Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Launch of St Vincent de Paul Society Doorknock Appeal

Location: Canberra

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I would first like to acknowledge the Ngambri and Ngunawal people on whose land we meet. It is impossible to stand here tonight without speaking about the tragedy of the Victorian bushfires. Over the last days I’ve met survivors, fire fighters and volunteers in many towns – Whittlesea, Yea, Alexandra, Wallan and Traralgon.

I’ve heard their extraordinary stories of escape and survival and their tragic stories of loss. On Sunday I spoke a woman who was waiting to hear the fate of her family. Many people are still waiting – it’s an agonising time for them. I’ve heard accounts of modest heroes neighbours, friends, fire fighters, strangers who risked their lives to save the lives of others. But even in these early days, despite their terrible loss, there is hope for the future. These communities aren’t about to give up.

They are already planning and thinking about how they can go back and start again. They want to get back to their towns and farms. Already farmers are out in their paddocks – assessing their losses but also getting down to work. Those whose homes are still standing are taking in those who have no home.

They are re-gathering and re-grouping. Their losses are enormous, but they haven’t lost their sense of community. Bound together by courage, sacrifice and an incomparable generosity of spirit. The same generosity of spirit and determination which, at a national level, is driving our national response. And which drives organisations like yours.

I think it’s fair to say that while we are still a nation in shock we are also a nation mobilised to help. Ready and willing to tackle the huge task ahead. To help people rebuild the bricks and mortar of their lives, to accommodate their indestructible spirit of community. Because overwhelmingly that spirit of community, the notion of belonging, of reaching out will never be destroyed – not by even the fiercest flames.

At the forefront, organisations like St Vinnies. Demonstrating your tried and tested capacity to respond at a moment’s notice, to move seamlessly into top gear to offer immediate help and support. In the immediate aftermath, arranging the collection and distribution of essentials like food and basic necessities. But, as always, St Vinnies will be there to help on the long road to recovery. Assisting and supporting communities for months and years to come.

Tonight, you are launching your Doorknock appeal for the Canberra/Queanbeyan/Goulburn area. An appeal that has now been running – very successfully – for 27 years. I hope everyone can dig a little deeper than in previous years, so that your target of $400,000 will be reached – and, hopefully, exceeded. It is only through the unstinting assistance of your volunteers that this doorknock appeal has been so successful in the past. In past years more than 2000 people have taken to the streets to raise money for St Vinnies.

People who are happy to give without expecting anything in return. Often too, it’s people struggling to make ends meet who insist on donating the little they have because, they say, “there is always someone worse off than me”. We’ve seen this in recent days in response to the Victorian bushfires. People donating their recent economic stimulus payments to the bushfire appeal; kids offering the contents of their piggy banks; a woman in Darwin using her holiday leave to go and help.

I understand too, from Bob Wilson, your CEO, that much of the money you raise in this doorknock will be going to Victoria. Australia is digging deep to help.

For these people, such terrible events could not have come at a worse time. A time when the global financial crisis is continuing and many people’s livelihoods are threatened.

A key element of the Government’s economic stimulus is $6.4 billion for 20,000 new social housing units – the vast majority completed by December next year. This will support jobs across the country, at the same time providing much needed accommodation for those who so desperately need it.

It’s a long, long overdue investment in houses for low-income Australians and people struggling in the rental market. The thousands on public housing waiting lists who wait far too long. Age pensioners with little left over after they pay the rent, people with disability, carers, Indigenous Australians, women and children escaping domestic violence. I know I am preaching to a room full of converts when I say that giving the most vulnerable Australians a decent roof over their heads – gives them safety, security and dignity. It’s the means to escape often crippling social isolation, the chance to build a better life, get an education and participate in the workforce.

The Government recognises the enormous contribution made by the community sector.

Of course funding is important. But what’s just as important is the leadership you show – the great role model you are for others.

I know, as part of your doorknock, whole families volunteer to collect together – parents teaching by example.

And local schools who’ve support you every year – for the boys from Canberra Grammar School this is their 25th year.

Congratulations to all of you, best of luck with the doorknocking and special thanks to the volunteers who make it all happen.