Launch of Catholic Social Services WA

Posted 22 November 2018 3:52pm

Launch of Catholic Social Services WA

Address from Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO
Catholic Social Services Australia

22 November 2018


Cathedral House, Perth

Thank you for the privilege to speak here this evening in Perth.  I am always a little apprehensive when I fly here to speak.  I well remember the first such occasion when the newly installed Archbishop William Foley asked me to address a public meeting on Aboriginal land rights. This was well before Mabo and native title.  Your Premier Brian Bourke had appointed Paul Seaman to conduct a public inquiry.  I spoke at a large public meeting.  At question time, a representative of the mining industry said, ‘Reverend Brennan, we are well used to wise men from the east coming to tell us here in the west what we must do.’  He was not being complimentary.  He didn’t think much of my wisdom.

We have come a long way since 1985 when I first came to Western Australia as the adviser to the bishops on Aboriginal Affairs.  The late Bishop John Jobst had told Archbishop Foley that he did not want me in his diocese as I was a Communist.  Meanwhile Archbishop William Foley on learning that the Kalgoorlie Pastoral Council was not too keen on land rights decided that he would fly with me and the legendary Fr Maurie Toop to meet with the Council.  Sure there may have been some differing perspectives and some robust discussion.  But Archbishop Foley believed that Catholics of all political persuasions and social agendas could sit down together and reflect fruitfully on a complex emotion laden situation in light of the gospel.

I acknowledge the presence of Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, your archbishop and the bishop chosen to lead us on the path to the Plenary Council in 2020-21.  I acknowledge Bishop Don Sproxton, your auxiliary bishop and the one who has faithfully chaired our Bishops Commission for Health and Community Services which is now being replaced by the new super commission, the Commission for Social Justice on which Bishop Don will continue to serve together with Bishop Chris Saunders from Broome.  I acknowledge Steve McDermott who I first knew as the long time CEO of St Patricks Community Support Centre in Fremantle. He was the first CEO I met who kept a guitar in his office and was always smiling.  In so far as I could understand his accent, I didn’t understand why he always had cause to be smiling.  I acknowledge Dr Terry Wilson your Vicar for Social Outreach who has had the vision and experience to drive this statewide initiative of Catholic Social Services WA with strong backing and assistance from the Archdiocese of Perth.  I acknowledge Professor Maria Harries who chairs the board of Catholic Social Services Australia and who has provided such leadership for our church as a member of the Truth Justice and Healing Council.  I acknowledge also  Michael King the CEO of Centacare Kimberley who is also a member of our CSSA board and will now be a member of the Catholic Social Services WA Council. 

I have just come from Cairns where many of our CSSA members are attending the annual conference of Family and Relationship Services Australia.  At the CSSA welcome for that conference, I was reflecting with our members that last year they offered support to over 400,000 people.  75% of our members offer some family services.  In Cairns we honoured Sr Mary Ryan OP who is retiring after 25 years as CEO of Centacare Family Services in the Geraldton Diocese.  Mary is justifiably proud of the ‘Living with Love’ and ‘Staying Connected’ programs which she established.  She also hosts a community Christmas lunch in Geraldton for 150 people who otherwise would find Christmas a difficult and lonely time – a bit like Pope Francis who hosted 1500 people from the streets of Rome to lunch on Sunday marking the second World Day of the Poor.  I trust that Mary’s life of service will stand as a beacon for all who co-operate under the banner of Catholic Social Services WA.

Whether we live in the west or the east, we are all living through a time of disruption and uncertainty. Trump, Brexit, and frequent changes of Australian Prime Minister tell us that political confusion is not isolated to a particular time or place. The Royal Commissions into institutional responses to child sexual abuse and into the banks and financial institutions point to an underlying loss of trust in institutions, traditions, and authority. The public reputation of the Catholic Church in Australia has been tarnished, and church affiliation is decreasing.

Against this backdrop of political uncertainty and loss of faith in institutions, governments continue to warn that the present welfare services and social security payment systems are stretched and in need of repair.  The Federal Government has introduced a number of measures which it hopes will encourage more welfare recipients to move from welfare into work. The Government says it is committed to a fair, sustainable welfare system able to support those most in need.

The Federal government has readily admitted that the NDIS disrupts existing operating models and is a fundamental shift from a block funded welfare model to a market-based system allowing persons with a disability to choose their supports through individualised commissioning. Market based systems increasingly seem to be ‘the go’, but as our members know, many people fall through the cracks in even a well regulated and best operating market. No doubt, this approach can work very well for persons who are well educated, well resourced, and well connected. We need to keep an eye on those who are more marginalised and vulnerable, and on those who fall just short of eligibility for the NDIS. Some of our members will be able to adjust to the new technology, economics of scale, advertising and promotion required to compete in the new market. We also need to look out for members where this is beyond their reach or constitutes too great a risk to their financial viability. This is a very testing time for our members who remain committed to providing the best of services to people with a disability.

The government is trialling measures such as the cashless debit card and the random drug testing of welfare recipients. It is essential that we insist on accurate and holistic assessment of outcomes and on maintaining the dignity of all persons affected by new measures. The cashless debit card has been trialled on two sites where our members work, one being the Kimberley.  Any measure which can encourage people to move from welfare to work is welcome.  It must provide a practical pathway, rather than just further entrenching passive welfare dependency.  It must also provide a sense that the individual is able to choose and make decisions for themselves. CSSA’s approach has not been outright opposition to measures of this sort which are supported by both sides of politics. Rather we are concerned to be co-operative on the ground with government to ensure the delivery of wrap-around services which can maximise the prospects of the laudable objectives being achieved while continuing to respect the dignity of all persons.

For some years, members had been telling us that our CSSA membership fees were too high. The fees were being levied at a rate more than twice those of other faith-based providers. We heard the message and have now halved your national membership fees. This meant that we needed to halve the size of our Canberra office and reduce priorities and the routine services we provide.

Being attentive to the members, we realised that the things you wanted most from your national organisation were: rigorous, evidence-based research and advocacy that is able to impact on national welfare policy, as well as provide support for the formation of your staff in Catholic Social Teaching and leadership. This is CSSA’s new value proposition:

As a national advocate, Catholic Social Services Australia works with its members to produce evidence/research which informs public opinion and assists lawmakers to develop just and compassionate social and economic policies that will improve the lives of the poor and vulnerable in Australia. In doing so, CSSA fosters connectedness and partners with Catholic social service providers.

Our hope is that members will now join us in targeted research by helping to craft, supplement, fund, and resource projects with the necessary data and evidence from the work being performed by the members. We welcome our WA members and other Catholic social service providers in this state now coming together and forming a state based organisation to promote further collaborative projects while supporting Catholic social outreach agencies here in WA.

This evening we will have the WA launch of the new publication Hearing, Healing, Hope: The Ministry of Service in Challenging Times.  This splendid book is the result of close collaboration between CSSA and Catholic Social Services Victoria.  It contains the key papers at this year’s conference jointly run by CSSA and Catholic Social Services Victoria.  I hope this might be a model and a promise of things to come as we co-operate together across the Nullabor.  And I do hope some of you will make the trek across the Nullabor to Port Macquarie on 19-20 February 2019 when we will be hosting a national conference with the theme Meeting the Unmet Need.  We will be showcasing the parish of St Agnes which under the leadership of Monsignor Leo Donnelly has broken down the silos between parish, health, education and welfare delivering services to a whole community with increased resources and animated by the gospel.

In the midst of all the challenges, we continue to be buoyed by the prophetic leadership of Pope Francis. I note that CSSWA takes its motto from the words of Pope Francis when he said on 10 July 2016 to ‘do good works, do not just say words that go to the wind.  Through the good works that we do…our faith germinates and bears fruit’.   Let’s never lose sight of those we are privileged to serve and let’s always be attentive to their voices.  The members of Catholic Social Services WA will be well situated to be the hands and heart of Christ in this part of God’s needy world. Thank you for all you do, and thank you for all you are. Let there be light especially where there is darkness. Remember, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.  Working together collaboratively at both state and national levels we might be a light to all in our nation, particular to those who are poorest and most vulnerable.  Like Mary MacKillop, I urge you, ‘Do all you can with the means at your disposal and calmly leave the rest to God.’  I hope to return to the east taking with me some of your wisdom and enthusiasm for helping the Kingdom to break in, here and now, in the west of the great south land of the Holy Spirit.



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