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Mission Australia National Conference, Newcastle, Monday 2 February 1998: address on the occasion of the opening.



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ADDRESS BY SIR WILLIAM DEANE

GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

ON THE OCCASION OF THE OPENING OF THE

MISSION AUSTRALIA NATIONAL CONFERENCE

NEWCASTLE

MONDAY. 2 FEBRUARY 1998

Let me begin by saying how pleased Helen and I are to be with you today for the official opening of this Second National Conference of Mission Australia. We both remember with much pleasure the opening of your inaugural National Conference in Canberra last February and meeting delegates afterwards at Government House. We have had contact with many of you then and on various subsequent occasions during the year, and it is good to renew those friendships once again today.

I say that because, as Patron of Mission Australia, I feel very much involved in the work that you do. As you may guess, I am, as Governor-General, Patron of a great many organisations. There were about 200 o f them at the last count.

Inevitably, my association with many of those organisations must be very limited because o f the constraints of time and other obligations.

Helen and I have, however, found that it is possible for us to feel closely involved with a few of the organisations whose activities and objectives closely coincide with our own personal values and priorities. Mission Australia is one of those few. As a welfare organisation - and a Christian organisation - helping the most disadvantaged in our society, it is inevitable that we both klentify with it and its activities You daily demonstrate, as the theme of the most recent report of the

Sydney City Mission expresses it, “Compassion in Action”

There is another reason why Helen and I are specially pleased to be with you today. It is that the Conference gives us the opportunity to visit Newcastle once again. This is in fact our fourth visit here in just over 12 months. Through those visits, we have come to feel a very special relationship with a city which has, in recent times, been required to meet the onerous challenges not onlv of rebuilding in a physical

and economic sense after some heavy blows, but also of preserving and restoring the self-confidence and motivation of its people

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Most obviously, there were the dreadful effects of the earthquake of 28 December 1989, in which over a dozen people were killed, nearly all of them in the Newcastle Workers’ Club Over 100 people were admitted to hospital More than 10,000 buildings were demolished In all, the cost of the disaster has been estimated at several billion dollars As we all know, the response of the people of tflb region to that calamity was a truly wonderful display of civic pride, love of place and of determination to overcome adversity and get on with the formidable task of rebuilding both their lives and their city

For Helen and me, those qualities and achievements were evidenced most memorably in January last year at the rehallowing of Christ Church Cathedral - the beautiful Cathedral on the hill - following its restoration after the earthquake It was an unforgettable service It seemed to mark the end of times of trouble and sadness, and I am sure many people shared our hopes that it would mark the beginning of a year of unqualified good news for the city Unfortunately, we now know that was not to be. In April came the announcement that the historic steelworks are to be closed, with all that will mean in terms of additional unemployment and social dislocation, both direct and indirect

Once again, the spirit of resolve and the commitment to see through the difficult times of transition ahead is quite outstanding I have no doubt that the people of Newcastle and the Hunter Region will ultimately succeed in overcoming this new challenge.

Nonetheless, and even without the impending closure o f the steelworks, the plain fact is that the economic changes and consequently the issues of disadvantage facing the region are considerable Unemployment rates generally are already much higher than the New South Wales average - up to 25% greater in some cases Youth unemployment, with all its attendant problems, is high And at the other end of the age scale, the changing nature of the jobs market is such that many older people find it difficult - and sometimes impossible - to acquire new employment skills. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald last year pointed out that, over the past two decades, the

manufacturing workforce in the Hunter has fallen from around 29 to 14% of the whole Retailing, education, health, tourism and other service industries are now the important growth areas But while it is true that they offer many opportunities for people entering the labour market, a lot of workers - especially men over 45 years from the manufacturing sector - find it very hard to successfully make the transition Sadly, unless things drastically change some of them are unlikely to work again in their life

The implications of all that for the work undertaken by Mission Australia are obvious. As your Report last year, “Families On The Edge” pointed out,

“Unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment, generates poverty and hopelessness Without the adequate income that can be provided by full-time employment many families fall below the poverty line and homelessness can result”

When I spoke at your Conference in Canberra last year I referred to the hope I expressed when my appointment as Governor-General was announced namely, that I might hold up a mirror to the Australian people and, in particular, help to draw attention to the plight of the disadvantaged in our community In the 12 months since

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then, Helen and I have continued to try to fulfil that hope Our experiences have served only to confirm a point which 1 have seen made forcefully in your own publications, namely, that what is common to so many areas of disadvantage, even in our affluent Australia, is the stark face of poverty: material poverty in^he form of homelessness, inadequate clothing, sustenance, care or help which, as we know, can lead to other consequences and other disadvantage such as alcoholism, physical and sexual abuse and family break-down For so often, the grim companion of material disadvantage is poverty of the spirit - the absence of hope, the deprivation of self­ esteem, and the loss of confidence in one’s ability to do anything about it

It is my firm belief that the ultimate test of our worth as a democratic nation is how we treat our most disadvantaged and vulnerable. And by “we” 1 refer to all of us, as members of the community Certainly the collective assistance provided through government is essential Indispensable But, inevitably, it is not always of itself sufficient There are a great many human needs which require the personal compassion and vision and assistance that so often can only be found among committed men and women working individually or, more generally, through agencies such as Mission Australia

In the course of our past visits to the Newcastle region, we have been privileged to have considerable contact with many of the disadvantaged of this region - the unemployed, the mentally impaired, the physically disabled, the frail aged to name but some We have also met many of those involved in working for them

Progressively, we have become conscious not only of the strength of spirit of the City but also of the extraordinary goodness - there is no other word - of those who serve its disadvantaged Among them have been those who work for, and contribute to the work of, the Hunter Mission Apart from visiting outreach services o f the Hunter

Mission, I was entrusted, last July, with the launch of the 1997 Winter Sleep Out I must confess that I feel somewhat guilty that I did not return for the actual event I did, however, feel that I was part of it in that Helen and I were permitted to sponsor some of the early registrants I presume, since we heard no complaints, that they did us proud I might say, even if I don’t achieve anything else in this job, I may be gaining a reputation as a launcher of sleep-ins and outs since I note that l recently received an invitation to launch Melbourne Citymission’s 1998 Winter Sleep Out

Helen says that she does not mind as long as I don’t get a reputation as a supporter of sleeping around

In its entirety, the work of the Hunter Mission reflects the broader mission undertaken every day by all the constituent members of your organisation to the disadvantaged in so many different parts of our country It is a mission inspired by the Christian spirit of goodness and charity, in the true sense of those two words, which has illuminated your work for well over 130 years

It was in the 1860s that Benjamin Short was so moved by the poverty, homelessness and need that he saw all around him in Sydney that “a burning desire” seized him to reach out in Christ’s name to those whom the established churches and welfare institutions rarely touched That was the start of the Sydney City Mission - indeed of the non-denominational Christian City Mission movement that spread to most Australian capital cities during the later part of the century Over the past 15

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years new developments have seen the emergence of Mission Australia consisting of the Sydney City Mission, Mission South Australia, and new Missions in Perth, Wollongong, Wagga Wagga, the Hunter, and services to other NSW country areas

They are years that have seen a remarkable transformation Today, the work of Mission Australia covers a very wide range of crisis, developmental and preventative services. Employing some 1600 people in over 200 locations, and with an annual budget of some $50 million, you reach out to some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged people in our community

Nearly 17,000 unemployed people received training and employment services during the past year through Mission Australia You are the largest private provider of labour market programs in the country. There were nearly 17,000 people assisted through your accommodation and support services There were over 52,000 family support services provided and some 44,000 transport services through Missionbeat Almost 150,000 clients were helped by Mission Australia during the past year: the aged, young people at risk, people with psychiatric illness, families, the homeless, rural communities, victims of abuse, drug and alcohol dependency, and so on.

The cause in which you are engaged - the fight against poverty in all its manifestations - is a noble one For those of us who are Christians it is also an obligation and a measure of our commitment to the central mission of the modern day Universal Christian Church, namely, the mission of outreach to the disadvantaged and oppressed. For, if I might presume to remind you of the parable of the rich man in Luke, Chapter 16, who among us would deny that Lazarus lies in need at the gate of each of us. But it is also a national cause in which I believe all caring Australians should engage. For, as I have said, the ultimate test of our worth as a democratic nation is how we treat our most vulnerable and disadvantaged

So it is that, as Governor-General, I presume to feel very close to the work that you do, and sincerely taist that, throughout my term of office, FJelen and my association with Mission Australia will be much more than one of a formal Patronage. 1 congratulate you. I wish you every success and encouragement.

And now, with much pleasure, I officially declare open the Second National Conference of Mission Australia, “Justice and Compassion Joining Together".