Founded in 1933, the Brotherhood of St Laurence has long recognised the importance of research, policy and advocacy.
The Brotherhood has had a research capacity since 1943 when the first research officer was appointed. The Research and Policy Centre is currently Australia’s largest social policy research centre in a non-government welfare organisation, with more than 25 full-time staff.
There have been three broad stages in the Brotherhood's Research and Policy Centre, each reflecting subtle shifts in the purpose of research and its role in driving social change.
In the early days Brotherhood research was designed to reinforce the advocacy and campaigning efforts of the organisation.
Fr Tucker, the organisation's founder, used research to inform new programs and improve existing welfare services.
Janet Paterson, the first Director of the Brotherhood's Research and Social Action Department (1965), noted that early research activities were driven more by a ‘gut feeling and a sense of injustice [rather] than [by] theoretical analysis’.
Dissemination included pamphlets containing hard-hitting messages, and Brotherhood research articles appeared in radical publications such as Dissent.
From the 1960s to 1990s research at the Brotherhood responded to the perceived hardening of community attitudes towards poverty.
The research highlighted the experience of people living in poverty so that their problems would not be ‘overlooked’. This emphasis was reflected in qualitative studies aimed at ‘revealing’ information on issues such as high-rise public housing, family service delivery and unemployment. The Brotherhood developed a significant reputation for this type of research.
Running alongside these studies were some significant projects and activities that focused on social and economic policy, including work on the efficacy of the Henderson poverty line, child poverty, youth homelessness, the future of work, and taxation.
In the 21st century, the Brotherhood’s research became more formally linked with the University of Melbourne with the establishment of a joint Professor of Social Policy/General Manager of Research and Policy position to lead the centre.
Emphasis was placed on building research capacity and leadership through the partnership. The work was guided by broader social frameworks such as ‘social inclusion’, 'place-based disadvantage' and 'inclusive growth'.
The Brotherhood also shifted to a ‘life transitions’ approach to describe its work, and for the first time, a corresponding focus on children, youth, working-age adults and older adults was structured into research priorities.
Over more than 70 years, certain topics have remained important in the Brotherhood’s research activities. These include:
Research and especially advocacy on aged care and defence of older, vulnerable Victorians, has also been a consistent area of focus across the decades although not to the same degree as the other themes.
Other research areas have attracted the attention of Brotherhood researchers over the years, include:
The RPC has been blessed with strong leaders. Each has been driven by a passionate commitment to addressing poverty and inequity through knowledge making, evidence, advocacy and influencing:
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Acknowledgement of country
The Brotherhood of St Laurence acknowledges and recognises the Traditional Owners of the land upon which we live and work, and we pay our respects to their Elders both past and present.