Anti-Poverty Week 2016

Speech to Anglicare Research Report Launch - Anti-Poverty Week

Dickson, Canberra

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Can I of course acknowledge that we're meeting on the traditional land of the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and just to say how delightful it is to be in a room full of passionate, engaged social justice campaigners. Jeremy Halcrow, Simon Rosenberg, Claire Lloyd-Jones - the author of the report, we've now learned - and of course my friend and colleague, Jenny Macklin. No one in the parliament has done more than Jenny to fight the great fight against inequality and poverty in Australia and to have her in the room is a special treat for all of us today. 

Why do we do research? We know that poverty is out there, we know that disadvantage is bad. Why don't we just get on and solve the problem? We do research because often it throws up results that surprise us. Jeremy said before that the research was largely unsurprising to him, but that's perhaps because he's better informed than I am.

When I read this report, titled 'Come As You Are', there were some things that surprised me. One of the figures that really struck me was the fact that when you look at why people access food support programs, more people say they're there for the social support than for the resources - 89 percent for the social support, 87 percent for the physical resources. And it reminds you that poverty isn't just the lack of resources, but it can be a lack of social connections. This is a huge challenge among some of the most disadvantaged people in Australia. But it's a big challenge too for the nation as a whole. 

What Claire's terrific report does is it brings together two of the big trends that we've been seeing in Australia over the last generation. As a society, we've become more disconnected. If you look at churches, we're half as likely to go to church as we were in the 1950s. If you look in the workplaces, we're half as likely to join a union as we were in the early 1980s. Scouts, Guides, Rotary, Lions; all have been shedding members. Australians have fewer friends and know fewer neighbours than a generation ago. We've become more disconnected.

Alongside that, we've become more unequal. The gap between rich and poor in Australia has been steadily rising, with earnings rising three times as fast for the top-tenth of wage earners as for the bottom-tenth of wage earners. This report reminds us that those two tectonic shifts in Australian society - declining civic engagement and rising inequality - need to be tackled together. Great community service organisations like Northside and Anglicare and many others in Canberra, work together on those. They don't just provide people the food that they need, but they also provide them with social support, a pat on the back, a friendly chat, an opportunity to share your experience with someone who understands what's going on.

This report today helps us use evidence to tackle the big challenges. We should welcome that evidence. We should welcome it when it reinforces the views that we have, we should probably welcome it even more when it counters those views. Because there are people who want to make changes in society. We've always got to be focused on the outcomes, on getting the results - not on particular programs which might work or might not work, but actually on being adherent to the evidence, adherent to getting better results.

I'm delighted to be here at this launch in anti-poverty week, and even happier to hand over to my friend and colleague, one of Australia's stars in social justice campaigning, Jenny Macklin. 


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