INVISIBLE AUSTRALIANS: PUTTING A SPOTLIGHT ON POVERTY
Address to the Anglicare National Congress
Every Thursday and Friday morning, Reverend Doug Newman and his team of volunteers at St Paul’s Church in Spence run the Helping Hand Food Pantry. Since 2007, the pantry has helped people in need access staple foods as well as fresh fruit and vegetables at low cost. Anyone who is struggling to afford their weekly grocery bill can stop by and stock up on food donated by local businesses and community groups. If you stop by one morning, you’ll see all sorts of people using the service. Single men in need of a shave, with their socks showing through the holes in their shoes. Neatly dressed mums with three kids in tow, carefully counting out their grocery budget. Seniors who’ve travelled an hour on the bus to get there and so make their pension stretch a bit further.
What’s striking about the Helping Hand Food Pantry is not that Reverend Newman and his team turn up rain, hail or shine to run it, or that Canberrans give so generously to support it – although both of these things are very laudable.
What’s really striking about this service is that it operates in a middle class suburb in one of the wealthiest cities in Australia. Even in a prosperous, white-collar place such as Canberra there are people who find it so hard to make ends meet that they rely on the Helping Hand Food Pantry to stretch their finances through the week.
These people have become almost invisible in our public debates. So today, I want to talk about the ‘invisible people’ in Australian public life – those living in poverty.
After a quarter of a century of economic growth in this country, there’s a sense that poverty isn’t a problem anymore in Australia. Or at least, we have come to believe that being poor is something that happens through catastrophe – like a debilitating accident or an all-encompassing addiction. We’re loath to admit that there are still structural inequalities in our society – inequalities which see some people struggle from their first day to their last simply because of the family they were born into.
Our complacency about this problem is partly explained by the fact that for many of us, poverty exists in our blind spots. Unlike in North American cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, our poorest communities ring the edges of our major cities instead of living in the centre. So you and I don’t have to drive through Struggle Street to get to the GPO. The poorest Australians can also be found in regional and remote Australia, in run-down places where industry long ago left town and tourism rarely reaches.
There’s also the fact that Australia has an extensive and well-targeted social safety net. With pensions, NewStart, family tax benefits and the other forms of support available through our welfare system, some people can’t quite understand how poverty can still be a problem.
But those of you here today know that poverty is still with us. People who struggle to keep themselves and their families fed, housed and clothed can be found across our cities, in big and small towns, and especially out bush. You work with them, you support them, you minister to them in hard times.
The theme of this conference is leaving no-one behind. If we are committed to that goal; if we believe all Australians can and should share in this nation’s prosperity, our good work must be backed up by policies and programs which aim to lift Australians out of poverty in a systematic way.
Later on in this speech I’ll have more to say about what some of those interventions might look like. But first I want to spend a few moments bringing the experiences of those living in poverty from our blind spot out into the spotlight.
Sharing is good but everyone needs a fair go, Herald Sun, 14 September
In March this year, I gave a speech about the rise of the sharing economy – new app-based services that are changing the way Australians buy and sell things. In this speech, I calculated that AirBNB, which had only operated here for two years, already listed one in 300 Australian homes for temporary rental.
It's a measure of how rapidly the sector is changing that in just the six months since I gave that speech, the share of Australian homes listed on AirBNB has risen to almost one in 200.
People right across the Australian community are now buying and selling things through the sharing economy. Whether it’s university students and stay-at-home mums finding jobs on Airtasker, retirees booking holidays with Camplify or families ditching the second car in favour of GoGet, these services are rapidly becoming part of our daily lives.
With so many of us using sharing economy services, it’s easy to forget that some of these still sit in a complicated grey area when it comes to rules and regulations. Our laws haven’t changed anywhere near as fast as these services have been growing.
FRIDAY, 11 SEPTEMBER 2015
SUBJECT/S: Unemployment figures; Abbott Government’s failure to plan for growth; Ministerial re-shuffle.
MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Leigh, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning Marius.
BENSON: Just in broad terms, is it good news with the jobs figures?
LEIGH: I don't think we should spend a lot of time analysing movements in the unemployment rate that are well within its margin of error. But my concern more broadly is that the unemployment rate is still around the highest that it has been in 13 years and well above that of countries with which we compare ourselves, such as the UK and the United States. When the Abbott Government came to office the unemployment rate in Australia was a couple of points below where it was in the US and UK, and now it's about a point above those two countries. So our labour market is performing worse than theirs in absolute and relative terms.
BENSON: But if you look at the graphs of unemployment, the graph was heading down under Labor and continued to head down after the 2013 election. Now it's heading up, it's looking quite optimistic.
LEIGH: As I said, the unemployment rate – like opinion polls – is measured with a bit of error and yesterday's movement is well within that. But we do have figures which are the worst they've been in broad terms in 13 years. Youth unemployment is again sitting at around 14 per cent – that's one of the worst figures we've had in more than a decade. We know, Marius, that if we want to bring down the unemployment rate then we need growth probably above 3 per cent. Instead we've got growth of around 2 per cent and every quarter since the Abbott Government's first budget came down, the annual growth figures have been revised downwards. We did have growth around that 3 per cent level, now it's down around 2 per cent. If it gets worse and worse then it's going to be harder and harder to generate the jobs we need.
THE ABBOTT GOVERNMENT’S “EXPORT AGREEMENT WITH CHINA”
The Abbott Government’s claim today that it had concluded an “Export Agreement with China” raises troubling issues about whether it has followed proper procedures.
As the Abbott Government undoubtedly knows, Export Agreements are contracts, arrangements or understandings that relate exclusively to the export of goods from Australia or the supply of services outside of Australia.
Export Agreements are listed as such on the ACCC website.
HOW CAN ERIC ABETZ FIX UNEMPLOYMENT WHEN HE DOESN’T EVEN UNDERSTAND IT?
Joint media release with Shadow Minister for Employment Brendan O'Connor
The man in charge of keeping Australians working has today revealed he lacks even the most basic understanding of the unemployment rate.
In his press conference defending an unemployment figure which stubbornly continues to have a six in front of it, Employment Minister Eric Abetz said:
“a 6, a 5, a 4, a 3, a 2 or a 1 in front of the unemployment figure is unacceptable.”
Eric Abetz - Press Conference - 10 September 2015
ENCOURAGING WORDS ON THE CHARITIES COMMISSION MUST BE FOLLOWED BY ACTION
Social Services Minister Scott Morrison has today given the strongest signal yet that the Abbott Government has walked away from its plan to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.
But the charities sector will not have certainty until Minister Morrison formally withdraws the abolition bill which is still before the House of Representatives.
This morning, Minister Morrison told the Philanthropy Meets Parliament summit that his Government had “consulted widely, and there is very strong support for the ACNC.”
He went on to admit that: “I don’t believe there would be support in the Senate for there to be any change.”
PARTNERING WITH PHILANTHROPY AND CIVIL SOCIETY – A LABOR VIEW
SPEECH TO THE INAUGURAL PHILANTHROPY MEETS PARLIAMENT SUMMIT
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
Thank you to Alan Schwartz for that kind introduction, and to Philanthropy Australia for bringing you all into the nation’s Parliament. I would also like to congratulate Tony Stuart on his appointment as the newest member of the government’s Community Business Partnership.
I come bearing apologies from the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, who would very much like to have been with you today. As many of you would know, it was Bill who developed and delivered the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission when he was Minister for Financial Services back in 2012. He has an abiding interest in the community sector.
For centuries, people have given to help others. Many people give from a sense of religious duty. Whether it’s the Jewish tradition of tzedakah, the Muslim notion of zakat or the Christian tradition of tithing, the faithful have always seen an obligation to give.
Philanthropy is an important form of social capital in Australia. Five years ago, I wrote Disconnected, a book that tracked various metrics of community spirit over the decades. Based on charitable deductions data from the Australian Taxation Office, I estimated that the share of Australians who donate to charity had not risen much since the late-1970s. Other donations data showed the same pattern – the share of people who give blood slipped slightly over the period from 1980 to 2010.
TWO YEARS SINCE TONY ABBOTT'S 'LOWER TAXES' FALSEHOOD
Two years ago, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey’s Liberals promised Australians that “taxes will always be lower under a Coalition government.”
– Real Solutions campaign brochure
It turns out that even when he writes things down, you can’t trust Tony Abbott. The Coalition are now running one of the highest-taxing governments in Australian history.
In Joe Hockey’s second bungled budget, Australia’s tax-to-GDP ratio rose to 22.3 per cent. The tax take is set to rise even further to 23.4 per cent over the forward estimates.
Don't cook the goose on tax reform, Huffington Post, 4 September
What does an efficient tax system look like? Economists will tell you that its one where we minimise the unwanted distortions on behaviour. Most taxes change what people do: if you tax chocolate bars at a higher rate than apples, people will be more likely to pack a Granny Smith with their lunch.
But some taxes lead to far bigger distortions than others. Insurance taxes discourage people buying insurance, which means they’re more vulnerable to risk. Stamp duty discourages mobility, which means we have too many empty-nesters rattling around in homes that would be better used by growing families. The result of inefficient taxes like these is underinsurance and higher house prices.
Efficiency isn’t the only thing that matters, but it has to be part of the debate. As 17th century French politician Jean-Baptiste Colbert put it, ‘The art of taxation consists in plucking the goose so as to get the most feathers with the least hissing’.
BELCONNEN COMMUNITY WELL ACQUAINTED WITH ABBOTT GOVERNMENT & FARCE
Last Friday, all of Australia looked on with open-mouthed astonishment at the Abbott Government’s ‘border farce’ debacle.
For Canberrans however, another farce has been unfolding for almost a year now as the Government has continually put off making a decision about where to base the merged Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Since September last year, the Government has been considering ripping the department out of the Belconnen Town Centre, where Immigration has been based for more than 40 years.