Report by Peter Whiting.
As you will see on our website, the purpose of Social Policy Connections is ‘to expand awareness of social justice issues in Australia and overseas, and to influence public policy for the benefit of all people’. It is not surprising, then, to find our contributors lamenting the so-called economic rationalism of Australian governments, bent, it seems, on subordinating society to the economy.
In this December newsletter, Rik Sutherland in Aiding whom? summarises the shift to declining levels of Australian overseas aid. Previous contributors have focused on such diverse aspects as the treatment of asylum seekers, the changing nature of work and wages policy, climate change, indigenous issues, aspects of social inequality, and the incidence of poverty.
Just this recital indicates how broad are the social justice issues we try to influence and how wide are the impacts of government policy. It is not difficult to lose the coherence of social policy when immersed in such a range of matters.
It was apt, then, that our final speaker for 2014 at our Annual General Meeting was Professor Paul Smyth, addressing the topic of Harnessing the Economy to the Good Society. As a commentator on economic thought and social policy, he asserts that neoliberalism is discredited, with economics moving into issues of ‘inclusive growth’. Growth in GDP is no longer sufficient; it must be economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. The responsibility of the state should be to providing for its constituents the resources necessary for creating a way of living consistent with their capabilities and values.
What does this mean for the churches and community groups such as SPC? Professor Smyth speaks of the need for ‘re-imagining and reinventing their ideals of solidarity, fellowship, and the Good Society’. The immediate task is to build up the narrative of the Good Society, to affirm its key elements in a way that strikes a chord with public opinion and policy bodies. Clearly, this is an outcome to which bodies such as SPC can contribute.
Along with like-minded organisations, we need continually to champion a moral community in which policy is based on a strong sense of human dignity and sustaining communities which foster all involved in flourishing. Professor Smyth offered strategies for setting policy priorities and invoking community action to move towards the Good Society.
At the AGM, the committee was elected to take us into 2015. Professor Smyth’s address helps point the way forward not only for our committee, but also for everyone contributing to our endeavour, including our newsletter and website. It is not always a simple task to press home the shortcomings of current policy settings while promoting a clear and consistent view of the vision and values we hold for the Good Society.
We are of course by no means bereft of guidance in that respect. The long tradition of Christian social thought provides us with a rich resource. To this, we need to add imagination and innovation to enable our message to resonate with public opinion.
I thank all those who have supported the work of SPC so generously during 2014. It is a great fillip for those on the committee to see the level of support and engagement you demonstrate. On behalf of all at SPC, I wish each of you a happy and holy Christmas, and look forward to contributing together to moving towards the Good Society as a reality in 2015!