I rise to support the Uniting Church in Australia Amendment Bill. The Uniting
Church in Australia (UCA) was formed on 22 June 1977, amalgamating the
Congregational Church, the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church. The UCA
has churches in all states and territories, with a membership of approximately
300 000 nationwide, and it plays a role in both the National Council of Churches
and the World Council of Churches.
The establishment of the Uniting Church in Australia was
recognised by the Uniting Church in Australia Act 1977 and similar acts enacted
by other states and territories.
Under the legislation statutory property trusts were
established in each state and initially there were synods, which were
essentially regional councils, for each state. However, for practical and
financial reasons the synods of Victoria and Tasmania were merged with effect
from 22 June 2002.
Since 2002, when the Tasmanian and Victorian synods were
merged, the church has had difficulty in conducting its day-to-day work
efficiently due to an insufficient number of trust members working at the head office in Melbourne and the different
geographic locations that people are in, as happens when a merger takes place.
In the case of Victoria and Tasmania, the merger involves two different states
with water between them.
To address the issues that have been of practical concern to
the church, the bill proposes two changes and a refinement in another area. The
first is to increase the number of trustees by two, with a maximum number of
trust members increasing from 8 to 10. The second is to allow for the execution
of instruments and receipt of moneys by a member of the trust and a designated
officer instead of just two members. Essentially it means that a designated
officer can be either a legal officer or the chief financial officer at the head
office. The third area, which is more of a clarification, broadens the
definition of ‘synod’ to reflect the merger of the Victorian and Tasmanian
synods. As the previous speaker identified, any further amalgamation can be
coped with within the new definition.
The bill has been developed in close consultation with the
church as well as other key stakeholders, and all of it is fully supported. The
Brumby government also recognises the significant contribution that
not-for-profit community organisations make to Victoria and is committed to
assisting them in their charitable and community work. Some of the worthwhile
services provided by the church include drug and alcohol counselling, support
for refugees, aged-care services, promoting human rights and caring for those
who are vulnerable or marginalised in our society.
The member for Bentleigh in the other place, Mr Rob Hudson,
placed on record that UnitingCare Australia undertakes a myriad of good works
within the community. It expends in the vicinity of $110 million a year for
emergency relief and support housing for those in the community who are in real
need. The Member for Ballarat East in another place, Mr Geoff Howard, gave
examples of UnitingCare Australia’s support for a housing program in Ballarat.
Most political parties can point to high-profile Uniting Church
members who have been elected to Parliament. I believe that this can be
attributed to the social justice culture that is inculcated in members of the
Uniting Church and the three churches — the Congregational, Presbyterian and
Methodist churches — that existed prior to the establishment of UCA in 1977.
Indeed in this Parliament the Minister for Education in the other place, Ms
Bronwyn Pike, was a director of UnitingCare for some seven years. That was in
the era of the Kennett government. Ms Pike was a very serious community advocate
and made clear her opposition and the Uniting Church’s opposition to the myriad
cuts that the Kennett government inflicted on the community. Also, Mr Brian
Howe, who held the federal seat of Batman for a long time and became a Deputy
Prime Minister, made sure that he drove a social justice agenda right through
every portfolio that he held in the federal Parliament.
The Uniting Church of Australia’s social justice platform is
not restricted to the confines of Australia’s borders. Many years ago I had a
job for several years where I organised exposure visits to Asian countries.
Australian workers were given the opportunity to experience 24/7 the living,
eating, sleeping and schooling conditions of working people and disadvantaged
groups in countries such as Korea, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia
and East Timor. The international work and the international department of the
Uniting Church provided me with invaluable knowledge and advice on the shifting
economic, social and political climates affecting social justice in each of
those countries and in specific locations.
In many ways it is very important that governments continue to
enable organisations to perform their work in a more efficient and streamlined
fashion, and that is what we are doing here tonight.
This bill amends the internal administrative processes of the
church’s Victorian property trust so that it may conduct its business more
efficiently, allowing it to utilise its limited resources in a more effective
manner. These changes were requested by the church initially in 2002 when the
synods merged. The government then responded by passing the Charities
(Amendment) Act in 2005, which addressed the majority of issues raised. What we
have before us tonight is a bill that now addresses any outstanding matters
specific to the Uniting Church’s Victorian property trust, and on that basis I
hope there is swift passage of this bill through the house.