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Churches fight for economic justice

  • 29 November 2013

In his recent address to the Yarra Institute about Christian social thinking in Australia, Fr Frank Brennan expressed the view that 'Christian churches are all but absent from the economic debate other than making the occasional, predictable utterance about ensuring that no one is left worse off as the result of new policy measures'.

This seriously understates the public advocacy of the Australian churches and does a disservice to many people and organisations. It is true that many church leaders do not easily engage in economic issues, partly because they are not trained in economics. But this should not be a bar to informed commentary.

The Australian Catholic Bishops, for example, published a major statement in November 2005 detailing their opposition to the then proposed Work Choices legislation, based on established principles of Catholic social teaching, and calling for changes to be made to it. Subsequent events vindicated their position.

Contributions like this are not required every year. But what the bishops do every year is to issue a Social Justice Statement for release on Social Justice Sunday. In the last two years the bishops have addressed issues of economic importance: 'The Gift of Family in Difficult Times: The social and economic challenges facing families today in 2012', and 'Lazarus at our Gate: A critical moment in the fight against world poverty in 2013'. These have been contributions of substance.

While the bishops could be more active on economic issues, the responsibility for research, advocacy and engagement in public debate falls on church organisations that are generally led by the laity.

A wide range of Catholic organisations, either under the umbrella of Catholic Social Services Australia or otherwise, advocate over a range of economic and federal budgetary issues. Across the health and aged care sectors, Catholic providers and organisations have engaged in the economic issues associated with adequate and efficient care for those in need, especially those who rely on the social safety net. The work of Caritas, for example, requires substantial knowledge of a range of economic issues, sometimes contentious, associated with foreign aid.

Much of this social ministry work is found in other Christian churches. The research and advocacy of, for example, Anglicare, UnitingCare and the Salvation Army in regard to economic matters is substantial and cannot be fairly described as 'making the occasional, predictable utterance about ensuring that no one is left worse off as the result of new policy measures', in Fr