By Paul Gray
A new book advocating a Creation-centred view of human rights has been launched by a senior federal Labor politician, Senator Jacinta Collins.
Life to the Full, a book of essays detailing a Catholic view of human rights in a range of areas from unionism to the right to life, says each human being has an irreplaceable value because he or she is created by God.
Launching the book in Melbourne, Senator Collins hit out at the view, expressed by some the Labor Party, that the ALP today is ‘a secular party.’ “I take issue with that description of the Labor Party,” she said.
“I would describe my political colleagues as a mixture of people who come to a commitment to social justice from either a secular or from a faith-based perspective. The party works best when we tolerate and accept that amongst ourselves.”
Senator Collins was previously the Federal Shadow Minister for Children and Youth. She led sustained parliamentary attacks on the Howard Government over the “children overboard” affair.
Senator Collins has also delivered lectures at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family. Whilst she studied philosophy at university, she describes her position as that of a “rationalist.”
She said that working as a Catholic in politics, this perspective is important to have because you are “not as easily discounted as someone who relies purely on religious authority.”
Life to the Full is edited by James Franklin, who is a professor in the school of mathematics and statistics at the University of NSW.
Prof Franklin argues in the book’s introduction that there has been one major institution defending the objectivity of human rights, the Catholic Church.
He says the Church “has always defended an objectivist natural law view of ethics in general and rights in particular.
On that view, ethics is not fundamentally about rules or divine commands or the greatest happiness for the greatest number or the habits ingrained by evolution and custom, but about the irreducible equal worth of persons and what follows from that.”
Senator Collins quoted these lines favourably by Collins and said they adequately describer her own “groundings” and motivation throughout her political career.
Keith Harvey, National Industrial Officer for the Australian Services Union, also spoke at the launch. Mr Harvey has worked in the union movement for more than 30 years.
He argued that Christian faith is a “package deal” which requires its followers to defend human rights in a wide range of areas.
Mr Harvey said that as a Catholic, he had long believed that the Church defends the right of an individual worker to be represented by a union.
“I’ve clearly had the view that the Catholic Church has, and has had for more than a century, a very clearly stated position on the right to collective bargaining, and one which the former Australian Government very specifically took away from Australian workers,’ he said.
Mr Harvey said that because of his personal beliefs on this issue and his work in the union movement, he last year went around to churches of various denominations on a local basis to engage them in dialogues about rights.
“As a Catholic I thought it would be a very easy conversation with local Catholic churches,” he said. “That turned out to be not necessarily the case.”
Some Catholics appeared to have “forgotten” what the Church teaches about union rights, he said. However, he said that overall he felt “buoyed” by the support given by churches to rights issues.
He said that human rights activists need to be aware that many churches are naturally reluctant to cause alienation and divisions within their own ranks by being too “political.”
Any issue that may be the subject of legislation, like industrial relations, is political, he said. However since the issues are important, there needs to a way for faith communities to talk about them.
Mr Harvey said he found that church communities are active on a wide range of different social justice issues.
“Many of the justice groups with which I discussed industrial relations had a very full agenda of work on which they were engaged as faith communities,” he said. “In my view the best of them saw industrial relations as one such issue, but all of them had a range of issues motivated by their particular faith traditions.
“These included social justice issues such as Aboriginal reconciliation, overseas aid and development, fair trade, assistance to migrants and a particular assistance to refugees.”
The Anglican Church, for example, took a particular interest in the welfare of David Hicks, he said. “If you look at the websites of the various churches, they take an interest in a myriad of different justice issues.
“This is how it should be because social justice teachings do cover a wide range of issues and cannot just be limited to one or two special interests.”