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July 2020


By Australian Newsletter

The Queensland Government has defended its approach to child protection, arguing child safety worker case-loads are at their “lowest” level in years but the scourge of ice addiction and family violence is making the job harder.  It comes after frontline child safety officers voiced their concern about a department plagued by high workloads, staff turnover and inadequate training.  The Government said the average case load for the state’s child safety officers had fallen and was “under 18”. Child Safety Minister Di Farmer was not available to speak, but former child safety minister Shannon Fentiman said the work had become more complex.

“My understanding is case loads are the lowest they have been in decades, but of course the work is getting harder,” she said.  “So many of the children coming into care have one or both parents who use ice, there is escalating domestic and family violence, there is drug and alcohol abuse.  “Our child safety officers do a tremendous job and we are working to get them the resources they need.”  Current frontline child safety officers took the rare step of speaking out about their ongoing concerns, saying they were overworked and lurching from crisis to crisis.  Together union child safety delegate Vishal Chandani said high workloads were leading to mistakes.

“If you don’t have the time that you need to reflect, engage in professional supervision and really think these complex problems through, you’re going to make mistakes,” he said.  “The really sad thing is, not only do we make mistakes because of the high workload, we then don’t get the necessary time to reflect and improve our practices because we’re going to the next fire.”  He said he could think of at least half a dozen cases in the past five years where serious mistakes had been made.  “I’m not talking children who have died, I’m talking times when significant abuse or neglect has occurred that could have been avoided if there were better systems and workloads were more manageable,” he said.

In a statement Ms Farmer said the Government had made an “unprecedented investment” in the sector, including hiring 500 extra frontline child safety staff since 2015.  “Our child safety system is facing increasing demand, up by 10 per cent on last year,” she said.  “The deputy coroner’s inquest into the death of Mason Lee acknowledged the significant improvements made by the Palaszczuk Government to child safety since the little boy’s 2016 death.”  Ms Farmer said the Premier had asked her to work with the Opposition in a “genuine bipartisan way to see where, together, we can improve Queensland’s child protection system”.

“I met with Opposition members almost three weeks ago and asked them to send details of their plans to ensure our child safety system is the best it can possibly be, but I am yet to hear from them,” she said.  Opposition child safety spokesman Stephen Bennett told ABC Radio Brisbane the department “must adopt a hierarchy and rank structure similar to the Queensland Police Service, to make sure that oversight and accountability become part of everyday expectations”.  Child safety officers have told the ABC they could do a better job if they handled no more than 15 cases at a time.  Mr Bennett said he was committed to changing caseloads and processes within the department, but would not promise a cap on case loads.

“Let’s agree that an arbitrary number is aspirational but I don’t know that it should be arbitrary either because who knows what will happen in certain regional centres,” he said.  “I think we all need to agree that a 15, a 12 or whatever this needs to be, I’m a bit worried about putting arbitrary numbers on things, but again it’s way too much at the moment.  “Whatever we’re doing is not working.”  The executive director of child-protection body PeakCare Queensland, Lindsay Wegener, said there had been “incremental improvements” in the state’s child-protection system, but a more fundamental shift was required.  “We need to be attending to the workers and their concerns.  It’s a very, very difficult field,” he said.

Dr Cathy Kezelman from the Blue Knot Foundation centre for complex trauma said child safety workers were prone to burnout, which contributed to staff turnover and chaos within the system.  “Until the system invests adequately in the health and safety of its staff, introducing training and protocols reflect the nature and challenges of the work, very little will change for children at risk and the system as a whole,” she said.  Queensland’s Child Safety Department said about 10 per cent of the child and family services budget was allocated to early-intervention programs. Mr Wegener said it was a dilemma facing every government in the country.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

Australia’s peak sport agency has been rebuked for being evasive, dismissive and insulting to women after it failed to answer basic questions about the effect of transgender players on female sport.  Sport Australia’s acting chief executive Rob Dalton said in a parliamentary hearing he “didn’t have an opinion” when asked if allowing biological males in female sport would put off young girls.  The government agency refuses to say who was consulted over a contentious pro-trans guideline which urges more than 16,000 sporting clubs covering nine million players to re-organise on the basis of self-identified “gender identity”, and not biological sex.

The guideline stresses the risk of legal actions that can lead to uncapped compensation damages under federal anti-discrimination law, warns that reliance on its advice will not protect clubs from a successful complaint, and urges them to get their own legal advice.  In a letter to Mr. Dalton, Liberal Senator Claire Chandler said the trans issue had “major implications for women and girls and their engagement in sport” and the agency’s stone-walling of her questions in a Senate estimates hearing was “evasive, dismissive and insulting”.  Sport Minister Richard Colbeck has put distance between the government and the guidelines, saying he knew nothing about them until he took over the portfolio in May 2019 stressing they “were not launched by the government”.

“While generally the government wants to see all Australians have the opportunity to participate in sport, it is important that the integrity of women’s sport is maintained,” he said.  Senator Colbeck also contradicted the Sport Australia line that the term “women’s sport” had passed its use-by date now that society supposedly recognised more than two genders.  “Minister Colbeck does not agree that the term ‘women’s sport’ should no longer be used,” his spokesman said.  In her letter Senator Chandler said Sport Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission, which ran the consultation, had “refused on multiple occasions” to say which outside organisations were allowed to influence the document.

The commission led the drafting of the guideline with a “review panel” of unidentified third parties.  The guidelines cost at least $20,000 in direct public funding.  Athlete Tamsyn Lewis, who represented Australia at three Olympic games, said she understood “the importance of inclusion” but the issues had to be openly discussed so that careful decisions could bring about a fair outcome.  “The category of female sport has been around for so long, and it’s been there for a reason,” she said.  Few women in sport will go public on this issue.  Sceptics of self-identified trans risk being attacked as “transphobic” at a time of “cancel culture”.

“When you look at the online abuse that JK Rowling has received recently over biological sex and trans, you can understand why female athletes might feel hesitant to speak out on this,” Senator Chandler said.  She said trans inclusion had to be approached in a way that protected the interests of female players, and the government’s top sport officials should “go back and have another go”.  The human rights commission said its consultation for the trans guideline was “targeted, respectful and confidential”, and more than 100 bodies had input, including a single unnamed women’s group involved in “sport advocacy”. Women Sport Australia, which bills itself as “the peak national advocacy body for women in sport”, refused to say if it was involved.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

Reserve Bank (RBA) governor Philip Lowe has warned post-pandemic Australians will be more risk averse and less willing to spend, borrow and invest, and “unless we change something we are going to be in a world of lower economic growth”.  Speaking at an Australian National University (ANU) Crawford School event, Dr Lowe again flagged an urgent need for reform to improve the country’s productivity, and said he had been “encouraged” by the Morrison government’s talk of reform to industrial relations, boosted infrastructure spending and a greater focus on deregulation.  “We can borrow to build a bridge but without reforms we will meander along with mediocre growth and we can’t borrow our way out of that,” Dr Lowe said.

The “shadow” cast over the economy from the pandemic “will last perhaps for years”.  “We can move out of that shadow slowly or quickly,” Dr Lowe said, and the reinvigoration of the economy will depend on the pace of technological advancement in the wake of the crisis, and how well we can implement policy reform.  Dr Lowe said that during the coronavirus crisis it had been “entirely appropriate” to “throw “everything” at building a bridge to the other side of the severe economic downturn.  Despite surging government debt levels, the RBA boss said it was the “right thing to borrow now to build a bridge and it’s the right thing to borrow to make investments in our future”.

Dr. Lowe also said he would like the Australian dollar to be weaker but that it was “really hard to argue it is overvalued”.  Dr. Lowe has pushed the cash rate down to 0.25 per cent and signaled he is not prepared to cut again.  The RBA in March also implemented its own version of a bond-buying program.  But what Dr. Lowe called an “extraordinary intervention in capital markets” in the US by the Federal Reserve, the US Fed has announced it would begin buying corporate bonds, has led to a weakening greenback and a stronger Aussie currency.  “If all central banks ease and we don’t, we would expect the dollar to appreciate,” Dr. Lowe said.  “At some point that could become a problem, but I don’t think we’re at that point yet.”

He flagged he was open to rethinking the central bank’s monetary policy framework of inflation targeting in the coming years, but said irrespective of any potential changes, rates would stay low for the foreseeable future.  Dr. Lowe has previously said that monetary policy has passed the baton to fiscal measures to drive the post-COVID recovery and manage the business cycle.  Nonetheless, the central bank chief said “I don‘t think it’s the right time to change the monetary policy framework”.  “As things develop over next few years, it might be worth looking at it again but it was “not clear there is a better framework than the one we have.”  Whatever monetary policy framework the country may or may not adopt, rates will remain “at current levels for years”.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Feature Articles

When the new coronavirus forced the shuttering of her church’s in-person services in line with a stay-at-home order, Jeanne Stevens, lead pastor of Soul City Church in Chicago, grieved a little.  Her church was in the middle of a $9 million fundraising campaign and she had to change plans quickly.  “We were 10 days away from people making commitments,” Stevens revealed during a recent virtual gathering of several prominent pastors.  She said she paused the capital campaign and explained to her congregation why.  “In some ways we had to grieve that loss and grieve that change.  I think it also was a beautiful invitation to our church and them seeing our leadership have a willingness to really trust and listen to God and be willing to make a turn,” Stevens said.

“I’m grateful that we did it.  Grateful that we said, ‘God you’ll tell us when and if we are supposed to re-engage this campaign.’  When I do walk over to the church and I see all the vision guys and commitment cards, I just weep a little bit,” she said with a slight chuckle.  Since the explosion of the coronavirus across the country, Stevens, along with several other megachurch pastors who were a part of the, say the pandemic has caused them to abruptly change the way they do church and plan for life in the wake of a virus whose trajectory still remains uncertain.  Research firm Barna Group released the results of a new survey conducted March 20 to April 27, showing how churches have been impacted by the coronavirus and how they are planning to reopen.

While some churches have already started reopening, most pastors (54%) forecast an opening by June while some (46%) said it could be July or August before they open their sanctuaries to in-person services again.  A majority of the pastors in this study also noted that they were preparing to put significant precautions in place to reopen their churches.  The most common precautions included asking people to avoid touching (77%); asking people to sit further apart (75%); and not passing an offering plate (53%).  Some 84% of the pastors in the survey also confirmed that they planned to ask people who are feeling sick to stay home after social distancing requirements are lifted.

About one-third (32%) of leaders who are taking precautions said they would require congregants to wear a mask for any in-person services or church gatherings.  Another 33% said they will not offer food and drink such as coffee and donuts when they return to in-person gatherings.  A majority (87%) said they would also cancel mission trips for the remainder of the year.  “As a nation, we’re looking at a situation from which there’s ‘no going back.’  As a society, we will feel the impacts of the virus for a long, long time whether it’s simply a heightened awareness of sanitation practices or a new sense of gratitude towards our community,” David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group and author of the bestselling book Faith For Exiles, said in a statement.

“When it comes to the church, nearly every single pastor has had to adapt and to bring on new digital tools and resources for their congregation.  I don’t see those going away anytime soon.  I think having to grow and evolve has created stronger church ministries, restructured how we think about discipleship, and forever changed how we’re measuring organizational impact,” he added.  Along with changing her fundraising plans, Stevens has also had to change her messages to be more responsive to the needs of her congregants during the pandemic.  “We just started a series on how to win at waiting and a good friend of ours, NBA player Kyle Korver who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, came in and we interviewed him, and talked about what does it feel like as a basketball player on a winning team that looked like going to the finals, how does that feel to have to wait now?” Stevens recalled.

“We got so much feedback from people who appreciated that conversation because all of us are waiting.  And so for us to pay attention and not be tone deaf to what’s happening in the world, I think our communities and our congregations are appreciating that our ears are open versus just saying, ‘well, we have this series planned and we’re just going for it anyways,’” she said.  While many pastors have been preaching to cameras inside empty auditoriums, Surratt explained that his multi-campus church in South Carolina shifted streaming sermons from inside an auditorium to a room that reflected a more intimate living room setup to mimic the environment from which many people are now engaging.

He also adjusted his teaching calendar and is now having fewer guest preachers to ensure that his congregants are hearing from him more frequently. “We have 14 different campuses and I’ve been on zoom calls with each of those campuses.  Those are some of the things that I hope continue long after we go back to meeting.  There are ways that we can connect with our church that aren’t as hard as they seemed like they would be now that everybody’s been forced to live in this new reality,” Surratt said.  “We’ve got seniors groups that have learned how to do Zoom and they’re making that happen.  So the advantages are going to be that everybody’s trained onto this technology so that we can do more with it when we go back to ‘normal.’”

As many of these megachurch pastors wait to see what the end of the coronavirus pandemic will look like for their churches, they all agree that making the best use of technology to engage with their church has been more than a lifeline.  “We’re just trying to maximize technology, trying to make the best of the online church experience, trying to do discipleship as best we can in this space,” said Bryan Carter, senior pastor of Concord Church in Dallas, Texas.  “I think we all realize, even when we get back to our venues there is an investment we made on this side that will help continue to grow and develop the Kingdom.” Small groups, technology and efficiency.

Pastor Bryan Carter of Concord Church in Dallas, Texas, whose church has more than 9,000 members, told the group that now that his church is doing ministry exclusively online, they have been reaching more people.  The ability to have members, such as singles or seniors who live alone, gather in small groups using technology has been a boon for helping people participate in real communities.  “We are really excited.  I think everyone is seeing that we are reaching more people.  The one thing about going to online church is that you reach more people.  And so one of the dynamics of reaching more people is now we got a chance to really do a community,” the Dallas pastor said.

“Many of us agree that small groups provide a great, great channel of next steps particularly for some of the new people that we’re reaching, as well as our current congregation.  What we’ve discovered as we talk to people, particularly our singles, is that they long for community.  They long to get connected.” They miss the conversations, he said, and “groups give us a great platform to do that.”  Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Texas, noted that at his church, a variety of organic small groups have emerged among members using video-conferencing platforms like Zoom to connect through prayer and worship.  “They’ll just get on and one person would play a guitar or sing, all muted, then spend time praying,” he said.

“I’ve been incredibly encouraged as a pastor to just watch how people have organically said, ‘let’s just get together and worship and pray.’”  He explained that people have managed to make meetings a lot more efficient while keeping their normal routines with the use of online platforms.  “I think normal rhythms with shorter meeting times suited us best.  So if we usually met on Sunday afternoon, then we would have our Zoom link-up on a Sunday afternoon.  It’s just the length of time we gathered together has shrunk a little,” he said.  “I think like most of us here in Texas, nearly everywhere, are now having to, home-school.

What you learn when you home-school when your kids are in public school is that if you take away electives and you take away changing classrooms and you take away gym class, you know a week’s worth of school can be done in an hour and a half,” he joked.  “I think if you take away the kind of mingling in the kitchen and you’re just doing a brief update on how everybody is doing, praying for each other and then you’re diving into either the sermon-based small group,” he said.  Stevens also sang high praises for small groups online and argued that it could be one of the things that remains after the coronavirus pandemic is over.

“We’ve been amazed at the growth that we’ve had both people watching on the weekend and people joining groups and being virtually connected.  I just heard the story of a woman who is leading a recovery group and she has people from three different states in the recovery room,” the Chicago preacher said.  “They would have never been able to do that before and so while I believe people are hungry to connect in person, and they will long for that to happen after we are on the other side of this, I do think we are exploring ways that people can still virtually connect if they don’t have the physical location advantage for them,” she said.  “It’s something that our task force is starting to explore, how can we reach more people through our groups.”

She also agreed that online ministry has allowed people to be a lot more efficient.  “I’m with Matt, our people were shortening the length of time.  There is a very real thing called Zoom fatigue.  And people experience it and more times on screen it’s challenging and so we’re really encouraging people to shorten their time and they’re appreciating that,” Stevens said.  Rich Kannwischer, senior pastor of Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, said he recently started a partnership with Fuller Theological Seminary which has been “doing online spiritual formation through their online education for years.” “We’re trying to learn from them and the interactive platforms they’ve been using for education.

This is one area where certain sectors of education are way ahead of the church.  We’re going to try and catch up with them on how do you not just dispense content online and have a conversation but how do you actually create community with particular aims and goals.  So that’s one of the things we’re experimenting with right now to see what that might mean,” he noted.  As a result of the online migration, he said attendance at meetings have been near perfect partly because people have nothing else to do but because they no longer have to do other things like commute to meetings.  The meetings themselves, he admitted, are more focused and efficient.

He noted, however, that while virtual meetings may work well for already established communities, it was more challenging to integrate new people into these virtual communities.  As for restarting in-person services, many of them expect to be some of the last places to reopen particularly because of their megachurch status.  Some pastors are considering having multiple services with smaller gatherings over more days, including Saturday, as well as helping people overcome fears of gathering again.  Dave Dummitt, new senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago, said, “We talk a lot about over communicating.  We want to over communicate all the precautions that we’re taking so that they know that this is a safe place to come to.”

“Things like greeters having gloves on, kids area gets disinfected after every service, maybe not passing the plate, maybe not doing meet and greet time where we shake hands.  Some of those things that we’re doing we want to make sure we over communicate to people” Dummitt said.  Rev. Dr. Miriam J. Burnett, a practicing physician and public health expert who serves as the medical director of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Health Commission, said that while it is fine for churches to plan for ministry in the aftermath of the pandemic, she would not recommend gathering again until infections are “near zero.”

“Unless the numbers have gone to near zero, not trending downwards but trending off, that’s not a conversation that can happen now.  It can be a planning conversation for six months or so down the line when we actually see these numbers drop but that’s not a conversation that needs implementation in the next couple of weeks,” Burnett said.  “When you look at the demographics of most churches, especially the African American community, they are all high risk,” she said.  Burnett, who also leads the Historic Jones Tabernacle AME Church, said she asked which of her members did not fall into any of the six at-risk categories when it comes to the coronavirus “and not one hand could go up.”

“My hand couldn’t go up either.  So based on who you have in your congregation, you can or cannot reopen because we are all high risk or have someone we are caring for who are high risk,” she said.  “It’s OK to hold that reopening conversation now.  We are holding conversations.  I met with my trustee board on ensuring the church is deep-cleaned and removing chairs so that the social distancing actually happens,” she explained.  “How do we come back into the sanctuary for service?  What system are we going to use for cleaning mics?  What system are we going to use to make sure that all of the mics work so that everybody has their own so we’re not passing.  “I don’t think the world is going to be normal.  The question is, what’s the new normal?  That’s the ultimate question.  The only thing we can do is plan and make our plans fluid.  That’s the key, making your plans fluid and be always ready.”

Source: Christian Post

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