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Social justice update – February 2013

Welcoming the unknown
If the title of the newly-released St Vincent de Paul Society National Overview publication, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, sounds familiar that is because it is taken from Matthew 25: 35, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me’. The National Overview profiles a selection of the many varied services and Good Works carried out by Vincentians in Australia in 2012. The life stories of refugees and migrants feature predominantly in the publication alongside those of people experiencing homelessness and who have come into contact with the Society.

UN World Day of Social Justice
The St Vincent de Paul Society called on Australian governments to heed the advice of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on UN World Social Justice Day on February 20, 2013: “As we seek to build the world we want, let us intensify our efforts to achieve a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable development path built on dialogue, transparency and social justice.” Children from remote Indigenous communities and young refugees growing up in detention were the focus of the Society’s message on the day. Chief Executive Dr John Falzon said he was deeply saddened to hear recent reports children in detention in Australia have self-harmed. He said Closing the Gap statistics released in February also made for sobering reading, although one positive was the increase in the number of Indigenous four-year-olds attending preschool. See the Vinnies Social Justice Blog to read more.

Indigenous Australians formally recognised
The Act of Recognition was passed in the House of Representatives on February 13, 2013 with the support of both major parties. Many Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and community leaders were present in the public gallery to witness the historically significant occasion. Last year plans to hold a referendum on constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians were postponed and the Act of Recognition billed as an important step towards the referendum. The Act was passed exactly five years to the day since the Apology to Indigenous Australians, particularly the Stolen Generations, in 2008. The Society wrote a submission supporting the Act, but criticising the fact that it will automatically be repealed after two years. The campaign to build support for constitutional change is well underway and the St Vincent de Paul Society encourages its members to visit the campaign website http://www.recognise.org.au/

Single mums make headlines
A national day of action to protest against the decision to move approximately 80,000 sole parents onto the Newstart Allowance took place on February 5, 2013. The Single Parents Action Group organised the rallies, which were held in every capital city. Dr Falzon attended the rally in Canberra where he called on the government to reverse its decision to move certain sole parents from the Parenting Payment onto Newstart on January 1, 2013. “We are now seeing the fallout from this legislation, which was supported by the major parties on the false basis that it encouraged workforce participation,” Dr Falzon said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of these women were already in paid work and were balancing the demands this involved. Now they have been simply pushed further into poverty.”

New Minister for Housing and Homelessness
The St Vincent de Paul Society welcomed the appointment of Minister Mark Butler as Minister for Housing and Homeless when a Cabinet reshuffle was announced on February 2, 2013. The former Minister for Homelessness, Brendan O’Connor, is now Immigration Minister and the Society will watch developments in his new portfolio closely with the hope that he might shape a more humane debate about asylum seekers policies in Parliament, which could lead to the reversal of damaging legislation such as off shore processing and indefinite detention. With the current National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) due to expire in June 2013, negotiations will be closely followed. The Society continues to call on the federal and state government to reach a funding agreement. Last November, the federal government announced a commitment to fund 50 per cent of the NPAH in its first year. St Vincent de Paul Society President, Anthony Thornton, said anxiety over the expiry of the current $1.1 billion agreement would continue until a funding agreement between the Commonwealth and States was reached.

Upcoming events
•    The St Vincent de Paul Society National Centres Committee will meet at the National Council office in Canberra on March 12 and 13.
•    The Feast Day of St Louise de Marillac is on Friday, March 15.
•    Members of the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council will meet in Canberra on Saturday, March 23 and Sunday, March 24.

•    On February 15, 2013 @VinniesACT posted the following comment on Twitter: The Governor-General received five Vinnies Doorknock volunteers at Government House today pic.twitter.com/r6qfAd7f

About Vinnies

St Vincent de Paul Society is a lay Catholic organisation working towards a more just and compassionate society.

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