Catholic Social Services challenges Labor on commitment to poor

Welcoming the establishment the Labor Party's "Family Watch Task Force," Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) Director Frank Quinlan yesterday told the Party that it has a "unique opportunity to renew its traditional commitment to those who are most in need."

Mr Quinlan was speaking yesterday at a public hearing in Sydney of a Labor Task Force established in late June to examine the financial pressure Australian families are facing, including petrol prices, household debt and the cost of health care.

Drawing on promises made by former prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, such as the call that no child ought to live in poverty, Mr Quinlan said that "a vision for a fairer Australia built on equity and access can find resonance in the hearts of the voting public."

Citing the US Catholic bishops, Mr Quinlan told the Task Force chaired by Member for Ballarat, Catherine King, that the Church's preferential option for the poor "is not an adversarial slogan that pits one group or class against another."

"Rather," he said, "it states that the deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community.

"The extent of their suffering is a measure of how far we are from being a true community of persons."

Mr Quinlan added: "We stand ready to assist in the establishment of a new vision for Australian families, a vision that demonstrated the strength of society by providing targeted assistance to those who do not yet share in our country's unprecedented prosperity."

In a series of recommendations to the Task Force, Mr Quinlan called for consideration of the full range of factors which pressure families, including systemic poverty, as well as increases in selected specific living costs.

"Recent cost pressures should not be considered in isolation," he said, and it is necessary to look at the entire load on a camel's back, "not just the last few straws."

"This is especially important in relation to low-income families experiencing an inter-generational cycle of poverty," he added.

Highest priority should also be given to low-income families in the examination of pressures affecting families.

"The needs of low-income families deserve a higher profile in public policy debates," he continued. "These are the families most severely affected by financial insecurity and cost pressures - and most in need of support from political leaders."

Other recommendations called for consideration of the "geographical distribution of social disadvantage" and highlighted the need for "proposals to alleviate some of the worst effects of spiralling household debt ... while recognising that its root causes lie in the broader problem of financial insecurity."

Mr Quinlan said "working poor people already exist in Australia" and Catholic Social Services plans research to identify and document the combined impact of "WorkChoices" and "Welfare-to-work" on the clientele of its member organisations.

The Task Force will report back to the Labor Caucus in November.

Presentation to ALP Family Watch Task Force (Catholic Social Services Australia, 21/8/06)
Sydney families' financial burden 'growing' (ABC News 21/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Social Services Australia

Triple whammy for low income households: CSSA (CathNews 3/8/06)
Low unemployment should pave way for training places: CSSA (CathNews 14/7/06)
New welfare-to-work rules spell disaster: Catholic Social Services (CathNews, 3/7/06)
Catholic Social Services baulks at cooperation with harsh policy (CathNews 7/6/06)
Catholic Social Services welcomes falling unemployment (CathNews 26/5/06)
Vinnies says "no" to Govt money (CathNews 6/4/06)
Church groups pessimistic about welfare overhaul (CathNews 21/11/05)

22 Aug 2006