As we mark the Feast of St Joseph the Worker this year, the most significant issue affecting the work life of Australians is the impact of COVID-19. Like you, I have found it deeply distressing to see so many thousands of people queuing to apply for government assistance.
Many Australians have been experiencing their first encounters with CentreLink and our income support systems. We are only as strong as our weakest link. Let us hope that this exposure will translate into a broader and enduring societal solidarity with those who lack adequate income for their needs, those who are struggling to simply survive from day to day and others less fortunate in our community.
We are pleased to see that the JobSeeker payment, which has replaced NewStart, is a more adequate amount - at least for the time being. It is also appropriate that unrealistic mutual obligation requirements have been suspended at this time. The JobKeeper payments too are a welcome effort to support both workers and businesses. However there remain many people who are unable to access this support and are at risk of falling through the cracks.
Over and over the Scriptures encourage us to welcome and care for the ‘strangers’ among us. Excluding asylum seekers and temporary protection visa holders from government assistance is not only inhumane and unworthy of a decent society, it is also dangerous to public health at this time. Similarly, international students and non-residents on working visas are not eligible for income support. Would a good host, who invited guests to contribute to the economy by purchasing educational services or filling skills gaps, simply turn a blind eye to their needs at a time like this?
This major shock to our community, and economy, could provide an opportunity to reset our thinking about how we support the poorest, most marginalized, and most vulnerable members of our community.
In a climate of fear, there is a tendency to narrow our circle. God calls us to a different way: working together, needing each other, being the body of Christ. May St Joseph, model of integrity and solidarity inspire us to serve and to care for all.
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv
Bishop of Parramatta
Chair, Bishops Commission for Social Justice – Mission and Service