23 May 2007
The 3rd June marks the anniversary of the High Court of Australia's judgment in 1992 in the Mabo case. The decision recognized the Native Title Rights of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the original inhabitants of the continent, and overturned the myth of terra nullius - that the continent was empty, un-owned land before the arrival of Europeans in 1788.
These two dates form part of Reconciliation Week which is preceded by National Sorry Day on 26th May, a day instituted following a recommendation of the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report into the forced removal of indigenous children from their families, that a day be set each year "to commemorate the history of forcible removals and its effects."
Unfortunately much unfinished business remains before the indigenous people of this country can be said to have attained justice and before true reconciliation is achieved.
The failure of the recent budget to address the indigenous health crisis a meaningful way is only the latest example of the failure of government to adequately address this issue. You can support the call for increased indigenous health funding to by signing the online petition to Close the Gap of 17 years between the life expectancy of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
Many commemorative events and Reconciliation Week awareness-raising activities will be held around the nation during this time.
Members of the Seeds of Change group (readers of this bulleting who want to act together for justice) will be supporting Reconciliation Week by their participation in the Long Walk to Dreamtime at the G' (see details in the notification email sent to subscribers to this bulletin)
Since then some progress has been made in debt cancellation but many developing countries continue to be burdened by large amounts of unpayable or illegitimate debt which means that large sections of their populations remain trapped in poverty.
What is worse is that many western governments and financial institutions continue to seek to extract profits from the desperate plight of these impoverished nations.
An update of the situation in regard to this debt crisis can be found at the Jubilee Australia website.
Next month a summit of the eight richest and most powerful states in the world will take place in Heiligendamm on the Baltic coast of Germany. Even though the heads of state and governments of the G8 countries represent only 13% of the world’s population, they will deal with questions concerning the entire globe.
In the lead-up to the summit Pope Benedict XVI recently wrote to German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling for "the rapid, total and unconditional cancellation" of the debt of the world's poorest countries.
The international debt movement will demonstrate with giant red balloons in Rostock, near Heiligendamm, on Saturday 2 June, calling the G8 to ‘wipe out illegitimate debt’. Civil society will also be discussing alternatives to the G8 politics during the alternative summit in Rostock, Germany, being held 5-7 June.
By visiting the above website you can also add your name to the Jubilee Australia red balloon going to the demonstration.
CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society Dr John Falzon said that the budget failed to address the plight of the more than 405,000 Australian households suffering financial stress arising from high rents. "Everyday 'Vinnies' members see families sacrificing on food, clothing and other essential to pay rent" he said.
Meanwhile Executive Director of Catholic Social Services Australia, Frank Quinlan, pointed out that the budget failed to " direct greater attention to the needs of people who face serious barriers to employment"
Whilst the amount allocated as overseas aid increased, as a percentage of gross national income it remains around 0.3%, well short of the affirmed commitments the Australian government have made towards increasing foreign aid to 0.7% as required to meet the target of the Millenium Development Goals
Aid Watch, the not for profit activist organisation monitoring and campaigning on Australian overseas aid and trade policies and programs is critical of the overall level of aid expenditure, the misleading claims of the government about the level of assistance actually provided and the priority given to aid for security matters in comparison to poverty alleviation and the effects of climate change in the Pacific region.
In addition, concern was expressed that developing countries will now be required to meet Australian government 'performance indicators' before they can receive additional aid. “This incentive based system suggests a worrying trend towards an aid program which only provides assistance to countries if they agree to reform their economies and governance structures in ways acceptable to the Australian government” a spokesman for Aid Watch said.
The website aims to provide information and raise awareness about this form of modern-day slavery which is one of the most pressing human rights issues facing the world today. The main focus is on the Australia and Asia/Pacific region.
More information about the global nature of this problem can be found at the website of STOP THE TRAFFIK a growing global coalition of over 700 member organizations from over 50 countries, working together to fight against people trafficking.
By raising public awareness around the issue, member organizations of the coalition aim to convince the UN and individual governments to introduce legislation and policies to protect people from trafficking.
Specifically the Australian Government is being asked to support with funding and diplomacy the COMMIT program to tackle trafficking in Asian countries in the Mekong region and to urge and support Indonesia, Laos, Pakistan, PNG and Sri Lanka to ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding eliminating the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
9 May 2007
In separate statements to mark the day this year Australian bishops have expressed concerns about Australia’s new workplace laws.
In releasing the most recent letter of the Australian Bishops "Keeping Time - Australian families and the Culture of Overwork", The chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Bishop Saunders noted that there had been a massive encroachment of work into family time over the past two decades and that there were anecdotal reports that overtime and penalty rates had been substantially eroded under the workplace agreements.
In a separate statement, Bishop Kevin Manning of Parramatta said Australians appeared to be tolerating or rewarding those aiming to create a society and climate "which makes the economy the barometer of human fulfillment" He went on to criticize recent statements of the Prime Minister by saying "We say put people before profit. The Prime Minister appears to be putting the economy before people where wages are reduced and conditions reduced for the sake of the economy."
The economic and environmental cost of waging war or preparing for war can be more easily measured.
In recent weeks the Australian government has decided to spend $16,000,000,000 on the purchase of a fleet of F-35 Fighter planes, (despite widespread reservations in defence circles about the wisdom of such a decision), and a further $6,000,000,000 on a fleet of Super Hornets in a move described by a senior defence analyst as "a needless and expensive decision" that "makes no operational sense and … no sense in terms of value for money". A technical discussion about the decision to purchase can be found here
Such decisions give pause for concern about our priorities in a world where 11,000,000 children die each year from preventable causes and when about one fiftieth of Australia’s latest defence purchase would Close the Gap in health levels between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
Australia’s defence expenditure amounts to $55,000,000 per day. A significant part of that expenditure this year will also be on Operation Talisman Sabre a military exercise that next month will involve nearly 14,000 US troops and over 12,000 Australian personnel at a variety of Australian military locations including Shoalwater Bay in Queensland and Bradshaw and Delamere Range in the Northern Territory.
Peace Convergence is a coalition of those promoting non-violence and opposed to the Talisman Sabre exercise. Information about the exercise, including concerns about the environmental impact and the possible use of depleted uranium can be found at the above website.
India today is the place where the poorest people on earth get their medicines. This is because it is the only country willing to manufacture cheap copies of corporate-owned drug treatments for cancer, Aids and other killers, and big enough to do it. Their policy has brought the cost of treating a woman with Aids in sub-Saharan Africa crashing down from an impossible $10,000 a year in 2000 to a still-tough-but-possible $130 a year today.
They can only save so much money - and so many lives - because the Indian government insists it will only pay money to the multibillion-dollar corporations which own the drug patents if they can show they really have created something genuinely new. Most of the time, they can't - so the Indians sell them to the poor at cost-price.
The court case currently wending through the Indian justice system, launched by the Swiss phramaceutical company Novartis, is an attempt to close down the poor's world pharmacy.
If Novartis succeeds, the developing the impact on the world’s poor will be immense. The aid agency Médicin Sans Frontières (MSF) - who treat 80,000 people in Africa with cheap Indian generics - warn it could mean "the end of affordable medicines in developing countries".
There may still be time to force Novartis to pull out of the legal action before the verdict. Go to the Médicin Sans Frontières website to sign a petition which may help to save millions of lives.
Br Shane Wood the Coordinator of the Office of Justice, Ecology & Peace in the Diocese of Broome alerts us to the threat to the Kimberley Coast and its inland wilderness areas posed by multi-billion dollar gas and large-scale industrial development proposals and refers us to the Cultural Heritage& Environmental Advocacy for the Kimberley website for those who would like to learn more about or become involved in this issue.
Br Russell O’Brien in Perth reminds us of the ongoing injustice experienced by our nearest neighbours in West Papua who were incorporated into Indonesia in the highly dubious ‘act of free choice’ in 1969, and where an estimated 100,000 people have been killed since the Indonesian occupation began in 1962. Australian policies are crucial to enabling a peaceful and just solution to be found in West Papua.
More information, including an online petition can be found at the Free West Papua website.
Russell also reminds us of unresolved matters relating to the development of oil and gas reserves in the East Timor Sea. Further information can be found at the Save East Timor website.