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Justice finds a voice

Rev Richard Cassady speaks with the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, during the 2009 Voices for Justice conference. Photo courtesy of Theo Masselos and World Vision Australia
AROUND THREE hundred Christians from Australia, the Pacific, South East Asia and Africa will gather in Canberra from 17-20 September for the annual Voices for Justice (VFJ) conference.

Organised by Micah Challenge, a coalition of over 30 aid and development agencies including UnitingWorld, participants spend the weekend worshipping and training before meeting with politicians to ask for better aid and action on climate change and to advocate for those in extreme poverty.

World Vision Australia Church Partnerships Manager and Micah Challenge member David Martin said registrations open in mid June and encouraged people with a desire to make a diff erence for poverty stricken people in developing nations and those interested in grass-roots political change to apply.

“Commonly, this is the type of person who has empathy with the plight of people caught up in poverty, and they would be supportive of missional efforts to help relieve poverty,” he said.

“These are people open to the idea of giving their time and energy to engaging our political leaders to ask for ongoing support of Australia’s Foreign Aid Giving.”

The conference is open to people as young as 16 and delegates are chosen via a ballot which enables representation
from as many diff erent electorates as possible.

“The electorates are chosen on two factors – the significance of the incumbents and the marginality of the electorate,” said
Mr Martin.

“Politicians in more marginal electorates are more open to listening to people from their electorates.”

The Gap Uniting Church Families and Community Worker Rev Richard Cassady first attended VJF three years ago.

He said he was initially reluctant to attend because he thought he had little to offer.

“Looking back it was perhaps the most significant decision I have made in a while in terms of equipping myself for intensive faith formation,” he said.

“I say this because of the robust and supportive process that was employed to equip many ordinary people not only in one voice, but with skills and a united platform.

“We had some immediate results for our efforts and that was exhilarating.”

Following VFJ 2009 the Senate passed a motion calling on the Australian Government to “further intensify its efforts and
actions towards alleviating global poverty, in line with the ideals and aspirations at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals“.

“In Australia we are a truly blessed nation, given that half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day,” said Mr Cassady.

“I saw that as a nation we could remind the U.N. of their commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“One of the by-products is the insights into our political process, its mechanics and how accessible and approachable our politicians are while in Canberra and in the electorate.

“As an Indigenous person I was keen to get a few more of my people involved in the process.

“In my second year there were a number of Indigenous lay people attending.

“One in particular was Eddie Turpin from Cairns who was really apprehensive about his group meeting with larger-than life
politician Mr Bob Katter.

“I asked how he went later and he said he had a ball and the most amazing ‘by the side’ conversation because he was part of Mr Katter’s electorate.

And so plans were made to link up back at the local scene”.

Mr Cassady said that while the advocacy for the world’s poor is the key goal, equipping the people in the pews for the call
to advocacy “is an outstanding by-product”.

Mr Martin said the conference achieves three things.

“Firstly, it brings 300 Christians from across Australia into federal parliament to engage as many politicians as is possible.

Over the last two years VFJ has met with 136 of 250 sitting politicians on each occasion, which has a huge impact on parliament.

“Secondly, it serves to train and motivate people around the issues of poverty, the MDGs, and help them engage in effective
non-partisan political action.

“And thirdly, anyone who goes to VFJ learns the key things needed to engage in effective political action on any issue that they may be personally passionate about,” said Mr Martin.

Registrations open 14 June.

For more information visit www.micahchallenge.org.au

Photo : Rev Richard Cassady speaks with the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, during the 2009 Voices for Justice conference. Photo courtesy of Theo Masselos and World Vision Australia