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Why we need to talk about disadvantage this election



When millions of Australians look back on this Federal Election campaign, they will recall it as one dominated by ‘gotcha’ moments and scare campaigns. Personal attacks, loud and in-your-face advertising campaigns and so-called missteps by politicians have provided countless hours of talkback content. Regrettably, this has taken the focus of too many away from nuanced conversations about the kind of society in which we want to live, and the policies and vision needed to take us there.

This election arrives at a critical point in our history. While the majority of COVID-19 restrictions have been removed across the country, fresh in our collective memory is the way the pandemic brought many preexisting social and economic issues in Australia to the fore.

In the grips of lockdowns and unforgettable changes to our way of life, there was a new-found focus on the inadequacy of the Jobseeker payment through to long-standing societal issues such as housing and homelessness, mental health, family violence and insecure employment.

As an organisation that has worked with some of the most disadvantaged people and communities for 45 years, Jesuit Social Services witnessed the disproportionate impact of this crisis on already marginalised people and communities. Some of our program participants told us that the temporary Coronavirus Supplement, which ended in March 2021, was the difference between them having to choose between paying to have a roof over the head or essential medication. For others, it meant they could finally afford warm winter clothes.


'Familiar themes often dominate the political spectrum at election times — like tax cuts, the economy and national security. These issues are important but should not overshadow the needs of those on the margins of society.'


What was apparent was that our political leaders’ responses to the pandemic showed that while issues relating to inequality and disadvantage are complex, they are not beyond resolution. In addition to the temporary Coronavirus Supplement, we saw the collaboration of private and public sectors to implement evidence-informed measures that increased the level of mental health support, boosted income, and provided housing for vulnerable people.

These responses were an acknowledgement that Australia’s existing social infrastructure — meant to stop people from slipping through the cracks — was inadequate. However, while the measures demonstrated that a more just and humane society is possible, many were temporary and only provided short-term relief. That’s why it’s important we do not forget the learnings of the past two years, and ensure they can inform a more just and compassionate Australia.

Our Federal Election platform, A blueprint for a just recovery, contains recommendations across a range of social policy areas, from climate change to Aboriginal self-determination, youth justice, mental health and affordable housing. These complex issues may sit in different Ministerial portfolios, but they are interconnected. We need to replace the compliance-focused Jobactive system with a new model at the same time as increasing JobSeeker to at least $69 per day, to lift recipients out of poverty.

We need our Federal, State and Territory Governments to increase investment into social housing. We need more prevention education to foster safe and respectful relationships, and ultimately work to prevent violence against women and children. We also need a real commitment to raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 across all states and territories to ensure primary school aged children remain in the classroom, not in prison.

Genuine action to tackle the climate crisis — mere months after United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report identified Australia as suffering greater impacts from climate change than any other advanced economy — will make sure Australia is inhabitable for us and for future generations.

In line with our most recent Dropping off the Edge report, which found that many communities experiencing multiple and complex forms of social disadvantage also experience environmental injustice such as heat stress and high levels of air pollution, we need the incoming Federal Government to address the drivers of inequality and disadvantage. Every community member deserves the chance to flourish, regardless of where they live.

Familiar themes often dominate the political spectrum at election times — like tax cuts, the economy and national security. These issues are important but should not overshadow the needs of those on the margins of society.

In these final, crucial days of the campaign we must forget the gotchas and urge our incoming Federal Government to take the lessons from the pandemic and commit to policies, practices and investments that allow all Australians the opportunity to reach their potential.





Sally Parnell is Executive Director of Programs at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: A man sitting with head bowed at bus stop. (Ross Tomei / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Sally Parnell, AusPol, AusVotes2022, Election, Inequality, Disadvantage



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Existing comments

This is one of the sanest comments on where we are as a nation and where we should aim for I have read for a very long time, Sally. Jesuit Social Services and you should be complimented on both the report and informing us of the situation. Let us hope it reaches politicians and they do something about it.

Edward Fido | 19 May 2022  

‘As an organisation that has worked with some of the most disadvantaged people and communities for 45 years, Jesuit Social Services witnessed the disproportionate impact of this crisis on already marginalised people and communities.’

45 years ago is 48 years after the start of the Great Depression. Perhaps JSS doesn’t have the authority from corporate memory to know what is ‘disproportionate’ impact? Of course, we could say that the economic activity of the Second World War ended the Great Depression as if to suggest that it takes one disaster to fix another but we have several recent examples of a relatively swift peacetime transit from desolation to prosperity in the Japanese, West German and People’s Republic of China economic miracles, not to mention Taiwan and South Korea.

Ah, but one might say, there have been poor people in those countries in the last 45 years. But, the same poor people, or just temporary residents of poverty before they move up to something better?

Temporary poverty of upwardly-mobile individuals is systemic to any society but permanent poverty of a specifically identifiable cohort usually indicates, barring a few examples of physical or mental disability which renders the individual inert, a problem of having to lie in the bed which you made, one of which is the idea that the individual tackles poverty by himself, not with the assistance of extended family.

roy chen yee | 19 May 2022  

Hi Sally,
As a voter who, if my Oncologist is correct in his prognosis is correct, will be voting for the last time this Saturday , my hope is that the neo liberal brand of individualism will be dead and cremated and fairness, respect and compassion will return to our fractured society. In my 70+ years on this earth I have never witnessed such inaptitude , graft and corruption in Government as we have witnessed over the last few years since Morrison shafted Turnbull. The ultimately doomed Whitlam Government of the 1970's made unwise decisions, in particular the "Khamlaney Affair" , but the Morrison Government has far exceeded their midsummers by a long shot. I hope the Independents do what Don Chip said so long ago "Keep the bustards honest". Thank You Sally for your contribution. One lives in hope.

Gavin O'Brien | 19 May 2022  

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