Social Justice Update September 2015

CEO's Message from Dr John Falzon

We have received some welcome news this month where refugee policy and social security legislation is concerned. In my column in August I outlined the St Vincent de Paul Society’s concerns about the Federal Government’s intention to make the under-25s wait four-weeks before receiving income support payments—a punitive measure which does not help people.  

I am happy to report that this measure was voted down in the Senate on 9 September 2015, which was due in a large part to the lobbying the community sector engaged in with the cross bench, Labor and Greens Senators. The policy was an ill-conceived punitive measure that would have made charity the default mode of delivering social security.

The St Vincent de Paul Society will continue to follow closely any future amendments to social security legislation and tax reforms that impact negatively on the people we assist.


Welcome response to refugees

Vinnies welcomed the decision made by the Australian Government on 9 September 2015 to increase the humanitarian refugee intake by 12,000 in response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis. National President, Graham West said he hoped the announcement would ‘signal a new path forward for Australia in welcoming all who seek a safe haven.’ For those Syrians being resettled in Australia, Vinnies is willing to do everything it can to help them join the community. Our members operate many refugee and asylum seeker services including providing financial and information support to migrants and refugees, for example through home visitation, food and financial help, visits to detention centres, and homework centres. Chief Executive, Dr John Falzon said: ‘We continue to believe that we can do more and we hope the Government will consider expanding on this number. We also hope that religion will not be used to discriminate against people seeking refuge. People who are persecuted need our protection, not our prejudices. Religion is irrelevant here. All that matters is their desperate need for refuge.’ In the days leading up to the Government’s announcement Vinnies issued a statement calling on the Federal Government to show moral leadership on the issue. ‘We join NGOs such as Oxfam, World Vision and Save the Children in asking that, in the light of recent events in Europe, we show moral leadership as a nation by immediately welcoming an additional 30,000 people from Syria seeking refuge,’ Dr Falzon said.


Research shows benefit of Vinnies Shops

On September 14, the University of Tasmania released new research that found Vinnies Shops play an important and crucial role within communities. The survey by the University of Tasmania’s Centre for Rural Health highlighted the benefits such centres provide, including meals for the disadvantaged to pre-loved clothing sales. The research project provided a snapshot of current customers' needs and what was required for future planning. ‘Vinnies is 100 per cent committed to providing a quality service to our customers,’ Vinnies CEO, Merleen Cronin said. Vinnies Tasmanian State Centre Chairman Peter Lyall said all 34 of the organisation's retail stores across the State were involved in the project. ‘We felt to be able to extend or improve on the service provided we needed a better understanding of our customer's shopping habits, trends and practices,’ he said. Research project lead Stuart Auckland said the results helped to reinforce and highlight a long-held belief. ‘These outlets are vital hubs for social inclusion,’ Mr Auckland said. ‘For some it's the only opportunity they have for interaction with others. The social interaction between staff and customers, and between customers themselves, was highly valued by many in the survey.’


Parliamentary News

Children with a disability in the school system

On 2 July 2015, Vinnies was invited to make a submission to the Senate Education and Employment Committee on their present inquiry. The inquiry is on current levels of access and attainment for students with disability in the school system, and the impact on students and families associated with inadequate levels of support. Vinnies consulted nationally, and welcomed the opportunity to make a contribution. Sadly, in Australia today, people with disability continue to face high levels of exclusion and structural disadvantage. For the reasons outlined in this submission we strongly encourage the Committee to recommend full needs-based funding for students with disabilities as per the Government’s pre-election commitment to implement the recommendations of the Gonski Review of education funding. 


National domestic violence report  

One year after Vinnies lodged its submission, the Senate Committee on Finance and Public Administration has reported on the Inquiry into Domestic Violence. The report, released in late August, reinforces the points made in the Vinnies submission about domestic violence being an inherently gendered phenomenon, with a range of causes, including ‘gender inequality, social norms and attitudes as well as exposure to violence, social isolation, relationship conflict, divorce or separation and the use of alcohol and drugs’. Vinnies supports the recommendations on the need for deep cultural change, a focus on primary prevention, better crisis services, keeping victims in their own homes, and a truly national and consultative approach. Of particular interest to Vinnies are the recommendations regarding housing and homelessness prevention. The committee recommended that the Commonwealth Government take a lead role in the provision of affordable housing solutions in Australia to meet long-term needs for those made homeless by domestic and family violence and in order to address the backlog of victims who cannot access affordable housing which stakeholders have identified during the inquiry. Vinnies also supports the Committee’s recommendation that victims of domestic and family violence having access to appropriate leave provisions to assist them to maintain employment and financial security while attending necessary appointments such as court appearances and seeking legal advice.


Submission to the Productivity Commission

On 18 September 2015 Vinnies made a further submission to the Productivity Commission following the release of its interim report on the Workplace Relations Framework Inquiry in August. The submission reiterated Vinnies support for the minimum wage and penalty rates, which was outlined in our first submission to the Commission in March 2015. The submission states that Vinnies supports the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to retain awards and the minimum wage, and the acknowledgement that youth unemployment and apprenticeships are also in need of attention.  The Society also argues, however, that the recommendation to align Sunday penalty rates with Saturday rates will disproportionately impact low-income earners and young people in particular as would inadequate growth in the minimum wage. Vinnies strongly urges the Productivity Commission to more deeply consider the socio-economic impact on young people and those on low-incomes in any future recommendations.


Coming up in October

* Social Justice Sunday will be marked on 27 September 2015 with the release of  the Australian Catholic Bishops Social Justice Statement for 2015-16. The statement, For Those Who've Come Across the Seas: Justice for refugees and asylum seekers, highlights the experiences of asylum seekers. The St Vincent de Paul Society welcomes this statement. For more information visit the Events section of www.vinnies.org.au

* On 14 October 2015 the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia will release a national report titled, "Sick with worry" Stories from the front-line of inequality to coincide with Anti-Poverty Week (October 11 to 16). The launch will be held at the Social Determinants of Health Alliance's Anti-Poverty Week Oration in Canberra. For more details visit http://j.mp/OrationandVinniesReport