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 Yarra Institute for Religion and Social Policy- 2 December 2009

Rev. Dr. Stephen AmesThis is the first AGM for the Yarra Institute, which was formally launched by Professor Brian Howe on 23 April 2009 at the new study centre at Yarra Theological Union. We are delighted to report that the siting at YTU has proved excellent, with YTU offering us an office next to that of Social Policy Connections, as well as access to their facilities. The new study centre offers an excellent venue for forums and lectures, as well as for our regular Board meetings. We are most grateful for the support YTU has given us, along with the administration of Melbourne College of Divinity. We are particularly pleased to have attracted such a strong Board of Directors. Bruce Duncan has assumed the role of Director of the Institute.


The Yarra Institute is an independent ecumenical organisation established for:
  1. Conducting research into the implications of Christian social thinking for the formulation of public policy in Australia.
  2. Teaching Christian social thinking and its implications for public policy in Australia.

Research projects

In accord with the first reason YIRSP was established the board has pursued a number of research opportunities during the year:
  • A nearly completed report by Dr. Joan Daw on ‘Faith Education and Justice’ under the direction of Dr Rowan Ireland.
  • A research program on ‘Torture’ by Dr. Cal Ledsham. This arises out of the poll showing 43% of Australians approve the use of torture in certain conditions. Bruce Duncan is confirming funding as Cal is ready to begin.
  • Research on Refugee Resettlement Projects of Australian Christian Churches with Prof. Sandy Gifford at the La Trobe Centre for African Studies and Dr Kirsty Sangster as researcher, under the guidance of Rowan Ireland. Initial funding is being sought through the MCD.
  • A possible research project on refugee policy, with a Melbourne agency.
  • A research project on East Timor and the role of the churches. We are still looking for funding, and also a masters or PhD student willing to undertake this project.
  • Research into how religion feeds into social policy, and the need to analyse the process of policy formulation and the channels of influence.
  • An ARC application in a joint venture with Brian Howe and the Brotherhood of St. Laurence on the churches’ involvement in the development of models of social service delivery in Melbourne in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the current relevance of the churches and other religious groups for the social inclusion of immigrant groups today.

Other possible research projects have been discussed and in due course may extend the above list. Except for the last project the others are envisaged as short-term, producing a report of perhaps about 50 pages and costing around $10,000. These efforts will build experience in completing research relevant to our purpose. Naturally it will be quite a learning curve to pursue more ambitious research and to make the connection to the formation of social policy. The second last project is therefore very important. We need to become very astute about the process of policy formation.


It is also the case that we are working ‘opportunistically’ on small-scale projects for which we can attract the limited funds needed. This reflects our capability at this stage, the fact that much is done voluntarily and that the Director’s time and energy are limited. Our aim is to build up our own capacities to complete this level of research, and deploy the findings publicly in ways that show the value of the Yarra Institute to a wide audience, including potential donors.

Publishing

 

The board has developed a policy on the kinds of publishing it will pursue.

Teaching

This has not yet been the focus of Board discussions. Drs Therese D’Orsa and Jim D’Orsa are preparing a paper on the Institute’s teaching role.

Fundraising

The Director has been unable to devote time to fundraising, and our financial resources, though adequate for the moment, are limited. We need to work out new strategies for further fund-raising in 2010, and to secure significant grants for important research projects. The Institute is greatly indebted to our financial supporters this year, particularly the Redemptorist Congregation, the Dominican Friars, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, John and Paul McLeod, and Drs Jim and Therese D’Orsa.

Website

The website is nearing completion, with Matthew Howard building in various interactive capabilities. The content pages will be revised and updated with help from Board members, to be ready in early 2010.

Public Events

This year we were able to conduct several events in partnership with Social Policy Connections. I would especially mention the forum on Pope Benedict’s Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, held at the Centre for Theology and Ministry in Parkville. Dr Paul Rule from our Board introduced the encyclical and was followed by presentations from Dr Rufus Black, the Master of Ormond College, Julie Edwards, the CEO of Jesuit Social Services and Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne. The forum was recorded and may be broadcast nationally on the ABC early in 2010. Dr Bruce Duncan also discussed the Encyclical on the ABC’s Sunday Night programme hosted by John Cleary.

2010

I invite the board to join me to consider our goals for next year. I think that by the end of next year we should at least

* be clear on what areas of policy we want to influence in the light of Christian social thinking and how best to circulate it to the relevant audience;
  • be clearer on how public policy is formed in Australia and how we may best engage
  • this process;
  • have several publications to our credit with new research projects in progress;
  • have established productive relationships with a number of serious financial supporters for the Yarra Institute;
  • be clearer on how we pursue our teaching role;
  • have a distinct web presence for the Yarra Institute, engaging a wide demographic;
  • have developed the roles of our ambassadors and associates
Time constraints on us all limit what we can do. The way to change this limitation is to raise money. I see this as the biggest challenge facing the Board.

I would like to thank the members of the Board for their thoughtful contributions to the deliberations and work of the Institute. On behalf of the Board I would like to express our thanks to Mr Joe Annetts for his administrative assistance and for his good will towards our work.

I would also like to express our appreciation of Mr Frank Webber whose affection for the  Institute well known and whose due diligence as our Accountant over several years has greatly helped us in reaching this point. Finally, on behalf of the board may I very warmly thank our Director, Dr Bruce Duncan, for his efforts, both his knowledge of Christian social teaching, for his teaching at YTU, for his initiatives with regard to possible research projects and likely researchers and for his effectiveness in raising money to help keep the Institute operating. Especially appreciated is his arranging the hospitality for the many events here at the Yarra Institute.

___________________________________

Rev. Dr. Stephen Ames
Chair of the Board
Yarra Institutefor Religion and Social Policy


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