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Bishops call for an economy that serves all

  • 06 September 2017


In church documents scriptural stories are often used as decoration or to calm the horses when contentious issues arise.

The 2017-2018 Australian Catholic Social Justice Statement on the economy, Everyone's Business — Developing an Inclusive and Sustainable Economy, opens with one of the most intriguing of Jesus' parables: the landowner who hired new workers at each hour of the day but paid them all one denarius no matter how long they had worked. And was unapologetic about it.

The usual conclusion drawn from this parable is that God does not act like a good businessman but as a benefactor. But the statement notes that the denarius was then the living wage, which all workers, full-time or part-time, should be paid. The landowner was doing what he should have done. The appeal to scripture here is a burr under the horse's saddle.

The general argument of the statement, which resonates with Australian sentiment today, is that Australia is a wealthy economy in which too many people are marginalised. A moral compass is needed so that the economy serves all Australians and not vice versa.

The most vulnerable Australians include the lowest paid, often in part-time work, those living on income support, those at risk of homelessness, and Indigenous Australians. They are affected by the move to short term contracts and casual employment, by minimum wages insufficient to support a family, and by the refusal of many employers to contribute to superannuation or to pay due wages.

Because of high unemployment many people remain on social security for a long time. The benefits paid leave people beneath the poverty line and often have punitive and shaming conditions attached to them. Indigenous Australians are particularly disadvantaged by almost every criteria, face the abandonment of their communities and are subject routinely to fines and humiliation.

In addition, corporations take advantage of lax regulation to increase charges for necessary services, collude, avoid taxes and rip off clients. Such practices burden people with high costs and deprive governments of the revenue needed to support social institutions.


"The common good requires that we build educational resources that animate people to contribute creatively, health resources designed to prevent illness and limit sustained dependence on the community, and social and penal structures that help people overcome alienation and connect them to society."


In response to this litany of neglect and abuse the statement calls for a new view of the economy as the servant of people, and