23 May 2007


The 27th May 2007 marks the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, in which more than 90% of Australians voted to remove clauses from the constitution which discriminated against Indigenous people.

The 3rd June marks the anniversary of the High Court of Australia's judgment in 1992 in the Mabo case. The decision recognized the Native Title Rights of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the original inhabitants of the continent, and overturned the myth of terra nullius - that the continent was empty, un-owned land before the arrival of Europeans in 1788.

These two dates form part of Reconciliation Week which is preceded by National Sorry Day on 26th May, a day instituted following a recommendation of the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report into the forced removal of indigenous children from their families, that a day be set each year "to commemorate the history of forcible removals and its effects."

Unfortunately much unfinished business remains before the indigenous people of this country can be said to have attained justice and before true reconciliation is achieved.

The failure of the recent budget to address the indigenous health crisis a meaningful way is only the latest example of the failure of government to adequately address this issue. You can support the call for increased indigenous health funding to by signing the online petition to Close the Gap of 17 years between the life expectancy of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

Many commemorative events and Reconciliation Week awareness-raising activities will be held around the nation during this time.

Members of the Seeds of Change group (readers of this bulleting who want to act together for justice) will be supporting Reconciliation Week by their participation in the Long Walk to Dreamtime at the G' (see details in the notification email sent to subscribers to this bulletin)


Wednesday May 16 was World Debt Day. Nine years ago 70,000 debt campaigners encircled the G8 summit in Birmingham demanding justice for some of the world’s poorest nations.

Since then some progress has been made in debt cancellation but many developing countries continue to be burdened by large amounts of unpayable or illegitimate debt which means that large sections of their populations remain trapped in poverty.

What is worse is that many western governments and financial institutions continue to seek to extract profits from the desperate plight of these impoverished nations.

An update of the situation in regard to this debt crisis can be found at the Jubilee Australia website.

Next month a summit of the eight richest and most powerful states in the world will take place in Heiligendamm on the Baltic coast of Germany. Even though the heads of state and governments of the G8 countries represent only 13% of the world’s population, they will deal with questions concerning the entire globe.

In the lead-up to the summit Pope Benedict XVI recently wrote to German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling for "the rapid, total and unconditional cancellation" of the debt of the world's poorest countries.

The international debt movement will demonstrate with giant red balloons in Rostock, near Heiligendamm, on Saturday 2 June, calling the G8 to ‘wipe out illegitimate debt’. Civil society will also be discussing alternatives to the G8 politics during the alternative summit in Rostock, Germany, being held 5-7 June.

By visiting the above website you can also add your name to the Jubilee Australia red balloon going to the demonstration.


Despite welcoming a range of positive initiatives, church, aid and welfare organizations believe that the recently announced 2007-8 national budget failed to adequately respond to the needs of the most poor and marginalized of our world, especially in the light of the large increases in government spending, generous tax cuts and the $10 billion surplus that were included in the budget.

CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society Dr John Falzon said that the budget failed to address the plight of the more than 405,000 Australian households suffering financial stress arising from high rents. "Everyday 'Vinnies' members see families sacrificing on food, clothing and other essential to pay rent" he said.

Meanwhile Executive Director of Catholic Social Services Australia, Frank Quinlan, pointed out that the budget failed to " direct greater attention to the needs of people who face serious barriers to employment"

Whilst the amount allocated as overseas aid increased, as a percentage of gross national income it remains around 0.3%, well short of the affirmed commitments the Australian government have made towards increasing foreign aid to 0.7% as required to meet the target of the Millenium Development Goals

Aid Watch, the not for profit activist organisation monitoring and campaigning on Australian overseas aid and trade policies and programs is critical of the overall level of aid expenditure, the misleading claims of the government about the level of assistance actually provided and the priority given to aid for security matters in comparison to poverty alleviation and the effects of climate change in the Pacific region.

In addition, concern was expressed that developing countries will now be required to meet Australian government 'performance indicators' before they can receive additional aid. “This incentive based system suggests a worrying trend towards an aid program which only provides assistance to countries if they agree to reform their economies and governance structures in ways acceptable to the Australian government” a spokesman for Aid Watch said.


The Trafficking in Persons Clearinghouse reports the welcome news that the Australian Government has renewed its financial commitment to support initiatives to combat people trafficking to this country for the next four years.

The website aims to provide information and raise awareness about this form of modern-day slavery which is one of the most pressing human rights issues facing the world today. The main focus is on the Australia and Asia/Pacific region.

More information about the global nature of this problem can be found at the website of STOP THE TRAFFIK a growing global coalition of over 700 member organizations from over 50 countries, working together to fight against people trafficking.

By raising public awareness around the issue, member organizations of the coalition aim to convince the UN and individual governments to introduce legislation and policies to protect people from trafficking.

Specifically the Australian Government is being asked to support with funding and diplomacy the COMMIT program to tackle trafficking in Asian countries in the Mekong region and to urge and support Indonesia, Laos, Pakistan, PNG and Sri Lanka to ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding eliminating the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

9 May 2007


May 1st (May Day) is a traditional day of celebration for the labour movement around the world. To counter the apparent communist appropriation of the day Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of St Joseph the Worker in 1955 to draw attention to Catholic Social teaching about the rights and responsibilities of both workers and their employers.

In separate statements to mark the day this year Australian bishops have expressed concerns about Australia’s new workplace laws.

In releasing the most recent letter of the Australian Bishops "Keeping Time - Australian families and the Culture of Overwork", The chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Bishop Saunders noted that there had been a massive encroachment of work into family time over the past two decades and that there were anecdotal reports that overtime and penalty rates had been substantially eroded under the workplace agreements.

In a separate statement, Bishop Kevin Manning of Parramatta said Australians appeared to be tolerating or rewarding those aiming to create a society and climate "which makes the economy the barometer of human fulfillment" He went on to criticize recent statements of the Prime Minister by saying "We say put people before profit. The Prime Minister appears to be putting the economy before people where wages are reduced and conditions reduced for the sake of the economy."


The recent commemoration of Anzac Day perhaps provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the full cost of war. The human cost in terms of lives cut short or permanently damaged, the emotional toll on families and loved ones left to try and cope and the loss of a whole generation of many of the best and brightest as occurred in World War I, cannot be truly measured.

The economic and environmental cost of waging war or preparing for war can be more easily measured.

In recent weeks the Australian government has decided to spend $16,000,000,000 on the purchase of a fleet of F-35 Fighter planes, (despite widespread reservations in defence circles about the wisdom of such a decision), and a further $6,000,000,000 on a fleet of Super Hornets in a move described by a senior defence analyst as "a needless and expensive decision" that "makes no operational sense and … no sense in terms of value for money". A technical discussion about the decision to purchase can be found here

Such decisions give pause for concern about our priorities in a world where 11,000,000 children die each year from preventable causes and when about one fiftieth of Australia’s latest defence purchase would Close the Gap in health levels between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

Australia’s defence expenditure amounts to $55,000,000 per day. A significant part of that expenditure this year will also be on Operation Talisman Sabre a military exercise that next month will involve nearly 14,000 US troops and over 12,000 Australian personnel at a variety of Australian military locations including Shoalwater Bay in Queensland and Bradshaw and Delamere Range in the Northern Territory.

Peace Convergence is a coalition of those promoting non-violence and opposed to the Talisman Sabre exercise. Information about the exercise, including concerns about the environmental impact and the possible use of depleted uranium can be found at the above website.


Soon, in one of the glittering courthouses of the new India, a judge will continue to weigh a case that, at first glance, looks dry and technical, but is, in fact, wet with blood. The verdict will determine whether millions of human beings - from the tip of South America to the top of Africa - live or die.

India today is the place where the poorest people on earth get their medicines. This is because it is the only country willing to manufacture cheap copies of corporate-owned drug treatments for cancer, Aids and other killers, and big enough to do it. Their policy has brought the cost of treating a woman with Aids in sub-Saharan Africa crashing down from an impossible $10,000 a year in 2000 to a still-tough-but-possible $130 a year today.

They can only save so much money - and so many lives - because the Indian government insists it will only pay money to the multibillion-dollar corporations which own the drug patents if they can show they really have created something genuinely new. Most of the time, they can't - so the Indians sell them to the poor at cost-price.

The court case currently wending through the Indian justice system, launched by the Swiss phramaceutical company Novartis, is an attempt to close down the poor's world pharmacy.

If Novartis succeeds, the developing the impact on the world’s poor will be immense. The aid agency Médicin Sans Frontières (MSF) - who treat 80,000 people in Africa with cheap Indian generics - warn it could mean "the end of affordable medicines in developing countries".

There may still be time to force Novartis to pull out of the legal action before the verdict. Go to the Médicin Sans Frontières website to sign a petition which may help to save millions of lives.


In recent weeks I have been contacted by several readers of this bulletin suggesting justice issues of concern that might be raised with the wider Edmund Rice Network.

Br Shane Wood the Coordinator of the Office of Justice, Ecology & Peace in the Diocese of Broome alerts us to the threat to the Kimberley Coast and its inland wilderness areas posed by multi-billion dollar gas and large-scale industrial development proposals and refers us to the Cultural Heritage& Environmental Advocacy for the Kimberley website for those who would like to learn more about or become involved in this issue.

Br Russell O’Brien in Perth reminds us of the ongoing injustice experienced by our nearest neighbours in West Papua who were incorporated into Indonesia in the highly dubious ‘act of free choice’ in 1969, and where an estimated 100,000 people have been killed since the Indonesian occupation began in 1962. Australian policies are crucial to enabling a peaceful and just solution to be found in West Papua.

More information, including an online petition can be found at the Free West Papua website.

Russell also reminds us of unresolved matters relating to the development of oil and gas reserves in the East Timor Sea. Further information can be found at the Save East Timor website.

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