31 August 2005


In a statement to mark Refugee and Migrant Sunday last weekend, Bishop Joseph Grech, Chairman of the Committee for Migrants and Refugees of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference quoted from the message prepared by the late Pope John Paul II to mark this day.

In his statement John Paul II rejected growing calls within the community to return to a policy of assimilating migrants into the dominant culture. Rather he spoke of the necessity "to recognize the legitimate plurality of cultures present in a country, in harmony with the preservation of law and order, on which depend social peace and the freedom of citizens." and of combining "the principle of respect for cultural differences with the protection of values that are in common and inalienable, because they are founded on universal human rights."

These principles shed light on the current debate within Australia as to whether Muslim girls should be permitted to wear the scarf (hijab) when atteding a public school.For a further reflection on the discussion regarding what constitutes 'Australian values' see the article on the Australian Jesuit website.

18 August 2005


Arising from a concern for the direction that Australia has taken in recent years under the present government, and alarmed that this government now has full control of both Houses of Parliament, a new political movement aiming to build a more progressive Australia has recently been launched.

GetUp aims to network like-minded people who want to bring participation back into our democracy. It uses the latest online tools to act on important issues facing the country. Concerned at the absence of an effective opposition and the concentration of media ownership which limits the expression of alternative viewpoints, GetUp believes that people need to take politics more into their own hands, and it provides a way to do this. It aims to build a ground-up movement of Australians who want to act, not just complain.

This bulletin was commenced in the belief that members of the Edmund Rice Network have something to offer the wider communities to which they belong. In my experience Christian Brother Schools and ministries have been strong on exercising care and compassion for the poor and disadvantaged, but less strong I believe, on addressing the underlying causes of poverty, suffering and marginalisation. One of the aims of this bulletin has been to encourage members of the Edmund Rice Network to work with others to change unjust structures by giving voice to their beliefs and values through their participation in the political process.

GetUp provides an opportunity to enable that voice to be heard.

Another opportunity to contribute directly to the political debate exists with the current Victorian State Government's Community Consultation on Human Rights

Questions the government is seeking answers to include :-
Should Victoria have a Charter of Human Rights?
What should it protect?
Are there other ways human rights can be better protected as part of our democracy?

Submissions are still being accepted as part of this consultation and assistance with making a submission can be found at the website of the Law Institute of Victoria


Recognizing that the world is "facing a whole series of global problems which are harming the biosphere and human life in alarming ways that may soon become irreversible" and in response to the decision of the most recent chapter of the Christian Brothers to "engage in radical relationships of equality with all God’s creation and to support the Earth Charter", Congregational Leader Br Philip Pinto recently announced the appointment of Australian brother, Moy Hitchen to the position of Promoter of Eco-justice.

In a letter announcing the appointment Br Pinto noted that "most of us, and especially our large social institutions, subscribe to the concepts of an outdated worldview, a perception of reality inadequate for dealing with our overpopulated, globally interconnected world". He went on to say that solutions to the major problems of our time require "a radical shift in our perceptions, our thinking, and our values" but that this realisation has not yet dawned on most of our political, corporate and educational leaders.

Moy will be based at the Edmund Rice Centre in Croydon NSW, and his main task will be to coordinate the various efforts and centres of the Congregation around the world as they strive to create this climate for a change of perception. Hopefully that in turn will lead to an enhanced awareness of the beauty of our planet and a greater responsibility in our care for it and for one another.


In a submission to the current Senate enquiry into Australia's Migration Act Polmin argued for a major reform of the Act to ensure:-

An equal treatment of all asylum seekers without discrimination based on method of arrival, as exists at present. (Those who arrive in Australia by air and then claim asylum for example are not subjected to mandatory detention)

The restoration of the right to seek asylum in Australia. This would mean an end to the Pacific Solution, the closure of offshore camps and restoration of excised islands into the Migration Zone.

The detention of asylum seekers only for a limited time to enable health, identity and security checks.

The restoration of full powers to the courts to enable the examination of any decision to detain people.

The granting of complementary protection to asylum seekers whose claims for protection are valid, but fall outside the strict definition of the refugee convention.

The granting of work rights and an entitlement to the full range of social security benefits as well as support from a case worker for asylum seekers who are living in the community on bridging visas.

The abolition of the temporary protection visa system. Once a person has been judged to be a genuine refugee they would receive permanent protection with the full range of rights and entitlements.

The full text of the submission can be viewed at the Polmin website


Recently the 60th anniversaries of the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were commemorated. The occasion provides a reminder of the awesome power of destruction to which an increasing number of nations now have access through their arsenal of nuclear weapons.

In all the concern about the threat to human life from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction however, it is frequently overlooked that the overwhelming majority of violent deaths in our world occur through the use of conventional weapons and small arms. Here it is also worth remembering that the five biggest suppliers of arms in the world, in order, are USA, UK, France, Russia and Germany. Together these nations account for 84% of the worlds supply of weapons. Frequently these weapons are supplied or sold to those who openly flaunt international human rights and humanitarian laws, and may even end up in the hands of terrorist groups.

At the recent G8 meeting world leaders at least acknowledged that international standards in arms transfers, including a common understanding of governments' responsibilities, are necessary in order to tackle uncontrolled arms proliferation; however there was no indication of any intention to start negotiations for an international Arms Trade Treaty.

Information about the Arms Trade and the campaign for an Arms Trade Treaty can be found at the Control Arms website.


Responding to reservations expressed by church leaders regarding his proposed industrial relations legislation, Australian Prime Minister John Howard made the extraordinary claim recently that "there was no such thing as a Catholic or Anglican view on anything; it depends on individuals."

Perhaps he needs to be made aware of the recently published 'Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church'.

In launching the Compendium Cardinal Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace stated that it "offers a complete overview of the fundamental framework of … of Catholic social teaching” and a “serious and precise instrument ….for the purpose of giving direction to community and personal action." see Statement of Cardinal Martino

A further response to the Prime Minister's assertion written by Fr Frank Brennan can be found at theAustralian Jesuits website

4 August 2005


The fact that the recent terrorist bombings in London were perpetrated by young men raised in England rather than 'foreign' terrorists has led to a questioning of multiculturalism both in that country and in Australia.

Since 1972 Australia has officially adopted a policy of multiculturalism which is described as follows: -
Australia's multicultural policy promotes acceptance of and respect for our cultural diversity. It embraces our Australian-grown customs and the heritage of Indigenous Australians, early settlers, and the diverse range of migrants now coming to this country. It supports the right of each Australian to maintain and celebrate, within the law, their culture, language or religion.

The freedom of all Australians to express and share their cultural values is dependent on our abiding by mutual civic obligations. All Australians are expected to have an overriding loyalty to Australia and its people, and to respect the basic structures and principles underwriting our democratic society. These are the Constitution, parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and religion, English as the national language, the rule of law, acceptance and equality.

Prior to 1972 Australia’s immigration policy was one of assimilation which aimed at forming national unity through the establishment of a single culture within Australia, with everyone living in the same way and sharing the same aspirations and customs. Immigrants (and indigenous Australians) were encouraged to discard their culture of origin and become 'like us'.

Whilst many would argue that the policy of multiculturalism has promoted harmony in our society others would argue that the current policy allows or even encourages extremist groups to flourish. As a result some commentators are urging an abandonment or at least a winding back of the present policy. In its more extreme cases the questioning of multiculturalism can lead to the expression of openly racist views such as those aired recently on national television by the Professor of Public Law at Sydney’s Macquarie University, Drew Fraser, who lamented the absence of white Australians when he shopped at suburban Parramatta. He said that he was confronted with "a polyglot mix of people who have nothing in common whatever, except the shopping experience." He went on to ask, "Do you want your Grandchildren to be part of an ethnic minority? Sub Saharan Africans have an average IQ of 70-75"

Although it is officially celebrated in March each year, perhaps some ideas and suggestions for action on the Living in Harmony website are particularly relevant at this time.


The death of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent member of the public on his way to work in London who was pursued and shot eight times by undercover police officers, raises more disturbing questions about the place of human rights in the response of the western world to terrorism.

The continued incarceration of David Hicks, the Australian citizen still awaiting trial before a US military court in Guantanamo Bay after almost four years, raises similar concerns especially in view of the continued and increasing doubts about the fairness of the process to which he will be subjected.

When other instances of an apparent disregard of individual rights and dignity such as the illegal deportation of Australian citizen Vivian Solon and the wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau are considered, when arguments justifying the mistreatment and even torture of prisoners are seriously advanced by public figures, when further security measures such as the increased use of surveillance cameras, the introduction of random searches of bags on public transport and the institution of a national identity card system are advocated by a government that engages in lies, deceit and evasion of responsibility as evidenced by the 'children overboard' affair, the reasons given for joining the war in Iraq, the mistreatment of asylum seekers, SIEV X, etc and when those within the government or public service are marginalised for speaking the truth, one wonders if our society is losing its way.

Various commentators in Australia are increasingly questioning if our fear and concern for security is threatening key values that are at the core of our society and its institutions.

Recent examples reflecting on this concern have been reported in CathNews 'An electrician dies in London' (1/8) and 'Laws that erode rights more dangerous to liberty than terrorists' (3/8)

Similar concerns have been raised by Amnesty Australia where it is argued that :-
"Effective action against terrorism can be taken without violating human rights. One of the best weapons to combat the root causes of terrorism is the full observance of human rights."


The worst excesses of the Australian Liberal Government’s policy in regard to the treatment of asylum seekers continue to be wound back with the recent announcement that all children held in detention round Australia have now been released. The news has been widely welcomed by all those who have long campaigned for an end to this policy.

Nevertheless the policy of indefinite mandatory detention of asylum seekers still remains in place, as does the iniquitous temporary protection visa system. The campaign for a more just treatment for those who seek sanctuary in this country goes on. An fully developed alternative policy for the treatment of asylum seekers which still addresses security concerns is The Better Way

The need to maintain the pressure for further reforms was also demonstrated by the recent passing of a motion at the annual conference of the Victorian Young Liberals condemning the recent softening of the application of the asylum seeker policy.


At the recent 'Justice in the Pub' night discussion of the Millenium Project and the 'Make Poverty History' campaign was introduced by Trish Hevern.

Those in attendance resolved to write to government leaders asking them to re-affirm Australia's commitment to the Millenium Development Goals and to explain their strategy for ensuring Australia contributes its share to the achievement of the goals.

A draft of a letter is available on request to anyone who would like to add his or her support to this campaign, just email me at bpbond@spp.edmundrice.org

Discussion at the meeting was wide-ranging and also focused on trade issues where support for Fair Trade Products and fairly-produced items of clothing and footwear (see Fairwear) were also seen as practical steps individuals could take to support the wider 'Make Poverty History' campaign.


Australian Catholic University Students for Awareness (ACUSA) is holding a free movie night. Showing 'Dirty Pretty Things', staring Audrey Tattoo; a movie about asylum seekers in the UK.
Tues 9 August, 6pm Mercy lecture theatre (opp multi-storey car park), Australian Catholic University 115 Victoria Pde, Fitzroy.
Please bring a non-perishable food item which will be donated to the Melbourne Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
BYO popcorn etc

The next Edmund Rice Justice Network Seminar for schools will be held at Parade College Bundoora on Fri Aug 19th 10.00am-2.15pm. The theme of the day is around the 'Make Poverty History' campaign.

The next Justice in the Pub night will be at Bridie O'Reilly's in Brunswick on Tues 6th Sep. Discussion will focus on some of the issues raised in this bulletin - terorism, human rights, racism and multiculturalism.

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