25 Sep 2013

Abbott Has A Promise To Keep On Poverty

By Cassandra Goldie

In his acceptance speech, Tony Abbott said he would govern for all Australians. That means leading a mature national conversation about poverty, writes ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie

Tony Abbott assured Australia in his acceptance speech that the Coalition “will not leave anyone behind". The true test of his government will be the extent to which it provides today’s "forgotten" a hand-up to lift our nation’s fortunes.

Our new Prime Minister set an early tone for his government with the pledge to govern for all people in Australia, including those who didn’t vote for him. In his acceptance speech he said, “A good government is one with a duty to help everyone to maximise his or her potential … We will not leave anyone behind.” It was a defining start to his prime ministership, drawing a distinct marker by which the ultimate success of his government can be judged.

Only a week earlier at the Coalition’s campaign launch he outlined his vision that, “Our country will best flourish when all of our citizens, individually and collectively, have the best chance to be their best selves.”

Since 1956 ACOSS has been the voice for the needs of the forgotten people in our country – those experiencing poverty and inequality – with a vision for a fair, inclusive and sustainable Australia where all individuals and communities can participate in and benefit from social and economic life.

Although most people are better off today than they’ve ever been, the harsh reality is that despite two decades of unprecedented growth, an increasing number of people on the lowest incomes are falling behind.

Late last year we calculated that 2.2 million people were living below the poverty line, including nearly 600,000 children. Disturbingly, the recent annual report of the longitudinal study of households (HILDA) showed that child poverty has increased by 15 per cent since 2001. Clearly this is unacceptable for a country as wealthy as ours and will need the attention of the new government.

An urgent priority to guard against worsening hardship and poverty is action to tackle rising unemployment, with the number of people reliant on unemployment payments long-term rising from 300,000 to 500,000 since the global financial crisis. Too many people are at risk of being left behind in the labour market permanently and denied the chance to be their "best selves".

Governments cannot reduce unemployment by their own efforts alone. The incoming government will need to partner with others: with unemployed people to stay active in the labour market, with employers and unions to ensure that they are not frozen out of jobs by lack of skills, age or disability, and with employment and community services to invest in training and work experience.

ACOSS has been working with business and unions on solutions to unemployment and one of the important first steps of the new government should be to bring these key stakeholder groups together to forge a compact about growing job opportunities, particularly for people who are long term unemployed.

The Coalition has already made some positive announcements around incentives for employers to take on mature-age unemployed people. ACOSS has developed concrete proposals in this area, including expanding the proven wage subsidy scheme and paid work experience, and greater investment in case management. In addition, we will need to tailor training and support to better prepare long term unemployed people for the jobs of the future.

The new government will also have to repair the serious holes in the social safety net, including disability services, equitable access to quality schooling, health and aged care services for older people, the economic and social conditions in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and the $150 gap between weekly "allowance" and "pension" payments. There’s no getting away from the fact that each of these areas will require significant public investment over many years.

Ultimately, one of the biggest challenges for the incoming government is the growing gap between people’s expectations of governments and the revenue available to them. Clearly this problem will not be resolved in a single budget. It can only be resolved through a dialogue with the Australian community over what we can realistically expect from government and how the tax system can best be reformed to collect public revenue in a fairer and more efficient way.

It is time we had a mature national discussion about this, including much needed structural reform of Australia’s tax and transfer systems. Long term this will be the only way to meet the fiscal challenge that our nation faces. It’s the only way to move us towards a sustainable budget bottom line and finance the important social programs we all want – such as disability services, equitable school funding, adequate income support payments, dental and mental health, affordable housing, and meeting the future costs associated with population ageing.

Reform of tax and public expenditure is also a partnership between government and the community. Far reaching reform is more likely to happen if the government sets clear long-term goals and enters into a well structured dialogue where all interests are represented.

ACOSS welcomes the announcement of the new ministry. The government has sensibly avoided rushing into new policy announcements. To restore the budget, strengthen essential community services and ensure that no-one is left behind it will need to work steadily, patiently and collaboratively with the community.

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Posted Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - 12:14

Considering that many of this governments policies and pronouncements seem to have been taken directly from the American Republican's political playbook I suspect that any claims of inclusivity on this administrations part should be totally discounted. I believe that this government of and by the oligarchic economic elites will be quite comfortable with and indeed encourage massively increasing disparities of wealth and income.

Posted Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - 13:36

The wording is significant though. "Maximise his or her potential" and "the best chance to be their best selves" leave the onus squarely on the individual to improve their own circumstances; the promise here is to make reforms that would better allow them to do that (supposedly). If reforms go through that are claimed to make the economic system more responsive to the talents and efforts of individuals, and some individuals do not see their circumstances improve at all, then it would be entirely consistent for the reformers to conclude that the potentials, or 'best self' versions of those individuals are just not very good.

So that's probably the endpoint that this rhetoric: the same, harsh old "get  a job" conceptualisation of social fairness whereby some degree of poverty/hardship is seen as being in accordance with natural justice. I see no promises here (at least no promising ones).

Posted Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - 13:45

A fundamental measure of the success or otherwise  of social policy is avoidable death (avoidable mortality, excess death, excess mortality, deaths that should not have happened) that in an international sense can be measured as the difference between the observed mortality in a country or society and the mortality  expected for a decenty run, peaceful  society with the same demographics (seee Gideon Polya, "Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950", now available for free perusal on the web:http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/body-count-global-avoidable-mortality_05.html ).

Due to poverty,  the avoidable mortality rate (annual avoidable deaths as a percentage of population) is 1.8% for Indigenous Australians as compared to 1.0% for non-Arab Africa. The Coalition and right-wing Labor (the Lib-Labs, Liberal-Laborals) are an utter disgrace.

For  "White" or non-Indigenous Australia, the avoidable death rate is effectively zero but one can determine "preventable deaths" from various causes e.g. by comparing deaths for smokers and non-smokers. One can estrimate that 66,000 Australians die preventably each year and many of the causes are linked to poverty. Neoliberal government greed, callousness and fiscal perversion kill Australians (see  Dr Gideon Polya, “ Why PM Julia Gillard must go: 66,000 preventable Australian deaths annually”, Countercurrents,  21 February, 2012: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya210212.htm ; Gideon Polya, “Endless war on terror. Huge cost for Australia & America”, MWC News, 14 October 2012: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/22149-endless-war-on-terror.html ).

Ferocious neoliberal Coaltion opposition to the social humanist agenda of maximizing human happiness, dignity and opportunity (Gideon Polya,  “Book Review: “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics” by Brian Ellis -  last chance to save Planet?”, Countercurrents, 19 August, 2012: ) is associated with other massive abuses and deficits in Australia.

Thus,  in contrast to its inability to quantitate the extent of child abuse in Indigenous communities, the “Little Children are Sacred” Report (pp234-236) refers to studies in America indicating that 25% of females and 10% of males experience childhood sexual abuse (Finkelhor, D. (1994), Current information on the scope and nature of child sexual abuse”, Future of Children, 4(2), pp31-53), and in Australia  indicating that 34% of females and 16% of males today experienced child sexual abuse (Dunne, M.P., Purdie, D.M., Cook, M.D., Boyle, F.M. & Najman, J.M.(2003), Is child sexual abuse declining? Evidence from a population-based survey of men and women in Australia, Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 27 (2), pp141-152); see https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammedialying/australian-msm-ignore ).

Poverty is associated with crippling educational defcicits in Australia that has been referred to as Educational Apartheid (see: https://sites.google.com/site/educationalapartheid/polya-gideon ). Thus Australia 's Educational Apartheid system means that 46% of Australians are functionally illiterate and 53% are functionally innumerate  (see section 3.1 in Josh Fear, “Choice overload. Australians coping with financial decisions”. The Australia Institute, Discussion paper 99: http://www.tai.org.au/documents/dp_fulltext/DP99.pdf and  "Educational Apartheid": https://sites.google.com/site/educationalapartheid/ ); that 80% of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory fail to meet basic literacy and numeracy standards; and that the majority of Australian children who attend State-run schools (as opposed to taxpayer-subsidized private schools) are disproportionately excluded from a good education, university, good universities and top professional courses such as medicine and law (see Gideon Polya, “37 ways of tackling Australian Educational Apartheid and Social Inequity”, Countercurrents,  22 May, 2013:  http://www.countercurrents.org/polya220513.htm   ).

The neoliberal Coalition is sick and the neoliberal "trickle down" argument to justify laissez faire for the smart and advantaged appears quite barren in the face of the above statistics.

Of course, right-wing, neoliberal Labor is not that much better than the right-wing, neoliberal Coalition (ask the Aborigines and the single mothers). We are stuck with the ghastly Abbott Government for 3 more years but Labor MPs and Labor Party members can in the forthcoming leadership ballot choose  between traditional, pro-equity Labor values represented by Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek versus the right-wing, neoliberal position of of Bill Shorten who also carries the permanent , ineradicable baggage of having been a key player in successive Coups against TWO (2) democratically elected Labor Prime Ministers.

Posted Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 13:30

Let's hope the coalition does not change the tax system back to the lower tax free threshold for low income earners.

Posted Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 17:24

When he takes the money set aside by the alst govt for low income workers to boost their super only to give me back the Hospital Insurance rebate so that I pay less isn't that a form of

taxing low income workers in that they are less well off whereas I am better off.

When it comes to big business leaders sleep riough one night a year to show that they are concerned (?) about social welfare isn't it time to have a public way of lampooning them since their actions indicate one night out eases their conscience

Posted Friday, September 27, 2013 - 14:21

Couldn't agree more wholeheartedly with all the above comments. I am not at all hopeful for the future of welfare in this country. In fact, I'm in despair about it as a 58 year-old female ,who has been an ordinary wage earner all my life, but who is becoming increasingly more disempowered and invisible in society every day.