A speech by ACT Democrats President, Darren Churchill, to Australian Christian Lobby, ACT Election Event: 07 October, 2008

A speech by ACT Democrats President, Darren Churchill, to Australian Christian Lobby, ACT Election Event: 07 October, 2008

I thank ACL for the invitation to speak tonight and I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am Darren Churchill, president of the ACT Democrats and “Ungrouped” candidate for Ginninderra. You will find me in the “U2” column on the ballot paper.

The name of that column, “U2” isn’t lost on me. It reminds me of the Irish band called U2. And like the singer of that band, Bono, I find that faith informs my conscience and drives me in the things that I am passionate about.

Faith is important to me. I am a Christian, a practising Anglican (Anglo-Catholic). So, how does that faith fit with my politics?

I don’t think that as a person of faith, I could be more at home than I am in the Australian Democrats. My party was formed on the principles of honesty, tolerance and compassion, with policies based on common sense and fairness.

We are a party based on a commitment to human rights, justice, equity, and accountability. We championed the environment (long before it was ever fashionable to do so), have spoken up for the vulnerable in society, particularly children, for peace and harmony in Australia and abroad, for a prosperous economy, fair industrial relations, work and family balance, and good publicly-funded education, health and transport services.

We have always engaged with mainstream Christians – as individuals and as interest groups. We find ourselves like-minded on very many issues and we appreciate the advocacy and the advice offered by Christians.

The strength of a society can be seen by how it treats it’s least fortunate members, by how we deal with social inclusion. Jesus Christ taught that “whatever we neglect to do to the least important of these, so we neglect to do to Him.” The Australian Democrats have always taken a positive approach to Social Inclusion by recognising and responding to the diverse needs of all Australians, with particular emphasis on those in greatest need. We continue to do so.

Social inclusion is about social cohesion. It is about creating a framework, whereby the poor, the marginalised, the oppressed, are provided with the opportunities to share in society’s prosperity, to participate in society.

It is the role of government to ensure that there is a safety net to protect those who slip through the cracks of our economic and social structures.

For many Canberrans the real threats to their security come from poverty, unemployment, and a lack of opportunity or poor access to services.

Among the ways the Government can act is by addressing the divides in our society. Government should target programmes to those parts of the Territory where there is greatest need.

Government can move to reduce local clubs relying so heavily on gambling revenue, given the social impact of gambling. The ACT Democrats oppose further expansion of the ACT’s poker machine industry. We advocate government assistance to problem gambling support services and believe that greater recognition can be shown to this very real issue and those who are affected by it.

The ACT Democrats will increase our stock of public and community housing, as well as providing increased funding and resources for homelessness shelters, halfway houses, and crisis accommodation. We acknowledge the increasing number of Canberrans put at risk of homelessness as a result of domestic violence and relationship break-up and will improve support services to help Canberrans transition safely from unsafe home environments into stable, affordable long-term housing.

Housing and support services must be remodelled to provide pathways out of homelessness. Affordable and accessible housing is an essential component of any policy aiming to address employment, family, community or welfare issues, yet it usually gets little attention from the other political parties.

Lack of transport is a barrier to participation for many Canberrans. The Democrats will act to reverse the decline of our bus networks and implement an attractive comprehensive public transport system. Buses that are accessible to all, where you want, when you want.

The Democrats will work to remove the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating in the full range of economic, community, and recreational activities that Canberra offers. We want greater support for children with disabilities so they can achieve their potential and for every child to have the opportunity for inclusion into a mainstream school setting if
that is their parents wish. Greater classroom support is needed so children with disabilities receive the full benefit of their education.

The Democrats welcome the initiative taken by the Federal Government in establishing a Social Inclusion Board. We propose that a similar Social Inclusion Unit be set up in the Chief Minister’s Office here in the ACT and will take action to ensure that it is and that it’s work is consistent with the aims of it’s Charter.

The ACT Democrats support religious freedom absolutely. Religious freedom is a basic right of all Australians and the ACT Democrats support that freedom absolutely. We believe that no-one should be the subject of unfair discrimination.

Humans are given to be stewards of the environment. I believe the Earth is God’s Earth and we are to be it’s carers.

The ACT Democrats have a long history of fighting for an environmentally sustainable Canberra. We have a very extensive platform of action we will pursue on climate change. We will create an environmentally sustainable Canberra by reversing the decline of our bus networks and implementing an attractive comprehensive public transport system; ensuring that new developments, especially high-density housing, are built to robust environmental standards; initiating a sustainable plan for Canberra’s long-term water and energy needs; continuing to support the establishment emissions trading schemes.

Especially in an era of climate change we all have to do our best at conserving water and preserving environmental flows, but increasing population numbers will undoubtedly require an increased supply and increased storage.

The Democrats will support the Cotter Dam enlargement and the proposed Angle Crossing to Googong Dam pipeline and provide an adequate water allocation for Canberra’s urban residents.

The ACT Democrats are Canberra’s strongest advocates of open and accountable government. We believe absolutely in the right of Canberrans to engage directly in the political process and be consulted on issues of concern to them. The ACT Democrats will fight in all forums for public access to the procedures and decisions of government.

The Democrats stand by our principle that Governments should be held to honour their election promises. And recognise that a government has a mandate to govern and implement the platform it was elected to, but not to dictate or force through unfair legislation; it must be scrutinised and debated.

We are the negotiators, the natural party of the cross-benches, the people who know how to make otherwise bad legislation into better, fairer legislation for all. We work for good outcomes. If laws are to be honest and just, the Assembly and the public must be given ample time to discuss all proposed legislation

These are just some of the measures that will begin to address how we build and strengthen local communities, support and empower families, and reduce disadvantage, lack of access and poverty and improve representation and democracy.

Our policies conform to what we call triple-bottom-line accounting practices which achieve a balance between competing economic, environmental and social objectives.

In closing, I’d like to begin my closing remarks with a few words from my party’s first federal parliamentary leader, Don Chipp, from an interview he gave in 2005:

“I believe there is God. That all love comes from God. And love is the only answer to the world’s hate. The world will destroy itself through hate. Simple as that. And if you think I’m a nutter, or a religious maniac for that, so be it. but I’ve got an answer to it, you haven’t.”

In 1 Corinthians 13, Saint Paul tells his audience (the early Christians in Corinth) that they may have all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but unless they first have love, these gifts mean nothing. Tolerance, kindness, unselfishness, taking no account of evil done to it, honesty, trusting, hoping, persevering, and triumphing, is how St Paul describes love. Yes faith, yes hope “but the greatest of these is love.”

Ladies and gentlemen, in love, the love given to us from God may we find the answers that lead us to honesty, tolerance and compassion.

Thank you.

(This is the complete text of the speech. An edited version was delivered to the ACL due to a reduced time allocation).

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