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Neoliberal versus Christian notions of the public good

Peter Kirkwood |  14 April 2015

Last week the heads of three of the world's largest multi-national companies - Google, Apple and Microsoft - appeared at the Senate inquiry into corporate tax evasion. They were grilled about the practice of moving profits from Australia to lower tax jurisdictions.

It was a rare public questioning of the big end of town, and the underlying neo-liberal philosophy that drives mainstream politics and economic thinking. It was in sync with public disquiet reflected in recent Fairfax polling in key marginal seats that 'found a staggering 90 per cent of people believe the government has failed to tackle the corporate tax dodgers.'

This interview on Eureka Street TV features a woman who's spent much of her working life questioning such inequities and injustices in Australian society. Elenie Poulos is a Uniting Church minister and, since 2002, has been Director of UnitingJustice     Australia, the justice policy and advocacy unit of the Church's national council, the Uniting Church Assembly.

Recently she wrote an article for Australia21 that was republished in the Eureka Street Religion Blog, about the public interest and social good as defined by neo-liberals, and how, in her view, this is almost diametrically opposed to a Christian notion of the public good.

In this interview she explains these basic philosophical differences, and applies her view of the public good to a number of current social justice issues including treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, climate change, economic inequity and corporate tax evasion.

Poulos grew up in Australia in a family of Greek heritage and Greek Orthodox background. Her first degrees were a Bachelor of Arts with Honours majoring in Linguistics and a Master of Arts in language in education, both from the University of Sydney.

She then worked in book publishing, and her last position before training for the ministry was as Senior Editor at Simon & Schuster Australia.

As a young adult she joined the Uniting Church and was ordained as a minister in 1995. As part of training for the ministry, she studied for a Bachelor of Theology from the Sydney College of Divinity.

Her first post as minister was as Chaplain at MLC School, Burwood, in Sydney's inner west, where she stayed for six years before her appointment as Director of UnitingJustice Australia.

As well as this role, Poulos is a member and past chair of the Commission for Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia. She's also a member of a World Council of     Churches advisory group on international affairs.

She represents the Uniting Church on a number of government and civil society networks and taskforces, and is on the board of    ANDI, the Australian National Development Index project to develop a wellbeing index for Australia.

She is also a doctoral student at Macquarie University in Sydney researching in the area religion, politics and human rights.

This interview is in two parts - Part 1 (9 mins) above, and Part 2 (8 mins) below:

Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.



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Submitted comments

I wish people commenting on ES articles would listen to this with a discerning frame of mind before they jump headfirst into the left/right political discourse. Many issues that are now being demonised as "leftist" are simply reality checks.

AURELIUS 15 April 2015

Thanks to Elenie for articulating so well the Christian notion of the public good. We live in a secular society and this is an important fact to remember when discussing economic growth and economic security. Many of the values Elenie talked about are, or should be, highly valued in secular society. Our response to the asylum seeker issue and the environment both certainly need improvement and there are people from different faiths, and people with no religious belief, who are working to that end.

Pam 15 April 2015

An excellent and insightful article. My one regret is that I doubt many senior politicians or major economic movers and shakers will read it or take on board what it contains and apply it to the marketplace. I think change, real change, will come from outside this power circle. Quakers were noted for their absolute fiscal integrity in 18th and 19th Century England. Hence they were amongst the founders of modern banking there. Change, real change will, I think, come out of left field as the modern economic model seems broken. It will be gentle, small and slow to start, as with the Grameen Bank and microcredit, but I think it will gradually grow. There may well be opposition but I think it is important that human life is organised for humanity as a whole rather than powerful, unrepresentative conglomerates. This is, at base, a crisis of democracy and accountability.

Edward Fido 16 April 2015