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National day of action to raise the rate

26 April 2022 at 4:26 pm
Cassandra Goldie
The 2022 federal election is a watershed poll that affords the next government the chance to propel real social change – if they’ll take the opportunity, writes Dr Cassandra Goldie.

Cassandra Goldie | 26 April 2022 at 4:26 pm


National day of action to raise the rate
26 April 2022 at 4:26 pm

The 2022 federal election is a watershed poll that affords the next government the chance to propel real social change – if they’ll take the opportunity, writes Dr Cassandra Goldie.

Every election alters our country’s path forward. It influences which policies will ­– and won’t – get enacted, the result can alter people’s lives and livelihoods, and it decides who will lead us during times of crisis. Which is why it’s so deeply upsetting that we are three and a half weeks out from a federal election, without substantive commitments from either of the major parties to take action to improve the lives of people of the lowest incomes.

Those struggling to get by on income support – people who are forced to make heart-breaking decisions every day about whether to pay their energy bills, buy fruit and vegetables, or essential medicines – are once again heading to an election without any certainty that either major party will act to raise the rate.

And the question that they, and our colleagues across the community sector, are asking is; how have our political leaders not learned from the lessons of the pandemic?

Heading into the pandemic, we were a country with deep social fissures, and we weren’t nearly as resilient as we should have – or could have – been. For 20 years Australia’s wealth grew enormously. We avoided recessions that be-devilled the rest of the world, and lived in an unrivalled era of national prosperity. Yet successive governments failed to tackle poverty or inequality.

The living standards of most people in Australia have increased significantly over the last 20 years yet people on low and very low incomes fell further and further behind. During this time, our social protections were eroded, or deliberately cut, especially income support and housing for people on low incomes. 

Despite a great period of prosperity, we now have one of the lowest levels of investment in social benefits amongst industrialised nations as a percentage of GDP. This lack of government action meant that, heading into the pandemic, we had about three million people living in poverty – and didn’t have a sufficient safety net in place to protect people from the fallout to come.  But amongst the chaos of the first COVID-19 wave, something extraordinary happened. After more than a decade of procrastination and neglect, overnight our government brought us closer to the elimination of poverty and homelessness than we’ve ever been before.

They reduced poverty through the introduction of the coronavirus supplement, saved over 700,000 jobs, and found safe accommodation for people sleeping on the streets. Their response was far from perfect – it cruelly left people on temporary visas on their own – but for most, government had our backs.

The subsequent two years, and successive waves of COVID-19, have been a different story. The federal government rolled back many of these supports and failed to protect those most in need, saying it was time for the government to get out of the way.

But the transformations enacted in 2020 showed that we can end poverty and inequality, should we choose to do so. We know exactly what we need to do. The question is: will the next government do it? Or will it revert to old ways and turn its back on millions when they need our government the most.

Australia is far from finished with this pandemic and our future challenges are significant. We are facing surging housing costs, increasing poverty, persistent inequality, including gender inequality, a rapidly heating world, and more frequent extreme weather events. And right now, we remain a country at the whim of existential challenges, reacting to events, adrift without a clear purpose or a coherent vision. We cannot squander the next decade as we have the previous two.

This election, I want to see this country reinvigorated with the spirit of those 2020 transformations, searching for ways to make them a permanent feature for Australia. We need a government that will commit to lifting income support, so everyone can cover the basics, and commit to building social and affordable housing, so that everyone can have a safe and stable home. We need a government that is committed to emerging from this pandemic into a more equal and resilient community and facing the challenges of inequality and climate change, ready to forge a brighter future.

That’s why hundreds of people living on income support and community sector organisations are coming together this Wednesday 27 April in a National Day of Action, to call on parties and candidates to commit to two game-changing policies that would improve the lives of people on the lowest incomes: increasing income support and investing in social housing.

You can find out more, and join me and so many others here.

Cassandra Goldie  |  @cassandragoldie

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

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