Interview: The Baby Drought
Industrial: Lies, AWAs and Statistics
Workplace: The Invisible Parents
History: Bruce’s Big Blunder
Politics: All God's Children
Economics: Spun Out
International: Shakey Trials
Legal: Civil Distrubance
Review: Crash Course In Racism
Poetry: You're Fired
The Locker Room
An Act of Faith
Remembering Workers In Cairns
Fair Go For Injured Workers
A Question Of Choice
Galahs Up The Cross
Dear Mr Howard,
As the Bishop of a Diocese with a considerable population of Indigenous Australians and a number of extremely socially disadvantaged areas, the annual Federal Budget is of great importance.
My congratulations on the boost in funding for marriage education and your support for relationship counselling. Education and early intervention into troubled relationships are of considerable importance in saving families from separation and divorce. This will be most welcome to the Catholic Church's social welfare agency, Centacare, which provides extensive marriage and family counselling in the Diocese.
The 80,000 additional childcare places and the additional childcare fee assistance will be a help to families with both parents working. The bonus for carers, although a one off, is recognition of the role they play in our society.
Funding for additional vocational education and training, and extra places in language, literacy and numeracy programs are most welcome.
Additional expenditure on housing and health for Indigenous people is to be applauded but much more needs to be done. The staff of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in Penrith are always in search of housing for their clients.
While the 2005 Budget has a number of helpful initiatives I find it difficult to understand why, in a time of such affluence, with a $9 billion surplus, money should be dispensed in tax cuts rather than invested in health, education and infrastructure.
Hardly a day goes by without revelations of overcrowding, course cutting and job insecurity in the tertiary education sector.
The cutting of the Medicare Safety Net leaves poor families even more vulnerable.
The limited provision for drought relief in the Budget seems extraordinary and I hope this will be rectified as a result of the Parkes summit.
An opportunity for putting education and health on a more secure footing has been bypassed for what is a very small financial gain for individual families.
The welfare and associated agencies in the Diocese of Parramatta support the Budget focus on welfare to work and recognise that most single mothers and people with disabilities welcome any opportunity to find meaningful work.
However, the participation requirements, the emphasis on compliance and the threat of suspension and loss of benefits fails to recognise the precarious nature of poor, single families.
Frank Quinlan, Director of Catholic Welfare Australia, expressed grave concern that "the 'three strikes and you're out' welfare payment regime including immediate and automatic suspensions ... may leave the poorest in the community vulnerable to real risks."
Single parents often require work that allows them to work between 9am and 3pm, have time off during school holidays and flexibility when it comes to sick children.
This type of employment is not so easily gained by low-skilled workers. The staff of the Ministry to Solo Parents and Their Families in the Diocese of Parramatta expressed concerns about "latch key kids" and sick children being left at home on their own.
In regard to people with disabilities going into the workforce it seems that the cart is before the horse. An enormous amount of effort needs to go into persuading employers to take on disabled workers and then some training in working with disabled people has to happen.
All this needs to be in place before structures are set up to have people with disabilities going through the participation and compliance hoops with only a small chance of employment.
Across the road from my office is a park where homeless men and women gather. St Vincent de Paul and other Church agencies regularly provide food for them.
What they really need is a bed and shelter. The Cardinal Freeman Centre, Hope Hostel and Parramatta Mission provide some assistance but there are just not enough beds.
This being the case I was most disappointed to see that the core funding from the Federal Government for the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) in 2005-06 is to be reduced by almost $17 million. This means that existing services will be cut and there is no hope for any increase in beds and shelter for the homeless.
The measure of the worth of any society is in its care for the weakest and the most vulnerable. Tax cuts for the wealthy while the homeless remain without bed or shelter leaves a long way for us to travel to be a truly just and compassionate society.
I would be anxious to have a conversation with you or your Ministers on these issues.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Bishop Kevin Manning,
Diocese of Parramatta.
First published in Catholic Outlook, June 2005.
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