Peter Whiting. 

pope in us
Pope Francis at Saint Patricks Cathedral NYC, Jeffrey Bruno. flickr cc.

Millions of people have been mesmerised by Pope Francis speaking to the joint sitting of US Congress and the United Nations General Assembly. What is it about him that attracts such attention, even from many people who are not believers in any religion?

I would suggest he speaks with great respect for his audiences, for their conscience decisions, for their cultural and religious diversity. He speaks as a fellow traveler on the journey of life.

But he also challenges by calling on our ‘better angels’, our aspirations for peace and justice in the world, our longings to see human beings everywhere flourish in harmony with our environment and planet.

This is the type of leadership we are looking for in Australia. And in Europe.

In Europe, the flood of Syrian refugees has seen some countries closing their borders, while others are generously responding to the plight of the refugees. The European Union itself is struggling to find a united and equitable response among member countries. It urgently needs inspired leadership.

Good leadership for Australia

In Australia, Malcolm Turnbull has replaced Tony Abbott as prime minister, promising a consultative leadership style. His party is hoping he will present a popular image and improve its chances of reelection. Undoubtedly, ‘leadership style’ matters, but what would inspired political leadership look like in these turbulent times?

Many Australians are looking for a coherent ‘vision’ of where we are heading and what sort of nation we aspire to being.

refugee camp
Relief effort for Syrian refugees in Kawrgosk refugee camp, Irbil, Northern Iraq 21-23 August 2013, IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, flickr cc.

Some thoughts:

  1. The striking outpouring of support in Australia for Syrian refugees suggests we have not lost our compassion for those in need. The change in government policy to settle an extra 12,000 Syrian refugees over four years was widely welcomed. Australians still see our country as prosperous, and able to help and protect those who need it.
  2. As for our refugee policies, the Catholic bishops have released their 2015 social justice statement calling for the closure of the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, with their 1600 asylum seekers, and negotiating with our neighbouring countries to set up a regional processing centre for refugees. The statement, For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas: Justice for Refugees & Asylum Seekers, is strongly supported by the National Council of Churches and other religious and civil groups. They are insisting on humane reforms to our shockingly cruel treatment of asylum seekers.
  3. Several recent reports confirm that, in Australia, the rich are becoming richer and the poor poorer. It is reported that the top seven income earners hold more wealth ($56 billion) than the 1.73 million households in the bottom 20 per cent ($54 billion). Inequality is rising, and recent talk about reducing welfare payments will only exacerbate this. For decades in Australia, we have prized our egalitarian values; our vision would highlight reducing inequity and taking positive steps to restore equity.
  1. Where are we on the climate change and sustainability agenda? Good leaders would recognise that the climate crisis is real, and it is vital that we prepare for the inevitable challenges we face. As a wealthy country, we also have responsibility to assist other less wealthy nations than us to respond.
  1. Australia has recently extended its military activity in the Middle East to include bombing sites in Syria which are believed to be ISIS What does it say of our nation when our response to international crises is to increase military spending while at the same time sharply cutting our foreign aid?

Recent budget cuts of almost $4 billion over four years have placed Australia at the 20th ranking of international donors, down from 13th. For Australia to play its part to increase equity in the world means strongly embracing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and restoring the severe funding cuts for overseas aid. (Read our recent article on the SDGs.)




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