AS party leaders face the cameras, flitting from one battleground seat to another, and trying to win over middle Australia ahead of the May 18 federal poll, the Catholic bishops’ social services advisory body has reminded politicians Australia needs “a culture of inclusion, support and equality”.
“A nation’s success is not measured by the wealth of a few, but by the prosperity of all,” Catholic Social Services Australia said in a federal election statement.
CSSA called on politicians leading the next government to increase support for vulnerable families and Indigenous Australians, provide jobs for all and aid refugees.
“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,” CSSA said.
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Coalition presses for a third three-year term, opinion polls suggest former union leader Bill Shorten will front a Labor government, and become the eighth prime minister since the country plunged into an extraordinary period of political instability in 2007.
CSSA 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” had difficulties accessing welfare services.
The new government should set up a job guarantee program, CSSA 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 worked by creating jobs that benefitted communities and were 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 was needed so services were better co-ordinated and delivered within a community-led framework, it said.
Concerning Indigenous Australians, CSSA called for a new partnership, noting “unacceptable differences in health, education and employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians”.
“Reform the social services system
for Indigenous Australians so that it
is developed and delivered within a community-led and strengths-based framework (which includes longer contract terms and better co-ordination of service provision),” the statement said.
CSSA 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.
Mr Morrison is seen as the architect of a tough refugee policy, which has been condemned by rights groups as an abrogation of Australia’s responsibilities as a signatory to the United Nations 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?” CSSA asked.
In an election statement, the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference said policy issues Australians should consider before voting included 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 said.
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,” the bishops said.
“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.
“How can our community support women and their families in creating a more supportive and child-friendly community?” they asked.
“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.”
– Mark Bowling and CNS