God on our side

During the latter part of the Second World War, once the tide had turned had turned against Japan, the Chifley Labor Government became concerned that Australian troops might return home not to a hero’s welcome but to unemployment. There was wide spread concern that the very people the Australian Government had trained to kill might, if confronted with the widespread unemployment many had experienced during the 1930s Depression, start culling surplus Labor politicians. Chifley’s response was to attempt to ensure job creation, expanded tertiary educational opportunities, setting up a Commonwealth employment finding service (which became known as the CES) and paid unemployment benefits. Ex-service personnel who had suffered disabling injuries were found jobs operating lifts in Department stores or as clerks in government departments.

The dismantling of the CES is now complete. If all that had happened was that one agency of government with its contradictory roles had been replaced by an improved bureaucracy there would be little concern. However, what we are witnessing is the end of the secular welfare state. We saw in the first round about 40% of the old CES clients staying with the government owned Employment National. This has been reduced to 1%. In the first round of contracts for profit companies got the loin’s share. but now the largest job agency in the Job Network is the Salvation Army’s Employment Plus. Closely followed by the Anglicans’ Mission Australia. The Catholic and United Churches also have been awarded a significant stake in the carve up. These Christian churches have extensive investment in nursing homes hostels, schools, child care, disability and other social welfare agencies.

Reports in the 29th December Sydney Morning Herald and in Johnathan Singer’s 19th January Green Left reveal these churches are demanding new employees have a Christian commitment. Australian welfare services are being returned to the pre-Whitlam period where conservative church agencies dominated much of the charity, emergency relief and service delivery. They did it on the cheap and the results they produced are revealed in reports of the

  • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s report into the stolen generations entitled Bringing them home,
  • the abuse of the Nearacol and other orphanages
  • forced adoptions,
  • the brutal treatment of unmarried mothers who were not allowed to see their babies in many Salvation Army and other church run maternity units,
  • the incarceration of young women who were sexually abused by their fathers on the grounds that they were in “moral danger”, and
  • the pitifully small contribution the churches were able or willing to make to poverty alleviation.

The reinforcement of ‘Christian’ attitudes amongst employees of these agencies will produce the next round of silent, compliant accomplices to the denigration of those most marginal to the interests of the government. Since the mid 1970s they were likely to find advocates amongst secular human services workers, union delegates and other officials of good will who used to be able to rely on due process, natural justice, whistle blower legislation, public service regulations and union protection.

The abuse of children in orphanages, schools and other organs of the church by nuns and priests, was witnessed. It was known about but just like in the case of police observing police bashings there too a code of silence replaces the code of conduct.


Written circa 2002