Catholic Social Services Australia has called on Australian politicians to decide whether to continue down a path of growing inequality or to ensure that a life of frugal dignity is within the grasp of all citizens, Melbourne Catholic reports.
CSSA's chief executive Fr Frank Brennan SJ delivered the Archdiocese of Melbourne' s annual Rerum Novarum lecture on Wednesday. He spoke on the 110 year anniversary of the Harvester decision, a landmark Australian labour law decision which enshrined the concept of a minimum wage.
In making the Harvester decision, Justice H.B. Higgins referred to "the pole star of justice" as his guide in establishing a just wage system. He held that employers should pay employees a "fair and reasonable wage" that was sufficient for "a human being living in civilised society", which included food, water, a certain level of comfort, and clothing. His decision propelled Australia into the arena as a world leader in labour law.
Fr Brennan said that "much has changed since then. We need to develop a ‘bottom up’ approach to sharing our nation’s resources, first ensuring that we have an adequate safety net for those who cannot participate in the workforce."
“Australia’s current unprecedented wealth gives us a one-off opportunity to break the cycle of poverty, through education and lifelong support, which we must take, because we cannot afford to leave anyone behind who is able and willing to contribute," Fr Brennan said.
“Continuing with the same economic and social policy settings will exacerbate the already growing divide between the rich and the poor and eventually damage the economy to such an extent that it has a detrimental effect on everyone," he said.
The respondent was Brigid Henley, the co-ordinator of Adult Justice Special Projects with Jesuit Social Services, who reiterated Fr Brennan’s point that Australia is struggling behind others in its labour laws, and social justice approach.
The Rerum Novarum lecture was organised jointly by the Archdiocese of Melbourne's Office for Justice and Peace, Australian Catholic University and Australian Catholic Council of Employment Relations.
Rerum Novarum 2017: Seeking a true new start for all job seekers and workers (Melbourne Catholic)
Seeking a true new start for all job seekers and workers (Eureka Street)