Last year, Scots Church supported Elizabeth Ferguson to attend the Voices for Justice Conference in Canberra. Here is her report.
In October 2015, I had the privilege of being selected as a representative of the Uniting Church to attend the Voices for Justice Conference. I travelled to Canberra with the other South Australian representatives, Candace Champion and Alexandra Bingham, where we were hosted by Micah Australia at Hughes Baptist Church.
Inspired by God’s heart for justice, the Micah Australia team brought together Christians from all around the country, educating and mobilising the group to challenge injustice in our nation. The four day conference equipped participants to work toward cultural and political change through biblically founded teaching and training. The program involved a series of sessions and workshops conducted by leading field experts and politicians. Information acquired through these sessions was put into action in lobby groups, and we had the opportunity to use our voices to speak on behalf of the voiceless in a series of meetings with political leaders in Parliament House.
This year’s conference focused on the justice priorities of Climate Change and the Campaign for Australian Aid. The aim of the conference was to empower Christians to put faith into action by presenting these issues to our nation’s leaders and to provide us with the opportunity to have an impact on Australia’s response to global poverty and environmental issues. Our team of Voices for Justice Conference attendees delivered a strategic plan to the political leaders regarding how Australians can better “do justice together”. The core components of these engagements are outlined below.
We addressed the impact of climate change in the Pacific Islands and led a call to further reduce our emissions in line with other world leading countries. Contemporary climate change issues were highlighted, including the abuse of natural resources and the impact of climate change on the Indigenous population. We aimed to stress the significance of these issues and asked politicians to consider raising these within their parties before the international climate change summit in Paris in December 2015.
The benefits of Australian Aid programs were highlighted, and the specific costs of aid budget cuts were addressed. We presented political leaders with research from the Campaign for Australian Aid initiative, demonstrating the value of generosity in Australian society. We compared and contrasted Australian Aid to other foreign aid programs to suggest to the political leaders that even within the constraints of economic uncertainty, other governments have successfully followed the United Nations guidelines for providing vital aid to those in need. We asked political leaders to consider making a speech in Parliament regarding the current state of our Australian Aid, prompting leaders to consider opposing cuts to the aid budget.
As a result of our lobby group’s meetings with political leaders, we were notified that Liberal MP Matt Williams, the Member for Hindmarsh, made a speech in Parliament about the Campaign for Australian Aid; he has since attended a Campaign for Australian Aid event in Adelaide. We hope to continue to engage political leaders, including Matt Williams, with these important contemporary issues.
The impact of the Voices for Justice Conference on my life was profound, and demonstrated the power of political engagement and advocacy. The training we received and the networks we have subsequently established have been invaluable. The team at Micah Australia should be commended for their hard work in developing a stimulating, challenging and inspiring conference. Attending the conference allowed me to approach issues of injustice from new perspectives and has helped turn my God-given passion into actions.
As part of our Voices for Justice experience, the Uniting Church Justice Department has provided opportunities for the South Australian representatives to continue our justice journeys. Since returning to Adelaide, I have attended Campaign for Australian Aid meetings and events where I have been able to further contribute to the work of the organisation. I have had the opportunity to meet with Liberal MP Matt Williams and thank him for his speech in Parliament, and hope to continue to engage with South Australian political leaders using the lobbying skills I developed during the conference. I have also engaged with Climate Change action through attending events and presenting a workshop at the Uniting Church Presbytery and Synod Meeting.
Along with these engagement opportunities, each of the Voices for Justice representatives have committed to work alongside Adrian Nippress in a six-month project focused on a personal area of interest. The project I plan to engage with focuses on peace, and encompasses refugees, responses to racism and the Uniting Church’s Beyond Violence campaign. I look forward to using the skills developed through the conference to instigate political and cultural change in these areas, in the church and beyond.
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