On the 11th of June I delivered the President’s address at the 2014 ACOSS Conference. Here is the text of what I said.
Welcome to the 2014 ACOSS Conference “Global problems, local solutions: Tackling inequality in Australia and beyond”.
Thank you for making the commitment to come along to the ACOSS Conference. I know that many of you will have travelled to be here, and you have all taken time out of your week to be here with us. I hope that you find people to meet, ideas that challenge, information that helps you, and a resolve to Stand Up for what you believe is right.
Conferences like this take a lot of thought and work to make happen. Thank you to all the ACOSS staff and volunteers for getting things prepared so that we can be here now. We appreciate your work and look forward to the 2 days together.
Inequality is a reality in Australia. Many of us in the room are working to address inequality on a daily basis, and yet the environment around us is constantly changing, and we are identifying new drivers for it, such as some of the recent Federal Budget decisions. ACOSS believes that the current Budget will increase inequality in Australia, and we have been actively speaking out about it. This conference is an opportunity to reflect, think, participate, and debate new solutions – to work for equity and equality.
The current times are challenging, there are many people in the community who are fearful for themselves, for those they love, those they work with, those they care for. They wonder who will Stand Up for them.
Many social service providers are also fearful for what is happening around them and feel helpless. The organisation I lead has just announced redundancies for 7% of our workforce – not because we have lost a funding contract – but because the funding squeeze between income and expenditure is too great. I know that there is an increasing number of providers in the same situation. The collective outcome of all these organisational decisions is a loss of services to people in the community – at a time when demand for social services is increasing. Service providers expect ACOSS to Stand Up for them when they fear doing so themselves.
ACOSS has a long tradition of Standing Up and speaking up for people who have little power or voice. When we started in 1956 we did so from a “charity” model of thinking, and then later from a “welfarist” perspective. Over the last 40 years we have taken a structural economic view of Australian society advocating for social justice for people who are affected by poverty and inequality. This voice is not always welcome by those in power, but we will continue to Stand Up, to be strong, to lead debate on matters of social justice, to have hope for change, to stand with those who are unheard, to say what needs to be said. It is not new for ACOSS to be in the situation we are now in – we have been here before. We will Stand Up and say what has to be said!
We have hope that our voice will be heard!
Community sector organisations have a tradition of Standing Up – although many voices are now muted by our fears and concerns about whether we will be singled out – whether others will join in chorus, or whether we will be a lone voice. But our experiences of working with people in the community surely show us how to have hope, how to be strong, how to take leadership in our lives.
I am reminded of the quote attributed to Lilla Watson and a group of Aboriginal activists in Brisbane in the 1970s – and she said ‘If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.’ We are in this together!
In Standing Up, in being hopeful, in being strong, in taking leadership, we are doing so because it is what we need for ourselves, and also because others rely on us to do so.
In this room, in these 2 days, there are opportunities to build solutions, to build the networks and commitments that we need to tackle the current face of inequality in Australia. Let’s make the best of this opportunity.
There are many things to talk about, to be angry about, to be fearful of, to plan advocacy strategies about, each of us has our own list of what most concerns us.
And yet we are here together
Steadfast in our hope
Looking for solutions
Standing in solidarity together
Fuelled by purpose
Believing in each other
Standing up for, and hopefully with, the people we work with
Standing up with vulnerable people in our communities
Standing up for those who have no voice
Standing up for those too afraid to speak out
Standing up because we will not be silenced
Standing up because we will not give into fear
Standing up together because we grow stronger and more hopeful by doing so.