Poverty in Australia

WEDNESDAY 31 MAY 2017

POVERTY IN AUSTRALIA

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 15:33 :02 ): I rise today to speak on the war on the poor. Back in the 1980s when Bob Hawke was the first Prime Minister that I had a real clear memory of as a teenager, we used to hear our prime ministers promising that no child in Australia need live in poverty. Of course, we know that not only do at least 600,000 children currently live in poverty in our nation, some 2.5 million Australians live in poverty.

At the time, the then leader of the opposition, Bob Hawke, when he first made that pledge, stumbled on the words. He had meant to say, 'No child need live in poverty.' Of course, he stumbled and chose the far more aspirational sentence that no child would live in poverty by the year 1990. In a classic case of majoring in the minors, the media focused on the gotcha moment of that slip of the tongue rather than the pressing issue of poverty. We are a developed nation, a nation that has a system where all in our community should share in the wealth that we have in this society, particularly when you compare us to some of the poorer nations across the globe.

It is disappointing to see continued attacks, not only made on those people who have been plunged into poverty and live below that poverty line but punishing them while they are there. It is certainly a situation that I see as kicking people when they are down. The language that no child need or would live in poverty has long been lost. We have seen successive leaders talk about so‑called mutual obligation rather than social security, and beating up on the poor seems to have become a national pastime of our federal leaders.

Most recently we have seen the robo-debt debacle, where those on these incomes well below the poverty line are pursued by the federal government to pay back amounts of as little as $20 that are deemed to be owed through this robo-debt income reclaiming system, when former senator Bob Day was pardoned half a million dollars of debt. Like most Australians I cannot fathom how a federal government would pardon a debt of almost half a million dollars from a senator yet pursue those who are least able to afford to pay—those who have lived in poverty and those who have probably made no false claims—for some $20.

We have got our priorities all wrong. We used to have leaders who talked about not wars on the poor but of course wars on poverty. Indeed that is one thing for which I would be 'All the way with LBJ'. LBJ took up the mantle of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who once promised a New Deal and talked about a war on poverty back in the sixties. I would like to see that language come back into play. We should not be accepting anybody in our nation living in poverty, and certainly we should not be punishing them once they are there.

But we are seeing them punished. We are seeing them punished with these robo-debts, and we are seeing them punished with the language of mutual obligation, as if somehow they are trying to rort a system to live in poverty. We are seeing cashless welfare cards rolled out in our state—and soon to be across the country—where people who are on welfare support are unable to access even that meagre amount of cash, which prevents them from being able to do things like buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the next-door neighbour for a couple of bucks. It prevents them from being able to buy second-hand goods through easily accessible online platforms that today have become commonplace.

What I am most sad to see is that in terms of these awful attacks on the poor, which we have come to expect, particularly from the Liberals with their big stick, these people living in poverty are now being taken to not just with that stick of that horrific mutual obligation language but indeed with the baseball bat of things like robo-debts, which have been found by the Ombudsman to be false, to be persecution and to be a war on the poor. It is time to declare war on poverty, and certainly the Greens will continue to fight for that.

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