Social Action Office

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. SAO Agenda Areas

The Eco-justice Agenda
The Social Justice Agenda
The Reconciliation and Peace Agenda

3. Communications and Information Technology

4. Research and Education

5. SAO Co-ordination

6. Administration

7. Spirituality

8. General

Team Supervision
The Inter-Congregational Social Action Group (ICSAG)
Visit to East Timor

9. Conclusion


1. Introduction

As this report is being written, the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Social Action Office (SAO) is approaching. On Monday 5 October 1992 Coralie Kingston began work as the SAO Resource Officer with a mandate to:

  • facilitate collaborative social action ministry across Religious Congregations in Queensland
  • conduct research and brief the Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes Queensland (CLRIQ) on important contemporary policy issues
  • recommend action that could be taken by CLRIQ and Religious Congregations to support and enable a more just society.

The SAO was sponsored by CLRIQ and followed an extensive consultation process with Religious and those closely associated with them in various ministries.

These ten years have seen many people involved in many ways in the activities of the SAO. The SAO has taken many initiatives in its own right and has collaborated with other initiatives, both in Queensland, nationally and internationally. Some of the important developments in the life of the SAO have been:

  • making environmental concerns a key agenda area and taking a lead in promoting eco-justice
  • making political ministry the strategic focus of the SAO's work
  • incorporating spirituality, ritual and reflection as a central part of this ministry
  • adopting e-activism as a strategy
  • ensuring quality control in all that is undertaken
  • fostering cross-Congregational engagement in social action.

Over the years, collaborative relationships have been developed and some deep and trusting relationships have ensued among people committed to living out the social gospel, especially from across Religious Congregations.

As the SAO has evolved, there has been a desire to be effective in social action ministry and to find the best ways of engaging in that ministry. This has meant that various strategies have been employed in the pursuit of this objective. Determining the effectiveness of these strategies is not easy as there are no precise instruments for measuring success or failure in this area of ministry. Nevertheless, the review undertaken by CLRIQ this year presented a very positive picture of the SAO's role and value over a decade. This can be summed up in the words of one SAO partner:

If SAO did not exist right now,
we would have to invent it.

2002 has followed a year in which the SAO's agenda was focused very much on the Fair Go Fair Share Campaign - a campaign which culminated in electorate activities in four marginal electorates in Queensland during the 2001 Federal Election. This campaign in marginal seats was outlined and documented throughout 2001 in various SAO media. The Report of Activities 2001 was completed before the Federal Election was called. At that time the SAO staff could not have anticipated the hostility which was to be directed at the organisation, during the election campaign and immediately afterwards, as a result of this campaign in marginal seats. Much was learnt as a result and this is documented in the evaluation report which was completed this year.

One of the big learnings was the absolute importance of collaborative action and that the strength of social action ministry comes from this. This was well articulated in The Philippines during the struggle of the people against the Marcos regime in the 1980s - the people had a saying:

You have to gather the wood
before you can light the fire.

In the last ten years and in 2001 during the Fair Go Fair Share Campaign, the SAO, with others, has been gathering the wood for a mighty fire of justice which is central to the Good News proclaimed by Jesus and preached by the Church. It is encouraging to know that CLRIQ will continue to sponsor the SAO for another three years so that this work can continue in this way.


2. SAO Agenda Areas

On two occasions during the year, SAO staff meet to plan and strategise. From this a Work Plan was developed and presented to CLRIQ for ratification. The Work Plan, and the monthly memorandum which is sent to CLRIQ prior to each CLRIQ meeting, are the main accountability and reporting mechanisms of the SAO. What is outlined here are the highlights of the SAO's work only.

Further, it is important to note that while each staff member has responsibility for a specific agenda area, there are times when everyone works together on a project. The team effort has made a qualitative difference in many of the following initiatives.

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.

This agenda area has been focused on two issues in 2002:

  • the development of an education and lobbying campaign on climate change - with the key objective being to urge the Australian Government to ratify the Kyoto Protocol
  • the preparation of an education module on Catholic Social Teaching and the Environment.

Pauline and Coralie
packing Fact Sheets

The Climate Change Campaign developed in collaboration with others, notably other Church organisations and environmental groups. With the coordination and leadership provided by Pauline Coll sgs, the campaign consisted of:

  • regular updates on the issue uploaded onto the SAO website with an option provided to lobby the Australian Government
  • regular updates in the SAO newsletter and in SAO BYTES
  • sending a letter to Coalition MPs in Queensland urging them to support the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol
  • the preparation of a Climate Change Fact Sheet which was disseminated with the support of the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes (ACLRI) at the ACLRI Conference in Hobart - 6,000 leaflets were printed, packaged and couriered to Hobart
  • further dissemination of this leaflet to many parts of Australia and even as far as New Zealand
  • assisting the ACLRI Media Officer in the preparation of an article on the impact of climate change on the small, island nations of the Pacific which was featured in the ACLRI newsletter Australian Religious in July; a summary of this appeared in The Catholic Leader
  • participation by Pauline Coll sgs in the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg
  • engaging a journalist to write a story about Religious attending the WSSD - this was entitled Going Green for God and has been taken up by a few media outlets and it is hoped more will follow
  • participation in radio programs
  • organisation of a public Prayer Vigil in the grounds of the Cathedral of St Stephen in solidarity with the WSSD - under the theme Sustainable Development: Holding the World in Trust for Earth's Children.

In tandem with this campaign, an education module on Catholic Social Teaching (CST) and the environment was prepared and several copies have been given to interested people. It is an indication of the high quality of this resource that many educators have bought a copy. CST and the Environment has also featured on the SAO website.

The SAO's role in eco-justice has been recognised nationally with references being made to the website in the Catholic Bishops' 2002 Social Justice Statement, A New Earth: The Environmental Challenge, the ACSJC leaflet on Ten Steps Towards Environmental Responsibility and the ecumenical kit Sustaining Creation.

This has been a big year for this agenda area and while the main campaign focus has been on climate change, there has been an ongoing commitment to updating news on the land clearing campaign being conducted by The Wilderness Society and on supporting endeavours to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

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.

Annette organising postcards
Annette organising postcards

Following the intensity of the Fair Go Fair Share Campaign in 2000-2001, the initial focus of this agenda area was to undertake an evaluation of the campaign and to identify key insights which could inform future campaigns of this nature - namely, one based in electorate politics.The elements of this were:

  • to analyse the criticism of some media commentators and of hostile politicians
  • to conduct a survey of those who worked on the campaign with the SAO and to get their feedback
  • to have a dialogue with former Democrat Senator, John Woodley
  • to undertake a review of the campaign within the SAO staff.

Once complete, the data gleaned from this process of evaluation and reflection was written up in a formal evaluation report. One final task, which will bring closure to the marginal electorates campaign of 2001, is for Coralie Kingston and Annette Arnold rsj to visit the Rockhampton Diocese and meet with people who had some involvement, especially during the Federal Election. It is hoped that this will build upon and strengthen relationships in this diocese.

The SAO also sought to maintain contact with Coalition MPs since the Federal Election, and two letters have been sent to these in the course of 2002 raising issues related to the SAO agenda.

The campaign featured in an article in Australian Religious entitled Speak for the poor... but not in my marginal seat, please.

The Fair Go Fair Share Campaign will continue in various manifestations but will always call upon ‘the state' to develop public policy that contributes to the common good here and now.

Another social justice focus in 2002 has been to promote the notion of the common good by highlighting the tenth anniversary of the Catholic Bishops' 1992 Statement Common Wealth for the Common Good. This has involved:

  • promotion in the SAO newsletter
  • preparation of an article for The Catholic Leader
  • collaboration with the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission on a public lecture to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty at which Robert Fitzgerald will give the keynote address.

Annette has continued in the role of Social Justice Coordinator.

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.

In the past twelve months the need for reconciliation and peace in our world has been beyond dispute. In a small way, the SAO has sought to promote peace, both in fidelity to the Gospel and as the only realistic way forward for the Earth Community in an era of weapons of mass destruction. The SAO participated in a public vigil on the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA and prepared prayer for peace for a sacred hour.

Deirdre introducing Fr Jim Consedine

Other key activities in this agenda area coordinated by Deirdre Gardiner rsm have been:

  • the organisation of a workshop on Restorative Justice with the Catholic Prison Chaplains and Catholic Prison Ministry, involving Father Jim Consedine
  • organising follow-up to the workshop
  • a submission, in collaboration with PolMin, to a Senate Inquiry on the excision of islands from the mainland
  • support for Aboriginal people seeking justice for stolen wages
  • completion of a seminar module on CST and Prisons.


The best that most of us can do is to take hold
of the near edge of some great issue/problem
and to act at cost to ourselves.

Colin Morris


3. Communications and Information Technology

Cathy O'Keeffe pbvm has continued to ensure that SAO communications are of a high quality in terms of presentation. The bi-monthly newsletter INFORM-ACTION, the website and the fortnightly e-bulletin SAO BYTES have been the main means of communication of the SAO's agenda and their high quality presentation is due to Cathy's commitment and expertise in this area.

It is worth noting that like many similar non-government agencies, the SAO's media are part of a global network of micro media outlets which provide a real alternative to the big mass media conglomerates which are owned by private interests mainly and which offer little or no relief from the promotion of the dominant culture and economy and the mass consumption that accompanies this. The SAO takes considerable pride in being part of the global micro media network.

Cathy has also provided expertise in the production of:

  • the Climate Change Fact Sheet, which drew praise from many sources for both content and presentation
  • a WSSD banner
  • the Sophia Circles bookmark
  • SAO cards
  • the CST seminar modules.

The establishment of an email and facsimile political and media database has been a priority in the second half of 2002 as well as working on improving the presentation and usability of SAO BYTES.


4. Research and Education

Research has encompassed the coordination and editing of the newsletter, fortnightly preparation of the content of SAO BYTES and regular updates of the SAO website. The website has been an important vehicle for linking SAO agenda areas to research undertaken by others thus eliminating the duplication of resources in these areas.

As in previous years, political ministry is based on sound research and analysis of issues. In 2002, the production of the Climate Change Fact Sheet and the sample lobbying letter were an example of this linkage between research and lobbying for the common good.

This year two articles for the media were prepared to promote the SAO's work and to educate on issues. Going Green for God was contracted to a journalist to maximise exposure in mainstream media outlets - with marginal success. Standing the Test of Time was written to highlight the tenth anniversary of Common Wealth for the Common Good and was published in The Catholic Leader. Two SAO stories have appeared in Australian Religious and while not authored by SAO staff, they have relied considerably on SAO input.

CST seminar modules on the environment and on prisons have been completed.


5. SAO Coordination

Coralie Kingston has continued the responsibility of coordinating the SAO in 2002. This has involved tasks such as:

  • working with other staff in 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
  • coordinating 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.

In the early part of the year Coralie took eight weeks' long service leave and the SAO survived with the wonderful effort of everyone.


6. Administration

Key administration duties have been undertaken in 2002 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. She has also made an outstanding contribution to the running of Justice Place, often in frustrating circumstances. It is fair to say that the SAO's role in the operation of this multi-tenanted centre goes well beyond what it should be - if true mutuality existed among the tenant groups.


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.

Prayer Vigil at the Cathedral of St Stephen

The energy that comes from prayer and reflection has been nourished in the SAO in 2002. The Sophia Circles have been continued and a number of public prayer vigils have been organised by the SAO to mark special events - notably the WSSD and the anniversary of 11 September 2001.

Towards the end of 2001 the SAO was caught up in a campaign of vilification of women Religious and of their commitment to enabling the expression of a contemporary spirituality especially among women. The emphasis on "Sophia" in the SAO's spirituality was targeted. While this caused some distress at the time, it actually assisted the SAO in discerning more and clarifying the basis of a social action spirituality - especially for women in developed countries such as Australia. The Sophia/Wisdom tradition speaks more to us now than ever. This criticism also provided the opportunity to improve the way in which this spirituality is communicated to others and to ensure an understanding that this is grounded in the timeless tradition of faith.

The themes of the Sophia Circles have been:

  • International Women's Day
  • Easter/Holocaust Memorial Day
  • Pentecost/Liberation
  • Winter/Darkness/Nurturing
  • Honouring Indigenous Culture
  • Owning the Refugee in us all
  • Our Mother Earth

and still to come:

  • Year of the Outback (held in October)
  • End Times (held in November).

The spirituality page on the SAO website has been updated throughout the year with one new inclusion being a Recommended Reading section - short book review - uploaded on a monthly basis. The recommended books are generally related to social action and spirituality.


8. General

Team Supervision

Brother Tony Hempenstall cfc has continued as the SAO staff's group supervisor. The staff have had group supervision for almost three years and it is still beneficial. It provides a safe forum for raising issues that impact upon staff relationships and for resolving these, if that is required. While sometimes demanding, group supervision has contributed positively to the operation of the SAO.

The Inter-Congregational Social Action Group (ICSAG)

Sharing a meal after an ICSAG meeting

The meetings of the ICSAG have continued to be high-energy gatherings, combining business and reflection with a good social occasion.

It is important to acknowledge the contribution of the many people who are a part of the SAO network and who work alongside the staff in various campaigns and who participate in the same social movements which encompass the three SAO agenda areas. SAO operates on the basis of partnership, mutuality and shared values and vision. It is a great privilege to be with those who, day after day, seek to transform this world into a place where justice, peace and ecological sustainability will flourish.

Visit to East Timor

Cathy and Fr Peter in Dili

In April this year Cathy O'Keeffe was given leave from SAO to visit East Timor at the invitation of the Fr Peter Puthenkandam cmf, the Director of Catholic Communications East Timor (CCET), to assist him in assessing the performance and needs of CCET and making plans for the future of the ministry. CCET is a ministry of the Diocese of Dili which lost everything in the mayhem that followed the referendum in 1999. Its mission of providing the people of East Timor with educative, liturgical, cultural and faith-building resources is now taking on a new importance at this time of building an independent and free East Timor.

Following her visit, Cathy wrote a report for CCET which was forwarded to Fr Peter. This report has also recently been submitted to Aid to the Church in Need (Asia Section) to accompany CCET's application for funding. On a smaller scale Cathy is also raising funds to help with some operational costs of CCET, particularly staff benefits such as increment in salary and educational opportunities, facilities such as a motorcycle, sickness benefits and midday meals. With funding from the Presentation Sisters' Promotion of Mission Fund, Cathy has produced professionally printed cards using photos she took during her visit to East Timor. These are now being sold and the proceeds are going to CCET.


9. Conclusion

As ten years of the life of the SAO is brought to closure we are mindful that 2003 will bring staff changes and, with that, other changes are likely to follow. Life and growth require change. The soil is rich and we are confident that life will flourish in the years 2003 to 2005.

A major aspect of the change to take place is the departure of Coralie Kingston from the Social Action Office. In 1992 Coralie was the person who was engaged by CLRIQ to bring to birth the shared vision they held for the SAO. Coralie (along with some administrative support) was the only worker for the first five years. Her strong and enduring commitment to social justice along with her very high degree of skill has been highly valued by all associated with the SAO. She will indeed be missed. Life and growth require change and the rich soil that will nurture and enable SAO's life to continue to grow and develop is a legacy Coralie has had a very significant role in creating.

We give thanks for all who have been part of the SAO since 1992 - the Congregational Leaders, women and men Religious, the people who have worked here at various times, the partners and supporters, the Justice Place groups who have come and gone, the organisations that have made donations to support projects, the wider partners in the social movements. It has been quite a story so far.


Telling our stories is a political act.
Without stories there is no articulation of experiences -
Without stories we don't learn the value of our struggles or comprehend our pain -
Without stories we cannot understand ourselves
or dance in the rain -
We are closed in the silence.

Carol Christ


Social Action Office Staff
October 2002


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