Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Amendment Bill
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS (Minister for Justice, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Citizenship) [8.02 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The Coptic Orthodox Trust (NSW) Property Trust Amendment Bill 2003 proposes to amend the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Act to reflect the new Constitution of the Coptic Orthodox Churches in the Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions, in response to a request from the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Act (the 'Act') was assented to in November 1990 and commenced on 21 December 1990. The aim of the Act was to constitute the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust (the 'Trust') and to specify its functions, and to provide for the vesting of certain property in the Trust.
The Act was amended in 1993 to change the definition of 'Board' to reflect the then Constitution of the Church. Under the Act, the trustees of the Trust are the members of the New South Wales State Board of the Church.
On 8 October 2002 a new Constitution for the Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions was approved by His Holiness Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. This replaced the previous Constitution approved on 3 March 1989. Following the approval of the new Constitution, the Solicitors for the Church contacted the Government and indicated that the Act required amending in order to reflect changes in the new Constitution.
The principal change of relevance to the operation of the Act is that under the new Constitution it is the Bishop of the Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions who is now the sole and exclusive authority in relation to financial matters in churches and in the diocese. Previously the managing body of the Church in all financial matters was the New South Wales State Board of the Church.
The Act is consistent with the previous Constitution but requires amendment to be consistent with the new Constitution. Specifically, the Bishop is to become the sole trustee of the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust, replacing the members of the Board. A number of consequential changes are also required.
Solicitors for the Church have indicated that both the Board (who under the previous Constitution were the trustees for the Property Trust) and Church parishioners support the request by the Church to the NSW Government to amend the Act so that it will be consistent with the new Constitution approved on 8 October 2002 by His Holiness Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark.
The Bill continues the longstanding Government policy to assist churches to organise their financial and property affairs by sponsoring legislation in relation to corporate property trusts.
I commend the Bill to the House.
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE [8.03 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition on the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Amendment Bill and it is a special honour to be called upon to do so. It is a very great honour for me to acknowledge and welcome here tonight in the gallery a number of distinguished members of the Coptic Orthodox Church for the Diocese of Sydney: His Grace Bishop Daniel, Bishop of the Diocese; Father Tadros Simon, General Vicar of the Sydney Diocese; Father Antonios Kaldas, who is in charge of Coptic schools in the Diocese; Father Gabriel Yassa, who is director of media relations; Dr Medhat Guirgis, a very good friend of mine who is the secretary of the General Board of the Diocese, and his wife Dr Sarah Guirgis; Mr Faiez Hanania, who is a senior adviser to the Diocese, and Mrs Hanania; Dr Adel Solimon, who is secretary of the Board of Education, and Mrs Solimon; and Miss Lisa Agaiby, who represents the Youth and Women's Committee of the Diocese. We welcome them here this evening.
The Coptic community in Australia, and especially here in New South Wales, is one that I have had, and continue to have, a close relationship with. I have many friends who are Copts and it is a community for which I have developed the highest regard. As many are aware, "Coptic" translates to mean "ancient Egyptian". That is because the Copts are indeed the direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt are their lineal ancestors. The ancestors of the present-day Coptic people were the builders of the great pyramids of Egypt, the Temples of Luxor and the other treasured monuments and buildings of that civilisation of antiquity. History records for all time the achievements that they passed on to mankind in mathematics, geometry, astronomy, medicine and science. Their great library at Alexandria and its unsurpassed collection of documents, scrolls and other treasures is known to all students of history.
But, above all, the Coptic people have my admiration and I pay honour to them for another achievement. I honour them for their preservation and devotion to the Christian faith through nearly 2,000 years, a faith that has continued unabated despite constant adversity and hardship; a faith that has persevered since Christianity was brought to them by St Mark the Evangelist in those very earliest days of the Christian faith. The present-day teaching authority of the bishops of the Coptic Church and their authority to administer the sacraments is derived directly from Christ himself, having been bestowed upon the Apostles and thence from bishop to bishop down through 20 centuries to the present time in a line that is unabated and unbroken. The Coptic Church is recognised for its rich tradition of monasticism, which itself is steeped in and founded upon the Scriptures. As Luke 18:22 records:
Sell all that you have and distribute and come and follow me.
This is amplified in Corinthians 9:27:
I discipline my body and bring it into subjection lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
And so from Egypt came a monastic tradition that spread throughout the Christian world, a tradition exemplified by St Anthony, St Bachom, St Makary the Great, St Amoun, St Herum, and many, many others. Over the generations the Copts have held steadfastly to the Christian faith despite great adversity and despite overt and covert discrimination and persecution. History attests to the great multitude of the Coptic faithful who have suffered martyrdom for the Christian faith. Their martyrdom over the ages has produced Coptic saints in great numbers. Their martyrdom and their sainthood has been sanctified through their persecution.
Tonight the Coptic community of New South Wales asks this House to support the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Amendment Bill and the Opposition is pleased to be able to join in doing so. We heartily support the bill. It is supported and encouraged by His Holiness Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark. It is supported by the Bishop in New South Wales of the Coptic Orthodox Church. It is supported by the religious and by the laity. An overview of the bill defines its object to be:
… to amend the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Act 1990 to reflect the new Constitution of the Coptic Orthodox Churches in the Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions.
At present the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Act 1990 constitutes a trust to deal with certain property. The trustees of the Trust are the members of the New South Wales State Board of the Coptic Orthodox Church, New South Wales.
On 8 October 2002 a new Constitution of the Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions was approved by His Holiness Pope Shenouda. Under the new Constitution it is the Bishop of the Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions who is the sole and exclusive authority in relation to financial matters in churches and in the Diocese. This bill amends the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Act 1990 to reflect that change. In effect, the Bishop of the Sydney Diocese will become the trustee of the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust, thereby replacing the board that previously exercised that function.
I take pride in recording here tonight that the Coptic Orthodox Church has a very enviable and active record of service not only to the Coptic community but to the people of New South Wales generally. For example, it has fine achievements in charitable works. It is a growing community with some 70,000 members in New South Wales. The number of parish churches of the Coptic Orthodox community is spreading. They operate a seminary and a number of schools. Some months ago I was greatly privileged to be invited to attend a Coptic function in honour of His Holiness Pope Shenouda on the occasion of his visit to Sydney. What a religious leader of holiness and piety he is! He is a man of vision, leadership and wisdom. He follows in the tradition of monasticism for which the Coptic Church is so well known. He is held in high esteem by the other major Christian denominations and, indeed, by other faith traditions.
Bishop Daniel, who by virtue of the bill will become the trustee of the church's property trust, is sustained and beloved by the church membership as a man of learning and compassion. I can tell the House that he is a very popular local bishop. The Coptic people are, by nature, a peaceful and gentle people, even though they have suffered provocation and persecution, which overseas has been considerable and still exists. Revenge and fanaticism have never been part of their make-up. When they have been confronted with such behaviour from others, they have turned the other cheek. I believe their living of Christian virtues, their religious tolerance of others and their respect for the traditions and core values of our nation are some of the reasons they have so easily and successfully blended into Australian life. This is why they are so welcomed and so liked by the Australian community. They are admired in this country for their fine record of law-abiding conduct.
The Copts are a community that appear to have no problem with their youth, who are law respecting in their conduct and attitude. They are achievers in life. The State of New South Wales need not worry about juvenile delinquency, crime or other antisocial behaviour where the Coptic community is concerned. Such behaviour just does not exist. What a noble record for others to heed and follow. Maybe some others in our community could well learn from their example. I conclude by confirming the Opposition's support for the bill. We extend to the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Coptic community generally our deep respect, our good wishes and our heartfelt regards for the future.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [8.24 p.m.]: It is a great honour to support this important bill, the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Amendment Bill. I, too, welcome Bishop Daniel, the priests and leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church who are present in the Chamber tonight. The object of the bill is to amend the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Act 1990 to reflect the new constitution of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions. On 8 October 2002 a new constitution of the Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions was approved by His Holiness Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark. Under the new constitution the Bishop of the Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions is the sole and exclusive authority in relation to financial matters in the churches and in the diocese. The bill amends the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Act 1990 to reflect that change.
It is a great honour to speak in support of the bill because, for many years, I have had a close association with the Coptic Church, priests, members of the Coptic churches in Sydney and other places. I regard it as a privilege to have been invited to speak at many of the churches at Bexley, Arncliffe, Macquarie Fields and other places, and to be able to help in the formation of Coptic schools here in Sydney. I also had the privilege of visiting Egypt in 2000 AD and was invited to the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo when Pope Shenouda III conducted the Bible study. The cathedral was packed to overflowing—there were probably 7,000 enthusiastic Christians listening to the Pope give a Bible study in the same way that Our Lord Jesus Christ did when he was on Earth.
I was also privileged to be present when Pope Shenouda visited Sydney on a number of occasions. He has made five papal visits to Sydney. The visits of His Holiness stood out as a significant landmark in the life of the Coptic community in Australia. His visits were filled with immense blessing and were a great honour to the entire Coptic community. The presence of the leader of the Copts in Australia was, among other things, a rallying force for renewed spiritual life. It was undoubtedly an opportunity for spiritual revival rarely seen under other circumstances.
The other highlight in recent times was the appointment of Bishop Daniel as the Bishop of Sydney and Affiliated Regions. Bishop Daniel was appointed directly by Pope Shenouda III and was consecrated in the Coptic Orthodox Church in Bexley. Indeed, I was honoured to be one of the guests at the service when Bishop Daniel was enthroned as the Bishop in Sydney on 12 October 2002. That was a tragic day because it was the day of the Bali attack. It was the day on which there was great sadness in Bali but great joy here in Sydney for the Coptic Christians.
I was a guest at the anniversary dinner of Bishop Daniel's enthronement, which was celebrated 12 months later, on 12 October this year. The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest apostolic churches in the world. The Copts are the native Christians of Egypt and the direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians, a people with perhaps the longest recorded history. The term "Copt" is derived from the Greek word Agyptos, meaning Egyptian. The Egyptian basis of the Coptic Church cannot be stronger than the one that is established by its relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ, who spent his early childhood in Egypt. He travelled from Sinai in the east to the valley of Nitria in the west and southwards to Assyut, the heart of Egypt. That is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 2:15.
St Mark the evangelist and apostle, an African in origin, established the Coptic Orthodox Church in AD 42 in Alexandria, Egypt, and became her first patriarch. Before his martyrdom in Alexandria in AD 68 St Mark had ordained a Bishop by the name of Anianus, several priests and deacons. By the end of the second century Christianity had spread throughout Egypt. The Copts have suffered the fiercest persecutions in the entire Christian world, the worst being experienced during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. His aim was to destroy the church, but he failed, and we know that from the blood of the martyrs the church grows stronger. That happened with the Copts in Egypt.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is not self-centred but has spent a great deal of time in spreading the Christian message. Over the centuries it has sent missionaries to various parts of the world, to pagan tribes in those early years—to Libya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Sinai, Arabia and other places. Christianity was first introduced through these commercial and maritime relations. They even established a church in Belgium in those early years, so the church has a remarkable missionary outreach.
Today the Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest church in the Middle East with about 10 million faithful members in Egypt. The Holy Synod of the Coptic church comprises 86 metropolitans and bishops, headed by his Holiness Pope Shenouda III. Of the hundreds of monasteries that flourished in the deserts of Egypt, there are now 18 monasteries and eight convents. When I visited Egypt in 2000 I visited a number of monasteries. Some had been forced by persecution to build very high walls to protect the monks from attacks by various groups of people. Those monasteries survived but sadly, from hundreds, there are now 18 monasteries and eight convents. But they did survive despite those constant attacks.
An increasing number of well-educated young people are consecrating their lives to the ministry as parish priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconesses. Also, the Coptic church has opened many theological colleges throughout the world and is continuing the theological work of the school of Alexandria. As head of the oldest church in Africa, Pope Shenouda has been keen to extend the apostolic mission of St Mark across all of Africa. In June 1976 he ordained a number of bishops and others to commence missionary work among African tribes in Kenya. Today there are 33 Coptic churches, two monasteries and a vocational centre across seven countries, such as Kenya, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa.
Outside Egypt there are 80 churches in the United States of America, two theological colleges and St Anthony's Monastery in California, while in Canada there are 18 churches, a cultural centre in Ontario and two primary schools in Montreal and Ontario. Pope Shenouda III ordained a Bishop Paul for Mission in June 1995. In Europe there are more than 60 churches across 16 countries, including St Anthony's Monastery in Frankfurt, St Shenouda's Monastery in Milan, retreat centres in Birmingham and Hamburg and a cultural centre in France.
The coming of the Egyptian Christians—the Copts—to the Australian continent represents the coming of the most ancient culture from European settlement to one of the youngest countries in the world. So they have continued in an unbroken succession for thousands of years. The Copts bring with them not simply financial riches but riches in culture and the benefit of good education and training in many professions. They bring also the ability to retain their own culture while becoming loyal citizens of their new homeland. More importantly, these people have brought to this modern country the richness of Alexandrian theology and spirituality.
The Egyptians from ages past were very much tied to their land and church. All through their long history they were known to be non-migrating people. For them to migrate meant to be cut off from their roots, to wither and die. However, as a result of a complexity of factors—a significant one being the population explosion in Egypt—a mild wave of immigration to Australia began in the mid-1960s. Being separated from their land, families and church, the first Egyptian settlers, who were few in number, found it difficult to survive in Australia.
Consequently, they started voicing to their church in Egypt their earnest desire for a priest to cater for their spiritual and pastoral needs. At the same time the church in Egypt became concerned about the welfare of its migrating flocks. As a result, a priest was ordained to serve the Egyptian Orthodox community in Australia, Father Nematalla. He arrived in Australia on 21 January 1969 and prayed the first service on Australian soil in Melbourne. Thus the transplanting of one of the most ancient cultures began in the new world. The 1970s, 1980s and 1990s saw a growing influx of Egyptian Orthodox migrants to Australia.
As I speak from my heart, the main benefit is the spiritual message that the Coptic Christians have brought to our land. Their church occupies the heart of the holy Bible, for she is the object of the redemption which the Bible proclaims and which God purchased at the cost of Christ's blood. Thus the Coptic church and other churches represent the communion of believers, the household of faith and salvation. The Alexandria fathers postulated the church as one holy universal and apostolic Church, as stated in the Nicene creed.
The Coptic church particularly believes that the church is one because it is one body with one head, Jesus Christ. It is holy because the Holy Spirit dwells in God's people in as much as they respond to his call to salvation and the gift of eternal life. The church is universal because it is whole, complete and lacking in nothing both universally and in every local parish. It is apostolic because it continues in the Apostles' teaching and experience. So we thank God that from the seed that was sown in those early days such a strong church now exists in Australia.
In November 1999 Pope Shenouda established Australia's first Coptic diocese of Melbourne, embracing Canberra, Adelaide, Perth and New Zealand, and appointed Bishop Suriel as Australia's first Coptic Bishop. The diocese of Melbourne consists of 16 churches: seven in Melbourne, two in Perth, one in the Australian Capital Territory, one in Adelaide and three in New Zealand; two schools; St Anthony's Monastery; nursing homes; and a theological college. There are 18 priests.
As I said, in Sydney in 2002 Pope Shenouda ordained His Grace Bishop Daniel for the diocese of Sydney, which includes New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory. This large diocese consists of 14 churches in Sydney, one on the Gold Coast and one in Brisbane; a theological college; three schools; St Shenouda Monastery; a Coptic youth centre; and a conference centre. It is served by 25 priests. Today there are 27 vibrant churches in Australia served by 38 priests: 14 in Sydney, 7 in Melbourne, 2 in Queensland, 1 in Adelaide and 2 in Perth and Canberra. A unique feature of all Orthodox churches in Australia is the presence of relics of saints and martyrs that they have brought with them from Egypt.
In conclusion, the church is involved in many other activities. From my observation, even though the people of Egypt, the Copts, were looking for a new place, I believe God led them to Australia. I believe God led these strong spiritual Coptic Christians to Australia as reinforcements to strengthen the Christian culture, conventions and faith of our nation. They do not detract in any way but they add strength to our nation and help fulfil that early title given to it: The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO [8.27 p.m.]: I support the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Amendment Bill. In June 2002, as a result of expansion of the church in Australia and Asia over the past 15 years, His Holiness Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark, officially ordained and appointed His Grace Bishop Daniel to be the first bishop with jurisdiction for the Australian States of New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory, as well as South-East Asia and North-East Asia. Bishop Daniel has responsibility for the pastoral services and activities of the Coptic Orthodox Church in these regions. It is this appointment and the subsequent introduction of a new constitution that calls us to amend the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Act.
His Grace Bishop Daniel, who under these proposed amendments is to be the sole trustee of the Coptic Orthodox Church (New South Wales) Property Trust, has had a long and distinguished career both academically and within the Coptic Orthodox Church. His academic credentials in particular serve to re-emphasise the importance that the Coptic Orthodox Church places on the role of education. Having graduated with a high distinction average from Alexandria University in 1982 with a bachelor degree in civil engineering, Bishop Daniel then completed a certificate in computer studies. The following year, in 1984, he was ordained as a monk with the name Father Mettaous El-Antony in St Anthony's Monastery, Red Sea, Egypt. The years 1986 and 1987 saw His Grace ordained as a priest and then as a hegomen.
Bishop Daniel served as a priest for many years in Khartoum in Sudan, becoming the general vicar of the diocese of Khartoum and affiliated regions in 1997. Following this, he served in the United Kingdom and Ireland, being the general vicar for the diocese of Ireland, Scotland and the United Kingdom from 2000 until his ordination as Bishop for Sydney and Affiliated Regions. Between 1995 and 2000, leading up to his appointment in Australia, he completed and then organised courses in church management, completed a course in gender awareness, translated various courses into Arabic, was a member of the executive committee of the Sudanese Council of Churches and became a permanent member of the Sudanese Engineering Council. Finally, and notwithstanding all of these qualifications, His Grace is also fluent in English, Arabic and Coptic, and has a good command of Nubian. It is a great honour for the Coptic Orthodox Church to have people of the eminent ability of His Grace Bishop Daniel appointed as Bishop of Sydney and Affiliated Regions.
On a personal note, on Thursday 10 July this year I had the great honour of representing the Premier at a State reception in honour of the distinguished participants of the Orientale Lumen II: Australasia and Oceania. This was an international ecumenical conference held in Sydney between 8 and 11 July, the theme of which was "An Exchange of Gifts: Western and Eastern Churches Face Their Post-Modern Context". At this reception I was fortunate to meet many leaders of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Christian churches, including leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and in particular His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy, General Secretary of the Coptic Orthodox Church. I was also fortunate to be able to call upon young Damian Kassabagi, a member of the Coptic Orthodox faith who works for the Premier, for advice during the reception.
I commend the bill to the House on my own behalf and on behalf of the Hon. Tony Burke, who is unable to participate in this debate because he is now presiding over the House. I wish the representatives of the Coptic Orthodox Church who are present in the gallery tonight, and all the members of the Coptic Orthodox Church in New South Wales, every success in the future.
Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES [8.31 p.m.]: During World War II I was a child in Box Hill in Victoria. My neighbours were Mr and Mrs Magdy Massoud, formerly of Egypt. It was the first time in my life I heard the word "Copt". Later, in 1980, I became good friends with Dr Samuel Habib in Cairo, and I am glad to see that Bishop Daniel remembers that great, beloved friend. He helped me greatly in my understanding of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The bill will amend the Coptic Orthodox Church (NSW) Property Trust Act to reflect the new constitution that has come into place as a result of the appointment of Bishop Daniel. The Act was amended in 1993 to change the definition of the board to reflect the then constitution of the church. Under the Act, trustees are members of the New South Wales State board of the church. In October 2002 the new constitution for the diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions was approved by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III. We congratulate the church on its ministry in Australia and its growth over the years. Although it is generally recognised that the church has been in existence in Australia since the 1960s with the movement and migration from Egypt and other parts, from my own experience I know there were Copts in this country 20 years earlier. The original families that came out in the 1960s have now grown to thousands of people.
Anyone in this particular disciplined field who has spent a lifetime studying theology and the history of the Christian church knows the contribution made by the Coptic Church over 2,000 years. There will always be some who want to dispute the exact date of St Mark but no-one disputes that St Mark went to Egypt. No-one disputes that the church dates back to the first century. It is one of the few groups of Christian organisations or denominations in the world that can claim to be truly apostolic in the sense of being established by the Apostles and to have a continuous line of history inspired by some of the most incredible eras of persecution during that time.
For the best part of 600 years the Coptic Church was the major Christian body, unquestioned by other religions, in Egypt. Since the Arab invasion of Egypt in 1632 the Coptic Church has suffered constant pressure, not to say persecution. The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest apostolic churches in the world and, as has been mentioned by my distinguished predecessors in this debate, we are referring to the ancient people of Egypt who contributed so much to the history of the world. St Mark was one who established the main theological seminary in Alexandria, and I probably do not need to mention that the great library of Alexandria was one of the seven wonders of the world. Possibly the greatest act of vandalism in the history of the world was the destruction of all the learned knowledge said to be held in the manuscripts in the library at Alexandria. Out of that came spiritual renewal, because it was then the theological centre, established by St Mark and used over the years.
The Coptic Church has been a missionary church in spite of its ties to the land of Egypt and to the River Nile. It has taken the message of Christianity not only throughout the North Africa—I remind honourable members that by the fifth century the whole of North Africa was Christian—but also up the Nile to Sudan. I was very interested earlier to hear something I did not know: that Bishop Daniel is an expert in the language of the Nuba people. The Nuba people are one of the great races. Many people do not understand that they had pyramids in Nuba, pyramids even larger than those in Egypt. To this day, the Nuba people are a persecuted Christian minority. In Sudan the persecution at this moment is horrendous, and in the past few years literally thousands of people, including Coptic Christians, have been put to death in Sudan. The persecution that occurs in Egypt right to this moment, and in southern Egypt particularly, is very, very serious.
The missionary endeavours of Coptic Christians took the gospel of Jesus Christ to places like Switzerland—the great Coptic evangelist St Maurice is commemorated in the name St Moritz in Switzerland—Belgium and France. Many people do not understand that Copts were among the first missionaries to go to Ireland and that they made a significant contribution to Christianity there. From the time of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 the church has always had strong theology.
Many denominations, of which mine, the Uniting Church in Australia, is one, believe in the theology of the weather vane and move depending on which way the wind blows. They could well take a lesson from the orthodox churches in general, and the Coptic Orthodox Church in particular, which do not change with every wind of fashion or the latest paperback theology. They have held onto the central crux of the Christian faith. If one has had the privilege, as I have, of meeting with leading theologians around the world in world conferences, one will always notice that contributions coming out of the Coptic Orthodox Church are the most theological of all the contributions. They are always based around the centrality of the person of Jesus Christ, the authority of the Bible as the scriptures of God and centred on the incarnation, the logos, of Jesus Christ. They were the great strings played on the violin of Methodism, if I can make one little pitch for the Methodist Church.
The Hon. John Ryan: The first Coptic Orthodox Church in Sydney was a Methodist Church before it started.
Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES: Thank you. My church was established 192 years ago in Sydney, but 192 years is but a minnow by comparison with the history of the Coptic Orthodox Church. John Wesley made it very clear in the words of one of the great hymns written by his brother, Charles: "Our God contracted to a span incomprehensively made man." That is the heart of orthodox faith—the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, who took upon himself our sins, who died upon the cross and was raised from the dead. As my learned leader of the Christian Democratic Party—I have been waiting to say that for years—said, the Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest church in the Middle East.
Over the years the Coptic Orthodox Church has provided leadership in the councils of churches around the world. The Coptic Orthodox Church is closely tied to the mother church in Egypt, as can be seen from the appointment of bishops. There will come a time when this tie will be threatened because second, third and fourth generation Coptic young people will want to have a greater say. I predict that in 20 or 30 years, when most of us will not be here, with the exception of the young members on the benches behind me, we will have to face the broadening and greater democratisation of boards. The authority of the bishops on issues such as property is essential in keeping the church true to its theology. The hierarchy and authority of the church has been important since the day of St Mark in Egypt.
If I might speak as a Protestant minister, I am warmed by the emphasis of the Coptic Orthodox Church on what we claim to be Protestant doctrines. The Protestant doctrines were actually the development of the great orthodox and, in some cases, Catholic doctrines. So we go back in tradition to the great doctrines of the faith: the Bible being God's word, which is infallible and inspired and the written record of the living word, Jesus. We have the living word and we have the written word, which bears witness to the living word. From that have come the great sacraments. But what warms my heart about the sacraments as a practising minister is, first of all, baptism of believers by immersion.
Throughout my life I have only baptised by immersion because that is the biblical tradition. Baptism is extremely important in the same way that communion within the Coptic tradition is celebrated with unleavened bread, which is the traditional form of the celebration of sacrament. Throughout my 40 years as a priest celebrating the communion I have always used unleavened bread for the same reason I have practised baptism by immersion and the use of healing oil. In our sacrament of marriage our church believes, as does the Coptic church, that marriage is of a man and a woman. It is not a same-sex union. The holy orders of priests, the order of the episcopate, the oversight of the church, the priesthood of ministries, and the priesthood of all believers, as we would say in the Protestant tradition, together with deacons, are doctrines we share with our Coptic friends.
Over the years the Copts in Australia, despite their small number, have always been very active in inter-church relationships. They have taken a leading role within ecumenical councils, such as the Australian Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, and the New South Wales Council of Churches. They have rooted themselves in Australian society. They hold their heads high among the denominations of this country. I believe that they are helping those of us whose denominations are wandering away from the great foundations of the scriptures and the sacraments.
The Islamic persecution that has been faced by Copts in Egypt, the Sudan, and other places in Egypt is virulent to this day. I receive the Ecumenical Press Service via e-mail, and almost every day I read of deaths in the Middle East as a result of fundamentalist Islamic persecution of these Christians. Remarkably, when I have spoken with Coptic priests and monks I have never heard one word of vendetta, hatred, or opposition to the people of Islam. That is extraordinary, because there are other people who are persecuted around the world who would like to see the end of persecution. But the Copts are interested in putting down their roots, turning the other cheek, practising forgiveness, and taking it upon themselves to suffer vicariously because they believe that through their suffering they are sharing the suffering of Christ. I commend this bill and I praise, without reservation, the people of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The Hon. JOHN RYAN [8.45 p.m.]: It is a pleasure for me to participate in tonight's debate, particularly in the presence of Bishop Daniel and other members of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The bill we are debating is a dry piece of administrative machinery, but it gives us the opportunity to pay tribute to a very valuable community within Sydney and Australia. It is my pleasure to do so. Most members would know of my church background, that I am actively involved in the Anglican Church and the Diocese of Sydney. My church tradition is a little lower, perhaps, than that of others who have just delivered magnificent speeches. Nevertheless, I assure members of the Coptic Orthodox Church that I share with them a devotion to our Lord and an understanding of how a living Christian faith adds to one's life.
The Coptic church tradition was established by the apostle Mark, the writer of the Gospel of St Mark, and St Barnabus, after the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. It is one of the most ancient Christian churches in that it is able to trace its establishment back to Alexandria in about 50 AD. Copts take great pride in the fact that the celebration of the Lord's Supper probably took place in the house belonging to its founder, St Mark. Sadly, the Coptic church in Egypt has had to endure a significant level of persecution and hardship. Its members do not have the freedom that we have in Australia to practise their faith. Various means have been employed from time to time to either persecute or discriminate against them, largely by fundamentalist Muslims. The forms of persecution have ranged from outright physical torture and violence to discriminately charging them crippling levels of taxation.
One of my friends in the Liberal Party, Mr Sam Escarios, who attends the church at Macquarie Fields and, I am sure honourable members will be proud to know, was recently elected my branch president, recently visited family members in Egypt. On his return he told me a story of how a police officer, even just last week, disrupted a celebration of the mass. When the priest refused to stop the celebration of the mass, the police officer grabbed the chalice, which contained the elements of the Lord's Supper, and threw it to the ground. No doubt one of the things the Coptic community appreciates most about Australia is the wonderful freedom we are able to offer them to practise their faith.
Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes would be interested to know that the Coptic church in Australia was established when a number of people of the Coptic tradition purchased an old Methodist church at Railway Road, Sydenham. The church, which was given the name of St Mary and St Mina, was the first Coptic church in Australia and one of the first to be owned by Coptic migrants outside of Egypt. Australia plays a very important role in the development and expansion throughout the world of the Coptic church.
The first liturgy in the newly purchased church was celebrated on 29 March 1970. The church was relocated to Bexley in February 2001, after being located at the Sydenham site for 31 years. Since moving, the church has expanded, and so have its services. The church is now able to offer a greater range of services to cater for the different needs of its congregation, including a private school. The church has also been responsible for establishing many other churches throughout Sydney and now there is an extensive network of Coptic churches not only in Sydney but throughout Australia. Those churches are located in Western Sydney at Blacktown, Mount Druitt, Punchbowl, Miranda, Rhodes and Kirrawee. A church with which I am very familiar at Macquarie Fields is named after the current Pope of the Coptic Church, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III.
The Coptic Church in New South Wales is also making a significant contribution to the wider community. As the shadow Minister for Community Services, I obviously take a great interest in the services it provides for the aged, youth, the disadvantaged and new migrants. The Coptic community is extremely proud of the services it provides for young people. It focuses not only on their material needs but also on their spiritual growth and their development of leadership skills. Many of the church's youth activities are sponsored and promoted by the Coptic Orthodox Youth Association, which is led primarily by young Coptic people. It coordinates a variety of youth programs, including outings, sporting programs, social and musical events, and, of course, activities that promote an interest in religious life and devotion.
Five Coptic soccer teams participate in the New South Wales churches soccer competition: two teams from St Mary's and St Mina Church, one from St Mark's, one from St George, and one from St Bakhomis. There is also a distinguished representative soccer team called the Pharaohs, which recently travelled to Victoria and gave its Melbourne namesake a soccer lesson. The Coptic Church has three scouting troupes: one at St Mark's, one at St Mary's, and one at St Abanoub. The church also sponsors three schools: St Mark's Coptic Orthodox College at Wattle Grove, St Bishoy Coptic Orthodox College at Mt Druitt, and St Mary's and St Mina Coptic Orthodox College. The church has demonstrated great vision by purchasing about five acres of land at Berkshire Park in Western Sydney for a high school.
The church has a 10-acre site at Macquarie Fields on which it has developed a campsite to support youth and wider church activities. It is equipped with a swimming pool, cabins, and playing fields for all kinds of recreational activities. The church has also organised summer camps and holiday activities for young people during school holidays. Many of these youth activities owe their impetus to three imaginative and innovative young priests: Father Arsanious Barsoun from St Abanoud's at Blacktown, Father Sharobeem Sharobeem from St Mary's and St Bakhomio's at Kirawee, and Father Gabriel Yassa from St Michael's at Mount Druitt.
In addition to youth activities, the church is also working with newly settled migrants. It has collaborated with the Migrant Resource Centre at Blacktown to provide information to families, including parent effectiveness courses and seminars on resolving conflict between parents and teenagers—a course that I might find useful. I believe the church has also been brave enough to arrange and implement some personal development and sex education courses for families with pre-teenage children. Father Shenouda Mansour from St Antoniou's and St Paul's at Guildford has established a soup kitchen program and street services using volunteers from the church and is making a valuable contribution to addressing the growing problem of homelessness in the nearby Parramatta CBD. From the nearby church at Rhodes, Ms Yvonne Tannous has been providing an effective service to newly arrived migrants, helping them to settle into our community.
At the other end of life, the church is also providing services for the elderly. As yet, it has not been able to raise sufficient capital to provide the more traditional forms of aged accommodation. It has had to rely on innovative strategies to provide a series of in-house programs for the elderly. It has assisted them by organising youth volunteers to undertake home maintenance and home care. Those programs not only provide invaluable assistance to the elderly and allow them to stay in their own homes but also build the character of the young volunteers. However, the church has a larger vision. Primarily as a result of the leadership of Bishop Daniel, a committee has been formed to investigate the possibility of providing an aged care facility on land the church owns at Mt Druitt, Macquarie Field or Castle Hill.
As I have consulted with many members of the Sydney Coptic Orthodox Church one person has been mentioned over and again as the driver of and the inspiration for much of this activity. That person—Bishop Daniel—is with us this evening. In the short time that he has been in office he has provided a valuable, energetic and dynamic level of leadership. Much of the activity I have mentioned this evening has been initiated by him in one way or another. One of his congregation said to me, "He is driving us nuts with his energy." We value having someone of that calibre in our community.
Bishop Daniel was born in the Sudan. He has engineering degrees and impressive academic qualifications in theology, including a doctorate. He was ordained a priest on Palm Sunday as Father Mettaous El-Antony in the Cathedral of St Mary in Khartoum by the hand of His Late Eminence Metropolitan Daniel. He was responsible for preaching in the Nubian Orthodox Church in the Nubian Mountains. After that he served with Bishop Antony, Bishop of Ireland, Scotland and England in the Church of St George, and with Pope Athanasious in Newcastle. On 23 June 2002 he was ordained the Bishop of Sydney and its Affiliated Regions by the hand of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Pope and Patriarch of the See of St Mark, with the new name of Bishop Daniel. We pay enormous tribute to him and wish Bishop Daniel well in the many endeavours he intends to pursue while he leads the Coptic Orthodox Church of Sydney. He provides inspiration as one of the two Coptic bishops in Australia.
As I said, this may be a piece of dry, administrative legislation, but it gives honourable members a valuable opportunity to wish members of the Coptic Orthodox Church well and to thank them for the contribution they make to ensuring that Sydney is enjoyable and that Australia is a wonderfully rich and diverse country in which to live.
The Hon. DAVID OLDFIELD [8.56 p.m.]: It is encouraging to us all to bear witness to how faith can strengthen and guide Christians through adversity and terror such as that experienced by the Coptic community. I enthusiastically add my support to the words of the Hon. David Clarke and other honourable members and add my welcome to His Grace Bishop Daniel and members of the Coptic Orthodox Church community who have joined us this evening. I look forward to the further success of the Coptic Orthodox Church in New South Wales. May its numbers grow well beyond the 70,000 Copts in this State who already share the Coptic faith and values.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS (Minister for Justice, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Citizenship) [9.57 p.m.], in reply: The Government thanks honourable members for their contributions to this debate and joins in acknowledging the work done by the Coptic Orthodox Church in Sydney and its Affiliated Regions under the guidance and leadership of His Grace Bishop Daniel, whom I was pleased to meet for the first time on the occasion of the recent celebration of the anniversary of his enthronement. I have nothing to say in response to the remarks made by honourable members, except to correct the Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes, who advised us, quite wrongly, that Orthodox Christians use unleavened bread, as does he.
Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes: I said "the Coptic Orthodox Church".
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: They do not; they use leaven bread. All Orthodox Churches use leaven bread. The honourable member might change his practice.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.