Social Justice Update – March 2015
Message from the CEO
The St Vincent de Paul Society supported a National Day of Action held by National Shelter and other homelessness peak bodies on 23 March, 2015. The day before the event, Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison, announced a two-year National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH), which though welcome, is shorter than the four-year NPAH the sector needs. The crisis in affordable housing and dire lack of social and public housing still exists regardless of the NPAH. Homelessness Australia, Shelter Australia and the Community Housing Federation of Australia also continue to face an uncertain future after losing federal government funding, which is due to expire by 30 June, 2015. These peak bodies play an important advocacy role and without them the voice of people experiencing homelessness and housing stress will be severely diminished. If we are serious about ending homelessness in Australia we need the federal government to support the important role of peak homelessness bodies and invest in social and public housing initiatives.
Cyclone damage assistance
Our thoughts are with the people of Vanuatu following the destruction caused by Cyclone Pam on 13 March, 2015. Vinnies has a twinning partnership with Vanuatu and has recently donated disaster relief funds to help people in the Island nation rebuild their lives. In recent weeks the St Vincent de Paul Society in Queensland has also established Vinnies Cyclone Marcia Recovery Appeal to assist people affected by the cyclone that hit large areas of the state in late February. The Queensland Government also made a $1 million donation to be shared by Vinnies and three other charities involved in delivering immediate post-cyclone support and services.
The ache for home
The title of Vinnies National Overview publication for 2014, ‘The ache for home’ is taken from the work of famous American poet, Maya Angelou, who passed away in May last year. The full quote ‘The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place we can go as we are and not be questioned’ is fitting for a publication focused on homelessness. With over 105, 000 people experiencing homelessness in prosperous Australia each night, we need sustained national action to address homelessness. Dr Falzon writes: ‘We must, as a society, urgently protect people from being cast off and cast out; devalued as human beings, called illegal, made illegal.’
On 18 March, 2015 Vinnies launched a new look website for its premier fundraising initiative, the Vinnies CEO Sleepout. The new look website is even more user-friendly and will encourage CEOs from across Australia to fundraise in the lead up to the event on 18 June, 2015. The Vinnies CEO Sleepout offers just a small glimpse into life on the streets. Over the past ten years, with your help and that of your supporters, we have raised $24 million to support Vinnies homeless services. With these funds, we not only provide immediate and emergency assistance but pathways to a brighter future. There is still time for CEOs to register for the event and to nominate a CEO to take part.
The latest Record highlights Indigenous policy
Ensuring nobody is left behind is the theme of Vinnies Autumn Issue of The Record. Contributors include Marie Coleman AO PSM from the National Foundation for Australian Women and Brad Chilcott the Director of the national refugee group, Welcome to Australia. Emeritus Professor Jon Altman, from the Australian National University wrote an article on the topic of Indigenous policy changes, which are among many set to take place in 2015. He said changes to the Remote Jobs & Communities Program (RJCP) will see people work for less than award wages and are ‘an approach reminiscent of the pre-award 1960s and discriminatory training allowances.’ Indigenous organisations, such as the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT), continue to lobby for federal funding cuts due to take effect on 1 July, 2015 to be reinstated. It is feared that funding cuts to Indigenous and community legal services announced in last year’s budget will negatively impact upon the First Peoples and women and children experiencing domestic violence. Other topics covered in The Record include paid parental leave, the abandoned GP Co-payment and the effects of recent policy changes on low paid families and individuals as well as those people outside of the labour market.
Response to Intergenerational Report
Vinnies has rejected the government's rhetoric accompanying the release of its intergenerational report on 5 March, 2015. Dr Falzon said: ‘Intergenerational equity shouldn't mean that the poor today pay for the rich tomorrow. The Report suggests more means to 'encourage' people to take up work, including older people and women, but exactly where will these jobs come from? With 13 jobseekers for every job it is clear that the starting point should be a jobs plan, including economic development in areas of high unemployment combined with access to high quality education and training. It also means addressing the clear inadequacy of the Newstart payment, which sits at only 40 per cent of the minimum wage and is so low that it has become an obstacle to participation.’ Vinnies would like our nation’s leaders to have a real vision for Australia's future, a future based on a plan for more jobs, affordable housing and solid investment in education and training for all, not just the privileged.
Review of Australia’s Welfare System
Vinnies also responded critically to a major report on the Australia’s income support system when it was released on 25, February, 2015. The McClure Report as it is known is the final report of the most recent Review into Australia’s Welfare System led by Patrick McClure. In response to the McClure Report, Vinnies called on the federal government to address the causes of unemployment rather than trying to cut social expenditure and renewed its calls for a plan for jobs, plus calls to increase the Newstart payment immediately. Dr Falzon said: ‘If, for the government, the key objective is to reduce expenditure, this simply cannot be reconciled with the objectives of keeping people out of poverty, supporting people to live with dignity, investing in education and training and creating jobs, especially in areas of high unemployment.’ In August 2014 Vinnies made a submission to the Review where it argued: ‘The aim of the system should not be humiliation, nor control: compulsory income management, and other means of punishing people who are unable to find work, are not acceptable.’