Senate debates

Thursday, 13 May 2010


St Vincent de Paul Society

8:44 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to pay tribute to the work of St Vincent de Paul, especially in my home state of South Australia. More particularly, I want to draw the attention of all Australians to its national fundraising campaign, the CEO Sleepout. As I am someone raised and schooled in the Catholic tradition, St Vinnies, as perhaps the most identifiable Catholic charity, has long been on my landscape, particularly in its work for the homeless in South Australia.

Because of the depth and breadth of the Adelaide parklands and their heavy use by pedestrians and cyclists, homelessness is perhaps more readily apparent in Adelaide than in many other places. It is hard to ignore the scruffy camps, the makeshift swags of old blankets and cardboard and the blue plastic carry bags stashed under the bushes while the owners move around the city in search of food and lodging.

As I am sure you would know, Mr Acting Deputy President Bishop, it is hard to ignore the people drifting across the lawns of Whitmore Square as evening draws near—homeless men hoping to get an early place in the queue for a bed and hot meal at the Vincentian Centre. The Vincentian Centre is a special work of the St Vincent de Paul Society in South Australia. The St Vinnies Night Shelter, as it was known for a long time, first opened in May 1961 and it has never closed its doors since. The new Vincentian Centre was built in 2002-03 at a cost of just under $3 million.

The centre is funded by the Saint Vincent de Paul Society South Australia Inc., by the South Australian Department of Families and Communities under the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program, and by corporate and private sponsors. Professional staff—I had the opportunity just recently to meet them—deliver services to the homeless, and volunteers play a vital role in supporting the shelter in areas such as food preparation, maintenance and cleaning duties. The Vincentian Centre can accommodate up to 49 homeless men from the ages of 18 years up every night of the year and it also provides a range of services such as crisis accommodation, meals, showers, assessment needs, comprehensive case management services, referrals to other organisations and social support.

During the 2008-09 financial year the Vincentian Centre provided 9,531 bed spaces, 2,698 breakfasts, 6,573 evening meals and 4,797 suppers. St Vinnies also runs Fred’s Van—as you would be aware, Mr President—a mobile food service for homeless people comprising four vans operating in seven Adelaide locations: Adelaide city, Salisbury, Elizabeth, Gawler, Christies Beach, Semaphore and Ferryden Park.

The causes of homelessness make for a depressing litany of social ills. There is family or relationship breakdown, drug and/or alcohol addiction, mental health issues, income support issues, lack of access to affordable and safe housing, lack of living skills and gambling addiction—indeed a wide range of issues. The Vincentian Centre seeks to assist clients to address their problems in all of these areas. Homelessness is tsunami-like in proportion and charities like St Vinnies cannot even begin to address the magnitude of the problem without help and support from government, the private sector and the general public.

The mining magnate Lang Hancock once said that the best way of helping the poor was not to become one of them. I never took too much notice of Lang Hancock and in this instance he was clearly wrong. On Thursday 17 June 2010 the St Vinnies major homeless fundraiser, the CEO Sleepout, will take place in capital cities across Australia. Despite Lang Hancock’s exhortation, the CEO Sleepout invites people at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale to become one of the poor for the night to experience directly for themselves the humiliation, the desperation and the privation of homelessness.

Money is raised, certainly, but it is hoped that the people who participate go out into the community with fresh insights to drive change and progress on this very serious issue. The CEO Sleepout is a really creative way of engaging our business and community leaders, helping those of us who are fortunate enough to confront homelessness and destitution firsthand to understand just what the realities are. It is only by becoming one of the homeless ourselves, by experiencing it ourselves, that we can even begin to understand. It is only by truly understanding that we can start to put together truly meaningful solutions.

There are a range of CEOs and community leaders sleeping out on 17 June in Adelaide. I do not have time to acknowledge all of these South Australian participants, but they include, in no particular order: Ian Stone, the managing director of RAA; Claude Piscioneri, the district manager of ANZ Bank; Kristin Jeffery, the sales manager for Scott Salisbury Homes; Leesa Vlahos, the very new member for Taylor in South Australia; Stuart Price, the CEO of Kelly and Co. Lawyers; Philip Rundle, the managing director of CB Richard Ellis; Tom Kenyon, the recently re-elected member for Newland in South Australia; Rainer Jozeps, the chief executive of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra; Jenny Brinkworth, the director of Catholic Communications for the Archdiocese of Adelaide; Tony Sherbon, the chief executive of the Department of Health; Matthew Evins, the managing director of Banner Hardware; Richard Ryan, the chairman of Editure Limited; John Haren, of course, the CEO of St Vincent de Paul itself; and last, but by no means least, Vickie Chapman, the member for Bragg and my local member of parliament. For those of you who do not know, she is a member of the Liberal Party.

In the case of homelessness, I know all sides of politics are committed to addressing this critical issue. This is beyond politics; it is an issue that touches all of us and our common humanity. I am delighted to be sponsoring South Australian Liberal parliamentarian Vickie Chapman’s sleep-out. I think it is terrific that she is doing this and she has my respect and support—moral and financial, but not political! They say the most intense hatreds are not between political parties but within them. Mr President, I can see you smiling there.

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

Will you sponsor me?

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I will sponsor you if you ask, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. That is certainly the case with the South Australian Liberals. Having said that, for a great cause and across party lines I am delighted to be able to contribute in some small way to Vicky’s discomfort on this particular night. If others would like to contribute to this worthy cause by sponsoring one of the participants, I refer people to the website at and I urge people to log on and make this commitment.