Poverty in South Australia

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:01): I move:

1. That a select committee of the Legislative Council be established to inquire into and report on poverty in South Australia, and in particular—

(a) the extent and nature of poverty in South Australia;

(b) the impact of poverty on access to health, housing, education, employment, services and other opportunities;

(c) the practical measures that could be implemented to address the impacts of poverty;

(d) any other relevant matters.

2. That standing order 389 be so far suspended as to enable the chairperson of the committee to have a deliberative vote only.

3. That this council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being presented to the council.

4. That standing order 396 be suspended to enable strangers to be admitted when the select committee is examining witnesses unless the committee otherwise resolves, but they shall be excluded when the committee is deliberating.

 

This is a motion to establish a select committee of the Legislative Council to inquire into and report on poverty in South Australia, in particular the extent and nature of poverty in our state and the impact of that poverty on access to health, housing, education, employment and services, as well as any other opportunities. It also is a select committee set up to investigate the practical measures that could be implemented to address these impacts of poverty in the way that they are happening right now to South Australians in terms of 2018, and any other relevant matters.

In 2018, I think it is to our shame that we still have people living in poverty in a developed nation. I rise today to speak about poverty, not for the first time. Indeed, I have spoken about poverty many times in this place and on more than one occasion in this council I have talked about the war that we wage on the poor, rather than the war that we should wage on poverty. It is deeply disturbing that this war goes on, with continued attacks not only made on those people who have been plunged into poverty and live below the poverty line but punishing them while they are there. Now we are seeing attacks on the very services that work to alleviate that poverty. Where once, back in the 1980s, we had a prime minister (prime minister Hawke) who talked in terms—aspirational, but achievable terms—of no child living in poverty, it seems now that beating up on the poor is a national pastime, from our federal leaders to local councillors.

A snapshot of poverty in Australia provides a shocking picture that should prompt urgent action from all levels of government. According to the Australian Council of Social Services report of 2016, 'Our poverty in Australia', the poverty line for a single adult is $426.30 a week, defined here as 50 per cent of the median income. For a couple with two children, it is $895.22 a week. Despite Australia's 20-year economic growth, there are around three million people living in poverty in our nation. One in six children under the age of 15 lives in poverty. We are certainly a long way from the days of having a prime minister promise that none of those children need live in poverty in this country. Conversely, child poverty in Australia increased by two percentage points over the decade 2003-04 to 2013-14.

Meanwhile, of the people receiving social security payments, 36.1 per cent were living below the poverty line, including 55 per cent (more than half) of those receiving Newstart Allowance. Beyond these statistics of course there are stories of people who have no food to put in their pantries. In fact, they have no need for a pantry because there is simply nothing to place in it. We now have an attitude in this country that somehow it is acceptable for people to live in poverty and that somehow it is often seen as their own fault. This comes from the idea of the deserving and undeserving poor, which certainly I learnt about in my university days and had thought was a thing of the past, not of our present.

Meanwhile, on average, more than 100,000 Australians are homeless each and every night. This is a shocking figure for a society that prides itself on a fair go—it certainly does not provide that fair go—and for a wealthy nation where everyone in our community should be able to share in that wealth. More than a quarter of those people afflicted by homelessness are under the age of 18 and around a quarter are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Chronically underfunded public housing and homelessness services are then left to deal with this. Sadly, now we are seeing not only that war on the poor but a war on those services that are actually fighting the good fight: the war on poverty itself. The Hutt St Centre does amazing work in combating homelessness and poverty but now finds itself the number one target of a dedicated campaign of attack from certain local councillors and some newspaper columnists.

As a result of this campaign, it has been forced upon SAPOL to say that resources are being deployed to fight the fear of crime rather than any crime itself. In fact, SAPOL has stated that there is no evidence of an escalation of any crime rate in this particular area around the Hutt St Centre. We must do better than this. Rather than a war on poverty and the services that are actually helping to alleviate that poverty and homelessness, we need a war on poverty itself. We need to get to the bottom of the claims that are being made about the Hutt St Centre and about homelessness in general. We must know whether there are vested interests at play with hidden motives for pushing out the Hutt St Centre that have nothing to do with poverty. Perhaps that is the case. This committee will certainly investigate that situation.

I believe we should be lauding the work of the Hutt St Centre along with organisations such as the Don Dunstan Foundation, Anglicare, Uniting Communities, Catherine House and Shelter SA, all of whom are doing their bit to end poverty and homelessness and all of whom deserve our support.

In the face of some of the claims made in the media late last year, the Institute for Global Homelessness recognised Adelaide as one of the 12 cities in the world leading the way in tackling street homelessness. That is the sort of news I would like to see more of in our local papers. It is time we had a real conversation about poverty and homelessness in this state, and this council is the place for that. It is time for action on poverty and homelessness.

The establishment of this select committee will be an important first step in this direction. The committee will also provide a voice for those who are living in poverty, who are silenced in our current public debate. I have liaised with the Don Dunstan Foundation, with Shelter SA and with groups such as the Anti-Poverty Network who are campaigning for a raise in Newstart. It will also allow a voice for those living in Ceduna who have been put on a cashless welfare card and plunged into poverty. This will be a committee, I hope, that will be cross-party in its approach and that will start to look at solutions and a vision for a place where not only no child lives in poverty in this state but no-one lives in poverty in this state. With those few words, I commend the motion to the council.

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