Sector Call to Arms Over ‘Fair’ Australia - Progress 2015
7 May 2015 at 12:18 pm
The national CEO of the St Vincent de Paul society has delivered a passionate call to arms against the “enemy” of the Federal Government, which he said had “ripped the guts out of what remains of a fair and egalitarian Australia”.
Delivering the keynote address at the opening plenary session of the Progress 2015 social innovation conference in Melbourne, John Falzon criticised the Government’s cuts to social services, describing its last Budget as a “masterpiece of inequality,” and calling for the banding together of ordinary people to rise up against it.
“We’re still reeling from its viciousness towards ordinary people. but let me remind you the fed Government is still reeling from the backlash from ordinary people,” he said.
“I believe its really important that we state the obvious…because it’s the obvious, it’s the truth, that’s so missing from political discourse. We must speak the truth fearlessly.
“The Government has walked away from its responsibilities to its people. It has shied away from its challenge of building a broader and more sustainable revenue base.
“You don’t help young people into jobs by making them live on fresh air and sunshine for six months of the year.
“You don’t build a strong economy by increasing the level of inequality. There’s nothing human about humiliating people because they're forced to survive on the fringes of the labour market.
“We’re not in the throes of a fiscal crisis, but it we embark on the road of austerity, we will be staring down the barrel of a crisis…a social crisis.
“Now is the time to stand and fight…our task is to transform our personal stories of injustice into a powerful collective struggle for a new society.
“The powerful, progressive social change lies with the people. Change comes from below.”
The Government, he said, was “hell-bent on humiliating ordinary people.”
Falzon added that the economic system was built not on the certainty of wealth trickling down, but it bubbling up instead.
“The long fruitless wait for some of the wealth to trickle down is one of the most audacious con jobs in modern history,” he said.
“The excluded are told to be patient…that they only need to wait a little longer.”
Growing social problems, he said, were the “sound of the excluded still waiting”.
“The Prime Minister is fond of claiming he is simply fighting the scourge of intergenerational theft, which is code for protecting the wealthy.
“We should fight, not the spectre, but the real intergenerational theft…The intergenerational theft the Government should be worrying about is the theft of opportunity for the next generation.
“Exclusion is painted as a moral failure. The causes, however, are structural rather than personal.”
Falzon used the treatment of those with a disability as an example.
“If someone cannot work up the steps, we can decide as a society that its tough luck or that they should be blamed. On the other hand, we can just build a ramp.
“We refuse to build the ramps…we build bloody great walls, and then we condemn the people around them for lacking the aspiration to scale them.
“Our historic task is to tear the walls down. My friends, you don’t build a community up by putting its people down, you only achieve humiliation.
“Humiliation only begets disempowerment or rage. We can condemn and humiliate people for not being able to get up the steps, or build a ramp..but, as the history of social change teaches us, humiliation can also turn into progression, under the guiding stars of hope.
Falzon said tackling inequality required investment in high quality social and economic infrastructure, as he condemned the privatisation of key services.
He said that with the marketisation of essential services, Not for Profits were “unwittingly clearing the path” for multinational corporations to move in and take their place.
He described privatisation as a “glorification of inequality” that was “exemplified by the notion that health and education are commodities for sale”, and by the idea that opportunities in health and education should correspond to class.
“This is exactly the society we are living in and struggling to transform,“ he said.
Social change, he added, also needed to be about a redistribution of hope, and a redistribution of power. He passionately called for the rising up of the “crushed and the cursed, the excluded and the exploited” to cheers from the audience.
“There is no such thing as the voiceless, there is only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.,” he said.
“Humanity will win against humiliation, for our solidarity is stronger than our sadness. And even though our struggle is enormous, so too is our hope.
“We will do whatever it takes to win against this enemy. This is our beautiful struggle.”
Progress 2015 is a three day conference bringing together representatives of Not for Profits, academics, unionists, philanthropists, political staffers, and business leaders, is billed as a discussion around new and bold ideas for Australia’s future – and how organisations and movements can make them happen.