19 August 2011
In their Social Justice Statement for 2011–2012, the Catholic Bishops of Australia urge all Australians to think about the conditions in their prisons, and to ask who are most likely to find themselves there and why.
The Statement, titled Building Bridges, Not Walls: Prisons and the justice system, points out that between 1984 and 2008, while rates of crime either stayed steady or fell, the number of Australians in prison per 100,000 people almost doubled.
The majority of Australian prisoners come from the most disadvantaged sections of the community: the underprivileged, those suffering from mental illness, and especially Indigenous people, who make up about 2.3 per cent of the Australian population but about a quarter of those in prison. The incarceration rate for young Indigenous people is even higher.
The letter, which is can be accessed via the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council website, acknowledges that there will always be a need for prisons, but suggests that it is time for Australians to ask what they expect from their prison systems. It asks if jail is simply somewhere to warehouse wrongdoers until they have served their sentences, or can it be a place where inmates learn to become responsible members of the wider society? It asks how those who have committed no crime but suffer terribly because their loved ones are incarcerated can be supported, pointing out that this is an issue that especially affects children with a parent who has been imprisoned.
Finally it asks what can be done to support those who have paid their debt to society but must overcome obstacles to finding work, a place to live and a place in the community.
A Restorative Justice approach which emphasizes repairing the harm caused by the actions of offenders is an alternative to punishment which has gained favour in many parts of the world . When victims, offenders and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results can be transformational.
The Alternatives to Violence Project is an international training program that has also had success in bringing about positive change in inmates who have a history of violence.
Vulture Funds sue some of the world's poorest countries for full repayment of debts they buy up cheaply. In April 2010 an Act of Parliament - the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act - was passed which restricts the ability of Vulture Funds to sue the poorest countries in UK courts, a favourite jurisdiction of the funds. The Act represents the first of its kind anywhere in the world, and attracted cross-party support in the UK.
Without such legislation enacted in Australia, these so called ‘Vulture Funds’ are free to profiteer from poor country debts in Australian courts. Last year one did just that in New South Wales.
The global financial crisis has exposed an international financial system that urgently needs cleaning up. Combating Vulture Funds is a practical first step toward a global economy that works for the majority of people, not a small number of unethical investors.
Visit the Jubilee Australia website to learn more about what you can do to stop the ‘Debt Vultures’.
In 2004 local activists began a campaign to call on the world to boycott cotton harvested in Uzbekistan until the use of forced child labour was ended. International brands and retailers including Tesco, Walmart, LeviStrauss, Gap, Limited Brands, NIKE and Marks and Spencer agreed to ban Uzbek cotton from their supply chains.
In Australia STOP THE TRAFFIK initiated a letter-writing campaign in urging major retailers Target, Kmart and Cotton On to ensure that Uzbekistan cotton is not used in products which they sell.
In response Kmart has announced that it will start to take steps to exclude cotton from Uzbekistan from its products while forced child labour is used to harvest the cotton. Their statement reads in part "In the event that Uzbekistan cotton is detected, we will take all necessary steps to ensure its use is stopped immediately."
While this commitment has been welcomed, it is believed that it needs to go further. The campaign is now asking Kmart to inform their suppliers of cotton products and obtain assurances that Uzbekistan cotton is not being used in any cotton products Kmart sells.
For information about the ongoing campaign to obtain an effective response from Kmart visit the Just Act website.
More background information about this issue can also be found here
Jill Finnane, coordinator of Eco-Justice programs at the Edmund Rice Centre described the government plan as "an important and significant first step that all Australians should get behind".
"Putting a price on the green-house gas emissions that each one of us is responsible for is an effective means to move towards overall improvements for the planet." she said.
"As a nation we need to look beyond our own short-term interests and consider, not only the legacy we are leaving for our grandchildren, but also the effect that our emissions are having on our neighbours in low-lying Pacific Island nations."
The Uniting Church welcomed the initiative after campaigning for many years for the Australian government to take a leadership role in setting emission targets, to encourage the uptake of renewable energy technologies, to put a price on carbon, to work for a strong and fair international agreement to limit global temperature increase and to ensure that low income households are not unfairly impacted upon by a carbon price.
Oxfam has also welcomed the initiative as a good first step to tackling climate change, but mindful of the mis-information that has already been spread about the proposed tax has produced a summary and commentary on the legislation that has been forshadowed. It is also encouraging people to make their own submission on the carbon price legislation.