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.
From the National President
National Council’s federal election advocacy was launched last Friday with a media release responding to the Government’s Budget 2022 package and the reply by the Opposition Leader.
Our core statement was that, 'Australia needs more electoral focus on people in real need', adding that neither major party had so far offered practical solutions to such crises as housing and homelessness, secure and properly paid work, and inadequate JobSeeker, DSP and Parenting Payment (Single).
I expressed the Society’s concern that band-aid solutions won’t lift 774,000 Australian kids out of poverty and won’t help struggling families. Also, that housing is a major issue - despite a $17.9 billion commitment to infrastructure there’s a lack of focus on the nation’s housing crisis, which the Government’s own National Infrastructure Plan 2021 identified as requiring significantly more investment.
‘As our members across Australia well know, cost of living pressures are rising rapidly. Affording healthy food, paying the rent and utility bills, and putting fuel in the car impact disproportionately on people who are already struggling day to day,’ the release added.
We welcomed the support expressed for Constitutional Recognition of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, while raising concern about Australia’s commitment to meeting the 17 targets in Closing the Gap without appropriate funding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services.
We also welcomed the 16,500 additional humanitarian places for Afghan nationals recently announced, but added that 20,000 refugees in Australia are still on temporary visas after a decade and they can’t bring their families here. And hundreds of people, many of whom have been deemed refugees, remain in Australian immigration detention.
As I noted, after the election is called we look forward to a vigorous debate that will put more focus on the real challenges facing millions of Australians who are struggling in so many areas of their lives.
The Society has developed a suite of policies under the heading of A Fairer Australia/2022 Election and is now promoting these through general and social media. We are relying on the help of SVDP membership, assisted by State and Territory Councils.
The policy papers cover five key areas:
- Poverty and inequity
- Housing and homelessness
- People seeking asylum
- Secure work
- First Nations
There is also an ancillary paper, A Fairer Tax and Welfare System for Australia, developed for us by the Australian National University. The modelling shows how modest tax and welfare reforms could help lift a million Australians out of poverty.
This report examines three options for helping families and individuals at risk of deep poverty and financial stress, challenges that the Society’s members hear about every day. Our favoured option would see an increase JobSeeker by $436 per fortnight, Disability Support and Carer Pensions by $200 per fortnight, Parenting Payment to the new JobSeeker rate and Family Tax Benefit Part A by 20 per cent ($40 per fortnight for children under 13 years).
This would only marginally affect the most well off and have no net impact on the nation’s budgetary position.
The material about these issues is now available on the SVDP website.
We greatly appreciate your assistance in making the Society’s pre-election campaign the success we hope it will be. A lot depends on the changes we hope we can encourage.
Plenary Council update—A Catalyst for Conversation – 18 May 2022
As the Second Assembly of the Plenary Council approaches, Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) will deliver the third and final ‘conversation’ as part of its exploration of Light from the Southern Cross Report.
The online event, Accountability & Transparency, will be held on 18 May 2022, 11.00am-2.45pm AEST. Keynote speakers will be Susan Pascoe AM, Adjunct Professor at the University of Western Australia and co-author of the Report, and Claire Victory, SVDP National President.
‘Accountability and transparency need to be reflected in the administrative and governance practices of all church bodies. They are critical to promoting co-responsible governance for the Church,’ said Susan Pascoe.
Claire Victory, a member of the Plenary Council, said the discussion focuses on accountability and transparency: ‘The Report gives us great tools to use to craft the Church into a force for good in contemporary Australia, and there is still hope for the Plenary Council to be a useful and productive exercise if we build on this important work that has already been done rather than starting from scratch as the First Assembly seemed to do.’
The first two events attracted around 150 participants, including Plenary Council members, Religious Leaders and teams, lay leaders in the Church, parishioners, educators, and others interested in the future of the Church.
Feedback showed they had opened the way for group and individual reflection and brought ‘hope to the People of God about the future of the Church,’ according to Anne Walker, CRA National Executive Director and facilitator of each event.
The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has welcomed the New Zealand Government’s late-March announcement of 450 resettlement places over three years for refugees in Australia’s offshore processing regime. The offer of 150 places a year was first made in 2013 but has only now been accepted by the Australian Government.
The arrangement ignores the 100 people left in PNG after Australia’s agreement with PNG ended. But UNHCR and the New Zealand Government are working separately on referrals for eligible people there.
RCOA estimates that a further 505 people in Nauru, PNG and Australia, most with refugee status, will still have nowhere to go after the transfers to NZ, the USA and Canada are concluded. It has also welcomed the announcement in the 2022-23 Federal Budget of 16,500 additional places set aside for refugees from Afghanistan.
The Society also welcomes these announcements, but has other concerns with Australia’s treatment of refugees:
- Nearly 20,000 refugees in Australia are still on temporary visas after a decade and they can’t bring their families here.
- Thousands still seeking asylum are enduring the fast-track refugee assessment process, condemned as unfair by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
- Hundreds of people are in Australian immigration detention, many brought here for medical treatment.
Palm Sunday rallies across Australia
Vincentians and all Australians are invited to attend the annual rallies calling for refugee justice, held across the country on Palm Sunday (10 April). The times and locations of these rallies can be found on the Australian refugee action network website.
National Homelessness and Housing submission
SVDP has expressed its strong support for a return to a broader social housing agreement approach, operating across tenure types, appropriate to locations and within jurisdictional capability.
Our submission to the Productivity Commission’s review of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) was lodged on 18 March 2022.
It noted that, ‘Many factors influence the supply, demand, costs and maintenance of housing across the country, ranging from Australia’s growing and ageing population to fiscal policies covering subsidies and taxation (especially negative gearing and capital gains), through to planning laws and development approval processes at state and local government levels.’
The submission noted the Society’s ‘long history of providing on-the-ground assistance in the form of emergency relief, supported accommodation, community housing and other support services across Australia’.
It said a national housing strategy with appropriate peak body and industry representation ‘is essential if governments are to tackle the ongoing entrenched challenges of making secure and safe housing affordable for all Australians’.
The Society expressed concern about the inability to respond quickly and appropriately with housing assistance or accommodation during periods of natural disasters, saying, ‘A revised NHHA should contain contingency funds that can be called on in times of national emergency.’
Larrakia Nation celebrates 50th anniversary
The Larrakia flag features a kulaluk tree growing from a mound built by jungle fowls kunggu to protect their eggs, symbols of new life. The red stripes represent the blood of the old people who were killed by colonisers, and that of today’s people.
On 18 March 2022 the CEO of St Vincent de Paul Society (NT) Inc, Rob Lutter joined a large gathering in Darwin to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Larrakia Petition, one of the most important land rights documents of the 1970s. The Larrakia people are the traditional owners of the Darwin region.
In 1971 Bobby Secretary and Harry Adam raised the Larrakia Flag on the NT Supreme Court flagpole. In 1979, after a lengthy political struggle, an area known as Kulaluk was secured for Aboriginal communal living purposes in suburban Darwin.
Larrakia Nation – ‘Living stronger, living longer’ – is now one of the capital city’s leading community service organisations, delivering a wide range of programs and services across the Darwin region. It is also a major private sector employer of Aboriginal people in Darwin.
An overview of the Larrakia people’s land rights struggle is available from the website of Dr Bill Day-Anthropologist.
View a video of the 50th anniversary celebration.
Helping flooded communities
Our thoughts, prayers and practical help continue to be extended to the flood-stricken communities of the east coast - Brisbane and Southeast Queensland, and northern NSW, which last week had a second strike from the rain gods.
Along with massive clean-ups, we are now hearing debates about whether homes, including business precincts, should be rebuilt in situ, or financed to relocate to safer ground.
SVDP in NSW and Queensland have been running emergency flood appeals to assist residents with their immediate needs as well as longer-term recovery. At the end of March SVDP NSW had provided a total of $3.2 million in direct financial assistance to close to 6,400 people affected by the Northern Rivers floods and continues to provide ongoing material assistance.
Lismore CBD goes under as the 1-in-10 year levee wall is overtopped again for the second time in weeks. Photo: www.echo.net.au.
The Vinnies NSW Flood Appeal raised just over $2.5 million, with $1 million of Society funds used to ensure we could assist as many people as possible.
Colin Beard (pictured below), one affected local, talked with SVDP NSW communications coordinator Rob Crosby who visited the Lismore area. Colin is a photographer who captured some icons of 1960s rock, including The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. His work has appeared in major newspapers and magazines.
Colin settled down where the Richmond and Wilsons Rivers meet in Coraki – ground zero for the recent flooding. Vinnies has been able to assist Colin with financial aid at one of the several recovery centres located across the region.
‘I’m amazed at the generosity, money’s been put in my account which is going to help me pay new bonds, it’s incredible’, he said.
While many residents impacted by the floods are determined to rebuild in the community, Colin has sadly decided to call it quits.
‘I could’ve tried to find a place here, but there’s so many people looking and at my age it’s time to be with more friends.'
SE Queensland’s long recovery journey
Member/Vincentian Maree Harmon from our Lutwyche Conference delivering a basket of supplies for flood victim Jactina Corkeron.
With the help of over $1.4 million raised in their Flood Appeal, Vinnies Queensland has helped supporting more than 700 Queenslanders so far in their long-term journey to recovery. Available funds include a donation of $500,000 from the State Government.
The Society expects requests for support to continue to increase as impacted Queenslanders prepare themselves to return home or secure a permanent place to live.
Our members have been supporting Companions through providing food, groceries, household essentials, clean clothing and bedding, replacement furniture and appliances. They have also helped Companions to find accommodation.
Beerwah resident Joanne Moody lost her entire home and found herself living in an evacuation centre before she reached out to the Landsborough Conference for help: ‘I woke up on Saturday morning and stepped out of bed to find water coming up to my knees,’ she said.
‘I tried to salvage what I could, but I lost pretty much everything – my home and my car.
‘The Vinnies team not only supported me to stay in a hotel while I began the search for a new home, they also put me in touch with the Department of Housing.’
SVDP Queensland CEO Kevin Mercer said the Society was still supporting victims of the 2011 floods and expected their support to continue for many months, even years to come.
‘Our Appeal isn’t just about providing help now, but also to ensure when people are ready to finally return to their homes, they can have the help they need to start again.’
Donations can be made by calling 13 18 12, at any Vinnies shop or at the website links below.
Peace for Ukraine
Well-known poster artist Chips Mackinolty, who created this work recently, is a long time NT resident and contributor to Vinnies publications, including The Record. He tells us that in 1966, at the age of 12, his family travelled by road across Europe during the summer school holidays.
‘From London to Moscow to Rome and back: wreckage from World War II—barely two decades before—was everywhere. Bombed out buildings, destroyed bridges and roads. Ruined, abandoned farm buildings and factories. Everywhere. A hideous legacy across Europe, at a cost of millions of lives.’
During the trip Chips learnt the Cyrillic/Russian alphabet and basic vocabulary. One key word, in the wake of WW2, was ‘Peace’… ‘A word I became familiar with across many years in Russian poster and graphic art. And in many other languages. Peace… МИР. It is the same word — and spelling — in both the Russian and the Ukraine languages… A word Vladimir Putin seems to have never learnt.’