The Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations (APRO) is a peak-of-peak body that was established in 2003. It is unique in that it comprises representatives of major faith bodies as well as national-level multicultural community organisations. APRO is a practical example of how successfully faith and ethnic communities can work collaboratively in Australia.
The idea of this partnership was first discussed in February 2003 at a meeting convened by the Council for Multicultural Australia (CMA) in Sydney. The context of this meeting was both the review of the CMA’s role as well as war with Iraq. The CMA wanted to ascertain if there was a role for it to broker the establishment of a body, or to undertake the task itself, of promoting community harmony at a time when there is a climate of conflict.
Following this meeting Abd Malak, the then Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA), convened a meeting (on 4 March 2003) that included a number of members of faith and ethnic communities. The meeting discussed the value of establishing a partnership of the communities with the purpose of:
- providing advice to government at the national level (both ministers, the public service but also to members of parliament not in the government);
- promoting and advocating for community harmony, inter-ethnic and inter-faith acceptance;
- exchanging information about issues of importance;
- issuing joint statements relating to shared values; and
- reporting on discriminatory behaviours, providing support, assisting communities at risk (possibly through the development of services and/or resources) as and when possible.
There was consensus of view that it may well be beneficial to maintain the partnership into the future because issues of community harmony and productive diversity will remain significant no matter the circumstances.
The partnership was initially called the Australian Partnership of Ethnic and Religious Organisations (APERO). In July 2006, the partnership changed its name to the Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations (APRO).
Aims and activities
The aims of APRO are:
- to promote and advocate for inter-faith harmony, and understanding and respect between the adherents of the various religions in Australia;
- to combat religious prejudice and discrimination; and
- to consider and address matters of mutual concern arising out of the shared values and interests of the various religions.
APRO engages in a range of activities for the purpose of advancing its aims, including, but not limited to, the following:
- the organisation of conferences, seminars, education programs and other functions of a similar nature;
- preparing and distributing reports and documents, and issuing public statements on relevant issues including religious discrimination or prejudice when arising;
- mobilising support and assistance for religious communities at risk; and
- providing advice and recommendations to government on matters of concern.
APRO has held national inter-faith forums in Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra. The most recent forum on the theme “Religion in 21st Century Australia” was held at State Parliament House in NSW in May 2014. See more.
The affairs of APRO are conducted by a council comprising representatives of the member organisations. Individual members and unpaid specialist advisers are also appointed from time to time. All decisions are made by consensus.
Member bodies include:
- National Council of Churches in Australia
- Muslims Australia (Australian Federation of Islamic Councils)
- Executive Council of Australian Jewry
- Australian Baha’i Community
- Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils
- Hindu Council of Australia
- National Sikh Council of Australia
- Australian Multicultural Foundation
- Settlement Council of Australia
- UNESCO Chair in inter-religious and inter-cultural relations, Asia-Pacific.
- World Conference of Religions for Peace (Australia)
- Australian Sangha Association (representing ordained Buddhists)
Any national organisation which represents a significant religious group in Australia and/or which has the objective of promoting the aims of APRO may apply to become a member of APRO.
Statement of values
The organisations, and the communities that they represent, are committed to and promote:
- an Australia that is the home of ethnically and religiously diverse peoples;
- the practices and principles of social justice (this encompasses the equality of access to political and legal rights, the right to full social and economic participation through the reduction of material disadvantage);
- Australian multiculturalism as a core value that defines what it means to be an Australian in the 21st century and that encompasses respect and celebration of our diversity; and
- an Australia that:
- is democratic;
- adheres to the rule of law;
- promotes and protects freedom of speech, freedom of religious belief, freedom of assembly and movement, freedom of association, freedom of expression (including the freedom to dress as an expression of cultural identity) and freedom of thought;
- condemns any form of abuse or discrimination based upon race, ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality, age (or any other grounds) by either individuals or organisations;
- actively supports equal access to opportunity, services and information; and
- treats individuals and communities with acceptance and respect without regard to their ethnicity or religion.
Additionally, the organisations will:
- uphold the right of all Australians to live without the fear of violence in any form;
- respect the rights of all Australians no matter their ethnicity, religion or beliefs;
- undertake to work together, in mutual respect, to promote these values in practical ways;
- undertake to work together to minimise community disharmony, inter and intra-faith, ethnically and/or nationality-based tensions within Australian society;
- promote Australian multiculturalism, and the principles it enshrines, as a good-practice model of social harmony and community participation to diverse communities within Australia as well as to the rest of the world.