By Natashya Fernandez
Australians are called to work for an economy that is based on principles of justice and equity – one that is at the service of all, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalised.
The 2017-2018 Australian Catholic Bishops Social Justice Statement, entitled Everyone’s Business: Developing an inclusive and sustainable economy was launched last week on 7 September in Sydney.
The launch included dignitaries such as Aboriginal elder Elsie Heiss who gave the welcome to country, Commissioner Susan Pascoe from Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) and Father Frank Brennan SJ AO who co-launched the statement, together with Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen.
Speaking at the event, Mrs Pascoe said that she was old enough to remember the impact of the 1992 bishops’ statement, Commonwealth for the common good.
“It was an important wake up call for all Australians to remain true to our egalitarian core and strive to ensure that the fruits of the land’s rich inheritance and our own endeavours are distributed equitably. We also remember how proud we were to be Catholic and the great impetus it gave to our work.
“This year’s statement picks up the conversation 25 years later. The intervening period has seen unparalleled economic growth that positions Australia as the second wealthiest and the second healthiest place on the planet. And yet, we share with many other developed economies rising levels of inequality and growing populism. It’s timely for the bishops to make this statement,” she added.
Picking up from Mrs Pascoe, Fr Brennan reiterated that while the document published 25 years ago primarily focussed on the distribution of wealth, he commends the authors of this year’s document for having focussed not just on the distribution of wealth but also on its creation and the use of it.
He said the hard work of the statement is the five key principles or criteria of Catholic social teaching that are central to the development of an inclusive and sustainable economy, namely:
- People and nature are not mere tools of production
- Economic growth alone cannot ensure inclusive and sustainable development
- Social equity must be built into the heart of the economy
- Businesses must benefit all society, not just shareholders
- The excluded and vulnerable must be included in decision-making“I commend the authors for urging us to think beyond our own borders, and beyond the present. They have placed the contemporary challenge in the context of the UN’s sustainable development goals,” Fr Brennan said.
“Here we are after 26 years of continual economic growth being seen rightly as an international player failing to pull its weight — dragging the chain on climate change, cutting our foreign aid budget, being punitive and exclusive in our treatment of asylum seekers arriving on our shores, and being unable to demonstrate any clear narrowing of the gap of inequality. I commend those who have put before us such a compelling mission for developing an inclusive and sustainable economy.”
Director for the Justice, Ecology and Development Office (JEDO) Carol Mitchell said that the Social Justice statement is an important and timely call to action.
“As the representative for the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth, I had the opportunity to provide input to the planning phase of the Statement (at the previous national Diocesan Contacts Gathering): especially regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); with the need to address the over-representation of Aboriginal people in prison; and to ‘Close the Gap’ in Indigenous disadvantage,” she said.
“We all need to discern whether our economy is just or unjust, and then consider our personal call to action – to do what is right and just where the whole community benefits, what we refer to in Catholic Social Teaching as working for the Common Good.”
Bishop Long said that this year’s statement is built around the gospel reading for this year’s social justice Sunday, which happens to be one of the most intriguing parables from Matthew, chapter 20 – the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
“Through the parable we can see aspects of our own society. We are reminded of the faces of the most vulnerable, including the lowest paid, often in part time work, including those living on income support, those in risk of homelessness and indigenous Australians.
“In the parable Jesus shows another way, a way forward. He gives us that moral compass so that the economy serves the people and not the other way around. He paints a picture in which the vulnerable in the community are brought to the centre of our concern. Quite radically he says the first will be last, and the last will be first. Jesus used the parable to challenge the common held views of his time and it still challenges us today.
Bishop Long said the Social Justice Statement challenges everyone to see a world that exists beyond the columns of a spreadsheet.
“In this document, the bishops are endeavouring to follow the lead of Pope Francis: it is addressed to our political and business leaders but also to every one of us, inviting us to help build a society that is at the service to all. Particularly those who have been excluded from the circle of exchange and from the vast benefits of economic prosperity.
“Let me invite you to join Australia’s bishops in rejecting an economy of exclusion and inequality and indeed seek one that is inclusive and sustainable; one in which we are stewards of god’s creation. One that gives and nurtures life,” he concluded.