Albo to Christians: 'We are on the same side'

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese delivered a clear message that Labor values are values Christians can support, when he met with Christian community groups today.

Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Women and for Education, agreed: “On caring for the poor and marginalised, we [Christians and Labor] are on the same page” she told the group – an alliance of Christian organisations gathered in Canberra who are committed to playing their part in Australia’s recovery from COVID.

Address by Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Australian Labor Party and Member for Grayndler to the Church Community Restoration Project, facilitated by the Australian Christian Higher Education Alliance, at  Parliament House, Canberra, Monday, 22 February 2021

At a press conference once, I revealed that my Mum raised me in three great faiths: the Catholic Church, the Australian Labor Party, and the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

They all played roles in my childhood, each one of them in separate ways. Each brought a different strength that I was able to call on as I was growing up. And in different ways, I needed them all.

I grew up in public housing, raised by a single mother on the disability pension. Mum was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, and I still think about how hard things must have been for her. And yet she shone so brightly in my life. She was a strong woman with a sharp mind and the biggest heart. I saw in her the most profound inner strength. Through her own example, she taught me love and compassion.

As we made our way together in life, I learnt about community and the power of pulling together. Mum had the good sense to send me to school at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, which reinforced for me the values of social justice and equal opportunity. As I said to the Year 12 boys there a few months ago as they were gearing up to do the HSC, they will always carry a bit of that school in their hearts. If anything, all these values have taken on an added importance during this time of trial and challenge that the world is enduring.

As we’ve often said, we’re all in this together. But it can’t just be an empty mantra. It must be a guiding philosophy. I turn to what Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical last year:
“… a worldwide tragedy like the Covid-19 pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all. Once more we realised that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together.”

Just as there is a powerful overlap between those values and Labor values as work on how to get through this pandemic, there is a powerful overlap as we contemplate life after COVID-19. What we have is a rare opportunity – in all likelihood a once-in-a-lifetime chance – to shape the future and emerge from the pandemic as a better, fairer nation. To find a way to better share Australia’s greatness.

It is a sense of fairness that Jesus’ teaching radiates throughout the books of the New Testament. – Anthony Albanese

My enduring belief is that we need an economy that works for people, not the other way around. So I was struck by the words of Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, who wrote: “Of course the economy matters, but only if it puts the human being at its heart. The economy was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the economy.”

The Archbishop wrote those words in a piece reflecting on Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical on The Condition of the Working Classes. I would like to share a few lines from it. “The more that is done for the benefit of the working classes by the general laws of the country, the less need will there be to seek for special means to relieve them.”

And another: “Equity therefore commands that public authority show proper concern for the worker so that from what he contributes to the common good he may receive what will enable him, housed, clothed, and secure, to live his life without hardship.”

And one more: “Special consideration must be given to the weak and the poor. For the nation, as it were, of the rich, is guarded by its own defences and is in less need of governmental protection, whereas the suffering multitude, without the means to protect itself, relies especially on the protection of the State. Wherefore, since wage workers are numbered among the great mass of the needy, the State must include them under its special care and foresight.”

Those words are from 1891. They haven’t aged a day.

Ninety years later, Pope John Paul II had this to say this in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (Through Work):

”Catholic social teaching does not hold that unions are no more than a reflection of the class structure of society and that they are agents for a class struggle which inevitably governs social life. They are indeed advocates for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people in accordance with their individual professions.”

Ultimately, it boils down to a fair go for all. It is a sense of fairness that Jesus’ teaching radiates throughout the books of the New Testament. And it informs the powerful and compelling tradition of Catholic social teaching. As my colleague Senator Kristina Keneally wrote in 2019:

“It is central to Catholicism, but its emphasis on social justice is recognisable in other Christian denominations too, such as the efforts by the Uniting and Baptist churches to help marginalised people by providing charitable services and advocating for funding or laws to address poverty, family violence or drug addiction. Importantly, Catholic social teaching promotes collective social action for the common good …”

More recently, as he was making his run for the White House, Joe Biden had a message for those Americans whose vote was guided by religious values: “You want to do good. You want to be a good person. You want your vote not just to serve your self-interest, but also the common good.”

The common good is what we must all strive for.

If there is a positive to have come out of this pandemic, it’s that when push came to shove, the fundamental truth of this spilled across political and ideological lines as surely as a river breaking its banks. We have seen even some of those political parties that are more instinctively tilted towards individualism setting aside their ideology as an indulgence ill-suited to the current reality.

It has been superseded by the spirit of inclusiveness. Of togetherness. Of compassion. The understanding that the bond of our common humanity is what is going to get us through. It is the spirit of society, something that some ideologues of the past tried to reject as a concept altogether.

The pandemic has edged out some of these dangerous fantasies and guided us back towards the truth. So many roads lead back to the parable of the Good Samaritan. What is the lesson that Jesus teaches us in it?

It is that we shouldn’t walk past those who are in need or suffering. That our care for others should be neither conditional nor transactional. That we should be driven by our own humanity.

And that is the lesson that can light the path that lies before us.