Dr Philip Freier
Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne

The following article, by Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, first appeared in the Good Friday edition of  The Herald Sun under the headline ‘Share the wealth’.

Easter is a good opportunity to reflect on who we are as Australians and what we stand for as a nation. For Christians, Easter is a time when we are called to renew our lives in the light of the love of the Risen Christ.

What might renewal look like for Australia?

Australia enjoys a level of peace, stability, prosperity and equality that is the envy of many countries in the world. These qualities are related to the Judaeo-Christian principles that have shaped our governance, laws, institutions and general ethos as a nation.

These principles are based on the respect for persons as having innate value regardless of wealth or status, and the responsibility we all have to ensure that others, particularly those who lack the means or ability, are able to share in the general wealth and well-being of the community.

If then we are a people who respect others as having intrinsic worth regardless of status, we must better value those who seek to come to our shores as migrants and asylum seekers, knowing that Australia’s prosperity has been built on the hard work of successive generations of migration.

The Judaeo-Christian principles have been responsible for the creation of the fair and decent society, including participation in the social, health, educational and economic benefits that a fair distribution of wealth makes possible. This is surely better than a few amassing wealth.at the expense of many. I am greatly attracted to the axiom: ‘The rising tide floats many boats.’

At its heart, the Occupy Movement has been a response to the gap between the rising wealth of a few and the awareness that many others are being left behind. This is what happens when wealth creation becomes separated from moral and social responsibility.

At the same time, both the Government and Opposition need to renew their effort in communicating clearly a vision for Australia that transcends party politics, the 24-hour news cycle and the three-year cycle of elections. The 2010 election campaign failed to excite the public imagination because no one appeared to offer a clear over-arching narrative about the sort of Australia they believed in, hoped for or dreamt about.

Let our over-arching narrative be that we are a nation of people who believe in a fair go for all, an equal access through education and employment to the wealth we need to support our lives and families. That the innate goodness in all of us leads us to care about our fellow citizens and be prepared to share and benefit in the prosperity of our country.

It is not too late for our leaders to tell us, in clear and simple terms, what they believe constitutes a good and decent society, and what Australia needs to do to achieve it.

But parliament is only one part of the matter. Some of our other major institutions and corporations also need a ‘reality check’ when it comes to assessing the state of their health.

The banks, for example, have failed to make an adequate case for increasing interest rates or making employees redundant when they have been making enormous and record profits.

The mining sector, too, has shown it is reluctant to share a fair proportion of the wealth it has accrued from digging up the mineral resources that belong to all Australians.

I invite Australia’s business and parliamentary leaders to reflect on how wealth shared equitably can be used for the betterment of the whole community, and to improve the lives and opportunities of all Australians.

Australia has pressing social problems, which require visionary politicians, and a socially responsible corporate sector, union movement and general citizenry, all working together for the common good.

These problems include the lack of affordable housing, particularly for the young; insufficient investment in infrastructure and public transport on the growing fringes of our cities; lack of adequate support for the disabled, many of whom depend on overworked and underpaid carers; lack of equality of opportunity for indigenous Australians; educational disadvantage of many in poorer suburbs; and the growing incidence of depression and mental illness among the young.

Australia could do better, too, in the area of helping more people to become employed. According to a recent speech by Tony Nicholson, the Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, the five top ranked countries in the OECD spend more than three times than Australia on programs to assist people into work.

This is why I believe the time has come for Australia to renew its stance on who we are and what we believe. It is also time for commitment to a new social contract – a contract that is about a sense of mutual obligation to one another and responsibility for one another, and founded on the kind of principles that have produced the fair and good society that Australia has enjoyed for so long.

Jesus Christ said that he came so that all might have life, and have it abundantly (John’s Gospel, Chapter 10 verse 10). Let us all be generously committed to a full and good life for all, and in so doing discover life’s true riches.




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