Social Justice and “A Fair Go”

Social Justice Forum, Voices for Harmony, SheppartonDr Frank Purcell gave an address on Social Justice for the observance of United Nations World Day of Social Justice at Harder Auditorium, Fryer St, Shepparton on Friday, 20 February at 2PM. Shepparton Mayor Denis Patterson addressed the meeting; Rashidi Sumaili of the Congolese Community and Sam Atukorala of the Sri Lankan Community gave responses.

Social Justice Forum, Voices for Harmony, Shepparton

Shepparton Mayor Cr. Denis Patterson opened the proceedings and spoke of the experience of harmony in Shepparton. Cr. Patterson said this was most palpable when visiting Victoria Park Lake of an evening, and observing all the different community groups and families gathered around the lake foreshore in harmony and enjoying themselves. Cr Patterson said that this was a visible sign of social cohesion and harmony.

Dr Frank Purcell, regional President of the St Vincent de Paul Conference and President of Shepparton Interfaith Network gave and address and raised issues faced by disadvantaged groups in the community and explained that the morality of “a fair go” was critical to human flourishing and social justice.

Dr Frank Purcell commenced his talk with the Acknowledgement of Country in the Victorian Constitution. Dr Purcell cited this Acknowledgement of Country: On behalf of all gathered here today I wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this Goulburn Murray area by using the wording adopted by the Victorian government for insertion in this State’s Constitution:

We recognise that Victoria’s Aboriginal people, as the original custodians of the land on which the Colony of Victoria was established –:

  1. have a unique status as the descendants of Australia’s first peoples;
  2. have a spiritual, social, cultural and economic relationship with their traditional lands and waters within Victoria; and
  3. have made a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the identity and well-being of Victoria.

Social Justice is a moral force

Frank Purcell began with an examination of Social Justice: What then is this Social Justice thing which the UN is celebrating today? Social justice or the fair go, is the moral force which guides a community in building a civil society. A civil society is one which focuses on building relationships between its members which result in an economy which nourishes human flourishing. It gives all its members equality of opportunity. That means giving all members access to education, healthcare, employment opportunities, affordable housing and income support when people are unemployed, sick, elderly or disabled. It enables its members to live fulfilling lives and to make a contribution to the community.

The forum then went on to examine six disadvantaged groups in the community: Aboriginals and the racism they experience, victims of domestic violence (principally women and children – families), and homelessness in Shepparton. Dr Purcell cited recent evidence that there are 627 people on the waiting list for housing and welfare groups provide significant support to those seeking housing. Other disadvantaged groups are the unemployed youth (currently at 25%), those with mental and disability challenges and their lack of success in obtaining employment, and workers from the Pacific Islands and New Zealand who are here on Temporary Work Visas. Should anything go awry for such workers, they do not receive Centrelink benefits until they have completed three years residence in Australia. The refugees face similar disadvantage, and are supported by the Red Cross.

The role of the economy was then examined and reference was made to the new Finance Minister in Greece, who has lectured in Economics at an Australian university. It was shared that “reform” programs that place the burden of savings in governmental expenditure simply do not work and make life more difficult for those on pensions and welfare. Such austerity programs are totally discredited in major world economies, as research has found. The contribution of volunteers to the economy outstrips that of the mining industry in terms of monetary worth.

Cost of Disconnection with Australian Values

Dr Pucell went on to discuss the role of A Fair Go in the public discourse. The growing failure of our major political parties to defend the fair go and search for better ways of doing things is out of step with our culture. A commitment to give everyone a fair go is one of our Australian ideals. For us, a civil society strives to give everyone a fair go. The lack of concern for that value in our current parliamentary debates is a sign of the major political parties being out of touch with Australian values. Is this the explanation for the recent extraordinary political developments across Australia?

Economists today are recognising this and are calling for governments to respond to reduced revenues and deficits, but not by discredited austerity programs. Those have crippled the European economies and hit low income earners most. Economists are now urging the adoption of Environmentally Sustainable Inclusive Growth policies. They are calling us to build an economy harnessed to the creation of the Good Society but living within an environmentally sustainable usage of natural resources.

The presentation by Frank Purcell concluded with two observations – on the matter of Reconciliation and the recent passing of Gough Whitlam which elicited an extraordinary bipartisan sharing of the achievements of Whitlam as Prime Minister. Dr Purcell went on to say, “There have been great apologies by Prime Ministers, better funding for Aboriginal controlled health and education services, but the attitudes which fed the racism they suffered and still suffer need to be tackled. Nelson Mandela showed us the key to reconciliation. The underlying cause of victimisation has to be addressed. Until that happens, the victims cannot forgive. Only then can reconciliation be achieved.”

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Frank Purcell

Dr Frank Purcell was a priest for 22 years and obtained a Doctorate in Theology in Rome. He served in Japan and Ireland. In 1976 he returned to Australia and began working in health and welfare services, and lectured in Australian Politics at LaTrobe University, Shepparton Campus. He became interested in understanding Islam and the challenges facing Catholic and Muslim migrants in adjusting to Australian society. Dr Purcell serves as President of the regional St Vincent de Paul Conference in the Goulburn Valley and is President of the Shepparton Interfaith Network. He was awarded a PhD in 2014, and recently published Islam, Christianity and the Secular State.


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