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.