CEO’s Message from Dr John Falzon

On 7 May, 2015 I had the pleasure of giving the opening address at the Progress 2015 Conference held at the Melbourne Town Hall. The take home message of the speech, titled Resistance and Hope was simply that: ‘We have only one enemy. It is called inequality’. The St Vincent de Paul Society drew on this principle in our response to the 2015–16 Federal Budget.

It has been sad to see Budget 2015 being measured against Budget 2014 instead of being measured by its impact on inequality and poverty. Take, for example, the 2014 measure to force young people experiencing unemployment to survive on fresh air and sunshine for six months of every year. Such was the community outcry that Budget 2015 has proposed one month without income instead of six. This change is a clear admission of the cruelty of this measure without actually abandoning it. Budget 2015 refuses to lift the abysmally low unemployment benefit, resorting to income management instead of income adequacy. It refuses to reinstate and increase funding for social services, social housing, public health and public education slashed in last year’s Budget. The problem of unemployment lies not with the individual but with the labour market. Government must do what markets cannot. If government wants to address unemployment it will create a Jobs Plan including economic development in areas of high unemployment.

What Budget 2015 should have been about is ensuring that no one misses out on the essentials of life: a place to live, a place to work (or income security), a place to learn and a place to heal.

At the conclusion of the Progress 2015 Conference delegates compiled a list of Common Asks  for the kind of Australia they would like to see. I invite you to read this list, bearing in mind that budgets exist at the service of our communities, and must reflect the priorities of the country we want to live in– now and in the future.

National Volunteers’ Week 2015

Vinnies marked the occasion of National Volunteers’ Week 2015 (11-17 May) by extending a warm thank you to our dedicated volunteers. This year’s theme, “Give Happy, Live Happy’’ certainly resonates with the experience of Vinnies volunteers. There are more than six million Australian volunteers who give happiness to others each year. And research says that those volunteers are happier as a result. National President, Graham West said: "I sincerely thank each and every one of our 63,430 volunteers and members for their time and efforts. They are following in the simple footsteps of a fellow volunteer, the founder of the St Vincent de Paul Society, the Blessed Frederic Ozanam. Frederic was a young University student when he founded the Society in France in 1833. I believe the good intentions of our volunteers are aptly summed up by this quote from Frederic:  ‘In my life I want to become better and do a little good’," Mr West said.

Vinnies in the media

On Budget night, Dr Falzon took part in several media interviews and his views were subsequently reported in national and regional newspapers, as well as in this opinion piece. On 13 May, 2015 National President, Graham West, took part in an interview on ABC Radio National’s Religion and Ethics Report to discuss the ethical dilemmas of the federal budget. Mr West urged the government to make a fresh start in its approach to social policy to reach its own budget benchmark of fairness, or risk controversial changes to childcare and family payments failing to pass the Senate. “We will always be there for people to provide emergency assistance and support, but governments also have a responsibility to people living with the pain of poverty and inequality. We maintain our vision of a proud and generous Australia that does not close its eyes to the poor, both here and overseas,” Mr West said. 

Parliamentary News

Housing Inquiry finding handed down

The Senate Economics Reference Committee released its Report into affordable housing on 8 May, 2015. In its original submission in April 2014, Vinnies called on the government to address housing affordability by signing onto a four-year National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPHA) among other recommendations. Vinnies agrees with key points made in the Report including the recommendation that Treasury review negative gearing, Capital Gains Tax and Commonwealth Rent Assistance. Vinnies welcomed the Report’s recommendation to increase the supply of social housing and increase funding to ensure women and children escaping domestic violence are housed in secure and appropriate housing. The government’s dissenting report did not disagree with the facts, but argued that the issue of housing affordability should be dealt with through the Federation White Paper process, and the White Paper on Tax Reform. At the time of writing the Opposition is formulating its own housing policy to which Vinnies has also contributed a submission.

National Families’ Week 2015

Vinnies emphasised the need to embrace diverse families during National Families Week 2015 (15-21 May) and acknowledged greater investment in public education, health and affordable housing is absolutely vital for the sustainability of families, especially for people on low incomes or people outside the labour market whom Vinnies assists. Dr Falzon said families need to be well-resourced and well-supported so that they can be places of love, hope and encouragement. “This means that governments must do what markets cannot; namely ensure access for all families to properly funded public education, childcare, tertiary education and training, public health, affordable housing, transport and employment. It also means that governments should reject paternalistic approaches such as compulsory income management that disempower and degrade families rather than supporting them,” Dr Falzon said.

Call for a moratorium on refugees

In late April, the Refugee Council of Australia (RoCA) organised a joint statement signed by 100 Australian organisations and community groups, including Vinnies. The joint statement called for an immediate moratorium on the transfer of asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus Island at least until such a time as all recommendations of the Moss Review and Cornall Report have been fully implemented, and the Australian-funded detention centres comply with minimum international standards for the treatment of the people detained there. The statement reads: “Asylum seekers and refugees have legitimate fears for their safety, and the Australian Government has not implemented meaningful changes to detention conditions at Nauru or Manus Island to ensure they comply with both its own commissioned reports as well as Australia’s obligations under international law.”  To see the full list of signatories to the joint statement please visit the RoCA website.

Events coming up in June...