23 February 2006


The issue of human slavery is not one confined to the past. The number of people (mainly women and children) trafficked around the globe each year is estimated at between 700,000 and 2,000,000. Accurate figures are difficult to obtain due to the illegal, clandestine nature of the activity. Trafficking involves every country in the world, including Australia, where it is estimated that up to 1000 people at any one time may have been trafficked into our country.

Trafficking in human beings involves issues of human rights, global health and organized crime, however it also raises the issue of poverty, the major underlying reason why people become involved in trafficking in the first place.

Most people who are trafficked are done so for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Trafficking therefore raises issues for wealthy countries whose citizens largely create the demand. For example Australians have been identified as sex tourists in 25 countries and an estimated 40,000 women will be 'imported' to Germany for the purpose of prostitution to satisfy demand during the World Cup later this year. See the Coalition Against Tafficking of Women website.

The Australian Government has recently committed $20 million to combat trafficking but concerns remain that the approach is too narrowly focussed on a legal approach to addressing the issue.

The Christian Brothers are one of the groups who have endorsed the Australian NGO Shadow Report that was recently presented to the UN CEDAW (Convention to Eradicate All forms of Discrimination Against Women) Committee on behalf of an anti trafficking working group established by a group of Religious Congregations.

Public meetings are scheduled for Melbourne, 7.30pm Tues 7th March in Room 101 B&C in the Diocesan Centre, 383 Albert St, East Melbourne and Sydney 7.00pm Tue 14th March, Gleeson Theatre, ACU, Barkers Rd, Strathfield to address issues relating to this report.

The trafficking of women to Australia is also the focus of the next Edmund Rice Schools Justice Seminar on March 3rd where a presentation will be made by representatives from Project Respect.


The launch of the Australian Labor Party’s policy discussion paper "Our Generation’s Challenge" this week is a significant development.

Thanks in large measure to the efforts of many people, like the readers of this bulletin, who support the Make Poverty History campaign, one of the major political parties in Australia has recognized that "Our generation …can be the generation that ended extreme global poverty, and in doing so helped to secure a peaceful, prosperous world for future generations." and that the key objective of Australia’s development Assistance program should be the achievement of the Millenium Development Goals

The discussion paper can be downloaded here.

That the main opposition Party in Australia has recognized this as a priority issue creates an opportunity to lobby the government to do likewise. Readers of this bulletin are encouraged to write or email Bob Sercombe the shadow minister for Overseas Aid and Pacific Island Affairs, congratulating him on the paper and his leadership on this issue.

Readers are also encouraged to contact their local member and Alexander Downer the government minister responsible for overseas aid, drawing their attention to the paper and urging their support for its provisions. Contact details for all members of Parliament can be found at the website of the Parliament of Australia


Thousands of asylum seekers continue to live in Australia on bridging visas with no right to work or access to Medicare or Government financial assistance. Many are forced to beg from charity in order to survive.

With the release of most asylum seekers from detention (although the transfer of the recently arrived asylum seekers from West Papua to Christmas Island while their claims are being assessed is a reminder of the continued existence of these unjust laws) the focus of A Just Australia has shifted to the plight of these people

The regulations governing bridging visa restrictions expire next year and are currently under review. All those concerned about this issue are urged to support the campaign to ease the punitive conditions attached to these visas to ensure people are not left destitute, particularly children.

Further information about the issue and the associated campaign can be found at the above website.


The Australian Political Ministry Network PolMin has launched its election campaign for the 2007 Australian federal election. PolMin seeks to resource and support people to take local action for the common good. PolMin has also revamped its website and begun a membership drive to encourage grass roots action

PolMin seeks to influence decision makers to uphold Australia’s international human rights obligations, including protecting the rights of asylum seekers and refugees and honouring our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. It also urges joining with the rest of the international community in facing the reality of climate change which includes signing onto the Kyoto Protocol.

The threat posed to civil liberties from recent anti-terror legislation, the rolling back of rights in the workplace and the ongoing disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians are also issues of concern that add weight to the argument for the need for a Bill of Rights in Australia

Accordingly PolMin is hosting a discussion forum called "Hands up for Human Rights" which will present a draft Human Rights Act sponsored by New Matilda

Guest speaker is Professor Spencer Zifcak, President of the Australian section of the International Commission of Jurists. See the Polmin website for further information.

9 February 2006


"There is no meaningful response to climate change without massive social change…. we cannot sustain earth's life-support systems within the present economic system."

"Capitalism is not sustainable by its very nature. It is predicated on infinitely expanding markets, faster consumption and bigger production in a finite planet. And yet this ideological model remains the central organising principle of our lives…."

"We have reached a point where civilisation itself is threatened. Life as we know it will never be the same, … and we have no one to blame but our own ignorance and greed."

Just a couple of the more recent voices added to the many that continue to be raised in warning about the consequences of our current mode of living, and absence of serious attempts to address the environmental issues that confront us.

The above quotations are taken from the most recent edition of Ozspirit which focuses on the theme of "Sustainable Development" and which contains a range of articles, activities and links to relevant sites.

Simple exercises to raise personal awareness about our individual "ecological footprint" are also included.


"Who ultimately did more for the plight of the poor, Don Bosco (1815-1888) the founder of the Salesians or Charles Dickens (1812-1870) the great English novelist?"

This rather surprising question was posed to me by the priest director of the Salesian program for 'platform children' in Kolkata during my visit as part of the recent ‘Flare Up Like a Flame’ Symposium.

I spent a day observing the program for children who after being abandoned or forced from home in many parts of India found their way to the vast Howrah station in Kolkata where they frequently proceeded to live on their wits by begging, thieving etc.

The Salesian program was a staged one where children were first offered somewhere safe to sleep at night and then if they chose to, were offered the chance of learning social skills to enable them to either enter mainstream schooling or avail of the opportunity to learn a skilled trade in the bakery, the tailor shop, the carpentry shop or other training program offered at the centre – all the time while living in one of the houses provided by the Salesians. Finally the young people who completed their education or training were assisted in finding employment and establishing a place of their own to live.

Hundreds of young people have been assisted through the program although it represents but a drop in the ocean of the need.

The work closely resembled that started by Don Bosco in Turin, Italy and thousands of Salesians continue that work today in many parts of the world. Of course similar work is being done by the Christian Brothers in India which again closely matchs that begun by Edmund Rice in Waterford in1802.

Clearly people like Don Bosco and Edmund Rice made a huge difference to the plight of the poor in their own time and their legacy continues to have an effect. However Charles Dickens, a contemporary of Don Bosco, through his skills as a writer and through the themes of his novels helped arouse the conscience of a nation in regard to the plight of the poor, particularly poor children, and that eventually led to the passage of laws that provided dignity and opportunity for all.

Who made the greater difference? It is impossible to measure and it does not matter, but the question suggests several things to me. Firstly, the struggle for justice needs to take place in many different ways and at many different levels. It also says to me that there is also something that each of us can do in our own way to promote justice within our own circles of influence.


In his message to accompany the World Day of the Sick to be celebrated in Adelaide on Feb 11th, Pope Benedict XVI has called the attention of public opinion to "the problems connected with mental disturbance, which by now afflicts a fifth of mankind and constitutes a real and authentic social-health care emergency"

Instituted in 1993, the World Day of the Sick aims to draw attention to human suffering and to the mystery of suffering itself and to recognise the important role of carers of the sick and elderly.

Hundreds of religious leaders and health experts from around the world have gathered in Adelaide for this years conference and its associated events.

Catholic Health Australia has long been a critic of the state of Australia's health system and chief executive officer Francis Sullivan last month singled out "People with severe and complex mental disorders, young people with dual diagnoses and workers struggling to get back into employment" as being particularly poorly served.

Keynote Speaker at the World Day of the Sick Conference, Professor Ian Hickie, said that Australian governments needed to immediately allocate an extra $500 million each year to non-government agencies to reverse the nation's mental health problems.

(In this same week according to a CNN news report, US President Bush's 2006 Budget was submitted to Congress and proposed cutting millions of dollars of expenditure in health and education while increasing military and defence spending to $2.77 trillion ie 2.77 million, million dollars)


Australia's aid objective is "to advance Australia’s national interest through the alleviation of poverty and the promotion of sustainable development". Such an objective raises an important ethical issue: does Australia provide aid when it is not considered to be in our own interest? This was the question posed by Tim O'Connor of Aidwatch in a recent article which appeared in the national daily newspaper The Australian

The article points out that contrary to popular belief, most Australian Government Aid is delivered through private companies operating for profit rather than through non-government charitable organizations.

The article goes on to explain that whilst traditionally aid has been directed to infrastructure projects such as better roads, bridges etc or to assist in the provision of health and education services, more recently aid has targeted 'better governance' projects aimed at strengthening government institutions (36% of the current Australian aid budget is aimed at economic and political reform) including things such as the building and administration of prisons.

That Australia's aid is less concerned with alleviating poverty and promoting sustainable development and more concerned with advancing the political agenda of the government can be argued from the fact that the money to build and maintain offshore detention centres in places such as Nauru and Manus island came from Australia's Aid budget!

For information and discussion of many aspects of Australia's Aid program visit the AIDWATCH website

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