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Work and Wellbeing

An ecumenical event, ‘Work and Wellbeing – 8 hours more or less‘ is being planned for 21st April. It is an event of significance and may serve as a catalyst for community conversation and advocacy on work/life balance. This is an initiative of the Victorian Council of Churches and partners. 


The 8 hour day monument (corner Victoria and Russell Streets) commemorates the 8 Hours Movement which was initiated in Victoria in 1856. The Eight Hour Day was a campaign that brought about one of the most important changes to the rights of workers, seeking an eight hour day on the basis of eight hours work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for recreation and education. On 26th February 1856, James Galloway convinced a meeting of employers and employees to begin implementing the 8 hour day. On 1856 on April 21st, Victorian Stonemasons staged a well-organised and executed protest. They had been working on the construction of the Old Quadrangle Building, the original site of Melbourne University, when they all downed their tools and proceeded to march on to Parliament House along with other members of the building trade. During the march held in Melbourne, those attending the protest carried banners that held the symbol of three figure 8’s. The intertwined numbers ‘888’ represented the ideal that the workers were fighting for – “8 Hours Work, 8 Hours Recreation, 8 Hours Rest”.

Work and Well-Being 2023
The issues around work in our current context remain significant – un/under employment and over-employment; casualisation of work force; insecure work; less staff expected to do more; people holding multiple jobs just to pay the household bills; etc. Now is the time to have a discussion about the contemporary meaning and place of work in human lives, including work and human dignity, the gendered nature of work, and how growing levels of insecure work impact workers and families. It is noted that the Federal Treasurer, Dr Jim Chalmers, has identified well-being as a core focus for the Federal budget. 

Event details
Date: Friday 21st April 2023
Venue: Village Roadshow Theatrette, State Library of Victoria (La Trobe St entrance)

Time: 11am-12 noon
Cost: Free 
Registration: Humanitix

Online flyer


  • Nicholas Reece, Deputy Lord Mayor Melbourne
  • Dr Mark Zirnsak, Social Justice Advocate for the Uniting Church (Vic/Tas)
  • Patty Kinnersly, CEO of Our Watch
  • Emma Dawson, Executive Director of Per Capita
  • Dr Jeff Sparrow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This will be followed by a walk to the 8-8-8 Monument (corner of Victoria and Russell Streets), commencing at 12 noon, with further brief speeches at the Monument, including Prof Sean Scalmer who is working on a history of the struggle over working time, from the eight-hour day to the four-day week. It is anticipated a Union representative will also be present at the Monument and will be able to offer a brief speech. 

The event will conclude by 12.30pm. 


Jewish Festival: Sukkot

Sukkot (Feast of Booths or Tabernacles) is a Jewish biblical holiday, celebrated in 2023 from the evening of Fri 29 Sept 2023 – Fri 6 Oct 2023. Its history spans at least three millennia, and is replete with mystery, myth, ritual and drama.

It is celebrated soon after Yom Kippur  – a time of repentance and atonement. The Festival of Sukkot is a ‘time of rejoicing’.

The seminal event in Israel’s history was the Exodus from Egypt, a journey which should have taken maybe a few weeks, but lasted an entire generation – forty years. The Israelites were commanded to dwell in these booth constructions for one week during the year.

The Torah refers to ḥag ha-sukkot (“Feast of Booths,” Leviticus 23:34), recalling the days when the Israelites lived in huts (sukkot) made of boughs and palms leaves during their years of wandering in the wilderness.

“You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a beautiful tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of plaited tree and brook willows; and you shall rejoice before G‑d your L-rd, for a seven day period”. (Lev.23:40)

The Festival of Sukkot is still practiced today. The timing is autumn in the Holy Land (but spring in Australia), when the last of the harvest is gathered in.

The Festival of Sukkot is celebrated as a joyous occasion to commemorate the faithfulness of God. During the Festival, faithful Jews will build a sukkah, where they will spend a great deal of time – to eat, to pray, to read the Torah and Psalms, and enjoy time together. Many will sleep in them as well.

Historically, sukkahs were fabricated out of organic materials such as twigs, grasses, cornstalks, tree branches, leaves or palms, and other natural materials, assembled to make the temporal structure. The rules of sukkah design found in the Talmud specify that it must be a temporary structure, moveable and not permanently connected to the earth, thereby acknowledging the impermanence of life and the wandering of the Israelites. It must be made of gathered, natural materials: and the roof must also he natural and temporary, providing more shade than sun but allowing one to see the stars at night. Atter the testival, the shelters are disassembled.

It is customary to decorate the interior with hanging decorations of the four species (plants mentioned in Leviticus – palm branch, willow branch, citrus and myrtle) as well as with attractive artwork.

Sukkot is also an agricultural holiday because it is a harvest festival, where people celebrate and feast on the bounty of the Earth.

Kirsten J. (Kristen Janelle) Korthuis in ‘The Forgotten Feast: A History of Tabernacles and Its Importance Today‘ says:


“Whatever its origin, this feast has seen many changes over the centuries as the politics and religion of its adherents have changed. For example, when the Jews returned to their homeland after the Babylonian exile, their leadership emphasized this feast’s historical aspects in order to give the people a sense that they were a unified nation. A few centuries later, when the Romans had captured Jerusalem, the Sadducees and Pharisees argued bitterly about this festival’s meaning – it, among other things, was a political “hot topic”. While these two Jewish groups fought, at this pivotal point in Western religious history, Jesus used the symbolism ofthis holy week in his final entry into Jerusalem and created the main reasons used for his crucifixion.

After the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, this festival gradually fell from being the most important to being the least. However, there are three reasons why I believe this least may rise in popularity among Jews again.

The first has to do with the fact that, as we will see, this festival has had messianic connections for millennia; with the modem reestablishment of the state of Israel and the desire of Zionists for a third Temple to be built, these connections may be renewed.

The second is that this particular feast has always been the celebration most connected with nature, and with the rise of environmentalism and the growing desire of urbanites to “rediscover” Mother Earth, it is possible that it will increase in significance.

The third reason comes from Rabbi Greenberg (1), who believes the feast’s importance might have declined because it is full of symbolism, and people have lost their ability to understand this type of language. If this is true, as people become more disillusioned with television, capitalism, and the religion science has become, perhaps they will become more interested in returning to their religious roots and in learning and speaking the language of symbolism again.

In our present world, where so many are disconnected from nature, some Jews find significance in the festival by attempting to reconnect with God’s natural world. It is difiicult to appreciate the joy of nature in this world, when people do all they can to avoid or control it.

“That’s the beauty of the Jewish holiday Sukkot. It reminds us of our dependence on God’s gift of Creation. Of the earth. The land and the seas. The light bearers of the sky we know as the sun and moon. The birds and animals and insects. And us: the humans God invited to share this planet and God’s universe”.
(Nancy Reuben Greenfield, 2)

Living in booths puts people outside, at the mercy of the elements, in a structure made completely from the materials of nature.

Despite the technology of our time and the progress which has been made, Sukkot is an annual reminder of the fragility of life and the vulnerability of human life.

“In a world that is increasingly removed from nature, celebrating festivals like Sukkot gives us a grounding in the natural world, in God’s world” (Abramowitz, 3)

Ellen Bernstein (4), in a very contemporary interpretation, focuses on the “natural” aspect of Sukkot more than on any other of its characteristics. “Sukkot is undeniably the earth’s holiday and the time to remember that the true meaning of home is ‘earth.’ Sukkot – as harvest holiday – first teaches that life is intimately tied to the cycle of nature. The holiday assumes that we are ecologists, that we know the species and habitat of our home, and that we participate in the life of our ecosystem”.

She adds that the sukka could even be used as a symbol for an environmental organization, as the booth teaches those who live in it that earth is their true home, and that only God above can give them true protection. The sukka teaches also that the simple pleasures in life are those which bring the most joy.

Happy Sukkot/’Chat Sameach!’

(1) Greenberg, Rabbi Irving. Ihe Jewish Way: Living the Holidays. New York: Summit Books, 1988.
(2) Greenfield, Nancy Reuben. “Sukkot: Time to Give I’hanks for Nature’s Bounty.”, 1997.
(3) Abramowitz, Yosef I. and Rabbi Susan Silverman. “Dwelling in Huts for Sukkot.”, 1997.
(4) Bernstein, Ellen. Ecology & the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature and the Sacred Meet. Woodstock: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1998.



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UN International Day of Peace 2023

21 September is the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. It is a day that was set aside by the United Nations General assembly for everyone around the world to devote to keeping peace, despite any differences they may have, as well as play a part in building a peace culture that will last for generations to come.

The theme for the IDP 2023 observance is “Actions for peace: Our ambition for the #GlobalGoals.”

It is a call to action that recognizes our individual and collective responsibility to foster peace. Fostering peace contributes to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will create a culture of peace for all.

2023 is also the 75th anniversaries of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said,

“Peace is needed today more than ever. War and conflict are unleashing devastation, poverty, and hunger, and driving tens of millions of people from their homes. Climate chaos is all around. And even peaceful countries are gripped by gaping inequalities and political polarization.”

A reflection by Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ (first posted here):

The International Day of Peace is always timely. Unfortunately so. There is no end to wars and disputes between nations and between groups within them that take lives, devastate towns and impoverish nations. Peace is something that everyone wants, but most wars begin when one group or another tries to impose peace on its own terms. To build peace, you need to go further back and ask those who claim to want peace what they are willing to do and what interests they are prepared to sacrifice in order to build it. A test of their seriousness might be to ask what they are willing to do to support the people destroyed by wars in which their own nations have been involved.

Most wars are fought in order to make peace – sometimes to impose peace by winning the war, often to force an aggressive nation or group to accept the terms on which peace can be built, and sometimes to assert control over the peace that will follow. Leaders of most nations describe themselves as peace-loving and their enemies as violent aggressors. In this lack of mutual trust, war is the natural result. Fear and suspicion lead nations to enlarge their armies and piles of deadly weapons, enlarge their capacity to manufacture weapons, recoup the cost by selling weapons to other nations and armed groups with which they are conveniently allied, and join in military adventures their strong allies initiate.

The result for the unfortunate people who are the victims of this cycle is that they live in fear of war, are driven from their homes, become refugees in their own or in another land and are deprived of basic human rights. They are then excluded, and their need ignored, by the nations that participate in their destruction directly or through their proxies.

The cost of war-making is enormous, both directly for the people whose lives it takes or ruins and indirectly for the nations engaging in it. It multiplies distrust and alienates resources that could better be spent positively on peacemaking through aid to impoverished peoples and to healing the wounds of war. And it unites nations in fear as they seek allies against common and enemies.

All this is the gloomy background to International Peace Day. As in so many international challenges, it suggests how important are the personal and communal relationships that are the building blocks of national policies. The rage and suspicion that we see in war-making are bred in the violence of family relationships, the choice we make between hatred or understanding in our social media postings, the vituperation of political discourse, the ways in which playground fights are handled and learned from, and how we handle frustration on the roads and in shopping centres. Peace begins in the negotiation of differences through apologies and reconciliation in personal relationships and in the learning of other ways of response than lashing out.

International Peace Day looks at the largest possible canvas. Peacemaking begins in the most intimate of relationships and the learning of the simplest of formulae: please, sorry, thank you.

Prayer For Peace
As the fever of day calms towards twilight
May all that is strained in us come to ease.
We pray for all who suffered violence today,
May an unexpected serenity surprise them.
For those who risk their lives each day for peace,
May their hearts glimpse providence at the heart of history.
That those who make riches from violence and war
Might hear in their dreams the cries of the lost.
That we might see through our fear of each other
A new vision to heal our fatal attraction to aggression.
That those who enjoy the privilege of peace
Might not forget their tormented brothers and sisters.
That the wolf might lie down with the lamb,
That our swords be beaten into ploughshares
And no hurt or harm be done
Anywhere along the holy mountain.
(Source: John O’Donohue from Benedictus: A Book of Blessings)

More prayers and resources for worship here.

Raising Peace Festival – various events starting Wednesday 20th to Sunday 24th September.

News Sandy's Comments

What Australians think about their neighbourhood

Scanlon Foundation Research Institute
Season 2 Episode 2:
What Australians think about…their neighbourhood

Our sense of belonging is vital, as it provides us with a sense of identity, social support, safety, opportunities for civic engagement, and personal well-being. It helps build stronger communities, promotes unity, and enhances the overall fabric of society.

But there remain some concerns. The most recent results from the Scanlon Foundation Research Institute’s Mapping cohesion surveys reveal a decline in Australians’ sense of belonging, especially among the young and economically disadvantaged. Yet, interestingly, despite Australia’s rapid demographic shifts, a strong sense of community persists within neighbourhoods.

This episode, with host Anthea and guests Bronwen and Mahamed, explores these changes in the context of Australia’s fast-growing regions.

The implications of Australia’s evolving neighbourhoods are unpacked, as well as and demographic changes on our sense of belonging, both on a national and local scale. There will be discussion around how we can ensure no communities in our rapidly expanding regions are left feeling disconnected or overlooked.

Talking points in this episode:

  • How social and community infrastructure plays a role in community connectedness
  • Looking at opportunities in outer suburban areas
  • The role of volunteers in building neighbourhoods
  • The cultural shift moving away from CBDs to achieve the ‘city’ experience
  • How community services need to reimagine how they engage with young people


Bronwen Clark
CEO – National Growth Areas Alliance

Bronwen Clark is the CEO of the National Growth Areas Alliance. Bronwen has spearheaded the significant advocacy wins for the Alliance at the federal level. Through campaigns such as ‘Catch Up with the Outer Suburbs’ and ‘National Nightmare Commute Day,’ she has gained widespread reach in community and political spheres. As the Chair of Volunteering Victoria, she plays a vital role in promoting active citizenship and building resilient communities.

Mahamed Ahmed
Community leader and youth advocate
Mahamed Ahmed is a dedicated leader committed to building inclusive communities, especially for young people. Through his work in youth advocacy and participation, he addresses key issues and promotes positive masculinity. With a focus on empowering individuals and fostering a sense of belonging, Mahamed’s efforts have a lasting impact on creating stronger, more supportive communities.

Voices of Australia is a Scanlon Foundation Research Institute podcast exploring all things interesting in the world of social cohesion.

Voices of Australia is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Now available with video also, in addition to audio-only.
(podcast options – also previous episodes available)

Also: LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook.

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Pacem in Terris: A Prophetic Legacy for Our Times

Pacem in Terris: A Prophetic Legacy for Our Times*

Caesar D’Mello

Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) was proclaimed by Pope John XXIII sixty years ago against a seriously troubled backdrop, which in essence prevails today, too. WWII had ended eighteen years before the encyclical, but the ensuing years saw a burgeoning Cold War, highlighted by a Cuban missile crisis, the Berlin Wall, and Asia Pacific drawn in. Furthermore, in a fast-changing environment, social ferment was also challenging humanity. Having had a hand in defusing a potential nuclear war over Cuba, John XXIII could as well have written on Bellum in Terris (War on Earth), but constructing peace was his mission.

In our times modern weaponry has increased its destructive variety, productive capacity, sophistication and proliferation, yet global peace remains elusive. The contemporary Cold War is considered more dangerous than the last century’s for the room, small as it was, it allowed for negotiation. The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki notwithstanding, a modified version of the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) concept remains a canon of military planning.

Prescribing a way forward for an anxious humanity preoccupied with both geopolitical conflict and social divisiveness, a reality we know too well in the 21st century, the encyclical states: “Peace is but an empty word, if it does not rest upon an order… that is founded on truth, built up on justice, nurtured and animated by charity, and brought into effect under the auspices of freedom”.

Breaking with tradition, Pacem in Terris is addressed “to all people of goodwill” and presents a blueprint for a just, sustainable, and peaceful future for humanity, with clear applications for us. Issued on 11th April 1963, during the Second Vatican Council, its reception ecumenically and in civil society was enthusiastic for its message to think anew and forge a new path. For Pax Christi, which emerged at the end of WWII, it validated its own foundational commitment to peace and reconciliation.

Human Rights

The world’s nations ratified the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but its implementation was patchy. It is self-evident that every human being is endowed with intellect and free will, from which our inalienable rights flow. However, they went unrecognised, denied, or ignored in parts of the world. Having made them central to the Vatican’s social teaching, the encyclical’s unambiguous reading of the dismal state of human rights triggered an unprecedented awareness and engagement both in the Catholic Church and beyond. This was a time when, inter alia, Nelson Mandela’s stand on apartheid, and Rev Martin Luther King Jr’s own struggles brought world attention to racism.

Pacem in Terris argued that “recognition, respect, safeguard and promotion of Human Rights of all are essential for authentic justice and peace”. It declared human rights as universal and inviolable, and in an interdependent world, linked with concomitant obligations towards fellow human beings. One’s right to

(*Article provided as background material for a Pax Christi Australia Webinar on September 28th, 2023, on Pacem in Terris.More information elsewhere in Disarming Times or contact the author.)  

live as fully human cannot be isolated from the duty of enabling another to live in dignity, too. Sadly, many are denied their human rights today.

The encyclical was particularly pertinent to Asia and the Pacific, with newly independent countries becoming a collective force demanding a rise in living standards.  Foreign aid and private interests were financing frenetic development schemes, but deeper human values were missing in their plans. Children, women, workers, the poor were labour fodder. A segment of churches and other voices in the Third World challenged the status quo, but they were a minority. Alongside the World Council of Churches and other entities, the encyclical stated unequivocally that human rights make for the ‘inherent dignity’ of human beings.

Pacem in Terris’ impetus for human rights has influenced and emboldened the Catholic Church and like-minded groups to speak out through the decades. They forcefully call out, for instance, on the appalling treatment of refugees and asylum seekers today. The right of our indigenous communities to live and act in freedom needs to be upheld, to do which we have an opportunity at the Referendum on the Voice.

The Universal Common Good

Pacem in Terris revisits the deeply Christian thinking on the Universal Common Good in an unequal world, especially apposite given a rich world co-existing with an impoverished one. It stressed that peace is more than the absence of war. It needs to be grounded in justice.

Governments, business, opinion influencers and other voices invoke the rhetoric of ‘shared prosperity and happiness’, when the lived experience and even economic analysis demonstrate that ‘trickledown economics’ favours the privileged. The ‘market’, prescribed by neoliberalism for ‘achieving equilibrium’, whether between nations or within each one, is impotent to realise this. Unequal distribution of income, wealth, opportunities and outcomes continue, as unacceptable poverty drags many down. Exploitation of resources of poor countries, now with acknowledged climate change and ecological impacts, is a sacrosanct element of current business models. As the encyclical implies, appropriating for a minority a greater share of the earth’s resources that belong to all violates natural justice, and the human rights of many to live in dignity. The ‘common good’ that benefits all is not achievable without a fair distribution wherein those better placed, individually or as countries, exercise their moral responsibility to assist those less advantaged. The encyclical called for appropriate and effective social and political structures for achieving justice, which ensures peace.

War, Disarmament and Peace

 John XXIII wrote that “true and lasting peace among nations cannot consist in the possession of an equal supply of armaments but only in mutual trust”. This principle rejected a way of thinking which amounts to a form of idolatry that sustains war and weaponry. Having raised fear over assumed threat levels, adversaries place their trust in weapons and war as an incontestable direction for peace. This holds true even more today when ever more sophisticated and expensive arsenals of killing machines, including the warmly welcomed AI technology, are revered as the answer to hopes and prayers for victory in eventual conflicts, that will, undoubtedly, leave horrendous outcomes for humanity.

The evil of war, under specific conditions, may have been justified in previous wars by the Just War Theory, but the nuclear age makes it morally unjustifiable given the lethality, disproportionality and indiscriminate devastation by nuclear weapons. In our age, non-nuclear weapons, such as the Cluster Bombs used in Ukraine, would be unjustifiable, too. Nuclear weapons and the associated brinkmanship seem to be embraced with untroubled complacency. Protestations of peace are becoming predictable and meaningless, while the arming for war goes on, despite an existing surfeit of firepower with the immensely enriched munitions industry offering even more. Thanks to mainstream media generally and other advocates, war enjoys a veneer of respectability and normality today. However, its unpredictable outcomes as experienced in modern wars, and the tit-for-tat escalation as seen in the Ukraine War are glossed over. A mandarin on geopolitics recently said, ‘the risk of war is real. It is not a theory’. Nevertheless, while an array of peaceful alternatives to conflict resolution can be pursued, it seems to be Peace, which springs from our common human nature and yearning, that needs to be justified. How do AUKUS and its unconscionable opportunity costs vis-à-vis basic needs, health, education and housing advance the common good? How much more destruction and loss of life should there be before it is realised that the Ukraine War is an investment in futility? Pacem in Terris categorically concluded that “it is contrary to reason to hold that war is now a suitable way to restore rights which have been violated”. It called for the elimination of war, banning of nuclear weapons, and ending the arms race.

Pax Christi’s stand against violence is seamlessly consonant with the spirit of the encyclical. Its early history, values and inspirational leaders, including the (recently departed) Bishop Luigi Bettazi, a member of the ‘Pact of the Catacombs’, steadfastly advocated nonviolence. Their outlook is subsumed in the contemporary Catholic Nonviolence Initiative. For us in this region, it provides a strong basis for a continuing dialogue with millennia-old cultures. Ahimsa(non-killing, or non-harm to life in any form), a belief of a billion plus adherents of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, opens the door for exploring mutual understanding to reduce militarism and social violence in our vast region.

The Way forward: Reading the Signs of the Times

Pacem in Terris teaches that peace can only come from an order based on truth, justice, charity and freedom, but the two contesting ‘orders’ of today have different outlooks. ‘A global rules-based order’, on the one hand, is rebuffed as ‘another form of racism’ by its opponents who propose another, both sides determined to destroy each other politically, economically and militarily.  This can hardly be a foundation for Just Peace. Pacem in Terris is the fruit of reflection and interaction with his history by one with a pastor’s heart and mind who read the signs of the times portending peril. It sets forth a rational, constructive, humane ‘our common good’-based way forward. We cannot treat present day developments merely as ‘Breaking News’, and must intuit what Ukraine, Myanmar, Afghanistan, drowning refugees, and other events are telling us. Some may consider this approach naïve and unrealistic. But who is more naïve? Those who are alive to signs of death and suffering from prospective war, and respond with ways of nurturing peace? Or those who resolutely put their energies, spirit and belief in preparing for one or more wars as a way to peace, and surely reap what wars always bring?

*Caesar D’Mello ( is a member of the International Board of Pax Christi, and of Pax Christi Australia and Asia Pacific. He was formerly National Director of Christian World Service, the aid, justice and development agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA). He is a consultant on the inter-related sustainable development, climate change, justice and peace issues.

News Sandy's Comments

Rights or wrongs – what can Australia offer humanity?

Rights or wrongs – what can Australia offer humanity?

by Mark Woods (originally published in July 2023 in Anglican Diocese of Gippsland magazine)

In its original version, the Australian National Anthem declared, among other things, that “… we are young and free …”. *

Allowing the librettist the licence to refer to the age of the nation established de jure by the Constitution, can we extend that indulgence to the expression “free”? To the extent that being “free” denotes its citizens as having “freedoms,” Australia can hardly be so described. Why is that?

After all, we have a proud history of public action to stop governments from acting to curtail freedoms capriciously
or without regard to the public will. From participation in the Eureka Stockade, to public rejection of conscription in the Great War, to participation in Vietnam moratorium demonstrations, to tellingBob Hawke to forget the idea of an Australia Card – we, as a people, have rejected any sniff of authoritarianism.

Or have we? Our commitment to being “free” hasn’t prevented State Governments enacting laws giving a wide range of petty public officials, from gas meter inspectors to wildlife officers, the right to enter our properties – with criminal penalties for those who resist. We didn’t stop the enactment of laws that criminalised homosexuality, or suicide, or those assisting it. Nor have we stopped arbitrary detention for protesting, arrests for being drunk or fines for walking outdoors without a mask (even with a few hundred metres between yourself and another human being), if the chief health officer doesn’t like it.

Each of these examples highlights infringements of what are described as human rights. Sadly, in sociopolitical terms, they discriminate against those without power – typically, so many First Nations Australians, immigrants and refugees, and those with less advantage than the writer or most readers of this article.

The Australian Human Rights Commission puts it plainly:

Australia is the only liberal democracy in the world without a Human Rights Act or a Charter of Human Rights. To some extent, this is extraordinary. Australia has been bellicose in its championing of international human rights treaties and covenants. Three- quarters of a century ago, we were one of the proud founders of the United Nations, which adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1972, and ratified it over 40 years ago. We signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1972 and ratified it three years later. Yet in 2023, neither have been comprehensively enacted into law in Australia. The same can be said of manifold other international instruments concerning the rights of women, Indigenous people, migrants, those with disabilities and (if you can believe it) children.

How should Christians react to this? While so much of our law has a solid Judaeo-Christian background (remember the snail in the ginger beer bottle, and the judicial extension of the concept of loving one’s neighbour to doing them no harm), Christianity and human rights have not always peacefully co-existed.

Max Stackhouse in the Cambridge Journal of Law and Religion puts it succinctly:

The historic relationship between Christianity and human rights is an ambiguous one. For hundreds of years the Christian Church actively promoted religious intolerance and persecuted those who failed to accept its moral values and customs. Many of these values and practices are today rejected as contrary to a human rights culture and moral decency.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has proposed an Australian Human Rights Act. Would such legislation make any difference? The Commission,mindful of the suspicion with which such proposals have been greeted in the past, describes its proposed model legislation as an “evolution, not a revolution.” It aspires to build on the experience of human rights legislation currently existing in Victoria, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.

Under the proposed legislation, government, administrators and public servants would be required to “consider human rights and to act in accordance with human rights when making policy
or decisions which affect individual lives.” Parliament would be required to “place greater priority on the human rights impacts of all new proposed laws.” Federal courts would be required to “interpret legislation, where possible, in a way which is consistent with human rights.”

Individuals (or groups) that have a complaint about human rights would have the option of seeking that the Commission facilitate a conciliated outcome – or to proceed to seek remedies in court. Those would include orders preventing government from taking an action that would breach human rights, or ordering government to pay compensation.

However, a key difference between the Commission-proposed legislation, and many other human rights protection documents around the world, is that Aus- tralian courts would not have the power to strike down laws made by Parliament that were incompatible with human rights. That follows the Commission’s stated aim of “dialogue” between the courts, gov- ernment and the Parliament, to evolve a more effective “human rights culture” in Australia moving forward.

Critics have and will ask the obvious question, “If we want to protect human rights, why stop the courts (whose task is to interpret the law) from striking downlaws inconsistent with human rights?”

After all, that’s one of the principal reasons for having a High Court in the first place. It can and does strike down laws it considers inconsistent with the Constitution. In other words, how are human rights protected from violation by a Parliament that has the unfettered legal power to do just that? What is the point of the proposed new law?

While many human rights can never be absolute (because they infringe on the human rights of others) the interpretation of the reasonableness and proportionality of interference has, in the liberal democratic tradition, always been a matter for the courts armed with the power to strike down. So why not in the Commis- sion’s proposal?

The answer lies, this writer suspects, in realpolitik. Various human rights advocates have, over the years since Federation, called for a Bill of Rights such as that found in the American constitution, and in the United Kingdom. Indeed, most recently, in 2002, 2017 and 2019, proposed legislation (by way of private members’ bills) to enact a Bill of Rights has beenbrought into the Australian Parliament. None of these bills have been comprehen- sively debated, let alone passed.

Those who oppose a Bill of Rights for Australia invariably argue that it is anti-democratic, because it reposes responsibility for determining the validity of a law in the hands of unelected judges. Parliament should be, so the argument goes, supreme in its ability to make laws. If the people don’t like the laws it makes, then they can replace its members at the next election. Moreover, activist judges with tenure cannot be controlled, and are not accountable to the people.

It is an argument that occupied the drafters of the Australian Constitution. As no less an authority than Sir Anthony Mason has observed:

Because the founders accepted, in confor- mity with prevailing English legal thinking, that the citizen’s rights are best left to the protection of the common law and because they were not concerned to protect the individual from oppression by majority will, the Constitution contains very little in the way of provisions guaranteeing new rights.

The Commission’s offering is, when all is said and done, a compromise it hopes will placate the political opponents of a Bill of Rights by pointing to the absence of any constitutional armageddon in Victoria, Queensland or the ACT since adoption of similar legislation by their parliaments.

It is, however, a poor substitute for enshrining human rights to the extent that laws overriding them can be struck down by independent judiciary. It is that protection, in the view of many human rights advocates, that Australians deserve.

Christians should join the debate.


Mark Woods is a Gippsland lawyer, Chairman of Committees of the Gippsland Diocese and Director of the Diocesan Corporation. He chairs the International Bar Association’s Access to Justice Advisory Board. The opinions expressed here are his own.

* The official wording change to ‘one and free’ was made out of respect for the venerability of First Nations cultures.



The Commission, mindful of the suspicion with

which such proposals have been greeted in the past,

describes its proposed model legislation as

an “evolution, not a revolution.” It aspires to build on the experience of

human rights legislation currently existing in

Victoria, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.

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VCC Emergencies Ministry – on Bourke St

Following another incident on Bourke St yesterday, there is a possibility of heightened media attention of past events, potentially triggering recollections and causing additional distress for those who were either directly involved or affected by it. This event may have ripple effects on a broader audience. 
VCC Emergencies Ministry will have a team of volunteers on Bourke on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th.
News reports about the coronial findings into the Bourke St tragedy may be very distressing for some people.
If you know someone who was affected, it’s a good idea to check on them to see if they’re ok. Or if you find you are getting upset, take a break from the news, turn off your TV or computer and limit your time on your mobile phone.
If at any time you are worried about your or a loved one’s mental health call:
• Lifeline 13 11 14
• Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
• SuicideLine 1300 651 251
• Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Get more information on the Better Health Channel‘s trauma recovery webpage.
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Australian Christian Book of the Year

(original article by Anne Lim published on Eternity News)

Christopher Watkin’s 600-page book, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture, was named the Sparklit Australian Christian Book of the Year at an awards ceremony in Melbourne on August 31st, 2023.

Watkin’s work – which uses the Bible to analyse and interpret contemporary Western culture – received ringing endorsements from the three judges and from theologians such as John Dickson, who called it a “magnificent achievement.”

Biblical Critical Theory was selected from a shortlist of ten nominees, each recognised for making a significant contribution to the church in Australia and beyond.

The judges – Greg Clarke, Meredith Lake and Catherine Place – said despite the daunting ambition of the book, “Watkin’s confidence, curiosity and joy are contagious. No matter where you happen to open the book, the author’s easy style, wide-ranging scholarship and generosity grab your attention and you are off, exploring the unfolding biblical narrative and how it cuts through assumptions and ideologies to speak to our times.

“An enlightening and absorbing read for anyone wanting to deepen their appreciation of how the Bible addresses our world here and now. To reframe debates and culture wars, you will regularly return to this resource.”

“We want to try and speak to the culture in which we live – and that’s also inside us – in ways that people can hear.” – Christopher Watkin

Watkin said he wrote the book to help people like himself – who want to make sense of how to live in the world as a Christian while pressing into the culture – to remain faithful to the Bible.

“I was in a position where a book like this would have helped me … as an undergraduate in a secular university, reading philosophy and literature, trying to make sense of it from a Christian point of view,” he said.

He discovered that Christian books either denounced the culture or affirmed its values, and neither of those approaches rang true for him. For him, the Bible set forth “a much grander, richer, more multidimensional view of how to live in the world.”

“I want to take the Bible seriously and believe God’s promises and not have to take a step back from that. But we want to try and speak to the culture in which we live – and that’s also inside us – in ways that people can hear.”

“When Chris steps onto the field of his main expertise, modern intellectual history, this book really shines.” – John Dickson

Author and historian John Dickson, appearing by videolink from Chicago, hailed the book for doing two very difficult things at the same time.

“First, Chris is providing a thoroughly reliable guide to the complex biblical material from Genesis to Revelation. The book offers a true biblical theology, tracing ideas about God and the world as they emerge from the text of Scripture itself – and for someone who’s not meant to be a biblical scholar, Chris is weirdly solid and insightful into everything that he touches on,” he said, prompting laughter in the audience.

“And then, when Chris steps onto the field of his main expertise, modern intellectual history, this book really shines.”

The second thing the book does, Dickson said, is to raise the philosophical and cultural questions of the best thinkers in the Western tradition and show what the Bible has to say in reply to all of their brilliant questions.

“The extraordinary thing is Chris doesn’t try to dazzle the reader with the fact that he really understands those impenetrable thinkers like Heidegger, Marx, Foucault and Derrida. Instead, what Chris does is he shows why these figures deserve their place among the great thinkers in the Western tradition – how their ideas continue to influence the contemporary conversation.

“And importantly, where those thinkers are wrong, they’re wrong usually because they’ve got a half-truth that the Bible itself completes and is the full representation of.”

Dickson concluded that what he loves about Watkin’s book is that it is not just Bible theology for the believer, nor is it philosophical apologetics for the sceptic. “It rightly lifts up the Bible itself as a public document. And he does this in the best tradition of St Augustine’s City of God, and all that. It is a magnificent achievement.”

Watkin said he would love it if “the sons and daughters of the King … found a deepened love for God’s word in this book.”

Receiving the award, Watkin said he would love it if “the sons and daughters of the King … found a deepened love for God’s word in this book.”

“And to that extent, you can dip into it at any chapter … If there’s a particular part of the Bible you love, read that chapter. Or if there’s a particular part of the Bible you think you don’t know as much about as you might, then dip into that chapter and just revel in the riches and the wisdom of all of God’s word.”

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September 5th – UN International Day of Charity

September 5th. UN International Day of Charity.

The International Day of Charity was established with the objective of sensitizing and mobilizing people, NGOs, and stakeholders all around the world to to help others through volunteer and philanthropic activities.

The National Church Life Survey (NCLS) looked at church attenders charitable actions in the last 12 months. 87% of church attenders completing the survey made a financial donation to a charity that aimed to helped the world’s poor and just under half (44%) contributed $1-$499.

Mother Teresa

The date of 5 September was chosen in order to commemorate the anniversary of the passing away of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace.”

Mother Teresa, the renowned nun and missionary, was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910. In 1928 she went to India, where she devoted herself to helping the destitute. In 1948 she became an Indian citizen and founded the order of Missionaries of Charity in Kolkota (Calcutta) in 1950, which became noted for its work among the poor and the dying in that city.

For over 45 years she ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity’s expansion, first in India and then in other countries, including hospices and homes for the poorest and homeless. Mother Teresa’s work has been recognized and acclaimed throughout the world and she has received a number of awards and distinctions, including the Nobel Peace Prize. Mother Teresa died on September 5th 1997, at 87 years of age.

In recognition of the role of charity in alleviating humanitarian crises and human suffering within and among nations, as well as of the efforts of charitable organizations and individuals, including the work of Mother Teresa, the General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution A/RES/67/105 designated the 5th of September, the anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa, as the International Day of Charity.

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Season of Creation reflection – Day 1

Season of Creation reflection Day 1

The signs of our time propel the living tradition forward. The biosphere of our blue marble of a planet is under severe duress. The atmosphere is heating up. Populations of song birds, pollinators and amphibians, mammals from bats to moose, and many aquatic species are plummeting. Every year multiple species go extinct at an alarming rate due to human actions.

This raises a new question about the will of God for the world, or more explicitly, abuo the merciful intent of God for all creatures and their ecosystems. Since salvation means making life whole, liberating, healing, forgiving, restoring, cleansing, opening up new possibilities, belief in a God who saves is obviously relevant to the polluted, ravaged, depleted natural world.

A theology of accompaniment sees God’s redeeming action always present and active in service of the flourishing of a world that is currently suffering reversals and death in a horrific way. The living God, gracious and merciful, always was, is and will be accompanying the world with saving grace, including humans in their sinfulness, and humans and all creatures in their unique beauty, evolutionary struggle and inevitable dying…

In Jesus Christ crucified we are gifted with an historical sacrament of encounter with the mercy of God, which points us toward conversion to the suffering earth, sustained by hope for the resurrection of us all.

(Source: Elizabeth A Johnson: from ‘Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril, p.225)

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An Open Letter to the Religious Leaders in Australia

An Open Letter to the religious leaders in Australia.

(by Tim Costello)

This week marks the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech. Those prophetic words for all Americans are now etched in history.

Less well known, but no less important, is King’s prophetic words to white religious leaders written from Birmingham Jail. It was smuggled out written around edges of old newspapers and raggedy bits of paper as he was allowed nothing to write on.

He addresses the white clergy who claimed to support the cause of equality, but called his direct action “unwise and untimely”. While those clergy leaders urged “patience” and delay, he responded that he had “never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was ‘well timed’ according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation… We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights.”

The letter from Birmingham Jail is as heavy-hearted as his Washington speech is uplifting. To ministers saying ‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern,” King revealed a disappointment. It is the pain of a brother and not an enemy: “I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the Church. I say this as a Minister of the Gospel who loves the Church, who was nurtured in its bosom, who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen”.

MLK’s words inspired me years later to become a Baptist minister. I even named one of my sons after him. But there’s something freshly relevant today as he calls out “a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular”. Among so many of Australia’s church leaders, on the profoundly important issues of Indigenous injustice we find caution rather than courage. They say these issues are too divisive for church leaders to address. I encounter this argument every day, as church leaders close their doors to Indigenous leaders and voices like mine seeking to explain why we are voting Yes in the Voice referendum.

We are voting in a referendum, not a partisan election. This referendum was requested by an overwhelming majority of Indigenous leaders. The current PM has answered that request, and he has the support of many prominent past and present Liberals, including half of Australia’s state conservative leaders. It is a chance for Australians to transcend the tribalism of day-to-day politics.

So let me explain why I believe this goes to the heart of my faith.

As a Christian I ask the question what right do we have to oppose what our indigenous brothers and sisters are asking for? In 1937 William Cooper a Yorta Yorta Christian leader secured thousands of indigenous signatures on a petition to ask the King George the VI ‘to prevent the extinction of the aboriginal race: to secure better living conditions for all; and to afford aboriginal representation in Parliament. The King never saw it as the PM and States blocked it even being sent. And where were the Churches then? Sadly over the years we have gone missing or remained deaf to the pleas of our brothers and sisters.

But that is not how our Christian story began.

From its earliest days, the church has navigated conflict and inequality. Jewish Christians insisted they would not eat with Christian Gentiles, until the apostles made it clear that transcending those divisions was at the heart of living out the gospel. They had the courage to overcome resistance, and

the message of freedom in Christ and one family in Christ not two – a Jewish Christian and a Gentile Christian soon carried across the world.

Barely any Australian Christian today imagines they would have opposed William Wilberforce’s fight against slavery had they been alive in his day. But that’s not what history teaches us. Many Christians said Wilberforce’s campaign was political, not spiritual. ‘The Record’, an evangelical newspaper in Wilberforce’s time, labelled his campaign against slavery as divisive and not of the Gospel. They baulked at giving any political expression to the biblical vision of now being “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free” but united in Christ.

When alive, voices like Wilberforce that challenge inequality are always accused of being divisive and political. The irony is that once they have died, we celebrate them. Why don’t we learn from history? How is it that many can joyfully sing the anti-slave anthem Amazing Grace, then go out and oppose the Voice? Why are leaders not challenging the flood of disinformation from White Christian nationalist websites from the USA?

It’s hard to imagine a stronger connection than that between Wilberforce’s evangelical network in the 1830s and cause of justice for Indigenous Australians. They made the bold case that Aborigines had been made in God’s image and had rights as those who occupied this land. They established the Aboriginal Protection Society, which exposed colonial injustices. The evangelical Secretary for the Colonies, Lord Glenelg, and the evangelical civil servant James Stephen, sought to prevent the takeover of unoccupied lands in South Australia, insisting that unoccupied lands belonged to the Aboriginal people and needed their consent or treaty. Those efforts were circumvented by Robert Torrens and other settlers, who wanted to behave like the other Colonies and just take the land.

The Wilberforce evangelicals had more success in NZ. Why was the Treaty of Waitangi struck in 1840? Because of the strengths of that Christian evangelical vision in Westminster. It would be more than 150 years before native title was recognised as law in Australia in the Mabo case in 1992. Once again there was a massive ‘No’ case scare campaign claiming that that Australians would lose our backyards with the Native title Act. But as sensible voices at the time reassured us, not one centimetre was lost.

Like MLK, we can be both proud of our many national achievements, as well as being honest about injustices that date back to our foundations. Captain Cook in 1770 claimed all of the land on the Eastern continent of Australia for the British King on the basis of the legal principle of discovery. In the same year, America’s second President, John Adams, wrote in the Massachusetts Gazette that this principle clearly “could give not title to the English King by common law, or by the law of nature, to the lands, tenements, and hereditaments of the native Indians.”

When Australia’s constitution was being written, the language of natural rights- so familiar to Wilberforce’s network- had sharply declined. The only delegate to raise questions about the fate of Aboriginal Australians was Sir William Russell, the delegate from New Zealand – a country that by then had fifty years’ experience of a treaty with Indigenous inhabitants. Russell warned that the new federal Parliament ”would be a body that cares nothing and knows nothing about native administration.” Cautious voices told him not to worry because Australia’s Aborigines were dying out as if the fate of Indigenous peoples could be attributed to natural causes. And so Aborigines were left out of our Constitution – the injustice that we are now addressing – while special provision was made in our Constitution for the future inclusion of New Zealand.

I fully accept that voting ‘No’ does not mean you are a racist. But I’m sure there’s not too many racists voting ‘Yes’.

Enough of the discredited line that to stand up to injustice is divisive, dangerous and unwise. Four in five Indigenous Australians are asking for a voice, and Christians represent a larger share of the Indigenous population than the population at large. Let’s heed the lessons of history, from Botany Bay to Uluru. Let’s raise our voices for Amazing Grace, but let’s not fail the true test for our generation.