What’s our Social Justice score?
Back in 1994 I participated in an international conference of NGOs involved in social justice as a lead up to a World Summit on social development attended by some 100 government leaders from around the world.
I remember the event particularly as it was one of the few occasions when social justice advocates and government leaders appeared to agree that to achieve peace, cohesion and security within and between nations, we needed to address the issues of poverty, unemployment and integration of various cultures within a society.
The World Summit reviewed its progress to achieving these goals in 2005 and the World Day of Social Justice was created in 2007.
In most countries of the world, including Australia, economic development is always the number one priority, but on reflection, many people would agree that economic development, social development and environmental protection are interdependent and that the voices promoting economic development need to be balanced by the voices calling for what we now call social justice.
We promote the principle of social justice when we promote the rights of Indigenous people and asylum seekers. We address social justice when we remove the barriers caused by gender, race, disability, ethnicity, religion, age or culture. These are the groups most likely to struggle with poverty, unemployment and marginalisation etc.
So what is our social justice score card in 2014 in these three areas: poverty; unemployment and social cohesion?
Compared to many countries, our safety net to assist people with low incomes is quite good.
However, Samaritans continues to help some 1000 individuals and families in our region every month with emergency relief. Many have gone without food, visits to doctor/dentist/chemist prior to seeking assistance. The proposed introduction of co-payments for medical treatments such as blood tests and xrays will add to the problem.Another concern is the low fortnightly payment of the Newstart allowance which needs to be increased and the lack of affordable housing. With regard to housing, there’s a reported need for an additional 225,000 dwellings across Australia. We need to find a way to direct investment into low cost housing. Our politicians recognise the problem but there is no clear plan to address it.
In NSW we face a total restructure of support services for homeless people in 2014. However the jury is out as to whether this will lead to reduced numbers of homeless people in NSW.
Unemployment levels have been low in recent years, but they have started to creep up. Also, many people are underemployed. Our region is particularly vulnerable because of the high numbers with no post school qualifications – almost essential these days to access the labour market.
We need to be very careful about young people leaving education but unable to find work.
I like the European job guarantee where any young person under 25 leaving education is assured of a job, an apprenticeship or a traineeship after 4 months of unemployment.
3. Social Cohesion
For a nation comprising a small number of Indigenous people and the rest migrant or the descendants of migrants, social cohesion is quite good. There is still a way to go on the journey to reconciliation and this year will be significant as we begin to discuss the proposed wording for changes to the Constitution so that Indigenous people are formally recognised. This will require a referendum and will be quite a challenge, but perhaps Prime Minister Tony Abbott is the man to convince the sceptics to say yes to change.
Also, our attitudes and responses to asylum seekers is appalling; surprising and disappointing in a country where almost everyone’s family has been in the same boat, as it were, somewhere in their history.