2013 Annual General Meeting

Religions for Peace Australia

5 May 2013

Dear RfP Members,

This 2012-2013 annual report of Religions for Peace Australia has been prepared by its chairperson, Professor Des Cahill, in his twelfth report for the Annual General Meeting held on May 5th, 2013 at the Hindu Shri Shiva Temple in Carrum Downs and for the Annual Executive Meeting of Religions for Peace Asia to be held in Malang, Indonesia on 7th – 10th June, 2013.

Australia, now with a population of over 23 million, has had a politically volatile year at the national level with an election scheduled for September 14th but, in terms of interreligious relations, it has been a relatively productive year with some worthwhile achievements. Interreligious harmony and social cohesion are entities that can never be taken for granted, and in this past year Religions for Peace has worked across Australia and in the individual states for greater interaction and understanding between the various religious traditions.

Results of the 2013 Census:

The results of the August 2011 census became available in the second half of 2012. Tables One and Two show the census results over a one-hundred year period from 1911 – 2011. Australia, is, par excellence, a migration, multicultural and multifaith nation state. The key statistical facts are that one-quarter of Australia’s population were born overseas and an estimated 46 per cent are either born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas. Chinese has now replaced Italian as the nation’s second language after English. There are now almost 200,000 speakers of the Chinese languages residing permanently in Australia augmented by the many Chinese students temporarily studying at Australian universities.

Australia’s religious profile according to the 2011 census is characterized by

  • (a) the continuing decline of mainstream Protestantism
  • (b) the continuing growth of Catholicism as the nation’s largest religious group on 25.3 per cent
  • (c) the continuing rise of Australian secularists and humanists (no religion) who represent 22.3 per cent of the population
  • (d) the rise of nature religion movements
  • (e) the plateau-ing of pentecostal and charismatic Christianity after a dramatic 1990s rise and, lastly,
  • (f) the dramatic rise in the non-Christian religions, led by the Buddhists (2.5% of the total population), the Muslims (2.2%) and Hindus (1.28%).

There are more Muslims than Lutherans, more Buddhists than Baptists and more Hindus than Salvation Army members. The nation is now paradoxically a secularist and multifaith Australia with 61.2 per cent as the Christian core. As a result of a massive movement of immigrants from India in the 2006 – 2011 period as well as smaller but significant numbers from Bangladesh and Pakistan, there has been a dramatic rise in the numbers of Hindus and Sikhs as well as the continuing upward trend in the numbers of Muslims who now come mainly from Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey. Hindus clearly come from India, but also from Fiji and the U.K.. There are now 37 full-time Muslim schools across Australia. Buddhism still remains Australia’s largest non-Christian religion with Viet Nam, China and Thailand as the major source countries. Catholicism has grown because of migration from the Philippines and of the Asian Catholic minorities from countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and, especially Syro-Malabar Catholics from Kerala in India plus the migration of refugee Catholics from countries such as Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and South Sudan.

Hence, the 2011 census figures document that Australia has increasingly become a multifaith nation which is slowly but increasingly being recognized at the national level. This clearly has implications in the importance of the work of Religions for Peace Australia as Australia’s major community-based interfaith organization in its work within Australia and its interaction with Religions for Peace Asia and Religions for Peace International.

Table One: Major Religious and Secularist Groups in Australia: 1911 – 2011 (in raw numbers)

Religious Group   1911 1947 1961 1981 2001 2011
Anglicans N 1,710,433 2,957,032 3,669,940 3,576,641 3,881,162 3,679,907
Baptists N 97,074 113,527 149,628 190,259 309,205 352,499
Buddhists N 3,269 411 n.a. 35,073 357,813 528,977
Catholics N 996,804 1,586,738 2,619,984 3,786,505 5,001,624 5,439,268
Eastern Orthodox N 2,896 17,012 154,924 421,281 529,444 563,074
Hindus N 414 244 n.a. n.a. 95,473 275,534
Jehovah’s Witness N n.a. n.a. n.a. 51,815 81,069 85,638
Jewish faith N 17,287 32,019 59,329 62,126 83,993 97,335
Lutherans N 72,395 66,891 160,182 199,760 250,365 251,930
Muslims N 3,908 2,704 n.a. 76,792 281,578 476,291
Pentecostals N n.a. n.a. 16,572 72,148 194,592 237,986
Presbyterians & Ref N 558,336 743,540 976,721 637,818* 650,148 599,520
Sikhs N n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. 17,401 72,297
Uniting Church N  —   —   —  712,609 1,248,674 1,065,794
No Religion N 177,209 189,801 263,051 1,576,718 2,905,993 4,796,786
Not Stated N 119,616 827,533 110,481 1,595,195 1,835,598 1,839,598

* From 1977 many Presbyterians identified themselves with the Uniting Church of Australia which was formed in 1977 from the Methodist Church and large portions of the Presbyterian and Congregationalist Churches; n.a. = not available from the census figures.Based on Hughes, Fraser and Reid (2013) and the Australian census figures

Another year has passed since our last AGM last June and Religions for Peace Australia has continued its work.

New RfP Australia Constitution:

The new constitution began to be implemented over the past twelve months, which necessitated the online meetings of the national body. These meetings, aside from the annual face-to-face meeting at each Annual General Meeting, have given the organization a deeper sense of its nation-wide mission. The new technologies have partly overcome Australia’s tyranny of distance! However, because of changes in legislation by the Australian government regarding charities and not-for-profit organizations, further changes will have to be made to the constitution to meet the new legislation requirements and for approval at the next AGM in 2014.

One particular achievement for 2013 has been the inclusion of the Canberra Interfaith Forum within the family of Religions for Peace Australia.

le Two: Major Religious and Secularist Groups in Australia: 1911 – 2011 (in percentages of total Australian population)

Religious Group   1911 1947 1961 1981 2001 2011
Anglicans % 38.4 39.0 34.9 24.5 20.7 17.1
Baptists % 2.2 1.5 1.4 1.3 1.6 1.6
Buddhists % 0.07 0.01 n.a. 0.24 1.9 2.5
Catholics % 22.5 20.9 24.9 26.0 26.6 25.3
Eastern Orthodox % 0.07 0.22 1.5 2.9 2.81 2.82
Hindus % 0.01 0.00 n.a. n.a. 0.51 1.28
Jehovah’s Witness % n.a. n.a. n.a. 0.4 0.53 0.40
Jewish faith % 0.39 0.42 0.60 0.43 0.45 0.45
Lutherans % 1.6 0.88 1.5 1.4 1.3 1.2
Muslims % 0.09 0.04 n.a. 0.53 1.5 2.2
Pentecostals % n.a. n.a. 0.16 0.49 1.0 1.1
Presbyterians & Ref % 12.5 9.8 9.3 4.4 3.4 2.8
Sikhs % n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. 0.09 0.34
Uniting Church % 26.5 22.2 20.2 4.9 6.7 5.0
No Religion % 0.4 0.4 0.4 10.8 15.5 22.3
No Stated Religion % 2.7 10.9 10.5 10.8 9.8 8.6

* From 1977 many Presbyterians identified themselves with the Uniting Church of Australia which was formed in 1977 from the Methodist Church and large portions of the Presbyterian and Congregationalist Churches; n.a = not available from the census figures. Based on Hughes, Fraser and Reid (2013) and the Australian census figures

Canberra Interfaith Forum:

The forum in the national capital comprises 12 spiritual traditions: Baha’i, Buddhist, Brahma Kumari, Christian, Hindu, Indigenous, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan Awareness, Sikh, Sathya Sai and Sukyo Mahikari. Its vision is to encourage people living and working in harmony, respecting all cultures, races and spiritual traditions. Interfaith activity had begun in Canberra in 1993, and after the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne in December 2009, a regeneration occurred with the formation of the Canberra Interfaith Forum. Since 2010, it has held various public forums on spirituality and on global peace and human rights as well as a youth interfaith forum in April 2013. It also participates annually in Canberra’s multicultural festival with displays and information about the various faith traditions. In June 2012 it hosted a Peace Pole Ceremony near Parliament House. It will help sponsor a Sacred Music concert to celebrate Canberra’s centenary. Its chair is Dean Sahu Khan.

Activities of Other State Branches:

Other state branches have continued their activities. Religions for Peace New South Wales continues to meet regularly in the NSW Parliament House for prayer and reflection together with input from selected speakers, including from a senior figure in SBS TV and Radio and a senior policeman. The women’s groups in Sydney continue to be active in their prayer meetings. Religions for Peace Tasmania completed its Harmony Day (21st March, 2013) Walk through the area burned by the Dunalley bushfires down to where the burnt earth meets the sea. The walk was led by Aboriginal botanist, Kris Schaffer, and the focus was on observing regeneration and sharing ceremony.

The Multifaith Association of South Australia last July organized a Service of Mourning for all those unknown refugees endeavouring to reach Australia on rickety fishing boats who died in the Timor Sea between Indonesia and Australia. It held its annual interfaith forum in September on ‘Health in Body, Mind and Spirit’ and ended 2012 with the annual picnic. The Victorian branch has been working with the Melbourne Interfaith Centre, led by our board member, Helen Summers, firstly, in staging an interfaith event in Victoria’s Parliament House during World Interfaith Week on February 1st. and secondly in planning several events in the forthcoming year. The Victorian branch has also agreed to sponsor the educational initiative, “Pathways of Mind and Spirit”, led by Dr Paul Tonson. In this exercise in Diversity Education , three presenters drawn presently from Christian, Humanist, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh traditions, go into secondary schools at Year 10 level to present their faith or philosophy of life for a 90-minute session with the students.

The Victorian branch also worked with government, police and community leaders to counter the activities of the Dutch anti-multicultural, anti-Muslim politician, Geert Wilders, and the sponsoring white supremacist ‘Q’ Society – the visit went off virtually without incident and there has been no ongoing issue, implying that the visit was a failure. There was also RfP participation in a forum at Melbourne University on “Religion in Universities”, in a forum on rural interfaith networks sponsored in Shepparton by the Goulburn Valley Interfaith Network and in the Agitation Hill lectures on Challenges in Multifaith Australia at Castlemaine.

RfP Australia continues its membership of APRO (Australian Partnership of Religious Organizations) and the Victoria Police Multifaith Advisory Council.

Child Sexual Abuse within Religious Groups:

In October 2012 the Victorian Parliamentary Committee into Clerical Sexual Abuse began its hearings. The chair, Professor Des Cahill, was formally called to appear before the Inquiry conducted under parliamentary privilege, specifically to address the incidence of child sexual abuse within the non-Christian faith communities as well as address its incidence within the Catholic Church. He argued that it is an issue in all major religious communities, not least in India and Sri Lanka. The risk factors are (i) the dispositional traits of the religious functionary such as a monk or priest (ii) the culture of caste celibate clericalism within organizations and (iii) the situational access to children and adolescents. It is also important to note that no female religious has been charged with child sexual abuse. As a service to the community, on the RfP Australia website, the webmaster, Chris Parnell, has been building an electronic repository of relevant articles and documents regarding the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry and the Royal Commission at the federal level which had its first hearing in March.

Anti-Racism Strategy:

In 2012, the Australian Human Rights Commission launched its “Racism: It Stops with Me” campaign. Together with 100+ other organizations Religions for Peace Australia has formally supported this initiative. The campaign has been led particularly by high profile sportspersons and sports organizations, including Cricket Australia, the Australian Football League (Aussie Rules football), the National Rugby League, Football Australia (soccer), Golf Australia and Netball Australia.

Websites and RfP Australia:

In 2011, a new website was established. Since then, its success has been astounding. A separate report will be given on this year’s statistics. Again, I wi
sh to formally thank Chris Parnell as the webmaster for his outstanding work in maintaining this website www.religionsforpeaceaustralia.org.au

RfP Australia in tandem with the Australian Multicultural Foundation and the Melbourne Interfaith Centre had cooperated in establishing the regional interfaith website for South East Asian and Oceania nations in a project funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Subsequently there have been some funding issues, and some difficulties in the relationship between DFAT and RfP Australia. There has been no progress on this issue. A proposed meeting with the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Bob Carr, has twice been postponed.

Religious Education in Australian Schools and the RI Secretariat:

Religious education in schools continues to be an ongoing issue, especially in Victoria and New South Wales. At the national level, Dr Anna Halafoff through the Religious Education and Ethics Network has continued to be very active in monitoring the situation, especially in participating in a special forum with ACARA, the body preparing the new national curriculum for primary and secondary schools. ACARA continues its work and RfP Australia awaits the outcomes.

In Victoria, RfP Australia has responsibility for accrediting the Baha’i, Buddhist, Greek Orthodox, Hindu and Sikh volunteer religious instructors to teach in primary government schools. A secularist group asked the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to legally disallow the teaching of religion in schools for half an hour per week. In a decision for which the Victorian community awaited many months, the Tribunal upheld the right of religious bodies to teach their faith in government schools on the grounds that the practice was firmly embedded in legislation. However, the practice of parents having to opt out of religious instruction for their children has been changed to an opt-in policy whereby parents must state in writing that they want their children to attend religious instruction. This was a welcome decision.

In the meantime our religious education secretariat has continued its important work. Unfortunately, we have lost Virginia Burns, our multifaith educator, who has resigned. I want to thank her for her work and commitment in difficult times over the past five years. Laila Najjar from the Buddhist Education Council has been appointed as the replacement. All the instructors are being asked to renew their “Working with Children” checks, and the accreditation process has been extended to five years to accord with the WWC checks.

International Links:

: RfP Australia continues to be the major international organization in Australia working with overseas interfaith partners. The chair represented the organization at the annual executive meeting of Religions for Peace Asia held in June 2012 in South Korea; the next one will be held early in June in Malang in Indonesia. The website is in the process of being refurbished. A RMIT student, Ingrid Johansen, enrolled in the B.A. (International Studies) at RMIT University completed her international placement at Religions for Peace International at the UN Plaza in New York – her work was very much appreciated. The chair was invited to make a presentation at a conference sponsored by the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs in Bogor on religious education whose main focus was on de-radicalizing extremists. In February, he acted as a resource person to an initiative sponsored by Religions for Peace International in Yangon in Myanmar whereby the Asian and Pacific Youth Interfaith Network was launched by a leading Buddhist monk in a Catholic Parish Hall. In September 2012, Religions for Peace Myanmar was formally launched.

In another important initiative, Religions for Peace Australia is supporting a funding application to UNESCO and other organizations to fund a research project, looking to document interfaith organizations and activities by the Centre for Dialogue at LaTrobe University in Melbourne.

Congratulations, Josie Lacey, O.A.M.: during this past week, Josie Lacey, O.A.M. , chair of Religions for Peace New South Wales, was presented with a Lifetime Community Service Award by the NSW Premier, Honourable Barry O’Farrell. The citation read that she “has made a lasting contribution to interfaith and intercultural harmony in NSW. Her achievements in multiculturalism span the issues of social justice, anti- racism, women’s rights and children’s rights. Her experiences of the aftermath of war-torn Europe strengthened her commitment to help create a society that denigrates racism. Over some three decades, Ms Lacey built a vast network of personal relationships across many faiths and cultural groups. The foundation of these networks is in the bonds of trust, loyalty, affection and respect. She has inspired three generations of young people to pursue a path of peace and understanding.” We also congratulate Josie together with her husband, Ian, who has been the honorary legal adviser to Religions for Peace Australia.

Vale, Doug Dargaville: March 2013 saw the passing of our former secretary, Rev. Doug Dargaville, at the age of 85. He served as the secretary of Religions for Peace Australia for three years after the turn of the millennium. A good and faithful servant of God, he was an ecumenical pioneer who served as secretary of the Victorian Council of Churches from 1966 – 1982. He brought this experience to RfP, and our thoughts have been with Lucy and the family.

I want to thank all the executive members across Australia for their support and great work. Everyday, both nationally and internationally, religion continues to figure very prominently in many and varied ways. Our work is important and is part of building a multicultural and interfaith society. Leadership is done in groups and with groups. I thank our hardworking secretary, Sue Ennis, very ably supported by Jo Elvins and Joan Daw. Religions for Peace Australia continues to do its work – today being religious means being interreligious.

Desmond P. Cahill (Prof.),
Chair, RfP Australia
5 May 2013.

Photographs from the 2013 Annual General Meeting

Welcome by Hindu Priest

Welcome by Hindu Priest

Religions for Peace Australia

Going through the paperwork

Annual General Meeting

Members at the Annual General Meeting