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    « Being 'un-Australian' | Main | Snowshoeing »
    Tuesday
    Aug292017

    No fixed address

    Women on the streets ... Crime and  homelessness ... Melbourne City Council's plans to roundup rough sleepers to improve "pedestrian flow" ... Slavery, human trafficking and people smuggling ... Peach Melba on political compassion   

    IN August, a five-bedroom Toorak estate sold for $40 million. A princely sum, given that one can buy a 16-bedroom chateau in the Loire Valley (complete with 18th century chapel) for less than €2.5 million. 

    Melbourne's youths have resigned themselves to decades of renting. Last week, SBS’s Insight illuminated the plight of another demographic that has been priced out of Australian property: women over 55. 

    The program interviewed several women and a common theme emerged - none thought that they would ever be in the position where they were homeless. Many had lived securely for decades, until losing a job, or a relationship breakdown, left them with little superannuation and in extremely dire financial straits. 

    The average female has nearly half the superannuation of males in equivalent positions. The program revealed that the number of older women accessing support for homelessness has increased by 17 percent over 2014-2016, more than the 13 percent for older men. 

    At the start of the year, Melbourne City Council Acting CEO Martin Cutter presented a report to the Future Melbourne (Finance and Governance) Committee proposing amendments to the Activities Local Law. 

    Clause 2.8 would read simply "a person must not camp in or on any public place" - removing a proviso which meant the clause only applied to people in temporary or provisional accommodation such as a tent or vehicle. 

    This effectively bans sleeping on the street. The rationale is to address "amenity, pedestrian flow, the open use of drug paraphernalia and aggressive begging". 

    The MCC endorsed the amendments in February and then commenced a period of public consultation. It received 2,556 submissions, which  appears to be more than it had anticipated. 

    A March report by the committee noted that around 90 percent of the submissions expressed negative views about the proposed amendments. This is unsurprising; such is human psychology that constituents who feel indifferent or pleased about legislation are less likely to make the time and effort to write to the government. 

    On July 19, the committee postponed its decision to September 20, 2017 to consider these submissions. This is the third adjournment. It will also consider whether the proposed changes are compatible with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights.

    No-one wants to see Melbournians living on the street, especially in winter where night-time temperatures are bitterly cold by Australian standards. Yet, to ban sleeping rough is politically lazy. Why not try to staunch the issue at its source? Homelessness is not an issue the Melbourne City Council can solve on its own. Levels of government need to work together. 

    I'm told it's the same in Sydney and other hotspots.  

    The women on Insight described feeling powerless and lonely that they could not afford accommodation, and degraded at having to live off Newstart or the pension. 

    Trailing female homelessness is the troubling shadow of a rise in criminal activity. Trends in female offending show that the most significant factor that contributed to a return to prison was housing instability, including homelessness. 

    Women who reported being homeless after being released from prison were more than twice as likely to be incarcerated again. 52 percent of Victorian female prisoners reported "sleeping rough" or living in emergency accommodation prior to being incarcerated, and over 40 percent of female prisoners in Victoria are homeless upon release from prison. 

    Disadvantaged individuals need options. Yet there are over 195,000 applicants on waiting lists for social housing. 

    Homeless woman in Melbourne: options needed (The Age)

    One of the women featured on Insight described how she worked as a live-in housekeeper for over 25 years and when her elderly employer died she had to leave what had been her home for a quarter of a century. 

    A charity helped her find accommodation. The audience was clearly shocked when this lady described how she had worked for her board, not for wages. The Australian government has indicated that it is amenable to passing a Modern Slavery Act: clearly there is still a long way to go for worker's rights, and extraordinarily enough this legislation is necessary. 

    This month, parliament's joint standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade released an interim report recommending that the Australian government support a Modern Slavery Act and establish an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. 

    Slavery, it notes, includes not only trafficking but domestic servitude, wage exploitation and child labour. A proposed focus of the legislation is on supply chain reporting requirements. Mandatory transparency in supply chains would have important ramifications for improving women's rights: approximately 80 percent of global garment workers are women. 

    Julie Bishop has expressed her support, stating:

    "It is an intolerable fact that slavery exists in the 21st century through bonded labour, through labour market exploitation [and] through slavery-like conditions." 

    The Australian government wishes to help victims of human trafficking, which it seems "is a very different crime" to people smuggling. 

    Of course, deception is not completely absent from people smuggling - for example, asylum seekers are often told to throw their passports overboard, leaving them without any identity documentation when they arrive in Australia. 

    The Australian government naturally needs to treat the two crimes as distinct, because its treatment of smuggled persons is unconscionable. The Australian Medical Association reported last week that several women in immigration detention in Nauru have had their requests for abortions refused. 

    Compassion from politicians is a scarce commodity. 

    From Elif Sekercioglu 

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