Welcome to the regular update from the National Council of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia. Please distribute widely and encourage other people to subscribe using the link below. 

From the National President

We are now well into the 2022 Federal Election campaign, with under three weeks to go until polling day on Saturday 21 May. Amidst the claims and counter-claims, the campaign has seen a raft of promises to fund ‘community projects’ which may be more of political benefit to the party proposing them than to residents where the projects would be based.

Disappointingly, some of the policies announced by the major parties (Liberal and National, ALP and Greens), still fall short of the ideals expressed in the Society’s A Fairer Australia policy suite.

As previously communicated to our members, we have been promoting our ‘asks’ in key areas such as affordable housing, secure and properly paid work, government support payments like JobSeeker that remain below the poverty line (only the Greens have advocated increases), a First Nations Voice to Parliament (supported only by the ALP, preceded by a referendum), and other equity measures.

These policies are not just an ambitious ‘wish list’. They were developed in accordance with the needs raised regularly with our members by individuals and families seeking support, and have drawn on the Catholic Social Teachings which place the dignity of people at the centre of public policy.

Furthermore, the Society’s policy suite represents practical actions that could be undertaken by the next Australian Parliament within an affordable national framework. Australia’s capacity to cover the costs of delivering these practical actions was proved by the detailed research paper A Fairer Tax and Welfare System for Australia, developed for us by the Australian National University.

Its title highlights one of the unmentionables in this campaign – taxation. With the exception of raising taxes on multinationals, there has been scant attention paid to creating a fairer taxation system. This is the only way that greater social justice can in turn be afforded.

Yet there have been some encouraging announcements, even if they seldom go far enough. For example, the Opposition has committed to developing a National Housing and Homelessness Plan and establishing a National Housing Supply and Affordability Council.

Labor’s shared-equity scheme would help 10,000 first home buyers a year reduce the cost of a mortgage by owning 30 or 40 per cent of a property with the buyer. The Coalition’s home deposit guarantee scheme has been expanded to 50,000 applicants a year, enabling first home buyers to purchase a house with just five per cent deposit and avoiding costly Lender’s Mortgage Insurance.

For years, Vinnies has been calling on the Federal Government to properly address the housing crisis in consultation with key stakeholders. These calls have fallen on deaf ears. It is no surprise that so many people remain locked out of home ownership or at risk of homelessness.

Also welcome was Labor’s announcement that if elected it would boost the charity sector’s capacity to support and reconnect our communities, including a not-for-profit sector Expert Reference Panel to chart a more productive future for Australian charities.

Recent natural disasters have shown the importance of connected and resilient communities. The charity sector plays a vital role in providing the glue that keeps local communities together in times of strife.

Our media releases on these topics can be viewed on our website.

Less welcome during the campaign have been the rise of 5.1% in the Consumer Price Index over the past year, and the RBA’s interest rate rise of 0.25%. While neither increase was unexpected, both will have a strongly negative impact on millions of Australians already doing it tough.

A feature of the campaign has been the rising popularity of many independent candidates, a.k.a. the ‘Teals’. These candidates may or may not win seats, but are certainly a reflection of the public’s disillusionment with the mainstream parties.

No doubt it’s true that every election is a milestone event, but this time we really do seem to be at a crossroads, with one direction marked ‘A Fairer Australia’.

National Council has been advocating strongly for this with party leaders and organisers, while our members have been active in electorates around the country, including in the marginal seats.

We are preparing a report card comparing how each of the major parties’ policies stack-up against our A Fairer Australia criteria and this will be available on our website shortly. It is a valuable snapshot of how political leadership views our nation’s future, and regular updates will be added as responses from parties and candidates come in.

The aim of the report card is to make it easy for readers to assess the extent to which our specific policy asks have been addressed by the major parties and is in no way intended to inform voter decisions.

In developing the report card the Society has relied on publicly released policy materials. However, in many cases these do not provide sufficient detail to accurately determine a position on our policy asks.

We discussed our role in the campaign in a live webinar with members on 8 April. Since then we have distributed our policy kits online and through the mail. I thank members Australia-wide for their support in maintaining the momentum and encourage you to keep going until the eve of election day.

In the words of St Vincent de Paul, ‘Intervene with authorities to reform structures…there is no charity without justice.’

Let us hope and pray that such sentiments might prevail after Australians have cast their votes on Saturday 21 May 2022.

Image: National President Claire Victory at the Palm Sunday rally for refugees and asylum seekers in Adelaide on 10 April 2022.

Parties are leaving JobSeekers in poverty

The decision of both major parties not to substantially lift the inadequate JobSeeker payment is ‘brutal and cruel’ and relegates millions of Australians to continuing to live under the poverty line.

In a media release on 13 April 2022 the Society said, 'It is crushingly disappointing that voters at this election will not be able to choose a party of government that wants to lift Australia's brutally low JobSeeker rate.’

National Council President, Claire Victory added, 'It is simply immoral for a nation as wealthy as Australia to allow millions of people to languish beneath the poverty line.

'We’re constantly told that lifting the JobSeeker rate would act as a disincentive to work, but the research doesn’t bear that out and in my decades of engaging with people experiencing poverty I'm yet to find anyone who's able to work but chooses to remain on JobSeeker.

‘It’s clear that the current JobSeeker rate is actually designed to punish people.’

In an identical position to the Coalition, Labor confirmed it will go to the federal election with a policy that maintains the JobSeeker payment of just above $640 per fortnight for a single person without children.

Ms Victory said there are ways to boost JobSeeker without impacting the budget bottom line. Recent modelling by the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, commissioned by the St Vincent de Paul Society, found an increase to JobSeeker of $150 per fortnight, along with a 50 per cent increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance, could be easily paid for through minor tax changes that would only marginally affect highest income-earners.

'There is abundant wealth in this country to fund an income increase to those who most desperately need it. The fact that neither party has the political courage to advocate for such a change is deeply disappointing.'

The St Vincent de Paul Society’s Federal Election statement includes a suite of practical and compassionate policies to create A Fairer Australia.

Inflation boom highlights stress of daily living

The highest cost of living rise in more than twenty years highlights the difficulty for Australians living in poverty to make ends meet on a daily basis. Currently there are an estimated 3.2 million Australians living below the poverty line, struggling to meet the rising costs of food, power bills and other essentials.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) data released on 27 April 2022 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed inflation rising 2.1 per cent in the March quarter, up 5.1 per cent over the past year. As the ABS stated, these are the largest quarterly and annual rises since the introduction of the GST.

In a media statement following the announcement National President Claire Victory said the ballooning household costs again confirmed that the most vulnerable Australians desperately need additional support to survive.

‘Surging inflation puts household necessities out of reach, with the brutal decision of both major parties to leave JobSeeker at $46 a day demonstrating a lack of understanding, or care, for people doing it tough.’

Supporting the Australian Catholic Church’s election statements

Bishops echo Pope’s call for ‘a better kind of politics’

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has released its Election Statement 2022, ‘Towards a Better Kind of Politics, invoking the call of Pope Francis for 'a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good’.

The Conference emphasised its support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart and its call for recognition of First Nations Australians in the Constitution and a First Nations ‘Voice’ to the Australian Parliament.

Its key policy ‘asks’ are that -

  • The Commonwealth Government should play a leading role in ensuring consistently high-quality palliative care is available across Australia.
  • Sufficient funding of the aged care sector is vital to ensure that the growing number of older Australians can receive dignified and quality care.
  • An incoming government should raise the rate of JobSeeker to at least meet the poverty line.
  • Protection from discrimination and the liberty to run religious organisations on the basis of their faith-inspired mission are fundamental human rights that deserve to be protected.
  • Ensure school choice remains an accessible option for all families.
  • Constitutional recognition and active steps towards reconciliation are fundamental moral issues.
  • We need a just, humane and timely system for assessing claims for asylum.
  • The social, economic, health and ecological dimensions of the current environmental crisis must be addressed by a new integral ecology.
  • Australia’s Modern Slavery Act should be strengthened.

CRA urges a vote for justice

Noting how fortunate Australians are to live in a democracy, Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) has released its latest issue of Just Now, which stresses that, ‘Catholic Social Teaching calls us to use our ability to vote wisely, by being informed and paying particular attention to the most vulnerable individuals and groups who live amongst us.

‘Rather than advocating for any particular political party or candidate, the Church calls individual Catholics to discern which policies are the most consistent with Catholic ethos.’

This election edition is aimed at helping people think about some important issues of justice that should be raised in the 2022 Federal election. It outlines principles of Catholic Social Teaching to help to guide consideration of key issues as well as some questions that could be posed when examining the policies of political parties and candidates.

‘As Australians and as Christians, we are challenged to reflect on the values and issues we want our country to consider as we face this particular period in our history.

‘Voting is a very personal choice, nevertheless we come to it as a community that tries to hold true to Catholic social teaching (CST). So, before the chaos, controversy and drama of the federal election campaign obscures the path ahead, we wanted to offer you a possible source of reflection....’

“The call by St V de P for “A Fairer Australia” is even more activist and energetic. It addresses five key policy areas: poverty and inequality, housing and homelessness, people seeking asylum, secure work, and First Nations people.

“It is the most extensive and intensive of all three statements, offering explanatory videos, a summary brochure, and policy papers for more information. Not only does it append a detailed research note from the Australian National University on 'A Fairer Tax and Welfare System for Australia', but it advises supporters that a report card checking how each of the major party’s policies 'stack up against A Fairer Australia' will be forthcoming.

'Its 'Tips for Members' advises how to start a community conversation, put a note in a parish or school bulletin, post on Facebook and write to or seek to meet MPs and/or candidates. This is an intense rather than armchair engagement with the electoral process.'  

-           John Warhurst, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Australian National University, in Eureka Street, 26 April 2022.

Palm Sunday rallies for refugee justice 

Attending the Palm Sunday rally in Canberra were (l-r) Werner Paderin, Caritas Christi Migrant and Refugee Conference Warwick Fulton, Deputy President, St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia and Kevin Condon, a member of St Thomas the Apostle conference, Kambah ACT.

St Vincent de Paul Society members, volunteers and employees joined people from a range of  church, union, political and other community groups at Palm Sunday rallies around Australia on 10 April 2022 to press for fairer treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

‘With the world in considerable turmoil there has never been a greater need for a more compassionate approach to refugee policy,’ said National Council President Claire Victory.

‘The Society has a long history of assisting vulnerable people such as refugees and asylum seekers, and Palm Sunday was the perfect time to highlight the community’s concerns. It was on this day that Jesus entered Jerusalem to complete his mission “to bring good news to the poor and to set captives free”, through his suffering, death and resurrection.’

The Society’s policies for the 2022 Federal Election include scrapping the unjust ‘fast-track’ processing of people seeking asylum under the ‘Legacy Caseload Act’, ensuring people seeking asylum should have access to adequate levels of support, and providing access to family reunion for all refugees.

The Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA), co-convened by Jesuit Social Services and Jesuit Refugee Service Australia, shares the Society’s concerns that nearly 20,000 refugees in Australia are still on temporary visas after a decade. Thousands seeking asylum are enduring the fast-track refugee assessment process, condemned as unfair by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

CAPSA Co-Chair Julie Edwards called for the immediate release of all remaining people in onshore detention who were medically transferred to Australia from PNG and Nauru: ‘This system is hugely detrimental to the mental and physical health of refugees and has received international condemnation.

‘This will forever be remembered as a shameful period in our nation’s history.’

CAPSA voiced concern about the Federal Government’s allocation of $1.28 billion to onshore detention, an increase of $20.6 million compared to the previous Federal Budget:-

‘This is critical funding which could be used to safeguard and protect the human rights and dignity of people, including by investing in our settlement and employment support services and ensuring that people seeking asylum have adequate support in the community whilst their claims for protection are adjudicated.’

Read our policy paper ‘People Seeking Asylum’.

Ex-Socceroos star and refugee advocate Craig Foster was one of the speakers at the Canberra rally.

Winter Appeal targets disadvantage and family and domestic abuse

The annual Vinnies Winter Appeal is up and running, with supporters around Australia being asked to help provide assistance to people experiencing disadvantage as well as women and children impacted by family and domestic abuse.

St Vincent de Paul Society NSW CEO, Jack de Groot, said, ‘The Society operates 11 domestic violence services in NSW. Our assistance to women and children escaping domestic and family violence includes providing emergency accommodation, furniture and household goods, food and other essentials, and providing support to find and maintain secure housing.

‘This is very important because thousands of women in NSW are estimated to currently be residing in violent homes because their only other choice is homelessness. In the past year, we assisted more than 2,400 women and children with crisis accommodation and case management support.’

NSW State Council President, Paul Burton, said, ‘Life for all people on the margins becomes even difficult as we come into winter. The cost of utility bills rise, there are additional expenses like warm clothing, and as we know food and petrol prices are soaring.

‘This is why the Vinnies Winter Appeal is so important to help those doing it tough.’

Information packs have been sent to parishes and a major publicity campaign is about get under way.

Perfect cold weather for CEOs (and others) to sleep out

The 2022 Vinnies CEO Sleepout in Canberra/Goulburn will be held on 23 June at the National Portrait Gallery. Attending the launch on 27 April were (l-r) L-R Richard Faulks (Managing Director, Snedden Hall & Gallop),  Antonia Marzulli (CEO, Synergy Group), Michelle Colefax (CEO, SVDP Canberra/Goulburn),  Sehida Frawley (Chief Operating Officer, Cloud Success Services SAP APJ ) and Neville Tomkins (Chief Commissioner, Scouts Australia (NSW Branch).

Winter is coming, to quote Game of Thrones, marking the season for St Vincent de Paul Society’s annual series of fundraising CEO Sleepouts. This year’s national goal is $8,754,000, of which nearly $720,000 has been raised already.

The theme for the 23 June 2022 sleepouts is ‘Everyone deserves a safe place to call home’ and Vinnies is raising money to provide people experiencing homelessness and people at risk of homelessness with vital access to food and accommodation. We also provide education, counselling, employment and health services to help people overcome poverty in the long term.

In 2021, despite a number of COVID-19 restrictions, participants raised $9.3 million and made a huge impact. 

The NSW sleepouts (Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong) were launched at the Matthew Talbot Hostel, Woolloomooloo with a group of participants in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout doing a guided tour through the facility to see firsthand the good the money they raise does.

‘The Vinnies CEO Sleepout is our biggest annual fundraising event and it helps people experiencing disadvantage,’ said NSW State Council President, Paul Burton.

‘The CEOs who participate bring their influence to bear to enable change as well as raise critical funds. I encourage all CEOs or executive business leaders to register today and make a real difference in their community.’

The Canberra/Goulburn CEO Sleepout, to be held on the chilly concrete forecourt of the National Portrait Gallery, has a target of $800,000 and a number of its regular supporters lined up. One is Martin Fisk, Menslink CEO, who will take his discomfort to another level by sleeping out in the snow in Perisher without a tent. It will be his 12th CEO Sleepout.

A prayer for the election

 God of this land and of every people,

who shape all things according to your own design

and write your law in every human heart:

we thank you for this country we call home,

from the First Nations people to others born here

and those you have gathered from across the earth.

We pray for the citizens of our land in this troubled time,

that we may be committed to justice,

to the dignity of each human life,

and to solidarity with all Australians and with the world.

Guide all who seek election to serve the nation;

may the Holy Spirit inspire them to pursue a better politics

that is wise and courageous and governs for the good of all.

May all of us see and hear you in the most vulnerable,

that we may respond to the cry of the earth

and the cry of the poor,

that we may respond to you.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Courtesy of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference