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St Vincent de Paul Society ABN: 68879 107 149 Units 4-5 22 Thesiger court Deakin ACT 2600 PO Box 243 Deakin West ACT 2600 Telephone: (02) 6202 1200 Facsimile: (02) 6285 0159 Email: Website: Donation Hotline: 13 18 12

5 March 2009 The Hon Kevin Andrews MP Chairperson- Federal Opposition Policy Review Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600 Sent by email to

Dear Mr Andrews, FEDERAL OPPOSITION POLICY REVIEW I refer to your letter to our CEO Dr John Falzon dated 28 January 2009 inviting us to make a submission to your policy review. Introduction The St. Vincent de Paul Society (“the Society”) has been present in Australia since 1854. In 2007-08 the Society in Australia responded to nearly 600,000 calls for financial or material assistance, operated 636 ‘Vinnies shops’, provided around 2,350 beds a night to people needing accommodation and provided over an estimated one million meals. The Society seeks to shape a more just and compassionate Australia. The Society seeks a more equitable social order. Our international constitution states the “The Society is concerned not only with alleviating need but also with identifying the unjust structures that cause it.” The Society must deliver justice, not simply charity. To do this, the Society publicly affirms our values. We share this commonality with political parties. For this reason we understand how important it is for the federal opposition to ensure that it future policies reflect the values of the party in trying to create a fair go for all Australia. For our membership the key criteria by which we evaluate social policy considerations are as follows: 1

Adequacy of household income. This applies, from our perspective, especially to low to middle income households. We are deeply concerned about the households that derive their income primarily from Centrelink benefits, noting the inadequacy of these benefits as well as the punitive nature of the compliance regime applied to many of the beneficiaries. We are also deeply concerned about people in the low end of the labour market,

Every day in Australia the Society helps thousands of people through Home Visitation, Migrant and Refugee Assistance, Hospital Visitation, Prison Visitation, Aged and Special Care Services, Retail Centres, Sheltered Workcentres, Hostels for Homeless Men, Women and Children, Overseas Relief, Disaster Recovery, Budget Counselling and youth Programs.

particularly those experiencing underemployment as well as those who are vulnerable to job losses due to the Global Financial Crisis. 2

Access to key services. It has long been our view that an appropriate mix of public and private provision of services needs to be attained with the objective of guaranteeing access to key services for people who are effectively excluded and marginalised. We have come to the position that governments must do what markets cannot, noting that markets have proven to be excellent vehicles for providing choice but poor vehicles for providing equity. The people we assist are locked out of many of these markets and so the choices they have are enormously constrained. This is where governments must not be afraid to step in. We provide the following list of examples in this regard: 2.1 Health and Dentistry Both the health and dentistry systems have deteriorated significantly with respect to equitable access for the nation’s disadvantaged. This is especially obvious in the unconscionable gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health and life-expectancy. Achievable national goals must be set out for hospitals, doctors, specialist services, pharmaceuticals, support services and dentistry. 2.2 Education and Training While there is significant policy work to occur in education, we would like to see a strong policy supporting training places. The whole nation, including the manufacturing, mining and service industry, are suffering from a lack of trained skilled trades-people. This is not a sudden development. Accordingly, there is no sudden fix. There is a place to build a strong training policy. This training policy should not leave it to the market to fix a problem that it has helped to create due to neglect and lack of investment. We are also keen to see a proactive approach to providing access to higher education to people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We are currently wasting a huge amount of our nation’s brain-power by failing these young people. 2.3 Housing Over the past 10-12 years the housing crisis in Australia has progressed to the stage where 105,000 are experiencing homelessness. It is estimated that there are around 200,000 on waiting lists for public housing across Australia. The Society is at the coal face assisting people experiencing homelessness. Each night around 2500 Australian obtains a bed in one of our shelters. The Society would love to close our shelters, but presently we are only witnessing a growing demand. The previous coalition Government policy of reducing payments for public housing but substantially increasing rental rebates, did assist some low income households but failed most and did not result in anywhere near an adequate level of public or affordable housing. Consideration must therefore be given in future to stimulating adequate public and private investment in social

housing. The current government’s commitment to addressing homelessness is a good start and should be continued and strengthened by any future governments. 2.4 Childcare and Aged Care As with housing, many measures have been implemented over the past decade to encourage both child care and aged care facilities. Sadly, they have not been sufficient to adequately address the growing problem and needs. For the well being of the Australian Community innovative policies to address these issues must be developed. 2.5 Transportation Infrastructure Transportation is one of the most crucial forms of infrastructure. The most important function is getting people to and from employment opportunities speedily and cheaply, but also conveying people to shopping, to sporting events, to holidays and other recreational events and to education and training. A national transportation plan needs to be developed. 3

The Appropriate Commonwealth and State Roles

Over the past decades far too much emphasis was placed by the Federal Government on the need for States to fund and implement key areas of the above services. This completely ignored vertical fiscal imbalance where the Federal Government receives, 80% or so of all revenues. Nor has the GST revenue accumulating to the States resolved this problem. The Commonwealth must assume greater responsibility. 4

Social Inclusion

An important overarching policy framework that the Society has welcomed is social inclusion. The Opposition has a real opportunity to embrace and progress this policy agenda in a positive manner. Conclusion The St Vincent de Paul Society welcomes the opportunity to make this submission. We would further welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss some of the pertinent and contemporary policy issues contained in this submission. Yours faithfully,

Syd Tutton President National Council of Australia