Message from the CEO, Dr John Falzon

Since the 2014-15 Federal Budget was handed down in May, the St Vincent de Paul Society has been lobbying against punitive proposals, such as the one that would see under 30s who are unemployed live without any access to income support for 26 weeks per year. In essence, the government expects these young people to live on fresh air and sunshine for six months of year.

It is now September, and the budget measures are still being debated in the Senate, which is an indication of the strong community backlash to measures that place an unfair burden on the most disadvantaged people in our community. Read the Parliamentary News section of this newsletter for more information.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Parliamentary Friends on Homelessness at Parliament House, Canberra on 4 September, 2014. This effort to renew bi-partisan support to reduce the blight of homelessness in Australia is a very welcome development.

The St Vincent de Paul Society believes the federal government has an important role to play in tackling homelessness. We urge the Minister responsible, Kevin Andrews, to bring forward the review of housing and homelessness services he announced earlier this year, as a matter of urgency.


Vinnies in the news

  • The St Vincent de Paul Society and the Australian Council of Social Service ACT (ACTCOSS) co-hosted a Community Response to the 2014-15 Federal Budget Forum this month. The forum was held at the National Film and Sound Archives and attended by more than 100 people. Dr Falzon spoke to ABC Radio 666 in the lead up to the free event, which was timed to coincide with the return of Parliament on 22 September, 2014. 
  • In case you missed it, Dr Falzon appeared on the popular ABC Television program, Q & A last month. The episode can be viewed online.  
  • Chief Executive of the St Vincent de Paul Society in NSW, Michael Persuco had an opinion piece about housing affordability and links to homelessness published in The Daily Telegraph on 10 September, 2014.
  • On 22 September, 2014 the Southern Cross newspaper published an article on women affected by homelessness, which included quotes from Dr Falzon and the President of the St Vincent de Paul Society in South Australia, Brian Spencer.

Parliamentary News

Domestic violence to remain on the agenda

The reporting date for the Inquiry into Domestic Violence in Australia has been postponed from 27 October, 2014 until 2 March, 2015. Vinnies National Research Officer, Rik Sutherland said the postponement was not necessarily a negative development if it ensured debate about domestic violence and its damaging impact on individuals and the community at large was kept on the political agenda for longer. In August, the Social Justice Update brought you the news of the Vinnies submission to the Inquiry and explained why it is a strongly gendered crime. In that submission, Vinnies argued we will not see real change until we as a society address the cause of domestic violence, such as stereotypes and attitudes about gender’ and called on the government to commit to a National Plan on Gender Equality.  Since this time shocking incidents of domestic violence have been reported in the media and resulted in important commentary about the topic being aired. For example, the results of the third National Community Attitudes to Violence against Women Survey commissioned by VicHealth and released on September 17, 2014, generated much discussion and outcry. The survey of 17,500 Australians’ attitudes found 68 per cent believe that violence results from men being unable to control their anger and that many in our community (43 per cent) think men rape women because they can't control their sexual urges. The following day VicHealth CEO, Jerril Rechter wrote in an opinion piece in The Age: ‘allow me to make it very clear. Violence is a choice, not an instinct. It's never excusable, under any circumstance’.


Advocating for people on low incomes

This month Vinnies has reiterated its opposition to punitive budget measures and outlined its concerns over the growing gap between the rich and poor. In late August Vinnies made a submission to the Select Committee into the Abbott Government’s Budget Cuts the results of which will not be known until 20 June, 2016.  On 22 August, 2014 Vinnies made a submission on the Extent of Income Inequality in Australia. The Community Affairs References Committee conducted public hearings for the inquiry in Melbourne on 18 September, 2014 and in Hobart on the following day. The reporting date is due on 26 November, 2014.


Outcomes of Inquiries

In recent weeks Vinnies has been disheartened to learn the outcomes of two separate inquiries relating to budget measures. On 27 August 2014, the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee concluded in a majority report that the Stronger Penalties for Serious Failures Bill was proportional and reasonable. This is despite the vast majority of submissions and oral evidence to the Inquiry opposed the Bill. Vinnies made a submission to the inquiry and maintains that the suggested system of removing payments from people receiving income support is highly punitive and will have counterproductive effects. On 12 September, 2014 the Senate Standing Committees on Community Affairs handed down its report on the Social Security Budget Measures 1 and 2.  Again, the inquiry heard from charities and peak body representatives, who overwhelmingly opposed the changes, which include moving people from higher to lower payments and imposing a 26-week ban on Newstart for people aged under 30. However, the Committee’s majority report endorsed the changes to social security finding there were ‘appropriate safeguards’ to address the submitters’ concerns. In its Report the Committee did, however, quote Vinnies in several places (both oral evidence and the written submission). Vinnies made a submission to the inquiry on 22 July, 2014 stating that ‘We find very concerning the idea that the government would intentionally remove any semblance of a social safety net for a particular group of people’ [Being unemployed young people for six months of every year].


Coming up

It is nearly October and that means Anti-Poverty Week (October 12 to 18) and World Mental Health Day (10 October) are fast approaching. Vinnies takes an active role in promoting both awareness weeks and encourages members, volunteers and employees to get involved. The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) will release their latest Poverty Report on 12 October, 2014 to coincide with the beginning for Anti-Poverty Week 2014. Visit www.vinnies.org.au for more information.