Caltex Petrol Station. Matthew Paul Argall. flickr cc.

Our tax, wage, and social benefit systems are broken. 

Bruce Duncan notes the mounting concern about business practices which ignore social responsibilities to the community and to their own workers. This is demonstrated by the widespread malpractice in major franchises. As John Hewson wrote, our current system is inequitable and unsustainable.

Two significant conferences have recently focused on the need for a major reform to our tax, wage, and benefit systems. One of these was organised by the Melbourne Institute and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, and largely involved economists examining the importance for us today of the Henderson poverty enquiry 50 years ago. The other conference, organised by Catholic Social Services Victoria, also focused on issues of equity, justice, and practical reforms.

Dr Allan Patience

Prominent writer on international affairs

Wednesday 14 March 7:30-9pm

Yarra Theological Union Study Centre
34 Bedford Street Box Hill
Light refreshments after the meeting. Donations welcome. Download the flyer.

Associate Professor Allan Patience is a Principal Fellow in the School of Social & Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. He has recently published Australian Foreign Policy in Asia: Middle Power or Awkward Partner, examining what kind of `middle power’ Australia is, and whether its identity as a middle power negatively influences its relationship with Asia.

A new start for NEWSTART, and a long-term vision to address poverty

Vin Martin reports on the conference ‘Social Security Reform: Revisiting Henderson, Poverty, & Basic Income’, organised by the Melbourne Institute and the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Professor Henderson, then Director of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne, developed the ‘poverty line’ concept, still measured and refined to this day to calculate the numbers of people in poverty.

Since the Inquiry, research into deprivation suffered by different groups allows us to identify those most in need. But conference participants heard how a gap had emerged between pensions and benefits, access to benefits was increasingly conditional, and the administration of conditionality is insensitive to the human pain and anxiety associated with vulnerability and uncertainty for those experiencing poverty.

Herding in the city. Shawn Harquail. flickr cc.

In Chile and Peru, Pope Francis sharpens Gospel imperative of justice and fairness

Rowan Ireland

Pope Francis addressed global issues of social justice and the mission of the Church, with vivid, sometimes startling, reference to local realities. Both in Chile and in Peru, he celebrated historical and contemporary achievements in social justice and social inclusion as signs of hope .

But he also noted corruption, through which communitarian resources are milked for private or sectional gain. His remarks were especially relevant in Peru, presently wracked by massive corruption scandals extending to the highest levels of government. He identified various forms of neo-colonialism undermining dialogic development. In mining and frontier areas in both countries, he found ‘neo-extractivism’, an exclusive focus on extracting natural resources for sale elsewhere, regardless of costs to the natural and human environments.

2002 Bulmers Scania. Carl Spencer. flickr cc.

Infrastructure, rent-seekers, & lobbyists

John Menadue

In modern Australia, it’s hard to imagine an area more ripe for such reform than transport infrastructure. The amounts of money in play are too large to ignore; their opportunity costs to education, health, welfare and defence are vast.

In the short term, in New South Wales in particular, the only way to get to the bottom of the complex mess of secretive, puzzling, and stratospherically-expensive transport deals is via a Royal Commission or Judicial Inquiry. The need for such action is increasingly urgent.

111027-123058. Jochen Bullerjahn. flickr cc.

To close the health gap, we need programs that work. Here are three of them :

Neale Cohen, Jonathan Carapetis, & Sue Kildea, from The Conversation

Rheumatic heart disease is a rarity in mainstream Australia. But in remote communities of northern and central Australia, it continues largely unabated. The average age of death from the disease in Aboriginal people is 40. Many children and adolescents are among those who die. Rheumatic heart disease is responsible for the highest gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, higher than diabetes or kidney failure.

Yet it is preventable. It’s caused by an abnormal immune reaction to infections by the Group A Streptococcus bacterium (that causes strep throat and skin sores). The reaction causes inflammation in heart valves (part of the condition known as rheumatic fever). If left untreated, this can progress to rheumatic heart disease.

US Navy Aircraft Carrier USS John C Stennis. Defence Images. flickr cc.

On our alliance with the United States, surely we can do better

Joe Camilleri

The US National Security Strategy, unveiled recently by Defense Secretary Mattis, delivers a stark message. Countering China’s rise and Russia’s resurgence are once again at the core of US policy. Whether in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, the United States is readying itself for conflicts, and building the hard and soft infrastructure needed to prosecute them. The Cold War mindset is alive and well. Conspicuously absent are any notion of neo-isolationism or renewed dialogue with Russia, both of which featured prominently during the Trump campaign.

These are deeply disturbing trends for Australia, for they imply an almost inexorable slide into further military engagements at the side of the United States, some foreseeable, others not.

The White-faced Heron hunts in the wetlands and along the Yarra River. John Hutchison.

Yarra Flats Melbourne. Freeway link & ecological network.

Geoff Lacey

Towards the end of 2017, the Victorian Government put forward a proposal to build a North-East Link Freeway. Their preferred route follows the Greensborough Highway south, and connects with the Eastern Freeway. VicRoads would use tunnelling in some of the ‘residential and sensitive environmental areas’. The tunnel would cross under the Yarra River at Banyule Flats.

The proposal has met with protests. In fact, we find here a deep clash of values.

Congratulations to Race Mathews.

Notre Dame Press publishes Of Labour & Liberty: Distributism in Victoria 1891-1966

Race Mathews’s recent book, Of Labour & Liberty: Distributism in Victoria 1891-1966, has been published by Notre Dame Press in the USA. This will bring Race’s 422-page study to a wide audience across the English-speaking world on Catholic social thinking, Distributism and the cooperative movements, Fabian Socialism, and Labor movements. It can be ordered online as a print copy for US$50, or as an ebook.

Race was formerly chief of staff to Gough Whitlam, and an MP in federal and Victorian parliaments. He has written widely on Labor movements and ideas, including Jobs of our Own: Building a Stakeholder Society, and Australia’s First Fabians: Middle-class Radicals, Labour Activists, and the Early Labour Movement.



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