Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service Chair, Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv, Office for Social Justice Director John Ferguson, and Australian Catholic Social Justice Council Chair Dr Cristina Gomez are among the Catholic leaders who have appealed to the Federal Government to protect everyone in Australia from the COVID-19 pandemic. People seeking asylum, refugees living in the community, and temporary visa holders are left out of current measures.
In their public statement the group ask that “everyone in the Australian community who is in hardship as a result of the COVID19 pandemic, including people seeking protection, be given temporary access to a financial safety net, Medicare, and adequate shelter if they are homeless” and, further, that the Federal Government “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.”
They conclude that “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.”
People without access to government assistance are reliant on food banks supported by volunteers. However social distancing requirements have seen a big drop in the number of volunteers. The statement notes that “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 statement reiterates a number of concerns raised by Bishop Long in his Pastoral Message for the Feast of St Joseph the Worker.
The full text of the statement, which follows up a private letter sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison on 7 April, is available here.