The government that leads Australia following May elections needs to increase support for vulnerable families and indigenous Australians, provide jobs for all and aid refugees, the bishops’ social services commission said.
“Families in disadvantaged, rural and remote communities deserve access to the same levels and quality of services that are readily available to those in metropolitan Australia,” Catholic Social Services Australia said in a 23rd April statement.
Australians head to the polls on 18th May, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition seeking a third three-year term. Opinion polls suggest opposition leader Bill Shorten, a former labour union leader, will become the eighth prime minister since the country plunged into an extraordinary period of political instability in 2007.
The Catholic Social Services statement echoes some of the same statements issued by the entire Australian bishops’ conference in its 17th April statement, ‘Politics in Service of Peace’.
Catholic Social Services called for any incoming government to provide low-income families access to “adequate income and social services when and where they need them,” noting that “too many vulnerable families” have difficulties accessing welfare services.
The new government should set up a job guarantee program, the commission said.
“With some 700,000 Australians without work and a further 1.1 million seeking additional hours of work, Australia needs a new approach to employment,” it said.
“A job guarantee is, in effect, a commitment by government to full employment in Australia,” it said, noting that the program works by creating jobs that benefit communities and are paid for by the government.
The commission called for government commitment to the “empowerment and self-determination” of indigenous Australians. As well as advancing constitutional recognition for indigenous Australians, social services reform is needed so that services are better coordinated and delivered within a community-led framework, it said.
In their earlier statement, the bishops asked for “a renewed urgency to the commitment to closing the gap between indigenous Australians and the rest of the population,” noting that “this is a running sore at the heart of the nation.”
The bishops noted “unacceptable differences in health, education and employment outcomes between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.”
The social services commission urged the closure of offshore detention centres on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, a Pacific island nation, and the resettlement in Australia of remaining refugees.
“Services, including access to basic financial assistance, case work, torture and trauma counselling, and other supports to help resolve immigration status will assist refugees and asylum-seekers to live in our communities with dignity while their claims are being processed,” it said.
Australia’s tough refugee policy requires asylum-seekers intercepted at sea trying to reach Australia to be sent for processing at detention centres. Morrison is seen as the architect of the policy, which has been condemned by rights groups as an abrogation of Australia’s responsibilities as a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention.
“If our government is unable to find a home for refugees and asylum-seekers who have had their lives on hold on Nauru and Manus Island, then is it not time to provide them with a home in Australia?” the commission asked.
An incoming government should set up a Charter for the Common Good “to enhance cooperation between government, business and civil society in delivering a more inclusive economy and society,” it said.
In their statement, the bishops’ conference said policy issues Australians should consider before voting include economic fairness, support for the vulnerable and marginalised, including the unborn and the elderly, just treatment of those seeking asylum and action on climate change.
The bishops acknowledged the ongoing sex abuse crisis had damaged their credibility with many people, but said they wanted to offer key points of Catholic social teaching to help people make decisions in the election.
“No political party fully aligns with Catholic teaching,” the bishops noted.
They said one key principle of Catholic social teaching “is a preference for the poor and vulnerable. The greater the needs of people, the greater the responsibility we have to respond to their needs. Clearly this includes people who are homeless or struggling to keep a roof over their heads. It also includes others who are victims of violence and exclusion, particularly people like the survivors of child sexual abuse, to whom we must offer care and support in every way possible.”
The bishops advocated for families and for those with mental health problems. They also asked: “How can our community support women and their families in creating a more supportive and child-friendly community? What factors are causing women to take the agonising decision of abortion? In grappling with these questions, we remember that no society can be judged healthy when the womb itself becomes a dangerous place.”
Picture: A man rests in the doorway of a building in Sydney on 5th March 2016. Catholic Social Services Australia issued a pre-election statement calling for the incoming government to take action on vulnerable families, jobs, Aboriginal peoples and refugees. (CNS photo/David Gray, Reuters).