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Building a Victoria Without Poverty: Emma King

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The following speech was delivered by Emma King, VCOSS CEO, at the 2014 VCOSS Summit. The full VCOSS 2014 State Election Platform – Victoria Without Poverty is available online. 

Emma King VCOSS CEO

It is my pleasure to be with all of you today launching the VCOSS 2014 election platform. A platform that has been two years in the making.

In working with our members to develop and shape this platform, we’ve worked to articulate not only the problems we see every day, but to focus on solutions that we believe will transform the lives of Victorians.

As the peak body in the community sector, VCOSS has the privilege of working across the complexity and the multitude of social issues that confront Victorians every day. It is our role to stand up for the principles of social justice, and for those values to inform our advocacy, whether in the public sphere or behind the scenes.

VCOSS focuses on working with our members to advocate for those who are vulnerable, those who are disadvantaged and those who are living in poverty. Our voice is only strong because our members support us and our mission. You give your time, your expertise and scarce resources to support our work.  It is only when VCOSS can stand with a strong and united sector that we can make real achievements in progressing social justice in Victoria.

The election platform we are launching today focuses on bringing the many pieces together to address the multitude of issues facing Victorians.  We know that in dealing with issues in isolation from one another is problematic. We have a vision for a Victoria without poverty and we call on all parties in the upcoming state election to outline their plans to eliminate poverty in our community and enable all citizens of Victoria to be able to realise their potential.

We are all working within an increasingly difficult and volatile political climate. The federal budget has left us reeling – everyone in this room is more than aware that those who can afford it the least will bear the brunt of the proposed changes.

One of the biggest challenges for all of us is not to be distracted from the big issues by the attempts to divide and conquer not only the community sector, but also the broader community at large.  Language used by federal parliamentarians is now making its way into commentary within society. People are being pushed into taking sides, accused of being “heavy lifters” or “leaners”, “winners” or “losers”, “earning or learning” or if not, accused of simply bludging off society and living it up on welfare benefits.

This approach serves only to polarise us all, and without a doubt that is its very intention. On top of that we’re seeing funding ramifications for organisations that are intended to set those undertaking critical work against each other simply in order to fight to survive.

Within this context, and now six months out from the Victorian election, there has never been a more important time to unite, have our voices heard, and call for a fairer and just society that looks after its most vulnerable.

In Victoria today one in five people live near or below the poverty line. The division between rich and poor is widening.  There are growing reports of violence against women and their children. Our schools are becoming more unequal, our children are being taken into child protection at record rates. Homelessness is rising, and the prison population is exploding.

The continuing transition of the Victorian economy from manufacturing to services risks stranding workers without jobs. On Melbourne’s outer fringe and across regional Victoria, the failure to match booming population growth with the required physical and social infrastructure means more people are forced to make choices to merely survive than thrive.

If we continue down this path, we will see more and more Victorians trapped in a cycle of entrenched and generational poverty.

In an election year, we have a responsibility to call on our political parties to deliver solutions to make life better for all.

The recent state budget has made a significant investment in physical infrastructure, but we now need to see increased investment in human capital, the social fabric of our society.

Particular concerns that VCOSS has highlighted from the recent budget include:

A significant expenditure in the prison system, which went up by 23.3 per cent.

At the same time, we’ve seen a significant reduction in funding  of 12.2 per cent in education support and further reduction of 8.8 per cent in higher education in skills – the very things that we know help set people on the right path to succeed in life.

We’ve seen investment in maintaining public housing and we acknowledge that investment, but there is a desperate need for growth in affordable and appropriate housing.

The budget delivered inadequate investment in addressing domestic violence despite there being 29 family violence related deaths in Victoria last year with many more women and children effected.

We need to see greater investment in human capital.

We need to see investment in community organisations to compensate for the true cost of providing services. We need viable, sustainable organisations that can deliver the best possible outcomes for individuals and communities. It is incredibly difficult to do this when indexation that reflects true costs is not built into the prices and service agreements.

We have arranged our election platform around 8 key themes and 12 immediate priorities. There is no time to go into all of the detail contained in the platform, but the full document will be circulated before lunch and I will briefly outline each priority.

The 12 immediate priorities

  • Help every child succeed in education

The experience of disadvantage impoverishes lives from birth. The most effective way to reduce poverty in the future is for every child to participate in high quality early childhood education and fully participate in school. We call on all parties to provide dedicated funds to cover schooling costs for vulnerable children, and free kindergarten for every 3- and 4- year old child.

  • Develop integrated early childhood services that support vulnerable children

Children in families experiencing disadvantage can benefit enormously from a range of services that help their families nurture them to grow and learn in a positive, healthy environment. We call on all parties to develop innovative and locally-based models that support vulnerable children and their families by integrating early years learning, health and community services, as exemplified by the approaches taken at Doveton College, Bendigo Community Health and Yuille Park Community College.

  • Make child protection work

Children in the care of the Victorian Government are among our most vulnerable people. Despite inquiries, reports, reviews and plans, children are still at risk of harm in our child protection system. We call on all parties to invest in early and integrated family support services to reduce risks to children, and to provide every child living in residential care with the therapeutic support they need.

  • Reduce the cost of housing

A safe, secure and affordable home is the foundation of a dignified life. Without it, people can rarely achieve other life goals. We call on all parties to develop a whole-of-government affordable housing strategy that reduces the cost of housing for low-income Victorians, by expanding social housing, improving rental laws, using targeted planning tools, creating new financial products and leveraging taxation policies.

  • Expand the public transport network

Good public transport can be used by young people, older people, people with disabilities and those who cannot afford a car. A car-dependent transport system traps our most vulnerable people and stops them accessing employment, services and social opportunities. We call on all parties to invest in building a frequent public transport network, including frequent bus connections to local centres and train stations, especially in under-served communities in outer Melbourne, and rural and regional Victoria.

  • Reduce violence against women and children

Over the past decade reports of family violence have more than doubled, and both police and family violence services are overwhelmed by demand. We call on all parties to commit to a package of services and reforms to combat violence against women and their children by establishing a Minister for Violence against Women and Children, a central coordination role for the Premier’s Department, a comprehensive primary prevention strategy, multi-agency responses to protect women and children at risk, and a significant expansion of support services across health, housing, legal assistance and support programs.

  • Improve workforce participation

Unemployment rates are at decade highs, especially for vulnerable groups including young people, older people, Aboriginal people, refugees and people with disabilities. We need to develop people’s work skills and remove barriers to employment, so more people can enter paid work. We call on all parties to develop a workforce participation plan, that incorporates community services, vocational education providers and potential employers, to increase employment for vulnerable groups.

  • Deliver one million energy efficient homes to cut the cost of living

Many Victorian families have high energy bills because they can’t fix their energy inefficient homes or install efficient appliances, as they have low incomes or are renting. We call on all parties to commit to improving one million low-income households’ homes, through retrofits, minimum standards and appliance upgrades, to cut their energy bills and cost of living.

  • Reduce crime through justice reinvestment

Changes to sentencing laws have resulted in an explosion in our prison population, while recorded crime rates continue to rise. We call on all parties to develop a justice reinvestment plan to reduce crime, divert people from prison, improve treatment for prisoners and rehabilitate people leaving prison.

  • Deliver funding fairness for community services

Community organisations are not funded for the full cost of delivering services. We call on all parties to establish a fair funding model for community organisations, indexed to meet the real costs of providing services, so they can deliver quality, effective services that meet the needs of vulnerable people.

  •  Develop a whole-of-government plan for social policy change

 Too often, effective social change is thwarted because government agencies do not work together. For government to work effectively, it needs a high level vision for the social goals it is trying to achieve. We call on all parties to develop a whole-of-government plan for social policy, centrally coordinated by the Premier’s Department, with clear goals, targets and funding.

  • Create a sustainable revenue base

The Victorian Government needs more revenue to pay for essential services and infrastructure. We cannot cut our way to prosperity. We call on all parties to commit to reviewing Victoria’s revenue streams, to build up sufficient resources to meet the community’s future needs and aspirations.

The VCOSS State Election Platform is aimed at uniting our community to call on political parties to deliver a better future for all Victorians.

I would like to sincerely thank our members that have worked with us to contribute to the election platform.

I would also like to acknowledge the incredible work of VCOSS staff.

The hard work begins here and I ask you all to join with us as we lobby politicians from all sides of politics to deliver on the vision we present today. A vision for Victoria without poverty and with equal access and opportunity for all.

Emma King delivered this speech to launch the VCOSS State Election Platform – Victoria Without Poverty at the 2014 VCOSS Summit, 30 May 2014.

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