Monday, 20 June 2011
CEO Sleep-out, Penrith Valley Fund Business Sleepers
It is not very often, as Senator Faulkner would know, that I would stand in the chamber and say, 'Go Tigers' but on this occasion I can certainly acknowledge the value of the walk team for the trail walk that he and his fellow Tigers put together, and I have been known to support it myself in the past. Last Thursday night—
Senator Faulkner interjecting—
My absolute pleasure.
Thank you very much, Mr President. Last Thursday night, 256 chief executive officers and a few politicians—including the Hon. Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, and Minister Mark Arbib—slept out at Luna Park in Sydney to raise funds for St Vincent de Paul's work with respect to homelessness and to raise awareness of homelessness. Across all the capital cities in Australia, a total of 1,001 CEOs and, I suspect, a few attendant politicians, slept out for the night for that very worthy cause.
The initiative of the CEO sleep-out was, I am proud to say, started by Penrith business executive Bernard Fehon. It is a great initiative and in New South Wales alone this year it raised over $1.4million. Anyone who has met Bernard knows just how passionate and committed he is to this issue and, as I said, the fact that it was started by a Penrith local is particularly notable for me.
Attracting slightly less publicity, perhaps, but just as important an initiative was the Penrith Valley Fund Business Sleepers event at the Penrith Paceway on 3 June this year. It was the end of a very cold, wet week, and sleepers were consigned to the concrete areas surrounding the paceway rather than the quagmire that was the centre of the track. I have to say that the paceway takes on a rather eerie perspective in the early hours of the morning if you are used to seeing it on a regular trots night, a Panthers' game night when they are playing across the road or when the markets are there.
Credit for the organisation of that sleep-out, the Penrith Valley Fund Business Sleepers event, goes very much to Richard Eastmead from the Good Guys at Penrith and their absolutely indefatigable marketing manager, Gai Hawthorn. In terms of participation, there were over 40 local business people and members of parliament, including myself; Tanya Davies, the newly elected state member for Mulgoa; and Stuart Ayres, the state member for Penrith. We had the Good Guys team in numbers. We had local newspaper editors, florists, bankers, club management from the paceway, website designers and business advisers, again, including Bernard Fehon and many others.
It was particularly good to meet some of the tireless local community and volunteer workers who were there to talk to us and give us their perspective on homelessness, about their regular nightly work, about who they meet and their circumstances and the challenges that they face. It was also instructive and, to say the least, enlightening to speak with some of the local men who are struggling with the nightly challenge of homelessness themselves. Even more instructive, I have to say, was a conversation with Malcolm, who is regarded as one of the local community and voluntary workers' success stories. He had been out of work for a very long period of time and homeless for an extended period, and he related a number of those stories with great pride as he was able to stand in front of us and tell us about the job he had recently acquired, about his consistent accommodation and how that had changed his life very much for the better. All of the participants contributed a small sum towards swags for the homeless and essentials packs put together, as I said, by Gai Hawthorn for the Good Guys.
It was a cold night but not the coldest, and the concrete, even with our cardboard base, was cold and hard but not unbearable—all of this was nothing compared to the experiences of those who sleep rough every night, hundreds of them in places like Penrith and Parramatta.
I particularly want to acknowledge the great community spirit and effort of Richard Eastmead and his team. This was their first sleep-out, but it does not matter, it seems to me, whether it is homelessness, the World's Biggest Morning Tea, the setting up of the Penrith Valley Community Fund, the work of the local community kitchen or the support of the Fusion Youth Services, Richard and his team are there and, so to speak, they absolutely put their money where their mouth is. They make an amazing contribution, and he is an amazing contributor. It is an admirable commitment to community which shows the very high personal regard in which Richard is held across the city of Penrith and much further afield.
One of the reasons I speak about this activity tonight, in addition to the CEO sleep-out from last week, is that these awareness-raising activities are invaluable for showing the rest of our local community and Australia, and corporate and political leaders, some of the realities of homelessness. It can be on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald or our local Nepean News. The story about a sleep-out by local community members does have an impact. I have had people raise it with me since then in the street, at functions, in the gym and in conversation amongst friends. It makes a real difference to how people think about homelessness and in fact whether people think about homelessness. It makes a real difference to their level of awareness. My first real awareness of the challenge of chronic homelessness in Australia was crystallised in 1989 by what was then known as the Burdekin report from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, with its focus on youth homelessness and on the lack of state-federal coordination in this area. It became a real focus of my policy interest as someone involved in the youth wing of my political party, probably much to the irritation of the then coalition shadow ministers in the portfolio. It is perhaps somewhat ironic that we have come full circle to a point where I am now the shadow minister for housing myself and I can irritate myself with my obsession, I suppose.
I also want to refer briefly tonight to the Nepean Youth Accommodation Service, an invaluable service which local Penrith identity and board member George Rabie introduced me to some years ago. I attended the NYAS, as they are known, members dinner in Penrith recently. It was held both to acknowledge the work that NYAS and their manager, Joe Magri, do and, again, to raise awareness of their work amongst business, the media and the broader community in the Penrith area. They have operated in the region since 1989. They deliver support services and accommodation options to young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness or of entering the child protection system.
One of the things I particularly like about NYAS is their vision for their clients. It is pretty simple, really. It is: 'That young people and young families are included as part of their local community.' It is not until you think about how often many of us would take that feeling for granted that you realise what a basic aspect of our lives it is that is not present in the lives of those who are homeless. From personal observation, Joe Magri, by his example, leads a highly dedicated team who are passionate about the kids they support. Whether it is through their refuge accommodation, their young parents program or their Nepean Youth College, they are changing lives. I have met some of their clients and several gave presentations on the night: Shane, Melanie, Gerard, and Rebecca and Andrew. They each have very different but very profound experiences of homelessness and all acknowledged the importance of NYAS to their lives and to their futures.
I particularly noted the role of the Nepean Youth College in the support of these young people. It is a tutorial centre for young people who have disengaged from formal education. The passion with which some of them spoke about the chance to complete their basic high school education—to make those steps which, again, so many people take for granted—was incredibly compelling.
NYAS has a strong, community based, elected board and they work very hard to maintain links between their organisation and service providers and other community groups and to work in partnership with all of them. They are absolutely vital local relationships. As Joe Magri has emphasised to me, they illustrate the strong importance of the government response to homelessness, at both state and federal levels, as being a whole-of-government response. I know that in parliamentary offices like ours and in other chambers across Australia, constituents are regularly coming forward with their own challenges of housing affordability and homelessness, and still more are falling between the service cracks. Organisations like NYAS provide a vital support and service in our communities and I absolutely commend them tonight on the job they do.
These small, local efforts, reported in people's local papers or in the national dailies, sometimes do make us stop and think. The community contribution that individuals make from their own businesses, from their own families and, essentially, from their own hearts and minds makes all the difference to how we are able to support those who need our support.