Dear Prime Minister Abbott,2013-SJS-statement-cover

We have met briefly once before, but you probably don’t remember me.  We both spoke at a Catholic event for young men in 2009, and we were part of a Q and A panel at that same event.  At one point I leant over to you and said that the four of us on stage were the most driven men in the room.  You told us then that you wanted to be Prime Minister, so congratulations on achieving your goal.

At that gathering of young men you impressed me with your candour and humility.  You described yourself as a ‘bad Catholic’, meaning that you understood that Catholicism poses lofty ideals, and that all of us fail to live up to the teachings of our Master.  You’re right, all of us are bad Catholics, in one way or another.  I also admired your stance on RU486 when you were health minister, and the way you have sought to uphold the institution of marriage in our society.  I understand that it is a very difficult task to be true to your beliefs and to also lead a nation in which many do not share your core convictions, and I admire your willingness to take up this perilous challenge.

Prime Minister Abbott, today our Church celebrates Social Justice Sunday.  The Australian bishops have released a statement called ‘Lazarus at our Gate’ for this weekend.  The statement challenges the Church in Australia to respond to the challenge of global poverty, and its title picks up the parable for this Sunday’s Gospel: the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).  I’m sure you know the parable and I am confident you have read the bishops’ letter.  The central point the bishops make is that 1 in 5 of the world’s poorest people live in our part of the world, which means that Australia is the rich man of the parable and that Lazarus is at our gate.

Prime Minister Abbott, I want your government to be responsible in the management of our country’s economy and resources.  Nevertheless, your party’s promise to cut $4.5 billion in foreign aid as a deficit-reduction measure less than 2 days before the election was nothing short of staggering.

I also think that we must do everything we can to eradicate people smuggling, but both your party and your political opponent’s policies regarding asylum seekers go dramatically beyond this.  Greater off-shore detention, the withholding of rights to work or access to medical benefits for those seeking asylum through the reintroduction of temporary protection visas, and reduced rights of appeal or access to legal assistance have all been mooted by you and your colleagues in the lead-up to the election.

I do not believe either of these policies are in Australia’s national interest, and I think they are indefensible when considered against our global commitments to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the United Nations Refugee Convention.  So you don’t have to draw upon your Catholic faith for a rationale to change these terrible policy decisions.

As a fellow bad Catholic though, I still would like to draw your attention to the parable you will hear at Mass today.  The two critical insights that I take from the story are that Lazarus is not presented as particularly worthy or deserving of the rich man’s solicitude.  It is simply because he is in need that he is the subject of God’s attention and action.  Secondly, the rich man doesn’t appear wicked in any respect but this: he is simply blind to the needs of the man at his gate.  As Australian Catholics, this parable represents a personal challenge to us, doesn’t it?

I wish you and your government all the best as you lead our wonderful country.