19 September 2006


"How can it be that in this land of plenty, the average life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is 17 years less than for non-Indigenous Australians?" ask Australia’s Catholic Bishops in launching their recent Social Justice Sunday Statement "The Heart of Our Country: Dignity and justice for our Indigenous sisters and brothers".

"In a nation that enjoys a vibrant economy, where governments boast of their careful financial management, the question remains: why have we not been able to eliminate these dire circumstances from the everyday experience of many Indigenous people?"

The statement, issued twenty years after the historic address of Pope John Paul II in Alice Springs, recalls the themes of that address and points out that the challenges identified at that time still remain.

The full statement is available at the website of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

It includes suggestions for becoming more informed and for individual, parish and community action such as support for the Make Indigenous Poverty History Campaign

The most recent edition of Ozspirit is also devoted to the theme of Indigenous Justice

Another practical response to this issue is to express your concern at the current threat to Indigenous Land rights posed by the recent government amendments to the Northern Territory Land Rights Act – an issue raised at the launch of the Bishop’s statement by Aboriginal elder Tom Calma – see the next item.


There is currently an attempt to push new legislation through the US Congress for trying Guantanamo detainees - including the Australian, David Hicks.

Recently the US Supreme Court struck down the President’s Military Commissions and restored minimum Geneva Conventions protections to people in US custody, but now the President has asked Congress to authorize military commissions proceedings similar to those that were struck down.

In addition, the President has asked Congress to codify the indefinite detention regime and to provide immunity for the CIA, civilian contractors, and Administration officials who may have committed war crimes violations. He is also advocating a re-interpretation of the Geneva Convention that will legitimize the "alternative interrogation methods" that many believe amount to the use of torture, in a move that has attracted criticism even from former members of his Administration such as Colin Powell.

A recent newspoll (published in the Melbourne 'Age' on 15th Sep) indicated that more than nine out of ten (91%) of Australians believe David Hicks should receive a fair trial without delay, while less than one in four (24%) believe he will receive a fair trial in Guantanamo Bay.

Get Up an independent political movement which aims to bring together like-minded people to actively participate in our democracy, is currently campaigning to urge Australians to email President Bush and key US Senators to demand fair treatment for David Hicks.

Several campaigns are also underway simultaneously at Get Up including one to protest at the pressuring of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory into giving up their land for the next century, in exchange for securing basic services (such as housing and schools).

You can participate in these campaigns by visiting the above website and adding your name to the online petitions.


September 11th marked the 5th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the US. In the publicity given to remembering that event, another significant anniversary was all but overlooked. A reader of this bulletin Br Lawrence Colaco from India reminds us that it also marked the centenary of the birth of Satyagraha.

"On 11th September, 1906; a young barrister named M. K. Gandhi stood on the stage of the Empire Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa and announced a Civil Disobedience Movement for equal rights for all the subjects of the British Empire, immaterial of their race or ethnicity.

He called this movement Satyagraha. - insistence on truth - Truthforce. Born in South Africa, Satyagraha., for the past hundred years, has been used all over the world as a non-violent weapon of civil and political change, be it the Freedom Movement of India, the Civil Rights Movement lead by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in the U.S., the Solidarity movement in Poland, the Liberation of South Africa lead by Nelson Mandela, and many more across the globe, they have all used Satyagraha to achieve their goals."

At a time when the failure of violence as a means of resolving problems has again been demonstrated eg Iraq, Israel/Lebanon it is worth recalling that respect, tolerance and non-violence are key values in any authentic expression of the world’s great religions as demonstrated at the recent gathering in Assisi For a World at Peace – Religion and Cultures in Dialogue sponsored by the Sant’Egidio community.

Click here for some further reflections on non-violence including Satyagraha.


The campaign to secure the rights of outworkers, which were under threat from a proposed bill before the Parliament, has been successful!

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews indicated that he is "happy to accept" recommendations of the Senate committee to maintain protections for outworkers. The Bill as it stood substantially undermined outworker protections and threatened their right to the same minimum entitlements as other employees.

In accepting the Senate Committee recommendations the Minister is agreeing to move a series of amendments negotiated between FairWear and the Department for Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR), with the assistance of the Senate Committee and thereby gives hope that the worst of the bill’s impact on outworkers will now be avoided.

The Minister has reiterated his commitment to maintain outworker protections. "Given that governments of all political persuasions have put protections in place for them, and we did in WorkChoices, then we wanted to do the same thing in this legislation.".

Fairwear will now turn its attention to those companies that are still resisting consumer pressure to become ethical retailers in Australia. Despite being asked for well over a year by schools, churches, community groups and consumers to sign the code of practice in relation to outworkers, several companies notably Lush, Ojay, Rich and Scanlan & Theodore have so far refused to do so.

More details about the campaign can be found at the FairWear website.

4 September 2006


Primary school tuition has recently been declared to be free in Kenya – one of the good news stories that can be attributed to the efforts to implement the Millenium Development Goals

Nevertheless many people, especially in places such as Kibera cannot afford the additional costs associated with education such as uniforms and books. This together with the absence of government schools in Kibera has seen the flourishing of informal schools typically owned by individuals, community or religious groups. Such schools have little or nothing in the way of resources and depend on donations and the charging of fees for their survival. Ease of access and the absence of additional costs still make such schools a more attractive option for the poor of Kibera compared to attendance at government schools. Unfortunately many children are frequently sent home for failure to pay school fees.

The quality of the education provided in schools in Kenya varies greatly, but everywhere I encountered a firm belief in its value with families prepared to make great sacrifices to provide an opportunity for their children to obtain an education.

The Christian Brothers support a primary school and clinic at Ruben (an urban slum in Nairobi), a primary and secondary school at Embul-bul (on the outskirts of Nairobi) and Edmund Rice Secondary School in Arusha, Tanzania.

Empowerment through education is clearly more effective than charity in lifting people out of poverty. It is also obvious that the work of the Christian Brothers and other charitable organizations working in places like Africa, rely heavily on the generosity of supporters and volunteers to provide funds for resources, building programs and student sponsorship.

Yet the value of an education to a person is diminished if employment opportunities are restricted. For example it is of limited value to educate a teacher if the government cannot afford to build schools or employ the teacher.

Again the need to address the underlying causes of poverty becomes apparent.


Students from Edmund Rice Schools in Victoria were joined by students from Loreto College at the recent social justice seminar held at St Patrick’s College, Ballarat.

Guest presenter Terry Robb from Oxfam spoke about Fair Trade – trade justice being one of the four key issues that needs to be addressed in order to eliminate global poverty.

With the finance ministers and central bank governors of the twenty wealthiest and most economically powerful nations in the world, (G20) due to meet in Melbourne on Nov 18-19, those of us who live in Victoria have a unique opportunity to urge that the plight of the world’s poor be given priority in the formulation of economic policy and decisions.

Students made plans for promoting awareness about trade issues in their school communities by means of school newsletters, assemblies, lunchtime activities, encouraging the purchase of Fair Trade products and through participation in events planned for the lead-up to the G20 meeting.

Students were also encouraged to participate in the ‘Stand Up’ global event planned for Oct 16-17. The event will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the number of people ever to stand up for a cause and to demonstrate to world leaders that it is time to take a stand against poverty. Details can be found at the Make Poverty History website.


The initiative of a group of Parade College students led by Mervin Ng in raising awareness about the Millenium Development Goals was commended in the national parliament recently.

Speaking in support of the MDG's while urging the Australian Government to honour its commitment to allocate 0.7 % of the national income to aid for poor countries, Martin Ferguson the Member for Batman, praised the initiative of Mervin in collecting 1500 signatures of students and staff members on a 13 metre banner which was tabled in the Parliament by Harry Jenkins, the Member for Scullin, whose electorate includes Parade College.

"Thankfully as witnessed by these actions, the next generation of Australians has a rising awareness of increasing inequality and they are to be commended" Mr Ferguson said.

The full text of Mr Ferguson’s speech of Aug 10th can be read on p105 of the House Hansard transcript which can be found at the Parliament of Australia website.


It is time for the Government to increase efforts to secure a resolution to the case of Australian Guantanamo prisoner David Hicks said Bishop Christopher Saunders, the chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

"As the affair has dragged on, there are increasing concerns for the physical and mental health of Mr Hicks" the Bishop said.

Referring to reports of statements by Attorney-General (Philip) Ruddock that the Australian Government will try to have Mr Hicks returned to Australia if no new charges are laid by November, Bishop Saunders commented that "While these are welcome developments, we deplore any further detention of Mr Hicks. If he has a case to answer he should be tried without further delay by a competent and independent tribunal with all of the protections of the rule of law that Australian citizens would expect, compliant with the Geneva Conventions. Otherwise his continued indefinite detention can no longer be justified"

The call from Bishop Saunders came at a time when concerns are also being expressed in the community regarding the imposition of a control order on Jack Thomas despite his terrorism-related conviction being overturned earlier in the month.

The restrictions on the freedom of Mr Thomas have been imposed under the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Bill (No. 2) introduced in 2005. The ACSJC, along with a range of organizations expressed concerns at these provisions at the time of their introduction in a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee late last year. (the submissions can be viewed here

In making its submission the ACSJC recalled some fundamental principles of Catholic Social teaching:-
"Acts of terrorism strike at the heart of human dignity and are an offence against all humanity; there exists, therefore, a right to defend oneself from terrorism. However, this right cannot be exercised in the absence of moral and legal norms, because the struggle against terrorists must be carried out with respect for human rights and for the principles of a State ruled by law."


Readers may be interested in the immersion programs offered by the Edmund Rice Centre for Social Justice in Fremantle WA. More detail is available at their website.
Immersions include:-
- Kimberley region of N-W Western Australia during the first 2 weeks of October;
- Perth during Anti-PovertyWeek, in the third week of October;
- India from December 5-23; and
- Timor-Leste (East Timor) for 3 weeks from January 6.

A series of immersion programs to Latin America, Brazil, Rwanda and Kenya are also offered through the Edmund Rice Centre in Croydon, NSW. See the above website for details.

Some readers may also be interested in a series of workshops entitled 'The Activists Toolkit" to be offered at RMIT University in Melbourne in October. Workshops include:-
- 'Communication Know-How' 7th October
- 'Creative Campaigning' 21st October
- 'Lobbying Know-How' 7th October
- 'Media Know-How' 21st October

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