The dream of SPC is one for every generation.
It is illuminating to look back over a nineteen-year span, and consider goals achieved and aspirations unfulfilled. Bruce Duncan has done this in chronicling the history of Social Policy Connections (SPC) from its humble beginnings over a meal in 2002. He has also outlined the founding by SPC of the Yarra Institute for Religion and Social Policy. In that period, some things have remained constant, others are significantly changed.
What is largely unchanged is the originating thought behind SPC, namely that there was a need for an independent and ecumenical voice to advocate and educate on social policy issues from the perspective of Christian social thought.
At the turn of this century, the neoliberal agenda, which had gained traction in the years of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the USA, was the dominant economic construct in the West, and this presented then (as it still does today) a view fundamentally opposed to Christian social thought.
The underpinning concepts of Christian social thought, namely the dignity of the person and the need to advance the common good, were at risk of being lost under the neoliberal agenda of deregulation, privatisation, and reliance on inadequately regulated markets to produce optimal outcomes.
With some notable exceptions the Churches in Australia were focused on other moral issues, and largely silent on the impacts of current government policies, particularly upon the poor and underprivileged.
These impacts are starkly obvious today in an Australia in which there is great inequity in wealth, income, and opportunity. We need as much today as we did in 2002 an independent Christian voice challenging governments on their economic policies, indigenous rights performance, asylum seeker attitudes, climate change approaches, and their propensity to involve Australia in foreign wars.
The history of SPC’s involvements contained in Bruce Duncan’s historical account shows that the concerned voice raised a wide range of social justice issues, and consistently looked to Christian social thought as the guiding principle. It is instructive to see what was done in that time. We have much to take pride in, even as we see there remains much to be done!
Crying need continues for informed Christian engagement in public social forums
What has changed, however, is the way in which Australians seek information. The rise of social media has seen a shift from face-to-face presentations and internet access to reliance on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and recently platforms like Zoom, especially during the Covid-19 crises. This shift has occurred faster than an essentially volunteer organisation like SPC has been able to manage. SPC is present in these media, but to be really accessible, we need services and skills unavailable to us, given our limited budgets.
The decision to put SPC into ‘care and maintenance’ mode communicated in our May newsletter is about making space to explore how SPC or a successor might best continue as a much needed Christian voice on social policy.
It would be deeply regrettable to think of SPC falling silent, since the need for such a voice is even more urgent than ever at a time of such challenge and opportunity. SPC is the outcome of the work of many volunteers who shared the aspiration of creating a vibrant independent Christian voice on social policy. These volunteers and the many supporters who have travelled with us are too numerous to name here, and even to include a few would inevitably mean others as worthy are overlooked.
It falls to me then, as president of Social Policy Connections, on behalf of the Committee of Management, to thank those who in so many ways have assisted us on the journey. It is our fervent hope that SPC will re-emerge, rising again like the phoenix (maybe I should have used a more Christian analogy).
What remains very clear is the acute need for such independent, ecumenical Christian voices as Social Policy Connections in the area of public policy.