Darren Churchill: Social Justice speech to CES: 25 September, 2008

A speech by ACT Democrats President, Darren Churchill, to Christians for an Ethical Society, addressing Social Justice

I thank Heather and the CES for the invitation to speak tonight and I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it could be said that the Australian Democrats have done more than just a little bit of work on Social Justice.  Right from the beginning, my party was formed on the principles of honesty, tolerance and compassion, with policies based on common sense and fairness.

We are the true small “l” liberals, socially progressive, being a voice for Aboriginal reconciliation, human rights and refugees as well as championing the environment long before it was ever fashionable to do so.  In 2008, the ACT Democrats stand by those very same principles

The Australian Democrats have always taken a positive approach to Social Inclusion by recognising and responding to the diverse needs of all Australians, with particular emphasis on those in greatest need. We continue to do so.

Social inclusion is about social cohesion.  It is about creating a framework, whereby the poor, the marginalised, the oppressed, are provided with the opportunities to share in society’s prosperity, to participate in society.

It is the role of government to ensure that there is a safety net to protect those who slip through the cracks of our economic and social structures.

For many Canberrans the real threats to their security come from poverty, unemployment, and a lack of opportunity or poor access to services.

Among the ways the Government can act is by addressing the divides in our society. It can recognise the importance of diversity in the community sector.  Government should target programmes to those parts of the Territory where there is greatest need.

Government can move to reduce local clubs relying so heavily on gambling revenue, given the social impact of gambling. The ACT Democrats oppose further expansion of the ACT’s poker machine industry.  We advocate government assistance to problem gambling support services and believe that greater recognition can be shown to this very real issue and those who are affected by it.

The ACT Democrats will increase our stock of public and community housing, as well as providing increased funding and resources for homelessness shelters, halfway houses, and crisis accommodation. We acknowledge the increasing number of Canberrans put at risk of homelessness as a result of domestic violence and relationship break-up and will improve support services to help Canberrans transition safely from unsafe home environments into stable, affordable long-term housing.

Lack of transport is a barrier to participation for many Canberrans.  The Democrats will act to reverse the decline of our bus networks and implement an attractive comprehensive public transport system.  Buses that are accessible to all, where you want, when you want.

The Democrats will work to remove the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating in the full range of economic, community, and recreational activities that Canberra offers. We want greater support for children with disabilities so they can achieve their potential and for every child to have the opportunity for inclusion into a mainstream school setting if

that is their parents wish. Greater classroom support is needed so children with disabilities receive the full benefit of their education.

The Democrats strongly believe that the ACT Government should treat drug use and addiction as a health issue, base drugs policy on an evidence basis, and work to minimise the impact of drugs on the health and lives of users and their families. The Democrats support increased funding for alcohol, tobacco and other drug education in schools and the community with a focus on informed choice, the Democrats are committed to promoting additional methods of reducing the harm caused by tobacco and alcohol, and especially the use of these substances by children.

The Democrats welcome the initiative taken by the Federal Government in establishing a Social Inclusion Board.  We propose that a similar Social Inclusion Unit be set up in the Chief Minister’s Office here in the ACT and will take action to ensure that it is and that it’s work is consistent with the aims of it’s Charter.

The Democrats are pleased to see the Alexander Maconochie Centre ready to receive it’s first inmates.  It’s opening  will mean prisoners have greater access to their families and support networks, reducing the likelihood of recidivism by allowing prisoners to maintain the bonds that sustain human dignity.  It will allow the ACT to adopt world’s best practice in promoting rehabilitation within its prison system.  We welcome the operation of the prison on human rights principles.

The Democrats will act to ensure the prison maintains strong connections with community support agencies to ensure a smooth transition into the community and work after leaving the prison, as well as supporting the families of offenders.

We support and encourage programmes such as Alternatives to Violence and Restorative Justice.  We support efforts to tackle social disadvantage and inequality which are the social roots of offending.  Preventing crime by addressing the inequities that lead to crime is an important part of our justice, community safety and corrections platform.

The Democrats believe that ideally, drugs should be kept out of the new prison.  But recognising the fact that despite our best efforts, people do devise new and ingenious ways of getting drugs into prisons, we therefore support the adoption of harm minimisation approaches such as a needle exchange programme, believing the health of inmates and the safety of prison officers can be best protected in such a way.

We continue to be concerned about people with mental illnesses getting caught up in the court system, when the acts they were arrested for were done as a result of their illness.

We believe that the treatment of mentally ill people who come into contact with the police and judicial system can be considerably improved. The Democrats believe that police officers should be trained to work with people with mental illnesses, so they better deal with transporting or assisting people who are acutely ill.

The ACT Democrats recognise that demand for mental health services in

the ACT is increasing. We understand that good mental health is just as important for the ACT community as good physical health. We support increased resources for preventative programmes and early intervention to prevent chronic mental health problems developing.  Access to Mental Health support services is just as important inside a prison as in the wider community (in some ways even more important).  These services include access to mental health professionals, improving access to treatment (medication and counselling), and suicide prevention.

The Democrats have always aimed at achieving a balance between employer and employee.  The casualisation of much of the labour force has led to uncertainty of employment and little protection of income.  This has been highlighted recently by the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union in their campaign for a “fair deal for cleaners.”

The Democrats welcome the government’s agreement to implement reforms for contract cleaners.  But we question why it has taken so long and why has it only come about when an election looms large.

The Democrats support fairer pay and industry endorsed work rates.  We will implement contract clauses that allow continuity of employment, transportability of superannuation, sick and long-service leave provisions and ensure that casual workers are paid fairly and proportionately in comparison to their full-time colleagues.

The ACT Democrats support the protection and improvement of the urban and natural environment of our Bush Capital. We are committed to ensuring Canberra retains green space in the urban environment, improving residential and recreational amenity, and protecting remnant native vegetation.

The Democrats support measures to reduce emissions, including reducing energy use and reducing consumption of fossil fuels.

Water is an essential requirement for Canberra. The quality and quantity of water supplied is a major factor in the quality of life of Canberra residents. The

role of government is to develop a long term plan for the management of supply and demand at a reasonable cost to the community.

Especially in an era of climate change we all have to do our best at conserving water and preserving environmental flows, but increasing population numbers will undoubtedly require an increased supply and increased storage.

The Democrats will support the Cotter Dam enlargement and the proposed Angle Crossing to Googong Dam pipeline and provide an adequate water allocation for Canberra’s urban residents.

For better governance, the Democrats stand by our principle that Governments should be held to honour their election promises.  And recognise that a government has a mandate to govern and implement the platform it was elected to, but not to dictate or force through unfair legislation; it must be scrutinised and debated to “keep the bastards honest.”

We are the negotiators, the natural party of the cross-benches, the people who know how to make otherwise bad legislation into better, fairer legislation for all. We work for good outcomes. If laws are to be honest and just, the Assembly and the public must be given ample time to discuss all proposed legislation

These are just some of the measure that will begin to address how we build and strengthen local communities, support and empower families, and reduce disadvantage, lack of access and poverty and improve representation and democracy.

Our policies conform to what we call triple-bottom-line accounting practices which achieve a balance between competing economic, environmental and social objectives.

Thank you.

(This is the complete text of the speech.  An edited version was delivered to the CES due to a reduced time allocation).

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