18 May 2004


In a letter on behalf of the Christian Brothers of St Patrick’s Province to the Prime Minister John Howard, Br Peter Dowling the Province Leader requested a change in the stance of the Australian Government in regard to its claim over the oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. (The letter was also sent to the Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, Leader of the Opposition Mark Latham, and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security Kevin Rudd)

“Leaving aside the legalities of the situation which many dispute, it seems clear to us that on moral grounds the position of the Australian Government cannot be justified” he said and then went on to add “On the one hand Australia enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world and can afford to offer billions of dollars in tax cuts, mainly for the more well-off in our society whilst one of our nearest neighbours in East Timor is currently one of the poorest in the world where most of the population lack the basic necessities of life.”

Through its justice desk the Province has also joined with other Provinces in contributing to the cost of placing an advertisement in the national daily newspaper “The Australian” on May 20th - Independence Day in East Timor.


The first National Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998 - one year after the tabling of the report "Bringing them Home" which was the result of an inquiry into the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. One of the recommendations of the report was that a National Sorry Day should be declared. The Day offers the community the opportunity to participate and be involved in activities to acknowledge the impact of the policies of forcible removal on Australia's indigenous populations.

As former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, said recently: "The removal of Aboriginal children from their families was one of the most painful acts in Australia's history." He went on to add "We need a much greater national determination to address past wrongs and, symbolically, the most important element may be to address past wrongs in relation to the stolen generation.....a full apology is very significant.... an apology does not imply guilt. It implies a recognition that an injustice occurred. It implies we have a will and a determination to try to do something about the many people who have suffered as a result of that injustice".

For more information about Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week, activities for Reconciliation Week and to sign an on-line apology to Australia's Indigenous people click here


Attention has again been focussed on the plight of refugees and asylum seekers still held in detention by the Australian Government with the release of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report last week. The report found that the Federal Government is responsible for cases of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of detained asylum seeker children.

The full report, and a useful summary, is available on the Human Rights Commission website.

Responding to the report Australia's Catholic Bishops have said that the Government and citizens of Australian must, as a matter of urgency, find alternatives to detention for unaccompanied minors and for children who accompany their parents

The bishops went on to say that "we plead the cause of refugees and asylum seekers again because the Gospel compels us to do so," and "we remain hopeful that hearts and minds will change so that the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia may be more humane, more respectful of human dignity."

Those campaigning for better treatment of asylum seekers are urging as many as possible to write to their parliamentary representatives in the light of the report. Information about the issue together with assistance in writing a letter can be found at the A Just Australia website


A constant theme of this bulletin has been to encourage those concerned about social justice to act upon their concerns.
This can be done in very simple ways such as:-
Informing oneself (if you have read this far you are doing that already)
Informing others - family, friends, the school community eg via the school newsletter, or a talk at an assembly
Signing petitions
Writing or emailing politicians or leaders and inviting others to do so as well.
Networking with others eg forming or joining a justice group in a school or parish
Participating in marches or rallies

Governments and members of parliament tend to be more sensitive to public opinion in an election year. The present time presents an opportunity for our actions to be more effective than usual. It is also a time which calls us to exercise responsibility as we consider how we will cast out votes. Do we vote on the basis of our financial self-interest as many of our politicians seem to believe or do we consider the common good both nationally and globally?

No doubt we will shortly all be bombarded with electoral advertising. Perhaps this would be a good time to let the candidates and parties in your electorate what is of concern to you. Contact details for members, candidates and opportunities for feedback to the main parties can be found at their respective sites:-

Australian Democrats
Australian Greens
Australian Labor Party
Liberal Party of Australia
National Party

5 May 2004


In his recent address to the bishops of Australia assembled in Rome Pope John Paul II acknowledged the role of the Catholic Church in promoting social justice in Australia.
“I wish to acknowledge the noble contribution the Church in Australia makes to the attainment of social justice and solidarity. Your leadership in the defense of the fundamental rights of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, and the developmental support offered to indigenous Australians, are shining examples of the commitment to practical and concrete love for every human being…. Australia's growing role as a leader in the Pacific region presents an opportunity for you to respond to the pressing need for a careful discernment of the phenomenon of globalization. Vigilant concern for the poor, the abandoned and the mistreated, and promotion of a globalization of charity will do much to indicate a path of genuine development which overcomes social marginalization and favors economic benefit for all “


The Christian Brothers have had a presence in East Timor for a number of years. In their latest “Communidade Edmund Rice” Newsletter the community spoke of the shame and embarrassment they felt at the unjust dealings of the Australian Government with the Timorese over the issue of the Timor Gap Oil and hence their participation in the recent protest march and demonstration that concluded in front of the Australian Embassy in Dili.

Widespread concern has been expressed at Australia’s actions in:-
- Insisting on adhering to the Timor Gap treaty which was negotiated with Indonesia (some commentators suggest as a ‘payback’ for our acceptance of the Indonesian annexation of East Timor in 1975) and which delivers over 80% of the estimated $30 billion revenue from the oil to Australia whilst still leaving East Timor impoverished and dependent on foreign aid.
- in withdrawing from the International Court of Justice and the tribunal which oversees agreement of international maritime boundaries presumably because the Australian government was afraid that if it went to arbitration, the umpire would find in favour of the East Timorese;
- deliberately drawing out the continuing negotiations with East Timor. Some interpret this as a means of pressurising East Timor to agree to Australia’s demands as the Timorese are so desperately in need of money that they would agree to an unfavourable deal to at least ensure some source of revenue.

Some of the concerns expressed were reported in a recent edition of CathNews

Some further more detailed background information about the issue can be found at the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education website

I wonder why it does not occur to our leaders that it might be a better security investment to assist an impoverished nation on our doorstep to become self-sufficient than to spend $1.1 billion trying to convert decades old Seasprite helicopters into state of the art war machines as reported on the SBS “Dateline” program last week.


The recent announcement by the Australian Government that it will abolish the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) is seen by many as a backward step. Whilst it was widely recognized that ATSIC was in need of reform, the fear is that the new policy will mean the end of self-determination or self-management for Australia’s indigenous people.
The decision goes against the Government’s own review of ATSIC which recommended a re-structuring of the organisation with greater emphasis on Indigenous decision-making at a regional level.
More information about this issue can be found at the Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation website.


With the increased fear of terrorism in recent years there is a concern that some fundamental rights of Australians are being eroded. Whilst recognizing the need to amend laws in the face of new and perceived threats, widespread unease exists in relation to the apparent disregard of the rights of some marginalized individuals and groups The continued detention of two Australians without charge in Guantanamo Bay is an example.

The Catholic Commission for Justice Development and Peace believes that there is an urgent need for the Australian community to recognize the plight of disadvantaged people and to demand that governments adhere to our universal rights, particularly regarding Australia's treatment of refugees and indigenous Australians, homeless people, people in poverty and people who have limited access to the law.

Accordingly the Commission has facilitated an annual audit which monitors Human Rights within Australia through the establishment of a register. The register takes individual reports from community legal centres, non-government organisations and the national media and analyses them in the light of the human rights conventions that Australia has ratified. The register can be accessed at the Archdiocese of Melbourne Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and Peace website


Thanks to all those who have responded to the Edmund Rice Network Survey. This is the final reminder to complete and return the survey which can be downloaded here

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