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1. Introduction

After the Year 2000 one could have been forgiven for thinking that 2001 would shape into a time to unwind and recover from all that accompanied the millennium hype. Not so. 2001 has proven to be a significant year both for Australia and for the Earth Community as a whole, and the Social Action Office (SAO) began the year in full flight - with a full agenda mapped out. Furthermore, the events of 2001 demonstrate that the message of the Jubilee Year continues to be as relevant as ever as the first step into a new century is taken.

When reflecting on this year, three words stand out - Kyoto, refugees, terrorism.

This year the Earth Community took another step towards addressing the impact of climate change via the Kyoto Protocol, against considerable opposition both here and overseas. Australia had the opportunity to respond to a global refugee crisis in a constructive and humane way and, as a nation, we again fell prey to the lowest common denominator. This revealed that the shadow of the White Australia Policy is cast across the nation still. Kyoto and refugees are not unrelated of course. If we do not take climate change seriously, it is only a matter of time before environmental refugees from the small Pacific nations seek refuge here. Are we prepared for another refugee crisis which will be well and truly of our making?

The human tragedy that befell the United States of America on 11 September shocked a world that probably thought it was unshockable. The audacity of the attack, the carnage, the loss of innocent human life defied belief. But, as the graffiti artist in West End reminded the capitalist world, "your economic system kills people every day". There is no escaping the words of Pope Paul VI - there can be no peace without justice.

We focus our prayer on the victims of violence everywhere and for authentic peace on Earth.

This year, SAO completes its ninth year of operation. In those nine years a lot has happened and the SAO has evolved from small beginnings into an agency with a focused agenda to be engaged in political ministry. In the last two years a "campaign" focus has distinguished the SAO's work. This report will outline the main campaign areas for 2001 as well as other aspects of the SAO's operation.

The new edge to the SAO's work in 2001 has been in the development of the SAO's website and the fortnightly email bulletin SAO BYTES. This foray into e-activism remains to be assessed but on current feedback the SAO staff are finding it is becoming a vital and valued part of the SAO's work.

Staff Changes in 2001

Since 1998, the SAO has been fortunate in securing an annual operational grant from the Brisbane Archdiocesan Development Fund. This has covered salaries and recurrent operational costs and will continue until the end of 2002. Planning for 2001-2002 resulted in some staff adjustments:
  • in recognition of the importance of communication in this work, especially with a growing reliance on information technologies (IT), Cathy O'Keeffe pbvm now devotes the equivalent of three days a week to SAO communications and IT - this is the main focus of Cathy's work in the SAO
  • Annette Arnold rsj works an extra day each week attending to important administrative tasks such as the finances; Annette has also continued as the Social Justice Co-ordinator
  • Coralie Kingston is now the only full-time person and in 2001-2002 has assumed the role of SAO Co-ordinator. She continues as the Research and Education Co-ordinator.

Pauline Coll sgs has continued as the Eco-justice Co-ordinator and Deirdre Gardiner rsm as the Reconciliation and Peace Co-ordinator.

Changes at Justice Place

After nine years at Justice Place, Action for World Development (AWD) ceased to operate from 1 July 2001. AWD had operated overall for nearly thirty years in Queensland. This was the end of an era for an organisation that had been a significant influence on the lives of many Christians and others. The Centre for Justice and Spirituality (CSJ) and the Brisbane East Timor Development Association will also cease to operate in 2002.

This raises questions for the ongoing operation of the Justice Place community - after nine years.

As 2001 comes to an end, the future is not clear and negotiations with the Sisters of Mercy (Brisbane), the owners of the building, are beginning. A number of options will be explored before decisions are made about Justice Place's future.

Whatever the future brings, the original decision to dedicate the building at 84 Park Road to the work of social justice must be commended. It has enriched this aspect of the Church's life immeasurably. A debt of appreciation is owed to the Sisters of Mercy and the Mater Hospital for making this available, refurbishing the building in 1999 and maintaining the building.

 

2. SAO Agenda Areas

The Eco-justice Agenda

Eco-justice advocates policies which foster conservation and enhancement of global resources and ecosystems now and in the future in ways that develop a more just, participatory and sustainable Earth community.

In 2001 Pauline Coll sgs continued to co-ordinate the eco-justice agenda. Climate Change negotiations have been the focus of work in this agenda area and, like many around the world, the SAO staff were relieved when the Kyoto Protocol came back from the brink of collapse in Bonn, Germany, in July 2001. It now remains for the Australian Government to ratify this in 2002 - another struggle looms! In this campaign, the SAO has collaborated with environmental groups, notably the Climate Action Network (CAN), and the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes (ACLRI) in this campaign.

One successful strategy was the composition of a prayer which was sent to Bonn and actually read outside the room where the negotiations were happening.

The SAO website was designed to provide information and lobbying support for people who wished to become involved in this campaign. This included sample letters to write to key political players asking them to support the Kyoto Protocol and to work to make it a strong and effective international agreement. A workshop was held in May with Noel Ryan from the Wilderness Society on the topic of "The Politics of Climate Change - Nationally and Internationally". A summary of the workshop was put on the website. Further, the newsletter continued to feature this issue as it unfolded over the year.

One of the main insights to come from this campaign has been the need to focus much more on business corporations. Their power in influencing the USA's decision to withdraw from global climate change negotiations left no room for doubting the "silent takeover" of public policy and the political process by capital interests. This is a critical concern for democracy. Two helpful books that have assisted in clarifying this analysis have been:

  • Silent Takeover by Noreena Hertz
  • No Logo by Naomi Klein

Pope John Paul II's call for an ecological conversion remains at the heart of the SAO's work in this agenda area and the SAO continues to educate on this aspect of our work.

The Social Justice Agenda

Social Justice has as its core meaning "right relationships".
The four basic elements of social justice are:

    • a minimum income for all
    • universal human rights
    • access and equity
    • priority for the disadvantaged.

The social justice agenda has been co-ordinated in 2001 by Annette Arnold rsj. The focus has been in a campaign, leading up to the Federal Election, in five marginal seats in Queensland around the theme of Fair Go Fair Share. This has involved Religious communities, parishes, community service organisations and individuals. The aim of the campaign is to lobby the candidates of the two main political parties in an attempt to make living standards an issue in the Federal election. The specific focus is on affordable housing for low-income households, the living wage and the health gap between the rich and poor.

The SAO is indebted to the constituents in the electorates who have attended meetings, spoken at Masses, distributed leaflets, written to and visited candidates. This campaign has relied on such local support and it would not be possible without this.

Brother Jim D'Arcy cfc was engaged on a part-time basis in July to assist in the organising of the campaign in the seats of Petrie and Hinkler.

The Fair Go Fair Share postcard
used in the campaign

This is an ambitious campaign and the SAO is under no illusions about difficulties inherent in achieving a desired outcome. Still, it has been gratifying to see such organisations as the St Vincent de Paul Society raise similar issues in the public arena and to be able to link in with The National Coalition Against Poverty and the Australia's Charter for Government Network which are heading in the same direction of getting wide coverage of the growing inequality in Australian society today.

As the Federal election draws closer:

  • the SAO will be distributing campaign signs and asking individuals and organisations to display them in public places; and
  • a leaflet is to be distributed in electorates with the objective of asking voters to consider these campaign issues and quiz candidates about their party's policies in income, health and housing.
The Reconciliation and Peace Agenda

Reconciliation seeks the restoration of damaged humanity
by creating space for:

truth telling, justice and healing
as a basis for a better future.

Deirdre Gardiner rsm co-ordinates the reconciliation and peace agenda of the SAO.

Treaty Education Campaign

With the focus now on the possibility of a treaty between Indigenous people and the Australian nation, the SAO developed an education campaign on this subject. This involved (i) seminars with retired Religious; and (ii) the preparation of a Background Discussion Paper which canvasses a range of issues about treaties, including an analysis of experience in other parts of the world. This paper is now on the SAO website.

The SAO continues to monitor developments in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Reconciliation, Native Title and issues such as mandatory sentencing.

Prisons

The SAO is gradually getting involved in justice issues around prisons and imprisonment. To coincide with Holy Week a poster was designed and distributed linking the arrest and imprisonment of Jesus with the words of Pope John Paul II in July 2000:

Not to promote the interests of prisoners
would be to make imprisonment a mere act of vengeance
on the part of society.

Deirdre is also working on educational material which draws links between the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and how prisoners should be treated and how a prison system should be run. Some of this has appeared in the SAO newsletter.

A seminar is being planned for 2002 in collaboration with the Prison Chaplains.

Drop the Debt, the CHOGM and the WTO

The SAO is collaborating with Jubilee Australia on the Drop the Debt - Debt Kills Campaign. Support for the campaign will intensify as the CHOGM draws near. As part of this the SAO is also keeping in touch with and supporting others who are campaigning on World Trade Organisation (WTO) issues.

 

3. Communications and Information Technology

This year Cathy O'Keeffe's role in the SAO has been as the Communications/IT Officer. This developed in recognition of the fact that this is a vital part of the social action ministry and that more effort needed to be dedicated to this.
As noted earlier, this year the SAO website has become more important in communicating the SAO's work and a lot of effort and energy is now put into building and updating various pages on the site. As well, SAO BYTES goes out each fortnight and keeps people more regularly connected to the SAO. This is also becoming more interactive with more people and organisations using this bulletin.
To improve and enhance her skills in information technology, Cathy undertook a TAFE course in the first half of the year in Website Design Intensives (20 Monday evenings) and more recently in PowerPoint on two Saturday mornings.

As well as the website and SAO BYTES, Cathy's role involves maintaining the five SAO computers, keeping the database up to date and the preparation of posters, brochures, the SAO newsletter and other educational and promotional material in collaboration with the other SAO staff.

 

4. Research and Education

Coralie Kingston has continued in this role in 2002 as well as being responsible for the overall co-ordination of the SAO.

This year a big focus of this position has been on building the website with Cathy O'Keeffe and keeping the issues up to date and relevant to the work of the SAO. As well, preparation of the fortnightly SAO BYTES has become a regular task.

Coralie works closely with the agenda co-ordinators in researching and writing up the material needed for the various campaigns. This can vary from a lengthy Briefing Note, to sample lobby letters, to editing the SAO newsletter and designing and writing the content for leaflets and posters.

A Catholic Social Teaching (CST) kit will soon be up on the SAO website enabling people to easily access material on CST. Dolores Creevy rsm has assisted with this and the SAO wishes to acknowledge her contribution. This project was made possible by the support of the Queensland Presentation Sisters' Promotion of Ministry Fund.

 

5. SAO Co-ordination

As the only full-time staff member, Coralie has had the responsibility for co-ordinating the SAO in 2001. This has involved a number of tasks such as:

  • with other staff, the planning and preparation of a Work Plan to cover all aspects of the SAO's operation
  • liaising with staff on the requirements of each agenda area
  • co-ordinating the preparation of a monthly report to CLRIQ
  • being the liaison point for CLRIQ
  • regular reviewing of the Work Plan at SAO staff meetings
  • liaising with the Communications/IT Officer on a weekly basis and planning the timing of newsletters and SAO BYTES
  • monitoring with Annette Arnold rsj the SAO finances and providing CLRIQ with quarterly financial statements.

 

6. Administration

Key administration duties have been undertaken in 2001 by Annette Arnold rsj. Annette has kept the financial records updated, maintained office equipment and kept office essentials supplied. This is a very important part of SAO life and the other staff are very appreciative of this contribution made by Annette.

 

7. Spirituality

The spirituality which is the foundation for the Social Action Office's vision
is centred on Sophia's transformative dream for all creation.

The spirituality has remained a vital part of the SAO's operation:

  • in 2001, the Sophia Circles have continued so that, on a regular basis, people gather to reflect on and ritualise some aspect of life that touches on the agenda of the SAO
  • mostly, staff meetings begin with a reflection
  • supervision is always reflective of the human condition, the social action focus of the SAO's work and the pursuit, always, for authenticity, integrity and truth in personal and work life
  • the spirituality page on the SAO website is another demonstration of the value the SAO places on spirituality
  • reflection days are also organised to focus on aspects of spirituality for social action
  • from time to time prayer spaces are created in Justice Place to enable people to come and pray - in September the space was created to pray for refugees, especially those on the Tampa.

The staff continue to reflect upon CST and its application to the issues taken up by the SAO. The completion of a CST webpage will be a valuable resource for furthering this aspect of the SAO's work and, importantly, of sharing that with others.

The opportunity to spend two days exploring post-modern theory with Sister Paula Smith rsm was very enriching. It is always good to engage and be challenged.

 

8. General

Team Supervision

Brother Tony Hempenstall cfc continues to provide group supervision for the SAO staff in 2001. Group supervision provides an opportunity to step outside the daily routine and reflect on and address issues that arise - especially in relation to staff dynamics and in balancing the demands of part-time staffing arrangements with achieving timely outcomes.

The Inter-Congregational Social Action Group (ICSAG)

ICSAG meetings have continued to be an important and valued feature of the SAO's operation and there are now three such meetings held each year - at the beginning, the middle and the end of the year. These meetings are always a good social occasion. However, they also provide a point of reflection and reality testing for SAO staff on the Work Plans that are developed on a six monthly basis. The gathering of Religious from many Congregations to reflect, discuss and plan a social action agenda is a significant ecclesial event - but one which receives little fanfare and acknowledgement. This is one of the real strengths of the SAO.

The Ministerial Advisory Arrangement (MAA)

Coralie Kingston has continued on as the Chairperson of this State Government Ministerial Advisory Arrangement for the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) and the Crisis Accommodation Program (CAP) - reporting to the Minister for Families and the Minister for Housing. Coralie's appointment as Chairperson ends in April 2002.

 

9. Conclusion

2001 has been another full year and with CHOGM and the Federal Election on the horizon it will continue to be such.

A special thanks is due to CLRIQ for continual support and sponsorship of this social action ministry. The ongoing financial support of the Brisbane Archdiocesan Development Fund is also gratefully acknowledged. A special thanks also to all the SAO partners and friends who collaborate and actually do the campaigning with the SAO staff. This collaboration is the strength of the SAO. It is a great privilege to work alongside such fantastic people.

In the end, whatever the success or otherwise of this ministry, the point is to be faithful to this "constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel". The words of a poem by Adrienne Rich capture the spirit of those who continue to resist the death dealing of our time and often against all hope:

Social Action Office Staff
October 2001

 

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