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Social Justice Update – January 2013

The St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia wishes its members and supporters a very happy New Year and acknowledges the work they have done thus far in 2013 to alleviate suffering and address the root causes of poverty and inequality. National President Anthony Thornton said in 2013 the Society would continue to stand in solidarity with those it assists and in doing so uphold its reputation as a respected and uncompromising voice for the voiceless.

Ongoing support for bushfire and flood victims

Earlier this month the National Secretary of the Society, Norm Moore, expressed his deep sympathy to those in Tasmania, and other parts of the country affected by bushfires. “Our thoughts are with all victims in Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria, and with the volunteers, who are working to clean up the damage caused by bushfires. We wish to extend a huge thanks to all the people who are generously supporting us,” Mr Moore said. The Society in Tasmania established its own bushfire appeal. More information about the Tasmanian Bushfire Appeal can be found online. In recent days members and supporters of the Society have also come to the aid of flood victims in Queensland and New South Wales. The full scale of the flood damage remains to be seen but Vincentians will once again play a role in the re-building process. For more information visit the Society’s website.

A national day of action for single mums
At the forefront of the Society’s concerns this month is the wellbeing of 80,000 single mothers, who were switched from the Parenting Payment onto Newstart on January 1. A number of sole parents have already made contact with the National office, because of the position it has taken, to share stories as this legislation begins to bite into their weekly budgets. Adding to the distress of those parents who received a payment cut was confusion over the validity of their concession cards. Centrelink has since clarified that parents can continue to use the cards and has apologised for sending letters that recommended the cards be destroyed. The Single Parents Action Group has organised a national day of action to take place in capital cities on Tuesday, February 5 to coincide with the first sitting day of the Federal Parliament.

Logic gone astray on work participation

The government and the opposition have supported the payment cuts for single parents once their youngest child turns eight on the basis that it encourages workforce participation. Chief Executive of the Society, Dr John Falzon said: “Nothing could be further from the truth. Some of these parents will find themselves being encouraged to work fewer hours due to the lower threshold of hours that they are allowed to work on Newstart without losing their benefits. This is in addition to the fact that all will be pushed further into poverty. This is not the way to help people find work. Neither does it acknowledge that many are already in paid work. You don’t build people up by putting them down.” A similar argument can be made for jobseekers receiving the Newstart allowance, which at $245 a week for individuals, can only be described as sorely inadequate. Early in the New Year the campaign to raise Newstart made headlines when the Minister for Families, Jenny Macklin, told a media conference held on New Year’s Day that she could live on $35 a day. The Minister later apologised for the comment and acknowledged life on Newstart was difficult.

Centrepay billing service under review

Federal Minister for Human Services, Kim Carr, has asked prominent businesswoman Anna Buduls and St Vincent de Paul Society National Council Chief Executive, Dr John Falzon, to conduct an Independent Review of Centrepay. Centrepay is a free service that allows people to pay their bills as regular deductions from their Centrelink payment. It has not been reviewed since its introduction in 1998 and there are currently 13,500 businesses registered with Centrepay. The Terms of Reference for the review announced in November 2012 are outlined on this departmental website.

Poker machines continue to harm families

This month the Society has issued a statement reaffirming its commitment to a policy of harm minimisation in regards to poker machines. National President, Anthony Thornton, urged the government to think deeply about the harmful effects of problem gambling and not to shy away from its responsibility to minimise this harm by such measures as mandatory pre-commitment and the $250 ATM withdrawal limit in poker machine venues. In reference to the National Gambling Reform Act 2012 passed late last year, Mr Thornton said: “We welcome the Government’s commitment but believe that these changes need to come into effect with greater urgency. We base this view on the human suffering we are witnessing each day on the ground.”  The Society is member organisation of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce. Members of the Taskforce argue that mandatory pre-commitment technology and maximum $1 bets are measures that are necessary in order to reduce the harm caused by poker machines.

Recent submissions
·The Society was one of 24 organisations to make a submission to the inquiry driving efforts to recognise the First Peoples in the Constitution. The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples held hearings in Sydney on January 22 and will report on January 30.
·The Society provided a submission to the inquiry on the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012 being conducted by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The Committee will conduct hearings in Canberra on January 31 before reporting its findings on February 25.

Upcoming events
·On Tuesday, February 5 a National Day of Action for Single Parents will be held in capital cities across the country. More information at singleparentsactiongroup.org
·The fifth anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations will be marked on February 13.
·The St Vincent de Paul Society in Victoria will host the Ozanam Lecture in Melbourne on February 25. The lecture will be delivered by Robert Fitzgerald AM and the respondent is Vincentian Michael Liddy.

On January 9th @VinniesNSW tweeted: Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the #tasmanianbushfires

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