Keeping the common good after COVID

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At a press conference once, I revealed that my Mum raised me in three great faiths: the Catholic Church, the Australian Labor Party, and the South Sydney Rabbitohs. They all played roles in my childhood, each one of them in separate ways. Each brought a different strength that I was able to call on as I was growing up. And in different ways, I needed them all.

Main image: Hands forming a heart (Tim Marshall/Unsplash)

I grew up in public housing, raised by a single mother on the disability pension. Mum was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, and I still think about how hard things must have been for her. And yet she shone so brightly in my life. She was a strong woman with a sharp mind and the biggest heart. I saw in her the most profound inner strength. Through her own example, she taught me love and compassion. As we made our way together in life, I learnt about community and the power of pulling together.

Mum had the good sense to send me to school at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, which reinforced for me the values of social justice and equal opportunity. As I said to the Year 12 boys there a few months ago as they were gearing up to do the HSC, they will always carry a bit of that school in their hearts.

If anything, all these values have taken on an added importance during this time of trial and challenge that the world is enduring. As we’ve often said, we’re all in this together. But it can’t just be an empty mantra. It must be a guiding philosophy. I turn to what Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical last year:

'… a worldwide tragedy like the Covid-19 pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all. Once more we realised that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together.'

Just as there is a powerful overlap between those values and Labor values as work on how to get through this pandemic, there is a powerful overlap as we contemplate life after COVID-19.

What we have is a rare opportunity — in all likelihood a once-in-a-lifetime chance — to shape the future and emerge from the pandemic as a better, fairer nation. To find a way to better share Australia’s greatness. My enduring belief is that we need an economy that works for people, not the other way around.

 

'The common good is what we must all strive for. If there is a positive to have come out of this pandemic, it’s that when push came to shove, the fundamental truth of this spilled across political and ideological lines as surely as a river breaking its banks.'

 

So I was struck by the words of Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, who wrote: 'Of course the economy matters, but only if it puts the human being at its heart. The economy was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the economy.'

The Archbishop wrote those words in a piece reflecting on Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical on The Condition of the Working Classes. I would like to share a few lines from it. 'The more that is done for the benefit of the working classes by the general laws of the country, the less need will there be to seek for special means to relieve them.'

And another: 'Equity therefore commands that public authority show proper concern for the worker so that from what he contributes to the common good he may receive what will enable him, housed, clothed, and secure, to live his life without hardship.’

And one more: 'Special consideration must be given to the weak and the poor. For the nation, as it were, of the rich, is guarded by its own defences and is in less need of governmental protection, whereas the suffering multitude, without the means to protect itself, relies especially on the protection of the State. Wherefore, since wage workers are numbered among the great mass of the needy, the State must include them under its special care and foresight.'

Those words are from 1891. They haven’t aged a day. Ninety years later, Pope John Paul II had this to say this in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (Through Work):

'Catholic social teaching does not hold that unions are no more than a reflection of the class structure of society and that they are agents for a class struggle which inevitably governs social life. They are indeed advocates for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people in accordance with their individual professions.'

Ultimately, it boils down to a fair go for all. It is a sense of fairness that Jesus’ teaching radiates throughout the books of the New Testament. And it informs the powerful and compelling tradition of Catholic social teaching. As my colleague Senator Kristina Keneally wrote in 2019:

'It is central to Catholicism, but its emphasis on social justice is recognisable in other Christian denominations too, such as the efforts by the Uniting and Baptist churches to help marginalised people by providing charitable services and advocating for funding or laws to address poverty, family violence or drug addiction. Importantly, Catholic social teaching promotes collective social action for the common good...'

More recently, as he was making his run for the White House, Joe Biden had a message for those Americans whose vote was guided by religious values: ‘You want to do good. You want to be a good person. You want your vote not just to serve your self-interest, but also the common good.’

The common good is what we must all strive for. If there is a positive to have come out of this pandemic, it’s that when push came to shove, the fundamental truth of this spilled across political and ideological lines as surely as a river breaking its banks.

We have seen even some of those political parties that are more instinctively tilted towards individualism setting aside their ideology as an indulgence ill-suited to the current reality. It has been superseded by the spirit of inclusiveness. Of togetherness. Of compassion. The understanding that the bond of our common humanity is what is going to get us through.

It is the spirit of society, something that some ideologues of the past tried to reject as a concept altogether. The pandemic has edged out some of these dangerous fantasies and guided us back towards the truth.

So many roads lead back to the parable of the Good Samaritan. What is the lesson that Jesus teaches us in it? It is that we shouldn’t walk past those who are in need or suffering. That our care for others should be neither conditional nor transactional. That we should be driven by our own humanity. And that is the lesson that can light the path that lies before us.

 

 

Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese is an Australian politician serving as Leader of the Opposition and leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) since 2019. He has been Member of Parliament (MP) for Grayndler since 1996.

Read the Joint letter from Christian leaders in relation to community restoration here.

This speech was delivered as a speech to the Church Community Restoration Project, at Parliament House, Canberra on Monday, 22 February. Facilitated by the Australian Christian Higher Education Alliance.

Main image: Hands forming a heart (Tim Marshall/Unsplash)

Topic tags: Anthony Albanese, common good, COVID-19, Australia, catholic social teaching

 

 

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Existing comments

These words of an aspiring Prime Minister remind me more than a bit of the great Labor Prime Ministers of the 1940s, Curtin & Chifley. Both men are remembered as iconic Australian PMs. Chifley attended a bush school which opened 2 days one week and then 3 days the next week. Your message, Anthony, about caring for the most disadvantaged of constituents still resonates, most especially in this time of COVID which has seen our nation, and the world, challenged in a particular way.
Pam | 23 February 2021


If Anthony Albanese can win government and implement policies for the social good, that will be the miracle the country needs
Tony Re | 23 February 2021


Thanks, Anthony for your goodness of spirit. We need the Spirit of Christ to radiate around the world. Our future in Australia and the world depends upon us taking the initiative to do good things that help our neighbours. By helping others we draw strength together in making the world a better place for all. This is true for action on our depleted planet's atmosphere and to reverse the upward rise in temperature. It also draws on the need to reduce the divide between rich and poor; the society we have should be a fairer one, not a meaner one. That's the 'atmosphere' we need to work in with others, and to look towards common goals. This can be achieved through cooperation and consensus - by everyone being willing to give a bit, rather than expecting to take more than a fair share. Unions and employers can co-operate to achieve a goal that improves the wellbeing of the community- it has been done in the past, and can be done again. Our future rests on the willingness of all to achieve a better life and future for everyone. That requires planning and enthusiasm to do things we haven't done before.
JOHN WILLIS | 23 February 2021


Nothing to do with religion or politics; I simply love this article and the humanitarian people it encourages us to be. Hoping Eureka Street attracts more of our 'leading lights' to tell us who they really are and what our awesome nation can be. This is a very necessary conversation for us all to have.
Dr Martin James Rice | 23 February 2021


So encouraging to hear a politician taking about caring for the poor, because of his Catholic upbringing..As pointed out many people claiming ño religious adherence do the same...Covid_19 has spoken... we are all in this world to help each other, without class distinctions..It is the only way peace can prosper, violence can be eliminated..
Bernie | 23 February 2021


Is this a political announcement, as it certainly reads as such? Whatever its, or your, merits it has no place in Eureka Street.
Edward Fido | 24 February 2021


Many Coalition voters would be in the DLP if it still existed, and in the ALP if the DLP had no need to exist. And if, upon hearing this speech, some of the relevant unborn had graves to turn in, a spirit impelling something like a DLP would not need to exist. There are four, not one or two or three, sins which cry to heaven for vengeance, and, for the convenience of those who face the struggle to shift a multitude of wills in the world to fix sins three and four, they can fix sins one and two by shifting only a few wills.
roy chen yee | 24 February 2021


As always, the proof of the pie will be in the eating.
john frawley | 24 February 2021


An appeal for the common good is refreshing to hear from a politician. I wish more of them thought and felt this way. look forward to sharing this article on social feeds including facebook, if and when the ban is lifted.
Barry Gittins | 24 February 2021


So, Anthony, why dump your negative gearing tax? Why don’t you propose and advocate for a humane resolution to the situation of 29,000 asylum seekers in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Nauru? Why did you pander to Joel Fitzgibbon by shifting Mark Butler? Why don’t you promise a decent increase in unemployment benefits? Kevin Liston
Kevin Liston | 24 February 2021


The late Fred Daly was very wary of those who called themselves Christians in politics. I concur. Despite the many inequalities in our society, I think we live in one of the better societies on earth. All our politicians are well insulated from the financial problems many battlers face. With the rise and rise of Communist China and our hopeless weapons procurement program, as chronicled by Robert Gottliebsen and others, we are going to be faced with a very serious external situation for years. Our very society is threatened. I have not heard much from either Labor or the Coalition on this. We badly need a Churchill here. Totalitarian Communist China threatens us as much as Hitler threatened Europe before WW 2. Look what they have done to the Tibetans and Uighurs. After World War Two, there was a raft of overdue social change in Britain under Labour, but victory had to be won first. Meanwhile, especially, but not solely at state level, we are introducing all sorts of politically correct 'solutions' based more on Marxist theory than common sense, which are undermining the basic fabric of family and ethics. Quelle horreur! I wish we had a national anthem like La Marseillaise. I'd gladly sing it now. You are a good man, Albo, but you and other politicians need to see and address the real issues. You are no fool. We look to people like you for real leadership.
Edward Fido | 25 February 2021


Hear, hear, Edward Fido!! Of course it's a political statement. The ALP has determined that there are bound to be votes in "social justice" so why not test the waters with a speech at a Christian talk fest. And Wow!!! Look at the bonus - a piece in Australia's award winning "social justice" media commentator. Could just be enough to get the handful of votes we need to win government and start the "social engineering ' in honour of St Gough and with the help of the law as we have managed in Q'land and Victoria. The only risk is that if we win we might have to modify the refugee policy we implemented under that other pair - who were they again? Oh yes, that's right, Gillard and Rudd. Had almost forgotten them.
john frawley | 25 February 2021


Thanks, ES, for publishing Anthony Albanese on the Common Good and what it means to him. I hope it is accompanied by a similar invitation to the PM, the Nationals' Leader and that of the Greens to similar ends for, not only would that promote the common good, but it would support collaborative policy solutions in a fractious debating environment at this sobering time of global pandemic as well as of competing interests that militate against common collaborative solutions to the complex but interconnected problems that face us all, not just as Australians, but as global citizens, as Pope Francis reminds. The Editors, having invited all the above leaders to contribute to this discussion should, properly, publish the result. ES readers would then be in a position to assess and respond. While the inevitable handful of curmudgeons would inevitably be found here, having fired their weapons well and truly before the opportunity to support the common good themselves, the result would then be to hold our national leadership responsible for their commitments, just as Mr Albanese has acknowledged the good he sees in the other side. It would also be a test of the common good commitment of ES readership.
Anonymous | 25 February 2021


Chart your own course Anthony. Clearly you have strong credentials for Prime Ministership and our nation needs politicians who are their own person, that is essentially a person for others. I look forward to policies which value the humanity of each person.
Pam | 25 February 2021


I also wonder about post covid if and when things get back to normal. When I was a teenager I had to hand out pamphlets for the DLP and attend camps at Pallotti with Luke Santamaria. Later I was president of the ALP South Brisbane and Beattie's EEC manager when he was first elected. But I lost faith in the Labor party. Every man for himself in Qld. We still haven't got to the bottom of this Lab engineered man made virus and why China unleashed it on the world. Obviously they could fit 100 million of their citizens into our pristine landmass. We still haven't convinced our politicians that the Belt and Road initiative is of no long term benefit to our workers. Or to our economy. If Victorian labor policies like selling our ports and giving our workers jobs via tender to CCP companies- (eg the next gen of Vic Rail Trains) then labor policies are ethically redundant. As Edward Fido said our biggest threat is the CCP. Anthony, if 45% of the ice coming into Australia is from HK, isnt that another CCP method of enslaving our youth and destroying their will and initiative? Historical platitudes from Coleridge sound nice but in reality we need to completely distance this nation from the CCP with the exception of selling our goods and services. Not our infrastructure.
Francis Armstrong | 25 February 2021


I first read this article when it was "hot off the press"; I'll admit I was surprised about the author but was a bit ambivalent about the content and didn't find it particularly eloquent. I don't buy into the gormless "Rabbitoh's" palaver and found the assertion of intertwined papal and Labour's values "powerful overlap" irksome and incomplete. I gave it a day, then re-read the piece and observed the various valid comments from others, only then did it start to occur to me... he has taken the time to put the article together and I'm sure he's done his best to express how his sentiments align to his perception of average the Eureka Street reader. I'll forgive his foray into mysterious partisan values and look forward to his regular ES contributions; that's the real test of being the genuine article: continuity.
ray | 25 February 2021


Thanks ES for publishing Albo’s speech on achieving the common good. Dr Rice’s comment is sound. I too would like to hear other political leaders’ thoughts on what they see as the common good, and on other subjects that are important to our community. Edward Fido surprised me by claiming a speech by the alternative Prime Minister on a basic part of Christian faith has no place in Eureka Street. Whether or not it is a political announcement is in the eye of the reader. I see it as a statement of philosophy and belief, not overly partisan although references to Labor values can’t be avoided where they are relevant. This is exactly where such a statement should be. Look at the discussion it has generated.
Brett | 27 February 2021


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