Regrettably, many of us have by now become inured to those frequent advertisements asking us to sponsor an animal under threat of extinction. Even more sadly, we do not respond with quite the same generosity as of old to similar requests to support children in distress in countries torn apart by war, famine, or natural disaster.
In what we should regard as an alarming new development, we now receive sponsorship requests to support an Australian child living in poverty. An Australian child! What has happened that we would allow such a scandal to develop in Australia ?
In November’s SPC News, we feature a summary of the address given by Brian Lawrence, speaking at an Anti-Poverty Week event. Lawrence cites recent research showing that one child in six aged below fifteen years of age is living in poverty. A significant element contributing to this situation is the wages policy adopted by the Fair Work Commission (FWC), which adopts a single-person criterion for wage setting, to the detriment of single-income parents who find themselves unable to lift their children out of poverty.
If the FWC is to continue in this mode, then clearly government supports for low-income families must be increased to avoid Australian families living in conditions of poverty.
This is no fatuous observation. We are seeing clear signs of unease with the status quo beyond such advertising for sponsorship of an Australian child living in poverty. Our media is regularly reporting on the increasing division between rich and poor, whether it be in income, housing, or general wealth.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) recently organised rallies in the capital cities, protesting the record low wage growth. The Reserve Bank acknowledges that the slow rate of wage growth continues to be a drag on the economy. Meanwhile, corporate profits continue to be strong, as the economy slowly adjusts to the end of the mining boom.
I remember well studying economics at Melbourne University in the 1960s, and my esteemed lecturer Professor Wilfred Prest emphasising the importance in ‘public finance’ (as it was then called) of the income redistribution element of taxation policy as an integral component of social equity, as well as a stimulating factor in overall demand in the economy. Have we lost sight entirely of the concept of social equity?
In his article reviewing the 2018-2019 Social Justice Statement of the Australian Catholic Bishops, titled A place to call home– making a home for everyone in our land, Tony French prefers the terminology of ‘the common good’ to that of ‘social equity’, but the call is the same. It is incumbent on governments, as Tony impresses upon us, to find effective solutions to the problem of homelessness. The article acknowledges that homelessness has many causes, with poverty being but one. Housing is a human right, and essential to human dignity and flourishing. Put simply, as a society we owe it to those in our midst with insecure housing arrangements to find a way.
Also in this month’s newsletter, with the prospects of a new arms race starting, Bruce Duncan looks at Church efforts to mobilise consciences in support of efforts to lift human wellbeing through the Sustainable Development Goals, avert climate change, and develop a new culture of nonviolence.
Growing alarm about the climate crisis
Concerns about the ‘common good’ have striking relevance, when considering climate change. A recent landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls for action to limit global temperature rise to 1.5º C. As Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel wrote, achieving this will be extremely challenging, and success will depend primarily on the rate at which government and non-state bodies take action to reduce emissions.
Yet, despite the urgency, current national pledges under the Paris Agreement are not enough to remain within a 3℃ temperature limit, let alone 1.5℃. As John Menadue points out, the implications for the common good of humanity are enormous, and failure will result in huge migrations of people away from flooded or desertified lands.
Mark Howden and Rebecca Colvin examine whether this goal is achievable, and what would need to be done. Elsewhere, Professor Ross Garnaut highlights the importance of a price on carbon and using market forces to reduce emissions. Iain Stewart in The Conversation, and likewise Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, sketch how to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Our SPC board member, Anglican priest Chris Mulherin, also in The Conversation, rejects scepticism about the science of climate change, arguing that the truth claims scientific progress, not by claiming absolute certainties, but increased levels of probability.
The Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement ends with the sentence: ‘Everyone deserves a place to call home’. When we allow people to live in poverty among us, when we tolerate homelessness, when we do not respond to the outcomes threatened by man-made climate change, then we really do have to question whether we have lost the sense of the common good entirely and substituted for it a short-term aim of self-gratification.