Interview: Baby Bust
Safety: Dust To Dust
Bad Boss: Shaming in Print
National Focus: Work's Cripplin' Us
International: Bulk Bullies
History: The Battle for Kelly's Bush
Economics: Aid, Trade And Oil
Review: The Art Of Work
Poetry: Sew His Lips Together
Saving The Planet
The Carr-Refshauge Labor Government has been in power in New South Wales for nine years this month. It's facing some of the biggest challenges in all that time, including a chaotic rail network, State hospitals facing inquiries, unpopular local government reform and complex legislation issues such as workplace fatalities.
These problems are not insurmountable.
One of the most challenging areas facing the State Government was brought into focus by the so-called riots in Redfern in mid-February.
The whole melting pot of problems in the Redfern/Waterloo area, in the indigenous and non-indigenous parts of the community, has been bubbling away for as long as New South Wales has been around.
The dust is settling uneasily because there's a teenage boy's tragic death, fractured relations with the Police, a list of social problems a mile long and overall a fairly pessimistic outlook on the situation.
It's easy to forget that the civil unrest and dissent are symptoms and not causes.
That's why it is a positive step that Parliament's Social Issues Committee has been charged with the task of inquiring into the following issues in the Redfern/Waterloo area: policing, government programs, the needs of the local community and the future of "The Block".
Labor colleague Jan Burnswoods MLC has long been the chair of the Social Issues Committee and I have been a member since 2000. The Committee has done much good work during the past nine years.
Recently the Committee has reported on Child Protection Services, Early Intervention into Learning Difficulties and Community Housing, all of which are relevant to the indigenous community. At the moment, the Committee is inquiring into the outdated Inebriates Act, relating to the treatment substance abuse and now Redfern/Waterloo issues.
The Committee is currently taking submissions on Redfern/Waterloo issues and will conduct hearings with witnesses, formulate a report with recommendations to the Government and receive a response from the Government by about the end of this year.
It's not enough just to realise that there are problems with jobs, education, poverty, child abuse, substance abuse, violence and crime in the Redfern/Waterloo area. Finding a way of addressing the causes of those problems is the key. It's what a Labor Government's existence is all about.
With the help of the Redfern/Waterloo community, I am optimistic that the inquiry won't just be another bunch of pollies sitting around the table solving the world's problems. The recommendations must be realistic to encourage the Government to improve the situation in Redfern/Waterloo with active local participation and ownership.
The Government has responded positively to the Committee's work in the past. In December 2002, the Government committed an additional $1.2 Billion over 5 years towards the Department of Community Services Budget after recommendations from the Social Issues Committee.
That's what addressing core social issues is about and there needs to be a lot more of it. There's no serious alternative.
John Brogden is a fool if he thinks demolishing "The Block" is any sort of solution. This is typical of the Conservative approach to complex social problems--they have no social agenda of their own and therefore no solutions. All they can offer is destructive wedge politics.
If only they recognised that the chances that the working class have often missed out on--a decent education, an opportunity to work, even food on the table--were just as important and relevant to Aboriginal people, they might change their tune. But I'm not holding my breath.
You only have to look at the prison numbers in New South Wales to see that too many social problems are affecting our indigenous people-- almost one out of every five prisoners in full-time custody is indigenous. That's way too many when you consider that only 2% of the population identifies as indigenous.
The question is 'what more can the Government do about it?' There's plenty more work needed to implement the social justice program, outlined in the Social Justice Statement of each State Budget.
The Government's priority at the moment is to have a Budget surplus but what is the point in having a surplus or a Triple-A rating from Moody's if you can't deliver you're agenda and meet the challenges of the day?
The ultimate challenge for the State Government to face is how to find the money to pay for expanded social programs. It certainly doesn't help when the Federal Government fines New South Wales $50 million for breaches of National Competition Policy, as occurred recently.
To add insult to injury, it was recently revealed that New South Wales will lose out on $376 million a year in GST revenue from the Federal Government, which will end up putting pressure on workers and State Government social programs.
The Premier was spot on when he said "It is a disgrace, a scandal and it is the hard-working people of NSW who will pay... This is John Howard planning to spend up big in an election year."
The challenges continue for Labor in New South Wales but the Social Issues Committee process provides a good opportunity for the Government to achieve more of its genuine social justice objectives.
The Social Issues Committee is currently taking submissions on the Redfern/Waterloo inquiry. To find out more information, click on the link at www.ianwestmlc.com.au/new.html.
I am interested to hear feedback and ideas--you can contact my office on (02) 9230 2052 or email me at email@example.com.
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