A priest with punch: social inclusion explained
David Cappo is a priest.
But he is one of the most powerful South Australians. Sure, he’s Vicar-General of the Catholic Church, a Monsignor and Dean of the Cathedral. He’s also our State’s Social Inclusion Commissioner, with a free range over social policy.
Monsignor Cappo is a member of our powerful Economic Development Board, and - most importantly - sits on “Ex-Com”, the Executive Committee of Cabinet, which includes me, the Deputy-Premier, and senior Ministers. Cappo has clout, and in order to get things done he sometimes has to act more like the Inquisition than a confessor.
David is one of the toughest people I know, and is fiercely independent.
He speaks out against the Government if he thinks we’re wrong, and gives bureaucrats a serve if he thinks they’re stuffing up. He is changing the way we do things, in terms of delivering programs to help our most disadvantaged people.
Other States are now seeking his advice, and Julia Gillard has appointed him as Deputy Chair of Kevin Rudd’s national social inclusion push.
I’m looking forward to hosting the very first meeting of Social Inclusion Ministers from around the nation, this Friday in Adelaide.
So what the hell is Social Inclusion?
I was brought up on the old social welfare model, which often involved throwing money at problems without necessarily getting the best outcomes. This often made things worse, or simply entrenched poverty.
Cappo is helped by a Board made up of innovative thinkers, rather than representatives of interest groups who talk the talk of change, but are often simply defending their patch.
Soon after David Cappo’s appointment, we met in London with Tony Blair and his social inclusion experts.
Blair’s people warned us about government departments that would pay lip service to the concept of social inclusion, whilst simply re-badging existing programs. That warning was helpful.
There have been times when David Cappo has faced frustrating “road blocks” – most notably from people threatened by change.
However, in a sector too often dominated by jargon, the only thing he’s interested in is measurable results, achieved in the shortest possible time. That’s the only way to confront the complex causes of disadvantage, rather than simply dealing with its symptoms.
One of the first jobs we gave Cappo was to halve the number of homeless “rough sleepers”.
Some bureaucrats argued this was a task for the Housing Department, and was none of Cappo’s business.
But homelessness isn’t just about the availability of houses. It’s about substance abuse, mental illness, family breakdown, and generational poverty.
The most recent inner city street counts (May 2009) indicate the number of homeless people now “sleeping rough” within the City of Adelaide has more than halved. The drop in homelessness in South Australia in the last Census is in stark contrast to a big increase (19 per cent) across the nation.
Instead of recycling people from the streets through emergency departments and then back out on to the streets, Cappo argued for “intervention points” to break this revolving door through a Street-to-Home program.
Significantly, Cappo takes on the hardest cases, and worked with New York expert Rosanne Haggerty to set up innovative inner-city housing, incorporating a range of support services in areas such as drug, alcohol and mental health.
Cappo also turned his attention to correcting South Australia’s shocking fall in school retention rates during the 1990s.
That’s now being turned around.
Our School Retention Action Plan has helped 15,600 young South Australians who had disengaged or were at risk of disengaging from secondary school to re-connect with learning. There was no “one size fits all” approach. Strategies were tailor-made to deal with individual problems. I’m proud to report that our secondary school retention rate has now reached a 13-year high.
Cappo’s work has also led to a $250 million plan to radically overhaul mental health.
Our indigenous population is central to all Social Inclusion programs, with the improvement of their health and opportunities a major priority. A focus on sport, recreation and the arts is helping to make significant inroads in this area. After we “intervened” in traditional Aboriginal Lands in our State’s north, the incidence of petrol sniffing dropped by 83 per cent in three years.
Serial youth offending is also being tackled by Cappo.
One of Cappo’s biggest tasks is to ensure South Australians get a social, as well as an economic, dividend from our State’s mining and defence boom.
That’s about providing opportunities for those usually left out of the action.
The aims of Cappo’s strategy are clear.
Ultimately, it’s about intervening more directly to stop homeless people ending up back on the street.
It’s about helping people with a mental illness to get the support they need, before they reach crisis point.
It’s about encouraging our young people to stay in education and training and gain jobs, rather than drop out.
And it’s about partnerships with the community, rather than a “government knows best” approach.
- Read more at www.socialinclusion.sa.gov.au/
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