Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

A plan to overcome poverty


BlueprintDuring this year's anti-poverty week the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin said: 'Reducing poverty is a major challenge and requires all governments, non-government agencies, business and the community to work together to address it.'

There can be no doubt that poverty in Australia is a substantial problem and that it is increasing, despite our economic prosperity. Using quite a stringent standard of assessment, a study commissioned by ACOSS and conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW in estimated that:

... the number of Australians living in poverty is increasing. Approximately 2.2 million people, or 11.1 per cent of Australians lived in poverty in 2006 — the latest date for which statistics are available — compared with 9.9 per cent in 2004 and 7.6 per cent in 1994.

In 2006, this test counted single adults living on less than $281 per week — a very tough existence by most community standards.

So we have a major problem that can only be overcome by relevant governments, business, and community and non-government agencies working together.

'We need a plan,' I hear you say.

The idea of developing a national plan to overcome poverty is not a new one. This year, Anti-Poverty Week in October marked eight years since the Australian Senate established the most extensive inquiry into poverty in more than 30 years.

That inquiry eventually made 95 recommendations including that 'a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy be developed at the national level' after 'not longer than a 12 month period of consultation', and that 'a statutory authority or unit reporting directly to the Prime Minister be established with responsibility for developing, implementing and monitoring a national anti-poverty strategy'.

Eight years on we are still waiting for such a plan.

Currently, we have national plans for such things as defence, conservation and management of sharks, national broadband, combating pollution of the sea by oil and other noxious and hazardous substances, continence management, recovery of the south-eastern red-tailed black cockatoo, and many more.

We have national plans to overcome problems we identify as being important. A good plan will include a thorough assessment of the problem; the identification of interventions that are most likely to impact the problem; the allocation and coordination of the resources required to make the interventions; ongoing evaluation and reassessment of the necessary interventions; and monitoring to determine progress.

It's time we had a national plan to overcome poverty.

But the Senate's recommendations did not stop at the implementation of a plan. The Senate recognised that there is a need for us to monitor progress, and report it annually to Parliament. Implementing such a recommendation would mean Anti-Poverty Week could comprise more than simply aspirational statements about a general desire to overcome poverty.

Annual reporting to Parliament would serve a number of purposes. It would report progress on agreed indicators, and could review indicators to ensure new kinds of disadvantage were identified and addressed as they appeared (the recent emergence of a digital divide is an example of a relatively new indicator).

Annual reporting would also send a message to the community, including those living in poverty, that poverty matters, and that we are trying to do something about it.

If we had started eight years ago, it is likely we would be seeing significant progress by now. Many of the problems associated with poverty are intergenerational, and the strategies that will overcome them must also be intergenerational.

Our current interventions are short term and ad hoc. Currently the longest government funding agreements in social and community services offer three years of funding; 12 month agreements are much more common. These programs are funded by a multitude of departments working largely in isolation from each other at all levels of government. They are supplemented, and often subsidised, by philanthropy from various sources.

None of these interventions takes place within an overarching or coordinated framework, and funding cycles often see successful pilot programs fall by the wayside.

This year's Anti-Poverty Week could have been a celebration of the beginning of our success. Instead it marked another year of lost opportunity.

Frank QuinlanFrank Quinlan is the executive director of Catholic Social Services Australia.

Topic tags: Frank Quinlan, Catholic Social Services Australia



submit a comment

Existing comments

Beware of anyone who declares that "there can be no doubt that ...", selective figures notwithstanding.

Last Monday night, Four Corners introduced us to a person who was receiving $10 000 a month in benefits, yet a child in her care died in agony. Now, that's a problem. Am I being racist if I suggest that some of those who should have been looked after by that money are part of the UNSW statistics?

Frank | 11 November 2010  

We don't need any more talkfests and plans...it's actions that are needed. When I saw a need (as Sister Mary Mackillop was wont to say) some 25 years ago, I set up the Australian AIDS Fund...a charity to care for those living with HIV/AIDS. We're still going...mainly overseas in Africa (see www.aids.net.au for what we're actually doing)

By contrast,the Melbourne archdiocesan AIDS Ministry runs an office at an undisclosed secret address, with an unpublicised phone and insists on personal details before engaging in conversation.

Poverty has so many definitions...spending priorities for example.Consider the BER...Building the Education Revolution...when millions were poured into individual schools.

Look what this has meant for the church hierarchy...in savings...money it no longer has to find for education. Example -$902 million in NSW,$761 million in Victoria,$503 million in Queensland, $287 million in WA,$201 million in SA,$61 million in Tasmania and whatever for NT and the ACT.Imagine, as John Lennon would say, if the Bishops had said "Hey, isn't this great...and from our reserves we'd put aside for education...and now freed up by federal govt manna, let's now make a real contribution to poverty resolving initiatives.."

The church rightly concerns itself over abortion and euthanasia...but it does need to recognise the gulf between the womb and the grave...therein lies the greatest challenge.

It's the poverty of initiative; effort; realism and imagination that's making the church so poor!

Brian Haill - Melbourne | 11 November 2010  

The episode of Four Corners referred to by Frank demonstrated that poverty is multi-faceted and cannot be overcome simply by throwing money at it. Frank's comments indicate an over-simplistic perception of poverty as lack of money.

Frank Quinlan's article emphasising the need for a plan to overcome poverty carries the message that distribution of money to individual families is not sufficient.

Only a sustained program, not limited to the politicians' time horizon of three years, can hope to achieve the structural changes necessary to eliminate poverty.

A living wage for low paid and unemployed people, education and training to increase opportunities for finding gainful employment, and expansion of employment opportunities even if that necessitates support for industries competing with low cost imported goods - all are necessary actions to be taken.

Lack of opportunity to improve one's personal quality of life is not simply a lack of money. Even with financial support, some people cannot manage food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their dependent children.

Any plan to overcome poverty must provide ongoing counselling in life management for those who have not learnt it during their youth.

Ian Fraser | 11 November 2010  

Brian Haill, you are asking too much of our church leaders at a time when they sooo busy making 10,000 changes to our Missal. Get real Man!!

patricia taylor | 11 November 2010  

perhaps there is no political will to tackle a problem like poverty, which is no doubt seen by many as a something brought upon the poor by themselves, whereas in actual fact it doesn't take much to sink into poverty, eg, violent crime, accidents, rare or lingering illnesses, importuning relatives, greedy banks and car repossessors etc. But it seems there aren't many votes from the poor, who remain invisible to the majority of us.

Walter P Komarnicki | 11 November 2010  

Frank is right when he says we need to have a national plan to reduce poverty. In this proposed plan though, it needs to have some provision for the redistribution of wealth whether that be in the form of direct transfers from the commonwealth to citizens or increased remuneration to employees by way of additional wages or stock. There also needs to be a whole rejigging of the tax system to reward those who seek to improve themselves and to pay for those rewards in the form of additional study and training allowances and payments.

But a national plan would be a good start!

Matthew Cheyne | 11 November 2010  

I've said it before and I'll say it again: stop the hand-wringing and just emulate societies that have lifted themselves out of poverty against the odds. Like Hong Kong, 1950 - 1996. Radical Free trade. Low taxes. Minimal government and bureaucracy. Possibly the biggest growth rate over 40 years in history - and not just for an elite few - in one of the most resource-poor locations on the planet.

And as for aboriginal poverty: eliminate the root cause. Abolish mass subsidisations of remote communities: the patronising socialism is killing them. Allow those who want to live genuine traditional lifestyles to do so: hunting, fishing, gathering as they did successfully for thousands of years, with Death snapping at their heels, not being encouraged to sit down and wait for the cargo trucks to roll in. Authenticity restored instantly. And those who don't wish to follow this perfectly acceptable path, can assimilate, as most aborigines have with ease, into the predominant culture, bringing - as we all do - a unique set of gifts.

P.S. Repeal no-fault divorce and abolish the endless spiral of torts litigation expense that began with the disastrous Donohue v Stevenson decision, and you'll get most people out of poverty even more quickly.

In sum: repeal the 20th century and its pomp: we'd all be much better off.

HH | 11 November 2010  

While there are many reasons why people live in poverty, there is one solution that can be taken immediately to improve many lives. Increase the amounts that people are paid that have to resort to government handouts, such as senior pensions, disability, unemployment, through no fault of their own.

While there are some that rort the system, many are just not receiving enough cash to be able to pay rents, food, electricity, clothing etc. The government payments to the truly disadvantaged are not sufficient to be able to live on.

By immediately increasing the amounts paid, the poor may have some relief from the huge anxiety and suffering they face each day from an insufficient amount of funds to pay their basic living costs.

This extra money would soon filter from the impoverished to businesses and jobs creation helping everyone to be better off.

Trent | 13 November 2010  

Margaret Thatcher took Britain's 5% of children living below the poverty line to 30% and Australia's Conservatives want to copy Thatcherism.

Greig WIlliams | 04 April 2011  

Similar Articles

Aung San Suu Kyi, refugees and bikies

  • Michael Mullins
  • 15 November 2010

The release on Saturday of Burma's democracy hero Aung San Suu Kyi, and last week's Australian high court decisions regarding refugees and bikies, each contain salutary lessons for governments that attempt to rule by popular fear.


Shopping as communion

  • Sarah Kanowski
  • 15 November 2010

Buying and selling has shaped history. Alongside goods, new ideas and practices get exchanged, leading to the creation of remarkable civilisations. My young daughter and I recently caught a bus into the city to do some shopping. A mundane errand was transformed into something magical.