23 April 2009
Former Deputy Prime Minister, Professor Brian Howe AM, on 23 April 2009 launched the ecumenical Yarra Institute to focus on the role of religious beliefs and values in the shaping of public policy in Australia. The work of the Institute will centre on research and postgraduate teaching.
Speaking to more than 80 people in the new study centre at Yarra Theological Union in Box Hill in Melbourne, Professor Howe said it was ‘very timely for this Institute to be established’, since it was ‘a means for serious work to be undertaken along the lines of theology and public policy’. This initiative was especially significant because of the ‘very serious issues’ Australia faced, including from climate change and the global economic crisis. He urged the Institute to forge links with overseas networks as well.
In his view the Institute was based on ‘a big idea, a good idea’, but its task would not be easy, since relating theology and public life was a ‘very tricky and difficult problem’. He urged the Institute not to be confined to modifying ‘bits and pieces at the edge of policy’, but to think ‘about what are the central issues, and how we can really make a difference for the future’. ‘This Institute will concern itself about broader visions of public policy, and alternative directions’.
Professor Howe is currently Director of the Centre for Public Policy at the University of Melbourne. As a member of Federal Cabinet from 1984 to 1996, he held a range of portfolios in the fields of Defence, Social Security, Health, Housing and Community Service. He is perhaps best known for his initiatives in the areas of Social Security, reform of family payments and the introduction of Child Support.
An independent ecumenical body, the Yarra Institute provides a forum for closer interaction among the various Christian social traditions. The Yarra Institute does not claim to speak for the churches, but to speak and publish in the public forum on the basis of its research and scholarship.
The Chair of the Board of Directors, Dr Stephen Ames, said that the Yarra Institute already had one project under way, and was in discussions with other organisations about research partnerships and new projects. Areas of concern include the churches’ involvement in the development of social policy, indigenous issues, overseas aid and development, employment and social equity in Australia, taxation, environmental problems and ethical aspects of the current economic crisis.
The Institute will take care not to duplicate what others are doing, but will offer analysis and comment on policy questions from moral perspectives informed by Christian social traditions and thinking.
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