Social Justice Update August 2015

CEO’s Message from Dr John Falzon

This month the St Vincent de Paul Society supported a campaign held by the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition on International Youth Day (IYD) on August 12 2015 to draw attention to key injustices affecting young people whom we assist. While IYD was an opportunity to thank young people for their contributions and to reflect on the fact that Vinnies was founded by a young person, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam in Paris in 1833, sadly there was not much good cheer this IYD as far as public policy for young people was concerned. The IYD campaign highlighted drastic funding cuts made to national youth peak bodies and TAFE in recent years, plus the pursuit of punitive measures by the Government, such as a one-month wait for income support for the under 25s.

On August 13 2015 the Senate began debating this policy as part of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment and Other Measures) Bill 2015. We urge Senators to vote down this legislation that would see people with no semblance of a safety net on which to survive for one month. There is no evidence this policy or its precursor, the now-scrapped six month wait for income support payments will help young people into work. Many young people will not have families able to support them for a one month period of zero income and will need to turn to charity to survive. The members of the Society will do everything possible to support them but it shows a real lack of vision when a government makes charity the default mode of delivering social security in a country as prosperous as ours.


Stepping up to tackle homelessness

The St Vincent de Paul Society continues to affirm that housing is a human right and joined with other organisations in support of National Homelessness Prevention Week held from August 3 to 11. The Society has a strong commitment to the range of issues that lead children, women and men to become homeless or at risk of homelessness. Last year we assisted more than 1.3 million people nationwide, provided 365,164 bed nights and two million hot meals thanks to our 60,000 members and volunteers, plus generous supporters in the community. Find out more about our services today. CEO, Dr John Falzon said: ‘Too many Australians are currently experiencing or at risk of homelessness. These people are often experiencing a range of disadvantages, including substance misuse, mental illness, disability, family violence, discrimination and social isolation.’ Last month Dr Falzon called on the Government to take leadership in this area and not walk away from housing and homelessness as issues of national import.


Submission on credit card interest rates

On August 10 2015, Vinnies made a submission on credit card interest rates to the Senate Standing Committees on Economics. In its submission, Vinnies stated that: ‘Credit card interest rates and fees have a disproportionate impact on those people living with the most disadvantage. They reflect just one of a range of structural barriers that continue to work in Australia to stop those who are struggling from getting ahead.' For these reasons, Vinnies recommended legislating that credit card interest rates align with changes in RBA cash rates, and bank fees are reduced to a sufficient level so as to be affordable to low income earners. Vinnies also recommended acknowledging the impact of credit card interest rates on the limited budgets of those receiving Newstart, or other social security payments, and we repeat our call for Newstart payments to be increased by at least $50 per week. The Senate Standing Committee on Economics is due to report on November 24 2015.

Signatory to joint statement on racism

Vinnies was a proud to be one of 150 signatories to a joint statement on racism that was issued in support of Adam Goodes in late July. The statement was prepared by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation, ANTAR and received the support of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda and Australian Medical Association, among other high-profile groups. Vinnies posted a link to the statement on our National Facebook page, the statement read: ‘A proud Ambassador of the “Racism. It Stops with Me” Campaign, Goodes is a strong advocate for standing up against racism and for issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is a great stain on our nation that the experience of Adam Goodes is the lived experience of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and there is ample evidence that demonstrates the negative impact on mental and physical health, as well as life opportunities.’ Vinnies believes racism has no place in Australian sport or our society at large and that we must and can be better than this.


Worrying developments in refugee policy

On August 11 2015 Vinnies issued a statement outlining concerns over provisions in the new Border Force Act to forbid detention centre workers from speaking publicly about abuses of human rights or face two years in jail. Vinnies National President, Graham West called on the federal government to abide by child protection laws and to lead by example in having a zero tolerance policy towards child and human-rights abuse. ‘To think that our Government has created one set of laws for children living free in our community, while eroding the rights of children held in detention facilities is unfathomable. We call on the Government to reverse these provisions in the Act and uphold Article One of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights that states: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’ Vinnies was also critical of the decision by Labor last month to potentially support turning back boat policies, which further revealed the callous politics and lack of compassion that lies at the heart of Australia’s immigration policies.


National Op-Shop Week 2015

On August 23 2015 the launch of National Op Shop Week 2015 took place at an exclusive event at Vinnies North Parramatta with special guests. Vinnies is a leading charity partner involved in this year’s National Op Shop Week (August 23 to 30), which has the theme ‘Op Till You Drop’. Throughout Australia, Vinnies operates 620 Shops and during National Op Shop Week we encourage people to donate to their local Vinnies Shop with an ethical conscious. As a rule of thumb if you wouldn’t give it to a friend or someone in your family, it might not sell in one of our Vinnies Shops. Vinnies relies on the support and material donations of many generous people and all the profits generated by these goods sold in our shops goes to support people in the local community who need our help. Vinnies shop profits are used to fund programs and give assistance to individuals and families in the community doing it tough. In the 2013/14 financial year we provided just under $10 million worth of household items, furniture, clothing and other items to people and families needing assistance across Australia. For more information visit OpShopWeek.com.au and https://www.facebook.com/VinniesAU