19 June, 2011


The Big Issue's 15th Birthday

Helping people help themselves


The Big Issue is a street magazine published in eight countries; it is written by professional journalists and sold by homeless and unemployed people.

The 15th anniversary of The Big Issue magazine was celebrated today at Federation Square, Melbourne. As one who purchases this magazine, whenever I visit the city or Carlton, I decided to go along and join in the celebration.

More than 6 million copies have been sold around Australia in the past 15 years, earning $13.2 for sellers. There are now 450 vendors across Australia, including 138 in Victoria

When the organizers invited the vendors of the magazine to assemble for a photo, I was amazed to see at least 6 vendors in mobile wheel-chairs and one deaf vendor.

I recommend this magazine as it’s an easy read and there are a wide range of topics for all types of readers. In particular, it helps disadvantaged people return to some semblance of a normal life.

On the inside page of each issue the reader is reminded that,

“ The Big Issue is an independent current affairs and entertainment magazine sold in towns and cities throughout Australia by people experiencing homelessness and / or long-term unemployment. It provides an opportunity for vendors to positively change their lives by earning an income and interacting with the mainstream community. Vendors keep half the cover price of every magazine they sell.”

Simon McKeon

Federation Square’s big screen highlighted aspects of the Big issue and messages of congratulations. One of those who conveyed birthday wishes to The Big Issue was Simon McKeon who is a member of the Melbourne Advisory Group for The Big Issue. He is also the current Australian of the Year.

It was only this morning that I read an interesting article in The Sunday Age newspaper (p16) in which it reported Simon McKeon’s speech to members of the Cranlana Program: members of the program are invited to participate in a unique program of seminars directed at enhancing their understanding of the philosophical , ethical and social issues central to creating a just, prosperous and sustainable society.

The aim of Simon’s speech was to examine whether or not this country of ours is a good one from a moral perspective. 

Simon, social entrepreneur, is of the opinion that we are simply “ not good enough” and must do better.

Simon spoke of a “ prosperous Australia with the potential and ability to be the best of societies, and was particularly hopeful that the younger generation was more dedicated to this end than the ‘current crop’.”

He noted that he regularly met Australians who were empathetic and compassionate. However, he described the national moral landscape as one marred by ‘barren plains of self-interest, a ridiculous focus on the short-term and a general level of intolerance I find perplexing and dispiriting’.”

“Since being named Australain of the Year in January, McKeon  has been notably scathing of very rich Australians who fail to invest their wealth in opportunities for the struggling and desperate souls in the world.

“He told the Cranlana audience he was ‘ bewildered and ashamed that…the collective of the very wealthy are sadly relatively miserly.”

He bemoaned the lack of moral leadership from the federal government, and the compromising role of the media "...I am disappointed as to where our contemporary political system seems to be taking us. It is as if the 24 hour news cycle and associated hysteria by shock jocks make political life akin to a game of the AFL". He nominated Foreign aid as an area where we need to be more generous for “We currently rank 15 out of the 23 eligible OECD nations". 

He also took a shot at the national self-interest that colours much of the debate on climate change. "We often hear we are a relatively small polluter and why should we take a leaders ship role? If that is our mentality, at a time when we can be a leader, we simply become a free rider. It behoves all countries that have the ability - economic giants or small prosperous states  - to do something more than look after themselves. I would hate to be benchmarked against countries struggling to make ends meet".  

Bravo Simon for a speech in which you have provided well thought out reasons why our country is far from being "a good one from a moral perspective".

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