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Catholic Social Welfare Commission continues its call for social justice issues to be considered in economic and taxation policies

ELLEN FANNING: The Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission has, today, defended itself from attacks by the Federal Opposition. Today, in Parliament, the Prime Minister released the text of a letter sent by Senator Richard Alston to the Commission. In the letter, the Senator said the Catholic Commission's arguments on a tax on food was a second-rate polemic parading as a moral argument. The Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission, two weeks ago, described the GST on food as immoral.

Well, now it appears the two sides have met in what the Director of the Australian Catholic Welfare Commission, Father David Cappo, describes as a fire exchange. As a result, the Catholic Church has now been thrust well and truly into the political debate. Michael Brissenden asked Father Cappo if this was the response they'd expected.

DAVID CAPPO: Of course, we realise that there would be a lot of disagreement because we're coming from different positions. We're coming from a moral position, an ethical argument, rather than an economic, and we're trying to marry the two.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, indeed, that is one of the criticisms that the Opposition has about your stand, really, isn't it, that you're taking a moral stand without taking in the wider economic picture? Isn't that a valid criticism of your argument?

DAVID CAPPO: Well, I think what we're trying to do is say that every economic position should have a moral underpinning.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And this doesn't - is that what you're saying?

DAVID CAPPO: Well, we're saying that all economic policies, in the way they're being debated in Australia at the moment, focus very much on the economic issues rather than the way they impact upon human beings and issues of human dignity. We're just asking for a shift of emphasis so that the human dignity principles can be enunciated, can be debated in the community, and, once agreed to, that economic policies like wholesale sales tax or a GST, would be built on those principles.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Does the Catholic Church believe a GST, a tax on food, is immoral?

DAVID CAPPO: Well, the article that's being presented is from the Catholic Social Welfare Commission which is a social policy unit within the Church structures, and all that particular Commission is saying is that here are moral principles and we invite the community to debate those principles, and we invite the political parties to measure their economic policies in terms of human dignity principles.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Your position makes it fairly clear, though, that you don't agree with a tax on food and that you don't believe it's a moral tax.

DAVID CAPPO: We're saying that a tax on essential food is inappropriate and that we would be calling upon all political parties to ensure that there are fewer obstacles as possible between people on low incomes and the purchase of essential foods.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Is it fair to appear partisan at this time, though, when really, having just come out of a recession with 10 per cent unemployment, there's a fairly strong argument to say that the poor haven't been faring too well in the last decade, anyway?

DAVID CAPPO: Well, I suppose what we're saying is that the situation in our Australian community is not good in terms of the increasing number of low-income families and the stress that economic situations are placing on family life. And we're asking the community, in looking at the human dignity principles, to say: Well, the times are hard, they are tough, but let's not make economic decisions that make it even more difficult for low-income families to have access to the essentials of life.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Will the Catholic Church be actively campaigning against this in the run-up to a Federal election?

DAVID CAPPO: As I said, this article and this document is put out by a social policy unit of the Catholic Church which is the Catholic Social Welfare Commission, and that article is then put out for community debate. That's the focus of attention and that's what we would like to occur, so that it becomes a community document - not a political one. It's a document that addresses human dignity issues and we would hope that it just simply raises awareness of these issues in the lives of Australians.