Senate debates

Tuesday, 9 May 2023


Community Affairs References Committee; Report

6:25 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

r RICE () (): I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I rise to speak briefly to the interim report of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty in Australia, which was tabled out of sitting last week. I want to thank the senators who have participated in the inquiry so far, particularly my deputy chair, Senator Marielle Smith, and Senators Pratt, Askew and Tyrrell. I proposed this inquiry to the committee soon after the election of the Albanese government, in the middle of last year, because of the increasing evidence that poverty in Australia was a huge and growing problem that successive governments have failed to address. The inquiry was established almost 50 years to the day after the historic Henderson Commission of Inquiry into Poverty. We Greens believed it was important to compile this evidence and give voice to people who were living in poverty as to what their experiences were, to bring their voices to the parliament and then to use this evidence as a platform to take action.

Poverty is a political choice, and it affects people of all ages, genders, races and backgrounds. The government has the power to lift people out of poverty, but it's a choice that they must make. The evidence presented to the committee so far makes it clear that the simplest, most effective and most urgent step towards alleviating poverty is to increase income support payments for all recipients, regardless of their age, and it should be immediately followed by the development of a national poverty line.

I was simultaneously pleased and disappointed by the one recommendation of our report. I was pleased because it was a unanimous recommendation:

… that the Australian Government take urgent action so that Australians are not living in poverty, and prioritise policy measures in the upcoming May Budget that specifically target rising inequality and entrenched disadvantage, including through the income support system.

But I was disappointed that the government couldn't go further than this and disappointed because it seems that, consistent with this, in tonight's budget the government is not going to be taking the urgent action that is needed that would indeed mean that Australians aren't living in poverty. When I asked Labor senators whether they would be able to support a recommendation to increase JobSeeker, without even being specific about by how much, they couldn't. This was despite having agreed in 2020 to a Senate committee report recommendation to immediately undertake a review of the income support system, to ensure that all eligible income support recipients do not live in poverty.

It was up to the Greens to recommend in our additional comments:

That the Australian Government immediately lift the base rate of all income support payments to $88 a day, regardless of age.


That the Australian Government establish a national definition of poverty.

It is disappointing that, rather than the lifting to $88 a day, which would be a $40-a-week increase, it seems all we will get in tonight's budget—but we'll wait to see what the Treasurer says in an hour's time—is a paltry increase of $2.85 a day.

The committee heard powerful, personal evidence from witnesses with direct experience of poverty in hearings across the country. I'm not going to have time to go through them all. Abigail said that energy prices went up, inflation went up and the DSP did not go up. Peter said that being on income support and having no money is dispiriting, crushing and soul destroying. Jo said she was going to lose a tooth because she couldn't afford to see a dentist. David said that, with his DSP alone, he's left with just $177 for the fortnight after paying rent. He's currently around five weeks in arrears and just waiting for his eviction notice. Witness A said that she's had seven years of pretending to her kids that she's not hungry or that she's already eaten, because she legally cannot disclose the domestic violence they faced. How can you hear these witness testimonies and not be compelled to act?

In presenting this interim report tonight, we deliberately wanted this report to be evidence in front of the government, prior to tonight's budget, to show the reasons as to why the government needs to act to lift people out of poverty, why the government needs to lift all income support payments—regardless of age, regardless of which payment—to above the poverty line. I look forward to tonight's budget but sadly think I'm going to be disappointed with that as well.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.


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