Message from the CEO, Dr John Falzon

People of good will all over Australia marked Anti-Poverty Week 2014 (October 12-18). During the week the St Vincent de Paul Society supported the launch of a report by the Australian Council of Social Services that estimated in Australia 2.5 million people or 13.9% of all people live below the internationally accepted poverty line. And I proposed in this opinion piece that we focused on taking the side of the people who are made to feel like they are nothing.

On 16 October, 2014 I gave evidence before the Senate Select Committee Inquiry into the Abbott Government’s Budget Cuts and on the same day I addressed the Senate Committee Inquiry into the extent of income inequality where I outlined every Australian’s right to a place to live, and place to learn, and a place to work. The Australian public have thankfully expressed a resounding rejection of the more extremist measures in the budget that displayed either blatant cruelty towards people experiencing unemployment or a commitment to actually increasing inequality. One by one, many of the Government’s key budget proposals are being either rejected in the Senate or dropped (or amended) by the Government. This is not to say that the battle against inequality is being won.

Rather than resting on our laurels the St Vincent de Paul Society champions a positive advocacy agenda that includes such measures as increasing the Newstart Allowance and developing a National Jobs Plan including a regional economic development component for areas of high unemployment.

We are also still awaiting news of the Government’s plans for housing and homelessness and the outcomes of the McClure Welfare Review, both of which are crucial to addressing the structural causes of poverty and inequality in prosperous Australia.

Mental health and poverty

Vinnies has a strong commitment to assisting people with mental illness, which includes helping to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. Vinnies was proud to support Mental Health Week 2014 (October 5-11) and World Mental Health Day (WMHD) on 10 October, 2014. The theme for WMHD 2014 was ‘Living with schizophrenia’ with a focus on living a healthy life with schizophrenia. With almost half of Australians between 16 and 85 experiencing mental health issues at some point in their life, Vinnies calls for a new approach to mental health in Australia, as outlined in our submission to the National Mental Health Commission’s review of mental health services and programs made in April 2014. We believe an individual’s mental health crisis almost never occurs in isolation: it is intertwined with housing stress, employment options, race, gender, class, place, and the success or otherwise of previous mental health interventions. Vinnies support for this Social Determinants of Health model is also outlined in our recent submission to the current Senate Inquiry into Health. The review of mental health services will be handed down in November 2014. Read our submission to the review.

Parliamentary News

In late September 2014 Vinnies welcomed the findings of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights report into the Social Security (Budget Measures) Bills. The Committee, comprising Liberal, National Party and Labor Senators found that the proposed six month waiting period for Newstart was incompatible with human rights. The Greens and the Palmer United Party also outlined their intention to block some of most controversial Budget proposals, which included the indexation of the aged pension and family payments, and raising the working age to 70. Therefore when the Government introduced its Social Security Legislation into the 44th Parliament on 2nd October, 2014 the proposals were vastly scaled back from those originally proposed in the Budget.

Vinnies in the News

In October, Vinnies in conjunction with Alviss Consulting, released a new report on the National Energy Market titled, Wrong Way Go Back? The report, based on observations made from Vinnies’ Tariff Tracking Project, found that consumers are being hit with large network costs and bills that are difficult to understand. The manager of policy and research at the St Vincent de Paul Society in Victoria, Gavin Dufty, spoke to ABC Television and recommended a standard template for bills, among several other recommedations that can be read in full in the report.

The Record embraces diversity

In the last week of September the spring issue of The Record was published. Issues canvassed included gender-based violence (read our recent submission here), Indigeneity and incarceration, and LGBTI youth homelessness.  Much of the content, however, focussed on the ever-pressing issue of asylum seekers in Australia.  Contributors to the Embracing Diversity themed-issue included high-profile refugee advocates such as Julian Burnside QC and John Menadue AO, in addition to a nine-page report from our very own Vincentian Refugee Network (VRN). The VRN is coordinated by the Society’s National Research Officer, Rik Sutherland, and there are efforts afoot to set up similar networks on a host of other social justice topics. Mr Sutherland addressed the Fourth National Conference on the Pastoral Care of Migrant and Refugees hosted by the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office in Sydney on 1 October, 2014, where he provided an overview of the St Vincent de Paul Society’s history of work with migrants and refugees. On 9 October, 2014 Vinnies distributed a media release highlighting the long-lasting mental health impacts of mandatory detention on men, women and children detained in Australia and offshore, as well as the uncertainty and poverty faced by refugees living in the community. National President, Anthony Thornton urged political leaders, far removed from the miserable reality of life in detention, to read the Embracing Diversity issue of The Record. “We should all try to gain insight into how tough we are making the lives of people who in all likelihood will one day become citizens of our country,” Mr Thornton said. The Society will also soon be making a submission to the Refugee Council of Australia’s annual consultations.

Coming up in November...

  • National Mental Health Commission’s review of mental health services and programs is expected to be handed down in November 2014. 
  • The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) will hold a Policy Forum and AGM held in Melbourne on 11 November, 2014..