My term as the National President of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia drew to a close in March.
It was wonderful news for the Society that we had three outstanding Vincentians who nominated for the position. The names and vision statements of the nominees were circulated throughout our membership so that they could consider who they would like to see in the role. The National Council has elected South Australian Claire Victory to the position and I offer her my congratulations.
Recently I have been reflecting on the achievements of our National Council during my four-year term as President.
The work of the National Council can at times be difficult; trying to balance the needs of the many areas we serve while at the same time looking toward the future. Throughout this work, all Councillors bring their unique gifts to the table in a spirit of solidarity. As such, the achievements of the National Council belong to all who have served on it and supported it and therefore belong to all members of the Society and our companions.
There will always be more work to do, things left undone, things to improve, but it is also easy to lose sight of some of the things we have achieved. Key among these many achievements was the first National Congress in 60 years, which was held in Adelaide in 2017. Almost 200 Vincentians gathered together from across the country to work towards formulating new ideas and ensuring our charism continues in service. Over the past 18 months, the National Council has drawn on the insights gained from Congress to develop new ways to put our calling into practice for the benefit of all.
The National Congress was only one step in the never-ending journey of renewal and action that our founder called us to. At my election, I said that I believed that the big challenge for the future was how we ensure the dynamism of our membership and ensure that our Society gives new hope, ways of service, and ways of care to future generations. This challenge remains.
In addition to renewing and revitalising the organisation from within, we have faced challenges from new forms of poverty and inequality. In response, the Society has continued to be a leading voice for social justice and change. We have commented on matters that impact those we serve. We have met with decision makers, with government ministers and officials, and we have issued media releases on topics of concern. We have prepared policy submissions and researched various issues relating to poverty, housing and homelessness, asylum-seekers and refugees, unemployment, inequality and social injustice. Through our public advocacy via multiple platforms we have tried to encourage broader community debate on the type of society we want, focusing attention on the structural causes of poverty and exclusion and advocating for economic and social policy that addresses these causes.
Despite all of this excellent work, poverty persists and the inequalities in our country continue to widen. While Australia is a prosperous country, nearly one in five children lives in poverty. And the fact that we still have well over 100,000 Australians sleeping rough on the streets or in their cars or relying on the generosity of friends to let them sleep on their couch is indicative of how much still needs to be done to ensure that everyone in our community has somewhere to call home.
The role of National President is a challenging but wonderful one. You are exposed to the best of the Society, responding to changes and events while trying to steer a path for the future.
I remember the former National President, Tony Thornton OBE, telling me that the last year of his role was the hardest. It’s a time of change, and of knowing that you no longer have the time to make significant changes, and a time where many Council members change over.
While challenges remain, I end my tenure as President assured that our members, volunteers and employees will continue to respond with hope and love to those living in poverty, working for a society in which everyone is valued. The Society is full of wonderful, passionate people, who because of their passion are both hopeful for the future and focused on a better present. It is a movement that has changed the world and will continue to do so, adapting and evolving as new challenges emerge while at the same time striving to be faithful to its founders.
Graham West is outging National President of the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia.