The Politics    Tuesday, October 18, 2022

For richer or poorer

By Rachel Withers

Image of Treasurer Jim Chalmers during a press conference at Parliament House, October 17, 2022. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Treasurer Jim Chalmers during a press conference at Parliament House, October 17, 2022. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

The government cannot end child poverty or gendered violence without acting on social security

The Anti-Poverty Week drops just keep coming, as advocates use the week to highlight the damning state of Australian society. After it was revealed last week that one in eight Australians are living in poverty, and yesterday that an estimated 500,000 households are experiencing food insecurity on any given day, today’s headlines show that a whopping 34 per cent of single mothers live in financial hardship, thanks to successive governments’ welfare policies – including the Gillard government’s infamous decision to move single parents to the lower Newstart (now JobSeeker) rate when their youngest child turns eight. Advocates are demanding a real increase to JobSeeker, noting that the only recent time when we made any dent in poverty rates was when benefits were doubled in 2020 during the first stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile Anti-Poverty Week director Toni Wren is calling on politicians to commit to the goal of halving child poverty by 2030, something that should be entirely possible “in a wealthy country like Australia”. So, will Anti-Poverty Week have any impact on next week’s federal budget? And how can we go on living with these statistics, knowing that skyrocketing inflation is hitting those on welfare the hardest?

It’s unlikely we’ll see any real efforts to tackle poverty this year, with Treasurer Jim Chalmers this morning reiterating that his “bread and butter” budget won’t contain much cost-of-living relief, and warning of the inflationary impacts. (That should please AFR readers, seven in 10 of whom believe the treasurer should provide no relief on cost of living. Good for them.) The government has repeatedly refused to increase the rate of JobSeeker in this budget (and, no, indexation doesn’t count), with Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth using today’s webinar on poverty hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) to again rule out a rise, citing the debt. Guardian Australia inequality editor Luke Henriques-Gomes, who was watching the CEDA event, noted that the government didn’t seem to have any plans to address poverty at all, even as advocates on the panel repeatedly pointed out that increasing the JobSeeker rate in 2020 had proven a success.

So much for yesterday’s lofty pledge to “end gender-based violence in one generation”. As feminist and writer Anne Summers found in her recent research, single parenthood and domestic violence are deeply linked, with limited financial options forcing women to choose between violence and poverty in deciding whether to flee. (Summers recommended allowing single parents to stay on the parenting payment until their youngest turns 16, and abolishing mutual obligations for those with young children.) This, in turn, is contributing to child poverty rates, with children suffering as a result of the precarious position in which many mothers find themselves. Speaking on RN Breakfast, Wren said she was heartened by yesterday’s new National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children, noting that social security was explicitly mentioned. But when is the government going to be able to move on this? Not in this budget, it seems, or in the next, unless it finds some extra revenue streams.

Treasurer Chalmers is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to funding election commitments, keeping election promises and paying down the debt. (The floods certainly haven’t helped, contributing both to inflation and the costs this budget must cover.) But there is barely anyone doing it tougher than those living on welfare, many of whom are skipping meals and showers, as the costs of essentials such as food and housing continue to rise even faster than the Consumer Price Index. Poverty, as welfare advocates keep pointing out, is a political choice, and it’s one that our leaders look set to go on making in next week’s federal budget. It says a lot about Australian society that many high-income voters seem more interested in hanging onto future tax cuts than in the fact that millions of their fellow citizens are struggling to afford enough to eat.

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


The Politics

Image of Clare O’Neil

Boundless pains

Is now really the time for another migration scare campaign?

Image of Anthony Albanese

What comes next?

How the government responds to recent challenges is make or break for effective progressive government in this country

Image of Mark Dreyfus

The farce estate

The Mark Dreyfus episode sums up everything that is wrong with our politics and our media

Lisa Chesters wipes tears from her eyes. Behind her, the empty seat of the late Peta Murphy is marked with a floral arrangement.

A moment’s peace

Politicians briefly pause their ugly immigration war to pay tribute to Labor MP Peta Murphy

From the front page

Members of the Kanakanvu tribe perform at a Saraya harvest festival, Donghua Village, Taiwan.

Who is Taiwanese?

Taiwan’s minority indigenous peoples are being used to refute mainland China’s claims on the island – but what does that mean for their recognition, land rights and identity?

Image representing a film still of abstract colours

Tacita Dean and the poetics of film editing

The MCA’s survey of the British-born artist’s work reveals both the luminosity of analogue film and its precariousness

Image of David McBride

David McBride’s guilty plea and the need for whistleblower reform

The former army lawyer had no choice but to plead guilty, which goes to show how desperately we need better whistleblower protections

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Mars attracts

Reviving the Viking mission’s experiments may yet find life as we know it on Mars, but the best outcome would be something truly alien