6. Apr, 2018

The Smokescreen and the Real Issue Behind the Closing of the Moora Residential College

What WA Labor is not saying

The decision to close the Moora residential college is either fundamentally just, or unjust. Unfortunately, the townsfolk of Moora do not seem to have the information at hand to say with confidence that this is the right decision for Western Australia.

The government needs to be transparent and accountable about their decision-making processes. Rather WA Labor seem to want to shut down all dialogue on this decision by blaming the previous government, by blurting out the phrase “budget repair,” by allegedly blocking people on social media, and by side-stepping the real issue.

This is unacceptable and perhaps the reason why Moora residents turned their back on the education Minister at the recent rally in Perth. Let us work through what the closing of the Residential college is really about (from a Thomistic perspective).

Justice 

According to St Thomas Aquinas justice is that which is objectively right i.e., objectively required for right order in relationships within a community of persons. Justice is also a virtue whose object is that which is just, disposing us to render to others their due.

Prior to civil justice there is natural law. Civil justice is particular to a people whereas the law of the nations refers to what many diverse peoples commonly recognise as required for the right ordering of social relationships. The law of the nations, along with natural law, are the foundation of international law.

There are other forms of justice such as particular justice (what is owed to a particular person/group within the society) and general justice (what is owed to the community by its members). General justice is typically defined by law and is known as legal justice.  

Particular justice –rendering particular persons/groups their due– is of two kinds (1) commutative justice which concerns equitable interactions among particular persons and (2) distributive justice which concerns the equitable distribution of social benefits and burdens among members of the community. Distributive and commutative justice are included within, and subordinated to, legal justice.

The allocation of state resources/finances falls within the definition of distributive justice whose object is that which is owed to society’s parts/members from the social whole

The proper object of any decision to close the Moora residential college is distributive justice. If WA Labor present reasonable arguments as to why cutting funding to the residential college represents an equitable solution (to the distribution of social benefits and burdens) among its electorate, this would be deemed a just decision.

Arguments that refer to the former Barnett government and/or budget repair are simply misleading. Since these are the premium arguments one can only assume WA Labor has failed to communicate the truth behind its decision or is hiding that truth.

Possible motives for hiding the truth

If the closure is not based on a just decision, St Thomas Aquinas would argue there are two possible areas where injustice may be present. Partiality is violated by favouritism i.e., playing favourites in the granting of benefits, and by unfairly disfavouring particular people i.e., practising prejudicial discrimination in distributing goods. 

People can accept that the state must make tough decisions involving the equitable and appropriate distribution of limited resources. So, I believe the challenge for WA Labor is to present their argument in terms of distributive justice.  

Reference: Notes on “Justice and Allied Virtues” from Prof. Bruce Williams, O.P. (Angelicum)