‘We are so much better than this’
22 March 2021 at 6:11 pm
The passing of the paltry JobSeeker rate through Parliament last week was Australia’s greatest fairness failure yet, writes ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.
Last week, Australian Parliament voted to cut JobSeeker back down to a brutal $44 a day. It delivered a measly $3.57 per day increase on the old terrible Newstart rate of $40 per day.
This is devastating for millions directly affected. The community sector is warning again of the terrible consequences to follow.
At the end of this month, people struggling will have their lives made even harder as:
- JobSeeker and Parenting Payments are cut back, through the removal of the coronavirus supplement, affecting about 3 million people, including about 1 million children.
- JobKeeper ends, with predictions of up to about 250,000 job losses.
- Rental evictions begin again, with all state and territory eviction moratoriums coming to an end.
- Disconnection moratoriums by energy companies also come to an end.
- Housing and rental costs are going up and people provided with temporary emergency accommodation during the pandemic are being left with nowhere to go.
- Personal household debt levels are second highest in the world and the government is still planning to axe safe lending laws.
- Nasty compliance rules begin again, including the requirement to apply for 20 jobs a month, despite opposition from employers who say this is impractical.
Whilst in the other Australia, where most politicians spend their time:
- $2 billion per month in tax cuts will flow to people with jobs between now and the end of September.
- People who can afford holidays will receive half price flights.
- Homeowners have been able to have expensive renovations subsidised by the government.
- The treasurer is still pleading with people who have spare cash to go out and spend.
- Household and business balance sheets have ballooned by more than $200 billion during the course of the pandemic.
- For homeowners, in just the last year, the total value of the 10.6 million residential properties has increased by an eye watering $247 billion.
The Morrison government’s policy settings are driving an entrenching inequality. We can see this so clearly in our social security system, in which racism and sexism are inherent. We see the racism of the Community Development Program and cashless debit program, which both target remote communities, and the sexism of the ParentsNext program, which tells single mothers, “we don’t believe you”.
In this past week there’s been a groundswell of women across the country saying “enough is enough”. We know women are left with the impossible decision of living in poverty on JobSeeker or being forced to continue to endure sexual harassment in the workplace. Women experiencing gender-based violence are trapped due to economic distress. A recent National Council of Single Mothers and their Children survey found around 22 to 25 per cent of women reported returning to abusive situations because of financial hardship.
On the other hand, the government’s hugely expensive tax cuts (costing over $30 billion per annum once all three stages are in place) are flowing mostly to wealthier men.
The government thinks that it can hide from its acts of injustice, or rely on the passage of time, that we have short memories and will move on. The distressing images of people lining up outside Centrelink are repeatedly referred to by politicians as their “worst day” as if somehow being unemployed and vulnerable was a moment in time last year and we are “moving on”. Well, for the millions of people facing cuts to incomes and lack of access to secure paid work, it has just begun. The end of March is just a few days away.
Many people will be feeling angry, frustrated and anxious about the future.
If you or anyone you know needs help, there is support:
For free advice from financial counsellors on managing debt, call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007
If you are having problems with a Centrelink payment, there are specialist community legal centres that provide free advice on issues like appealing a Centrelink decision, Centrelink debts, difficulties applying for Disability Support Pension, Compensation Preclusion Periods and more.
This week has shown powerfully that acts of injustice catch up with you and that it is powerful community social movements that will lead us to where we want to be. This week, community support for gender equality and an end to gender-based violence are holding people to account. This week, the powerful leadership of First Nations peoples across the country is again holding governments to account. And this week, government showed that, after protecting millions from poverty virtually overnight last year, it will deliberately turn its back on people with the least, for short-term political expediency.
Community anger is palpable, as is the determination to grow community action across Australia to demand an end to poverty in our very wealthy country for once and for all. I have no doubt that the decision to cut JobSeeker back to a brutal $44 a day will also catch up with politicians all over the country.
Democracy is alive and well.
The passing of the paltry JobSeeker rate through Parliament last week was Australia’s greatest fairness failure yet. An absolute disgrace.
But we are so much better than this. As the past week has shown so powerfully, it is our communities who must lead to achieve self-determination for First Nations people, gender equality and justice and an end to poverty in all its forms.