Bruce Duncan.

13 July 2021.

Since Social Policy Connections’ humble beginnings nearly twenty years ago, hundreds of people have been involved in the journey of Social Policy Connections. It began from a sense of frustration that the churches, with their practical experience and strong social traditions, needed to engage much more constructively than in the past in the development of public policies in Australia, not just on social issues, but also in areas of war and peace, international aid and development, migration and refugees, economic policy, and environmental issues. Many of us were from Christian traditions committed to deepening ecumenical collaboration and learning from one another.

As Peter Whiting has said in his June editorial, it is impossible to thank by name all those who have helped SPC along its way by writing, facilitating, and supporting us over those years. I have tried in this historical sketch of SPC, however, to acknowledge many who have shared our journey. How can we possibly thank you all for your accompaniment and encouragement?

Such a sketch is not a proper history, of course, but is meant to indicate some of what SPC has achieved, as well as establishing in 2008 the Yarra Institute for Religion & Social Policy, which helped prepare the way in 2016 for the Centre for Religious & Social Policy within the University of Divinity. See HERE brief sketch of the story of the Yarra Institute.

In particular, I acknowledge especially the role of Peter Whiting, who has carried so much of the workload over all this time. With his professional skills, he has managed the business side of SPC, looking after finance, governance, and compliance requirements. In addition, as president of SPC, he has chaired our Board meetings, our AGMs, and most of our public forums. He has written many of our SPC editorials, and played a major role in our conversations with other social agencies and networks, including the University of Divinity, and our obliging hosts in Box Hill, the Yarra Theological Union.

May I also acknowledge those who served on the Board of Directors or other committees in recent years, often meeting in Box Hill. For many, this involved significant travel, along with commitment of time and energy. Especially significant were the growing ecumenical collaboration and friendships among busy people, particularly from the Uniting, Anglican, Catholic, and Salvation Army traditions. This commitment has been inspiring.

What of the future?

The experience of SPC confirms my belief that even stronger than ever ecumenical collaboration and engagement in debates on public policy are needed, and would be broadly welcomed in the community. Indeed, in view of increasing religious diversity in Australia, we should grow inter-faith collaboration, too.

To be successful, such a network of religious organisations and social agencies needs two things :

  • The ability to make judgments and statements on its own independent authority, even if partly reliant on funding from some of the same organisations.
  • Securing funding and resources to maintain professional staffing and activities.

When we began Social Policy Connections, I thought that, if we demonstrated what could be done, then we would be able to raise enough funding to pay staff and expand activities. Significant donations from religious and other organisations and individuals helped sustain SPC over the initial years. I particularly acknowledge the support and encouragement of my Redemptorist confreres who, like many others, consider work for social justice as an essential part of their ministry.

But our SPC efforts at fundraising were unable to secure adequate finances for staffing. Despite the enthusiasm of SPC members and supporters, we relied heavily on honorary contributions and volunteers. Few people with such specialised skills can work without remuneration, of course, and so we have not succeeded with succession planning. The disruption caused by the Covid-19 crisis brought matters to a head for SPC.

We at SPC realise that it is time to pass the baton to a younger generation inspired by similar hopes and dreams for renewed solidarity – as Pope Francis so strongly urges – in the struggle for increased equity and wellbeing, particularly at this time of such threat and peril.

For the next few years at least, SPC will continue to keep alive its website, with its online resources, and over a thousand articles on a wide range of issues. These resources are also preserved in the National Library digital database.

Readers would be aware that, in the last year or so, SPC has republished many articles from a number of splendid online sources. I recommend you examine these, if you do not already subscribe to them :

  • John Menadue’s Public Policy Journal, Pearls & Irritations
  • Michael West Media, with its independent critiques of politics and business practice
  • Inside Story for current affairs and culture from Australia and beyond, with extended articles of historical and political interest
  • RenewEconomy, with its detailed information on the rapid developments in renewable energy and the political obstacles they face.

Photo My future matters. Julian Meehan. flickr cc.

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