26 June 2004


The Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes (ACLRI) is joining other Christian groups in supporting a campaign to place the issue of poverty on the agenda for the election expected later this year.

The campaign aims to raise the level of awareness of the extent of poverty in Australia, promote understanding of the structural nature of poverty and of the responsibility of elected governments to alleviate poverty.

The campaign was launched at Parliament House Canberra on June 23rd and advertisements were placed in selected media sites during the week of the launch.

A website and bumper sticker with the message Vote 1 No More Poverty have also been produced.


Australia's self image as a friendly, welcoming people has suffered a blow with the publication of the survey of the experience of Arab and Muslim Australians in this country particularly in the aftermath of Sep 11th.

The report "Isma – Listen" released by the Human Rights and Education Commission earlier this month states that 58% of respondents reported experiencing instances of racist abuse or violence whilst walking in the street and 43% reported similar experiences in shops or shopping centres. The majority of these incidents were directed towards women. Overall 27% of respondents indicated they experienced some form of racist attack on a weekly basis.

The report provides background information to the survey, details the experiences of Arab and Muslim residents of Australia including recent arrivals and those whose families have lived in Australia for several generations, lists current initiatives to address the problem and makes recommendations.

The report also points out that contrary to popular understanding most of the Arab population in Australia is in fact Christian. In order the most common country of birth for Arabs born outside Australia are (the percentages shown are the proportion in Australia that are Christian) Egypt (84%), Lebanon (55%), Iraq (64%) and Syria (61%)


"There is a 14 year old boy still in detention in the Port Augusta residential housing project. Between April 2002 and July 2002, the boy (then detained at Woomera) attempted to hang himself four times, climbed into the razor wire four times, slashed his arms twice and went on hunger strike twice. The boy’s mother was hospitalized due to her own mental illness during this whole period. There is a 13 year old child who has been seriously mentally ill since May 2002. This boy has regularly self-harmed. Mental health professionals have made more than 20 recommendations that this child be released from detention with his family. But he is still there."

So said Dr Sev Ozdowski, Human Rights Commissioner in a recent media release. He was commenting on the failure of the Australian government to act on the findings of the recent HREOC report.

In the meantime in an address to thousands of people in St Peter's Square, Pope John Paul recalled the theme of this year's World Refugee Day, "A Place to Call Home: To Rebuild Lives in Security and Dignity" and said that every person needs "a safe environment in which to live." Pope John Paul went on to express his appreciation and encouragement to all those who work alongside refugees and appealed to the international community for a renewed commitment to remove the causes that have forced people to flee their homes.

The most recent edition of Ozspirit also addresses the issue of refugees in a series of articles and teaching/learning activities.


Whilst there has been considerable publicity surrounding "people smuggling" in respect to refugees in Australia the issue of human trafficking for prostitution has been relatively ignored. However a recent news item in the "The Australian" reported that the US Government for the first time has named Australia as a "destination" country for sex slaves, putting the nation on a par with countries such as Morocco, Colombia and Lithuania.

A US investigation found more than 60 cases of trafficking networks, with many women and girls forced to work as sex slaves. The team's findings were published in the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report 2004.

Until recently, the Australian Government refused to admit to more than a handful of cases, despite revelations last year by "The Australian" that up to 1000 women and girls were sex slaves in Australia.

The issue was also highlighted in a recent edition of Ozspirit and is also featured in two articles on the website of the Congregational Leadership Team (CLT) of the Christian Brothers, Slavery in our Midst and Trafficking in Persons Report


The CLT website also reproduces the keynote address given by Michael McCabe SMA at the Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN) seminar held in Dublin earlier this year in which the central place of justice in the life of the Church is stressed.

"Commitment to justice is not just one area or even one dimension of the Church’s mission to the world. It is….at the very heart of what all mission and ministry in the name of Christ and his Gospel is all about. If concern for, and the active promotion of, a more just, peaceful and environmentally healthy world, is not central to what we are doing ….. then we cannot in truth say we are witnesses and proclaimers of the integral Gospel of Christ."

The full text of the article can be found at The Heart of Being Brother website of the Christian Brothers Congregational Leadership Team.

16 June 2004


Australia was actively involved in the establishment of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1950 and was one of the first nations to ratify the 1951 Convention on Refugees. When the Intergovernmental Commission for European Migration (ICEM) was formed in 1952, Australia became a major player and accepted 199,000 refugees through this program between 1953 and 1973.

Between 1975 and 1994 over 112,000 Vietnamese refugees were accepted for settlement in Australia, many of these arrived by boat after fleeing their home country in the aftermath of the Vietnam war.

In 1989 more than 40,000 Chinese students in Australia were granted permanent residency at the stroke of a pen in the aftermath of the Tianinmen square massacre - it being deemed unsafe for them to return home.

Australia has much to be proud of in its history of accepting refugees. Indeed Australia continues to accept thousands of refugees each year, albeit selectively taken from the pool of the estimated 20 million in UNHCR refugee camps.

All of which makes the current Government's harsh stance towards the relatively small number of boat arrivals so incomprehensible to many.

The sad fact is that many of these asylum seekers, including children, who have largely fled countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran continue to be held indefinitely in detention centres within Australia or out of contact from lawyers and media representatives in Nauru. This is despite widespread criticism from a wide range of professional and community groups, all the major churches and respected organizations such as Amnesty - indeed it is virtually impossible to find any non-government agency that defends the Government's policy. Most recently the government has decided to disregard the findings of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission HREOC Report a most comprehensive report that was scathing in its condemnation of Australia's treatment of asylum seekers.

For more information and a list of activities marking the day in Australia visit the World Refugee Day website.


Former Australian Cricket Captain Ian Chappell has called on his fellow Australians to maintain pressure on the Government in regard to its treatment of refugees in the lead up to the election later this year.

A longtime supporter of the "A Just Australia" campaign, he believes that whilst the mistreatment of those who came to Australia seeking asylum by the Government has been exposed and challenged there still remains much to be done whilst hundreds of men, women and children are still detained – some for now up to five years.

It is clear that there has been a slow but steady weakening of the Government’s hard-line position in regard to refugees. The about-turn in recognizing the refugee status of many on Nauru (including many who arrived aboard the "Tampa"), their subsequent release into the Australian community and the closure of the detention centre on Manus Island with the granting of permanent residency to its last remaining refugee are positive signs. There is no doubt this is partly in response to the many voices that have been raised in protest, voices of ordinary citizens like the readers of this bulletin. In the words of Peter Arndt of the Brisbane Catholic Peace and Justice Commission "Our appeals for compassion are being heard and we hope they will influence decision makers so that the anxiety suffered by refugees can come to an end"

Those concerned with this issue are urged to maintain the momentum for a change in policy by continuing to write to Members of Parliament about their concerns. Contact details for Members of Parliament can be found in the link to the website of the Australian Parliament at left.

The full text of Ian Chappell’s letter and information about current campaigns can be found at the A Just Australia website.


Forestry is an issue which has divided many Australians but this is particularly the case in Tasmania.

Jill Butterworth from the Edmund Rice Network in Tasmania reports that the Tasmanian Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has recently released a Forestry Discussion Paper

The paper doesn't claim to provide definitive answers but instead attempts to illuminate some of the complex and pertinent issues that lie at the heart of the debate, which too often has been characterized by entrenched positions and a hostility that has obscured any possibility for harmony and conciliation.

A copy of the paper can also be found by visiting the Tasmanian Catholic Justice and Peace Commission website.


A recent article in "CathNews" quoted adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg in claiming that one in five Australian students suffered from some form of psychological problem - which usually went unrecognized.

Dr Carr-Gregg also added that Catholic schools are well placed to address this problem because spirituality was one of the biggest protective factors against psychological problems for young people.

"One of the biggest protective factors is a sense of spirituality and it's not often you get secular psychologists speaking about spirituality but research is clear that those young people with a sense of meaning, purpose and belonging simply do better" he said.

The full text of the article can be found in the CathNews archive for June 3rd


"The sad truth is that the world today is a much more unequal place than it was 40 years ago" said Kofi Annan Secretary General of the United Nations speaking in Brazil recently. He went on to identify the Debt crisis and the world trade system as the major causes of this. "Debt crises have revealed serious weaknesses in the international financial architecture" he said "Developing countries also suffer from a lack of access to markets of developed countries, and from other imbalances and injustices that have led you to raise questions about the basic fairness of the global trade regime."

The Australian Parliament and the US Congress will shortly begin to debate the Free Trade Agreement negotiated between the two countries. Both of these bodies need to approve the Agreement without amendment before it takes effect. Debate continues over the benefits to Australia of entering into the agreement but little attention is given to the global implications of such agreements.

For some discussion of the wider issues beyond self-interest visit the AFTINET Website

2 June 2004


Once again white Australia is to decide how the voice of Aboriginal people is to be heard in their own country.

Legislation introduced into the Parliament, ironically in Reconciliation Week, will abolish the national ATSIC (Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Commission) body on July 1st and all ATSIC regional councils by July of 2005. Contrary to the recommendations of its own review the government will not replace ATSIC with a structure that permits greater decision making by indigenous people at the local level.

Condemned by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) and the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) the decision represents a major turn around in policy, a rejection of the principle of self determination and a return to the failed paternalistic policies of the past.

The only hope of preventing this happening is if the Senate blocks the legislation later this month.

Whilst Labor precipitated this debate by its decision to abolish ATSIC and replace it with a new indigenous elected body it has so far failed to give a firm commitment that it will block the legislation in the Senate.

Those concerned with this issue are asked to URGENTLY write to ALP parliamentarians in particular, urging them to vote against the legislation to at least allow time for a proper debate before a decision with such far reaching consequences is made.

Further information including a statement of principles, a draft letter, and a petition are available form the ANTaR website. (Click on the link “Axing ATSIC – What it means”)


June 5th is designated as World Environment Day; a day established by the United Nations to raise environmental awareness and encourage action to protect the environment. The theme for 2004 is “Wanted Seas and Oceans – dead or alive?”

A recent edition (No 81) of Ozspirit highlights this issue.

As recently as last week the Australian Prime Minister declared in Parliament that Australia would not sign the Kyoto protocol on climate change. With the recent decision of Russia to reverse its previous stance and back the protocol, Australia and the USA remain the only developed nations refusing to ratify the treaty.

At the same time Australia continues to produce more greenhouse gas emissions per head of population than any other country in the world, whilst the USA accounts for 25% of all such emissions.

The issue of climate change/global warming is a complex one and there is still debate about the extent and effects of increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Unfortunately the debate is often confused by propaganda put out by vested interests (including governments). A seemingly balanced discussion of the issue can be found at the New Scientist website.


Mindful that Australians are likely to be voting in a Federal election before the end of the year, the Australian Catholic Bishops have issued a statement urging voters to consider the good of all when deciding how to cast their vote.

“We want to encourage people to consider their vote in the light not only of their personal interests, but of wider concerns as well.

This will mean recognition of the need to protect life, to support families and to ensure a fair go for all Australians, especially the weakest and most vulnerable in our society. For the true advancement of the nation depends not just upon material prosperity, but upon building a Commonwealth for the common good.”

Statements and press releases issued by the Conference of Bishops can be accessed here

The Australian Political Ministry Network Ltd (PolMin) is a national membership organisation committed to bringing about systemic change in Australian society through the influencing of public policy for the common good in accordance with the principles of Catholic social teaching.

PolMin is currently working to influence Australia’s asylum seeker policy; tertiary education policy; compliance with United Nations Conventions in key national policies; and Australia’s water policy.

Details of the campaigns underway in this an Australian election year can be found at the Polmin website.

Readers of this bulletin are encouraged to consider supporting the work of Polmin by taking out individual membership or by encouraging any group to which they belong to take out membership.


Mental Illness is widespread, largely hidden, untreated and poorly understood in our society. Recently the parish social justice group to which I belong held a forum on mental illness, which was addressed by professionals and volunteers representing a number of organizations that provide services for mentally ill people in the metropolitan area of Melbourne.

The speakers identified a number of key issues that may be of interest to all of us. Some of these were:-
- People with mental illness are stigmatised. A mentally ill person is treated differently to other patients.
- Only one third of mentally ill patients work. They are further stigmatised because of their supposed unemployability.
- Statistically about 1 in 5 young people will suffer a mental illness.
- Mental illness touches us all at some time or other.
- Mental illness is very under resourced – there is insufficient accommodation for those suffering a mental illness and who require supported accommodation.
- The hospital system cannot cope with patients with mental illness because of the patient’s need for long term assistance and the hospitals’ need to move patients on.
- Mental illness has always been with us. In the past the existence of a more cohesive and supportive community meant that these people were accommodated within their own communities and their unusual behaviours were more tolerated.
- Many people who turn to alcohol and/or drugs have a mental illness.

Further information about the issue, details of support groups and advocacy groups can be found at the Mental Illness Fellowship Victoria site.


Brenton Carey (St Patricks College Ballarat) reports on the success of last week's Social Justice Assembly where a number of speakers addressed the students on a range of social justice issues. This followed a recent visit from Constantino Pinto from East Timor who earlier in the month spoke to students about the struggle to re-build his fledgling nation.

Mathew Lillyst advises that students in the Parade College social justice committee have been active in organizing awareness raising activities for Reconciliation Week. Committee members ran workshops in all Yr 7 Religious Education classes, sharing stories of those who were taken from their families as children through song and video. Students traced and cut out their hands as a sign of support for the Aboriginal community and all who have suffered through this part of Australia's history. Students wrote simple messages on the hands which were eventually placed in the ground at the front of the College which created an impressive display of support! The Committee also organised an essay writing competition and a daily quiz about Aboriginal culture and Reconciliation. The climax of the week was marked by a Sorry Day ceremony. Margaret Gardiner an elder of the Wurundjeri people welcomed students to the land and spoke of her experiences of Reconciliation.

News about what is happening in other schools in respect to social justice is always welcome.

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