Ex PM warns on need for economic and social reform

ACU Vice Chancellor listens as former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd makes a point at the ACU forum. PHOTO: ACU

If the implementation of Catholic social teaching such as the 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum is not applied to contemporary politics and economics, the results could be social upheaval and the collapse of capitalism, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned.

Mr Rudd’s warning came at the launch of an Australian Catholic University’s Institute for Religion, Politics and Society forum at ACU on Ash Wednesday, 14 February.

Citing the encyclical by Pope Leo XIII on social justice and employment as still pivotal today in light of rampant secularism and the cumulative social injustices found in unchecked capitalism, Mr Rudd said it was the first proper report card on capitalism.

“Rerum Novarum was the first effective critique of capitalism and it was done from the Holy Mother Church. What [Pope Leo XIII] spoke about was the rights of workers not to be exploited, the opportunity for fair wages … I think the re-invention of our economic project in a way which is sustainable would take deeply into account papal teachings over 100 years ago.”

If not, he warned, “Unless we are able to regulate capitalism to the extent of its gross excesses… then frankly it is going to fall apart.

“The nature of the economic base in our societies is becoming intrinsically unjust… So people are therefore taking to the politics of extremes.”

Meanwhile, the ex-PM who captained Australia through the 2008 Global Financial Crisis told his audience he had never quit being a Catholic.

“I have never resigned as a Roman Catholic [and] I stand in awe of Pope Francis, because of his mission to reflect the antithesis of the cancers of our contemporary society.”

Accompanying Mr Rudd was ACU Vice-Chancellor Greg Craven, a widely respected expert in Constitutional Law, with the conversation between the two on Faith and Leadership taking up the majority of the event.

Throughout the conversation Rudd maintained that the message of Jesus is just as relevant to combating modern injustice as it was 2000 years ago, while the Christian ethic is at the heart of the meaning of fairness.

“Jesus speaks in very simple propositions … it’s a message for the collective humanity at all times.

“And if you take seriously the second [great commandment] which is ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ therein for me is the alpha and the omega of social justice”

ACU’s IRPS aims to discuss and canvass solutions to what it sees as the accelerating decline in the current political landscape.

He said that having faith can give politicians a much-needed fortitude. Meanwhile, politics is a far-from-perfect business of compromise which may not satisfy everyone but does avoid extremism and “fighting in the streets.” And that people think “Compromise” is a bad word – “but remember, the alternative is absolutism.”

The former PM also honed in on the role religious conviction has now, more than ever, in tempering the conscience of society and extolled the role of Christians who fight for human dignity:

“The job of the Church is to make the state constantly ethically uncomfortable with itself…You need folks out there committed to the business of what I described as focused, uncompromising Christian ethics…You need folks out there who are constantly holding up the ethical goal posts of our society. The protection of life and the celebration of life and the advancement of life’s freedoms is essential to who we are.”

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