Dear Friends 

Diocesan Council met on Friday 3rd July 2020. Several significant decisions were made affecting the future of the Diocese. We considered:

  • Impact of COVID-19
  • Next Diocesan Synod
  • Frequency of Diocesan Council Meetings
  • Future ministry of the Diocese especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ministry
  • Audited Financial Statements and the financial position of the Diocese
  • Insurance
  • Regional Meetings

This Bulletin is to inform you of decisions made on the important topics above and about dates for Regional Meetings.

Impact of COVID-19
Coronavirus has affected all of us in many ways. You will have seen the numerous Coronavirus updates and whilst we are starting to resume public worship the limitations of social distancing and the impact of domestic and international border closures will be with us yet. The outbreak in Victoria reminds us that easing of restrictions is not guaranteed. However, we must make a reasoned estimate as to how we think matters will progress.

It is likely that both social distancing requirements and international border closures will be in place until at least early next year.

This has the following effects:

  1. Church services will continue to be limited in numbers dependent on the size of the church building
  2. There are four priests and their families waiting to come into the Diocese from overseas – it is unlikely that they will be here until sometime in the first half of 2021
  3. Large meetings such as Diocesan Synod must be postponed

Next Diocesan Synod
It is vital that Diocesan Synod is held – it is the way in which the broader Church gathers and ensures accountability and transparency by those who oversee and administer the Diocese. However it requires at least two months to organise and must cater for its maximum membership of approximately 160 persons.

It is reasonable to assume that social distancing requirements of four square metres per person will persist until at least September and quite possibly until early next year. We also at present have a limit of 100 persons on gatherings. Therefore the mathematics is against us holding Synod this year. Even if the upper limit of 100 persons is relaxed, we have to plan on using a building of 160 x 4 square metres, which is 640 square metres (32 metres long x 20 metres wide).

The Diocese has no air-conditioned spaces available of this size. Even if we only have 90 persons present we still need a space of 360 square metres (30 metres x 12 metres) and the only indoor space we have in Townsville or Cairns of that size is the Cathedral, which is not air-conditioned. And all this assumes that restrictions will not be tightened again. Against all this uncertainty and given the cost of making arrangements for Synod it was decided that it was unwise to plan on Synod this year.

It was against this background that it was agreed to postpone Synod until 2021. The earliest possible time would have been March 2021, noting that during the Wet Season there are still all sorts of difficulties in holding Synod such as travel, the possible effect of cyclones, and the need for an air-conditioned venue. It was also noted that General Synod has been postponed until June 2021 and there will be much material from General Synod that will require discussion and decision by our Diocesan Synod. If we met in the first half of 2021 we would still need to meet in the second half of 2021 to deal with all the material from General Synod. Accordingly it was decided to hold the next meeting of Diocesan Synod in August 2021, after the Lambeth Conference.

It was noted that every other Diocese in the Australian Church due to meet after March this year has postponed their Diocesan Synods until the same period, presumably for the same reasons. A couple of the Diocesan Synods that need to meet for specific purposes are doing so using videoconferencing technology.

I am concerned about the impact that the delay of Synod for twelve months has on accountability and governance, especially considering the many other issues facing us which are discussed below. Therefore Diocesan Council will meet more frequently and Regional Meetings will be held, as set out below.

Frequency of Diocesan Council Meetings
The Diocese has a Diocesan Executive charged with handling financial matters which meets at least ten times a year (that is monthly, February to November). However Diocesan Council has oversight of the Executive and is responsible for all the administration of the Diocese, both financial and non-financial. Especially with the delay in Diocesan Synod it needs to meet more frequently. Accordingly the Diocesan Council will meet six times a year (generally every two months) of which at least two meetings will be face to face and the remainder by videoconferencing. You should feel free to contact your representatives on Diocesan Council to express any concern or to give feedback.

Future Ministry of the Diocese
The purpose of the administration of the Diocese is to support the ministry of the Diocese: if we only administer and do no ministry, then we cease to have a purpose. In general the ministry of the Diocese is done by the ministry units (parishes). The ministry units in the urban areas and along the coast from Sarina to Cairns are generally self-sufficient and most of them support a stipended minister in part or in full. Two of our Aboriginal Communities are also self-sufficient due to the surplus from the community stores run by the Diocese. However the isolated and remote communities need more support from the Diocese; and of course the Diocese supports a Bishop who carries out a broader ministry within and beyond the Diocese. The cost of this Diocesan Ministry should be about $500,000 per year, being:

  1. Bishop, staff and travel: $250,000
  2. Ministry in the Torres Strait Region: $100,000
  3. Ministry Development Officers for isolated and remote communities: $140,000
  4. Ministry in the Cape York Peninsula: $60,000
  5. offset by contributions from mission partners such as ABM: less $50,000

This is a fairly modest amount, especially compared to Dioceses of similar population such as Canberra & Goulburn and Newcastle. Both those Dioceses have two assistant bishops each, much larger Diocesan Offices and do not have the sizable travel costs of North Queensland.

Additionally in North Queensland we have the joy of ministering with our Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal sisters and brothers. This Diocese bears the financial cost of this ministry largely unsupported by the broader church. The aim is for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters to be a vibrant and autonomous part of the broader church, which will enrich all of us. However for the time being this requires resources to be put towards this aim by this Diocese but I will be assiduous in reminding our brothers and sisters down south that this is a responsibility to be borne by all of us.

Audited Financial Statements
The Audited Financial Statements will be made available to all Diocesan Synod representatives shortly and will also be available publicly soon. Whilst Trusts and the Anglican Savings Fund are secured by available assets; cash and other current assets in excess of this have been considerably depleted by sexual abuse claims and insurance issues. Coronavirus also might place a burden on us in future. Therefore our situation is not great. We continue to be able to trade but need to put in place now measures to enable us to support our ministry and meet our financial obligations.

We have some limited ability to further reduce staffing in the Diocesan Office, which is already one of the smallest in the country. More importantly we need to reduce insurance costs which is addressed below. We currently spend more on insurance than we do on Diocesan ministry but this can be addressed. In general fund raising needs to be improved, which means that I will need to spend more time down south visiting possible partners and donors. The other large expense has been sexual abuse claims going back to the 1980s and before, which over the last twelve months has been more than three times our ministry expenses. There has been a spike in claims following the Royal Commission. Whilst I cannot guarantee there will be no further claims, I am hopeful that this represents the bulk of them.

Diocesan Executive and Diocesan Council are now well aware of these matters and will continue a watching brief on them.

Most of you are aware of the continuing disaster that is property insurance in Northern Australia. Whilst Coronavirus has displaced it from the front pages, it will certainly become a substantial issue again as the next cyclone season approaches and insurance renewals are due. Other forms of insurance are also likely to increase (in part due to Coronavirus): we can expect substantial increases in our public liability and professional indemnity insurances.

We have been working on a solution to this and I am grateful to Archdeacon Chris Wright for all his work. Effectively the solution is to set up a mutual insurance company of which we will be a foundation member. All the old mutual companies and government insurers (such as AMP and Suncorp) privatized over the last thirty years: it has not been a tremendous success for us or for their shareholders. Clearly there are advantages to being part of a mutual insurance company. Unlike self-insuring, being part of a mutual enables us to obtain re-insurance which is necessary to sustain large claims. It also enables us to control what we insure: we can decide to cap insurance for certain properties so that we do not have to insure heritage buildings for full replacement, and other properties we might just cover for removal of debris. Risk and premiums can be assessed individually for each property we own.

And of course all profits remain in the mutual rather than going to shareholders. So we should expect to reduce our premiums considerably.

We have, on the recommendation of Warren Entsch MP, identified suitable partners to conduct the mutual with vast experience in community insurance and our due diligence both financially and legally indicates that the proposal is sound. However such a mutual needs start-up capital of between $500,000 and $1,000,000. The mutual will offer instruments denoted in units of $10,000 each. Interest will be payable on these instruments and in due course the mutual will redeem these instruments at face value. The closest commercial parallel is non-voting redeemable preference shares: they do not entitle the holder to a vote, but there is a stream of income from them and eventually they are redeemed for cash. Therefore the person who holds these instruments holds an asset which is eventually returned to them with interest having been paid.

It is intended to invite ministry units and individual parishioners to take up these instruments as a way of securing the mutual insurance company. This will be discussed at the Regional Meetings. Of course, any investors must look fully at the relevant documents and take appropriate financial advice.

Regional Meetings
Because of the delay in Synod there is a great need to directly discuss these issues with the Diocesan family. However there are also limits as to the number of people who can gather together. Accordingly there will be a number of Regional Meetings to gather people together in their locality. It is hoped that all Synod Members will be able to attend one of these meetings: other parishioners are also invited to attend. The meetings will discuss the audited financial statements; insurance; and other issues related to the future of the Diocese.

The dates, times and locations of meetings are as follows:

  • Wednesday 15th July @ 6.30pm: Townsville
  • Saturday 18th July @ 10.00am: Cairns (St Margaret’s Church)
  • Saturday 18th July @ 2.30pm: Atherton (St Mary’s Church Hall)
  • Wednesday 22nd July @ 1.00pm: Bowen
  • Wednesday 22nd July @ 6.00pm: Mackay (Holy Trinity)

Meetings are also being arranged for the Thursday Island and for Yarrabah at the next convenient time. Further details about the meetings will be sent out shortly.

Family News
Thank you for all the prayers for Bishop Arthur and for Katie Cowley, who have both been in hospital for surgery. Both have recovered well and both are currently in Cairns. Katie will return with Fr Dalton back to Kowanyama in the near future, and Bishop Arthur has started making the odd visit over the hills to Yarrabah. Thank you from both of them for your love and prayers.

“May you live in interesting times” is not an old curse, but certainly a good description of where we are. Thank you for all your support in this strange year and for all you are doing together as community. I look forward to seeing many of you at the Regional Meetings, as we look towards the future of ministry in this Diocese.

The Right Reverend Dr Keith Joseph
Bishop of North Queensland

Sexual Abuse contact line:  1800 242 544   or   07 3835 2216

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