Government needs to make poverty national priority - Transcript, 2SM





SUBJECTS: Parliamentary Friends of Cycling; Anti-Poverty Week; social housing; the Morrison Government’s cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker; food insecurity.

MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Minister for Charities, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury. Hello, mate. How are you?


PAUL: Yeah, nice to talk to you as well. Now you have just launched the Parliamentary Friends of Cycling. Tell me all about this, mate. It’s a great idea. 

LEIGH: Absolutely. We're on the bike. Helen Haines, Dave Sharma and I decided that it was important to have a group that represented cyclists, as so many cyclists around Australia do it to stay fit, to commute, to just hang out with the kids. So Steven Hodge, who is one of Australia's great cyclists, got us all together and set up this group, which will campaign to get more people cycling more often.

PAUL: Yeah, it's a great way to keep fit. It's a great family activity. I love seeing families, mums and dads and then there's the little ones on their little bikes behind them, and maybe even a bub in one of the carriers on the front of mum or dad's bike. It's great. 

LEIGH: It really is. I just returned from a bike ride around Canberra this morning. It’s one of those beautiful mornings to be out, a day that makes you say - as one of the blokes put it - ‘I wouldn’t be dead for quids’.

PAUL: Absolutely not, especially at this time of the year in the nation's capital. I know there's no Floriade this year, but there's still plenty of other colour. 

LEIGH: Absolutely. Beautiful to be out, birds going crazy. It’s just delightful.

PAUL: I don’t know whether you’re on top of what the Prime Minister said in the last 24 hours, but I don't know - maybe an ill choice of words considering this is Anti-Poverty Week. Did I hear right - did the Prime Minister say if you earn $180,000 a year you're not rich?

LEIGH: There’s perennial debate over where the line is. The fact is, if you're on that income, then you're doing much better than most Australians-

PAUL: The average, I’ve looked - sorry, Andrew, I don't mean to interrupt you, I don't mean to be rude. The average income, the average Australian income, which more than 50 per cent of Australians earn, sits just under 60K a year. So, how out of touch is this bloke?

LEIGH: He's campaigning in the Queensland election, using all his partisan wiles. He's behaving in a way that seems deeply unbecoming of a prime minister right now. I would have thought that at a time when we were facing a pandemic and a recession, you'd be looking to bring the country together rather than to score political points. 

PAUL: Alright. Well, tell me about what's happening with Anti-Poverty Week. We know that millions of Australians have been left behind. We're in the middle of the most severe economic crisis, and 160,000 of us are expected to lose our jobs between now and the end of the year and there's just not enough work out there for everybody who needs it.

LEIGH: It's a really important reminder that one in six kids are in poverty, and food insecurity is still a real issue in Australia. We've got people skipping meals, not able to pay bills, living in substandard accommodation. One of the things you heard from Anthony Albanese’s budget reply was a promise to fix up social housing. So homes that have mould on the walls, where there's holes in the walls - you've just you've got to make a real difference to those at the bottom if we're going to do something about reducing poverty in Australia. I think that needs to be a national priority. We need to realise that we're all worse off when poverty is too high in Australia. 

PAUL: Over the past year, more than one in five Australians - so that's more than 20 per cent - have experienced food insecurity. I mean, I think that would be awful. Not knowing where or how on earth you're going to afford your next meal after you've met your other commitments. 

LEIGH: Yes, we know it's frequently single parents who are skipping meals so their kids can have enough to eat. They just find that once they pay the electricity bills and once they pay the rent that there just isn't enough food to go around. The food bank services we have in Australia, OzHarvest and the rest, do a terrific job but there's this fundamental role for government here. The fact is, the government's cutting back on payments right now at a time when as you've said Marcus, a whole lot of people are expected to lose their jobs. We have people on unemployment benefits who are looking now to snap back to $40 a day on New Year's Day next year. So it will be some new year's present, they’ll be going back to a rate that the Business Council, ACOSS, even John Howard says is unliveable.

PAUL: Yeah, 40 bucks a day. No, no thanks. By the way, I mean, I’m reminded of a song lyric. I can’t remember who it was by, you know - ‘we could save the world on what we throw away each and every day’. I mean, why are we having a food insecurity problem?

LEIGH: It's a real problem of allocation, isn’t it? It's not as though we're not growing enough food in the world. But if you look around Australia, and all the more so if you look globally, you see a whole lot of people who will be going to bed hungry tonight. So we need to do a smarter job of making sure that as a community we look after the most vulnerable. We know that when communities do that, then we're all stronger together.

PAUL: We’re all better off. Absolutely. We're all very, very conscious of it. But we just - I think we just need some better direction when it comes to, and I'm obviously talking about the food insecurity thing at the moment. It is a big part of poverty, let's be honest. And you know, we do it very well here in Australia - I think we just need someone to help. We’ve seen some wonderful organisations that feed the poor, you know, in some areas, urban areas of our country and it's great. I just wish we had another groundswell, an organisation or something that captures the public's imagination so nobody goes hungry. I know we're trying, but I think we need to try harder Andrew. 

LEIGH: Yeah. If you look across the ditch, Jacinda Ardern made herself the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction, as well as the Prime Minister. She’s seen child poverty is being a national issue that needs the attention of the prime minister. That sort of focused approach has a lot recommend it. We can do a lot more here to reduce poverty, through the community sector, our wonderful charities, but also by the actions of government.

PAUL: Alright, we’ll just have to tell the prime minister to forget his fossil fuel mates and look after our undernourished kids. Okay, you want to tell him for me? 

LEIGH: It’s be nice if he was spending some time looking after the most vulnerable rather than looking after those who don't really need the assistance of government. 

PAUL: Thanks, Andrew. Bye bye, mate.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.