice is heard as there is for the opposing view that advocacy is best done in a “clean” funding environment.

UnitingCare Australia is influential with the Australian Government because of the size and scale of the UnitingCare network, and our reputation for integrity and advocacy with and on behalf of the network. We take seriously our mandate to bring together the values and vision of the Uniting Church with the expertise of our agencies providing services on the ground with the lived experience of those who access our services.

Policy makers are often quite distant from life as it is lived by our most vulnerable and disadvantaged neighbours. As we weave together Uniting Church understandings of being human and of community with what we know from decades of respectful support and service delivery in communities across Australia, with the pain of those left out and missing out, we create a truthful story to bring to Australia’s decision makers.

4. Does UnitingCare Australia feel it is effective in being a prophetic voice?

Yes, we do. Our prophetic edge is in constantly holding up the lived reality of those whose voice is not heard and whose experience would otherwise not count. We are often invited to participate in national roundtables, conference and other fora precisely to bring this voice to debates. We actively engage in theological reflection on core issues for us – the nature of being human, our responsibilities to each other, the respective roles of the church, the state, and the citizen.

On any measure of advocacy influence we are highly effective. These include:

  • access to decision makers eg the Prime Minister, Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Opposition Shadows, cross bench leaders and key backbenchers; senior bureaucrats;
    invitations to participate in a diverse range of key national events eg the 2020 Summit; the Deputy Prime Minister’s Community Response Taskforce and other high level government working groups; many business fora, and national conferences.

 

One recent example: UnitingCare Australia, together with the other major church providers (Anglicare, Catholic Social Services and the Salvation Army) was influential in shaping parts of the stimulus packages earlier this year. In November last year, together, we called for any Global Financial Crisis stimulus response to include modest, locally targeted initiatives that would create local employment opportunities and build local community.

UnitingCare Australia has a live website that is updated continuously: www.unitingcare.org.au. You will find on the site national position papers, speeches and presentations and our weekly ENews update. You will see that we are a loud, proud and effective part of the Uniting Church’s mission in our world.

5. How is UnitingCare Australia involved in work with refugee migrants, overseas students, homelessness, mental illness and the impact of privatisation of welfare services?

UnitingCare Australia’s work in these and other areas consists of working with our services on the ground to advocate for better quality of life outcomes for people and communities. UnitingCare Australia does not deliver or manage service provision.

We have been active over many years in advocating for better supports for Australia’s homeless and for those living with mental illness. We continue to engage in dialogue with government about the privatization of welfare services and the rise of conditional welfare. We have not done any work ourselves with refugee migrants, but have supported the work of other parts of the church where we have been able to be helpful. We do not do any work with overseas students.

6. How might UC Australia engage the whole membership of the UCA in involvement in advocacy and work on behalf of the poorest of the poor?

We have given much thought over the years to engaging and activating the whole of our church in the exciting advocacy work we do. The key constraint is simply resources. We are not resourced in any way to work across the whole life of the church. To do this properly would require a significant and ongoing investment by the church, as working effectively across the UCA’s congregations and presbyteries in collaboration with the Synods would require significant and ongoing staff and travel resource. It’s a dream of mine that one day we might be able to do this well.

To put this in persective, UnitingCare Australia has six staff (including our office manager) who work across the entire spectrum of social service delivery and social policy, currently including for example aged care, child care, the development of a national child protection framework, emergency relief and financial counselling, employment, disability, tax and transfer policy, sector sustainability including regulatory and administrative reform, conditional welfare, the development of a Compact between government and ngos, workforce issues, and the impacts of global warming on those who are the most disadvantaged and on our services. If you go to our website, www.unitingcare.org.au, you will be able to access the huge range and number of submissions, position papers, speeches and presentations we routinely produce, as well as accessing our weekly ENews. Senior staff travel a lot as is necessary when working across a far flung national network – both to visit services on the ground and to attend network and other meetings.

However, we hope in the lead up to the next Federal election to be able to engage people across the life of the church – in our congregations, agencies and missions – on a couple of identified advocacy issues. We plan to provide shell (text done, you put your own details in) letters to politicians and editors of papers, shell media releases for local and regional press, and small group resources for people to become familiar with the issues.

I would welcome further discussion focused on identifying resources that would enable engaging the whole membership of our church in our advocacy and solidarity work with and on behalf of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged neighbours.


Answers provided by Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director UnitingCare Australia.