CANBERRA, Australia — Leaders from the Australia/New Zealand Area met Aug. 28 with the prime minister of Australia to discuss family issues and how the Church supports communities and society.
"We wanted the government leaders to see us as a positive part of society here," said Elder Kenneth Johnson of the Seventy and president of the Australia/New Zealand Area, who met with The Honorable John Howard, prime minister of Australia, in the parliament house. Accompanying Elder Johnson were Elder Val R. Christensen of the Seventy and first counselor in the area presidency, and Alan Wakeley, Pacific director of Church public affairs. Along with visiting with the prime minister, they met with other parliamentary leaders and Australian senators who serve on family-oriented committees.
"We recognized that most people who go to the government are asking for something. We went to say that as a Church and as a people we believe we have a lot to offer in helping society," Elder Johnson said. "We talked about our focus on the family, what it meant to us. We knew that in Australia, at the moment, family and the work life is at the top of the agenda, and we talked about our beliefs. We were basically trying to continue building relationships, as well as present to the political leaders that the Church is here to help.
"There's a government review at the moment of charities and taxation," Elder Johnson continued. He said the Church leaders explained to the government's leaders "that if we were subject to taxation, that we would be able to do less for the community."
Elder Johnson and the others spoke with the prime minister about the $1.4 million in Australian dollars given through the Church farm to various projects in Australia and in the surrounding islands.
The prime minister, who received as a gift from the area presidency a copy of President Gordon B. Hinckley's Standing for Something, received the Church leaders warmly, said Elder Johnson, and seemed genuinely interested in the Church's efforts and mission. Copies of President Hinckley's book were given also to other government leaders during the nearly daylong visit to the parliament house.
Many of these connections between Church and government leaders are the result of a Church effort here to present family awards to politicians who are family-friendly. Through these subsequent friendships, the visit to Canberra was arranged. "We just felt that we needed to meet with them so they could see we were honorable people with a sincere desire to help in society and to be part of the country's fabric."