AUSTRALIA has maintained a solid momentum of economic growth over a quarter of a century – the longest economic growth in the western world – yet the benefits of this good fortune have not been distributed equally.
This inequality forms the basis for the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement 2017–18, titled Everyone’s Business: Developing an inclusive and sustainable economy.
The Bishops’ call for an economy that is founded on justice and offers dignity and inclusion to every person, reflecting Pope Francis’ appeal for an economic system that places men and women at the very centre.
“This statement is inspired by the teachings of Jesus and by the unswerving vision of Pope Francis – that the most vulnerable and excluded are the ones who need to take first place in our hearts and in our actions as individuals and as a society,” Australian Catholic Social Justice Council chairman Parramatta Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen said.
Pope Francis denounces economic structures that take a purely utilitarian view of human beings, treating them as mere elements of production, to be thrown away if they are not seen as useful or productive.
Despite Australia’s economic successes over 25 years, Bishop Long said workplace conditions and security of employment had been eroded.
“Hundreds of thousands of people find themselves in poverty even though they have a job. Meanwhile, for those who depend on welfare payments, life has been made far harder,” he said.
The statement points to a housing crisis in Australia.
“In major cities and towns the prospect of buying or even renting a home is moving out of reach, even for those with decent jobs. Emerging groups such as older Australians, particularly women, are at risk of becoming homeless,” he said.
“Our Indigenous sisters and brothers continue to be over-represented in key areas of disadvantage, including life expectancy, illness and imprisonment.”
Throughout the statement runs the theme of Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.
“In this passage, all find a place in a fruitful world and are rewarded according to their intrinsic dignity. We pray for the grace to bring this vision about in our own world,” Bishop Long said.
The statement calls for an economy founded on true solidarity for the most vulnerable and by rejecting an “ideology of the market” that forgets justice and equity.
It quotes Pope Francis’ critique of trickle-down economic theories “which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, wil inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world”.
“This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting,” the statement quotes the Pontiff.
The statement demands businesses must benefit all society, not just shareholders.
And it calls for the excluded and vulnerable to have a voice in decision-making.
“God is calling us to use his bounty wisely, for the good of all and of our planet,” the statement said.
Catholics celebrate Social Justice Sunday on September 24.
For further details about the Social Justice Statement, visit the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council website (www.socialjustice.catholic.org.au) or call (02) 8306 3499.