At Anglicare Australia we underpin our advocacy with a basic question about “how we should live together”. The answers can look like complex superannuation or taxation equations, they can look like the way we arrange housing, the way in which aged care or disability services are delivered, and specifically how equity is or is not created, nurtured and protected. Our view of how we should live together is founded in our deep belief that every human being has inherent potential and dignity, built of course on our Christian heritage.
Our belief that a good society is a just one that seeks to redistribute its benefits and offer protection from risk underpins our thoughts on these issues. It is something that all members of Anglicare Australia share, which in turn gives rise to our mission to serve those who are disadvantaged, marginalised or vulnerable.
It’s important to have those conversations and to have them explicitly. By asking those questions (and ones like them – what is a good society, how shall we live, what is a good life?) we can know what we feel and think about the myriad of issues that come our way in the course of the year. This year alone we have met with Ministers, made submissions, opined on line and in print, published reports and made public comments on literally thousands of social, environmental and economic issues.
So we are sad and perplexed, along with many others judging by the reactions in the media, by the ABC’s decision to review its religious programming including the axing of the popular Sunday Nights program. We should of course declare our own interest here: this program has been a valuable vehicle for us to hold these conversations, to examine the issues of social justice more deeply than is possible in the 30 second news grab. And therein lies its value; the ability to have conversations built on ethical frameworks (and those ethical frameworks can be secular as well as religious) brings about much more thoughtful responses to the complex problems of our society.
Without this thoughtfulness we find ourselves operating as an economy instead of a society, making decisions based on what things cost rather than what the right thing would be. It is important that we know and understand what interventions work, and which ones actually hinder. It’s important to know where costs lie, but only as a secondary consideration once we know what we should do.
Thus when we find ourselves in conversations about the Priority Investment Approach to welfare policy, we know that it isn’t right that because you are a young carer you are more likely to have your education interrupted, your chances of secure work (and all the benefits that delivers) affected. We can look at our past experience in this area to see what has worked and develop ideas for future services along with those young carers. This is a much deeper conversation than the headline reported in the media about the “burden” these people will present to society over their lifetime.
Used properly, and underpinned by a desire for a society where every individual is considered of equal worth, this actuarial modelling of the cost of various groups may be helpful in identifying those most at risk and therefore needing assistance to enable a decent life. Wouldn’t it be interesting though to produce an actuarial model on the lifetime cost privilege – funding to private schools, to private health care, to private housing through taxation and to savings via superannuation, the list would go on.
This simplistic distillation of a life down to costs that fit in the columns of an accountant’s page is not all that government should be doing. Its role is far more than that. This actuarial model is a way to manage the symptoms and measures the usefulness of the medicine. It is not going to give us the answers to how we should live together or what makes a good society.
As governments move away from conversations about the social contract more of us need to step into this space. The recent ACOSS conference set out to promote just such a conversation about the goals and values of civil society.
The examples from the Anglicare network published in our State of the Family report this year are about how we contribute to that social contract and about how when we believe everyone has equal worth we step in when someone is doing it tough. Social supports, flexible work places, adequate income, secure and safe housing and real opportunities for individuals are all the things that help people contribute to and be a part of a good society. Interestingly they are also often the very things that privilege delivers.
These initiatives and services are still enabled or disabled by public policy though. While we cannot rely on our engagement with governments alone to deliver the kind of policies that enable a good society nor can we ignore them. We need to play our part in ensuring that people who make up our governments understand their role in building a society which best enables the best possible life for all its citizens.
With Christmas just around the corner why not pick up a pen and send a Christmas card to your local members and remind them that we all need to work together if we’re to live together in a way that recognises the worth of each of us. We would all be the richer for it, and imagine what that would do to the bottom line.
Executive Director, Anglicare Australia