15 June 2006


A fundamental principle of Catholic Social Teaching is that as beings created in the image of God, all people are endowed with dignity and have inherent rights and responsibilities.

At a global level sadly all too often this principle is ignored. It is especially troubling however when this occurs at the hands of our elected representatives or their agents. Several events in the past week in particular raise questions as to whether western society is becoming de-sensitised to the abuse of human rights.

Buried amidst the media stories applauding the tracking down and killing of the terrorist Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi was a reference to the deaths of several others in the bombing raid, including a woman and child.

Do we now believe that the unintended killing of innocent civilians (‘collateral damage’) is acceptable in the pursuit of military objectives?

What is the mentality that is operating when a US government official can describe the suicides of three detainees held at Guantanamo Bay as "a good PR move"?

How can the continued imprisonment of Australian citizen David Hicks, now in its fifth year with still no sign of his being brought to trial, be justified?


Whilst millions around the globe enjoy the spectacle of the World Cup, few will give a thought to the thousands of children who are robbed of their childhood by being employed to stitch the footballs that may be used for such sporting events.

These children are part of the focus of the Global March Against Child Labour campaign which aims to mobilize worldwide efforts to protect and promote the rights of children especially the right to receive a free, meaningful education and to be free from economic exploitation.

In a world where 115 million children do not attend primary school and 133 million cannot read or write, one of the Millenium Development Goals aims to achieve universal primary education by 2015.

For that goal to be reached the problem of child labour needs to be addressed an issue highlighted in latest edition of Ozspirit

"250 million of the world's 2 billion children don't have time to have a childhood. They have to work. They work because they can move their family from hunger to survival. Their parents are often unemployed and desperate for a decent job but the children are offered the jobs because they are a cheap and easily exploited source of labour. Education is often too expensive and under-resourced, forcing children and their parents to choose between education and work."

The issue is not just one that affects the developing world. A recent article published in the Daily Telegraph in the UK states that”Children as young as six are being brought to Britain in their hundreds every year to be used as "slave labour" in sweatshops, private homes and cannabis factories. The children are transported from all over Africa, Asia and eastern Europe by ruthless and highly organized gangs of traffickers.”


Following a recommendation from the all party Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee to scrap the proposed legislation to process all asylum seekers offshore, a number of members of the Government have indicated that they will not vote for the legislation in its current form.

Members of the committee were concerned about the proposed legislation's incompatibility with the rule of law and Australia's potential breaches of international law. Other government Senators have expressed concern that the legislation represents "a new system of constructed potential indefinite detention".

Those advocating for a fairer treatment of refugees such as Chilout (Children out of Detention) have urged members of the public to maintain pressure on government members, especially Senators, to oppose the legislation.

Support for those Government members who have indicated their opposition to the bill is also urged as they come under pressure from their own party to fall into line.

The further delay in the bringing on of the proposed legislation is a sign of the disunity in government ranks on this issue and provides a significant opportunity for concerned citizens to help ensure a just and fair outcome for victims of violence and persecution.

Contact details for all members of parliament can be found at the Parliament of Australia website.


International Justice for Cleaners Day is set aside each year to bring attention to the conditions cleaners face across the globe.

The annual rallies around International Justice for Cleaners Day grew out of an incident on June 15, 1990 in Los Angeles, when police attacked immigrant cleaners protesting the way a multi-national cleaning company was treating them in a CBD office block.

This incident provoked public outrage in the USA and abroad. Pressure from cleaners who belonged to unions in other countries helped force the contract cleaner to finally sit down, negotiate and show some respect and decency when talking with their workers.

Since then - for nearly two decades now - June 15 has become a focal point for organising cleaners in campaigns and celebrations across several continents.

The "Clean Start: Fair Deal for Cleaners" campaign aims to provide a strong voice for the low-waged, largely immigrant, female workforce, in cities across Australia and New Zealand.

Details of rallies planned around Australia and New Zealand on Jun 15th and further information about the campaign can be found at the LMHU website.

1 June 2006


What would Edmund Rice see if he viewed the plight of children in the world of 2006? Two recent visitors to Australia Br Donal Leader the Congregational Co-ordinator for Advocacy and Justice and Br Kevin Cawley Co-ordinator for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in the North American Province of the Christian Brothers posed that question during their recent visit to Melbourne.

Were Edmund Rice alive today in our globalised world he would look beyond the poor children of Waterford and see examples of children experiencing hunger, children forced to flee from their homes and become refugees, children exploited for their labour and for the sexual gratification of adults, children forced to commit acts of violence through the forced recruitment of child soldiers and denied the opportunity for education because of poverty.

Donal and Kevin are in Australia to familiarise themselves with current initiatives of the Edmund Rice Network in Australia, particularly in regard to justice and disadvantaged youth, but also to explain and seek support for their work in implementing the Congregational initiative to build a global justice network with a voice at the United Nations – Edmund Rice International

Networking collaboratively with other religious congregations; and with non-governmental organizations and international agencies such as the United Nations, UNICEF, Save the Children, Human Rights Watch, etc is seen to be a most effective way of building an equitable and just global society.

Achieving recognised NGO accreditation with the United Nations enables participation in global forums where issues of systemic injustice and human rights are addressed.


At a meeting with Anne Maree Plunkett the newly appointed Australian ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI urged
the Australian Government to seek forgiveness from Indigenous Australians and address the "deep underlying causes" of their plight.

“Commitment to truth opens the way to lasting reconciliation through the healing process of asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness - two indispensable elements for peace" the pope said.

Although the Australian Catholic Bishops issued an apology to Aboriginal people on National Sorry day in 1998, and individual states have issued their own apology, the Prime Minister has consistently refused to issue an apology on behalf of the nation.

Recent reports again highlighting the problems of violence, abuse and dysfunction within aboriginal communities have led to considerable comment in the media – often uninformed.

For a more informed comment from a range of Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals and organizations, visit the ANTaR website.


A further example of the potential of grassroots 'people power' is provided by the global campaign to help to preserve the way of life and precious environment in Valle de San Felix, Chile. Here the purest water in Chile runs from two rivers, fed by two glaciers. Indigenous farmers are dependant on this water.

However under the glaciers a huge deposit of gold, silver and other minerals has been found. To mine these, it will be necessary to destroy the glaciers.

The project is called PASCUA LAMA. The company is called Barrick Gold. (Barrick Gold is a multi-national company also mining in several Australian locations at the moment!)

The Chilean Government has approved the project to start in 2006 but legal action by farmers have delayed its commencement.

According to opponents of the project, destruction of the glaciers will not just destroy the source of especially pure water, but will permanently contaminate the rivers so they will never again be fit for human or animal consumption because of the use of cyanide and sulphuric acid in the extraction process.

Company shareholders would appear to be the only ones to benefit from the project.

An online petition in relation to this issue can be signed here


The campaign to oppose the proposed laws to process all future asylum seeker claims offshore has reached a critical stage with legislation about to be introduced to the Australian parliament.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has added its voice to the campaign in a letter to the Prime Minister John Howard urging him to drop the proposed laws.

According to Bishop Joe Grech, the spokesman for the Bishops,
"The letter expresses our concern about the decision to process refugee claims of boat people at detention centres beyond Australian shores, where they will have no access to proper legal advice or the human support they need".

"We are especially concerned that women and children may again be held in detention for an unspecified amount of time."

If the government proceeds with its legislation despite the stated opposition of some government members it is likely to be passed in the House of Representatives where the government enjoys a comfortable majority. However with only a slender majority in the upper house it requires only one government senator to vote against the legislation to defeat the bill (assuming members of the opposition, the minor parties and independents vote against it)

For this reason Polmin has urged its members and supporters to contact their state Senators, especially government senators, some of whom who have expressed disquiet over its provisions, urging them to oppose the bill.

Online assistance with letter-writing to Senators can also be found at the A Just Australia and the Amnesty International (Australia) websites.

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