Message from the CEO

The four-year term of the St Vincent de Paul Society’s National President, Anthony Thornton, came to a close on 22 March, 2015. Let me take this opportunity to personally thank Tony for the strength of leadership he has shown in the past four years and for his contribution to the St Vincent de Paul Society over several decades. National Council members met in Canberra on 21-22 March, 2015 where they elected Graham West to be the Society’s new President. Graham is a long-time member of the Society. He was formerly the CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society in NSW and, more recently, the Society's National Vice President. His expertise in working in government and not-for-profit agencies will serve the Society well in the years to come. I invite you to read more about Graham’s vision for the Society over the next four years in this media release, announcing his election.


Youth Homelessness Matters Day

On 15 April, 2015 Youth Homelessness Matters Day (YHMD) shone a spotlight on youth homelessness in our community. Statistics show 60% of Australia’s homeless population are under the age of 35. Vinnies Chief Executive, Dr John Falzon, took part in an ABC 24 television interview where he explained the causes and consequences of youth homelessness. “We want to see governments stepping up and actually supporting young people. For example, I would deeply love to see the government take off the table its vicious measure proposed in last year’s budget to force young people experiencing unemployment to survive six months of every year on fresh air and sunshine,” Dr Falzon said.  Vinnies also issued a media release calling for radical action by the government to invest in social housing, employment support, and education and justice reinvestment. Vinnies National President, Graham West, said the charity’s 60,000 members and volunteers across Australia encounter the devastating consequences of youth homelessness and stand in solidarity with young people. “Whilst we will always be there for these brave young people it is a future built on fairness that they long for. During YHMD we have the opportunity to break stereotypes and engage with government and business to ensure that young people have greater access to support and services,” Mr West said.


Vinnies CEO Sleepout launched

During the first week in April, Vinnies launched its premier fundraising event, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The Vinnies CEO Sleepout will be held on Thursday, June 18. The national fundraising target in 2015 is $10 million. Last year approximately $8 million was raised nationally. The first event was held in Sydney in 2005 and it became a national event in 2010. Over the past ten years, with the help of our supporters, we have raised $24 million to support Vinnies homeless services. There is still time for CEOs to register for the event and to nominate a CEO to take part.


Parliamentary News

Submission on the minimum wage and penalty rates

Vinnies argued that the minimum wage and penalty rates are essential buffers against extreme poverty in its submission to the Productivity Commission public inquiry into workplace relations last month. While the Government has announced that it will not be making changes to these features of the workplace relations framework, Vinnies has emphasised the importance of maintaining both in the Australian workplace relations framework. The submission stated: “Deregulating  the minimum wage and penalty rates would result in swinging the pendulum further in favour of employers – many of whom, history has shown, will take whatever steps they can to maximise their profits at the expense of employees’ standards of living.” Vinnies has a vision of an Australia in which everyone has an equal chance at a meaningful life and equal access to an adequate standard of living and believes that penalty rates and the minimum wage are an essential part of that vision. The Productivity Commission is due to release a draft report in July 2015 followed by the final report in November 2015.


Inquiry into Domestic Violence in Australia

On 19 March, 2015 the Senate Committee holding an Inquiry into Domestic Violence in Australia released an Interim Report, including a list of recommendations. The Committee recommended the Commonwealth Government restore funding cuts to legal services, housing and homelessness services and the Department of Social Services grants program, among other recommendations. Vinnies welcomed the recommendations in the Interim Report but was disappointed the Committee did not place enough emphasis on the gendered nature of the crime. In its submission, Vinnies argued strongly for the need for a national plan on gender equality to address the causes of domestic violence such as inequality between the sexes. The Committee is due to hand down its final report on 18 June, 2015. The Abbott Government has since reversed funding cuts to community legal services, including Indigenous services following the outcry in the community that such cuts would affect the vulnerable and deter women from reporting domestic violence. 


Mental Health Review Commission

In an unexpected development the final report of the Mental Health Review Commission was leaked to the public on 14 April, 2015. Vinnies made a submission to the Review in April 2014. The leaked Report reiterates many points Vinnies made in its submission including that the mental health care system is fragmented and fails to deal with the intersectionality of mental illness and housing need. The Report’s recommendations also align with Vinnies submission, especially the recommendation for education campaigns to reduce the stigma of mental illness; for a health system that responds to whole-of-life needs (not just support at the moment of crisis); for a health system where services are ‘wrapped around a person’ and lastly more focus on culturally sensitive practice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. While Vinnies agrees with the Report’s broad recommendations to invest in preventative health and early intervention measures, it is concerned by specific funding suggestions to take money out of acute care and the Disability Support Pension (DSP) in order to increase funding for primary prevention. We support increased funding for primary prevention but we do not wish it to come at the expense of acute care and the DSP. It will take time for the economic benefits of primary prevention to be fully felt. We need to invest more upfront, for dividends in the long-term.


Inquiry into Affordable Housing

The Inquiry into Affordable Housing has been delayed yet again. The Senate Economic References Committee released an Interim Report on 13 April, 2015 and is now set to hand down its final report on 8, May 2015. In its original submission in April 2014, Vinnies called on the government to address housing affordability by, firstly, signing onto a four-year National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPHA), secondly, by reforming housing taxation and capital gains tax so that these measures are better targeted to increase housing stock, and lastly, by increasing Commonwealth Rent Assistance by at least $25 per week, and indexing this payment to a more appropriate measure than the Consumer Price Index. A two-year NPAH has since been announced by the government, which though welcome, is shorter than the four-year NPAH the sector needs to provide certainty for its future and that of people we assist. Vinnies is still calling on the government to reverse funding cuts to homelessness peak bodies due to come into effect on 30 June, 2015.


Events

  • National Reconciliation Week will be held from May 27 to June 3. The dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey—the anniversaries of the successful 1967 referendum and the High Court Mabo decision. The week is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements and to explore how each of us can join the national reconciliation effort.