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World Council of Churches 7th Assembly opens in Canberra; Prime Minister defends Australian Government's programs for Aborigines; WCC accused of assisting communism by one attendee

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: The Seventh Assembly Session of the World Council of Churches will get off to a controversial start today in Canberra, with an expected prime ministerial rebuke to the Council for its recent condemnation of Australia's treatment of Aborigines. Earlier this week a Council delegation concluded that the impact of racism was not just horrific, but genocidal. The Prime Minister is expected to put up a spirited defence of his Government's treatment of Aborigines. The plenary session of the Council has already begun, and John Shovelan's report from Canberra begins with the sounds of the opening ceremony.

GALARRWUY YUNUPINGU: The opening ceremony is about purifying and bringing about peace of mind to particularly the visitors who are visiting Australia at present.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Why do you have to give them peace of mind?

GALARRWUY YUNUPINGU: To save them from getting hurt and protect them, really. And the .... an invitation before the arrival of those people.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Galarrwuy Yunupingu of the Northern Land Council, explaining the ceremony that preceded this morning's prayer session at the opening of the World Council of Churches. Aboriginal Australia will be a central issue at this Council, according to Galarrwuy, and the Prime Minister this afternoon intends to move it even higher on the Council agenda. Miffed by the report earlier this week from a delegation of the Council who described the impact of racism in Australia on Aborigines as not only horrific but genocidal, Mr Hawke this afternoon will issue the Council a rejoinder. Mr Hawke takes the issue of Aboriginal affairs personally, and this afternoon when he addresses the Council he intends defending his Government's achievements for Aborigines, pointing to the formation of ATSIC and self-determination, health programs and the commencement of the process of reconciliation.

But while Mr Hawke will be defending his Government, Aborigines will be using the forum to highlight their plight. At this morning's opening it was clear the only group that didn't appear upper or middle class were the Aborigines present. Galarrwuy Yunupingu, once again.

GALARRWUY YUNUPINGU: They ought to tell them while they got the opportunity. You know, it's those sad cases that we need to tell the church gathering here.

JOHN SHOVELAN: While it's a forum for Aboriginal Australia, there are few real links with the hundreds or more churches represented. And it's not just the Aborigines that have no real connection. The Reverend Michael Patrick from the Free Presbyterian Church in his group accused the World Council of Churches of aiding communism and of assisting murderers.

MICHAEL PATRICK: Well, first of all, we have no argument with the fact that Christians can unite and work together. It's the basis of that, and we believe the basis must be the word of God. And we're here today because we believe that the World Council of Churches has departed from the plain teaching of the word of God and from historic Christianity.

JOHN SHOVELAN: What, too much of the State has intervened, has it?

MICHAEL PATRICK: No. If I could refer to some of the matters you mentioned there, for example communism. That's been well documented. As far as the murder of the missionaries is concerned, when that took place, it took place in Rhodesia which is now, of course, Zimbabwe. And the program to combat racism, a special fund was set up under that, and moneys have been given from that special fund to organisations that practice terrorism.

JOHN SHOVELAN: The Reverend Patrick was popular this morning because of his controversial stand, and after a series of radio interviews, admitted to having a dry throat. But he assured me it wouldn't be lubricated with any of the demon drink.

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: John Shovelan in Canberra.