The Guardian 6 July, 2005

Churches concerned
at "unfair" IR changes

Christian churches are seeking an industrial relations summit with the Prime Minister, concerned his government is riding roughshod over Aussie families. The National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA), which includes the leaders of 15 religions, wants a meeting with the prime minister.

"If this is about Australia remaining competitive as a nation, as Mr Howard has said, then it should not be achieved at the expense of Australian workers and their families", NCCA general secretary, Reverend John Henderson, said.

"The value of each worker is not as a commodity, but as a person, a human being loved by God. Our community has values that are more important than economics."

The council has called on the federal government to "slow down and step back from its apparent haste". It sought a summit as Melbourne Anglican Bishop, Philip Huggins, labelled the Howard agenda "unfair".

Bishop Huggins told an ecumenical service, attended by Victorian church and union leaders, that Howard’s rationale for radical change didn’t wash.

The Bishop said the Prime Minister was on the record claiming unemployment at a 30-year low and industrial disputation at a 90-year low.

"It is plainly, by his own criteria, a system that is working well", Bishop Huggins said. Catholic Auxillary Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Pat Power, last week took part in a union-organised forum on the changes. Bishop Power said he feared the changes would cost some Australians their jobs.

The developments came a fortnight after a leading Uniting Church figure called elements of the Howard package "immoral". "People are not commodities in the service of greater profits and should not be exploited. The government’s decision to strip workers of their rights to challenge unfair dismissals is immoral", the Rev Elaine Poulas said.

In an interview on the industrial relations legislation with The Weekend Financial Review (July 2-3, 2005), the conservative and closely associated to the prime minister, Cardinal George Pell, warned Howard against "overreaching" now that his government has control of the Senate.

Australia’s largest Christian faiths, the Catholic, Uniting and Anglican churches, are all members of the NCCA.

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