Here we are with Term 4 well underway, our Year 12 students heading into exams and 2019 firmly on our radar. How quickly the year flies by! I’ve a friend who says once we hit the ‘ber’ months the year is all but over and that seems to become truer with each passing year.
At this time of great busyness it can be easy to become single-minded in focus: exams, reports, end of year functions… And yet, there is much happening in our world that calls us to look up and engage with the plight of our fellow passengers on this earth. Globally our hearts are troubled by the movement of thousands of refugees through Central America and the anti-Semitic attacks on a Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Back home, a scorching summer beckons with drought hurting our farming communities and a long, hot bushfire season looming.
With state elections approaching in both Victoria and New South Wales and a federal election only months away, the impact of political decisions on our lives can never be too far from our thoughts. Turmoil in our nation’s capital continues with a revolving door of party leaders and string of unforeseen by-elections. Typically it is the most vulnerable in our community who slip through the cracks in the political manoeuvring. Interestingly, the recent by-election in Wentworth highlighted three key issues through the election of high profile independent candidate and former president of the Australian Medical Assocation, Dr Kerryn Phelps.
The first of these is climate change, with the apparent stalemate in parliament as interest groups attempt to balance a reduction in carbon emission with maintaining our stakes in the coal industry. At our recent Kildare Ministries conference, guest speaker Massimo Faggioli explored how the message at the heart of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment ‘Laudato Si’ was the issue of power, how it is used and abused in addressing environmental concerns. Climate science is incontrovertible but while our parliament continues to debate this issue the country is in the grips of crippling drought amongst a myriad of other environmental concerns. We must never lose sight of how this issue is already having a very serious detrimental impact on people’s lives. Laudato Si implores us to views ‘the cries of the earth’ through the lens of the poor who are most impacted by its destruction.
The second of these is religious freedom. In the 2017 plebiscite on same-sex marriage, the seat of Wentworth polled the 3rd highest ‘Yes’ vote in the country with Dr Phelps an active campaigner on this issue. In the lead-up to this by-election the question of religious freedom was surprisingly back on the agenda with the imminent release of the ‘Ruddock report’. All of a sudden newspapers around the country were printing the disingenuous suggestion that under the terms of this report, Catholic schools would be expelling homosexual students and firing homosexual staff. While we cannot speak for any schools other than our own the teaching of Jesus leaves no room for discrimination. Every member of Kildare Ministries is loved and valued and we strive to uphold the dignity of everyone.
Finally, the vexed issue of off-shore processing of asylum seekers was loudly voiced during the Wentworth by-election. As the presumptive winner Dr Phelps has made it clear she will advocate strongly in parliament for the removal of families from Nauru as an urgent response to this humanitarian crisis. In doing so she joins with thousands of medical practitioners across the country pleading with the government to do more to care for the welfare of these children as a matter of basic human decency. The particular focus on children calls into question the entirety of the government’s response to the global refugee crisis including the treatment of refugees already here in Australia. As a community we have an opportunity to seize the current momentum and place pressure on our political leaders: write a letter to your local MP urging immediate action, or agitate on social media under the hashtag #kidsoffnauru.
The people of Wentworth have provided us with a timely reminder that in a democracy such as Australia we have a voice and an individual and collective responsibility to use it – not for self-interest, but for the common good. I pass on to you a Facebook post recently shared with me:
“I want my friends to understand that ‘staying out of politics’ or being ‘sick of politics’ is privilege in action. Your privilege allows you to live a non-political existence. Your wealth, race, your abilities or your gender allows you to live a life in which you likely will not be a target of bigotry, attacks, deportation or genocide. You don’t want to get political, you don’t want to fight because your life and safety are not at stake. It is hard and exhausting to bring up issues of oppression. The fighting is tiring. I get it. Self-care is essential. But if you find politics annoying and just want everyone to be nice, please know that literally people are fighting for their lives and safety. You might not see it but that’s what privilege does.”
With every good wish for the busy months ahead,