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Australia – Beyond Imagining

20 October 2016 at 8:34 am
David Crosbie
The first Australia We Want report, to be released next week, will set some very import benchmarks towards measuring our progress, but with a challenge to move beyond imagining and start creating a better Australia, writes CEO of Community Council for Australia David Crosbie.

David Crosbie | 20 October 2016 at 8:34 am


Australia – Beyond Imagining
20 October 2016 at 8:34 am

The first Australia We Want report, to be released next week, will set some very import benchmarks towards measuring our progress, but with a challenge to move beyond imagining and start creating a better Australia, writes CEO of Community Council for Australia David Crosbie.

“Imagine an Australia where incarceration rates are falling, where the suicide rate is less than the road toll, where women feel as safe as men?  Imagine an Australia where your postcode or cultural identity does not define your chance of getting an education or a job or living a long life? Imagine a humane and sustainable Australia, where people are more connected and engaged in the communities they live and work in, and where this involvement is reflected in the way we form policies and laws?  Imagine a generous and kind Australia where we take pride in supporting the less fortunate in our own communities, in our region and beyond?  Imagine the Australia we want?” -Rev Tim Costello speaking at the first AusWeWant roundtable held 18 months ago in Canberra.

Over a year ago the Community Council for Australia (CCA) brought together 60 leaders from across the charities sector, including many of the Pro Bono Australia Impact 25, in a roundtable to discuss the kind of Australia we want to achieve.

The ABC AM current affairs radio program introduced the news item about the AusWeWant roundtable in this way: “In Canberra today, a kind of council of war is being held as the charities sector lays out its claim for a greater voice in Australia’s future.”

Next week, on Thursday 27 October, CCA is launching the next step in moving beyond imagination to action. When Tim Costello speaks at the National Press Club, he will be issuing a challenge and an invitation for all of us to play our role in creating the kind of Australia we want our children to grow up in.

Values like: just, fair, safe, inclusive, equality of opportunity, united, authentic, creative, confident, courageous, optimistic, generous, kind, and compassionate all need to be more than words we agree with. That is why CCA has worked hard, with the support of Equity Trustees and the Centre for Social Impact, to take the vision of Australia established in the AusWeWant roundtable and translate it into a report card of outcomes detailing how Australia and each state and territory is performing against these values we hold as important.  

The result is a fascinating snapshot of Australia today. Without wanting to reveal the content of the report, it clearly highlights how far we have to go in creating the Australia we want.

As an example of the report content and findings, it is interesting to consider the first indicator outlined in the report. At the AusWeWant roundtable, one of the priority goals was to achieve a “just” Australia. The agreed proxy measure for “just” was adult incarceration rates. In the AusWeWant report to be released next week, the incarceration rates reveal a divided Australia.

The rate at which we imprison members of our own community is a complex measure that reflects partially on levels of crime and enforcement, attitudes to punishment and rehabilitation, court and justice systems, and adequacy of support for those most vulnerable. Prison can be the last resort for drug users, those in extreme poverty, the homeless, those who cannot participate in community. Indigenous people, those with poor literacy, those from lower-socioeconomic families, people with disability and people with mental health issues all are grossly overrepresented in the Australian prison population (AIHW 2015). Men are 12 times more likely to be in prison. It is important to note that less than 25 per cent of our prison population are there because of acts of violence against others.            

The number of prisoners in Australia rose by 7 per cent in 2015. The rate of imprisonment grew by 6 per cent. Our rate of incarceration is 196 per 100,000, higher than any country in Western Europe, more than double Scandinavian countries, and significantly higher than comparable countries such as Canada. (The US is a real outlier amongst OECD countries with a staggering imprisonment rate of over 700 per 100,000).

Key issues of concern arising from our incarceration rates include:

  • the number of unsentenced prisoners in custody grew by over 20 per cent to 9,898, many waiting months to obtain their sentence
  • the incarceration rate of adult Indigenous people is now 2,253 per 100,000, which is more than 15 times the imprisonment rate of non-Indigenous Australians;
  • less than 20 per cent of adult prisoners have achieved year 12 education
  • one in three adult prisoners have a disability or long term chronic health condition.

The Northern Territory imprisons its adult population at a rate that is that is almost beyond comparison.Their current incarceration rate of 885 per 100,000 is more than quadruple the national average, higher than the United States. Adults are around 20 times more likely to be in prison in the Northern Territory than they are in Ireland.

Part of the explanation for this massive policy failure in the Northern Territory is the level of Indigenous incarceration. High levels of Indigenous imprisonment are further exacerbated by low levels of educational attainment, levels of drunkenness, untreated mental illness and chronic health conditions within some population groups.

Western Australia is the poorest performing state with an imprisonment rate double the national average. It seems despite being a rich state that has ridden its natural wealth through the mining boom, many people in Western Australia do not get to share in the spoils.

Incarceration rates are not part of some pre-ordained natural order.They reflect decisions we have all made.

The AusWeWant report outlines indicators for each of the 14 values. They include distribution of income, suicide rates, greenhouse gas emissions, access to housing and employment, perceptions of feeling safe, levels of giving and volunteering, government transparency. All the findings are interesting but, more importantly, all make the case for our sector to play a greater role.

The first AusWeWant report has set some very import benchmarks, starting points from where we can measure our progress towards achieving the Australia we want. Our challenge is to move beyond imagining and start creating a better Australia.

Imagine a “just” Australia where incarceration rates are falling. What is your role?

Tickets are available to the National Press Club launch of AusWeWant with Tim Costello and David Crosbie here.

About the author: David Crosbie is CEO of the Community Council for Australia. He has spent more than 20 years as CEO of significant charities including five years in his current role, four years as CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, seven years as CEO of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and seven years as CEO of Odyssey House Victoria.

David Crosbie writes exclusively for Pro Bono Australia News on a fortnightly basis, covering issues of importance to the broader not-for-profit sector.

David Crosbie  |  @DavidCrosbie2

David Crosbie is the CEO of the Community Council for Australia (CCA).

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