Church and [the first] state – a guide to democracy for NSW Christians. Part 5

Well, we’ve come to the end. I hope this series has been helpful for all the category “A”ers in thinking through how to use your vote wisely on Saturday. Before I give today’s issue and non-issue I need to say one very important thing.

Your involvement in democracy doesn’t end when you leave the polling station and get your sausage sandwich on Saturday morning. Though Australia and the state of New South Wales fall into the category of “representative democracy”, that is we elect people to make decisions for us, as citizens we still have the opportunity to play a huge roll in the way we are governed. As Christians, we need to seek out these opportunities for thoughtful engagement (whether it be meeting with our representatives about issues that are important to us, writing to the papers, participating in public inquiries, etc.). All these things sound far scarier than they are. I’m not wanting to sound all American and optimistic but if you aren’t happy with the way our governments are moving on certain issues and you have made no attempt at engagement then there is a problem. The Centre for Christian Living’s next public meeting is on how we do that public engagement stuff in a way that doesn’t make us look like whining prats so try and get there if you live in the Sydney area.

Issue 3: Community Services (formerly DoCS)

In this final post I want to address an area that I get the impression a great many Christians don’t really understand – the work of NSW Community Services. This is a hard issue to discuss because of the sensitive nature of the work this group does in and around the protection of children.

Christians are defenders of community. Christians believe that community is what we are built for. This is why we are so devastated when community is interrupted, perverted or circumvented. We are devastated when those who are naturally vulnerable, particularly because of their age and development, are exploited or abused. We are devastated because these acts of injustice rob the vulnerable of the care and love rightfully theirs.

And so we champion the work of those who defend the cause of the fatherless.

A few words on the health of the (now sub) department; in 2008 the Wood Report handed down 111 recommendations for improving child welfare in NSW. The basic findings of the report were that the organisation is seriously under-funded, under-staffed and over-worked. A great many of the frustrations that people have with the department are explained by these three observations from Justice Wood. I want to encourage Christians to stop DoCS bashing, to recognise our role as community members in raising and protecting children and to demand that our future government respond to Wood’s findings with more staff and more funding for Community Services.

Though none of the major parties has campaigned on the issue of Community Services you can compare the Labor and Greens platforms on their campaign pages. I wasn’t able to find anything on the Liberal website about this issue (if someone finds it I’ll give the link). I’m also happy to link up any of the other minor parties.

I am slightly concerned that as part of the Coalition’s public sector slashing rhetoric, one of the things they intend to “review” is the Community Services call-centre in the name of more “caseworkers” (that is, localise the work of DoCS). Certainly they’ve given this impression in the past. This, in my humble opinion, would be a mistake. The Call-receiving centre is full of highly trained staff that are able to gather relevant information and then give it to the caseworkers on the ground in a way that enables them to act. It’s been a good initiative, and it’s provided a much more thorough picture of the scale of the problem of child abuse and neglect in NSW which has in turn helped the organisation fight the issue.

Non-Issue 3: Law and Order

I was just about to begin writing a compelling, thought provoking piece on why Christians need to send the message to our elected representatives that community-embedded services are a better use of our money than prisons and that we won’t think they’re “soft on crime” if they want to pursue solutions than just locking people up. But as it turns out someone beat me to it. Have a read of the Social Issues Executive’s paper on the topic here.  You can also read what Peter Jensen had to say about this in his 2010 Sydney Synod address here.

We are almost never going to get thoughtful debate on the issue of Law and Order in an election campaign when “tough on crime” is such an easy catch-phrase to spout. Christians should seek to engage our elected representatives on crime reduction and workable justice once the how-to-vote cards have settled and the cardboard cubicles have long been packed away.

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6 Comments

Filed under NSW Election 2011

6 responses to “Church and [the first] state – a guide to democracy for NSW Christians. Part 5

  1. David

    As someone who works in the Community Services sector I have seen the growing problem of children in the care of DoCS due to highly dysfunctional families. The main contributing factors for this problem include the high incidence of drug and alcohol use in by these parents. The Green’s policy of decriminalising the use of illicit drugs would only make matters worse for DoCS and children.

    In terms of Law and Order, there is an article on “The Rise of Middle Eastern Crime in Australia” by Tim Priest, a retired detective at http://www.downundernewslinks.com/article/The_Rise_of_Middle_Eastern_Crime_in_Australia.html that is well worth a read. The Labor party’s soft border patrol and multiculturalism policies are causing serious problems.

    • steveboxwell

      Wowsers David! 2 Quadrant links in one day. You get a sticker.

      I’m not really interested in engaging on drug decriminalisation (there are good arguments on both sides) or on border control and multiculturalism (both Federal issues!)

      I should say I wasn’t really writing about crime, as much as how we as a society deal with crime.

      A word of caution. I’ve tried (to a greater or lesser extent) to argue for political pragmatism from a theologically informed position. I’m not convinced that either of the Quadrant articles you’ve posted today have helped on these counts.

      • Here is the NSW Greens policy on drugs. Whether it would achieve their goals (reducing overall drug use, saving almost $5 billion annually on an endless “war” that hasn’t kept drugs off the streets, avoiding criminalising large segments of the population, undercutting drug trafficking, lowering crime, providing more resources for intervention, counselling and rehabilitation), is a matter for healthy debate. But we have to at least acknowledge that their clearly stated primary goal is “to reduce illicit drug use”. This approach is recognised in ethical thought (including Christian ethical thought) as “retrieval ethics” – trying to work out how to minimise harm and preserve as much good in a situation without a clear “solution”. They may be ultimately wrong about their tactics (though where similar approaches have been tried, the fear-mongering has largely not been vindicated), but let us at least acknowledge the various deep failures of the present model.

  2. Hey Steve,

    Thanks again for your thoughts on tomorrow’s election.

    I think that the liberal’s policy on community services is http://www.nsw.liberal.org.au/policies/family-and-community/recovering-children-at-risk.html

    • David

      Thanks for the link Daniel. I often wonder at work if the kids would be better off being adopted out to a married couple. I’d be interested in seeing stats on how effective adoption is vs this taking the kids back and forth between carers and their parents. I know there is research showing the importance of being raised by a Mum and a Dad, but I don’t think it look at these sort of OOHC vs adoption situations where the mum and dad are often very disfunctional. It sounds great if more of these OOHC kids were adopted by Christians who could teach them about their real father in heaven and that “whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Experiencing this can provide the stability and love that we all need to grow.

  3. Thanks for an excellent series, Steve. You picked two of the three issues I would have probably put in my top three and a third that is also up there. Obviously, the more you think like me, the more correct you are, so you’re doing pretty well. ;-)

    Seriously, a timely reminder to look past the headlines and hype and remember some critical issues too often overlooked in “me first” political discourse.

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