105 Cameron Street Launceston Tas 7250

ROSS HART– Australian Labor Party candidate for Bass

Poverty

Mr HART (Bass) (13:07):

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

  • poverty is an ongoing and serious problem in Australia;
  • recent figures by ACOSS found that 13.3 per cent of the population is living below the poverty line of 50 per cent of median household income;
  • Tasmania has the highest proportion of Australians living in poverty;
  • poverty among Australians is on the rise and is a consequence of structural inequality;
  • despite Australia’s extensive and well-targeted social safety net, over 2.5 million Australians continue to face serious financial hardship, impacting their quality of life;
  • the gap between rich and poor in Australia has been steadily rising—since 1975, earnings have risen three times as fast for the top tenth of wage earners as for the bottom tenth;
  • poverty is associated with worse health and education outcomes and a higher risk of exposure to both violence and prison; and
  • the government’s cuts to welfare payments and inaction on housing affordability and equitable tax reform are likely to increase Australia’s poverty and inequality levels; and

(2) calls on the Government to explain to the House how it intends to reduce inequality and poverty in Australia.

In moving this motion, I express my increasing concern with the ongoing problem of poverty in Australia. Inequality in this country is at a 75-year high. Despite Australia’s extensive and well-targeted social safety net, over 2.5 million Australians continue to face serious financial hardship, impacting their quality of life. The Australian Council of Social Service released a report late last year that found that 13.3 per cent of our population is living below the poverty line of 50 per cent of median household income. In real terms, that is almost three million Australians living on less than $426 per week. More and more, the gap between rich and poor is growing: 20 per cent of Australians cannot afford a week’s holiday away from home each year; 13 per cent cannot afford dental treatment if they need it; yet, at the same time, Australia’s private jet fleet has tripled and the number of helicopters has doubled in the last decade.

Tasmania has the highest proportion of individuals living in poverty. In my electorate of Bass, this translates to a poverty rate as high as 20.81 per cent in some of the more regional areas. Some 10,000 Bass residents are either in receipt of Newstart or the Disability Support Pension, with a large percentage of these households dependent upon income support payments as their main source of income. Unemployment is around 7.4 per cent, with many people in Bass underemployed and some are working up to three casual jobs just to get by in what can only be described as ‘insecure work’.

The decision last week by the Fair Work Commission to cut penalty rates for hospitality, retail and fast food workers will only add to this problem. This cut to wages is one that low-income workers cannot afford and do not deserve. It would likely produce a decrease in economic activity in regional Australia as the disposable income of workers is reduced even further. The McKell Institute estimates that disposable income for spending in regional areas will reduce by anywhere between $174.6 million and $748.3 million.

We know that people on a low income, whether employed or in receipt of income support, are less likely to find stable housing, more likely to be unwell and unable to find medical treatment and experience difficulty maintaining the social networks necessary for physical and emotional wellbeing. Indeed, the richest fifth of the population can expect to live, on average, six years longer than those in the poorest fifth.

Poverty is also associated with a high risk of exposure to both violence and prison. Further, poverty is associated with poor educational outcomes. By the time children reach year 9, the attainment gap between those children with parents in high-status occupations and those whose parents are jobless is equal to 41/2 years of study in reading and three years in numeracy. The attainment gap for students with higher education parents versus lower education parents is also three to four years. Children from a disadvantaged background are less likely to finish high school and may encounter greater barriers to further education.

Labor knows that education is key to creating higher living standards and reducing inequality. Lateral Economics estimates that the cost of inequality to national wellbeing is the equivalent of $54 billion, making it a bigger problem than mental illness, obesity or long-term unemployment. I would like the government to explain to this House how it intendeds to reduce inequality and poverty in Australia. It seems to me that they have only one answer to this problem: a handout to big business. Malcolm Turnbull wants to give a $50 billion tax cut to the biggest companies in Australia. At the same time, he cuts Medicare, schools and hospitals—not to mention that in July this year Turnbull will cut the top tax rate, paid by those earning $180,000 or more. Ninety-four per cent of the benefits of this tax will go to the top one per cent of Australian adults and, as a consequence of what occurred last week, we will have our lowest paid workers taking home less in their pay packet come 1 July.

The government’s cut to welfare payments and inaction on housing affordability and equitable tax reform are likely to increase Australian poverty and inequality levels. This government has no plan for the future of Australia —certainly not dealing with poverty and inequality.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded? Mr Swan: I second the motion.