Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

CHOGM and the Common Good


'Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed 'too big to fail'. Surely the integral human development of the world's peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world's attention that is truly 'too big to fail'.'

This message from Pope Benedict XVI last year in London bears reflection today, as Commonwealth leaders prepare for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth.

Every two years they meet to discuss global and Commonwealth issues, and to agree on collective policies and initiatives. Following this meeting Julia Gillard and five other Commonwealth heads of state will travel to France for the G20 leader's summit.

Efforts of development agencies like Caritas Australia have transformed the situation of millions of people. However, unbalanced trade rules, debt burdens and a lack of transparency in the global economic realm compound the suffering of people most in need.

Both of these meetings provide an opportunity for leaders to meet, discuss issues affecting the world, and provide a strong, positive pathway for the creation and realisation of a secure and fruitful future for all. However if, 'every economic decision has a moral consequence' then the voice of the most marginalised, those who suffer the most, should be amplified in these discussions.

While public commentary of meetings such as CHOGM focuses on the content of the conversations, there is great value in the conversation itself. Relationships made, strengthened and restored are important, as they assist open, honest and transparent relationships. They provide the foundations for vital, albeit at times difficult, dialogue about human rights and the realisation of human dignity.

At both CHOGM and the G20 meeting the current economic crisis will be at the forefront of conversations. Those conversations must include a discussion of how we can ensure the realisation of authentic human development in the midst of crisis — that is, policies that seek to promote the common good rather than bring wealth to a small segment of the global population.

The common good cannot be reduced to an aggregate of income, wealth or expenditure — it must be centred on the dignity of each individual.

As the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace recently stated in their note on the reform of the international financial and monetary systems in the context of global public authority:

In this process, the primacy of the spiritual and of ethics needs to be restored and, with them, the primacy of politics — which is responsible for the common good — over the economy and finance. These latter need to be brought back within the boundaries of their real vocation and function ... in consideration of their obvious responsibilities to society, in order to nourish markets and financial institutions which are really at the service of the person, which are capable of responding to the needs of the common good and universal brotherhood, and which transcend all forms of economist stagnation and performative mercantilism.

As leaders come together to discern issues and find solutions there must be space for greater participation. We must embark on a dialogue working towards sustainable development for all. On the basis of this approach, we must find new methods to finance the funding gaps to ensure the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

New multilateral approaches to public finance may provide the answer. Innovative financing such as the Tobin tax, where a tiny levy would be taken from financial transactions, have the possibility to generate funds which could be used to alleviate suffering across the globe.

The answer may also be found in independent arbitration mechanisms, that prioritise the common good, provide accountability to financing decisions, and ensure debt renegotiation decisions have a legitimate forum that is both transparent and neutral.

CHOGM and the G20 meeting provide opportunities to devise new and sustainable solutions where justice and compassion are the core principles on which economic and political decisions are made. The world's leaders, teachers, parents, media and all who are in a position to inform, educate and inspire communities have a responsibility to bring hope, understanding and solidarity of action.

As stated by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace:

[T]he goal of the universal common good with its inescapable demands is waiting on the horizon. Moreover, it is hoped that those in universities and other institutions who educate tomorrow's leadership will work hard to prepare them for their responsibilities to discern the global public good and serve it in a constantly changing world.

Jack de GrootJack de Groot is Chief Executive Officer of Caritas Australia, Secretary to the Australian Catholic Bishops Commission for Justice and Development, and Adjunct Professor, Australian Catholic University. Image courtesty Debbie DeVoe, Catholic Relief Services. 

Topic tags: Jack de Groot, Caritas, CHOGM



submit a comment

Existing comments

First CHOGM, and then on to the G20's leader's summit. What good will come out of these meetings for the people that the leaders supposedly represent? As long as we let Central Banks conquer and divide for their own profit with no regard for the people, our leaders will fail miserably.

Meanwhile as Europeans and the West dwindle in population because of abortion and contraception, there will be no way left for the governments to sustain social welfare payments to the elderly, the sick and the unemployed.

Trent | 28 October 2011  

Thanks Jack for highlighting where Church teaching really does make its most important and relevant contribution: standing in solidarity for the most marginalised.

Jane | 28 October 2011  

If only we could have people like Jack de Groot speak to those in power. Perhaps then these leaders will hear the stories of those in need and be forced, if only by their conscience to act.

Shirley | 28 October 2011  

Funny how the Pope has all the answers, and has had for the last 2000 years but has yet to make any inroads into translating them into action anywhere in the world.

And yet, when a government makes an attempt to redistribute wealth, however ineptly, they are regarded by Pope, Vatican and the numerous governments who feel threatened by such actions, as 'evil communists' intent on taking over the world.

It's a shame really that Joe Bageant wasn't the Pope, since he delivered a similar message AND made an effort to live out his convictions, unlike the ratbags who inhabit purple palaces and live on taxfee handouts from our non-secular government.

CHOGM is what the acronym really stands for, nothing more than Chaps Holidaying On Government Money, so it comes as no surprise whatsoever that it produces nothing but hotair and a massive carbon footprint.

If the Pope was the least bit serious, he would institute an education program to teach people about how capitalism works to create great inequality in a sort-of mercantalist manner of winners and losers.

That, he would never even dream of doing, since implicit in the teachings would be a threat to the very institution he presides over.

Harry Wilson | 28 October 2011  

It is heartening to see the Church speaking up on this issue and taking part in what is becoming a global swelling up of demands for justice and equality and an end to the oppression of corporate rule. I don't know who "sits" on the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, but whoever you all are, good on you!

Janet | 28 October 2011  

Thanks, Jack. I'd like to simply endorse your key message to CHOGM (and to the Church!): "Surely the integral human development of the world's peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world's attention that is truly 'too big to fail'.'

Peter Johnstone | 28 October 2011  

Similar Articles

Gillard's grotesque people smuggler sledge

  • Binoy Kampmark
  • 04 November 2011

So-called people smugglers are often penniless teenagers who are simply a link in the chain for those who are seeking legitimate asylum. The Government's new retrospective law will punish such individuals for an act that was legal at the time it was committed.


What matters in Qantas confrontation

  • Brian Lawrence
  • 01 November 2011

The Qantas industrial dispute is likely to make a major contribution to the history of Australian industrial relations. The important issue is whether Qantas should have been required to threaten substantial damage to itself and to the national economy before it could gain access to arbitration.