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A Plan to Overcome Poverty


11 November 2010 at 11:17 am
Staff Reporter
OPINION | It's time Australia had a national plan to overcome poverty says Frank Quinlan the executive director of Catholic Social Services Australia.

Staff Reporter | 11 November 2010 at 11:17 am


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A Plan to Overcome Poverty
11 November 2010 at 11:17 am

Australia has national plans for defence, conservation and management of sharks, national broadband, combating pollution of the sea, and recovery of the south-eastern red-tailed black cockatoo. It's time we had a national plan to overcome poverty says Frank Quinlan the executive director of Catholic Social Services Australia. This opinion piece is published with permission from Eureka Street.

 Frank Quinlan, Executive Director, Catholic Social Services Australia.

Australia has national plans for defence, conservation and management of sharks, national broadband, combating pollution of the sea, and recovery of the south-eastern red-tailed black cockatoo. It's time we had a national plan to overcome poverty says Frank Quinlan the executive director of Catholic Social Services Australia. This opinion piece is published with permission from Eureka Street.

During this year's anti-poverty week the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin said: 'Reducing poverty is a major challenge and requires all governments, non-government agencies, business and the community to work together to address it.'

There can be no doubt that poverty in Australia is a substantial problem and that it is increasing, despite our economic prosperity.

Using quite a stringent standard of assessment, a study commissioned by ACOSS and conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW in estimated that:
… the number of Australians living in poverty is increasing. Approximately 2.2 million people, or 11.1 per cent of Australians lived in poverty in 2006 — the latest date for which statistics are available — compared with 9.9 per cent in 2004 and 7.6 per cent in 1994.

In 2006, this test counted single adults living on less than $281 per week — a very tough existence by most community standards.
So we have a major problem that can only be overcome by relevant governments, business, and community and non-government agencies working together.

'We need a plan,' I hear you say.

The idea of developing a national plan to overcome poverty is not a new one. This year, Anti-Poverty Week in October marked eight years since the Australian Senate established the most extensive inquiry into poverty in more than 30 years.

That inquiry eventually made 95 recommendations including that 'a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy be developed at the national level' after 'not longer than a 12 month period of consultation', and that 'a statutory authority or unit reporting directly to the Prime Minister be established with responsibility for developing, implementing and monitoring a national anti-poverty strategy'.

Eight years on we are still waiting for such a plan.

Currently, we have national plans for such things as defence, conservation and management of sharks, national broadband, combating pollution of the sea by oil and other noxious and hazardous substances, continence management, recovery of the south-eastern red-tailed black cockatoo, and many more.

We have national plans to overcome problems we identify as being important. A good plan will include a thorough assessment of the problem; the identification of interventions that are most likely to impact the problem; the allocation and coordination of the resources required to make the interventions; ongoing evaluation and reassessment of the necessary interventions; and monitoring to determine progress.
It's time we had a national plan to overcome poverty.

But the Senate's recommendations did not stop at the implementation of a plan. The Senate recognised that there is a need for us to monitor progress, and report it annually to Parliament. Implementing such a recommendation would mean Anti-Poverty Week could comprise more than simply aspirational statements about a general desire to overcome poverty.

Annual reporting to Parliament would serve a number of purposes. It would report progress on agreed indicators, and could review indicators to ensure new kinds of disadvantage were identified and addressed as they appeared (the recent emergence of a digital divide is an example of a relatively new indicator).

Annual reporting would also send a message to the community, including those living in poverty, that poverty matters, and that we are trying to do something about it.

If we had started eight years ago, it is likely we would be seeing significant progress by now. Many of the problems associated with poverty are intergenerational, and the strategies that will overcome them must also be intergenerational.

Our current interventions are short term and ad hoc. Currently the longest government funding agreements in social and community services offer three years of funding; 12 month agreements are much more common. These programs are funded by a multitude of departments working largely in isolation from each other at all levels of government. They are supplemented, and often subsidised, by philanthropy from various sources.

None of these interventions takes place within an overarching or coordinated framework, and funding cycles often see successful pilot programs fall by the wayside.

This year's Anti-Poverty Week could have been a celebration of the beginning of our success. Instead it marked another year of lost opportunity.

Frank Quinlan is the executive director of Catholic Social Services Australia.
 



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