Social Justice Update - June 2015

CEO’s Message

At the time of writing I’m preparing to visit Tasmania where I’ll take part in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout at Aurora Stadium in Launceston on 18 June, 2015. I would like to sincerely thank the 1,244 CEOs from across Australia who have put their hand up to take part in this event to raise awareness and funds to tackle homelessness. Let’s not forget all the Community Sleepouts and School Sleepout events that have emerged in recent years and I thank them too for their generosity and goodwill.

 

There will always be some in the community who think that the people experiencing homelessness or unemployment are the ones who must change; that they must be subjected to some form of ‘tough love’. But when we look at ourselves as a nation and we see not only how far we have come but how many we have left behind, it is clear that it is we who must change. At the St Vincent de Paul Society we believe housing is a human right and it is we who must change by tearing down the walls that exclude people, and instead build bridge not only to secure and affordable housing but to education, employment, hope. 


Order of Australia honours

Vinnies CEO, Dr John Falzon, and former State Councillor for Vinnies in Victoria, John McCarthy, have been awarded Medals of the Order of Australia (OAM). The awards were announced on June 7, 2015 as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours and were in recognition of their service to the community through social welfare organisations. Dr Falzon, of Canberra, is trained in sociology, theology, politics and poetics. He has worked in academia, in community development in large public housing estates in Sydney and in research and advocacy in NGOs. Dr Falzon has been CEO of Vinnies since 2006. Mr McCarthy, of Norlane in Victoria, has held numerous roles in the Society, including as President of Vinnies Western Central Region in Victoria from 2004 to 2007. Mr McCarthy has been a visitor to Barwon Maximum Security Prison for the past 18 years as part of carrying out Vinnies home visitation work.  Pierre Slicer QC, of Tasmania, was also named an Officer (AO) in the General Division ‘for distinguished service to the judiciary and to the law, nationally and in the Pacific, to social justice and policy reform as a civil libertarian, and to the legal profession’. Mr Slicer was a Director of Vinnies in Tasmania from 1966 to 1970 and from 1996 to 2009.


Refugee Week 2015

Vinnies celebrated Refugee Week 2015 (RW2015) by reflecting on how refugees, asylum seekers and migrants have contributed greatly to the fabric of the Australian community and will continue to do so for many years to come. The RW2015 theme ‘With courage let us all combine’ is taken from the second verse of the national anthem, the theme celebrates the courage of refugees and of people who speak out against persecution and injustice. Vinnies has a long history of helping migrants and refugees and recently joined the Catholic Alliance of People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA) which was established in 2014 by Catholic organisations wishing to advocate for changes to Australia’s immigration policy that would better uphold the dignity and rights of each person seeking asylum. We also issued a media release titled ‘The Rohingya people need our support’ on May 29, 2015 urging the Australian Government to be a regional leader by offering assistance to the Rohingya asylum seekers seeking refuge.  If you would like to know more about what we are doing, or get involved in our Refugee Network, please email Rik Sutherland at research@svdp.org.au.


Parliamentary News

 

Submission on domestic violence and children

On 1 June, 2015 Vinnies made a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s examination of children affected by family and domestic violence. The Commission had requested Vinnies make the submission in April 2015. Vinnies estimates that, of the families we support through our family and youth homelessness programs (all of which have children) 75% have had an incidence of family or domestic violence in their life. The trauma that this causes is severe. Vinnies runs a range of support programs for children who have experienced the crime of domestic violence, all of which have a hugely beneficial impact. Dealing with the aftermath of domestic violence is important and the government’s National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children is a step in this direction, as is the National Domestic Violence Order Scheme. However, Vinnies believes that we will not see real change until we as a society address the cause of domestic violence:  stereotypes and attitudes about gender, which value women differently and subordinate to men, and which deeply permeate our society. We call on government to commit to a national plan on gender equality, building on the weight of evidence, and previous work by various government and non-government bodies. It is high time that we, as a nation, developed concrete steps to achieve true equality between women and men.


Submission to Tax White Paper 2015

On 1 June, 2015 Vinnies made a submission on Re:Think – Tax Discussion Paper 2015 to the Treasury's Tax White Paper Task Force. Vinnies believes that values such as fairness, equality, and human rights should guide our thinking about taxation. These values lead to some expectations about the role of government and expenditure (for example, providing a decent standard of basic services to everyone), which in turn informs what our revenue and redistribution system will need to look like. Based on these values, we believe that taxation must be progressive and fair, with loopholes for the rich closed off. People should pay according to their means, and be assured that they are able to have access to all that they need in order to enjoy a decent standard of life. Finally, Not-For-Profits (NFPs) should continue to be supported by the tax system given the essential work that many do.


Register of Environment Groups

On 21 May, 2015 Vinnies wrote a submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment on the topic of its Inquiry into the Register of Environment Organisations. Vinnies believes that the participation of Non-Government Organisations is essential to the democratic process required by the Constitution’s implied freedom of political communication, and recent research we have conducted supports this. Vinnies strongly encouraged the Committee to recommend retention of current laws that treat environmental advocacy bodies as charities. Vinnies believes their function is particularly important for many marginalised people who are often silenced in these debates.


National Reconciliation Week

Vinnies marked the occasion of National Reconciliation Week (27 May to 3 June) by ramping up our support for a referendum to officially recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in the Constitution. Vinnies welcomed the results of a recent survey commissioned by the Recognise movement , which found of the 2,700 people surveyed, 75 per cent said they would vote 'yes' in a referendum to change Australia's Constitution. About two-thirds of those considered Conservative supporters said they would back the movement, along with nearly every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person polled. Vinnies believes that while Constitutional recognition will not erase injustice, it is a matter of deep sadness and shame for us as a nation that we have not yet taken this important step in our national journey of recognising the historical truth and honouring the First Peoples. A parliamentary inquiry conducted by the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples is currently considering approaches to Constitutional change. It is expected to make its recommendations about the timing and nature of the referendum public on 30 June, 2015.


The effectiveness of NFP’s in public life

The report, ‘The effectiveness of public participation by not-for-profit organisations in Australia’s public life through submissions to Parliamentary Inquiries’ was written by Jacqueline Williams, LLB from the Australian National University whilst interning at Vinnies National Council of Australia in April 2015. As part of this research the views of large NFPs who submit to Federal Parliamentary Inquiries on behalf of disadvantaged Australians, advocating for issues on social justice, were canvassed. By and large, the results suggest that submission-writing by NFPs to Parliamentary Inquiries is an effective means for enhancing and realising public participation in the democratic process. However, a number of issues were raised such as, the prospect of greater collaboration between NFPs, that lead to several recommendations outlined in the summary and the full report.