Archive Article: A Just And Peaceful Land. 26 Oct 01
January 4, 2009

Are Australian politicians concentrating too much on economic matters – and not enough on social ones? The high rate of declining services in rural and regional Australia suggests this to be true.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has issued a Statement for Social Justice Sunday entitled ” a just and peaceful land.pdf: Rural and Regional Australia 2001″. As with all such annual statements, this one makes good reading, particularly in putting the point of view of people who are in the rural sector.

The statement emphasises the extraordinary gift that rural Australia has been to all of Australia. But the importance of that gift has not been fully acknowledged by the rest of Australia. Of the 37 poorest federal electorates, 33 of them are rural. While we hear much about poverty in the inner cities, there is far less media attention to rural poverty – but, then, few journalists live in the isolated rural sector.

Similarly, the rate of avoidable deaths is on average 40 per cent higher in the country than in the capital cities. There are increased substance abuse, low morale and depression. Long hours of work lead to greater risk of accidents and withdrawal from community activities and involvement.

Therefore, the rural way of life that is largely disappearing, or at least changing. While many of the isolated rural areas are in decline, many regional cities are prospering (often of course because people move off the land into those centres, such as for retirement purposes).

The statement reports that rightly or wrongly, the Australian rural community perceives the loss of jobs and services as a direct result of governments’ pursuit of economic policies under the banner of “economic rationalism”. These have been at the expense of social human capital. Deregulation, for example, in the dairy industry and the airlines, globalization and international trade policies all usually mean the closing down of industry and services. The closures then have, with attendant unemployment and social problems, often for families who have efficiently worked in an area for generations.

The statement then examines Catholic social teaching about the issues confronting rural and regional Australia. Living justly means living in right relationship with God, ourselves, others and creation. It means living and relating in such a way that everyone’s dignity is respected and enhanced. Work for justice necessarily requires the entry into all the processes, systems and structures by which we govern our living together in this world – political, economic, social, legal customary and religious.

The foundational principle of Catholic social teaching is the inherent dignity of every human person. From this dignity flows certain fundamental rights – to life, security, work, to a family income, to the ownership of property, to freedom of conscience, to have one’s own culture respected, not to be discriminated against on the basis of gender, race, wealth or social status, and to be able to participate in the making of decisions which affect one’s life and the life of one’s community.

Finally, the statement has some recommendations. One is to keep wealth in the local community through the establishment of local banks or credit unions. Another is to create initiatives that protect the land, water, environment and natural resources – many of which of course, are activities that also create jobs. The statement contains examples of what some Catholic organizations are doing to help rural and regional Australia.