Peter Whiting.

Proud. As seen on a tram stop on Collins Street, Melbourne just before Australia Day. Shawn Smith.

Wedged appropriately into the two days between the Easter celebration of the Resurrection, with its promise of a new order, and the Anzac Day commemorations acknowledging the sacrifice of many for the basic values of life and freedom, the two-day Earth@Peace conference in Melbourne in April addressed action for a Just & Ecologically Sustainable Peace.

Social Policy Connections was one of the sponsoring organisations, which, under the leader of Professor Joseph Camilleri, aimed at an informed and thought-provoking focus on how to foster peace in such a critical environmental crisis, “the ethical imperative of our time”. Conference presenters spoke powerfully to the imperative for cogent responses to the emerging new threats to human and planetary life, recognising :

  • That humans are embedded in creation, with responsibility to work towards a world which respects and nurtures all the orders of creation
  • The wisdom of the great religions as a source of affirmation and inspiration for a peaceful and just world
  • The insights and knowledge of First Peoples
  • The common good of creation elevated above individualistic and nationalistic greed.

All sessions were streamed live, and will shortly be accessible on

Islam, Christianity, & human wellbeing

The atrocities in Christchurch and Sri Lanka amplify the urgent need to rediscover and legitimise this ‘ethical imperative’ for a just world. Sadly, these two events are but part of a large litany of failures to instil genuinely communal values and praxis into our vision for the world. It is time for religious and political leaders to be outspoken and inspirational in the pursuit of a just and ecologically sustainable world.

Pope Francis has been a champion in pursuit of a just and peaceful world. In this newsletter, Bruce Duncan reports on the Pope’s remarkable dialogue with Islamic leaders during his February visit to Abu Dhabi, evident in their signing the landmark document, Human Fraternity for World Peace & Living Together. Sadly, his message of fraternity stands at odds with much of the political rhetoric we encounter today.

Philip Almond’s article, How western attitudes towards Islam have changed, offers an historical perspective on relationships between Islam and the West. He argues that the clash today is not between religions, but rather “a struggle within religions and within cultures, between theologies, ethics, political ideologies, ethnicities, exclusivism, and inclusivism”.

In Australia, we have certainly in recent years seen theologies, political ideologies, culture wars, and issues of exclusion as divisive factors in society. We need a shared vision for Australia if we are to establish a just and ecologically sustainable future.

Sorting through election issues

With Federal elections upon us, we can – not surprisingly – find many visionary statements rejecting such division and looking to an improved future. Regrettably, our political parties remain issue- and ideology-bound, and adversarial rather than unitive.  The Australian Council of Social Services has prepared a very useful comparison of the policies of the major parties.

Marc Hudson, in The Conversation article In Australia, climate policy battles are endlessly reheated, catalogues the 20-year systematic failure of our politicians to address climate change. He is not hopeful that current election policies will help: “We’ve spent two decades digging a deep hole for ourselves. It’s still not clear when or how we can climb out”.

Senior research fellow at the University of Queensland and a lead author for the UN’s Sixth Global Environment Outlook: Healthy Planet, Healthy People (2019), Pedro Fidelman comments on the UN report and Australia’s response to climate change issues. He calls for immediate action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the targets in the Paris Agreement.

John Falzon, in his Eureka Street article Charity is no substitute for justice expresses his concern – while acknowledging the excellent work of charities – that governments have in many cases abrogated their responsibilities to fund and provide services, increasingly relying on philanthropy. 

Election commentaries from the Australian churches reinforce the need for our national vision to provide for greater inclusion, compassion, and promotion of the common good. The Uniting Church has released Our Vision for a Just Australia, nominating seven foundational areas underpinning their vision and hopes for Australia.

The Salvation Army has focused on the immediate ills of our society in calling on political parties to make clear their policy responses in five areas which are currently giving rise to hardship and dislocation in many lives.

The Catholic Bishops acknowledge that the ongoing revelations of child sexual abuse have undermined their credibility, but nonetheless offer their thoughts in “a spirit of solidarity”. They emphasise our shared calling to promote peace, our responsibility to care for the needy and vulnerable, and greater urgency in closing the gap between Indigenous and other Australians. In a pastoral letter released to mark the feast day of St Joseph the Worker on 1 May, the bishops seek an “economy of inclusion”, ensuring adequate employment opportunities for workers and a living wage enshrined in legislation.

In a similar vein, Anglicare Australia has called on the Federal Government and Opposition to sign on to key commitments to elevate fairness in Australia. In open letters, they call for job creation programs, an increase to Newstart, and the creation of an independent commission to set social security payments.

Our politicians would do well to pay heed to the call of the churches. Their agencies are acutely aware of the shortfalls in current policies, and of the resulting human suffering.

As we head to the polls in coming weeks, the Earth@Peace conference helped indicate how to meet our pressing social challenges today: domestic violence, hardship for the poor and vulnerable, decreasing equality, ecological disasters, growth in far-right movements – all remind us vividly of the need to work for an ecologically sustainable peace as the ethical imperative of our time.

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