A new theological conference held in late June will consider the impact of neoliberalism on the church.
Neoliberalism is a broad economic and philosophical concept that emphasises the need for the individual to be central in society. It is suspicious of the role played by government and emphasises instead a free market approach to most major services. In Australia, it is widely held that neoliberal economics have been a feature of government since the 1980s.
Conference organiser Dr Chris Budden told Insights that the conference “provides an opportunity for people to examine the way the church engages in this sort of society, particularly around justice and welfare.”
“It will be an opportunity to consider the way the church cooperates with governments around welfare delivery, and what costs there are in remaining ‘in the tent’,” Dr Budden said.
“The church has for many years sought to work alongside the state to encourage human well-being, including the protection of human rights and a broad sense of inclusiveness,” he said.
“It has supported a strong civil society, and partnership with other organisations in society.”
“Neoliberalism configures all aspects of existence in economic terms. It treats the individual as essentially a producer/ consumer, questions the role of the state and civil society in protecting and promoting well-being, and happily undermines democracy and equality. It has been the main ideology in this country for the last 30 years, shaping government and economic policy.”
Dr Elizabeth Strakosch has been named the keynote speaker. Dr Strakosch is a Lecturer in Public Policy and Govenance at the University of Queensland. Her research focuses on the intersection of policy and political relationships.
Advocates of a ‘neoliberal’ approach tend to avoid self-identifying with the term, however those who may be said to advocate the approach include the eminent economist Fredrich Hayek, late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
One of neoliberalism’s outspoken critics is Richard Dennis at the Australia Institute.
“For the past 30 years, Australians have been told that we can’t afford high-quality public services,” he writes in an opinion piece published by the Guardian.
“That public ownership of assets is inefficient, and that the pursuit of free markets through deregulation would create wealth and prosperity for all. But none of this is true.”
The conference will consider neoliberalism from a variety of perspectives.
The Neoliberalism, Civil Society & the Church Conference takes place at the Centre for Ministry from 28-29 June.
Registration is available here
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor