Charities Urge Canberra Over QLD Reconstruction
7 February 2011 at 1:07 pm
A delegation of leading community and welfare groups, including Australia’s major charities, is in Canberra to urge the Federal Parliament to include them in the decision making process in the response to the reconstruction of devastated communities in Queensland following the recent floods and Cyclone Yasi.
|ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie addresses the media in Canberra.|
They are calling on the Federal Government to focus on cutting costs in the national Budget, such as removing tax breaks and concessions that unfairly benefit higher income earners instead of cutting essential programs and services.
And they warn the Government against any rash move to reduce the disability support benefit as recently flagged in media reports, saying that this would only exacerbate the hardship of people who are already among the most disadvantaged in society.
ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie says the call for Parliament to act quickly is motivated by the need to ensure that people receive the help they need to rebuild their lives and their communities.
Dr Goldie says the community sector is at the forefront of these disasters – major charities like St Vincent de Paul, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Catholic Social Services, Anglicare and UnitingCare – assisting people on the ground to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.
She says given this crucial role these groups are playing, they are clearly an essential part of the solution and they are extremely disappointed to have been left out of the Government’s Flood Taskforce.
She says there is also widespread concern among the Not for Profit groups about the implications of further spending cuts to cover the economic cost of these disasters, especially for the future of essential programs and services.
Dr Goldie says already the Government has announced cuts to the important National Rental Affordability Scheme, which is a grave mistake considering it was designed to address homelessness and add to the supply of low-cost housing at a time of desperate need.
She says the sector does not want to see cuts to vital programs in order to deal with unexpected expenditures.
A poll published in the Australian has revealed majority public support for the poll, with 55 percent of voters indicating they are somewhat or strongly in favour of the proposed $1.8 billion levy.
ACOSS, as the peak body of the community sector, supports a flood levy saying as long as it is progressive and exempts those most disadvantaged in society and it believes it could have gone even further to cover more of the anticipated cost of the damage so essential programs are not compromised.
Dr Goldie says in particular, tax concessions that mainly benefit higher income people, like tax breaks on golden handshakes and removal of tax shelters on private discretionary trusts, which would raise in the order of $2.5 billion per year.
Frank Quinlan, National Director, Catholic Social Services says the Government is still planning on dramatically extending Australia’s submarine fleet, at an estimated cost of $3 billion dollars per submarine for 12 submarines.
He says it is time for us to re-think budget priorities to find homes for people who don’t have them, whether their homelessness was caused by a flood, a cyclone, unemployment or by shifting economic sands.
The delegation has applauded the Prime Minister for making workforce participation one of her national priorities but highlights that this is not a quick fix and will require a substantial and long term investment.
The delegation will urge the Government to take this opportunity to draw on the Henry Review's recommendations to promote positive measures for supporting people into paid work.
These measures include:
- reducing the gap between Newstart Allowance and pensions by raising Newstart Allowance by $50. With the weekly gap between the Newstart payment ($33 per day) and those for people of DSP being $130 – this is an urgent priority
- more intensive help for the long term unemployed – including a six months paid work experience scheme in a regular job
- boosting Job Services Australia funding after the current review process, so we have more targeted help that will get people on income support into paid work, and
- easing the Newstart Allowance income test for sole parents and people with disabilities – to make part-time paid work financially worthwhile.
John Falzon, CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society says people on the edges of the labour market deserve to live with dignity and the delegation is calling for genuine welfare reforms that flow from this reality.
ACOSS says given the community sector’s extensive experience in working disadvantaged communities, including the crucial role our groups are playing in the rebuilding process in Queensland, its voice needs to be heard in the big decisions our leaders are about to make.
Maree O’Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN), says political opposition to the flood levy is wrong-headed and hard-hearted, and that for those paying the levy, the most would have to forgo was a weekend paper or two.
O’Halloran says there is very little fat in the social security and community services, so any additional cuts are likely to have major repercussions on the most disadvantaged individuals and families in the community.
O’Halloran says the NWRN supports a one-off, time limited and targeted flood levy that is wisely spent.
O’Halloran called on the Government to re-think the deep cuts to the National Rental Affordability Scheme which supports low income households. She said that at the very least, the Government should commit to building the additional 15,000 dwellings when economic circumstances improve.
The National Welfare Rights Network praised the work of thousands of Centrelink staff across Australia who are helping to process the disaster payments, and the social workers who are counselling families and individuals in distress.The delegation to Canberra coincides with the first parliamentary week of the year.