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National Redress Scheme - Sale of Anglican Churches

[4.59 p.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Madam Deputy President, I too support the motion of the member for Prosser and I thank her for bringing it forward. I am sure we have all spoken to many people in our electorates who are very concerned with what is happening. I note on the Anglican Diocese of Tasmania website a comment by the Right Reverend Dr Richard Condie, Bishop of Tasmania which says -

As Bishop I am deeply sad about the situation we face. I do not want to close or sell any churches in Tasmania and it brings me no joy. But I am compelled by compassion for survivors of abuse. We must raise $8 million for redress, and we have to do this through realisation of our assets.

Apart from churches, we know they have many commercial premises that possibly could have been sold off. I read in the Sunday Tasmanian of 3 June that while Bishop Condie told the Synod there was no other viable way to raise the money needed, the church owns 14 commercial properties across Tasmania and has more than $34 million in shares, but money-making properties were quarantined by church authorities. You have to ask yourself about a Church, about religion, where their priorities lie: is it in the money they make or is it actually in the people they care about who go to church? We hear all too often that not enough people are going to church, that it is something that has fallen away. I guess it has in some ways, but in other ways I know the member for Windermere and I have had many people contact us, particularly about churches in his area.

It has made some people realise that perhaps they need to go to church and need to maybe spend some time in the areas to make sure these churches are not sold. The criteria that helped to decide which churches will be sold included having at least 30 households in the church, financial viability, weekly services and paid clergy. Probably about three weeks ago I went to the Church of the Apostles for the six o'clock mass on a Sunday night. I am not sure whether there were 30 households there, and it is a large Catholic church in Launceston. It was a freezing cold night. I thought I had not been for a while, so I would go on a Sunday night. Just because people do not regularly go to church does not mean they do not have faith. It is really important we do not set a precedent that perhaps some of the other religions might see this as a good way of raising some money and selling off our churches.

I also agree with the member for Derwent. A large number of these churches are heritage buildings and they are amazing. Reading through the myriad of media articles I have here about it, many people are concerned about the grave sites. Many people have children and other family members buried in these cemeteries and have bought plots themselves. It is all very well to give them the money back for the plots they may have purchased, but what about the fact they have family members buried in those places? To them, it is sacred.

I agree sexual abuse victims need to be acknowledged and need to be compensated for their hurt, but maybe the Church should be selling its commercial assets. I understand the Anglican Church, like many others, does much good work in the community, apart from their churches. They have nursing homes and all sorts of financial responsibilities. I certainly ask they look to other ways to raise the money. They are raising far more money than they actually need. It was interesting to see only 25 per cent of the sale of the churches will go towards the scheme, while the rest is going towards the parishes affected by the property sales.

If they only need 25 per cent, sell some commercial properties and keep the churches, rather than tearing the heart out of some of the areas. Of the 108 properties the Church is selling, 76 are churches, many in rural areas. In rural areas, the church is one place where people get together; whether for weddings, funerals or christenings, the church is a mainstay in those communities and it is sad the Anglican Church has found it fit to sell them. I could read many letters to the editor, editorials pretty much all saying the same thing - everyone believes sexual abuse victims need to be acknowledged and compensated. They are all, however, pleading with the Anglican Church not to sell these churches and to look at another way to contribute to the redress scheme.

This has been going on for such a long time. Northern Midlands mayor David Downie is the chair of a newly formed group, the Save Our Community Soul group. Its first agenda item is to approach the state Government to clear up legal issues about whether the Church has a legal right to sell assets owned and maintained by local communities but held in trust. That certainly is a question - whether they can legally do it, but also whether it is morally right to do so. I believe they are separate questions. We all have such a respect for religious figures and for our churches. I am sure this decision of the Anglican Synod will undermine some people's faith.

Much of this was clearly and succinctly covered by the letter read out by the member for Derwent. I thought that letter clearly and succinctly addressed many of the issues. Even in the editorial in the Mercury on 2 June, the anger is easy to understand. In this case, the church hierarchy has set criteria of at least 30 households regularly being involved in the church, financial viability of weekly services and paid clergy. Many of these churches remain the site of cemeteries where family members are buried. I believe it is a wrong decision. I do not believe that the Church should be selling off the churches and I hope that this motion by the member for Prosser rings some bells with the Anglican Synod so that they may change their minds.

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