Social Justice Update July 2015

CEO’s Message from Dr John Falzon

The news this month that median Sydney house prices have hit $1million and prices in other major capital cities are trailing not far behind, is a clear signal of a housing market that rewarded some while excluding many. For those who are on the remote fringes of the housing market struggling to find affordable rental accommodation, especially if they are a low-income struggling household, this signals an experience of further exclusion and really points to the desperate need for government to do what markets cannot. Vinnies has called on the federal government to “have the courage” to review some of the tax mechanisms that many believe drive up prices in the housing market, such as negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions. The government also needs to make a radical investment in social housing across the nation to make sure people are not threatened with likelihood of homelessness. The federal government needs to take leadership in this area and not walk away from housing and homelessness as issues of national import. We ask for the Reform of Federation White Paper to set out a national plan to make sure that no one in Australia is denied a very fundamental and simple right, to a place to call home.

Vale Anthony Thornton MBE

It is with deep sadness that we share with you the news that Anthony Thornton, our National Treasurer and former National President, passed away suddenly on July 11 2015. Tony was a passionate supporter of the St Vincent de Paul Society and advocate for people experiencing marginalisation. His conference work, leadership of Centres and guidance of Council have left a lasting impact on Vinnies and our community that will see his legacy continue. A powerful voice for Christ's poor, always willing to do whatever needed to be done in the service of his brothers and sisters, a deep lover of  humanity, and a gentle and kind man, we will miss him terribly. Tony’s funeral was held at St Christopher’s Cathedral in Canberra on 21 July 2015 and an obituary was published on Eureka Street as well as in The Canberra Times and other Fairfax newspapers nationwide. 

Vinnies in the news

Heating concerns this winter

Vinnies is keenly aware that many people on low incomes struggle with utility bill stress. Our energy spokesperson, Gavin Dufty confirmed that there has been an 80 per cent rise in energy costs over the past five years, which makes it expensive for people to heat their homes. Mr Dufty recently released updated reports, which track electricity and gas tariffs in Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. The spreadsheet-based tool used in the reports allows consumer advocates to build on the initial analysis and continue to track changes in the market as they occur. On 17 July 2015 Dr Falzon took part in an ABC interview in response to calls from firefighters in several states cautioning people against using outdoor equipment to heat their homes for risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Dr Falzon said: “Heating comes up time and time and again as one of the chief financial pressures, particularly in winter for the households that we are called upon to assist. And our position is this, very simply: people should not have to depend on charity in order to heat their homes. We will be there for them, our members across Australia are always willing to lend a hand and to give whatever support that we can. But you know, it just flies in the face of decency and fairness to think that charity should be wheeled out as the default mode of providing income support so that people can pay for the essentials of life such as energy.”  Vinnies has long called for an increase in support payments such as the Newstart Allowance, which at $37 a day is far too meagre for many people to afford the basic necessities of life.

Poverty under the spotlight

In late June the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) released a report, Inequality in Australia to coincide with the annual ACOSS conference taking place in Sydney. Overall the report paints a pretty grim picture of the divide between rich and poor - one that's only getting progressively worse. The findings include the fact that the level of income inequality in Australia is above the OECD average; and that a person in the top 20% income group earns around five times the income of someone in the bottom 20%. Particularly concerning too, the wealthiest 10% of households in Australia own 45% of all the wealth - while the bottom 40% of households owns just five per cent. On 28 June 2015, Dr Falzon participated in an ABC Radio interview to discuss inequality in Australia along with ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie, Sydney Morning Herald Economics Editor, Ross Gittins and other guests. On 5 July 2015, Dr Falzon and Dr Goldie also spoke to Reverend Bill Crews on his radio program on 2BG. 

Vinnies backs report on entrenched disadvantage

Vinnies has thrown its support behind a landmark report, which found entrenched disadvantage is affecting a number of communities around the country. Dropping off the Edge 2015 produced by Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services Australia, maps disadvantage across the country based on 22 social indicators including long-term unemployment, criminal convictions and domestic violence. Vinnies recommends this report as essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the structural issues behind poverty. Structural issues include high levels of unemployment, low income support and insufficient funding for housing and schools. These are followed closely by housing stress, domestic violence and prison admissions, which the report details along with a state-by-state breakdown of disadvantage. Download a copy of the report and a summary.  See Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services Australia for more information.

NAIDOC Week 2015

Vinnies respectfully supported national celebrations to mark NAIDOC Week (July 5 to 12) and paid tribute to the collective dreaming, resistance and hope of the oldest continuing culture on the planet. This year’s theme, ‘We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate’, serves to remind us all of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ strong spiritual and cultural connection to land and sea. It also marks the anniversary of the ‘Handback’ of Uluru, one of these sacred sites, to its traditional owners on 26 October 30 years ago. Vinnies National President, Graham West, said Vinnies warmly supports recognition of the First Australians in the Constitution, our founding document of law and government. “While the movement for Constitutional Recognition will not erase injustice, it is represents a significant step in our national journey towards recognising truth, seeking justice and paying respect to the First Peoples of Australia,” Mr West said. Visit  for more information about the campaign for recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in the Constitution.

Domestic violence presentation

On 11 July 2015 Vinnies Policy Advisor, Rik Sutherland, presented a speech to the Ending Domestic Violence Conference in Sydney. The speech, titled ‘Causes of Domestic Violence, and Implications for Primary Prevention’ provided an overview of Vinnies services for victims of this insidious and prevalent crime, plus outlined our advocacy work in this area. Rik also explained there are predictors that we know that make intimate violence more likely, but the key theme is gender and shockingly, 96% of those who end up homeless as a result of domestic violence are women. “Ultimately, to prevent domestic violence, we need to address what have been identified as the deep causes of domestic violence:  rigid gender roles in society; structural power imbalances between men and women; and a culture that celebrates violence. Two women dying a week because of choice by men in their lives to kill is something we will never accept.”