Social Policy Connections emerged out of discussions in 2005-2006 among people concerned to bring the social traditions of the churches into vibrant engagement with current issues in social policy, including providing a strong voice in social advocacy.
We resolved to review selected social policies in close relation with the Gospel imperatives of social justice, equity, compassion and solidarity with the oppressed and distressed. These values are, of course, shared by many others, including secular and non-Christian groups, with whom SPC cooperates whenever possible.
The establishment committee consisted of Dr Stephen Ames, Dr Bruce Duncan, Mr Peter Evans, Ms Suzanne McManus, Mr Jamie Pearce, Dr Paul Rule, Mr Frank Webber (treasurer) and Mr Peter Whiting as chair.
SPC does not claim to speak for the churches, but speaks in its own name as an independent organisation inviting serious collaboration among people inspired by Gospel values.
SPC draws on the extensive traditions of social justice and activism in the churches, including the writings and experience in Catholic social traditions, and the advocacy and commitment of the Anglican, Methodist and non-conformist traditions, exemplified in earlier campaigns to abolish slavery and reform industrial conditions. With many other groups, these Christian traditions are today helping drive the Make Poverty History campaign, for example.
SPC’s public events 2006-2007
SPC’s first public event was to host a forum in November 2006 with Professor John Langmore and The Age economics editor, Mr Tim Colebatch, evaluating the recent G-20 meeting in Melbourne. At the invitation of Fr Peter Norden SJ in January 2007, SPC moved into an office behind St Ignatius church in Richmond. We were greatly assisted at this stage by Ms Jo Rawson, who organised our office, network, and communications.
With some initial funding from a number of Catholic religious orders and elsewhere, the establishment committee of SPC developed a paid membership and expanded its networking, especially with like-minded groups and social agencies. MacKillop Family Services and the Brigidine Sisters were particularly supportive, and Mr Graham McKern gave us invaluable advice about fundraising, as we began organising a website and planning to establish a research institute within the Melbourne College of Divinity.
During 2007, SPC organised a series of five public forums, with :
• Prof Imad Moosa and Dr Scott Burchill, speaking on scenarios for peace in Iraq
• Prof Rob Watts and Matthew Ricketson from The Age on truth-telling and ‘spin’ in politics
• Prof Brian Howe and Prof Tony Coady on religion and politics
• Fr Charles Rue and Ms Penny Evans (with the Stop Global Warming Group) on spirituality and climate change
• Fr Peter Norden SJ and Dr Ray Cleary speaking on fairness in Australia.
SPC held its first AGM on 1 December 2007 and elected its Board of Directors: Dr Stephen Ames, Dr Bruce Duncan, Mr Peter Evans, Ms Suzanne McManus, Mr Jamie Pearce, Dr Paul Rule, Mr Frank Webber (treasurer), and Mr Peter Whiting as chair. Stephen Ames later switched over to chair the Board of the Yarra Institute.
During 2008, the Yarra Institute for Religion & Social Policy took shape, with Dr Bruce Duncan as Director, and an eminent Board consisting of Dr Stephen Ames, Dr Rowan Ireland, Dr Paul Rule, Dr Robyn Reynolds and Drs Therese and Jim D’Orsa. Dr Wes Campbell joined in August 2008, and Dr Peter Price later in the year. After Jo Rawson left to establish her own business, Ms Emmy Silvius stepped into the role of office manager in March 2008.
The SPC website finally went live in June 2008, greatly expanding our communication as well as allowing members to contribute articles. We were particularly grateful to MacMillop Family Services for their assistance and for finance from the Brigidine Sisters in making the site possible. Quantum Interactive in Perth was our generous web provider and helped us in innumerable ways.
On 8 August 2008, SPC moved from the St Ignatius Centre in Richmond into new facilities at Yarra Theological Union in Box Hill, Melbourne. The Study Centre at YTU provided wonderful facilities for public events, with an auditorium and large break-out room for drinks and conversations.
The Yarra Institute also moved into the YTU Study Centre at Box Hill, along with the Redemptorist Social Justice Library. The Yarra Institute was formally endorsed by the Council of Yarra Theological Union in November 2008, but since the Study Centre had not been formally opened, the Yarra Institute was not officially launched by the Professor Brian Howe until 23 April 2009.
SPC resumed its public events in 2008, with Rev Joel Edwards, incoming head of Micah Challenge International, speaking in October on the Millennium Development Goals, and Dr Hilary Martin OP speaking in November on the federal intervention in the Northern Territory.
There was also a change in SPC Board membership. Changes in work commitments led Mr Peter Evans to resign in July 2008, and Ms Suzanne McManus in October.
As the Victorian firestorms raged, the global financial crisis continued to wreak havoc in economies everywhere. Our newsletters monitored the progress of the GFC. SPC was very pleased to welcome to its Board Ms Judy Benson and Mark Walsh in August, and Dr Arthur Gibbs in November. At the AGM in November, Mr Frank Webber retired as Board member and Treasurer, after shepherding SPC and the Yarra Institute so competently through its early years.
Mr Bill Frilay and Dr Brian Lewis became regular contributors to our website with their articles, and, on behalf of SPC, Bill prepared a submission in April to the Inquiry into Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. Mr Joe Annetts contributed valuable assistance with the SPC office and website. And we were particularly indebted to Mr Matthew Howard, the Redemptorist IT man, for his advice and web support, particularly filing our events for Youtube, itunes and as podcasts. SPC’s website was developing and embracing the new media possibilities.
SPC continued with its public forums, hosting:
US tax specialist John Fox on ‘Making taxation more equitable’
Geoff Lacey and Stephen Ames making ‘A response to global warming’
Professor John Langmore on the Global Financial Crisis
Professor Brian Johnstone CSsR spoke on moral aspects of the war in Iraq
Dr Hugh Jackson on ‘Australians and the Personal God’
In November, SPC and the Yarra Institute sponsored a forum on Pope Benedict’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, with Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier, Dr Rufus Black Master of Ormond College, and Ms Julie Edwards CEO of Jesuit Social Services. An edited version of this event was broadcast on ABC radio national.
With federal and Victorian elections both due in 2010, SPC consulted with members and supporters about priorities, and organised a number of workshops for people wishing to speak with their local members of parliament. Mr Barney Cooney, offered valuable suggestions from his earlier experience as a Labor Senator. Peter Whiting, Bruce Duncan, Bill Frilay and Audra Kunciunas later met with Senator Jacinta Collins in her office at Box Hill.
The work of SPC took a major step forward when in June Ms Audra Kunciunas became our first Executive Officer. Her background in publishing and theology brought significant expertise to our operation.
Our public forums in 2010 featured:
Revd Dr Andre Karamaga, on ‘New hope for Africa’
Dr Thomas Bartlett and Dr Paul Rule, ‘The Australia-China relationship’
Dr Stephen Ames, ‘God and the natural sciences’
Dr John Warhurst, ‘Religion, politics and social issues in the 2010 election’
Ms Caz Coleman, ‘What now for asylum seekers?’
Phil Glendenning, ‘Asylum seekers and mandatory detention’
Hon Alastair Nicholson, ‘Human Rights & the NT Intervention’
The AGM on 4 December 2010 welcomed three new members to the Board: Mss Livia Carusi, Michaela Guthridge and Madeleine Marson. Work commitments were pressing Judy Benson to resign from the Board, along with Mark Walsh who was going to the Philippines for a year, and Dr Paul Rule, who will concentrate his energies on the Yarra Institute Board. Peter Whiting continued as chair of SPC, with Jamie Pearce, Arthur Gibbs and Bruce Duncan remaining on the Board.
The year 2011 began with the launch of the redeveloped SPC website. Our thanks go to Matthew Howard for his patient work with this, allowing greatly increased opportunities for readers and members to join in the conversation.
SPC determined in 2010/11 to focus on four key areas:
- Immigration & Refugee Policy
- Climate Change response
- Overseas Aid provided by Australia
- Indigenous Welfare Policy
Our public forums reflected this focus. Some excellent presentations were provided by
Prof. Tilman Ruff (ICAN) and Rev Harry Kerr (Pax Christi) on progress towards nuclear disarmament;
Phil Glendenning (Edmund Rice Centre, Sydney) on releasing children from detention.
Geoff Lacey continued our focus on climate change issues.
Collaboration with like-minded organisations bore fruit with the public forum in June 2011 on Human Trafficking which involved speakers from ACRATH, the Good Shepherd Mission & Justice Unit, and the Anti-Slavery Project based in Sydney.
In July, SPC organised a major conference on “The churches and public policy” with keynote speakers Mr Robert Fitzgerald and John Falzon from the national St Vincent de Paul Society, and other leaders from church social agencies in Victoria.
In August, Marc Purcell, Executive Director Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), talked to our forum on the increasing scope and refinement in Australia’s overseas aid program.
In October, SPC collaborated with St Vincent de Paul and the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) for a forum on “Poverty and Human Rights”. The keynote speaker was Cassandra Goldie, president of ACOSS, with respondents Michaela Guthridge (Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand) and Lucy Adams (PILCH).
At the end of the financial year, our Executive Officer, Audra Kunciunas, moved to live in regional Victoria. Her networking with like-minded organisations was very beneficial to SPC and continued to aid us in our growth. Our administration was ably managed by Susy Herlihy, with help from our generous volunteers.
During the year, the Board welcomed new members: Livia Carusi from St Vincent de Paul, Michaela Guthridge (Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand), Maddie Marson, and more recently, Eddie Chapman (UnitingCare Community Options).
SPC had a busy year with various events, as recorded in our monthly newsletters. The speakers included:
- Brian Lawrence, Chair of the Australian Catholic Commission for Employment Relations, who spoke in March on Working families, social inclusion and fair wages.
- Gabriela Byrne in May spoke of her experience as a pokie addict, and how she has helped others overcome their gambling addiction.
- Kevin Peoples spoke in June on his new book, Santamaria’s Salesman: Working for the National Catholic Rural Movement.
- Dr Race Mathews in July talked on Cooperatives, social equity and participation.
- With Franciscans International, SPC jointly hosted Joseph Rozansky OFM in August, speaking on Franciscan perspectives on peace and the environment.
- Dr Philip Mendes from Monash University spoke in August on problems of ensuring equity in the social security system.
- Collaborating with St Vincent de Paul Society and VCOSS, PILCH, and the Justice & International Unit of the Uniting Church, SPC jointly convened a conference on Human Rights Matters for Anti-Poverty Week in October, with keynote speaker again being Cassandra Goldie, head of ACOSS, together with Mark Zirnsak, Fr Frank Brennan and others.
- Professor Kevin O’Connor spoke in October of improved city planning for Melbourne.
- Our final forum was presented by Bruce Duncan CSsR on Faith, values and social policy.
We continued to leverage the reach of our lectures and publications, with our SPC website offering access to these through podcasts and Youtube clips available on the various social media sites. Our thanks go to Matthew Howard for his work in this keeping us up to date in this area. During 2012, the number of people accessing the website doubled, with 35,000 unique visitors, and half a million pages opened.
Anne Tuohey, the Executive Officer, wrote many of our editorials, kept us in touch with the social justice sector and represented us at various forums and events. Our office coordination was again ably managed by Susy Herlihy. There were some changes to the Board, as
Arthur Gibbs, Livia Carusi, Michaela Guthridge and Maddie Marson moved into other commitments. SPC was extremely grateful for their contributions to our joint endeavour.
None of this would have been possible but for the support and encouragement of many people, for their pro bono contributions, and for essential financial support. Most significant has been the financial support of the Redemptorist Community in Australia. SPC remains dependent on such ongoing support to continue to develop.
SPC welcomes new collaborators in this project, and invites your involvement with your expertise, skills, resources, and financial support.