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Rev Susan Pickering (West End Uniting Church), Lauren Ash (Micah Challenge Brisbane Coordinator), John Beckett (Micah Challenge National Coordinator) and Dave Andrews (Waiters Union) at West End Uniting Church. Photo by Holly Jewell.
Rev Susan Pickering (West End Uniting Church), Lauren Ash (Micah Challenge Brisbane Coordinator), John Beckett (Micah Challenge National Coordinator) and Dave Andrews (Waiters Union) at West End Uniting Church. Photo: Holly Jewell

Hearing voices: Why the G20 matters

The desperate woman who pushed through the crowd to tug at Jesus’ robe took a chance that his minders were too distracted to notice. There are better ways to make your voice heard at the G20, as Dianne Jensen reports.

Raising your concerns directly with world leaders such as US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel or Chinese President Xi Jinping when they come to Brisbane from 15–16 November is a risky game.

Along with a security lockdown which will restrict access to inner city suburbs, the 20 leaders from advanced and emerging economies will be accompanied by 4000 international delegates, 3000 media representatives and the heads of major world organisations like the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation.

These 20 people might just squeeze onto your back veranda but together they represent two thirds of the world’s population and 80 per cent of its trade. From international labour protections to the murky world of multinational tax evasion, the G20 leaders have the power to collaborate on policies which affect everyone from small Aussie manufacturers to garment workers in Asia.

What’s on the Brisbane agenda?

As host, Australia sets the agenda for the G20. The Australian Government’s priorities set out by Prime Minister Tony Abbott include free trade, tax reform, long-term infrastructure financing, and building the resilience of the financial sector.

Business and community forums have fed into the G20 process through a series of summits bringing together industry, youth, civil society and labour representatives throughout 2014. Their concerns have included the importance of ensuring that global economic growth is inclusive and sustainable, and concerns about employment equity and labour protections.

Outside the formal consultation process, many social justice advocates have taken the opportunity to campaign about issues such as climate change, tax justice, and the protection of those disenfranchised by economic systems which benefit the most powerful.

Rising damp

Climate change is one subject where the little people are literally being swamped by the actions of powerful players, says Synod Research Officer and Uniting Green Liaison Bruce Mullan. He says that there is increasing dismay over the Australian Government’s refusal to include climate change as a separate agenda item at the G20.

“The EU and the USA are not the only nations expressing concerns,” says Bruce. “Current climate trends are widely acknowledged as a threat to future economic prosperity and regional political stability, and the G20 nations are responsible for about 80 per cent of the pollution that is causing the earth to warm.”

In his former role as UnitingWorld Associate Director Church Solidarity (Pacific) Bruce saw first-hand the effects of climate change.

“The tiny Pacific islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu are at enormous risk. Australia, as one of the highest per capita contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, has a particular responsibility to our exposed island neighbours. Climate change may mess up our own lives in terms of environment, food security and economic stability but for our Pacific neighbours it will be catastrophic.”

Taxing times

Churches and Christian networks are also at the forefront of the campaign to promote transparency and integrity in the global financial system.

Mark Zirnsak, Director, Justice and International Mission for the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, was one of the speakers at the C20 (civil society) summit. The Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania hosts the Australian branch of the Tax Justice Network. He says that the G20 provides a critical forum for the global collaboration required to address the complex issues behind tackling corruption, lack of transparency and profit shifting.

“Even if we only look at two forms of tax dodging, Christian Aid estimates that developing countries lost $160 billion a year at a time when total foreign aid was $130 billion,” says Mark. “Clearly the flow from corporate and wealthy individual’s tax dodging far outweighs anything that is given back in aid.”

How to speak up

You don’t have to venture to downtown Brisbane to take a stand on these or any other social justice issues.

The Micah Challenge Australia Shine the Light campaign is encouraging congregations and individuals across Australia to take action on tax justice. Micah Challenge, a coalition of Christian agencies, churches and individuals, has partnered with the global EXPOSED campaign to provide information, worship resources and an action plan.

In Brisbane, the Tax Justice Network will hold an event at Indooroopilly Uniting Church on 15 November.

Subscribe to Queensland Synod newsletters Reach Out Speak Out and Uniting Green UPDATE for more information about making your voice heard at the G20.

West End Uniting Church

Still open for business

The eclectic community of West End is on the frontline of the G20, with the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre and major hotels just down the road in South Bank.

Far from closing their doors and leaving town, Uniting Church minister Rev Susan Pickering says  local Christian groups are working together to ameliorate the impact of the security lockdown.

“My main concern is for the more vulnerable people,” says Susan. “Police presence and powers are increased for the week leading up to and including the G20 … for those who are homeless, people with intellectual disabilities, mental health issues and so on, this could mean that they find themselves in situations with the police simply because they walk around the area.

“Musgrave Park has been identified as an area where people will protest and the reality is that there may be people caught up inadvertently in protest action.”

West End Uniting Church will be opening its doors on Saturday 15 November during the G20 when volunteers from the Waiters Union Christian network will help provide a safe space for people.

The congregation is joining with local churches and Christian communities to host Micah Challenge Shine the Light events on the weekend preceding the summit, including a youth gathering, public action and a Taizé service. It will also be open for Brisbane Community Action Network (BrisCan-G20) activities from 12–14 November.

“We are called to work for kingdom values, the mission of God, and that mission has a preference for the poor and this is an opportunity to be a voice,” says Susan. “We are called to action; following Christ is about being part of a movement that breaks down barriers and this is an opportunity to do just that, to be distinguishable by protests of non-violence and peace.”

Contact Susan Pickering on 0438 141 242 or visit West End Uniting Church on Facebook for details.

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