When the Board of Social Policy Connections began late last year to prepare the program for 2015, it quickly became apparent that our list of issues looked very much like a re-run of 2014! Whether it was concern for the increasing inequality here and worldwide, our treatment of asylum seekers, government climate change policies, indigenous issues, or foreign aid reductions, they were issues we have been addressing for some time. It would be easy to become despondent, but armed with a good dose of ‘Christian hope’ Board members committed again to SPC’s advocacy role.
On Australia Day, the Prime Minister exercised his ‘captain’s pick’ and awarded a knighthood to Prince Philip. His ‘pick’ has proven spectacularly unpopular, and perhaps a better course would have been to honour an individual who has worked consistently to bring hope to Australians. There are many worthy individuals who would fit this description. Certainly, there are many organisations that would. Maybe the Brotherhood of St Lawrence, or Oxfam, or the Salvation Army… the list goes on. Each of these organisations is concerned to bring hope and aid to those in our society who are poor or marginalised.
Recently, Oxfam International drew attention to the global inequality issue pointing out that on current trends the richest 1% would own more than 50% of the world’s wealth by 2016. This is not an accidental outcome; it is the result of policies pursued by governments worldwide, yet – if there is the will – this inequality can be reduced. President Obama, for instance, is seeking to introduce a redistributive tax plan to provide revenues to aid working families. In the accompanying article, Bruce Duncan highlights the call of Pope Francis for us to “defend the poor, rather than defending ourselves from the poor.”
Perhaps the captain’s pick could have gone to someone who had worked tirelessly to promote a tolerant Australian society in which the dignity of individuals and groups is recognised. Respect for the value of human life, individual self-determination, and the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings are widely agreed values in Australian society. They are indeed essential values if Australian democracy is to flourish. Brian Johnstone, in his article, considers the implications of the Charlie Hebdo events, and observes that mocking another’s beliefs is inimical to recognising another’s dignity.
There is no doubt that a smarter use of the captain’s pick on Australia Day 2015 could have reinforced values and behaviour which are pertinent to developing Australia as a just and tolerant society. It could have enabled the public recognition of a ‘champion’ of attitudes and policies directed at improving social justice outcomes in Australia.
A smarter captain’s pick could have offered renewed hope for us all.