Saturday, 24 May 2008

On social justice Rudd style

Now that the Budget is all but over bar lots of shouting, Mr Rudd has been busy setting up yet more commissions, boards and inquiries.

Homelessness has been on his agenda from the beginning.

Australians might recall that immediately after being elected Prime Minister, he sent out his new MPs to visit the homeless shelters in their electorates, and get estimates on how many were being turned away. Apparently the answer is around 100,000.

I actually do agree with Mr Rudd that this is a national disgrace. The prophets, after all, repeatedly warns us of the fate of nations that ignore the plight of the poor.

The real question though, is what can and should be done, and by whom.

The reality is that much homelessness in Australia today reflects the disintegration of the family. It reflects the crisis in our culture, and absence of religion, that sees people take refuge in drugs and other forms of escapism. At the more practical level, it is also the result of the dismantling of infrastructure, such as that intended to support those with mental illnesses.

It is, of course, up to us to make sure that some of these issues get an airing through the hearings and submissions process now underway:

The second new body is a 'Social Inclusion Board', which includes several prominent Catholics (its vice-chair is Msgr David Cappo of Adelaide). Social Inclusion is a jargon term that has been around for a while now, and focuses on issues such as the fact that programme delivery can be very uneven in its geographic reach, as well as the alienation of particular groups (angry young men being a particular problem in Australia, for example).

If it does its job, it could provide a useful focus on issues such as the need to rebuild the family as a genuinely supportive institution in our society. Of course, it also has enormous potential to be diverted into politically correct side-alleys. It will be interesting to see what happens:
However, there is a good case for at least one of the touted new bodies, namely some kind of Ethics Commission, to monitor what MPs and public servants are up to. The sooner the better I suspect - the Public Service Commission has been pretty much a dead letter for many years now.

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