Business bodies call for changes to close-contact rules in VIC and NSW

Ciaran O’Mahony

The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and Business NSW (BN) have appealed to their State Governments for changes to the isolation requirements of household close-contacts.

In both states, household contacts of a Covid-19 case must isolate for seven days before returning to their workplace.

But the VCCI and BN say these rules are having a detrimental effect on Australia’s two largest economies, and are proposing changes that would allow business to thrive, without sacrificing safety.

The business bodies argue that if household contacts take daily Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) before leaving their homes, and test negative, they should be allowed to “attend work as normal”.

“We need to release the handbrake and enable businesses to operate at the maximum capacity possible and lead our economic recovery,” says VCCI Chief Executive Paul Guerra.

Allowing staff who have tested negative, and feel well, to return to work, will ease the staffing difficulties that have plagued businesses under the current requirements, according to Mr Guerra.

“Access to staff continues to be a major issue for business and the current isolation requirements are making it difficult for them to provide service for customers and maximise their business opportunities.

“We are seeing other parts of the world moving ahead with revised requirements, and we can use that experience to our advantage.”

BN Chief Executive Daniel Hunter says Victoria and New South Wales’ high vaccination rates and clear capacity to live with Covid-19, mean businesses should be allowed to pursue economic recovery more freely.

“NSW and Victoria are Australia’s biggest economies and the current isolation rules are providing a barrier to businesses as healthy people are forced to isolate unnecessarily,” Mr Hunter says.

“With NSW airport workers currently having an exemption to the household contact rules, there is inconsistency and unfairness – this needs to be fixed so that all businesses can have fair access to workers in the current tight labour market and be open for business.

“Business needs certainty and we know that they are already struggling with supply chain issues and staff shortages. Let’s give them the opportunity they need to continue their recovery and let’s give it to them now.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, has indicated that changes will indeed be made to household contact requirements, declaring that Omicron cases have likely peaked in his state.

“The seven-day average, very pleasingly, is coming down. So that says to me that the peak has come and gone,” Andrews said at a press conference.

“We just have to wait and see that those few days of data turns into a trend that we hope it is.”

At the same event, Victoria’s Health Minister Martin Foley said “positive announcements” were coming soon.

“We’ll get down to very, very few rules very soon,” Foley said.

“That’s good for business, good for communities and fundamentally a reflection of the amazing thing Victorians have done.”

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet is also expected to scrap seven day isolation periods in the coming days.

Australia’s billionaires doubled their wealth during the pandemic

Ciaran O’Mahony

While many Australians felt the financial sting of Covid-19 restrictions for the past two years, the collective wealth of our billionaires has doubled.

An Oxfam report has found that although 99% of the global population’s income fell during the (ongoing) pandemic, Forty-seven Australian billionaires increased their combined net worth to $255 Billion.

The Billionaire Club, which includes Gina Rinehart, James Packer and Clive Palmer, made $205 Million a day over the last two years, becoming wealthier than the poorest 30% of Australia’s (combined) in the process.

Mining mangnate, Gina Rinehart. Photo: Matt King via Getty Images

Oxfam Chief Executive Lyn Morgan says this “record-breaking growth”, in the midst of significant hardship for many Australians, should serve as a wake up call.

“While many have been pushed to the brink, billionaires have had a terrific pandemic,” Ms Morgan says.

“Not only have our economic structures made us all less safe in this pandemic, they are actively enabling those who are already extremely rich and powerful to exploit this crisis for their own profit.”

These statistics are consistent with a global trend, as the world’s 10 richest men doubled their fortunes to $1.9 Trillion, according to the Inequality Kills report.

It was therefore, an extremely lucrative period for Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet, Bernard Arnault, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Steve Ballmer.

Jeff Bezos is among the billionaires who increased their fortunes during the pandemic. Photo: Kevin Mazur via Getty Images

Across the globe, 2755 billionaires have seen a greater increase in their fortunes over the past two years than the previous fourteen.

All whilst 163 million people fell below the poverty line.

Their wealth has skyrocketed due to rising stock market prices as well as a reduction in individual corporate tax rates and workers’ wages.

Oxfam argues that this wealth gap amounts to economic violence, estimating that it directly contributes to at least 21,300 deaths per day – or one death every four seconds.

“Inequality at such pace and scale is happening by choice, not chance,” Morgan says.

“Central banks have pumped trillions of dollars into financial markets to save the economy, yet much of that has ended up lining the pockets of billionaires riding a stock market boom.”

Photo: Pamspix via Getty Images

Morgan called on countries around the world to increase tax rates for the rich and tackle major monopolies.

“Here in Australia, and globally, there is a shortage of the courage and imagination needed to break free from the failed, deadly straitjacket of broken economic systems.”

“It’s time for the Australian Government to take this issue seriously and take action to close the gap between the rich and poor.”

Oxfam has calculated that an annual $30 billion wealth tax would have a significant impact on global inequality.

“It could cover close to half the cost of achieving the World Health Organization’s mid-2022 vaccination goal for lower income countries, helping protect all people, including Australians, from further variants and preventing millions of people around the world being pushed into greater hardship and poverty,” Morgan says.

Jaded Newsman wins VHMA

The Jaded Newsman’s coverage of homelessness has been recognised at this year’s Victorian Homelessness Media Awards.

Founding Editor, Ciaran O’Mahony, won Best Early Career Journalist for his piece “How advantaged thinking in youth foyers is tackling homelessness“.

His article examined the impact Education First Youth Foyers are having on Victorian youth at risk of experiencing homelessness.

O’Mahony was honoured that the Council to Homeless Persons and the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, had recognised his reporting on a significant social issue.

Accepting the award via virtual ceremony, O’Mahony said:

“Wow! Thank you so much, I’m truly honoured to receive this award in a very competitive field. Huge thanks to the Council to Homeless Persons for recognising young journalists who have reported on homelessness, and for all of the important work they do to tackle this issue. I’m also grateful to those who shared their lived experiences and expertise with me regarding Education First Youth Foyers. I hope their efforts continue to be recognised and supported, so they can continue to make a difference for youth who are at risk of experiencing homelessness. Thanks again!”

Make sure you follow the Jaded Newsman for more quality coverage of politics, culture and sports.

Fast facts about homelessness

By Ciaran O’Mahony

While we know it’s a serious problem, many myths about homelessness still persist today. Stereotypical assumptions about the choices and attributes of people experiencing homelessness are often extremely inaccurate. Here are some facts that may surprise you.  

Myth 1: Homeless people sleep on the streets

Rough sleepers account for just 7% of homelessness in Australia

Source: RMIT ABC Fact Check Twitter page

Myth 2: Homeless people should just get a job

30% of people experiencing homelessness have a job

Myth 3: People are homeless because of drug and alcohol addiction  

Around 60% of people experiencing homelessness do not have a drug or alcohol addiction – the remaining 40% generally developed one after finding themselves in hardship.

Myth 4: Homeless people have mental health issues  

Only 30% of people experiencing homelessness have mental health issuesmany of which occurred after finding themselves homeless.

Myth 5: There are plenty of places for homeless people to stay

Australian homelessness services are forced to turn away 250 people per day

Source: Street Smart Australia

Myth 6: Homelessness is a result of laziness

The leading causes of homelessness in Australia are a lack of housing (45%), escaping family violence (26%), money/income issues (12%) and relationship or family breakdowns (8%).

Source: Katrina Raynor, The Conversation

Myth 7: Homeless people are old

People under 25 comprise 37% of Australia’s homeless population

Myth 8: Homelessness is a minor problem in Australia

The latest Census statistics showed that 116,427 Australians were experiencing homelessness

How ‘advantaged thinking’ in youth foyers is tackling homelessness

By Ciaran O’Mahony

Afiya* still remembers the feelings of emptiness and despair when she experienced homelessness.

Three years ago, the African-Australian moved to Melbourne from Perth, armed with her savings, a few belongings, and a dream of starting a fashion label.

But she had no idea how tough it would be to find work and accommodation in a strange new city.

Sadly at just 18 years of age, with her university degree underway, she found herself in a Victorian homeless shelter.

“I guess I didn’t think things through and I thought ‘I’m just going to go [to Melbourne] and everything’s going to be fine,’” she says.

“But when I got there, things were not fine.”

“I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have a place to stay, so I ended up being homeless.”

She was far from alone. At least 6,370 Victorian youth experience homelessness on any given night. The latest census statistics show that 26% of Victoria’s homeless population are aged 12-24. 

In 2019, the State Government launched an Inquiry into Homelessness in Victoria to find desperately needed solutions.

The Inquiry’s final report found that the homelessness sector was overwhelmed and too crisis-oriented. It therefore urged the Government “to strengthen early intervention measures to identify individuals at risk and to prevent them from becoming homeless.”

Source: Canberra Community Law Twitter page

Afiya’s path from experiencing homelessness to a small business owner, points to one such method of early intervention.

Desperate to find accommodation, she initially went to a temporary homeless shelter.

“Things get difficult and you don’t know where to go,” she says.  

“I’d just started uni and I ended up at a homeless shelter for a bit. Then I got into another place through the homeless shelter. They recommended the youth foyer for me.”    

That foyer was an Education First Youth Foyer (EFYF) – one of three currently operating in Victoria (Broadmeadows, Glen Waverley and Shepparton).

EFYFs are an integrated learning and accommodation program led by Launch Housing and Brotherhood of St Laurence, in partnership with TAFE campuses and youth support services.

Each campus provides accommodation to 16-24 year olds who are at risk of, or experiencing homelessness, and willing to engage in study – whether it be high school, VET, TAFE or University.

“You stay there for 24 months while you’re studying. They also help you to find work,” according to Afiya.

Kane Ord, Manager of the Holmesglen Institute’s EFYF (Glen Waverley), explains that accommodation is important, but their main focus is on education and skills building.  

EFYFs take an ‘advantaged thinking’ approach to prevention and early intervention, which involves investing in youth’s skills, talents and passions, rather than just focusing on their weaknesses.

“We certainly don’t ignore any challenges a young person might be experiencing, but we definitely don’t make it the centrepiece of our work with them,” Ord says.

In the past, much of the funding for youth programs has been invested in ‘fixing’ young people’s ‘deficits’ – whether it be addiction, mental health or housing.

But Ord explains that this service alone will not give them the foundation to build a better future.

“When you think about it, you don’t become an Olympic athlete by just making sure you don’t have a broken leg! But unfortunately, that’s exactly how a lot of other mainstream youth services work,” he says.

“We slap a Band-Aid on the problem and send them out the door with fingers crossed that we won’t see them again.”

Holmesglen Institute’s Education First Youth Foyer, Glen Waverley. Photo: Bianca Roberts

In contrast, EFYFs start by showcasing their students’ talents and capabilities, then they invest in developing them.

All foyer residents are given Youth Development Workers who leverage their networks and industry connections to provide opportunities for their students.

There are also mentoring programs, where students are paired with advisers specifically selected to complement their career goals and aspirations.

“Our whole model has been devised to ensure that we are able to offer our students the opportunities and resources they need in order to work toward their goals and aspirations,” says Ord.

“That’s how you create happy, connected but independent adults.”

Education and training comes first at EFYFs. Photo: Bianca Roberts

Afiya is now one of those happy and independent adults.

After entering the foyer, she continued her course in Fashion and Design, and worked as a Steward at the Melbourne Convention Centre.

“It’s very like a community,” she says.

“They basically make sure you’re staying on track. They make sure you’re still in school [and] you’re finding employment.”

Eventually, she found work that aligned with her studies as a Design Assistant at a Fashion Studio.

As she found her feet, she began to dream of starting a fashion business again.

“I was able to get part-time employment and save up to move out. I could live without assistance and save up for my business,” says Afiya.

“I feel like most people just need that little bit of help to get things together. Because otherwise, if you don’t get that help, you could be doing something else that would get you into more problems.”

She now lives independently and officially launched her fashion label in March.

The label mixes classic Western designs with her cultural dress, to give people with the same background an opportunity to express their heritage through clothing.

Afiya wanted to bring more diversity to the fashion industry after seeing her family and friends struggle to find clothing that reflected their culture. But it’s a blend that she believes will appeal to the wider public.

She hopes that her business will eventually become profitable enough to give back to youth in her home country.

Although she moved to Australia as a refugee at the age of 9, she still thinks of the abject poverty she witnessed there.

“I hear a lot of stories from people in my community as well as things I’ve seen before I came here,” Afiya says.  

“I was very young, but now when I think of it, I’m like oh my gosh!”

Her goal is to build a hub, similar to the EFYFs, where people can live and learn new skills.

“I want to have a place like the foyer where women and children have a place to go or they don’t have to be on their own,” says Afiya.

It would be a place where women could learn fashion design skills while their children are enrolled in schools.

“You can stay for 2 years and learn how to sew, how to pattern, how to design. Then when they leave the foyer, we can help them find employment or they can work for the company,” she says.  

“I want to be able to offer employment to people who find difficulties. It’s very hard to find a job there. There’s very little employment. People want to work, but there’s no work.”

Just as Afiya is striving to give others some of the support she received at her lowest point, Launch Housing’s General Manager-Keeping Housing, Tanya Armstrong, says many other EFYF students have a lot to offer our community.  

“Youth who’ve experienced or been at risk of homelessness have an incredible amount to contribute,” Armstrong says.  

“They have their whole lives ahead of them. They may have been through some difficult times already and that can make them more resilient and determined to establish their independence.”

Armstrong highlights that the impact of EFYFs is not just anecdotal. There is plenty of research to back it up.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence and Launch Housing conducted an evaluation of the education, housing and employment outcomes for youth who left Victoria’s EFYFs between September 2013 – July 2017. A total of 162 alumni were surveyed and the statistics below show significant positive outcomes.

Table: Ciaran O’Mahony. Source: BSL and Launch Housing Evaluation on EFYFs Impact

One year after leaving the foyer:

  • 46% had completed a new Higher Education qualification.
  • 85% were working or studying
  • Rough sleeping reduced from 3% to 2%

KPMG’s independent assessment of the social and economic impacts of EFYFs also highlighted up to $10 million in net benefits compared to Traditional Emergency Housing services over a 20-year period.

“All the evaluations say this is a model that works. It’s a way to intervene early in the lives of young people, and the State Government’s investment dollars would do ‘double duty’,” according to Ms Armstrong.

“They invest in something the community needs, which is homes for young people, and it will help to bring youth unemployment down. This kind of social investment is an investment in young people and not an impost.”

Afiya is the embodiment of an investment that has paid off – and she’s not the only one.  

“I don’t think [my business] would be up and running if it wasn’t for the youth foyer.”

“That little help changes a person’s life. It definitely changed mine and it changed a lot of people’s lives that I know.”

If you are experiencing, or at risk, of homelessness, you can ring the 24-hour Victorian hotline for assistance 1800 825 955. For more information about Education First Youth Foyers, visit:

*Pseudonym. This woman’s country of origin, university, EFYF and the name of her business, have been withheld for anonymity and safety.