Religions for Peace Australia has a Committee of Management, elected each year at its Annual General Meeting, held in April or May each year. For historical reasons, it is centred in Melbourne but there are representatives from associate branches in other capital cities. Currently these are in Adelaide, Canberra, Sydney, Hobart and Brisbane. There are many other interfaith bodies as well as numerous local government interfaith networks across Australia.
The current Committee of Management:
Chair: Professor Desmond Cahill, B.A., S.T.L., M.Ed., Ph.D., M.Ps.S.A., F.A.C.E.L.
Biodata: Educated in Australia and Italy, Desmond Cahill, Professor of Intercultural Studies at RMIT University, is one of Australia's leading social researchers. In 2006, he was made an honorary fellow of the Australian Council of Educational Leaders for his work in immigrant, cross-cultural, interfaith and international education. He currently chairs the Religions for Peace (Australia), and represents Australia on the Asian Conference of Religion and Peace (ACRP). He led Melbourne's successful bid to stage the forthcoming Parliament of the World's Religions, the world's largest interfaith gathering, and is now its Melbourne Program Director. A member of the Australian Partnership of Religious Organizations (APRO) and of the Victoria Police Multifaith Advisory Council, he is a Club Melbourne Ambassador as part of the “Think Melbourne, Think Victoria” strategy of the Victorian Government.
Deputy Chair: Ms Therese Sussmilch
Therese Sussmilch is a Tasmanian Secondary College teacher and Community Worker. She has been involved in RfP since 2001 and currently convenes the Tasmanian branch. Ms Sussmilch has learned at first hand the difficulties and discrimination faced by minority groups in our communities and enjoys working in areas to foster harmony through deeper understanding of different traditions and cultures.
Secretary: Dr. Susan Ennis Cert IV in Workplace Assessment and Training, Dip. Ed, B TESOL, MEd, Ph D
Biodata:Susan Ennis has 30 years professional background in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) as well as coordinating language programs to newly arrived adult refugees/immigrant in inner Melbourne. Sue has also taught ESL to adults in Turkey, PR of China, Cambodia (for Quaker Service Australia) and worked in Israel. Religiously speaking she was born into a Methodist family who later shifted to the Uniting Church. In late adolescence she joined a social justice house church in mulitfaith Richmond (linked to Wesley Mission) where she now still lives. After working in Cambodia, she became a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and completed their Meeting for Learning studies. These studies extended to a Masters of Education in which she examined adult learning and her intercultural experiences. In 2011 she completed a Ph D on "Religion, Spirituality and the Refugee Experience" while continuing to teach in multifaith ESL classrooms (which she continues to do). This is Sue's first formal engagement with an interfaith organisation.
Membership Secretary: Dr. Joan Daw
Biodata: Joan Daw's background is in teaching and the sociology of religion. She has been involved in research relating to Buddhist, Muslim and Christian communities in Australia. This experience has influenced her interest in interfaith relations and their potential for peacemaking.
Treasurer: Ms. Jo Elvins
Biodata: Jo Elvins is a retired social worker whose 23 years of settlement work started at Christmas 1974 when Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin and thousands were evacuated. In 1975 she worked with East Timorese evacuees and from 1976 with refugees from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Further waves of refugees came to Australia from Poland, Romania, El Salvador, Afganistan and Ethiopa. Jo feels priviledged to have contributed to so many new lives in Australia. She maintains this involvement as a member of the Communities Council on Ethnic Issues in the Eastern region of Melbourne and represented CCOEI on the interim committee for the Whitehorse Interfaith Council. She represents the Augustine Uniting Church on the PWR subcommittee of the Boroondara Interfaith Council. Together with her husband, she was at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 6th WCRP Assembly in Melbourne and attended the 8th Assembly in Kyoto.
Committee Member: Rev. Helen Summers
Biodata: Rev. Helen Summers has completed her studies in Australia and the United States in religious studies and adult education. Helen taught English as an international language and language teaching methodologies for many years in Australian universities. After learning from many religious and spiritual leaders around the world, she was ordained in 1997 as the first Australian interfaith minister from The New Seminary in New York, in The Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York. Interfaith Ministers remain members of their own religious tradition, but are informed, knowledgeable and deeply respectful of the world's diverse religions and spiritualities. She has been the foundation director of The Interfaith Centre of Melbourne since 2000. Helen was a member of the Board of Management, Parliament of the World's Religions, Melbourne 2009.
Committee Member: Mr. Caesar D'Mello
Biodata: Caesar D'Mello is the executive director of the Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism (ECOT), which in collaboration with church, faith and other groups responds to the negative impacts of tourism that contributes to the poverty of the countries of the South. He was previously director of programs at the Columban Mission Centre in Melbourne and, prior to that, national director of Christian World Service at the national Council of Churches in Australia. He has had long experience in engaging with faiths for peace and justice, reconciliation and healing.
Committee Member: Dr. Ian Rex Fry, RDA, PhD
Biodata: Dr. Fry, an Honorary Postdoctoral Associate of MCD University of Divinity, is a consultant in Interfaith Dialogue. His doctoral research related to dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims with the concept of Divine Covenant as the basis. His thesis proposes a new paradigm for the study of the development of systematic religion and interaction between faiths through the identification of a series of five epochs in the revelation of Divine Covenant. His earlier professional career spanned agricultural advisory work, local government inspection and consultation, management of agricultural chemical product development and marketing, two phases of church lay work, and journalism. He and his wife served as Australian Volunteers Abroad in Papua New Guinea for several years. Working for the Community Development Association in Milne Bay he undertook to establish the country's first provincial newspaper. Subsequently he was appointed general manager for Word Publishing Company, the Port Moresby-based newspaper publishing consortium of the Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and United Churches.
Dr. Fry has participated in or attended as an invited observer assemblies, conferences or consultations of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, the World Council of Churches, the World Association for Christian Communication, the Consultative Council Islam and the West, the International Movement for a Just World, the Dialogue Academy's Gulen Conference, and Globalisation for the Common Good (Organising Secretary, seventh conference). He was secretary to the convenors for an international consultation that led to the establishment of the Initiative on Shared Wisdom (ISW) and is currently an Executive Member of that body. He was also a joint founder and inaugural secretary of the Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia (JCMA) and is a member of the Victorian Council of Churches Commission on Living Faiths, Dialogue and Community (as a Uniting Church nominee), the Council of Christians and Jews (Victoria), and Pax Christi (Victoria), and has served on Uniting Church Assembly and Synod committees and councils, the Inaugural Council of Broadmeadows TAFE College and the board of the Victorian Vocational Rehabilitation Association.
Committee Member: Ms Niveditha (Nivy) Balachandran
Biodata: Nivy is a co-founder and Chairperson of InterAction, Australia's premier youth interfaith organisation. Having lived around the world in Australia, Qatar, Switzerland, Venezuela, and India, she is passionate about giving young people from all backgrounds the chance to build enriching relationships through the service of others. Nivy has served on the Multifaith Multicultural Youth Network, the Victoria Police Multifaith Advisory Committee, and is currently on the Board of Religions for Peace Australia. She represented InterAction at the United Religions Initiative South East Asia conference in Malaysia in 2011, and represented Australia at the 7th Asia Europe Conference on Migration in the Philippines. In her free time she loves to read, dispel stereotypes, and plot her imminent escape from the 9 to 5 life.
Committee Member: Di Hirsh, OAM
Biodata: Di Hirsh is currently National President of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (NCJWA). Di has been involved in interfaith activities for a number of years. She first attended a Jewish Christian Muslim Association (JCMA) Winter Conference in 2005 and has been involved in JCMA since then, establishing the JCMA Women’s Committee in 2006 and convening the first two JCMA Women’s Conferences in 2007 and 2008 and the JCMA Winter Conference in 2010. Di is a presenter at workshops run by JCMA in primary and secondary schools around Victoria. She has been National and Victorian Chair of the Interfaith and Intercultural portfolio of NCJWA and is currently Co-Chair of the Interfaith and Intercultural portfolio of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW). In Victoria Di has been organising women’s interfaith celebrations of the Jewish festival of Passover since 2008. She has been involved in many other interfaith activities and spoken on a number of interfaith panels. Di was a member of the ACU Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue Advisory Committee. She was instrumental in establishing the Glen Eira Interfaith Network and she is a member of the Interfaith Committee of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.
Observer (Webmaster): Chris Parnell, B. Theol, Dip. Min., Dip. Human Values
Biodata: Chris has been in involved in religious and spiritual publishing for 30 years, and has worked as an editor and publisher of spiritual books in India. He has served as an industrial chaplain with a focus on chaplaincy and emergency services in Victoria. Chris has been a webmaster for several multifaith and humanitarian organisations in Australia. He has a practial interest in interfaith and the media, including a survey of interfaith sites across South-East Asia.
Adelaide convenor: Ms. Ann Aisatullin
Biodata:Ann Aisatullin is involved in pre-school education in Adelaide and is a strong advocate for celebrating diversity with young children and their families. Ann initiated and coordinated a women's multibelief group where a group of women from different beliefs and faith backgrounds met regularly to discuss and share their own beliefs and faiths with each other. This began a journey to the South Australian Multifaith Association and to joining the national committee of Religions for Peace Australia.
Ann was raised Lutheran and when she was 12 met her Grandmother (who visited from the Soviet Union) and found out she was a Muslim. Later, Ann converted to Judaism and is currently active in the Adelaide Chabad Jewish community. It is principally due Ann's background that she became interested and committed to promoting dialogue and understanding amongst religions.
Queensland convenor: Sister Patricia Blundell
Sr Dr Patricia Blundell rsm, BA, MA(Th), MEd, MRelEd, PhD
Patricia’s background is in education and she has taught in schools and tutored in University Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education units. Her PhD thesis is on educating for inter-religious dialogue and grew out of her experience in working towards establishing a multi-faith centre in a public university. Patricia is Co-Chair of the Asia Pacific Women of Faith Network, Religions for Peace Asia (2008- ) and promoted both the Australian and the Global Women of Faith Networks through workshops at the Melbourne World Parliament of Religions in 2009. Patricia has participated in a number of multi-religious and inter-religious dialogues and learnt much as a member of the Jewish-Christian and Muslim-Christian dialogues of CEIR, Brisbane where these groups met over a number of years. She has been active in the Australian Association for the Study of Religion and has written and presented on inter-religious dialogue.
NSW Convenor: Josie Lacey, OAM
In 1992, Josie Lacey was awarded an OAM for services to Community Relations and the Jewish Community. She is active in the promotion of racial and religious harmony, anti-racism, women's rights and Jewish community leadership.
Josie has held the following positions:
- Interfaith Adviser to the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA)
- Founding Convenor of the Women's Interfaith Network (WIN). WIN now has five branches in NSW.
- Convenor of the Interfaith and Anti-racism Sub-committee of the ECC.
- Member of HREOC steering committee on "Freedom of Religion and Belief".
- Chairperson of the World Conference of Religions for Peace NSW. (WCRP)
- Life Member of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the roof body of the Australian Jewish community. Consultant to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry on relations with other ethnic and religious communities.
Inter-community Relations and Anti-Racism LawIn 1989 the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies decided to join the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW and Josie was appointed as a delegate, and was later elected as a Vice Chair of the ECC.
In 1991, in the context of racist outbreaks during the first Gulf War, the ECC Chair asked her to convene an Anti-racism Task Force, and she recruited representatives of the Aboriginal, Arab, Afro-Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Chinese and Indo Chinese, Celtic, Islamic and Jewish communities. The aim of the Task Force was to combat public racial vilification in all its forms, in order to preserve the right of all Australians to live in dignity and safety.
The ECC's representations to the Premier resulted in the proclamation of the NSW anti-racial vilification law which had been passed over a year before, and the ECC later sought and contributed to a Review of the effectiveness of the law. The Task Force also made submissions to the Human Rights Commission, the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Attorney-General's Department on National Racial Vilification Law, to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal on Broadcasting Standards, and to the NSW Ombudsman on Police relations with the ethnic communities.
In 1993 Josie was appointed by Federal Attorney-General's Department to act as Co-ordinator of the NSW Consultation on the Racial Hatred Bill. In this capacity she called, chaired and controlled a public meeting with over a hundred participants voicing hotly contested opinions.
Later, as the Bill faced difficulties in the Senate, she gave oral evidence to the Senate Committee on behalf of FECCA.
Josie is the founding convener of the Women's Interfaith Network (WIN). In 1998, while attending a Catholic Bishops' interfaith conference, she suggested to the other women who were participating that they should form an interfaith group for women. They agreed, and she gathered a group of women of nine different religious groups, who meet regularly to explore issues of religious interest. In 1999 the Women's Interfaith Network was officially launched at Parliament House. The Network has now expanded and there are five active groups in NSW. Since many of the participants play an important role in their religious communities, the friendships which have been formed often provide a valuable bridge between those communities.
In 2005 she was invited to make a presentation at the Commonwealth Religious Diversity Conference at Kolkata, India on WIN as an example of best practice in interfaith relations.
On International Women's Day in 2010 NSW Premier Kristina Keneally held a reception in honour of WIN which Josie organised and chaired. The Premier opened her address with the following:
I am pleased that as Premier I can continue to support this important network - and a group that I have already been associated with for many years - initially though my friendship with Josie Lacey...
My initial support for the Women's Interfaith Network extended - beyond my own enthusiasm - to normal duties that a local MP could assist with, like finding a place to meet, which I did as an official parliamentary sponsor when I was a first term backbencher.
In 2003-2004 Josie served on the Steering Committee of "Journey of Promise", an interfaith project in which young Christians, Muslims and Jews resided together for a week, engaged in dialogue and discussion, visited each others' centres and prepared a video of the experience.
In 2008 she assisted the organisers of the Catholic World Youth Day to arrange the interfaith functions, and she was one of those who were personally presented to the Pope.
On behalf of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Josie has participated for some 15 years in a number of interfaith dialogues, including the National Dialogue of Muslims Christian and Jews, and regular dialogues with the Uniting Church. On behalf of the Board of Deputies she joins with the Affinity Intercultural Association, an Islamic interfaith group, in organising a number of functions together with the Catholic Arch-diocese, the Columban mission and the Uniting Church. These functions include an annual Abraham Conference and a Women of Faith Dinner.
Josie is married to Ian Lacey AM, and has three daughters and six grandchildren. She is a retired teacher.
Tasmania Convenor: Ms Therese Sussmilch
Therese Sussmilch is a Tasmanian Secondary College teacher and Community Worker. She has been involved in Religions for Peace Australia since 2001 and currently convenes the Tasmanian branch. Ms Sussmilch has learned at first hand the difficulties and discrimination faced by minority groups in our communities and enjoys working in areas to foster harmony through deeper understanding of different traditions and cultures.