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9 months ago
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a privilege to be here tonight to honour the Reverend Bill Crews and to celebrate his remarkable three decades of making a difference in the lives of the poor and the homeless in this country.
Of course Bill’s good works, his conveying of mercies big and small on these cold streets, go back even longer than the round number of 30 years.
It was late 1969 in King’s Cross where Bill first visited the Wayside Chapel and became involved in voluntary programs there.
What many don’t know is that back then Bill was an engineering whiz. He was doing microelectronic research into the properties of silicon and even built the first machine to grow ultra-pure single crystal silicon in Australia - the element used in virtually all modern electronic equipment and why we call Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley.
But he turned his back on that to do what we now all know him best for. He gave up a comfortable life and a smooth path for the hard road less taken of helping his fellow Australians.
When we are young, many of us are taught the story of Jesus and the fishermen. Peter and some of the other disciples are hard at work on the Sea of Galilee but nothing is biting. Jesus instructs them where to cast their nets and the resulting haul is so big they struggle to bring it to shore. Over a fish breakfast Jesus tells the fishermen to leave their fishing behind and follow him.
When I think about Bill’s story I think about that Bible story. In leaving engineering and the wonders of silicon, Bill was called to abandon his nets and become a fisher of men.
But the loss to the world of engineering has been a gain for the poor, needy, addicted and afflicted of Sydney and Australia.
Bill calls himself Christian and he actually follows through and acts the way Christians say people are meant to act. This is no easy, and not so common, thing.
Times are tough out there. Bill was recently in the media reporting from the frontlines how homelessness was now worse than ever in Sydney.

And of course, it’s not just a Sydney thing - it is nationwide.

At the core of the problem: domestic violence, drug addiction, family breakdown, and poverty.
Almost half of homeless are mums and kids.

One in ten people sleeping rough in Sydney are veterans.

And the fastest growing group of people experiencing homelessness are older women aged 65 to 74.
We are fortunate on our side of politics to have a Shadow Homelessness Minister in Jason Clare who is well aware of the grim reality - who wants to address these issues instead of just trying to put ‘a positive spin’ on them.
I have seen these issues too in Melbourne and Canberra, Kalgoorlie and Bundaberg when I’ve had the chance to go out on the streets with volunteers.
Not long after our defeat at the federal election in May I had visited the Uniting Care breakfast service in Canberra in the shadow of Parliament House.
I must have had a hang-dog expression on my face because as I mixed with the volunteers cooking the pancakes for the hungry homeless men these nice female volunteers gave me looks of sympathy and brave keep-a-stiff-upper-lip smiles. That sympathy didn’t make me feel much better. But they put me to work and later that morning as I poured coffee for the hard-bitten homeless men it got worse. These poor blokes who didn’t have two cents to rub together, put their arm around me and offered their commiserations and sympathy for my position. That was a bit harder to take.       
But it is tough out there. And I see it in my shadow portfolios which cover among other things the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the administration of Centrelink. Unfortunately not everyone is taking the light into the dark ends of society the way Bill Crews and those who work with him do.
Many Australians receiving welfare are barely above the breadline. They are often at breaking point and battling giant obstacles. Their welfare trickle - like the bard said about the quality of mercy - drops like the gentle rain from heaven. It can be the difference between a life that is tough but functional and one of total destitution and dysfunction.
I look out on this room and I see people from both sides of politics, from business, academia and the media. I see good people. Some people who would share my poitics. But despite our differences, I don’t for a second believe there is one person in this room who would be comfortable with the status quo. I believe in a world where it doesn’t fall to the Bill Crewses of the world to catch those who are falling through the gaps. I’d like to see an Australia where the Bill Crewses are the icing on the cake.
As times get tougher we must guard against being pitted against each other.
We all have to guard against a hardening of the Australian heart.
We could all stand to look at one another with a little more humanity.
In other words, we could all take a leaf out of Bill Crews’s book.
Congratulations Bill and thank you
Social Services