Address at the Launch of the 2017-2018 Social Justice Statement

Address at the Launch of the 2017-2018 Australian Catholic Bishop’s Social Justice Statement at Mary MacKillop Place, North Sydney

“Everyone’s Business: Developing an Inclusive and Sustainable Economy”

Thank you, John and my sincere thanks to Auntie Elsie, Commissioner Susan Pascoe and Fr Frank Brennan for their outstanding contributions to today’s launch.

As you have already heard, this Statement is built around the Gospel reading for this year’s Social Justice Sunday – which happens to be one of the most intriguing parables. As Jesus does so often, he takes a scene that his listeners would have been familiar with. They knew what it was to go to a market place, hang around and hope to find work for a day or just an hour or so.

For those workers, the marketplace was a harsh, inhospitable place that did not fully serve the needs of the people or the community it inhabited. It embodied a society in which the most vulnerable struggle to find a place or are cast aside.

Through the parable, we can see aspects of our own society. We are reminded of the faces of the most vulnerable including the lowest paid, often in part-time work, those living on income support, those at risk of homelessness, and Indigenous Australians. They are affected by the move to short term contracts and casual employment, by minimum wages insufficient to support a family, and by the refusal of many employers to contribute to superannuation or to pay due wages.

But in his story, Jesus shows another way. He gives us a moral compass so that the economy serves the people and not the other way around. He paints a picture in which the vulnerable in the community are brought to the centre of our concern. Quite radically, he concludes that the first will be last and the last first. God always cares for the last and the least as a matter of priority.

Jesus used his parables to challenge the commonly-held views of his time. They still challenge us today. Jesus wanted to inspire a change of heart in his listeners – and in us.

In this parable, he is talking of the Kingdom of God – a Kingdom we are called to bring into the reality of this world. And as always, he places the least, the most dispossessed, at the centre. Our response to those people is the benchmark for judging whether our society is just or not.

The owner of the vineyard feels real solidarity with these labourers. He recognises that they are not units that are expendable, to be hired for the lowest bid. He sees them as co-workers with an inalienable dignity, members of his own community, engaged in a shared enterprise. He does not blame them for their inability to find work. He sympathises with them. He sees them but he also sees the faces of their children, who need bread and clothing.

This is a Statement that challenges us to see a world that exists beyond the columns of a spreadsheet. In this document, Australia’s Bishops are following the lead of Pope Francis. It is addressed to our political and business leaders, certainly, but also to every one of us, inviting us to help build a society that is at the service of all, particularly those who have been excluded from the circle of exchange and from the vast benefits of economic prosperity.

There are many possible roads to such a society. It is not the purpose of a Statement like this to prescribe one way in preference to another. But we can see important landmarks on the journey.

The United Nations has adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as a vision for development into the future. They focus on the elimination of poverty, hunger and inequality, and on the promotion of health, education, sustainability, ecological integrity, peace and justice. These are vital goals in building a just society and an inclusive economy.

These initiatives, and others like them, point a way forward for us. Australian society, after all, has been built on the concept of fairness and the common good. It is no accident that we call our nation a Commonwealth. That word implies a national ideal that we need to honour and nourish.

I think the vineyard owner in the parable would have recognised that ideal. He would have shared the concern of Pope Francis, who says in Evangelii Gaudium:

‘Today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.’

Let me invite you to join Australia’s Bishops in rejecting an economy of exclusion and inequality and instead seek one that is inclusive and sustainable – one that gives and nurtures life.

As we say in the Statement:

‘We are called to work for an economy that is inclusive and capable of putting the needs of the poor before the wants of the rich. We envisage an alternative to market places that are harsh and inhospitable: the vineyard, lush and green, sustainable in its growth and inclusive in its economy.’

At the beginning of this morning’s proceedings we prayed that God would make us instruments of his compassion, of his mercy and of his creative spirit.

We join ourselves again to that prayer as we ask for the strength and wisdom to build an economy for every one of our brothers and sisters.

Most Rev Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv
Bishop of Parramatta
Chairman, Australian Catholic Social Justice Council