George Waidkuns-Velasquez is a friend of mine and a follower of this blog. He is a lawyer with a keen interest in issues of social justice. I invited him to write this month’s and next month’s articles for our JPIC blog. He chose to write this month, following the article I wrote last month on the trickle down economy, on the current state of social justice in Australia from the perspective of the government’s recent budget in light of Pope Francis’ encyclical. His reflections are as follows.
Throughout history the Church has seen a concern for social justice as a part of its mission drawn from the gospel. In recently released official documents, the Church has presented current social justice issues as some of the most important problems of our time. The Church proposes to address these issues at relevant political and economic forums, for debate and discussion, requiring urgent treatment.
It cannot be seen as a casual matter when Pope Francis expressed serious concerns related to social justice in the APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION : EVANGELII GAUDIUM for Christians and the entire world to reflect upon.
Pope Francis exhorts the world, “The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of its urgency for the good order of society, but because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises. Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. 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. Inequality is the root of social ills”. [i]
According to recent studies Oxfam, ahead of the World Economic Forum, found that “The richest 85 people in the world have as much money as the poorest 3.5 billion – or half the world’s entire population – put together (this is the stark headline of its report from Davos). Rather than benefiting all, the result of this economic system is a widening gap between the rich and the poor, with damage and decrease of the middle-class.[ii]
Fr. Sanchez in an excellent analysis of the Australian Socio-Economic Situation presented us with a deep insight about the so called ‘trickle-down’ effect. This is a neoliberal belief, which states that additional wealth gained by the richest people in society will have a good economic effect on the lives of everyone because the rich people will put the extra money into businesses. Fr. Sanchez uses convincing arguments linking this neoliberal belief with current Australian Government policy and its effects on the unemployed and the disadvantaged, proving the falseness of the trickle down effect.[iii]
In its last presented budget, the current Australian government has ignored these social justice issues, regardless of serious exhortations by the Australian Catholic Bishops delivered for reflection and consideration.
The Australian Catholic Bishops stated, “Families are affected by all aspects of social and economic policy – not just ‘family policy’. Government policies need to be assessed in terms of the impact they will have on families – particularly the most vulnerable groups that we have mentioned”. [iv]
It is widely accepted in Australia that an ethos of egalitarianism and the belief in ‘a fair go’ are part of Australia’s culture. However, there is evidence to suggest that Australia has been moving towards the high end of social inequality amongst comparable wealthy countries. According to research conducted by Wilkinson and Pickett, who measured by the gap between the richest 20% and the poorest 20% in each country, Australia sits with the UK, Singapore, New Zealand and the USA at the most unequal end of the scale of affluent countries.[v]
Australia currently is following the “global” trend coming out of the neo-liberal ideologies centred in the profits of the rich and ignoring the disadvantaged, the poor, the sick and the elderly. The current Australian government is implementing (or at least trying to implement) the neo-liberal trickle down effect doctrine, which proves to be destructive, ignoring social justice and leaving the disadvantaged in devastation and abandonment.
The big question for me is, ‘are the political leaders of Australia listening to what the church is saying about social justice.’ It seems to me that the Australian leaders need to reflect upon the devastating consequences of pursuing the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation. The Church is very clear about what are the true challenges that political leaders must follow in order to keep the good order of society.
Australian leaders need to listen to what Pope Francis is saying about social justice and the economic system:
“We are in a world economic system that is not good,” a system that in order to survive must make war, as great empires have always done. But since you cannot have a Third World War, you have regional wars. And what does this mean? That arms are made and sold, and in this way the idolatrous economies, the great world economies that sacrifice human beings at the feet of the idol of money, obviously keep their balance sheets in the black.”[vi]
[i] APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION EVANGELII GAUDIUM 
[ii] “Trickle Up Economics” Posted on JPIC Australia, June 11 2014, by Passionist JPIC
[iii] “Trickle Up Economics” Posted on JPIC Australia, June 11 2014, by Passionist JPIC
[iv] Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, SOCIAL JUSTICE STATEMENT 2012–2013, Page 3
[v] National Pro Bono Resource Centre Occasional Paper: What is Social Justice? , 2010 Page 8
[vi] Spanish daily La Vanguardia. June 12 2014