27 September 2022

‘Embarrassingly out-of-date’ church laws consigned to history

Before last week, £10 was the fee required of tribunal complainants.

By Mark Brolly

22 October 2021

ANGLICANS are free from requirements to pay a fee in Australian pounds if they wish to bring a case before the rarely convened Diocesan Tribunal, after the annual synod passed new legislation.

It brought the Tribunal into a fair and professional state ready to meet current and future needs, supporters said.

The move came as synod representatives wrestled with meeting online for the first time in synod’s 165-year history.

The Diocesan Tribunal Bill 2021 was among several pieces of legislation addressed by the synod, an unusually heavy load due to the cancellation of the 2020 synod.

Among them was a bill that sparked debate about the appropriateness of the diocese’s centralised payroll system, with some advocating for its abandonment.

Tribunal changes passed

The synod approved the Diocesan Tribunal Bill 2021, repealing the legislation’s 1963 predecessor which required a 10 pound fee to be paid to bring a charge to the tribunal.

Mover Bishop Brad Billings said the old act needed to be replaced with one fit for purpose for this century.

“Clearly, any act of synod that pre-dates the introduction of decimal currency is somewhat outdated,” he said.

Bishop Billings said the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia required that every diocese have a tribunal, even though Melbourne’s had not been convened for about 30 years.

The legislation was the first substantive matter considered by the 2021 synod, meeting in October.

It immediately tested the online systems that allowed about 500 synod members to meet remotely, consider matters and vote. 

A times the strain on the people and the technology showed, as connections could not be made or dropped out, and synod members complained that they had little time to read the text of motions they were to consider.

Archbishop Philip Freier the “painful and clunky” experience was the nature of trying to deal with a complicated text, as he closed the first night of synod.

“Bless you for your forbearance, we will try to take what learnings we can take out of our little experiment tonight and try not to experiment on you too cruelly tomorrow. But dealing with matters of legislation is always demanding of our attention,” he said.

Dr Freier reminded synod that it could not meet last year because of Melbourne’s long COVID lockdown and had consequently faced a heavy legislative load this year.

A special sitting of synod lasting less than 30 minutes in early 2020 passed legislation to allow the assembly to meet remotely in response to coronavirus restrictions.

The technical glitches eased, synod members adapted to the format and managed to pass three pieces of legislation, including Diocesan Acts (Revisions and Repeals) Bill and the Cathedral Amendment Bill. Two other bills were withdrawn and replaced with motions. 

The Diocesan Tribunal Bill absorbed much of the first two nights of synod. 

Member of Archbishop in Council, Dr Timothy Arnold-Moore proposed 11 amendments, two of which were accepted.

Dr Arnold-Moore said the essence of his amendments was to make sure those seeking charges went through a board of review in all matters as a filter to prevent frivolous claims.

Seconder Professor Clyde Croft objected, saying a charge before the Diocesan Tribunal was a very serious matter, with real potential for serious reputational and career damage to any respondent. He said to be fair to all, the matter must proceed only after careful consideration of the allegations.

Reverend Canon Matthew Williams of St James’ Old Cathedral spoke against the motion, saying the nature of the debate meant synod’s members had not felt empowered in their participation.

Mission Chaplain Bishop Alison Taylor said the old Tribunal Act “was embarrassingly out-of-date and needed fixing”. 

Professor Croft said it was no comfort that the Tribunal had not been activated for many years, as the legislation could not meet current and future needs. He said the new legislation provide a proper and effective forum to address issues in a fair and professional way.

The bill passed the House of Clergy narrowly, 154 votes to 149, but more comfortably in the House of Laity, 186-107.

Payroll sparks debate

Coming later in synod, the Diocesan Acts (Revisions and Repeals) Bill was likened by its sponsor,Dr Arnold-Moore, to a quick trip haircut, with “no controversial change”. But it became a forum for debate about the Melbourne diocese’s centralised payroll system.

Chair of Committees Doctor Ian Gibson ruled one of two amendments proposed by Alex Milner of St Jude’s Carlton as out of order.

Mr Milner said his second amendment removed the “coercion” of parishes by the diocese to use a centralised payroll system, restricting Archbishop in Council to setting minimum payroll and reporting standards.  

Seconder Michael Dowling of St Thomas’ Burwood opposed the amendments, saying they were outside the subject matter of the bill, and certainly not within the spirit of the bill.

Reverend Rachel McDougall, Vicar St Paul’s Canterbury, said payment of stipends by parishes had not always worked well.

“I had the experience as a curate where the treasurer told me: ‘Oh, we’re not paying you this week because we have to pay the electricity bill’,” Ms McDougall said.

Melbourne Anglican Diocese Corporation general manger Justin Lachal said the amendment as proposed was unhelpful in the matter of payroll remediation.

The amendment was lost 349-157. The unaltered bill passed 233-11 in the House of Clergy and 255-6 in the House of Laity.

Gender quotas for Cathedral canons

A bill providing for equal representation for men and women elected by synod as canons of St Paul’s Cathedral and setting a term of office for the Dean of Melbourne was also adopted.

The Cathedral Amendment Bill passed 175-14 among clergy and 195-7 among laity.  

Bishop Genieve Blackwell said the bill would allow synod to elect two lay women, two lay men, three women clergy and three male clergy from next year. She said the intention was to achieve equal representation of men and women as canons.

Bishop Blackwell said the bill set the term of Dean at seven years, with provision for renewal for a further term of seven years.

She said the present dean the Very Reverend Andreas Loewe would continue as it was, but any renewal would be under the new legislative provisions.

Other matters

A bill regarding professional standards was withdrawn by its moves, to allow for further consultation with the Diocese of Bendigo about amendments to join the act with the Melbourne diocese.

Its withdrawal will also allow for any changes to be made recommended by a review panel.

Bishop Kate Prowd proposed a motion calling for a Joint Standing Committee on Safe Ministry and Professional Standards to be set up by Melbourne and Bendigo dioceses. It invited other Victorian dioceses to join.

The Diocesan Information Bill was also withdrawn. This aimed to set minimum standards for the collection and publication of information about the diocese, it’s people and activities for reference groups.

Instead, Synod adopted a motion for a working group to work with Registrar Malcolm Tadgell on how best to achieve the purposes outlined in the bill and to report to the 2022 session of Synod.

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