20 May 2006


In a position paper released earlier this year the Vatican pointed out that Justice requires that rich countries reconsider the subsidies they offer their own farmers and the barriers that they place on the import of agricultural products from poor countries.

The needs of poor people living in rural areas in the developing world were highlighted in the paper. By helping them, the Vatican said, the world would improve food security, promote environmentally sound farming methods and make real strides toward alleviating poverty since three-quarters of the world's poor live in rural areas.

Members of the Justice Action Group recently staffed an information booth at Highpoint shopping centre in Melbourne’s western suburbs in order to promote awareness of free trade products, especially tea and coffee, which are now available in supermarkets.

The action organized by Oxfam is part of a wider campaign to change the rules governing world trade so that trade can be a part of the solution to global poverty rather than one of its causes.

Free trade products carry a distinctive label. 'Scarborough Fair' coffee (available at Coles, BiLo and Safeway) and tea (available at Coles and BiLo supermarkets only) is one readily available such product that is aimed at the mass market.

By purchasing free trade products consumers can help ensure growers in developing countries receive a fair return for their labour and therefore enables them to better support their families.


What is the purpose of the economy? Is it simply to provide opportunities for people to make money? Or is the purpose of an economy to make adequate provision for society, to provide a just and sustainable standard of living for a community?

These questions were posed in a recent article by Neil Ormerod which appeared in the Good Business Newsletter a product of the Edmund Rice Business Ethics Initiative in Sydney.

The article goes on to suggest that confusing the purpose of the economy with the motivation of investors, places the whole economic system at risk.

It also points out that Catholic social teaching in this area is clear. "A theory that makes profit the exclusive norm and ultimate end of economic activity is morally unacceptable. The disordered desire for money cannot but produce perverse effects. It is one of the causes of the many conflicts which disturb the social order" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2424


Meanwhile the St Vincent de Paul Society expressed disappointment that the recently released federal budget "does nothing to promote a more cohesive Australia."

While welcoming tax cuts and other benefits for low and middle income families, spokesperson Dr John Falzon lamented that the problems of access to fruitful employment and the affordability of housing and transport were not addressed.

According to Dr Falzon governments have a responsibility to ensure the most vulnerable and voiceless members of society are able to share in the nation’s wealth and questioned how the projected budget surplus was to be used to provide future prosperity and fairness for all Australians. "How is this embarrassment of riches being invested in the social infrastructure needs of today and tomorrow, so that all will have the opportunity to participate?" he asked.

Similar concerns were expressed by the Executive Director of Catholic Social Services, Frank Quinlan who said that despite increased spending on Indigenous Australians and on metal health the budget failed to significantly narrow the gap between Australia's richest and poorest income earners, whilst Catholic Health spokesman Francis Sullivan stressed that investment in the public hospital and social services system was more important for sick and chronically ill people on pensions than personal tax cuts.

"Australia's social safety net is eroding and the plight of those who rely exclusively on public services and social service programs is being drowned out by the clamour for tax cuts" Mr Sullivan said.


The theme for this the 10th National Reconciliation Week is "Reconciliation: take the next step." This is a reminder that there is still much to be done to build relationships which achieve better outcomes for all Australians - Indigenous and non Indigenous.

National Reconciliation Week (May 27th - Jun 3rd) aims to provide a special focus for nationwide reconciliation activities and it offers people the opportunity to focus on reconciliation, to hear about the culture and history of Indigenous people, and to explore new and better ways of moving forward.

It will be preceded by National Sorry Day (May 26th) which was instituted in 1998 following the publication of the Bringing them Home report into the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children from their families, and seeks to acknowledge the impact of those policies of forcible removal on Australia's indigenous populations.

This years events come at a time when the problems of violence, abuse and addiction in many Aboriginal communities are being highlighted.

Commenting on recent statements by the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, the Director of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) Gary Highland pointed out that"in fact, violence and dysfunction is often the result of the powerlessness that comes from a lack of self determination" and that "what is needed is a comprehensive national response that involves Indigenous communities in the solutions not imposes them over the top by government,"

4 May 2006


Organizations such as Amnesty and A Just Australia are calling on concerned Australians to write to their local members and senators to express their opposition to the proposed changes to Australia’s refugee laws.

The proposed changes have been described as ‘appalling’ by the Refugee Council of Australia and threaten to reverse the positive changes in the treatment of asylum seekers introduced over the past year.

The legislation is currently being drafted and is expected to shortly go before the federal parliament, so NOW is the time to take action according to refugee advocates.

The above websites have suggested drafts for letters and contact details for parliamentary representatives, and in the case of the 'A Just Australia' site the letter can be completed and sent online.

An online petition can also be signed at the Get Up website.


In a pastoral letter to mark the feast of St Joseph the Worker (May 1st) the Australian Catholic Bishops have repeated their concerns about the impact of the federal government’s industrial relations changes on the poor and the vulnerable and on family life.

Rejecting the notion that the adverse changes in patterns of employment over the past twenty years (increasingly casual, part-time, limited job security etc) are an inevitable consequence of economic and market forces, the bishops re-affirmed the responsibility of government to intervene in the economy where necessary to ensure the inalienable rights of workers are protected.

In particular the bishops expressed their concern at the likely effects of the 'WorkChoices' legislation, that can strike the most vulnerable:
* that minimum wages would be pushed lower or erode over time
* that creating jobs by allowing wages and conditions to fall would do little to lift people out of poverty
* that a reduction of the award safety net would see the loss of fair standards of employment for all
* that the removal of unfair dismissal laws for most businesses would exacerbate job insecurity
* that the role of unions representing their members and other workers would be weakened.

The pastoral letter concluded by emphasising the "central importance of work to the dignity of individuals and families and the foundation of a properly functioning society" and by re-stating some fundamental principles of Catholic Social Teaching:
"The person is the measure of the dignity of work. Adequate pay, fair conditions, the representation of industrially weak workers and the availability and security of work are the grounds on which the fairness of industrial relations is and will continue to be tested."

The full text of the pastoral letter can be found at the website of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council


In a related industrial relations issue Catholic Church leaders have expressed support for the Clean Start - Fair Deal for Cleaners campaign - the Australian and New Zealand contribution to a worldwide campaign voicing concerns over the low wages and poor conditions in the property services industry.

This campaign aims to have a real impact on the lives of low paid, predominantly women, workers and the lives of their families.

Organisers of the campaign are seeking the chance to bargain for jobs capable of providing their families with a decent standard of living. They are asking the people in our various communities, migrant networks, religious communities, human rights and interest groups, women's organisations to work in partnership with cleaners and their unions on the campaign.

In Australia organisers claim that under the Government's new industrial relations laws, which came into effect last month, cleaners will lose up to 30 per cent of their income, which was on average already below the poverty line.

They plan to name and shame building owners, tenants and contractors who fail to pay cleaners a fair wage.


The action group, formed in part by some readers of this bulletin, is planning several actions over the next couple of weeks.

Some members of the group are planning to use the Hawthorn v Melbourne AFL match at the MCG on May 19th as an occasion to draw attention to the Make Poverty History Campaign by wearing T-shirts and displaying banners both outside and inside the ground. Anyone interested in joining the group could email Mick michaelm@jespub.Jesuit.org.au

The group is also participating in the Fairtrade shopping centre tour organized by Oxfam as part of the Fairtrade Fortnight event.

The Fairtrade message will be spread to some of Melbourne's biggest shopping centres (Fountain Gate, Southland and Highpoint) by means of an information stand, display banners and by using volunteers to promote Fairtrade products and direct people to buy some of the products now available in the supermarkets.

Those interested in joining our group, who will be at Highpoint could email me bpbond@spp.edmundrice.org, otherwise contact Terry at Oxfam via email terrencer@oxfam.org.au or phone 9289 9332

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