The Courier understands that the release of reports like Dropping off the Edge risk targeting areas by analysing disadvantage by postcode. But like the report authors, the Jesuit Social Services, we feel that the the revelations of this report have such relevance to all of Ballarat that they need to be highlighted.The worst possible approach to entrenched disadvantage is to ignore it.
The purpose of this report is not to label but rather to analyse and identify the complex issues that have created the entrenched disadvantage. A willingness to confront them, whether they are in Wendouree, Sebastapol, Delacombe or downtown Ballarat is a big step toward identifying and empowering the solutions.
Some will read this report with a fatalistic shrug toward the name of Wendouree and argue there are no surprises. But the shameful surprise is the rest of the nation continues to thrive and improve its health, education and welfare while some places continue to stagnant. To dismiss it is as an inevitability is both socially irresponsible and counterproductive. Big cities may have the insouciance to neglect the poor but Ballarat does not. Doyens in Beverly Hills never need to trek down to South Central in Los Angeles but willful ignorance of the chasm of privilege merely nourishes a festering inequity and all its urban malaise until it erupts in even greater riot and damage.
Ballarat is still small enough and a cohesive enough community not to have to resort to invisible walls. The report highlights how unevenly concentrated this disadvantage is but here at least it is still visible. The severely disadvantaged are among us and their failure is our failure as a community.
A list of the factors creating the disadvantage show familiar but no less alarming conditions that are shaping future generations; unemployment, criminal convictions, disability, low education and child maltreatment, family violence and psychiatric admissions.However distasteful the issues affect us all. They will be part of a future Ballarat; a drain on its resources and a taint on its spirit unless we build their solution into any future plan. Solutions must be a strategic and long term with a focus on services and opportunities rather than handouts. Most of all it must begin with an honest dialogue within the community about what it is now and where it wants to go.