Bringing visibility to the poor – Vinnies CEO Dr John Falzon, Chief Executive Officer of St Vincent de Paul Society’s National Council is among the outstanding Australians recognised in this year’s Queen’s Birthday honours.
Outspoken and fearless in his advocacy for the poor, marginalised and disadvantaged, Dr Falzon who has been Vinnies CEO since 2006, has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his service to the community through welfare organisations.
According to Sydney Archdiocese, while he is honoured at receiving an OAM, his greatest privilege and honour is meeting and talking with people who entrust their stories to Vinnies. These stories he says are essential in helping to identify the structural causes of injustice and to do something about this
“I am privileged to be part of a massive and wonderful movement for collective social justice and social change at the St Vincent de Paul Society,” he says.
Dr Falzon also gives thanks to his family for giving him a strong sense of social justice along with the understanding that real change only comes about collectively.
“The people I meet rather than thinking about themselves, despite being in dire straits with odds stacked against them due to inequality and rising unemployment, think of others and put them first,” he says.
Whether it is a single mum thinking of her children and going without food herself so they can eat, or a young unemployed person who desperately wants to give to the community and help in some way, are typical examples of the selflessness of the people Dr Falzon encounters.
The first thought of those who have been among the long term unemployed and who have finally landed a job, frequently want to donate to charity even when they have just come out of “quite extreme poverty” themselves, he says.
“These people are absolutely inspirational. Rather than demonising people who suffer from inequality we should be absolutely saluting them as the heroes in our midst,” he insists and expresses his deep concern at the increase in inequality, unemployment and under employment under the current and previous Federal Governments.
“Sadly, inequality ends up manifesting itself through some extreme symptoms such as homelessness, and in some causes high rates of imprisonment of young people, particularly of young people from the First Peoples of this land,” Dr Falzon says and cites recent findings released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics which found that although Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders make up just 3% of Australia’s population, they accounted for 30% of the prison population in 2014.
Equally disturbing was the fact that 48% of all juveniles in custody last year were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with many of these incarcerated for petty theft and minor offences.
“Advocacy in Australia is enormously important,” Dr Falzon says warning that if we allow governments to try to shut down advocacy, or shoot the messengers, we do so at our own peril as a society.
“We are a very rich nation and we have a wonderful tradition of aspiring for a fair go. So let’s make this a reality,” he urges.