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Conference voices justice issues

The Gap Uniting Church youth worker Richard Cassady presents a letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Photo courtesy of Theo Masselos and World Vision Australia
AROUND 270 people from Australia, the Pacific, South East Asia and Africa gathered in Canberra for the fourth annual Voices for Justice Conference in Canberra in September. Unlike most Christian conferences the aim of this conference was not to talk to ourselves but to talk to our Australia’s leaders.

After a weekend of worship, training and workshops, participants were unleashed on Parliament House to lobby the nation’s leaders on behalf of the poor.

Organised by Micah Challenge, a coalition of over 30 aid and development agencies including UnitingWorld, the participants met with 130 politicians over two days and delivered around 6000 letters to the Prime Minister asking for better aid and action on climate change to protect those in extreme poverty.

Guests from the Pacific, including Tuvalu, told of their personal pain knowing that unless urgent action is taken their nation will be flooded.

Andrew Johnson from West End Uniting Church in Brisbane said: “It was exciting to see so many people from across faith traditions come together for a common cause.

“In our churches we often talk about and raise money for poverty. Over two days we also raised our voices.”

Mr Johnson said the group met with politicians from all parties, including Cabinet members. “We also told stories of our personal passion and experience with those in poverty.”

Participants ranged from expert lobbyists to local church members who had never met a politician before.

World Vision Australia Relationships Manager David Martin said this year’s conference was exciting because there were visible signs that politicians were engaging with the Micah Challenge message.

“Many politicians are positive towards our message and supportive of what is being done through the Micah Challenge and Make Poverty History,” he said. “Many politicians feel that our advocacy really gives them the mandate to act on pushing for more foreign aid, which would normally be sidelined through the urgency of other more pressing matters.”

Mr Martin was particularly moved by the launch of the Poverty and Justice Bible at which The Gap Uniting Church youth worker Richard Cassady offered a prayer.

“The Poverty and Justice Bible launch was one of those historic occasions that one felt incredibly humbled to be at,” said Mr Martin. “To see our key political leaders there and see Prime Minister Kevin Rudd launch the Poverty and Justice Bible was wonderful.

“This was capped off by Richard Cassady’s involvement and leading us in prayer.”

A fifth birthday event, hosted by The Hon Bob McMullan MP and Senator Marise Payne, highlighted the child mortality statistic that 8.8 million children die before the age of five.
Mr Johnson said: “Despite this tragic statistic progress is being made. That is down from 9.7 million in 2007.”

Following the Voices for Justice Conference the Senate passed a motion in September 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”.

Photo : The Gap Uniting Church youth worker Richard Cassady presents a letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Photo courtesy of Theo Masselos and World Vision Australia