For most Australians human trafficking and slavery takes place in faraway places or behind the blacked out windows of sex businesses. It is a shock to learn that human trafficking and slavery happens right here in Australia and affects a much broader group of people.
I have supported men, women and young people subjected to forced labour, servitude and women deceptively recruited into slave-like marriages. These experiences are devastating, traumatic and a gross violation of human rights.
Government agencies and community service organisations have identified and uncovered slavery-like practices in many different sectors of the economy right here in Australia. These include, but are not limited to hospitality, construction, agriculture, manufacturing, domestic work, retail and even for the purpose of organ removal.
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This weekend one of the country’s biggest fundraisers, the Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal, was in full swing targeting $80 million. I have been a healthy skeptic of them and other faith-based charities.
I learned recently while doing research that little old ladies from the Salvos stay up all night manning the needle exchange on St Kilda’s infamous Grey St. When not reducing the risk of HIV infection, Flo and Dot are next door at the battered women’s shelter. There are thousands of other examples that show Christian workers doing good deeds without prejudice.
My research also took to me to Centrelink. They provide “welfare referrals” for those in crisis. I covered half of Sydney. In nearly every case, the only groups accepting those referrals were Christian. So while church-based charities may offend some people with their contribution to public policy, when it comes to what they do on the ground, it is hard to be offended. I haven’t seen too many secular groups driving the mobile soup kitchens.
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The 2012 Salvation Army survey into the economic and social impact of cost of living paints a grim picture of life in Australia right now.
Even people with jobs and regular benefit payments are struggling to make ends meet. They can’t pay bills or send their kids to after school sport. And in the worst cases are forced to go without food and prescription medicine to keep their heads above water.
This is a modern crisis. And it’s growing. According to the Salvos the number of people relying on their charitable services increases every year. As the saying goes, thank god for the Salvos. But just how sustainable is this band-aid approach to financial stress?
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Throughout the global financial crisis, the spending habits of populations around the world have been scrutinised and stimulated as a key driver in restoring economic wellbeing. In fact, the performance of the retail sector remains one of the most commonly referred to indicators, precisely because it makes such a significant contribution to national GDP.
Many of you might be surprised to discover in this context that the GDP contribution of the non-profit sector in Australia is actually on a par with that of the retail industry.
Today, there are as many as 600,000 non-profit organisations in Australia that in 2007 contributed a staggering $43 billion to our GDP, up from $21 billion in 2000. If you incorporate the $15 billion imputed value of its 4.6 million volunteers, there’s no ignoring the fact that non-profits are major economic players.
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