31 July 2007


"When people forget their fear they will rediscover their compassion” – so says the wife of anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce in a scene from the recently released film "Amazing Grace". She is trying to encourage her husband to continue his fight to end British participation in the slave trade at a time when the tide of public opinion seemed to be running against him.

Some of the issues raised in the film have contemporary resonance.

Quite apart from the reality of modern day forms of the slave trade, the above quotation may be particularly applicable to Australia where fear of terrorism or fear of people who are different to ourselves seems to have driven our response to those seeking asylum in our country and contributed to a disregard for human rights.

The treatment of Dr Haneef Mohamed, with its echoes of the David Hicks case, is the latest example, and one which riases further questions about Australia's current migration and anti-terror laws.

The portrayal of the power of vested interests in opposing Wilberforce’s reforms because ‘they would be bad for the economy’ may also sound familiar to many Australians.


Participants at the recent forum on the "Dignity of Work" jointly organised by Polmin and the Victorian Council of Churches were given a disturbing glimpse of the possible future under Australia’s new workplace laws.

The forum was addressed by three workers from the USA who are currently on a speaking tour of Australia sponsored by the LHMU (Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union) as part of the Clean Start – Fair Deal for Cleaners Campaign

The speakers described their employment experiences in the relatively unregulated US labour market highlighting their powerlessness to influence their wages and conditions. The result was long hours, minimal levels of pay and lack of protections currently taken for granted in Australia around job security, sick leave, paid holidays etc which in turn impacted severely on family life and the ability to enjoy a dignified standard of living.

The forum was timely given that it followed the recently released Victorian Government report into Australian Workplace Agreements, Collective Agreements and Earnings which revealed that overwhelmingly workplace agreements have either abolished or reduced overtime rates, penalty rates, shift allowances and public holiday pay.

As well, the hourly pay difference between a typical worker on an agreement and one on a collective agreement turns out to be worse than was previously calculated. The worst affected were unsurprisingly those with the least skills and low bargaining power in small enterprises.

It would seem that the new workplace arrangements are pointing Australia more in the direction of the American experience where 37 million people currently live below the poverty line.


Organizers of the Australian Make Poverty History campaign have welcomed the recent announcement by Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd to increase Australia’s overseas aid to 0.5% of Gross National Income by 2015 (which would increase the aid budget to around $8.8 billion dollars).

If delivered, the extra aid could allow Australia to fund programs to achieve all of the following: reduce child deaths by 140,000 each year, cut maternal deaths by 4,200, lead to at least 29,000 fewer deaths from AIDS and 31,000 fewer deaths from TB each year. It could also provide access to safe drinking water to almost 37 million people.

This pledge follows a recent government announcement promising more money to help play a part in getting 10 million more children in our region into school, and improving the quality of education for 50 million more children.

Earlier the Opposition had indicated its adoption of Make Poverty History's policy of a "debt swap" for Indonesia. The idea is a simple one. If elected, the Australian Labor Party will take $75 million of the debt that Indonesia (a poor country) pays to Australia (a rich country), cancel it, and Indonesia will instead be able to invest the money in programs that fight disease and improve the health of the poor in Indonesia.

These announcements show that political parties are responsive to public opinion and again underlines the importance of ordinary concerned citizens maintaining constant pressure on our elected representatives. We can make a difference!


Most would not be aware that almost 80% of the world’s supply of soccer balls are manufactured in and around the city of Sialkot in Pakistan.

Up until recently child labour was widely employed in the manufacture of those soccer balls. A concerted world–wide campaign over the past ten years has seen the major brands of sporting goods introduce policies prohibiting child labour, although a recent US Department of Labor report noted that "very few (of those policies) are enforced through a rigorous monitoring system"

Nevertheless in November 2006 after continued unfavourable publicity Nike terminated its agreement with Pakistan based company Saga Sports over its continued use of child labour in the production of its soccer balls.

Of course the issue of child labour goes well beyond the manufacture of sporting equipment.

One in seven children in the world is a child labourer: that's nearly 14 per cent of the children in the age group 5-14 years.

One in five children in the world do not go to school – this is nearly 18 per cent of the children in the primary school age group.

The list of pressing global human needs is daunting but the UN Millennium Development Goals represent a comprehensive, systematic and achievable means of addressing those needs.

Education is key in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and redirecting millions of child labourers to school is crucial in enabling out-of-school children to be provided with an education.

Information about the broader issue of child labour can be found at the Global March Against Child Labour website.

In the meantime perhaps readers may care to give consideration to supporting companies with a strong commitment to ethical and fair trading when making their next purchase of sporting equipment or apparel.

17 July 2007


The just completed NAIDOC Week (the acronym originally derived from the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) is held annually to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This year the celebration of NAIDOC Week was held against the backdrop of renewed publicity about the plight of indigenous Australians. The Austalian Catholic Bishops have recently issued a statement in regard to the current crisis.

The most recent edition of OzSpirit a resource produced by Caritas Australia, also provides a comprehensive range of articles and resources relating to indigenous issues and urges that the long identified causes contributing to indigenous disadvantage be addressed.

Caritas continues to urge your support for the Close the Gap campaign, details of which are obtainable at the above website.


The Australian Government’s WorkChoices legislation fails to provide a proper balance between employee and employer rights according to the Australian Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (ACCER), the body appointed by the Australian Catholic bishops to provide advice on employment issues in the context of Catholic Social teaching.

In releasing a new publication 'Workplace Relations: A Catholic Perspective' spokesman for the ACCER Brian Lawrence, went on to call for further changes to the law to protect the financial security of families. Concerns previously raised by the Bishops: whether Work Choices would promote truly co-operative employment relations and ensure the protection of the poor and vulnerable; preservation of a minimum wage, minimum conditions and the ability to bargain on equal terms; unfair dismissals and the role of unions are also addressed in the publication which can be downloaded at the above website.

In the meantime the Federal Minister for Health and prominent Catholic, Tony Abbott attacked the ACCER and other Catholic critics of the government policy accusing them of basing their criticisms on political rather than moral grounds.

As a member of the Board of Directors of Australian Political Ministry (Polmin) I was somewhat startled to find that I was a member of "a classic front organization, a local version of the Chinese Patriotic Church"! according to Mr Abbott.


Recently millions of people around the world viewed the 'Live-earth' concerts at which the call for urgent action to address climate change was repeated. As a further step to build on the momentum generated by the concerts you are invited to sign the online Climate Pledge organized by Avaaz

Those signing the pledge make a commitment to take action in their own life, in their own country and at a global level to help end the climate crisis.

Avaaz is a community of global citizens who take action on the major issues facing the world today. The aim of Avaaz is to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people shape global decisions. Its members act for a more just and peaceful world and a globalisation with a human face.

The full range of issues on which Avaaz is campaigning can be found at the above website.


The prophetic call to a quest for justice has been one of the major insights that has resonated in the Christian Brothers and Edmund Rice Network in recent years.

International gatherings such as the 'Flare Up like Flame' Social Justice Symposium in Kolkatta in 2005, programs such as 'Karibu' in East Africa, 'Toir' in Ireland and more recently the 'Mitakuye Oyasin' gathering in Vancouver, Canada have brought members of the Edmund Rice Network together from around the globe and contained a strong justice focus.

'FUEL' is an Edmund Rice Network publication that enables members of the network to share information, reflections, resources and ideas with each other. FUEL can be accessed through Service Commons an online database for a global Edmund Rice Justice Network. Anyone is free to register and join Service Commons.

Information about how to join and create your own profile is provided on the website.

2 July 2007


The measures recently announced by the Federal Government to address the issues of child abuse within Australian indigenous communities in response to the "Little Children are Sacred" report have been cautiously welcomed by the Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council Bishop Christopher Saunders.

Whilst welcoming immediate and decisive if somewhat belated action, to protect vulnerable children, Bishop Saunders stressed the need for a response that went beyond a "law and order" approach. He particularly urged the involvement the Indigenous communities themselves, as well as local governments, church and community groups and community leaders who have important on-the-ground knowledge and long-standing relationships with the communities, in finding a long-term solution to the problem.

Catholic Religious Australia the peak body for all Religious in Australia, and representing many of those with first hand experience of working with indigenous communities, has also issued a statement expressing its concern at the action ofthe Government.

Concerns and a degree of cynicism at the government initiative have also been expressed by advocacy groups including the Edmund Rice Centre and the Australian Council of Social Services.

The failure of the government to respond to repeated calls for action on this and similar issues affecting indigenous people over many years, the failure to consult or work with local communities in seeking to address problems and the proposed measures which include resuming control of Aboriginal land, give rise to the suspicion that the government is more interested in furthering its own interests in an election year than in genuinely seeking long-term solutions to the problem of disadvantage within indigenous communities.


"Love you enemies". Jesus’ call to his followers is very clear and yet as noted peace activist Fr John Dear asks in a recent article in the National Catholic Reporter Why do Christians not take this commandment seriously?

Fr Dear argues that this teaching calls for "deliberate, unconditional, non-retaliatory, sacrificial, all-encompassing, all-inclusive, nonviolent universal love, a love which lays down our lives for others."

This means that Christians are obliged "to stop killing one another, stop waging war, stop building and maintaining nuclear weapons, and stop our country from killing people."

A group of Christians in Australia who have taken this teaching to heart, the Pine Gap Four were fined recently for trespassing on the US military base at Pine Gap to protest at the continued role of the base in supporting US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two other activists will face trial in August for trespassing on the joint Australian/US military exercise in northeast Australia.


In order to maintain pressure on governments to honour the commitments they have made about ending global poverty, a range of events and actions have been planned to mark the halfway point in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals

You are invited to join Australia’s biggest photo petition at the Make Poverty History website asking Australian Government to Face Up To Poverty by adding your face to the petition.

The AVAAZ website also includes an online petition organized by the Global Call to Action Against Poverty group demanding that the rich world keep its promises to the global poor.


A group of students and staff members at St Bernards College in Essendon recently spent 24 hours in a cage in the school grounds to raise awareness in the College community of the plight of those in our world who experience poverty and marginalisation.

The exercise particularly focussed on members of the Br Beausang School Community in Kenya, with whom the College has formed a partnership, and the plight of homeless young people in Melbourne.

Although well clothed to face the rigors of winter, the group nevertheless spent the night in the open during which time they took minimal nourishment which meant that they emerged tired and hungry at the end of their 24 hour period spent in the cage.

The exercise was judged to be a great success in raising awareness in the school community around their chosen issues.

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