Abbott's woes through Pope's human values lens


Pope Francis speaks to Europe

Pope Francis’ recent speech to the European parliament provides a useful lens for reflecting on the priorities and policies of the Australian Government, themselves currently the object of introspection and criticism.

The recent dire opinion polls have focused attention on the Government’s performance and on how it may win back public approval. There has been less reflection on the threads that link its policies on welfare, economic management, the environment, asylum seekers and to government regulation.

The Government has consistently seen the world from the perspective of competitive, self-reliant and economically productive individuals. They, and the businesses of which they are part, are to be rewarded; regulatory obstacles to their enrichment, whether these have to do with climate, mining or finance, are to be neutered. 

Those who are not self-reliant and productive are to be disciplined into productive self-reliance. They are to be discouraged by co-payment from visiting doctors, have their benefits cut and required to find work that is not available or study for which they are not prepared. The Government has no responsibility to them as human beings. They are valued only on the basis of their economic contribution.

From this perspective the government naturally sees its relations with other nations and their citizens as competitive and not entailing mutual obligations. Asylum seekers make no claim on Australia and must be disciplined to make them leave us alone. Coal mining is to be encouraged, regardless of its contribution to global warming, because it is in Australian economic interests. Commitments made to resettle asylum seekers in Indonesia do not have to be honoured. 

Pope Francis’ recent speech to the European Parliament touches on these attitudes to government. His speech was formal and was presumably composed by the Secretariat of State, referring often to previous church documents with a few characteristically Franciscan emphases. Its reflections on Europe picked up the broad themes of Catholic social teaching, within which human dignity demands respect not only for individual but also for social rights. These rights and responsibilities include respect for the right to life at its beginnings and its end. 

His reflections on Europe echo the situation in Australia. He points to the cult of economic growth at the expense of human values and to the emphasis on the individual with no consideration of the relationships that shape our humanity. 

We encounter certain rather selfish lifestyles, marked by an opulence which is no longer sustainable and frequently indifferent to the world around us, and especially to the poorest of the poor. To our dismay we see technical and economic questions dominating political debate, to the detriment of genuine concern for human beings. Men and women risk being reduced to mere cogs in a machine that treats them as items of consumption to be exploited.

  The Pope argues that this lack of attention to the importance of relationships is reflected in loneliness, a factor in the loss of energy and hope in the European project, and also the source of disillusion and a lack of engagement in the political process. This affects the relations between nations as well as between individuals. 

He says, ‘Europe seems to give the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion’.

His speech emphasises the importance of solidarity both among people and nations – working together for the common good and particularly in the interest of people who are most disadvantaged. He draws attention to the boat arrivals and deaths on the Mediterranean: 

We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery! The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance. The absence of mutual support within the European Union runs the risk of encouraging particularistic solutions to the problem, solutions which fail to take into account the human dignity of immigrants, and thus contribute to slave labour and continuing social tensions.

The Pope’s comments are pertinent to Australia as well as to Europe. He would find here, too, the privileging of economic ideology over humanity, the abrogation of responsibility for helping people find employment and for people who are disadvantaged, the gross inequality that leads to callousness, the denial of the claims of people from other nations and of the responsibility of nations to work communally to find solutions, and the loneliness that expresses itself in disillusion with the political process.

This critique suggests that the challenge facing the Government is not to make its policies seem more palatable. If people dump your restaurant when served fly blown meat, you will not bring them back by conning them that it is a delicacy. You would do better to offer them decent meat.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Pope Francis, Tony Abbott, social inclusion, economics, Federal Budget



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Existing comments

Thanks to Tony Abbott, and no thanks to the left, the waters around Australia are no longer a "vast cemetery". No longer is our navy scooping handfuls of flesh from the water. Perhaps Pope Francis should honour Mr Abbott with a papal knighthood for his services to humanity on this ground, and pick his brains re. the Mediterranean?

HH | 04 December 2014  

Andrew has nailed it, again.

Patrick Jurd | 04 December 2014  

Thank you Andrew Hamilton

Kate Maclurcan | 04 December 2014  

Thanks, Andrew, for this piece. The approach of Messrs Abbott and Hockey seems to be based on another discredited claim - that whoever succeeds in our world does so simply because of his own praiseworthy efforts. Those w3ho haven't succeeded are unworthy of consideration. There is no recognition in their words that family and social connections have provided them with opportunities that people from impoverished backgrounds simply do not have. They are shameful 'leaners'. Only the wealthy, who are the worthy 'lifters', deserve government support.

Joe Castley | 04 December 2014  

Thanks, Andrew, for this astute commentary. The Abbott government sees itself in power to "manage the business" and not to serve and govern Australia and its people. And while it is true that our waters are no longer a "vast cemetery", the "Stop the Boats" policy has merely condemned people to death or misery elsewhere. This "not in my backyard" approach is the antithesis of social justice.

CTD | 04 December 2014  

Thank you, for laying it out so clearly; "...the privileging of economic ideology over humanity."

Caroline Storm | 04 December 2014  

As a boxer, Tony Abbott may remember these words from Simon and Garfunkel's song the Boxer "Still the man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest". Unlike HH, I am not prepared to assume that the propaganda emanating from Minister Morrison is the entire story. Without verification and transparency I will not fall into the trap of childlike acceptance of what I am told by those in positions of authority. The common good seems to be what is influencing the majority of Senators. When Liberal MHRs are seen to follow that course then opposition may nor be as fervent.

Kim | 04 December 2014  

Thank you Andrew for this informative article. Pope Francis' speech draws us to the values of Jesus and the praxis of theology. It is not about profit, it is not about gaining the ascendancy, but is about about caring for humanity. It is an embrace of unconventional wisdom. Many years ago the Rev Dr Leslie Weatherhead wrote a book called "The Transforming Friendship" where he claims that one of the most significant characteristics of Jesus is the ability to form and maintain growth promoting personal relationships. However to understand this our politicians would have to place themselves in the shoes of those they purport to represent. Unfortunately too few have the desire or ability to do this. Thank you again.

Rev John W H Smith | 04 December 2014  

Thanks in part to Tony Abbott refugee centres in Indonesia and south east Asia are filled to over-flowing. The waters around Australia may no longer be 'a vast cemetery' but the lands to its north are choc a bloc with men, women and children living lives of quiet desperation as they wait in patient expectation for a second chance at life in the The Great Southland of the Holy Spirit. Alas the ideals of the 17th century navigator Pedro Fernandez de Quiros were to be snuffed out by Dutch and British imperialism over the intervening centuries until today when Australia has become an island fortress of impenetrable borders, sandwiched as it is between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and surrounding straits. Surely Pope Francis has been sent to remind world leaders that there is more to life than being servants of Mammon. His is a voice of spiritual comfort and refreshment in an otherwise materialist age. At the same time he pricks our consciences by reminding us of what would be the decent/Christian thing to do in these troublesome times.

Uncle Pat | 04 December 2014  

God willing, one day we will have a Catholic PM who is a genuine follower of his Pope.

Bilal | 04 December 2014  

These words are "sharper than any double-edged sword" and quite penetrating, judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" Hebrews. Thanks again Andrew

Goyo | 04 December 2014  

“Thanks in part to Tony Abbott refugee centres in Indonesia and South East Asia are filled to overflowing.” Not so. Stopping the boats has helped Indonesia by removing the people-smugglers from the equation. UNHCR figures show the flow of asylum-seekers to the archipelago has dropped by close to half. This has been a benefit to Indonesia which was used mostly as a transit country for people wanting to get to Australia often by paying tens of thousands of dollars to people-smugglers. For instance the Tamil, Cali, who admitted paying $40,000 in botched attempts to secure a Malaysian business visa after he heard boats to Australia were cheap. In addition, relations with Indonesia have improved after the embarrassing revelations of spying in Jakarta under the Rudd government.

Ross Howard | 04 December 2014  

Thank you Andrew for a good article. HH is displaying ignor-ance of facts re treatment of asylum seekers. Have you ever listened to their stories of desperation that impel them to flee their own country without access to visa or ID. Scott Morrison's appalling approach is to con-tinue the inhumane treatment these people faced in their own countries by sending them indefinitely to Manus Is or Nauru. They may not die in the waters around Australia, but they die here inch by inch, psychologically and mentally without hope. I encourage HH to get to know some asylum seekers personally, so that you may in some small way "stand in their shoes"

Pat Wood | 04 December 2014  

Thank for another humane article and some insightful comments. I would add that "welfare" or at least that very small part of the "welfare state" spending that goes to the poor (to keep them from destitution!) has been demonised by right wing pollies since the days of Margaret Thatcher.Our current right wing government shares that damaging and distorted ideology. Ironically their recent attempts to balance the books has been destroyed by allowing that ideology to poison their strategy, as the Australian community , albeit perhaps somewhat incoherently, reacts badly against such nastiness. It is also bad economics as well as bad politics. More money should go to the poor (and to infrastructure) during bad times because they spend it, and create jobs. The money to fix the budget needs to come from those who have enough to save i.e. who do not spend it and so do NOT create jobs. There also needs to be sensible rationalisation of that area of welfare that goes to the middle previous populist buy-off for some political jape when times were good. That is what I thought Hockey was on about in opposition; and he should be on to it now! Finally, "deterring" the seeking of asylum by poeple in real distress is not necessarily b e at all a good thing; as deterring the sick from seeing their doctor is not a good thing; and any solution for an island state needs to be international and regional...and done in good faith.

Eugene | 04 December 2014  

Ross Howard, I have consulted the UNHCR website re the situation of numbers of refugees in Indonesia. According to the website at the end of October 2014 there were 6,202 asylum seekers cumulatively registered with UNCHR Jakarta, mainly from Afghanistan (59%), Iran (10%), Somalia (6%) & Iraq (6%). I haven't checked the figures for refugees registeerd with other UNHCR centres in Asia, partly because I haven't had time and partly because I don't want a disputation over statistics. The point I was trying to make was that Indonesia is the end of the line for most refugees from the Middle East, Afghanistan and north east Africa, because Indonesia does not recognise refugees for settlement, they have only two options resettlement in another country (Australia their number one choice) or returning whence they had fled.

Uncle Pat | 04 December 2014  

I have read many posts similar to the one that Bilal makes above. He disqualifies Tony Abbott from being a Catholic/Christian due to various policies. Not once have I ever read a poster on this site question Tony Abbott's Christian/Catholic credentials due to his views on abortion. He has been quoted in many places as saying that he thinks abortion should be "rare, safe and legal". Pope Francis has been very forthright in condemning abortion. But this does not seem to be one of the socially acceptable causes for many of Eureka's Streets readers. It's too "Catholic". Therefore, it is blithely ignored.

John Ryan | 04 December 2014  

Spot on, JR: my support above of Tony Abbott for his prevention of deaths of boat people in no way should be taken to extend to his position on abortion a position which is radically opposed to the natural law and Catholic teaching. Any Catholic who advocates the legalization of a species of murder should be denied communion. The lack of attention this gets on ES indicates how far removed it is from a genuine Catholic perspective. The silence of the Australian bishops regarding pro-abort "Catholic" politicians is, given their solemn duty as shepherds of the flock, even more shameful.

HH | 05 December 2014  

I don't want to embark on a statistical dispute either, but since the recurring theme in the "stopping the boats" polemic is that we're stopping the drownings, with the unspecified implication of numerous boat sinkings, how many have there been? Apart from the mysterious SIEVX tragedy, there was the boat sunk in that terrible storm with the loss of many lives as the vessel approached Christmas Island and certainly there have been several timely last-minute arrivals of RAN vessels, in calm seas, but where is the evidence of the other "drownings" that the Government's policies have now stopped. Of course the risk factor is an issue, and one no doubt asylum-seekers consider - a measure of their desperation - but I suspect the Immigration Minister's constant pious boast is a hollow one, just dressing to justify or distract from his otherwise soul-less policies "which fail to take into account the human dignity of immigrants", as Pope Francis described the asylum-seekers who cross the Mediterranean. Andrew Hamilton's first four paragraphs are an accurate, compelling summary of the rest of the Abbott government's policies and purpose.

Brian Davies | 06 December 2014  

Thanks Andrew for the great article. Maureen.

Maureen | 06 December 2014  

"The 1000 deaths of asylum seekers at sea figure regularly cited by politicians and the media is broadly correct. The best official figure is just under 900, but there is no doubt that deaths at sea have occurred and have not been recorded." "FactCheck: have more than 1000 asylum seekers died at sea under Labor?" July 23, 2013.

HH | 09 December 2014  

Boats have stopped arriving so Abbott and Morrison will be pulling their bon bons with great joy this Christmas. But apart from that we don't really know anything. How many boats are being turned back by Australian forces? Have there been any recent tragedies (sincerely hope not)? These "on water" matters are not made public any more. I can imagine Morrison's self righteous indignation if Labor had tried this stunt and I would have agreed with him. But the boats have stopped so we can all relax this Christmas.

Brett | 18 December 2014  

The lucky country is becoming one that promotes a trickle-down economy where the poor and not-so-well-off can only hope for moisture.

Gary Woolley | 01 January 2015  

Dear HH Just because we do not hear anything of boats sunk, it does not mean that the waters are safe. TA has a Masters in cruelty, and leaves us all dishonoured.

Eveline Goy | 10 January 2015  

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