Poverty and Inequality

(Private Members' Statement, Legislative Assembly, Parliament House)

I speak on a matter deeply felt in the Sydney electorate—poverty and inequality—and I thank Kyra Parry-Williams for her work in my office on this matter and as a social work intern. Current poverty data paints a bleak picture and, on behalf of the Sydney electorate, I call for action to address the growing inequalities that leave people stuck in entrenched intergenerational poverty. The recent Anti-Poverty Week reminds us that we need to address the causes and consequences of poverty. A report by the Australian Council of Social Service and University of New South Wales, entitled "Inequality in Australia 2018", highlights a massive gap in wealth and income between the highest and lowest income earners.

The top 1 per cent of earners takes home as much in a fortnight as the lowest 5 per cent of earners do in a year. This divide will increase if we do not reform policies and budgets. The data shows that those worst off rely on low social security payments like Newstart or pensions. Persistent disadvantage is prevalent among Indigenous Australians, some migrants and those with chronic health conditions or disability. One third of sole parents and one in six children live in poverty.

Sydney's unemployment rate increased between 2011 and 2016, and there are fewer vacant jobs than there are long-term unemployed. Newstart payments have been frozen since 1994 and those relying on this income have just $39 a day to cover rent, food and all living costs. Child poverty has increased and Indigenous disadvantage continues to grow. Older people increasingly face unemployment, homelessness and poverty, and many young people are locked out of housing. Anglicare's 2018 Rental Affordability Snapshot shows a single person on Newstart or Youth Allowance cannot possibly afford rent in the Sydney private market.

The analysis of the Australian National University for Australian Council of Social Service and the Brotherhood of St Laurence shows lowest income households spend more than 10 per cent of their incomes on energy while better off households spend less than 1.5 per cent, and the gap has widened since 2008. The "Foodbank Hunger Report 2018" found that four million Australians have not been able to afford food or have run out of food in the past year.

People in these situations face entrenched poverty and inequality. It takes heroic efforts to overcome these dire conditions. Behind the statistics are real people who are excluded from activities and opportunities that the rest of us take for granted. It is not surprising that disaffected groups and individuals turn against others, do not trust official bodies and give up hope. Inequality, disadvantage and poverty limit people's ability to reach their potential and contribute to our community and economy. This goes beyond empty wallets to affect physical and mental health, education, employment and quality of life. Wider economic impacts arise through crisis and health care, welfare services, courts and prisons, and through our failure to develop and prosper as a community.

We pride ourselves on being egalitarian, but dispossession, unfair treatment and deliberate policy decisions—particularly on tax, housing, employment and income support—have caused inequality and injustice. Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and has had more than 20 years of economic growth. New South Wales has had budget windfalls and huge income from the sale of public assets. Yet poverty is increasing. Poverty can land on any family or individual and a civil society provides a strong safety net that supports those going through tough times.

I call on the Government to commit to reducing poverty by half by 2030, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The Government must invest in social and affordable housing and in supported accommodation for people with complex needs. All children should have access to early childhood education. Our schools must be up to date and teachers skilled and paid properly. We need adequate health programs for people with mental illness and substance use issues to remain part of our community, with jobs, families and homes. A raft of reforms is vital to redress Indigenous disadvantage, with community control to ensure reforms are effective.

While income payments are a Commonwealth responsibility, the New South Wales Government must advocate for social security reform and increase Newstart and sole parent payments, with help for sole parents transitioning into work and childcare subsidies that do not exclude disadvantaged families. We must invest in TAFE vocational and secondchance education. While employment is also a federal responsibility, the Government should advocate for livable minimum wages and real job programs. Jobs for New South Wales could target those being left behind by new industries and technology and the Government could fund job training and employment creation to build infrastructure and communities. Full equality and zero poverty may not be achievable, but we can do much better.