16 October 2019

Anti-Poverty Week - Adjournment Speech

There are more than 131,000 South Australians living below the poverty line and more than 22,000 of them are children. This week is Anti-Poverty Week—a time when we should all turn our attention to fixing these shocking statistics. Australia continues to move backwards when it comes to poverty and inequality. After 20 years of economic growth, the number of people in poverty is increasing at alarming rates and pushing our nation further backwards. A report released by the Australian Council of Social Service and the University of New South Wales in 2018 showed that more than one in eight Australians, or 13.2 per cent, were living below the poverty line. Disturbingly, the report tells us that the poverty rate among children is much higher, with one in six living below the poverty line, or 17.3 per cent of all children. And for single-parent families the situation is even worse, with 17.6 per cent of those families living below the poverty line.

In my home state of South Australia, living outside of our capital city, Adelaide, makes it twice as likely that you live in poverty. All of this is in a country where we are told, 'If you have a go, you get a go.' But do you really? The reality is that Australia is becoming less fair, especially for the next generation. Underneath all of the statistics is a series of policy decisions that have made poverty worse—decisions like cutting penalty rates, cutting family payments, refusing to lift the rate of Newstart, attacking Medicare and the universality of our healthcare system, and taking away penalty rates—payments that ensure that working Australians can have a quality standard of living and a liveable wage. These policy choices have made it harder and harder for struggling Australians to make ends meet.

These policy decisions have failed my home state of South Australia more than any other, because South Australia, sadly, has the highest rate of poverty in comparison to all other jurisdictions. Labour force figures recently released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that underemployment is far too high and too many Australians are in insecure work, hamstrung by stagnant wages. They also showed that South Australia has the highest unemployment rate in the country, at 7.3 per cent. While costs are going up, wages aren't, and South Australians are earning less than people from most other states and well below the national average. I believe the people of my state deserve better. So much more needs to be done to address the unacceptable rates of poverty and inequality in Australia. Where better to start than with Newstart?

Labor accepts that the rate of Newstart is too low and it must increase, because Newstart has not increased in real terms for more than 25 years, leaving over 1.8 million unemployed and underemployed Australians struggling daily to get by. Deloitte Access Economics tells us that a person living on Newstart lives on just 36 per cent of the average wage after tax. It is just not enough to cover the essentials: a roof over your head, food, water, energy and transport. Without these things, how can an individual ever exit the cycle of poverty? Newstart is so low that it's acting as a barrier to people finding work and breaking free of poverty. Too many people living on Newstart are facing very real hardship, and the government's inaction is utterly unacceptable. With analysis confirming that 75 per cent of Australians support an increase to Newstart, including former Prime Minister John Howard and the BCA, the Prime Minister and his government are out of excuses. Australians on Newstart are real people in our community who have to grapple with the realities of poverty every single day. Poverty affects individuals' access to health, housing, education, employment and social participation. In a vicious circle, poor outcomes in these areas then impact on their ability to earn an income. Raising the rate of Newstart will give recipients a better chance to break out of poverty and into the dignity of work.

Of course, it's not just a social policy issue; it's an economic one. An increase would provide the stimulus that our economy, especially in South Australia—and especially in our regions—so desperately needs, because, despite what the government tells us, we know that our national economy is not in good shape. Wages are stagnating, we're experiencing the lowest rate of economic growth in 10 years, and costs on almost everything are going up. The government doesn't seem to have any plan to deliver economic growth, with the recent interest rate cut confirming that. Instead of increasing Newstart, which would not only help people doing it tough but deliver immediate and significant economic stimulus, they are, instead, spending their time stigmatising and demeaning welfare recipients. Nineteen thousand rural and regional South Australians would benefit from an increase, and it would be a huge stimulus in regional and rural South Australia. Given that it's Anti-Poverty Week, I think now is the time to commit to increasing Newstart.

16 October 2019