Legislative Council: Wednesday, April 10, 2024


St Vincent de Paul Society

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. R.B. Martin:

That this council—

1. Recognises that 2024 marks the 140th year of the St Vincent de Paul Society;

2. Acknowledges the significant role that the St Vincent de Paul Society plays in assisting South Australia’s most marginalised and vulnerable people; and

3. Gives thanks to all past and present St Vincent de Paul employees, members and volunteers for their service.

(Continued from 7 March 2024.)

The Hon. S.L. GAME (17:40): I rise briefly to support the Hon. Reggie Martin's motion. Now in its 140th year, the St Vincent de Paul Society provides tremendous assistance to the community by raising money through corporate and private donations, government grants and the sale of clothing and household items through the Vinnies family centres.

Vinnies, as it is commonly known, boasts an army of dedicated volunteers and provides a wide range of services, including an emergency men's shelter and accommodation for those experiencing homelessness. Located in Whitmore Square, the shelter has been operating continuously since 1961 and provides meals, showers and a clean, safe and dignified environment. It also links men with other services that assist in breaking the cycle of homelessness.

Vinnies operates several disability vocational services, coordinating supported employment for people with intellectual or physical disabilities. The purpose is to provide an opportunity for people living with a disability to learn and develop skills through meaningful employment in a productive and positive environment. The Vinnies CEO Sleepout, held throughout Australia, promotes awareness of homelessness and raises funds to assist homeless people. It has raised millions of dollars to support the society's work for those facing homelessness. I commend the motion.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:42): I rise with great delight to support this particular motion. The St Vincent de Paul Society is one that I am quite familiar with, and I wish to commend them for the invaluable work they do for so many marginalised people in our community and for leveraging a lot of community networks, and other resources as well, to provide services that, if they were to be done by government, would cost an awful lot more and possibly not be done with as much compassion as the society does. I would like to acknowledge the people in the gallery, particularly Ms Evelyn O'Loughlin, the CEO, who is someone I have known for many years. She is doing a sterling job.

In terms of the history of the St Vincent de Paul Society, clearly we are acknowledging their 140th anniversary in South Australia. Some of the language has probably been modernised since then, I am not sure, but it is an international lay Catholic organisation to tackle poverty and disadvantage, assist people in need and combat social injustice. The St Vincent de Paul Society was founded in South Australia in 1884 and has been supporting people in need ever since. I understand that there are some 2½ thousand volunteers and members through some 61 conferences, with 145 paid staff.

Many people would be familiar with the Vinnies shops and some of the other services. I think it is worth talking a little bit about the structure in terms of there being some 34 shops statewide. I understand they are about to open up a new one at Noarlunga. Through those shops, they do not just provide discounted goods for people. In some ways it is an environmental service for people to be able to ensure that things that they no longer need find a new home, but also provide some mutual obligation services for volunteers.

Fred's Vans are reasonably familiar to a number of people, and a lot of people volunteer for those. There are some 10 vans in the city and country locations, providing 40,000 meals per annum. Another part of the structure of the society is the local conferences, which provide emergency and financial assistance through food, clothing, paying bills, ambulance cover and the like, so a lot of those bespoke services that vulnerable South Australians may need.

There is also the refugee and asylum centre and support to newly arrived migrants, which is incredibly important as sometimes the services provided by government do not cover all of those needs. People who are new arrivals to South Australia will need that social support as well to assist them to integrate into society and navigate their way around this new country that they have found themselves in.

The Hon. Ms Game mentioned the men's shelter. There is also a women's and children's shelter—and it also incorporates pets—of some 20 rooms, which is a relatively newish service. I think that is probably about five or six years old now. I am also grateful that Ms O'Loughlin provided me with some of the key statistics, which I think will impress people who are not so familiar with them.

Vinnies Assistance Visits has provided in this particular financial year over 57,000 instances of assistance through over 22,000 visits. The crisis women's centre that I mentioned provided accommodation to 332 women, 285 children and 84 pets. The men's crisis centre accommodation provided in the last financial year was 398 men.

The Open Door program provided support to 272 individuals. I have provided the statistics for Fred's Van. The Refugee and Asylum Seeker Service provided 2,750 instances of assistance, and through the 34 Vinnies Shops that I have already mentioned, there are over a thousand volunteers. It is very impressive work in our community that is contributing to the fabric of South Australia.

The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD (17:47): I rise to support the Hon. Reggie Martin's motion, recognising that 2024 marks the 140th year of St Vincent de Paul Society, acknowledging the significant role it has in assisting South Australia's most marginalised and vulnerable, and giving thanks to all past and present St Vincent de Paul employees, members and volunteers for their service, which has been truly extraordinary.

The St Vincent de Paul Society, or Vinnies, as most of us fondly refer to it, is a lay Catholic global organisation that was founded in 1833 in Paris, France, by a group of young people who desired to actively combat poverty and social disadvantage. It was established in South Australia in 1884, just 48 years after our state was officially settled, so many, many years ago.

As the mover of the motion mentioned, Vinnies now comprises over 2,500 members and volunteers in over 60 local networks, with 34 Vinnies stores throughout South Australia. Its numerous other establishments include two crisis centres: one in the centre of Adelaide catering to adult men, and one in our northern suburbs accommodating women, children and their pets.

Another one of its notable operations is the Vinnies Fred's Van meal service, which operates at 10 sites across the state, providing not only food but other basic essentials such as blankets and toiletries and, important to note, companionship as well, through cultivating greater connections with their community.

With the soaring cost-of-living and housing crisis South Australians are currently experiencing, we are certainly fortunate to have the many services that St Vincent de Paul Society offers. Their emergency assistance provides broad support to people struggling to cope with everyday living expenses by connecting them with a Vinnies volunteer in their local area. Through this personal contact, material and financial aid is given as needed, as well as friendship that can often bring much more than just simply a smile but adds comfort and hope to many people's lives. Where appropriate, Vinnies members also work with families and individuals to help break the cycle of poverty, which may occur through referral to other agencies or advocacy on their behalf.

The existence of faith-based organisations like St Vincent de Paul, whose operations are largely funded through donations, is paramount in taking some of the burden off the government of the day and supporting those in need. There are, of course, many of these charities that make an incredibly valuable contribution to our South Australian community, including the Salvation Army, AnglicareSA, UnitingCare SA and many more lesser known, smaller organisations.

One such organisation I wish to draw particular attention to is Pathway Community Centre, which is a subsidiary operation of Clovercrest Baptist Church in Modbury North. Along with some of my colleagues in this place and in the other place, I had the privilege of attending Pathway's grand open opening following substantial renovations to their facility just last month. Not unlike Vinnies, Pathway also aims to give practical assistance and hope to those facing hardship through relationship breakdown, domestic violence, drug abuse, homelessness, unemployment, grief, addiction, bankruptcy, illness and, of course, for other reasons.

Pathway accomplishes this by providing food hampers at no cost, low-cost clothing and furniture through its op shop, budgeting assistance, and referral to other services where necessary. Pathway also supports schools, churches and other community groups that directly work with vulnerable and marginalised people, which significantly expands its impact across their jurisdiction.

Working with Aldi, SecondBite and OzHarvest, Pathway team members collect food that would otherwise be disposed of from 16 local supermarkets. They sort and pack the unspoiled food into hampers for Pathway's clients and then make food unfit for human consumption available to local farmers to feed their livestock. Very little goes to waste.

This process, known as food rescue, not only provides much-needed fresh and packaged food at no cost to those who are facing food scarcity but also greatly reduces the amount of food waste. In 2023 alone, Pathway saved 713,505 kilograms of food, it is estimated, and distributed 42,873 hampers directly to its clients, with a further 4,694 hampers going to other organisations, totalling something like 47,000 hampers in total.

I was saddened to learn that on an average day Pathway has 120 families coming to its doors to receive a food hamper—120 families each day—with another 50 families being served through other groups and organisations that it works alongside. I am also told that the increases in demand for Pathway's services have risen dramatically in the past year and in the month of February Pathway saw no less than 148 new families becoming clients.

We should be very thankful for the incredible efforts and achievements of faith-based charity organisations in South Australia, and I congratulate in particular the St Vincent de Paul Society for the many decades it has helped countless families and individuals facing hardship in our state. It is a true and commendable depiction of faith in action. I commend them.

The Hon. T.T. NGO (17:52): I rise to speak in support of this motion to recognise that 2024 marks the 140th year of the St Vincent De Paul Society. It is an honour to commend and celebrate the St Vincent de Paul Society, or, as they are often fondly called, Vinnies. They have played a significant role in the lives of so many South Australians during the past 14 decades, including my own.

The St Vincent De Paul Society (Vinnies) is an international voluntary organisation that was formed in 1833 in Paris, France, to help impoverished people living in the slums. In Australia, Vinnies was first established in Melbourne in 1854 and then spread to every state and territory. In South Australia it was formed in 1884 and this year marks the 140th anniversary. Every day, Vinnies serves thousands of Australians who need help.

I will speak about Vinnies from my own perspective and lived experience. During the late 1970s and 1980s, the Vietnamese refugees fleeing communist Vietnam began arriving on boats to Australia's shores or by plane from overseas refugee camps. Although I was only a young boy I can still remember the kindness and practical assistance the Vietnamese community received from organisations such as Vinnies. Many Vietnamese were virtually destitute on arrival and faced an uphill battle to find work and accommodation while also trying to adjust and come to grips with largely Western values in a strange new world.

A family friend of mine, Mr Michael Nghiep Nguyen, who is now in his 80s, arrived in Adelaide in 1977 and a year later he joined the Vinnies conference at Hindmarsh. He would visit disadvantaged families to give them food vouchers. Michael, like many other Vietnamese refugees, wanted to give back to the Australian community by volunteering for Vinnies. Michael told me that when he started out with Vinnies in the seventies, he remembers going to a house one night and the people refused to open the door. Later, the police came to question him, thinking he was trying to steal something because he had 'an Asian face'. Things have certainly changed since then; Australia today is a much more unified multicultural nation.

As for myself, I joined the Vinnies Croydon conference in 2006 through my local church, St Margaret Mary's, when they were calling out for volunteers to continue the service. For several years I was part of the visitation scheme, where Vinnies volunteers visited disadvantaged households in the local area to offer emergency food vouchers. Later, I became the president of the conference and was able to encourage a few of my Labor friends to volunteer for Vinnies. This gave us the opportunity to experience firsthand the struggles that many people in our community were facing. More importantly, this experience gave us a sense of satisfaction as we realised we were able to make a small difference to someone's life.

Some members in this chamber will remember my involvement in the Vietnamese Boat People Monument, which is located on the Adelaide Riverbank. The monument was a symbolic gesture of thanks from Vietnamese refugees to express the gratitude we hold close to our hearts for the opportunities and help that Australia and Australians have given us.

I was founder and co-chair of the Vietnamese Boat People Monument Association, and once the monument had been erected in its place and the project had been completed, there was money remaining; in fact, we had a leftover balance of around $50,000. When thinking of what could be done with the leftover funds, the Vietnamese community decided that the money should be donated to Vinnies as a way of repaying their generosity towards Vietnamese refugees.

I thought the idea fitted perfectly with the aims and objectives of the Vietnamese Boat People Monument project, so I contacted Vinnies. At that time, I was aware of the Vinnies House of Welcome program, which operates from a small office in Kilburn near where I live. The House of Welcome program is set up to help asylum seekers who are seeking refuge in Australia. These are people who do not get assistance such as Medicare, Centrelink or housing from the Australian government. Through this program, Vinnies helps with emergency food, assistance with rent, advocacy and training.

I was given a tour of the House of Welcome and spoke with volunteers, staff and clients. I was advised that the House of Welcome operated on a shoestring budget, with most of the funds being donated by the public. I also learned that they needed money to trial and expand a training program to include a range of practical short courses to help asylum seekers find employment. The House of Welcome staff believed that helping asylum seekers develop skills that could lead to a job, instead of providing cash handouts, would assist them to become productive members of our Australian community.

After the visit I had a conversation with then CEO of Vinnies, Ms Louise Miller-Frost, about Vinnies finding new funds to match the Vietnamese Boat People Monument donation of $50,000. A few days later, I got a call from the CEO and was told they had secured more than $50,000 after contacting donors from their supporters list. This resulted in the House of Welcome receiving more than $100,000 to expand their job training program.

I would like to summarise some information provided to me by Ms Emma Yengi, Coordinator, Vinnies Refugee and Asylum Seeker Service, and also share a few refugee success stories from the House of Welcome program. Ms Yengi told me, and I quote:

Due to the generous donations in 2021 made by the Vietnamese Boat People Monument Association, Vinnies Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support Service has continued to support companions to gain qualifications leading towards employment.

Ms Yengi informed me that a formal partnership has been established with the following educational institutions:

AUCTUS, a training organisation that provides the House of Welcome with certificates in individual support;

Maxima, an employment agency;

TAFE SA, a provider of various certificates and qualifications; and

the Access Training Centre, which offers practical courses such as forklift operations and truck driving.

I also learned from Vinnies recently that the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Service has provided job training for around 50 companions in the following areas:

medical examinations for two doctors, including transferring medical qualifications from Iraq;

forklift qualifications for five men;

truck driving qualifications for three men;

Certificate III in Individual Support for four women;

white card for work, health and safety training in the construction industry for five men;

police clearances and working with children security checks for eight individuals;

certificate III in security;

interpreting qualification NAATI national certification;

dental technology training;

food safety qualification;

TAFE baking certificate;


beauty certificate;

maths tutoring and laptop for a university student; and

eyelash application certificate.

Vinnies staff have told me that those courses, and I quote, 'have changed lives and brought about financial independence inspiring a sense of achievement, belonging and wellbeing'.

To demonstrate how lives have been changed, a husband and wife from Iraq, both doctors, were supported by the House of Welcome and have now both gained employment in Western Australia. The program provided the support for them to establish their professional lives in Australia while also helping out with rent, utilities and food support. They have now gone on to work and give back to Australian communities.

There are more success stories. In another one, a Sri Lankan man recently released from seven years' detention has reunited with his wife and three children and found employment as a forklift driver after the House of Welcome funded his certificate and training.

Another success story tells how a woman and her young daughter from Papua New Guinea seeking asylum and fleeing domestic violence were helped with food, rental and utilities assistance while she completed certificate III. With individual support within Vinnies' education program, this woman is now employed by Resthaven as a lifestyle attendant. Although she is still on a bridging visa, she can provide for her young daughter and begin a new life.

As did a man from Afghanistan, who completed a Vinnies-funded bakers course at TAFE. He now works in Kilburn in an Afghan bakery and recently received his permanent visa. He is applying to bring his family to Australia so his family are also part of his new life in Australia.

I and many other Australian Vietnamese are moved beyond words when we hear of how the House of Welcome's donation funding transforms the lives of Australian asylum seekers from all parts of the world. In celebrating Vinnies' 140 years, we must ensure this commendable institution has the support it needs to sustain this incredible service and life-changing assistance.

I want to put on the record that Vinnies members and staff played and integral role in the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees, and as those success stories tell us, Vinnies continue to play an important part in the lives of Australia's migrants. In fact, we all know of the huge impact Vinnies is still having on improving the day-to-day life of many disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and families.

I take this opportunity to thank members of the public and Vinnies' supporters for their generous donations. I also want to extend a special thank you to Vinnies' current CEO, Ms Evelyn O'Loughlin, who is here with us and with some of her staff, and to all Vinnies staff and volunteers. I offer a big welcome to those who have also joined us in the chamber today. In closing, I thank the Hon. Reggie Martin for introducing this motion and offer my full support.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (18:06): A great deal has been said on this motion in regard to the outstanding work of the St Vincent de Paul Society over many years. One hundred and forty years is an amazing achievement, but, even more importantly, 140 years of work for disadvantaged South Australians is a huge commitment and investment in our state. The statistics today have been outlined in terms of the number of meals served, the number of home visitations and the number of programs that have been undertaken, and those stats are both impressive and almost incredible.

I will briefly touch on a more localised experience. My husband talks very strongly about his growing up in a neighbourhood that had a lot of new migrants in it, such as his family, in the 1960s and 1970s. He saw the assistance that was given and the number of home visitations to people who were really struggling, partly because of arriving in a new country and partly because of economic challenges. This led his father, my late father-in-law, to be a volunteer for Vinnies, and I understand he was a volunteer for many years. My husband then continued as a member of that conference to volunteer himself as a young man. It was about social justice, it was about faith in action, and it is something that he says has been incredibly meaningful in his life and ever since.

I feel that almost everything that needs to be said about Vinnies and their amazing work has been said, so I will conclude simply by saying: I thank and commend Vinnies, their staff, their members, their volunteers past and present and also, I am sure, into the future. South Australia is enriched by your work and I thank you.

The Hon. R.B. MARTIN (18:08): I would like to start by thanking those members who made a contribution to this motion: the Hon. Sarah Game, the Hon. Michelle Lensink, the Hon. Mr Dennis Hood, the Hon. Clare Scriven, and special thanks to the Hon. Mr Tung Ngo. He gets the special thanks because, unfortunately, I was remiss in my speech when I introduced this bill—I thanked a few people who had got me involved in this, not remembering that it was actually Tung Ngo who was the person who started all of this and actually recruited the people who recruited me. I would like to thank Tung for all of his work with St Vinnies and for bringing more people in to help and pay back. It was great to hear your story today about why you got involved.

It is an amazing organisation that does such great work. I would also like to place on the record my thanks to all the staff at St Vinnies as well for the great work that they do, the selfless work that they do. South Australia, Australia, everywhere where St Vinnies operates is a better place for the work that you all do. On behalf of myself and all those speakers, thank you again. I commend this motion.

Motion carried.