Never giving up on social justice

Garth Phillips and fellow justice group member Ruth Hosking

Garth Phillips and fellow justice group member Ruth Hosking

NIGEL TAPP

They may be small in number but the Bendigo Uniting Social Justice Group’s advocacy work certainly packs a punch locally and even further afield.

Group convenor Garth Phillips said six or so members work with the local Uniting Church congregations – particularly St Andrew’s and Forest St – to get their message out.

Recently its advocacy with the City of Greater Bendigo has seen the development of both a positive ageing strategy and a social housing strategy included in the city’s 2017-2021 Community Plan.

Mr Philips said the group took great heart from the fact it was able to successfully lobby for both initiatives.

The group is just one of many church communities active in the justice space.

Mr Phillips said the Bendigo group’s efforts are not limited to local activities.

In partnership with Rural Australians for Refugees, the group has campaigned long and hard for a more humane approach from the federal government in dealing with asylum seekers. A series of four banners supporting this cause, initiated by the group, are rotated quarterly around the four local Uniting Churches.

The group’s tenacious letter writing campaign in 2012 and 2013 saw retail giant Myer publicly commit to ensuring no cotton sourced from forced labour overseas would be used in any of the products stocked on its shelves.

It has also lobbied federal Trade Minister Steve Ciobo in relation to unfair Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions contained in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

Mr Phillips said the group met monthly and its advocacy was often guided by the information sent out from the synod’s Justice and International Mission unit.

From those meetings the group selects issues it wishes to campaign on and presents its case to Sunday morning services with the aim of encouraging congregation members to sign letters of support.

From there Mr Phillips said the group would continue to lobby until it got satisfaction.

Mr Phillips said it was never enough to just send a letter; the group continues to engage until an issue is resolved.

“Justice does not happen overnight, it is only achieved by patience and effort,”  he said.

Mr Phillips said there was a very simple reason why the group remained committed to the cause of justice locally, statewide, nationally and internationally.

“We are seeking to make a difference (within communities) and it is what the Gospels say needs to happen,’” he said.

“The Gospels are all about justice.”

Click here for a 40th anniversary story investigating the synod’s work in the struggle for justice throughout Victoria and Tasmania.

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