Abbott playing the man, not policy: PolMin

The Catholic lobby PolMin says that it invited Federal Ministers Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey to explain how WorkChoices was consistent with Catholic social teaching but Mr Abbott preferred to publicly attack people who spoke out against those laws.

The Melbourne-based lobby is responding to a speech by Mr Abbott, published in The Australian yesterday, in which the Health Minister compared the group to a Chinese communist front organisation.

"It's a classic front organisation, a local version of the Chinese Patriotic Church," Mr Abbott told a group of Catholic university students at the weekend, in response to the lobby's critique of the government's workplace laws.

In a statement, PolMin board members said that they had written to Coalition parliamentarians setting out three concerns faith communities have about WorkChoices.

Their concerns include the unfairness of the laws and the effects WorkChoices would have on the dignity of workers and on the goodwill between businesses and workers.

"We reminded the Government that it is an important principle of Christian Social Teaching that workers have rights to fair remuneration, basic conditions such as holiday leave and the opportunity to negotiate with their employer in groups when they may otherwise be intimidated or unskilled to do so, on their own," the board members said.

"Secondly, we raised concerns that the flexibility promised by WorkChoices only benefits the employer and not the worker," the statement continued.

PolMin also says it drew the Government's attention to the case of a Hillsong pastor who was refused part time employment at a call centre because he wouldn't sign an AWA requiring him to work on Sundays.

"We said that Workchoices, whether intentionally or not, permitted unethical businesses to extend working hours into times traditionally reserved for family, the practice of faith and community activities," the board members said.

"Finally, we suggested that AWAs discouraged businesses and workers from working together," the members said, which included a number of Religious.

PolMin claims that Mr Abbott contacted the organisation by phone last week but refused to address the group's concerns privately.

"We invited him and fellow Catholic, Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey, to set out in writing what principles of Christian Social Teaching they believe support the Federal Government's workplace reform," the board members say.

"Rather than address any of the concerns we raised in our letter, Minister Abbott has sought to publicly attack our organisation and other people of faith brave enough to speak out against the Government's workplace laws," they concluded.

In a letter to The Australian, PolMin president, Dr PM Black denied Mr Abbott's accusation that organisations like PolMin are "the equivalent of a communist front organisation in China".

"PolMin is apolitical," Dr Black said, "but public policies often are not."

"PolMin's aim is to engage in public debate about public policies that affect the common good. Such a discussion is the right of every citizen in this country - whatever their religious or political beliefs," she concluded.

PolMin Letter, 12/7/07
Dr PM Black, Letter to The Australian
PolMin Media Release, 5/6/07

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Australian Political Ministry Network
Tony Abbott MP
Catholic Diocese of Parramatta | Bishop Kevin Manning

Abbott lashes Catholic "fellow travellers" (CathNews, 12/7/07)
Catholic voters turn to Rudd (CathNews, 11/7/07)
WorkChoices unbalanced, Catholic employment body says (CathNews, 2/7/07)
Govt "canonised" economy, Manning claims (CathNews, 27/4/07)
Abbott claims DLP heritage for Liberal Party (CathNews, 30/1/07)
Bishop Manning named a "Champion of the West" (CathNews, 6/4/06)

13 Jul 2007