Justice, Opportunity and Shared Wealth for all South Australians

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75 years fighting for fairness

The CEO and Chair report, SACOSS Annual Report 2021-22

As you will have no doubt noticed this is our – well not ours but SACOSS’ - 75th Annual Report. And what a proud history in leading the fight against poverty and disadvantage sits amongst the work of those 75 years. Originally born out of growing concern for the “children of nobody”, community leaders in 1943/1944 established the Youth Welfare Coordinating Council (YWCC) and by 1946, modelled loosely on the British Council of Social Service, a resolution was carried which saw the YWCC incorporated “into a wider body representing interests concerned with the social welfare of the community as a whole” – being the SA Council of Social Services.

Critics accused the Council of snobbishness in choosing many of its office bearers from the upper echelons of Adelaide society, but as historian Michael Page notes, “In fact it made sense. People of influence could open many doors for an organisation still finding its feet and with barely enough money for running costs”.

At that time there were SACOSS standing committees for youth, churches, rehabilitation, marriage guidance, films, and the publication of a regular bulletin, and groups were being planned to deal with the problems of war neurosis, immigration, discharged prisoners and the welfare of mental patients.

Now, across this Annual Report you’ll find references to items drawn from the historical record, and you might be forgiven for imagining that the world hasn’t changed much – the social issues that brought those community leaders together in the 40s are echoed in the social issues we continue to face today. Our concerns for not just the children but equally the adults of nobody remain as central to our purpose as it was 75 years ago.

As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, which more often than not had the impact of heightening the vulnerability of people who were already experiencing poverty, inequality and injustice, we now face the very real possibility of recession.

Importantly, despite an atmospheric change in openness and dialogue from newly-elected governments at both state and federal levels, their capacity to invest in action that genuinely addresses some long-standing social policy gaps, is actively undermined by promises not to introduce/ increase taxes.

SACOSS has long argued that our governments need a reliable and adequate tax base, repeatedly noting that without taxes vital services simply disappear – especially social and community services! It remains right and proper that those of us who have the capacity pay our fair share, recognising that paying taxes allows our governments to invest in the things that are good for us individually and collectively as a community.

In the lead-up to this year’s state election, the SACOSS Board took time to think carefully about both our Strategic Plan and the critical issues we felt needed to be taken up by whoever formed the next government. One of the key issues to emerge was the idea that we urgently needed to do more work on changing the narrative about poverty.

Over the past few decades we have seen a huge increase in rhetoric that leaves poverty blamed on the person experiencing it rather than on the many systemic issues that result in people being in those circumstances. Acknowledgement of the power of inequality has been suppressed, and dialogue about the deserving and undeserving poor has proliferated.

On the back of events like the 2001 “Tampa affair” and the characterisation of desperate refugees as invading boat people, discrimination and racism across Australia has seemingly been emboldened. Despite national referendums supporting marriage equality, members of the LGBTIQA+ community experience continuing discrimination. People living with disability are still not being welcomed and included. Far too often, care for our elders is of a completely inadequate standard. One in six children in Australia are living in poverty. And women commonly don’t have the incomes nor the standing of men. Community attitudes to people in need of support have become much harsher. And – as Robodebt has demonstrated for people who need financial assistance to cover the basics because they have been unable to find work – our systems are much more punitive.

Like many of the community leaders who were present for the birth of SACOSS, our Board of today all felt this pervasive problematic narrative could not be ignored, and that we must all work to change this narrative. It must be a strategic priority for our work over the next few years and, in doing so, it remains imperative that we continue to amplify the voices of those people who have a direct experience of poverty and disadvantage.

A similar imperative surrounds the call made by First Nations leaders from across Australia in shaping the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Several centuries on from white people’s arrival, the impacts of colonisation are writ large in the lives of Aboriginal people. The Statement from the Heart is a gift – an invitation for us all to join in supporting a First Nations Voice to Parliament, to engage in telling the truth about our colonial past, and to work to treaty and Makarrata - a complex Yolngu word describing a process of conflict resolution, peacemaking and justice-seeking.

Much of our sector’s work across time is embedded in colonial practice, and we have a real opportunity to bring this out from the shadows and to listen and understand what this has meant for our relationships with First Nations people. Moreover, we can learn how we must shape our work and partnerships into the future.

There is no doubt in our minds that if we can engage in this process honestly and earnestly, as individuals, as a sector, and as a community, we can definitely shape a different future – a future that shifts the narrative and also has the possibility of shifting the burden of poverty that has sat far too disproportionately on the shoulders of many First Nations/Aboriginal people.

And if we can do this, then we are just as likely to hit on the recipe to shift poverty, inequality and injustice in all its forms.

With our enormous thanks for the outstanding work of our secretariat team this year, our fellow Board members, and the members of our Policy Council, who all continue to devote time to supporting and guiding our work. We particularly want to thank Robyn Sutherland, who has stepped down from the Board after 2 years of fantastic contributions, and Dr Catherine Earl, who after 12 years in key SACOSS policy roles has moved on to a new role, with our very best wishes.

As importantly, if you look at the inside front and back covers of this year’s Annual Report, you’ll see some special names. These are the names of office bearers - past chairs, presidents, secretaries, executive directors, and CEOs of SACOSS’ 75 years.

These leaders all made major contributions that we honour. And they are also just the tip of the iceberg. Were we to name all the amazing people who helped in our work across these past decades, the report would be more than full of them alone. So thank you to all who have joined and served SACOSS as we have sought fairness, and in the hope there are many more yet to come.

With our thanks and in solidarity,

Ross Womersley

David Panter

You can read our full 2021-22 Annual Report here


Published Date: 
Thursday, 1 December 2022