by Bruce Duncan CSsR
In the two years since Brian Howe launched the Yarra Institute, I am pleased to say that we continue to make steady progress, with several projects completed or nearing completion, and others under way.
National directory of asylum seeker agencies
With a grant from the Melbourne College of Divinity, the Yarra Institute commissioned Dr Kirsty Sangster to prepare The National Directory: Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support Services of the Australian Churches
. With help from Audra Kunciunas, Executive Officer of Social Policy Connections, this has been designed and published online. The document has been distributed to all the relevant agencies, with the request that they notify us about any changes to their staff, contact details or programs, so that this national directory can be kept right up to date. The Directory can be found on both the SPC and the Yarra Institute websites.
Publications and the Yarra Institute Press
We have arranged to begin a publication series under the imprint of the Yarra Institute Press. The first of these, Sufficient for the day: towards a sustainable culture
, a study of the significance of climate change issues written by Dr Geoff Lacey, is due for publication in August. We will have a public launch for the project, and encourage media coverage.
Under the general editorship of Dr Peter Price, the Yarra Institute has also been preparing an issue of the ATF journal, Interface
, for publication in late 2012 on globalisation, with chapters being written by Dr Paul Rule, Dr John Darcy May, Dr Robyn Reynolds, Dr Rowan Ireland, Dr Stephen Ames, Dr Wes Campbell, Dr Therese D’Orsa, and myself.
Yarra Institute research projects
Two research projects have been held up for various reasons. Dr Joan Daw’s project on the connections between religious belief and social commitment among youth
is being given a final edit to reduce it in size for publication. Dr Cal Ledsham’s investigation on the morality of torture
has been held up because of his heavy workload teaching at Catholic Theological College, but is in the final stages of writing. We expect this will have wide interest in the public forum, and are investigating various publication options.
New research projectsTransforming Australia’s detention policies about asylum seekers
With funding from the Good Shepherd Foundation, the Yarra Institute has commissioned research on how to transform Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers so that they avoid lengthy periods of detention, and to ensure adequate support for settlement in the community.
The initial researchers were Dr Erin Wilson from RMIT, who has considerable expertise in this area, and Dr Tony Ward, an economist and director of Milbur consulting, who has also done relevant project costing. Dr Ward's report, Long-term health costs of extended mandatory detention of asylum seekers
, was launched in October 2011. The costings will be important in showing that screening of asylum
seekers for health and security checks can be done much more cheaply,
with much better outcomes for refugees and Australian tax payers.
The project was being advised by Caz Coleman, until recently director of Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project and a current member of a government advisory committee, about what research would likely be most effective in influencing government policy and informing public opinion about better policies for asylum seekers.
In late 2011 Dr Erin Wilson relocated overseas and Caz Coleman took over the writing of the project on best practice models for community detention and resettlement policies for refugees and asylum seekers. The project will be finished in late 2012 and we intend to locate a mainstream publisher.
Dr Rowan Ireland and myself are supervising this project. Photo 'ianmackenz', flickr CC
The Church’s role in East Timor
Drs Jim and Therese D’Orsa have been working with Bishop Hilton Deakin to write up his recollections of the involvement of the Catholic Church in East Timor’s struggles for independence. They are currently organising extensive collections of material, and are planning to complete the project by the end of 2013.
The development of Catholic social services in Victoria
The Yarra Institute has also been in contact with Fr Kevin Mogg about his long involvement with the Catholic and other agencies involved with service delivery in Victoria. Fr Mogg will not be available for this project until he retires from his parish in late 2012.
The website at www.yarrainstitute.org.au
The website of the Yarra Institute has proved a boon, helping us connect with other research organisations in Australia and overseas. For instance, through the website a research scholar from Scotland has applied to do a placement with us, and has experience in analysing settlement policies for refugees and asylum seekers.
Research and teaching within MCD
The Yarra Institute continues to promote research and teaching within the Melbourne College of Divinity with a strong emphasis on social engagement. We have a very strong Board and an ecumenical one. We regret that Dr Wes Campbell has resigned from the Board for health reasons, but we are delighted that Dr John Bottomley, from the Uniting Church and Director of Creative Ministries Network, has joined us, bringing a solid research background.
I am pleased that the number of research students undertaking projects on social topics is increasing, though there is considerable scope for attracting higher degree and doctoral candidates in areas of religion and public policy. We have also recently been involved in a small way in the consultation with the government assessors about MCD becoming a specialist university.
Collaboration with SPC
We have continued to work closely with the advocacy organisation, Social Policy Connections, which stages regular public forums, such as that on 20 June 2011 on Human Trafficking in collaboration with ACRATH, the Good Shepherd Mission & Justice Unit, and the Anti-Slavery Project based in Sydney.
SPC has also organised a major conference on “The churches and public policy” for 19 July, with keynote speakers being Robert Fitzgerald and John Falzon from the national St Vincent de Paul Society, and other leaders from church social agencies in Victoria. Details can be found on the redesigned SPC website.
During the past year SPC has held forums with:
- Professor John Warhurst speaking on “Religion, politics and social issues in the 2010 election”;
- Ms Caz Coleman, on “What now for asylum seekers?”
- Prof. Tilman Ruff (ICAN) and Rev Harry Kerr (Pax Christi) on progress towards nuclear disarmament;
- Hon Alastair Nicholson on the federal intervention in the Northern Territory; and
- Phil Glendenning (Edmund Rice Centre, Sydney) on releasing children from detention.
These are available as recordings for ipods and as excerpts on YouTube, with some texts available for download.SPC members have also been involved with lobbying politicians, and Mr Bill Frilay was part of a delegation to Canberra about issues of nuclear disarmament. Mr Peter Whiting remains its excellent chairperson.
New staff at SPC
The Executive Officer of Social Policy Connections, Audra Kunciunas, is moving shortly to northern Victoria, and SPC is currently interviewing people for two part-time positions, one to work on policy, and the other in an admin role. Audra has helped greatly in developing our networks and keeping both our organisations humming along. We will miss her cheery presence, and wish her well with all her endeavours.
As our publications and research projects come on stream, I anticipate that the Yarra Institute will become more widely know. I believe there is great scope for its work, which can give voice to more ethical perspectives on matters of public policy. Of course we are aware how modest are our current efforts, but we are moving steadily in the right direction. To take the next steps, our intention is to employ an associate director for the Institute as soon as we can afford to do so.To expand our efforts, we will require further financial support, and we would welcome your advice or suggestions about who or what organisations would be committed to helping achieve our goals.