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Tag Archives: foreign aid cuts

The power of congregations

gosford anglican church It has long been my view that the potential and resources of the church are largely wasted on worship.

There are few institutions with the power to influence fundamental change – governments, unions, the military, big corporations, and the church. This government is undermining the unions, using the military for civil operations, and paving the way for big corporations. Globally, we see the military and corporations wielding power in different states. In times like these, as in other times of crisis, the church needs to step up and use its power to remind the world of its responsibilities.

Despite the falling numbers in church attendance, and the growing number of people who identify as having no religion, there are positive signs of this happening.

Pope Francis is speaking out about poverty, income inequality, the economy, climate change and homosexuality, whilst adopting a much humbler lifestyle and encouraging his clergy to do the same.

“In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. … Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us …”

Caritas Australia has added its voice to other groups protesting against the Federal Government’s cuts of $650 million from Australia’s official aid program in the 2013-14 financial year to direct the money into Tony’s “roads of the 21st century”.

The Australian Christian Lobby also expressed disappointment at the funding cuts, announced on January 18.

Caritas Australia chief executive officer Paul O’Callaghan said it was “unfortunate such a decision had been made in the first year of our partnership with the new government”.

He said the generosity of the Australian public, bolstered by Caritas’ 40-year partnership with the Australian Government, had led to beneficial change in many countries.

“In the last year alone, this partnership enabled Caritas Australia to reach more than 1.1 million people across 20 countries,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

Other organisations such as Care, Save the Children, ChildFund, Plan International and the Fred Hollows Foundation – who also have partnership agreements with the Government – have had their funding cut by about eight per cent.

Churches are not only speaking out against cuts to foreign aid and charities, some are also making conscience investment decisions.

Resolutions passed by the NSW/ACT Synod of the Uniting Church in April show that it is possible for religious institutions to take concerted action on climate change.

The Synod resolved to divest from stocks and shares in corporations engaged in the extraction of fossil fuels, and to redirect investments into renewable energy. A second resolution, again passed by consensus, saw the Synod agree to to call upon the state government to protect important farming land, water resources and conservation areas from coal and coal seam gas mining. A third resolution, with unanimous support once again, called upon the Synod and the Assembly to speak and act pastorally as well as prophetically in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Individual churches are also making a difference. If you have not heard of Gosford Anglican Church and Father Rod then you are missing out. He organises and speaks at rallies and his signs are an internet hit. One of my favourites was “Jesus had 2 dads and he turned out ok”.

The Church has taken a stand on various hot topics of modern society, including marriage equality, asylum seekers and women’s rights.

“From a theological perspective, Jesus was on about one thing and one thing only, and that’s what he called the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom of God manifests itself in compassion and justice and true humility and there are lots of things going on in our society at the moment that aren’t about those things, like the way we treat gay people by not allowing them to be married, the way we treat our planet and the way we treat asylum seekers. These are the things Christians should be seeking – justice and compassion. We contribute to that.”

Another church that has attracted attention is the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church.

In a bold pro-active move, the congregation thought the best possible response to the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit would be to conduct one of its own, one which they considered would put people before profit. The church raised $15,000 to commission its own Audit on behalf of the people of Australia: the People’s Commission of Audit carried out by independent public policy research organisation The Australia Institute.

They intend to release the results this month before the government releases their Commission of Audit recommendations. The comparison will be very interesting.

I would highly recommend their newsletter “The Beacon”. It is very informative on both domestic and global issues and contains excellent articles by people like refugee advocate Julian Burnside. The March edition was devoted entirely to the asylum seeker problem and is well worth a read, as are all their publications.

I am encouraged by these displays of the church taking a role in calling for change. I understand the importance of separation of church and state but, when the state is abrogating its responsibilities to humanity, then we must all join together in demanding better.

To be rich is indeed glorious…

tony-abbott-and-xi-jiinping And there we have it – a snapshot of our Prime Minister from his own lips.

“TONY Abbott has described his visit to China as the most important ever undertaken by an Australian leader and has congratulated the Communist country for its pursuit of wealth.”

As Abbott echoed Deng Xiaoping’s advice that “to get rich is glorious”, 700 Australian businessmen are about to sit down with their Chinese counterparts to determine just how glorious they can be. They won’t be discussing climate change or pollution. They won’t be discussing human rights abuses or health. And they most definitely will not be discussing those inglorious poor.

Pope Francis may have a different idea of glory. He recently warned that the existing financial system that fuels the unequal distribution of wealth and violence must be changed, and he begged the Lord to “grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor.”

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” Pope Francis asked an audience at the Vatican.

In an apostolic exhortation he wrote:

“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.

A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which has taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits”

He goes on to explain that in this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which has become the only rule we live by.

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,”

The World Economic Forum in Davos identified the large and growing income gap between rich and poor as the biggest risk to the global community in the next decade. The WEF said its annual survey of 700 opinion formers had identified the income gap, extreme weather events and unemployment or underemployment as the three threats most likely to cause major cross-border damage in the next 10 years.

Jonathan D. Ostry, the I.M.F.’s deputy head of research, and Andrew Berg, another economist at the fund, published a study three years ago suggesting that inequality makes growth less durable. A flatter distribution of income, the study concluded, contributes more to sustainable economic growth than the quality of a country’s political institutions, its foreign debt and openness to trade, its foreign investment and whether its exchange rate is competitive.

Economic policy cannot be only about promoting low inflation and robust growth. Healthy, stable economies also depend on a reasonably equitable distribution of the rewards.

Hugh Evans, the Australian founder and chief executive of The Global Poverty Project (GPP), told an audience at the International Monetary Fund-World Bank Spring Meetings on Thursday that Tony Abbott “broke his promise” after his election victory.

“He slashed the foreign aid budget dramatically which will have far-reaching consequences for the world’s poor,” Evans, standing before World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, told the audience. “We don’t want this single act of political indecency to undo the great work Australia has done to help end extreme poverty.”

Meanwhile, Joe Hockey criticised delays in implementing changes agreed by the Group of 20 bloc of advanced and developing nations in 2010, which he said were letting down the international community and were entirely the fault of the U.S. Congress.

“I am deeply disappointed that the IMF quota and governance reforms that the G20 agreed to in 2010 have still not been implemented and that the path forward for ratification is now highly uncertain,” he said at an event organized by Johns Hopkins University.

“The failure to finalize this issue diminishes America’s global standing instead of enhancing it.”

I wonder how that compares to Abbott’s refusal to support the green climate fund supported by the United Nations. In the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka, Australia joined with Canada in snubbing the green climate fund. Mr Abbott called it the “green capital fund” while calling the profitable Clean Energy Finance Corp. the “Bob Brown Bank” after the former head of the Australian Greens.

The government of a democracy is accountable to the people. It must fulfil its end of the social contract. And, in a practical sense, government must be accountable because of the severe consequences that may result from its failure. As the outcomes of fighting unjust wars and inadequately responding to critical threats such as global warming illustrate, great power implies great responsibility.

Government economic responsibility is linked to protection from the negative consequences of free markets. The government must defend us against unscrupulous merchants and employers, and the extreme class structure that results from their exploitation.

Governments argue that people need to be assisted with the economic competition that now dominates the world. But the real intent of this position is to justify helping corporate interests, siding against local workers, consumers and the environment.

This government has tossed out its job description and is on a corporate crusade. They are capitalist fundamentalists who believe all things public are bad and all things private are good, and they are determined to use their time in power to sell off Australia and to further the interests of their wealthy donors.

According to Tony Abbot’s description, Gina Rinehart must be the most glorious person in Australia – although I think she lives in Singapore? For me, the glorious people are those that care for others – the carers, nurses, social workers, teachers, paramedics, firemen, charities, volunteers, environmentalists, animal protection activists. Our scientists are glorious with their amazing research into a sustainable, healthy future, as are our artists and musicians who speak to our senses and our souls.

I used to think Australians were a pretty glorious race in general. Now I am not so sure.