On 7 April 2020, an historic group of Australian Catholics – including a number of Australian Catholic Bishops; Catholic Religious Australia (CRA), the peak body for more than 5,000 members of Religious Orders; and the CEOs of several major Catholic health and social services providers wrote to Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, applauding his government for showing leadership and agency in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the letter raised serious concerns for two groups of people that remain on the margins of our community and vulnerable to both the predations of the COVID-19 virus and the despair that comes with it. All 44 signatories have decided that it is time for the letter to be made public, and for Catholics around the country to join in the movement to ensure nobody is left behind.
“Right now Australia is home to more than 1.5 million temporary visa holders,” said Fr Peter Smith, Promotor of Justice and Peace, Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. “These women and men are members of our communities and congregations: they pray in our pews, work in our restaurants, farms, factories, aged care homes, supermarkets, and NGOs, study in our schools and universities, and live in our neighbourhoods. And we have abandoned them to their fate.”
“We need to look to Singapore to see what can happen when a wealthy, sophisticated nation cares only for their own citizens and tries to ignore all those in their country,” continued Fr. Smith. “This virus doesn’t recognise passport status; it devastates everyone equally.”
Director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia, Carolina Gottardo, said, “Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia has delivered emergency food packages to more than 500 refugees, people seeking asylum and migrants in vulnerable situations who have lost jobs, have no safety net and cannot go home in the last two weeks alone. The demand for JRS’s services including emergency relief has also increased twofold. The situation is desperate.”
“Many of the women, children, and men we support were already living in severely overcrowded dwellings. Now, as rental arrears build up and some landlords continue to threaten eviction, we are likely to see a surge of temporary visa holders in clusters of Western Sydney who are unable to self-isolate or practice social distancing,” Ms. Gottardo continued.
“Our Federal Government’s exclusion of temporary visa holders from a basic temporary net is creating a situation in which people cannot protect themselves or the wider community from COVID-19,” concluded Ms. Gottardo.
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of the Diocese of Parramatta and Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council pointed to an even more vulnerable group saying, “People who have been trafficked, victims of modern slavery, people seeking asylum, and women on temporary visas experiencing domestic violence are all excluded from support and access to Medicare and safe homes. This is not who we want to be as a nation.”
“We are really heartened to see the Tasmanian government give $3 million to support migrant workers in their state. This is not just welcome financial support it is an act of compassion and solidarity that recognises the vulnerability of these workers and the need to protect all people affected by COVID-19 for public health reasons,” Bishop Long said.
The letter also highlights imminent danger posed by the virus for the most distraught group of people – those who came seeking Australia’s protection and who are currently being held in hotels and detention centres across Australia.
Given the circumstances in which they live, this group cannot meet required physical distancing measures and are vulnerable to guards and service providers entering and leaving the facility at will, and potentially carrying COVID-19.
The signatories to the letter ask the Federal Government to remember its responsibility for ensuring safety and human rights of everyone residing within its jurisdiction, even temporarily.
Everyone in Australian community who is in hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including people seeking protection, must be given temporary access to a financial safety net, Medicare, and adequate shelter if they are homeless.
Nobody should be left behind in this time of extraordinary need.
Read the public letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison below:
Australian Catholics ask the Prime Minister to ensure that we really are all in this together
On the 7th of April, 2020, an historic group of Australian Catholics service providers, Religious Orders and Bishops wrote to Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and applauded he and his government for showing leadership and agency in the face of this global pandemic. The Prime Minister was congratulated for deploying the vast resources of our wealthy nation in an effort to protect all Australians, including the vulnerable and ensure no one is left to deal with this pandemic on their own.
However, the letter raised two groups of people that remain on the margins of our community and vulnerable to both the predations of the COVID-19 virus and the despair that comes with such vulnerability.
In the first group there are more than 1.5 million temporary visa holders in the Australian community. Many thousands are members of our congregations: they pray in our pews, work in our restaurants, farms, factories, aged care homes, supermarkets, and NGOs, study in our schools and universities, and live in our neighbourhoods.
They are losing their jobs but have no access to any form of financial safety net, to Medicare, to temporary shelter, and to fundamental support services such as free legal advice. Support from overseas family members may also be affected. Most cannot return home at this time.
Within this population, some are in an even more precarious situation: trafficked people and victims of modern slavery, people seeking asylum, and women on temporary visas experiencing domestic violence. For them, the impacts of COVID-19 and the exclusions from government support sit atop an already dangerous and exclusionary reality.
There are also people seeking asylum and refugees living in the community supported by volunteers who provide meal assistance through food banks and vouchers. At present, the number of volunteers has significantly dropped due to social distancing requirements and yet there remains an urgent need for stocking food banks. We are already seeing all kinds of public health and economic impacts: a surge in homelessness, and destitution, including people without food on their tables; a concomitant growth in people who find they cannot meet social distancing and self-isolation requirements; and an increase of already sick individuals without Medicare who are unable to seek timely health care.
The second group includes the people who came seeking Australia’s protection and who are currently being held in hotels and detention centres across Australia. This group have no choice about whether they take the vitally needed steps in maintaining physical distance and hand and coughing hygiene. Despite having committed no crime, they are being held in detention where social distancing is impossible and they are vulnerable with guards and service providers coming and going. We join with the Australian Society for Infection Disease and the Australian College of Infection Prevention to urge the Morrison-government to release asylum seekers and refugees from detention.
To this end, we ask that everyone in the Australian community who is in hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including people seeking protection, be given temporary access to a financial safety net, Medicare, and adequate shelter if they are homeless.
Christians across Australia, including Catholics, have consistently shown concern for the welfare and lives of people who are on the margins. As Catholic leaders, we do the same.
We ask the Federal Government to remember its responsibility for ensuring safety and human rights of everyone residing within its jurisdiction, even temporarily. In the same way, we hope that foreign governments will be mindful of the needs of Australians stranded abroad at this time.
Australia cannot afford to leave some of the most vulnerable people in our community behind. COVID-19 makes us all as vulnerable as the most vulnerable person in Australia. Our support and generosity should extend to everyone in Australia who is in need of it at this critical moment.
None of us have ever experienced what we are going through today. It is a health crisis and becoming an economic crisis, but we must not let it become a crisis for our shared humanity. We must widen the circle of protection and care to include every person in Australia. Our health demands that as does our humanity.
List of Signatories
Fr. Peter Smith, Justice and Peace Promoter, Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney
Most Reverend Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) Commission for Social Justice – Mission and Service, Bishop of Parramatta
Most Reverend Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Adelaide and Bishop of Port Pirie
Most Reverend Bishop Charles Gauci DD, Bishop of Darwin
Most Reverend Bishop Terence John Gerard Brady, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney
Brother Peter Carroll FMS, President of Catholic Religious Australia (CRA); Provincial, Marist Brothers Province of Australia; Leader, Association of St. Marcellin Champagnat
Very Reverend Fr. Brian McCoy SJ, Provincial, Jesuit Province of Australia
Very Reverend Peter Jones OSA, Prior Provincial, Order of St. Augustine, Province of Australasia
Sr. Alice Foley OCD, Congregational Leader, Carmelite Nuns of Australia
Sr. Clare Nolan RSC, Congregational Leader, Sisters of Charity, Australia
Sr. Eveline Crotty, Institute Leader, Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and PNG
Sr. Jan Barnett rsj, Josephite Justice Coordinator, Josephite Justice Network of Australia
Sr. Louise McKeogh FMA, Provincial, Salesian Sisters, South Pacific Region
Sr. Mary-Louise Petro, Congregational Leader, Sisters of Mercy Parramatta
Sr. Monica Cavanagh rsj, Congregational Leader, Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart
Sr. Monica Walsh, Province Leader, Sisters of the Good Sheperd, Australia-Aotearoa/New Zealand
Sr. Patty Fawkner SGS, Provincial Leader, Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Australia
Sr. Stancea Vichie mss, Congregational Leader, Missionary Sisters of Service, Australia
Fr. Tom McDonough CP, Provincial Superior, Passionist Brothers of Australia
Fr. Brian Lucas, National Director, Catholic Mission
John Ferguson, Director, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Office for Social Justice
Dr. Cristina Lledo Gomez, Chair, Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC)
Kirsty Robertson, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Caritas Australia
Toby Hall, Group Chief Executive Officer, St. Vincent’s Health Australia
Carolina Gottardo, Director, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia; Co-Chair, Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA)
Julie Edwards, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Jesuit Social Services; Co-Chair, Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA)
Claire Victory, National President, St. Vincent De Paul Society National Council of Australia
Louise Miller Frost, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), St. Vincent De Paul Society (SA)
Jack de Groot, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), St. Vincent De Paul Society (NSW)
Joshua Lourensz, Executive Director, Catholic Social Services Victoria (CSSV)
Maurizio Vespa, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), St. Francis Social Services and the House of Welcome
Sr. Brigid Arthur csb, Founder and Coordinator, Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project (BASP)
Patrice Moriarty, Social Justice Coordinator, Catholic Diocese of Parramatta
Brian Lawrence, Chairperson, Australian Cardijn Institute
Helen Forde, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Jesuit Mission
Phil Glendenning, Director, Edmund Rice Centre (ERC)
Richard Haddock, Chair, Mary Aikenhead Ministries
Fergus Fitzsimons, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Centacare New England NorthWest, The Social Services Agency of the Catholic Diocese of Armidale
Rebecca Bromhead, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Marist Solidarity Australia
Dr. Frank Malloy, National Director, Marist Schools Australia
Peter Loughnane, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Catholic Care – Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains
Mark Phillips, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Catholic Care – Sydney
John Lochowiak, Chairperson, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC)
Sr Louise Cleary csb, President, Australian Catholic Religious against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH)
Sr Brigitte Sipa, Regional Leader, Sisters of St Joseph Centre West Region
Sr Mary Clare Holland OP, Prioress, Dominican Sisters of Eastern Australia and the Solomon Islands
Cath Garner, Group Director, Cabrini Outreach
Sue Williams, Chief Executive Officer, Cabrini Health
Wendy Hildebrand ibvm, Province Leader, Loreto Sisters Australia & S.E. Asia Province
Libby Rogerson ibvm, Member, Loreto Justice Network