Social Justice Project
The Social Justice Project was established in 2000 by its current Director, Prof Julian Disney to specialise in aspects of social justice relating to:
- social welfare and development,
- economic development and taxation,
- global governance and civil society.
The Project’s activities have included
- undertaking research;
- writing articles;
- publishing papers and books;
- establishing and coordinating websites;
- organising seminars and workshops;
- making written and oral submissions; and
- participating in delegations and conferences.
The core Project staff consists of the Director (Prof Disney) and a part-time Coordinator (Amy Williams). Consultants and research assistants have been engaged for particular areas of activity and work has also been undertaken in conjunction with staff from the external organisations with which it has worked closely.
In recent years, these organisations have included the Australia Institute, Australian Conservation Foundation, Australian Council of Social Service, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Catalyst, Committee for the Economic Development of Australia, Community Housing Federation of Australia, Consumers Federation of Australia, Housing Industry Association, Jobs Australia, Mission Australia, National Shelter, and Property Council of Australia.
They have also included the Federal Government Departments of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations; Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities; and the Treasury. At the State level, they have included the South Australian Departments of the Premier and of Families and Communities (SA) and the Western Australian Department of Housing.
In 2009 the Social Justice Project launched TaxWatch as an independent research and information service on issues relating to tax policy. TaxWatch is based at the Project and at Monash University.
The TaxWatch website (www.taxwatch.org.au) publishes a wide range of papers on tax issues, including a Comparative Summary of the Australian Tax System which was prepared by the Social Justice Project. The website is accompanied by a weekly electronic Update which reaches more than one hundred subscribers, including most Australian academics and journalists specialising in taxation and a number of overseas experts.
TaxWatch organised a number of Round Tables to promote informal discussion amongst experts on different aspects of tax policy. Several of them were convened at the request of the Community Tax Forum which is a coalition of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and Consumers Federation of Australia (CFA). Julian Disney was asked to be the inaugural independent Chair of the Forum when it was established in 2008.
TaxWatch was commissioned to prepare detailed Issues Papers for each of the two National Tax Reform Symposiums which were convened by the Community Tax Forum in Canberra and Sydney respectively during 2009. It also prepared Options Papers on tax reform at the request of the Federal Treasury and the Community Tax Forum.
Julian Disney was invited by the Henry Tax Review to speak at its international conference on tax reform. He was also a speaker on three of the six expert panels at the National Tax Forum convened by the Australian Government in Canberra in 2011. He has been a frequent conference speaker and media commentator on tax issues.
The TaxWatch Advisory Committee includes Prof Chris Evans (UNSW); Prof Rick Krever (Monash University); Prof John Freebairn, Cameron Rider, Saul Eslake and Dr Rosanna Scutella (all from the University of Melbourne); Dr Julie Smith (ANU); and Ian McAuley (University of Canberra).
The principal sponsors of TaxWatch have been the Benevolent Society, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Morawetz Social Justice Foundation and UnitingCare.
The Social Justice Project has been closely involved in research and development of housing policy at national and State levels.
Prof Disney was invited to be the inaugural Chair of the National Housing Summit group in 2004. The Summit group was a major national coalition of housing industry and community groups, including ACOSS, ACTU, Community Housing Federation of Australia, Housing Industry Association, National Shelter, and Property Council of Australia.
The Project prepared most of the Background and Issues Papers for the inaugural National Affordable Housing Summit meeting in Parliament House, Canberra in 2004 as well as for the follow-up National Symposium in 2006. It continued to organise Round Table seminars across Australia on key housing research and policy issues.
Through its association with the National Affordable Housing Summit, the Social Justice Project undertook extensive research over several years to develop a proposal which was then adopted by the Federal Government in 2007 and became the new National Rental Affordability Scheme (http://www.environment.gov.au/housing/nras/index.html).
As NRAS began being rolled out, the Project was consulted frequently by governments, housing industry and community groups about details of implementation. The Scheme has now provided many thousands of dwellings for lower-income households at below-market rent. Within the next few years, it will provide annual funding of more than $½ billion and generate 50,000 additional affordable dwellings around Australia.
The Social Justice Project also developed a proposal for a National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) which was adopted in principle by the Federal Government in 2007. The first NAHA was signed by Federal and State governments in 2008 and Prof Disney was a member of the Federal Government’s advisory committee on drafting the second NAHA.
Prof Disney has also been a frequent conference speaker and media commentator on housing policy issues.
The Social Justice Project founded Anti-Poverty Week in 2001 by organising several activities on the UNSW campus. It was inspired by the United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17) but, in order to enhance the breadth, flexibility and profile of activities, it was expanded to include a full week.
In 2002, the Project decided to initiate development of the Week on a national basis. Since then, the Week has grown to such an extent that in each of the last few years more than 400 activities have been held around Australia. Many thousands of people participate and hundreds of items appear in the media each year. Further details of the Week, including a list of all activities, are at www.antipovertyweek.org.au.
Anti-Poverty Week is concerned with poverty around the world, especially in the poorest countries but also in wealthier countries such as Australia. The main aims are to
- strengthen public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship around the world and within Australia;
- encourage research, discussion and action to address these problems, including action by individuals, communities, organisations and governments.
The Week is a process for encouraging independent activities by a wide range of groups and people; it is not an organisation with lobbying functions. Participants in activities during the Week are encouraged to express whatever views they may have on whatever poverty-related topics are of concern to them. No specific policies are expressed on behalf of the Week itself.
Julian Disney has been National Chair of Anti-Poverty Week since its inception and the principal Coordinator of the Week is based at the Project. Social Justice Interns also assist with the organisation of the Week, especially in relation to the activities which are based on the UNSW campus. National sponsors of the Week include UNSW as well as the Red Cross, Jobs Australia, Mission Australia, St Vincent de Paul, Anglicare and Salvation Army.
Inquiry into Employment Programs
In 2010, Julian Disney was invited to chair an independent inquiry for the Federal Parliament into the effectiveness of recent changes to the rules concerning engagement in employment programs by recipients of Newstart and related allowances.
The report was tabled in October 2010 and is available here. A substantial number of its recommendations have been fully or partially implemented.
The Social Justice Project established the Neighbours Program in 2003 to promote engagement with neighbouring countries on social justice and related issues. Its purpose was to strengthen direct communication between community leaders in Australia and neighbouring countries, especially at the national leadership level.
The Program organised four visits to Indonesia and two to Malaysia, as well as two visits to Australia by Indonesian and Malaysian leaders. Australian participants in overseas visits included the heads of ACOSS, ACTU, ACF and the Consumers Federation of Australia. Indonesian and Malaysian participants included leaders of environment, union and welfare groups and from the legal, religious, academic and media sectors.
The principal sponsor of these visits was the Myer Foundation and they were coordinated by Julian Disney and other Project staff, with assistance from the Asia-Australia Institute at UNSW.
Law, Governance and Social Justice Series
The Project established in 2010 a public discussion series, entitled Law, Governance and Social Justice. The series consisted of addresses by nationally eminent speakers to promote discussion about ways in which laws, legal processes and other aspects of governance can either help or hinder social justice.
The speakers were Chief Justice James Spigelman, Malcolm Turnbull MP, Rev Tim Costello, Justice Virginia Bell, Geoffrey Robertson QC and Hon Gareth Evans QC. More than 1,000 people attended the addresses, which were held in readily accessible CBD venues. Further details can be found here.
The Social Justice Project provides a course at UNSW Law entitled International Aspects of Social Justice. It is taught by Prof Disney.
Most students in the courses are doing a Masters program. Prof Disney has also given guest lectures in other UNSW courses and other universities on issues relating to social justice, housing, taxation, the media and global governance.