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Stronger together in tackling Australia’s challenges

23 May 2019 at 8:30 am
Cassandra Goldie
Now the political fate of the country has been decided, the Morrison government has some very big challenges ahead that can only be overcome by working together, writes the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Services, Cassandra Goldie.

Cassandra Goldie | 23 May 2019 at 8:30 am


Stronger together in tackling Australia’s challenges
23 May 2019 at 8:30 am

Now the political fate of the country has been decided, the Morrison government has some very big challenges ahead that can only be overcome by working together, writes the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Services, Cassandra Goldie.

In his victory speech on election night, Prime Minister Morrison pledged to work on policies that “will keep Australians together”. Days earlier, Mr Morrison had joined many in paying tribute to former prime minister Bob Hawke… Mr Hawke worked with diverse groups, including business, the union movement and the community sector, to face the challenges of the day.

Today we face some very real, complicated changes that we will only be able to overcome by working together across the country.

The economy is fragile and the climate crisis is impacting people, our regions, the economy and the environment. More than 3 million people across Australia are struggling, a majority of them women, to make ends meet and keep a safe secure roof over their heads. Employment is uncertain for millions, including young people, older people, and people in regional areas.

To find the solutions for a fairer, sustainable future, we urge the Morrison government to work collaboratively across the community, with First Nations leaders, the community sector, the union movement, business groups and regional groups to find common ground.

After a long period of election campaigning, which started much earlier than the day the election was called, it’s time to work together.

The clear first priority in bringing the nation together is for Mr Morrison to reach out to First Nations leaders to establish relationships of trust for the long term. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations have the answers to the problems that confront their own communities, and it’s time for government to listen.

The key step we must take in the short term to reduce poverty and inequality in Australia and strengthen the economy is to raise the appallingly low rate of Newstart.

Newstart has not been increased in real terms in 25 years and is the lowest unemployment payment in the OECD. In bringing the community together, we urge Mr Morrison to consider the real and broad support for increasing to Newstart, including from the Country Women’s Association, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

It is significant that all the candidates elected into the House of Representatives outside the major parties actively support the increase to Newstart.

They are:

  • Andrew Wilkie, Electorate of Clark, Tasmania
  • Rebekha Sharkie, Electorate of Mayo, South Australia
  • Bob Katter, Electorate of Kennedy, Queensland
  • Helen Haines, Electorate of Indi, Victoria
  • Zali Steggall, Electorate of Warringah, New South Wales
  • Adam Bandt, Electorate of Melbourne, Victoria.

Their diverse electorates cover a majority of states and both regional and city areas. Politically they are very different, and yet they are united in their support for increasing Newstart to support those going through tough times to find suitable paid work.

Lifting Newstart is exactly the right policy we need now to bring the community together, and it’s exactly what the economy needs right now in the face of concerns of an economic downturn.

A $75 per week increase to Newstart would cost less than a third of the cost of the proposed high-end tax cuts and would be far more effective in boosting the economy. This is the major adjustment needed. We promise people affected by poverty that ACOSS will continue building on the broad support for increasing Newstart that already exists, including amongst some within the Coalition.

Along with stagnating incomes for many, the housing affordability crisis is really hurting people and many were deeply concerned about unfounded claims of rent increases during the campaign. The government has a responsibility to tackle rental stress and homelessness because everybody in Australia, the wealthiest country in the world, should have a safe roof over their head.

The climate crisis also featured as a key concern in this election and the Morrison government has promised to take it seriously. We also saw concerns about what a transition away from fossil fuels means for some communities play out. The divisiveness around climate policy has meant the hard work to help communities in transition has not been done.

We urge the Morrison government to work with the community to develop a plan to transition away from fossil fuels, that provides investment certainty, tackles energy prices, creates jobs, looks after vulnerable groups and communities, and ultimately protects people and planet. It has been done in other countries, when people share the same vision.

Another challenge the government will face is the fiscal one. While the community sent the message through the election that we not ready for big and wide-ranging change, the reality is that the government’s tax cut package would put a great deal of pressure on the budget. The government should ensure it does not come at the expense of its promise to the community that funding for essential services will be guaranteed.

We are committed to working with the government to guarantee essential services we all need, and to ensure that as a country we are up to tackling today’s challenges together.

Cassandra Goldie  |  @cassandragoldie

Cassandra Goldie is CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS).

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