Social Justice Update – February 2015
Message from the CEO
At the St Vincent de Paul Society we see social issues such as poverty, homelessness and unemployment as quite interconnected. That is why we speak out on a wide range of topics, from asylum seeker issues to domestic violence, and the economy. This month I accepted invitations from the media to speak about the flow-on effects of utility disconnections and the potential impact of making changes to the minimum wage. I do not pretend to be an industrial relations or energy expert, but nor will I not sit idly by while deregulation of the labour and energy markets result in further poverty and hardship for people in insecure work and those outside the labour market.
The fact people are struggling to pay their utility bills is a very strong clarion call to the federal government: many people's income levels are clearly inadequate to deal with not just housing costs, but energy costs. And so once again, in our Pre-Budget Submission we call on Government to increase the single Newstart allowance by a minimum of $50 a week and to change the way it is indexed. In our upcoming submission to the Productivity Commission’s report on workplace relations, we will also call on the government to walk away from the idea that the minimum wage or that penalty rates should be cut. The flow-on effects of poverty cannot be ignored; low incomes can lead to utility disconnections, which can lead to evictions, and more people ending up homeless. This is unacceptable in a prosperous country like Australia.
Children in detention report
On 11 February the Australia Human Rights Commission’s report, The Forgotten Children, was tabled in Parliament. The long-awaited report follows on from the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention in 2014, which was sent to the government in November. Vinnies made a submission to the Inquiry in May last year and issued a media statement welcoming the final report and the fact it supported our recommendations. Vinnies was also a signatory to a joint statement in support of the report, which was signed by over 200 community organisations on 13 February, 2015. National President, Anthony Thornton said: ‘What our experience has shown us, and what is borne out by a weight of evidence, is that immigration detention is deeply harmful to asylum seekers, and particularly to children. These young people are already very vulnerable, and the conditions in detention cause permanent psychological damage.’ In its report the Commission recommended that all children and families in detention in Australia and Nauru be released into the community immediately; all Christmas Island detention facilities to be closed; and a Royal Commission to examine the long-term impacts on the physical and mental health of children immigration detention.
In our Pre-Budget Submission, Vinnies has argued that, in order to halt growing inequality, revenue foregone in unfair tax concessions should be re-invested in ways such as:
- Re-funding the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness; increasing Commonwealth Rent Assistance by at least $25 per week; and re-targeting capital gains tax and negative gearing so that they act as an incentive to build affordable housing.
- Raising Newstart by at least $50 per week immediately; indexing all payments to the Average Male Weekly Earnings, rather than the Consumer Price Index, to reflect the true cost of living.
- Long-term funding for peak housing and homelessness advocacy organisations and reversing the cuts to services that support women leaving situations of family violence.
- A Jobs Plan for Australia’s future. Full report at www.vinnies.org.au/budgetsubmission
Short term reprieve for frontline service providers
In late January, the new Minister for Social Services, Scott Morison, announced an extension to the federal funding grants received by certain community sector organisations. The announcement followed intense lobbying by the St Vincent de Paul Society and others, who met with the Minister, and called on him to reverse a shock funding decision that was made over the Christmas break. Had they gone ahead, the cuts would have seen some frontline services lose funding by the end of February. The majority will now receive funding up until 30 June, 2015 and others, including emergency relief services, will be funded up until 31 March, 2015. Vinnies has expressed its dismay over budget cuts to the Department of Social Services (DSS) in the order of $270 million over four years. The cuts and fall out from the recent DSS funding round is now the subject of a Senate Inquiry, which will examine the impact on service quality, efficiency and sustainability of the recent Commonwealth community service tendering processes.
Peak bodies’ advocating for the homeless
Homelessness and housing peak bodies, such as Homelessness Australia, Shelter Australia and the Community Housing Federation of Australia, continue to face an uncertain future after also losing federal government funding, which is due to expire by 30 June, 2015. Chief Executive, Dr John Falzon said: ‘These peak bodies play an important advocacy role and without them the voice of people experiencing homelessness and housing stress will be severely diminished.’ The benefits peak bodies provide to service users and NFPs was evident most recently, when Homelessness Australia coordinated an open-letter signed by the CEOs of more than 50 homelessness and social welfare bodies. The open-letter called on Minister Morrison to make a long term funding commitment to the National Partnership on Homelessness (NPAH), which is also due to expire on 30 June, 2015.
Submission on Indigenous health
Last September, Vinnies made a submission to the Senate Select Committee on Health, which is to inquire and report on health policy, administration and expenditure. The Committee has since asked Vinnies to provide a second submission with more information on Indigenous health issues. Following consultation with its members, Vinnies was pleased to make a submission which outlines the fact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People face significant disadvantage in terms of their health in our society. Vinnies is committed to providing programs and services which address health concerns faced by the most vulnerable Australians, a group which is overrepresented by Indigenous Australians.
Interim Report into 2014 Budget cuts released
In early February, the Senate Inquiry into the Abbott Government’s Budget Cuts released an interim report. Vinnies made a submission to the Inquiry on 22 August, 2014 and Dr Falzon addressed a public hearing in Canberra on 16 October, 2014 and his oral evidence is quoted extensively in the interim report. The recommendations of the Committee are all in line with the recommendations from Vinnies’ written submission: maintaining Newstart eligibility at 22 years of age, abandoning the six-month waiting period for people aged under 30 to receive Newstart, reinstating funds to Youth Connections and Reclink, opposing the increased indexation of HECS fees, and not cutting education funding. The final report is due by 20 June, 2016.
Coming up...in March
- The four-year term of the St Vincent de Paul Society’s National President, Anthony Thornton, will come to a close in March. National Council members will meet in Canberra on 21-22 March, 2015 where elections will take place to elect a new President.
- Vinnies is eagerly awaiting the reports of several Senate Inquiries to which submissions were made. The Senate Inquiry into Domestic Violence in Australia is due to report on 2, March, 2015 and the inquiry into Affordable Housing is expected to report in early March.