Monday 20 Mar 2017

Interview with Colin Hart, Salvation Army Melbourne

Please tell us about your background.

I grew up in WA and went to university with dreams of leaving with a PhD in Marxist Philosophy but left with a Bachelor Degree in Political Science.

Prior to becoming an FC, I worked in the DHS concessions unit. I have also worked for Centrelink, ANZ, the ATO, Telstra and the Department of Environment and Conservation in WA and completed internships in policy with Unions WA and WACOSS.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

Having moved to Victoria I found myself working at ANZ Bank in the credit cards department. My political science degree hadn't managed to get me anywhere. I was hoping to get a job in the union movement, and was rather disillusioned. I was thinking about trying to get into youth work when my dad talked me into becoming a financial counsellor, just like him. At first I wasn't convinced but decided to listen to the old man for a change. Since then I haven't looked back.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

I try not be overly proud about things. I think there is a lot of sense in the saying "pride comes before a fall." I generally focus on trying to squeeze more out of life and better myself. There is always room for improvement.

I was recently given the honour of being elected to the board of FCRC, but I probably feel a greater sense of elation in positive casework outcomes. I am particularly proud of cases that are successful that are out of the ordinary, like the time I applied for an act of grace from the Finance Department and got a client out of their HELP debt and got a refund from the ATO for the HELP debt they already paid.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

One word, funding. With most metro Western Australian FC positions being defunded and a similar thing happening to FCs in Queensland it is hard not to cite this as the biggest challenge. Loss of funding not only has its immediate impact on service provision but also creates a longer term problem. When a sector is defunded, then refunded, their is an immense flight of intellectual capital to other sectors. Also, even the threat of defunding has its impact. Funding agreements that only last a few years put immense pressure on people's capacity to plan for the future, and the lure of steady employment to those wanting to start a family or buy a house can push people out of the sector.

Broadly speaking with an increasing divide between rich and poor and a decrease in tax intake, with most of the top 100 ASX companies not paying tax, governments seek to cut back on social services to compensate for lack of revenue. Also, Thomas Pickety notes that, unless major redistribution policies are introduced, the gap between rich and poor will only continue to get worse. Thankfully Neoliberalism is starting to fall out of favour, but we as a sector should push more broadly for redistribution policies.


What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve had?

'Ask for the most and see what you get.' I don't remember which FC said this to me but I think it is a good rule of thumb. I have had it said to me that Vic FCs are at the cutting edge of financial counselling, being the most willing group of FCs to push the envelope out of all the states. Having worked in WA as an FC for a brief period of time this seems to be true. You need to push the boundaries to effect change.

Which leads me nicely to my greatest resource: my fellow FCs. From day one working at MoneyHelp, I knew my co-workers had my back and would go out of their way to impart their distilled wisdom and give me their time.


And finally, some easy questions:

What book are you reading at the moment/ Favourite book?

Currently reading:

Non Fiction: Letters of a Stoic by Seneca,

Poetry: Burning in Water, Drowning in the Flame by Bukowski, and Dream Songs by John Berrymen,

Fiction: Portrait of an Artist as a Young Dog by Dylan Thomas.

Favourite Book; 

A tie between Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and The Possessed by Dostoyevsky

Recommended read for FC's: 'The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone'


What artist are you listening to at the moment?/ Favourite artist?

Currently listening to Johnny Thunders

Favourite Artist is Morrissey/ The Smiths