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Poor bear burden of coronavirus downturn, but inequality not inevitable in Australia - Op Ed, The Guardian

THE POOR BEAR THE BURDEN OF THE CORONAVIRUS DOWNTURN, BUT INEQUALITY IS NOT INEVITABLE IN AUSTRALIA

Over the three-month American summer break, school students diverge. In high-income families, students keep learning, thanks to museum trips, instructional camps, and home tutoring. In low-income families, students slip backwards, losing 1-2 months’ worth of learning by the time they return to school. According to one study, the ‘summer slide’ accounts for two-thirds of the difference between poor and rich students.

The gap between high-performing and low-performing children in Australia is already larger than in most advanced nations. With a large share of families currently homeschooling, this problem is likely to worsen. Speaking with a range of parents, I’m struck by the differences in how children are spending their days - with some being intensively tutored, while others are literally left to their own devices.

Before COVID-19 hit, we already had too much inequality in Australia. And that’s not just a Labor view. In one survey, people were three times more likely to agree than disagree with the statement that ‘income and wealth should be redistributed towards ordinary working people’.

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Government needs to go further for charities - Transcript, Doorstop

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP

PARLIAMENT HOUSE

SATURDAY, 11 APRIL 2020

SUBJECTS: Charities unable to access JobKeeper payments; unemployment.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: While finance is the lifeblood of the economy, charities are the connective tissue. The 1.3 million charity workers help hold Australia together at times of crisis. This is a massive sector, and one which has been suffering a perfect storm over recent weeks. We've seen a huge drop off in donations to Australia's charities. Philanthropic foundations are experiencing lower sharemarket returns, so they're giving less. Australians are giving less to their favourite charities, and many significant fundraising events such as fundraising balls are dropping off. Op shops are closing. Charities are getting far less revenue now than they did in the past. They're suffering a fall in their volunteer base, too. Millions of Australians volunteer, but older Australians are increasingly refraining from volunteering because of the risk of being exposed to others.

At the same time, we need our charities more than we ever have. We need Australia's charities to assist with addressing family violence, with the challenge of joblessness, with the mental health issues that are arising and with problems around financial counselling. We're drawing on Australia's charities to help the homeless and Indigenous Australians, groups that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. And yet the Government has been slow to assist charities. Their first response package contained nothing for charities whatsoever. The second response package contained nothing for major charities. The third package, the wage subsidy scheme called JobKeeper, did assist some charities and more when the Government on Sunday night changed the threshold so that charities only had to have a 15 per cent drop in turnover rather than a 30 per cent drop in order to qualify. Labor welcomed that change.

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Charities need more support for their vital work - Transcript, 2GB Breakfast

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RADIO INTERVIEW

2GB BREAKFAST

WEDNESDAY, 8 APRIL 2020

SUBJECTS: Charities unable to access JobKeeper payments; coronavirus restrictions and the economy.

ALAN JONES, HOST: Andrew Leigh is a very highly credentialed Labor member of the Federal Parliament for the ACT seat of Fenner. He happens to be the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury. He's most probably smarter than the people who've got the big gig, but that's another story. He's also though the Shadow Assistant Minister for Charities, and the in Parliament sitting today. He's written to me expressing some concern about this JobKeeper legislation bill to be introduced into Parliament. I might add that Andrew Leigh is a James Ruse old boy, so he comes from his fairly smart intellectual stable. Labor and the Government are on the one side, Labor will support the bill. Now this fellow is not oppositional, Andrew Leigh. He's capable of evaluating things on merit. He has written to me to say that even though the Government made a minor tweak to the JobKeeper bill, allowing charities to claim if they had a revenue drop of 15 per cent rather than 30 per cent they'd qualify, Andrew Leigh is saying that major charities including Anglicare, UnitingCare and Oxfam have said that the solution won't work. I just thought we'd have a word with him. This is really important, because I know that there is a bit of disillusionment – and I was going to raise this with Andrew - a bit of disillusionment about charities because people gave generously in drought and bushfires and no one knows where that money has gone. But nonetheless, in this environment which is very, very difficult, charitable work - there is tremendous demands on these charities. Andrew, good morning to you.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Alan. Great to be on with you.

JONES: Thank you. Can I just preface things by saying that point, that charities are a little bit on the nose with the public because they feel that hundreds of thousands of dollars were given somewhere for drought and bushfire relief and no one seems to know where it is. Is that something that is often raised with you?

LEIGH: Certainly from time to time. I think it's absolutely critical that charities account to their members properly for every dollar they spend. They've got a public trust to spend given the money wisely, but I think in bushfire relief it was charities we turned to-

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Charities still missing out on support - Transcript, ABC Radio Canberra

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RADIO INTERVIEW

ABC RADIO CANBERRA

TUESDAY, 7 APRIL 2020

SUBJECTS: The need for Parliament to keep sitting; JobKeeper payments for casuals and migrant workers; charities unable to access JobKeeper payments; coronavirus modelling.

ADAM SHIRLEY, HOST: And it's the federal government's response for weeks now that you've probably been hanging on. What immediate financial relief is available to you? Where can you go? Where can't you? How clear is that advice from the federal government? Dr Andrew Leigh is a former professor of economics at the ANU. He's also the Federal Member for Fenner, a Labor member, and he's with us now on ABC Radio Canberra. Dr Leigh, good morning to you.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Adam. Great to be with you and your listeners.

SHIRLEY: How well are the economic measures taken by the Government working, in your view?

LEIGH: I think they'll have a significant effect. The estimate from Westpac is that if we hadn't had the wage subsidy the Parliament will pass tomorrow, unemployment would have hit 17 per cent. Westpac is now forecasting it'll hit 9 per cent. Now 9 per cent is still awful, but it's almost a halving of the unemployment rate as a result of this package. With stimulus 1 and 2,  Labor said we welcomed them but they didn't go far enough, and that we needed to do what other countries have done and provide significant wage subsidies. And I'm pleased that Parliament will be passing those tomorrow.

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Charities need more help from the Morrison Government - Transcript, Radio Interview

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RADIO INTERVIEW

2CC CANBERRA DRIVE

MONDAY, 6 APRIL 2020

SUBJECTS: JobKeeper payments for casuals; charities unable to access JobKeeper payments; the importance of maintaining community.

LEON DELANEY, HOST: Joining me now the Federal Member for Fenner and Shadow Assistant Minister for Charities and Treasury, Dr Andrew Leigh. Good afternoon.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good afternoon, Leon. Great to be with you.

DELANEY: Good to have you along again. I'll tell you what, that's a bit of a mouthful, all of this nonsense about changing the Fair Work Act and fiddling about with the different awards and enterprise agreements and so forth. I know we're here to talk about the changes for registered charities, but can we touch upon the JobKeeper package more generally to begin with, and which way you think the government should be addressing this question of implementing the changes. Changing the Fair Work Act or individually going through all the awards?

LEIGH: Leon, there's lots of twists and turns with this but I don't think it's hard to imagine the Fair Work Commission, which deals with a national wage case and with many awards every year, can't deal with an issue like this. What's important is to make sure that as many workers as possible are supported at a time when they might otherwise lose their jobs. There's debate in the US as to whether the unemployment rate there now is 13 per cent or 16 per cent, but either way it's clear that much of the world is in a recession already and it's just critical that as many employees as possible maintain that connection to their workplace. Once a firm goes insolvent, once a worker loses their job, those relationships are really hard to rebuild Leon and it means that the recovery becomes a whole lot slower. We want a V-shaped recovery, and that means doing what we can now. It also means looking after those casuals who've been employed for less than 12 months. The Government’s set this-

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Important to have a plan post-crisis - Transcript, Sky News

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TV INTERVIEW

SKY NEWS

FRIDAY, 3 APRIL 2020

SUBJECTS: The impact of coronavirus on Australian airlines; competition; US unemployment figures; Australian unemployment figures; stimulus measures and the wage subsidy package; government debt.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: My next guest on the program is Andrew Leigh, a shadow minister for the Labor party. Andrew, thanks very much for your time. Why don’t we start on Virgin Australia, I know you’ve had some comments to make on this. Labor’s been saying that the government might be acting in haste here, denying the assistance that Virgin is after, which might be a $1.4 billion or so loan. What is Labor saying exactly, that should be considered or that should just be given to Virgin to make sure they stay?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Tom, the bottom line is Australia needs two full service airlines. Much as we love the budget carriers, it's important that there is competition in the business end of the market. No market is well served by a monopoly. We saw from 2001 to 2008, after Ansett exited the market, the impact that that had on the choice of routes and on the fares themselves. So it's vital that the Government recognises that consumers are well served by competition. Whether that's done through an equity stake or through a loan - I'm actually pretty relaxed about that, Tom. But the Government should be engaging constructively. You know, they seem to be behaving towards Virgin no more constructively they behaved towards Holden when they goaded them to leave the country. This isn't a sensible approach for Australian flyers.

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Let’s take this chance to rebuild our solidarity - Op Ed. Herald-Sun

LET’S TAKE THIS CHANCE TO REBUILD OUR SOLIDARITY 

Herald Sun, 30 March 2020

A century ago, the Spanish Flu hit Australia. Quarantine measures were only partially effective, so in 1919, authorities turned to social distancing. Public gatherings were cancelled. Masks were distributed. Schools were closed. People stayed home when they could. One analysis of the response found that it prevented 22 percent of Australians from catching the potentially deadly disease. In the end, 15,000 Australians died. It was a huge toll, but smaller than you might expect from a disease that claimed over 50 million lives globally.

Social distancing measures work, but they are especially tough on those with fewer social connections. In a recent survey on social connections, Nick Terrell and I found that Australians report having only about half as many close friends as they did in the mid-1980s. We are also less likely to know our neighbours. Remarkably, half of all Australians report feeling lonely at least once a week.

Social capital is the idea that the bonds of trust and reciprocity that bind us together have inherent value. Those with stronger social networks tend to be healthier, to do better in business, and to report being happier with their lives. Yet over the past generation, Australians have become disconnected. We are less likely to attend church, less likely to join clubs, less likely to be part of a union, and less active in politics.

Sometimes, a crisis can build social capital. We have seen this at times of war, and at moments when communities put aside their differences to battle bushfires or fight floods. But disasters can also be emotionally scarring. As Lifeline warns, ‘The stress caused following a natural disaster can lead to “burnout” and physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.’

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Charities need support now more than ever - Transcript, Volunteer Voices

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RADIO INTERVIEW

RADIO NORTHERN BEACHES

WEDNESDAY, 25 MARCH 2020

SUBJECTS: Reconnected, the impact of coronavirus on charities.

MICHAEL LESTER, HOST: Welcome to Radio Northern Beaches, 88.7 and 90.3. I'm Michael Lester with our weekly Volunteer Voices show here on Radio Northern Beaches. And I'm delighted to welcome to our program today Andrew Leigh, who is the Member of Parliament for the ACT seat of Fenner and he has been a member of parliament since 2010. Andrew is an academic, a former professor of economics at ANU, a great author and commentator on social and policy issues. Andrew, I'm very pleased to welcome you here to Volunteer Voices.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Thanks, Michael. A real pleasure to be with you.

LESTER: Now this is a difficult time Andrew, but in many ways I think an interesting time to talk to you as we as a society face the challenges to our social interconnectedness if you like, as a community, when we confront a lot of the social distancing, self isolation and other very drastic measures that are being undertaken. Perhaps as a bit of a background to that discussion Andrew, perhaps you could take us through the work you did in 2010 when you actually looked at some of the statistics and facts around social participation, volunteering and engagement in Australia against the backdrop of the figures from America that were showing significant declines in community participation and organisations in the last 20 years.

LEIGH: Thanks very much, Michael. When I was a doctoral student at Harvard in the early 2000s, I worked with Robert Putnam on his research team. Putnam had just produced Bowling Alone, which was a magnificent study looking at the contours of social capital in America - how the networks of trust and reciprocity in that country had first waxed and then waned over the course of the 20th century. He documented that for the first half of the 20th century, there was quite a significant increase in the strength of community and associational life, and then from the 1960s, 1970s onwards that there had been a decline. In Disconnected, I looked at the same patterns for Australia and found much the same trends. Churchgoing, union membership, member of the Scouts, Guides, Rotary, Lions - all of that seemed to have declined since the 1970s. Australians tend to have fewer organisations per person and a smaller share of the population actively engaged in civic organisation.

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Government needs to help the helpers - Transcript, ABC News Radio

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RADIO INTERVIEW

ABC NEWS RADIO

TUESDAY, 24 MARCH 2020

SUBJECTS: The impact of coronavirus on charities, stimulus packages.

GLEN BARTHOLOMEW, HOST: We have Andrew Leigh back on the line for us now. Andrew, good afternoon, and as I saying a pretty welcome move to extend this aid to the charity sector.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: It was, Glen, although it's still the major charities that are being left out, and that means that around half the workers in the sector won't be covered because they work for some of the big charities who are being asked to do the heavy lifting. So as we're seeing these lines outside Centrelink offices across the country, people being turned away - one woman said she was turned away with $10 in a bank account - who will she turn to? She’ll turn to a charity, and likely the charity she'll turn to is one that hasn't been supported by the government.

BARTHOLOMEW: What were the criteria to determine who was supported and who wasn't?

LEIGH: Well, it’s those with turnover under $50 million. But that excludes groups like the Red Cross, Fred Hollows Foundation, RSPCA, Save the Children, Mission Australia, Smith Family, Goodstart Early Learning - some of the significant charities that have been doing work, supporting people recovering from the bushfires, but are now seeing a big drop off in donations. They're seeing challenges for their volunteer base because of social distancing, and they're seeing challenges in fundraising for when activities like fundraising balls are cancelled. Philanthropic foundations are giving less because of the sharemarket collapse. 

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Helping the helpers - Op Ed, The Canberra Times

HELPING THE HELPERS

The Canberra Times, 24 March 2020

On the NSW South Coast, charities are hard at work supporting victims of this summer’s unprecedented fires. There are homes to be rebuilt and debris to be removed. Teachers are seeing signs of mental distress among children who were evacuated from their homes three or four times. When local MP Fiona Phillips and I held a roundtable with charities in Nowra earlier this month, they told us how their budgets and staff were overstretched.

And that was when there were less than 200 coronavirus cases in Australia.

In the face of Australia’s greatest post-war health emergency, there’s a risk that Australian charity workers have become the forgotten people.

Already, we’ve seen charities sidelined by the federal government’s response. In the first stimulus package, businesses were prioritised over non-profit groups. That meant a for-profit childcare centre could access support that was unavailable to a non-profit early learning centre. Although the second stimulus package contained support for small charities, the main measures are off limits to major charities such as Mission Australia, Barnados, the Smith Family, and Goodstart Early Learning.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.