Engage the future

Peter Kell

It is ironic that on Saturday the people of NSW delivered such a thumping victory to the NSW Liberal and National parties without knowing too much about what they stand for.

The clincher in this election was not that the Liberal Party had winning ideas, but that Labor had stopped listening to the electorate. Kristina Keneally admitted this in her concession speech on Saturday night.

However such a momentous loss does not necessarily do anyone any favours – a healthy democracy requires a vibrant opposition. With a projected 19 Labor seats in the Lower House, debate and scrutiny may in fact be the biggest losers over the next four years.

The Liberal Coalition has made overtures of significant change in NSW. On Monday morning this week the new Treasurer, Mike Baird was saying loudly and clearly that borrowing money to build new infrastructure is a good thing. Such confidence and foresight is indeed welcome. Government needs to invest in public goods and services. This has always been Government’s mandate, regardless of the party in power.

But the investments and changes need to be strategic and good. They need to bear fruit that will help all of society. Here are three big issues that I think Christian’s should be concerned to see the Liberal Coalition act on:

Disability and family services

The new State Government needs to honour its commitment to invest over $2 billion in disability services that improve the experience of care. Foster care and family services also need to be transferred to the non-Government sector. These issues go to the heart of providing quality services for the vulnerable.

Alcohol related violence and gambling

Curbing alcohol related violence and problem gambling are key social policy concerns. If these issues are addressed with rigorous consultation and strong political will, the pay offs for the wellbeing of our society will be enormous. It will take resolve though – to work with or without the Commonwealth and to stand up to powerful club and gaming interests.

Public and social housing

One other strategic investment will be dramatically increasing the supply of social and public housing. Every day caseworkers with ANGLICARE Sydney see how the provision of safe, affordable housing creates huge potential for vulnerable people to regain stability. Investing in social and public housing is truly a very powerful investment to improve the wellbeing of vulnerable individuals and families and it pays big dividends in social and economic stability.

Speak into the space

There is one area that has not changed. Christians need to continue to speak clearly and cleverly about the needs around us; engaging with political debate and keeping politicians to account.

Some will say that faith has no place in public debates about what is best for our society. They are wrong. In 2006, a then relatively unknown US senator from Illinois named Barack Obama said:

“Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed the majority of the great reformers in American history – were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their ‘personal morality’ into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition”.

Let us prayerfully and without fear or favour continue to uphold the most vulnerable people in NSW, serve them directly in our church communities and advocate on their behalf to bring about reform and policies that will address broader systemic issues that entrench disadvantage.

Peter Kell is the CEO of Anglicare Sydney