Monthly Archives: September 2006

Summary of the 2006 Social Justice Statement

The Heart of Our CountryDignity and justice for our Indigenous sisters and brothers

The Message Stick
We are first reminded of the Pass It On Message Stick Relay and its call to the Church.
We are told that the Message Sticks carry an invitation to all of us to celebrate the message of hope and reconciliation in our local communities. They also carry with them the call to reflect on the message delivered by Pope John Paul II and to evaluate the extent to which we have responded to that message over the past 20 years.

The Pope’s Message
Pope John Paul II identified four very important issues when he spoke to the Aboriginal people in Blatherskite Park at Alice Springs:

He challenged all Australians to ensure the preservation of Indigenous cultures and to keep working for an inclusive multicultural Australia.

He called us to seek and explore the points of agreement between Indigenous traditions and those of Jesus and all his people.

He praised the way the Indigenous peoples had cared for the land and then challenged us to learn together how to preserve our fragile environment.

Finally, by naming past hurts and continuing injustices, John Paul II confronted us as a nation with the need to move towards true reconciliation.

The statement asks us what has been done over the past twenty years to respond to the Pope’s challenges and what is still to be done.

Maintaining Indigenous Culture
The Pope urged the Church to be encouraging and supportive of efforts by Indigenous people to maintain those elements of their culture, spirituality and history which they wished to retain and remember.

It acknowledges some efforts to help Indigenous people to do this, including two-way learning programmes in the Kimberleys and efforts in other parts of Australia to teach Indigenous languages.

The statement points out that non-Indigenous Australians can learn from Indigenous culture too. It particularly mentions what benefits might be gained through the capacity of Indigenous people for a deep, inner listening.

Dialogue of Cultures
The statement also reminds us of the Pope’s desire that Indigenous culture and spirituality be respected, embraced and welcomed by the Church in the same way that it has tried to support and welcome migrant cultures.

In this regard, it highlights the efforts of Nungalinya College to bring Christian and Indigenous spiritualities into dialogue and challenges us to find ways to be more inclusive of Indigenous culture and spirituality in our own faith communities.

Caring for the Land
The Pope also recognized the intimate relationship which Indigenous people have with the land – a relationship which is far more than functional. Caring for the land is much more than ensuring that people’s welfare is protected. The relationship between Indigenous people and the land has an immense spiritual significance in that it says something about the relationship between human beings and God.

The statement acknowledges that the recognition in law of land rights has been the most significant shift in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia.
While the process and the outcomes have been imperfect, the Bishops say the rights this shift has given to Indigenous people should never be taken away.

The statement also recognizes that the intimacy of the relationship between human beings and the rest of Creation is something emphasized in the Christian tradition, but this understanding has been lost. The statement says that the spirituality of Indigenous people has much to offer in efforts to recover the importance of this understanding in our Christian tradition.

Restitution for Past Hurts
The Pope also acknowledged that there were many wrongs experienced by Indigenous people in the past. Chief among these for him was the forced removal of children from their families and communities.

The Pope said that these wrongs have had their lasting effect in terms of on-going social and economic disadvantage.

While he recognizes that these wrongs cannot be undone, there must be concerted efforts on the part of the Church and our nation to address the consequences and remedy them.

Reclaiming the Message
The Bishops affirm the Pope’s message; they reclaim it and pass it on to all the members of the Church to embrace and act on with urgency and commitment.

Commission Urges Church to Make Long-Term Commitment to Reconciliation

Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission today urged Catholic parishes, schools, bodies and agencies to make a long-term commitment to reconciliation in response to the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement for 2006.

In their statement, the Bishops reclaimed and passed on Pope John Paul II’s message of twenty years ago when he addressed Indigenous Australians in Alice Springs.

The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that it is the strong desire of the Commission that every part of the Church in Brisbane responds to the Bishops’ Statement with enthusiasm and commitment.

“Just as Pope John Paul did, our Bishops are throwing out a significant challenge to the Church in Australia,” Mr Arndt said.

“The Bishops highlighted four major elements in the Popes’ message,” he said.

“They stressed the need for supporting efforts to preserve Indigenous culture and for a dialogue between Indigenous culture and spirituality and the Christian tradition,” he said.

“They also emphasised the importance of caring for the land, of supporting land rights for Indigenous people and of doing what is possible to remedy the hurts of the past,” he said.

“Much has been done and this should be acknowledged and celebrated, but this year’s Social Justice Statement will help us to re-focus our efforts in critical areas,” he said.

Mr Arndt emphasised the importance of supporting the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People which will come before the UN General Assembly by the end of this year and for the Plan of Action which has been developed to follow up the Declaration.

This was the principal focus of the Commission’s recent Social Justice Gathering and it will be making efforts to promote greater awareness of and action in support of the Declaration and the Plan.

“Australia is one of only a couple of countries which have refused to support the Declaration and encouraging our politicians to support it would be one worthwhile and practical response to the Australian Bishops’ call,” Mr Arndt said.

“The Commission will continue to work with its Indigenous advisory group to keep the call of our Bishops and Pope John Paul before the Church of Brisbane and to provide resources to help Catholics to take action,” he said.

Mr Arndt also encouraged Catholics in Brisbane and other parts of Queensland to develop close relationships with local Indigenous people and communities in the wake of the recent State election.

“During the election period, the Commission urged politicians and electors to focus more attention on the most marginalised people, especially Indigenous Queenslanders,” Mr Arndt said.

“Since the re-election of the Beattie Government, we have seen the integration of Indigenous policy into the Communities Department and this provoked great concern among many Indigenous people,” he said.

“The Premier has said that having a Minister with sole responsibility for Indigenous policy did not work and that ‘mainstreaming’ Indigenous affairs has more chance of working,” he said.

“None of this seemed to be aired as part of the election campaign and it is concerning that the Premier has provided no substantial analysis and assessment of the situation before taking this significant step,” he said.

“What Indigenous people keep saying is that the Government is not getting anywhere because of the attitude it adopts with Indigenous people and communities,” he said.

“They are upset that the Government is more interested in telling Indigenous people what they ought to do instead of developing meaningful partnerships with them,” he said.

“There must be a greater commitment on the part of both the Labor Government and the Coalition Opposition to work with Indigenous people to eradicate enormous disadvantage within Indigenous communities while maintaining Indigenous culture and identity,” he said.

“Over the next three years, there will be a need for Catholics to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices which challenge our political leaders to take concerted action to, at last, offer dignified lives to the first peoples of our land,” he said.

Commission Welcomes Government Announcement on Outworkers

Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has welcomed the announcement by Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, that the Government would accept the recommendations of a Senate Committee report on the impact of the Independent Contractors Bill on outworkers in the clothing industry.

The Bill is a follow-up to the WorkChoices legislation which came into force in March and is currently being considered by the Federal Parliament.

The Commission has been part of a national lobbying campaign on the Bill by groups associated with FairWear, an organization which campaigns for the rights of outworkers in the clothing industry.

The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that the Commission saw the need to support efforts to ensure that very vulnerable workers were not open to greater exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous employers.

“Many outworkers in our State are women from non- English speaking backgrounds who make clothing at home,” Mr Arndt said.

“It is unacceptable that some employers intimidate these workers into accepting poor wages and conditions,” he said.

“Many States like Queensland provide protections for these outworkers in the relevant State industrial legislation, but the Independent Contractors Bill, as it stood, made it possible for unscrupulous employers to get around these protections by making outworkers agree to being classed as independent contractors rather than as employees,” he said.

“It made it possible for employers to force vulnerable workers to agree to poor pay rates,” he said.

“As a result of the efforts of organizations associated with FairWear, the Senate Committee looking at the new legislation made some recommendations to the Government which Mr Andrews accepted on behalf of the Government,” he said.

“We are very grateful to members of the Committee, led by Liberal Senator Judith Troeth, for understanding our concerns about outworkers,” he said.

“It is wonderful that Mr Andrews has accepted the Committee’s recommendations and we look forward to appropriate amendments being made to the Bill,” he said.

“The Commission facilitated the lobbying effort in Queensland and we are particularly grateful to Senator Barnaby Joyce for his help in the matter,” he said.

“While we are happy that outworker protections are going to remain, the Commission appeals to the Government to heed the concerns of Australia’s Catholic Bishops about the thrust of its workplace relations reforms,” he said.

For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.