CONVERGE is an annual gathering of Australian Baptist leaders in Canberra to meet with Federal Parliamentarians to discuss issues of justice. It is a great opportunity for Baptists to speak into the centre of national political power and policy.
In previous years Converge has advocated on various issues including refugees, overseas aid, human trafficking and family violence. This year over two days about 40 representatives from churches, State Unions, Baptist World Aid Australia and Baptist Care Australia met with nearly 70 MPs and Senators from across the political spectrum.
Converge 2019 focussed on the wellbeing of children, with the launch of Baptist Care Australia’s report: Australia’s Kids – The State of the Nation
This report addresses seven aspects of life that are important to the wellbeing of children. In their conversations with Parliamentarians, Baptist leaders focussed on two issues:
– Increasing Government financial support for families experiencing poverty, specifically raising the Newstart allowance; and
– Increasing the supply of social and affordable housing.
We made these calls in the context of 700,000 Australian children living below the poverty line, with 4 million Australians this year having experienced running out of food and being unable to buy more; and there being a current shortfall of 240,000 dwellings for social and affordable housing.
Most politicians engaged positively in discussing these matters with us. They appreciated hearing about the many ways in which local churches and Baptist agencies are serving people in need through various initiatives from community meals and material assistance to training programmes and housing projects.
During many of the conversations there was also opportunity to offer some preliminary feedback on the draft Religious Discrimination Bill, reflecting Baptists’ foundational commitment to religious freedom.
A number of Parliamentarians also welcomed our offer to pray for them and the important complex work they do on behalf of our nation. I told several of the Parliamentarians I met with that many of our churches pray for them regularly (1 Timothy 2:1-2). I encourage you to do that because our Parliamentary representatives grapple with complex issues and do work that places considerable stress on them and their families.
I also encourage you to consider meeting with your local Member to discuss the issues that concern you (Proverbs 31:8-9). One veteran MP advised me that such personal visits are by far the most effective form of advocacy.
Rev David Devine