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Reduce ‘red tape’, not much-needed capacity for Australian charities

29 October 2014

On the eve of the Government's second 'Repeal Day', the peak body for Australia’s community services today said the Federal Government’s plan to abolish the sector’s compulsory reporting through the Charity Register would undermine efforts to reduce red tape.

"We support the government’s efforts to cut unnecessary and costly legislation and regulation. But attempts to scrap newly established mechanisms like the Charity Register or Charity Portal are effectively throwing out the good with the bad," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"We want to see a reduction in the regulatory burden that can cripple our ability to get on with the job of doing what we do best - serving our communities.

"In our sector, the worst 'red tape' is reflected in government funding processes that require extensive reporting yet provide very little value back in terms of knowledge about the sector.

"Despite reams of reports to government funders, basic questions have gone unanswered for years, like how many organisations, doing what activities, in what parts of the country. The Charity Register has for the first time provided a routine, reliable and nationally comprehensive process to answer these questions, through a modest mechanism for reporting by all charities. Why would we want to do away with a mechanism like that?"

"Compared to countries like the USA, Australian charities report very little of the most important information," said ACOSS Deputy CEO Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine, who has recently returned from a Fulbright Scholarship looking at transparency and accountability across America’s charitable and philanthropic sectors.

Dr Boyd-Caine said, "We need to move away from the myth that any reporting is ‘red tape’. The right reporting, through purpose-built mechanisms like the Charity Register, can provide critical knowledge that helps community organisations and the broader community understand what charities do and why it matters.

"It is crucial that we have routine, enforceable collection of basic sector data. This means a Charity Register that is enforced to ensure it is nationally comprehensive and reliable; and resourced to provide information back to the sector and in the interests of public confidence," Dr Boyd-Caine said.

Dr Goldie said, “Our charities make an enormous contribution to Australian society and the economy. The first report from the national Charity Register reflected this, with the sector contributing 5% of GDP and 8% of employment nationally. Charities also provide welcome occupation to over two million volunteers. This type of industry-relevant information is vital to maintaining our effectiveness"

"Meanwhile, charities continue to spend a median of 40 hours paid staff time reporting to government per year, or about one working week. One in five charities reported spending more than 100 paid staff hours (or two and a half weeks) reporting in the last year.

"Cutting these types of red tape will be of far greater benefit to the community. But it requires a strong commitment from governments to fund community services for effective, sustained outcomes. We welcome moves by the Federal Government towards long-term funding cycles. This must be backed up with adequate negotiation periods and guaranteed rollover periods where future funding has not been determined.

"Any effort to reduce red tape must have the support of the relevant industry. Charities and not-for-profits are no different.

"We strongly urge the Government to rethink its plan to abolish the important regulatory reforms that have established a nationally consistent, fit-for-purpose approach to charity regulation. They have received widespread support across the sector and are contributing to the vital objective of reducing unnecessary regulatory obligations on many of Australia’s civil society organisations," Dr Goldie said.

 

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Seniors Supplement is poorly targeted to people who don’t need extra support

28 October 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Parliament to support the budget proposal to abolish the Seniors Supplement, which is poorly targeted to people who do not need additional support from the Government.

"At a time when we need to be restoring revenue and better targeting expenditure, in part to fund the needs of an ageing population, this supplement represents an unjustified excess," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The Seniors Supplement is available to those who are not eligible for the Aged Pension because they are in a much better financial position than most."

It extends to older people with assets in excess of $1 million apart from the family home. By excluding superannuation income from the income test for existing recipients, it also extends to people with significant superannuation incomes.

"A couple could have a million dollars in a superannuation fund paying them an income of $100k a year in addition to significant assets and still receive the supplement."

"ACOSS strongly supports the need for an adequate safety net system to ensure that everyone is supported when they fall into hard times. However, this supplement cannot be justified on those grounds.

The supplement entitles people to $858 each year for singles and $1,295 for couples.

"Abolishing the Senior's Supplement would not affect people entitled to the Age Pension, who are the vast majority of retirees, since they are not eligible. They would still qualify for the Pension Supplement.

"We think the fairest approach is to restrict supplements to those entitled to receive an Age or Veterans Pension. These are the people who need a supplement the most," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Governments sleep at the wheel as housing affordability crashes

16 October 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged Australian Governments to take coordinated action to tackle the worsening housing supply crisis.

"New data shows that the housing supply crisis is getting worse and this is taking a heavy toll on first home buyers and low and moderate income renters who are under increasing financial stress," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

The new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare highlighted the serious gap between housing demand and supply, with as estimated shortage of 284,000 dwellings in 2011 projected to increase due to population growth, ageing and decreasing household size.

"'We know that exorbitant rents, particularly in our major cities, is placing a great deal of stress on families, with 47% of low-income earners paying more than 30% of their income in rent. This is one of the major factors driving people into poverty."

"Commonwealth Rent Assistance has a major impact on households' rental affordability, with the AIHW report showing a 27% point reduction in the number of low-income recipients in housing stress after receiving this targeted assistance. Our concern is that this vital rent assistance payment is not keeping up with the rise in community living standards and call for an immediate increase in the maximum rate. The gap between the maximum rate of Rent Assistance and average rent has grown steadily because CRA is linked to the CPI, rather than to national average increases in rent.

"The report also found that social housing schemes, which are highly targeted to people in greatest need, have been extremely effective, however waiting lists continue to grow and supply is not keeping up. As at 30 June 2013, there were over 217,000 households on waiting lists for social housing. There is a critical shortage of over 500,000 rental properties that are affordable and available to low income renters which must be addressed.

"While Australia's housing situation becomes ever more critical, governments seem to be asleep at the wheel. There is no national affordable housing strategy and growing uncertainty about the future of funding for housing and homelessness investment and programs.

"The most recent budget reduced funding to the National Rental Affordability Scheme, which will result in a loss of 12,000 affordable housing dwellings. At the same time, it extended funding for homelessness services for only another 12 months, with growing uncertainty again in the sector about the future of services and those who rely on them for support.

"The Federal Government has a vital leadership role to play in setting national housing policy to ensure all arms of government are working towards increasing the supply of affordable housing stock, alleviating rental stress and ensure pathways out of homelessness. This cannot be achieved without changes to current housing tax settings which encourage speculative investment in existing housing stock, inflate house prices and do little to increase affordable housing stock," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

2.5 million people living in poverty in Australia: new report

12 October 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service has today released a new report revealing that poverty is growing in Australia with an estimated 2.5 million people or 13.9% of all people living below the internationally accepted poverty line.

The report provides the most up to date picture of poverty in the nation drawing on new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics Income and Expenditure surveys for 2011-12 and previous years. It finds that 603,000 or 17.7% of all children were living in poverty in Australia.

DOWNLOAD: ACOSS Poverty in Australia Report 2014

"This is deeply disturbing and highlights the need for a national plan to tackle the scourge of poverty which diminishes us all in one of the wealthiest countries in the world," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"In particular, the child poverty rate should be of deep concern to us all, with over a third (36.8%) of children in sole parent families living in poverty. This is due to the lower levels of employment among sole parent households, especially those with very young children, and the low level of social security payments for these families.

"Most of the poverty we found is concentrated among the groups of people facing the most disadvantage and barriers to fully participating in our community. Those most likely to be in poverty are people who are unemployed (61.2%) and those in a household that relies on social security as its main source of income (40.1%), particularly on the Newstart Allowance (55.1%) or Youth Allowance (50.6%).

"This finding brings into focus the sheer inadequacy of these allowance payments which fall well below the poverty line. The poverty line for a single adult is $400 per week yet the maximum rate of payment for a single person on Newstart - when Rent Assistance and other supplementary payments is added - is only $303 per week. This is $97 per week below the 50% of median income poverty line.

"It also emphasises the danger posed by Budget proposals to reduce the indexation of pension payments to the Consumer Price Index only, which is likely to result in higher poverty rates over time than would be the case if payments were indexed to wages and therefore community living standards.

"We are also concerned about the higher level of poverty among people born in countries where the main language is not English (18.8%), which is much higher than those born overseas in an English speaking country (11.4%), or in Australia (11.6%).

"All available evidence on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continues to show these groups are at a significantly higher risk.

"Being unemployed is the strongest predictor of poverty. However, a significant finding of the report is the number of people living in poverty whose main source of income is from employment. Although workers in paid employment face a lower risk of poverty, they form one third (33.2%) of all people below the 50% poverty line. It is likely that most of these are either employed part time or supporting dependent children on a low wage.

"These overall findings are a wakeup call for us as a community and shine a spotlight on the current policy direction of Federal Government. It provides an opportunity for the government to work with the whole community to reconfigure its first Budget and national policy priorities around the urgent need to address poverty in Australia.

"We need the development of a comprehensive national plan to tackle poverty if we are going to build on our great wealth and more fairly share the opportunities that will include all our citizens," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOAD: ACOSS Poverty in Australia Report 2014

Summary of key findings

  • Poverty line (50% of median income) - for a single adult was $400 per week, for a couple with 2 children it was $841 per week;
  • Poverty rate - 2,548,496 people (13.9% of all people) living below the poverty line, after taking account of their housing costs;
  • Child poverty - 602,604 children (17.7% of all children) living below the poverty line;
  • Income support - 40.1% of people on social security payments living below the poverty line. Includes 55.1% of those on Newstart Allowance, 50.6% on Youth Allowance; 47.2% on Parenting Payment, 48% on Disability Support Pension, 24.8% on Carer Payment, and 15.7% of those on Age Pension;
  • Unemployed - 61.2% of people who are unemployed were living below the poverty line;
  • Working poor - 33.2% of people below the poverty line came from a household with wages as their main income;
  • Overall growth in poverty - Poverty increased between 2010 and 2012 by nearly one per cent (from 13% to 13.9).

Location - 13.8% poverty in capital cities compared to 14% outside capital cities;

  1. Tasmania - 15.1% (Hobart 13.8%, rest of state 16%)
  2. Queensland - 14.8% (Brisbane 13.9%, rest of state 15.4%)
  3. NSW - 14.6% (Sydney 15%, rest of state 13.8%)
  4. Victoria - 13.9% (Melbourne 13.7%, rest of state 14.3%)
  5. WA - 12.4% (Perth 12.4%, rest of state 12.4%)
  6. SA - 11.7% (Adelaide 11.5%, rest of state 12.5%)
  7. ACT and NT - 9.1% (No separate data available due to small sample sizes in ABS survey).

Most at risk groups

  • Women - significantly more likely to experience poverty than men (14.7% compared to 13%);
  • Children and older people - face higher risks of poverty compared to other age groups (17.7% and 14.8% respectively);
  • Sole parents - at high risk with 33% in poverty in 2012 and 36.8% of all children in poverty were in sole parent households;
  • Born overseas - Poverty is higher amongst adults born in countries where the main language is not English (18.8%) than amongst those born overseas in an English speaking country (11.4%), or in Australia (11.6%);
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - ABS data does not include information to accurately measure this poverty rate, however 2011 HILDA data found 19.3% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in poverty, compared to 12.4% of the total Australian population;
  • People with a disability - latest available data does not allow this poverty rate to be calculated, however our previous report found 27.4% of people with a disability were living in poverty in 2009-2010 compared to 12.8% for the total population.

About the Poverty Report
This Poverty in Australia 2014 is the third report in ACOSS' poverty series and updates earlier reports with new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics Income and Expenditure surveys for 2011-12 and previous years. It uses the internationally accepted poverty line, defined as 50% of median household income, and adjusts for housing costs. The research was conducted for us by the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

Major report to reveal poverty is growing in Australia

10 October 2014

Who: Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO, ACOSS, people living in poverty and representatives from St Vincent de Paul Society, The Salvation Army and other community welfare sector agencies.

When: Start time - 10.30am Sunday 12 October 2014

Venue: Woodville Community Services community garden
Corner of Binna Burra Street and Urana Street, Villawood (Off Woodville Road), Western Sydney - SEE MAP

The Australian Council of Social Service will release the most comprehensive report on poverty in Australia since 2012 at the start of Anti-Poverty Week on Sunday October 12, 2014.

The report will identify the number of people living in poverty in the country, which groups of people are affected by poverty, and where they live. It will include state and capital city breakdowns.

Media outlets and journalists are encouraged to attend the press conference which will be led by ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie and include the voices of people living in poverty and representatives from a range of community welfare agencies.

Also present will include:
• Pam Batkin, Executive Officer, Woodville Community Services Inc.
• Envoy Ronda McIntyre, Territorial Community Services/Doorways Co-ordinator, The Salvation Army
• Lisa Ross, Financial Counsellor, The Salvation Army Moneycare
• Yolanda Saiz, Senior Manager, St Vincent de Paul Society
• People with lived experience of poverty and other representatives of Australia's community welfare sector.

Media contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

NOTE TO EDITORS: Reporters and film crews are advised to arrive early to set up, and kindly advise fernando@acoss.org.au of your intention to attend 0419 626 155.

The Report will be made available online after the launch on the www.acoss.org.au website at around 10.45am AEST on Sunday 12th October 2014.

Rethink on harsh job search plan a victory for common sense

8 October 2014

Statement from ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie

"We are pleased that the Government has listened to the concerns expressed by ACOSS, the business community and many others about the ill-conceived proposal to force jobseekers to apply for 40 jobs a month. At a time when there is only one job available for every five people looking for work, this would have been counter-productive and demoralising for jobseekers and an unhelpful burden on employers."

"We are also pleased to see the Government abandon its proposal to shift compliance functions from Centrelink to employment services.

"The investment in wage subsidies is welcome, though more resources are needed to broaden access to subsidies and ensure their effectiveness. Subsidies should also be complemented by demand-led employment approaches with strong partnerships between employers, employment services and jobseekers, as proposed by ACOSS in alliance with the Business Council of Australia and the ACTU.

"We remain very concerned that the major plank in the Government's employment policy is compulsory work for the dole, despite the evidence that it fails to achieve sustained employment outcomes.

"We now urge the Government to listen to the community's deep concerns about its proposal to deprive young people under 30 years from income for six months of every year. Despite the strong community opposition, this proposal still remains in the bills reintroduced into federal parliament last week."

ACOSS welcomes ‘common sense’ of the Senate to reject harsh budget measures

2 October 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today welcomed the Australian Senate's rejection of radical social security budget measures that would cut the incomes of people living in poverty and its support of better targeting of payments to those who need them.

"We applaud the good sense of Senators who have listened to the many community voices raised against harsh budget cuts affecting people already living in poverty including young people, sole parents and pensioners. These measures deprive the very people that our safety net system is meant to protect," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"ACOSS has consistently argued that social security should be there for those who need it, when they need it, and that payments should not extend to people who don't need them.

"We welcome indications that the Senate is prepared to support the removal of poorly targeted payments such as the Seniors Supplement for older people with over a million dollars in assets apart from their home, and the extension of Family Tax Benefit part B to families earning over $100,000. These budget measures go a long way to achieving the savings that are needed to restore the budget to surplus and meet the challenge of an ageing population.

"The government should continue down this sensible ‘middle road' to budget reform and withdraw proposals that would have the greatest impact on people living in poverty and those in poor health.

"To bring equity and balance to budgetary reform, the Government should devote as much effort to restoring revenues as to reducing spending. The Government's tax reform agenda should sweep away tax shelters that disproportionately benefit people on high incomes, remove inequity and waste in tax breaks for superannuation, and curb tax avoidance by multinational companies." Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Government report finds plan to deprive young people of income support breaches human rights

30 September 2014

Australia's peak community sector and youth affairs bodies have welcomed a joint bipartisan parliamentary committee finding that two of the Government's proposed changes to youth payments are incompatible with Australia's human rights obligations.

In a report published last week, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights chaired by Liberal Senator Dean Smith, found that both the proposal to deny young people income support for six months of every year, and to lift the age of eligibility for the Newstart Allowance from 22 to 25 years, breach Australia's human rights obligations.

The Australian Council of Social Services and the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition said the report is a final indictment on the flawed legislation which should now be dismissed by the Senate.

"The Senate should today reject any compromise deal which would deprive young people of income support for any period, whether it is one or six months. As the joint committee found in its report, the Government has failed to explain how young people are expected to survive, let along participate, with no income", said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"With estimates that more than 100,000 young people would be affected, any brokered deal would have devastating impacts on those affected."

"This measure would see the government breach its part of the mutual obligation deal. Governments have a duty to provide income support and to help people to get a job, while people who are unemployed are required to search for jobs and participate in employment programs."

Leo Fieldgrass, National Director of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition said, "The proposed changes to income support will push young Australians into poverty and increase youth homelessness. With youth unemployment rates at sky-high levels, punishing young people for not having jobs is inconceivable."

"The Prime Minister recently told the United Nations that Australia leads by example. By rejecting this legislation, Senators can lead by example and show how highly we value our young people and their human rights", said Mr Fieldgrass.

Dr Goldie said, "Excluding young people from eligibility for income support altogether is a breach of the government's side of the social contract under our safety net system and a breach of international human rights law, as the joint Committee has found."

"We urge the Government to respect the findings of this important committee established to protect fundamental human rights. We are pleased to hear a number of cross-benchers give assurances that they won't accept any compromise deal and we urge other Senators to do the same," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contacts:
Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) - 0419 626 155
Leo Fieldgrass (AYAC) - 0450 427 584


Key Committee findings on the Budget youth measures:

  • The proposed six-month waiting period for people under 30 who were not in employment or training breaches the right to social security (Article 9, ICESCR) and the right to an adequate standard of living (Article 11, ICESCR). The Committee noted that the Government had failed to explain how young people would cope without any access to income.
  • The proposed age criteria for accessing Newstart Allowance breaches the rights to equality and non- discrimination on the basis of age.

Download report:
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights Examination of legislation in accordance with the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011Bills.

Negative gearing boosts housing costs, not the economy

24 September 2014

ACOSS Chief Executive Officer Dr Cassandra Goldie has today highlighted the risks posed by negative gearing for housing affordability and economic growth in response to a report released by the Housing Industry Association this week.

"Negative gearing distorts investment activity to favour speculative investment in housing and other assets funded by debt and puts upward pressure on house prices. It must be a high priority for reform in the tax white paper next year," said Dr Goldie.

"Negative gearing adds to the boom and bust cycle in housing when what we need is stable investment to strengthen supply. Together with other distortions in the tax system, it also contributes to the boom and bust cycle in the economy as a whole. The RBA may be forced to use higher interest rates to calm the housing market." said Dr Goldie.

"ACOSS advocates for deductions for expenses relating to passive investments in housing, shares and other similar assets to be quarantined to offset income from those assets only, including capital gains, rather than all personal income as is currently the case. We propose that this change be implemented progressively, with existing investors grandfathered."

"With ambitious economic growth targets to be met, and as we transition from growth led by resource investment, now is the time we need to be channeling activity towards productive investments for broad-based economic growth, not contributing towards inflated housing prices."

The Independent Economics report released this week, commissioned by the Housing Industry Association, concluded that restricting ­access to negative gearing for residential property would reduce ­investment in housing, erode housing affordability and put ­upward pressure on rents. It also argued that stamp duty and developer levies contribute to higher housing costs.

"It is difficult to make sense of HIA's claim that removing the ability for people to negatively gear their investments would reduce housing supply when more than 90% of negatively geared investment is in existing properties, adding heat to the market, but not additional stock," Dr Goldie added.

"Investors cannot on the one hand complain about the barriers to their children entering the housing market, including the stiff competition from investors in the market, while defending the very concessions that create the affordability problem in the first place.

"The tax treatment of housing must be reformed as a package. Negative gearing is just one part of the problem. ACOSS supports HIA's call for the abolition of stamp duty, which distorts housing choices, creates market inefficiencies and contributes to the high cost of housing. One option is to replace stamp duty with a broad based land tax which offers a much more efficient and equitable revenue source.

"While a significant proportion of investors with income of less than $80,000 a year access negative gearing, households in the top income quintile receive ten and a half times the benefits of those in the bottom quintile - $3,800 per year compared to $364 per year respectively.

"The tax treatment of savings should be addressed consistently to close tax avoidance opportunities and remove distortions that channel economic activity towards unproductive assets."

Media Contact: 0419 626 155

Health groups call for leadership in healthcare funding

23 September 2014

As a new AIHW report showing declining health spending is released, a wide range of health advocacy organisations have joined together today to call on the Government and Parliament to show leadership in relation to health funding, and ensure that decisions take into account the health of everyone in the community, particularly the most vulnerable.

"Good health is a fundamental building block to the well-being of individuals, communities and the economy. There is a need for considered and evidence based approaches to healthcare funding and services," CEO of ACOSS, Dr Cassandra Goldie said today while launching the statement.

"Community organisations with a deep interest in health are growing increasingly alarmed about the significant changes that are being proposed in the area of health, without significant community discussion about the implications, particularly on those who are most vulnerable and most likely to be impacted by changes such as the proposed GP co-payment.

"Organisations who have signed up to today's statement remain opposed to any form of GP co-payment, even one with exemptions as this does not go far enough to ensure that those who most need healthcare are not faced with cost barriers.

"Any changes in healthcare funding needs to protect those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Current proposals on the table do not adequately address the impacts on groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, those with chronic illness, and older members of our community. We also know that those who are poorer are more likely to be sick. So, it is those who are least likely to be able to afford it who are going to be most impacted by measures such as new or increased co-payments.

"In addition to proposals such as the GP co-payment, and increases to the co-payment for PBS medicines, there are other adverse changes being made through the budget, such as the reduction of funding to health promotion and preventative health. It's hard to see how this will help improve people's health and take off pressure in the health system.

"There is strong evidence that supports investing in preventive health as the most long-term, cost effective and ethical approach to maintaining and improving Australia's universal health care system. Investing in a healthy Australia takes strong leadership and a vision for a better future for all people and communities in Australia.

"The groups who have come together today stand ready to work with Government to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the health system. We call on the Government and the Parliament to focus on evidence, and not be tempted to introduce short term fixes to expenditure which will only cost more in the long term," Dr Goldie concluded.

A copy of the Joint Community Sector Statement on Health and signatories can be found HERE

Sign on Organisations Media Contacts:

Australian Association of Social Workers - 0400 613 516
Australian Council of Social Service - 0419 626 155
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations - 0421 040 538
Australian Men's Health Forum - 0437 571 130
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation - 0411 254 390
Catholic Social Services Australia - 0400 576 917
Consumers Health Forum of Australia - 0414 358 091
MS Australia - 0427959972
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations - 02-6246 9347
Public Health Association of Australia - 0417 249 731

Pensions up, but little cheer for many as Newstart payments fall further behind

21 September 2014

Joint media release, ACOSS and National Welfare Rights Network, 20 September 2014

A new analysis of social security payments reveals that the single Newstart Allowance paid to over half a million Australians continued to fall in value when compared with both the minimum wage and the pension. Two leading national community welfare groups today warned that the declining relative value of some payments means increased poverty and social division.

In a joint statement today Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and Maree O'Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) said that: "Addressing the $170 a week gap between pensions and allowances is the most critical task that the Government's Welfare Review Taskforce must address.

"Employment goals around people with disabilities will not be achieved until the Government addresses structural problems with the payments system. These problems are at the heart of legitimate fears held by people with a disability that if a new job does not work out that they will be shunted onto the Newstart Allowance, which is now currently $8,800 a year less than the pension.

"Reports that the Government may consider up-front investments to assist young people facing complex health and personal issues are welcome but people also need an adequate income here and now.

"While today brings good news for around 3.7 million pensioners who will receive an extra $10.70 a fortnight from an indexation increase (from September 20); it is not so good for people struggling to keep their head above water on the $37 a day Newstart payment.

"Because pensions and allowances are indexed differently, people on Newstart, widow, sickness, partner and parenting payment partnered allowances will only receive a $5.10 a fortnight indexation increase in their payment from today.

"There are currently 695,000 people on the Newstart Allowance. Three in four are single, and are struggling to meet their weekly daily expenses on the maximum rate of just $257.80 per week (from today).

"These new rates of income support payments this quarter highlight deepening fault lines in Australia's social security arrangements.

"The rate of the Newstart Allowance relative to the minimum wage is near its lowest level since 1990. The Newstart Allowance has fallen from 54 per cent in 1996 to 40.2 per cent of the National Minimum Wage, which now stands at $640.90 per week.

"This means that people relying on allowances are falling behind community living standards, and underlies the importance of indexing payments to wages. Current proposals to index pensions to prices would inevitably see pensions falling behind community living standards over time and should be opposed.

"The maximum payments for a single pensioner is now $854.30 a fortnight ($22,212 per year). Unemployed people on the single Newstart Allowance receive much less, at $257.80 per week, or 40% less than the pension.

"But unemployed people aren't the only people being short-changed by today's indexation changes. Young people on Youth Allowance and Austudy get nothing, and their even lower payments are indexed only once a year, while pensions and allowances are indexed every six months. The 114,700 single parents raising children on the maximum Newstart Allowance will receive a small increase of a mere $2.75 a week. Being pushed onto Newstart means that these families are now $81.20 a week or over $4,222 a year worse off, compared to Parenting Payment Single.

"The artificial divide between pensions and allowances must be addressed by increasing the rate of allowance payments and indexing payments consistently to wages to prevent more people falling further and further behind the rest of the community. Anything less is not the genuine welfare reform that this country needs."
Media contacts:

ACOSS Media Adviser: Fernando De Freitas 0419 626 155

NWRN Policy and Media Officer: Gerard Thomas 0425 296 882

Evidence based Youth Employment Strategy needed, not more ad hoc policy ideas

9 September 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service has today called on the Federal Government to bring together key experts to develop a comprehensive Youth Employment Strategy that will work, rather than continuing ad hoc policy announcements which lack evidence or broad support.

The peak community sector body said the Federal Government's training and youth employment packages announced yesterday would provide only a fraction of what's needed to improve the nation's ailing apprenticeship training system and raise the job prospects of young people at a time of growing unemployment.

"This latest announcement is a drop in the ocean of what's needed if we're going to make a difference in giving young people a start in their working life," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Essentially we're talking about around 10,000 training places for young people, not all of whom are necessarily on benefits, compared with over 100,000 who will be losing income support, if the Government's proposed changes to payments proceed.

"This falls well short of the 74,000 assisted each year under the successful Youth Connections program which the Federal Government has defunded.

"The advantage of the discontinued Youth Connections program was that it allowed agencies to work with young people at risk of dropping out of school not only those who have left already. It was a prevention approach which is critical, and had been proven successful on all the evidence.

"The new youth pathways is more limited and is restricted to regional areas when we know that youth unemployment is also a major problem in many of our major cities.

"One key focus should be in the transition from school to paid work and this important element is glaringly missing from this package.

"ACOSS has proposed with the Business Council of Australia and the ACTU a partnership approach that will more effectively link employment services for disadvantaged job seekers with employer needs, where funding is redirected to more targeted training and job seekers are supported once they gain employment.

"It is a hard ask for employers to have the necessary connections with training providers, community organisations and young people to be able to make best use of the funding to truly tackle youth unemployment.

"The model put forward by the BCA, ACTU and ACOSS builds lasting relationships between job service providers and employers, offering them the support of employment brokers and regional employment boards.

"Specifically, the alliance has called for:

  • The establishment of employment brokers to create partnerships between employers and employment services to better match jobseekers with labour demand.
  • The establishment of regional employment boards in areas of high unemployment to promote the partnerships approach among industry, unions, employment services and training providers
  • Redirecting training resources from the existing Employment Pathway Fund to focus more on disadvantaged jobseekers, and to fund work experience and training as part of the partnerships approach.

"There's no doubt that creating job opportunities for young people won't be an easy task, but why doesn't the government work with us to ensure the best possible outcomes? Once again, this is a policy idea developed without the involvement of key stakeholder groups with relevant experience and expertise," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

Find out more about ACOSS Proposals:
Alliance proposes partnerships to secure jobs for disadvantaged jobseekers - June 30, 2014

No income means no income, whether it’s 26 weeks or four weeks

2 September 2014

The Federal Government should immediately abandon plans to cut unemployment benefits for young people under 30 for any period - whether for six months or one month - according to Australian Council of Social Service and the National Welfare Rights Network.

The Budget measure worth $1.2 billion would affect 113,000 unemployed people under 30 years of age.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said: "We strongly oppose any move to take vital life support income from young people in need, whether for six months or one month. The fact is this would represent a fundamental departure from the principle of basic support for all, in return for reasonable efforts to look for work.

"The proposal has no merit. Driving people into poverty by taking money away that they desperately need while they look for work simply makes no sense. It would only cause more hardship and swell the numbers of people knocking on the doors of charities seeking shelter, food, emergency relief and other support.

The National Welfare Rights Network's Maree O'Halloran said: "The proposal to make some people under 30 wait six months every year before gaining access to the unemployment benefit was always both extreme and counter-productive."

"Bargaining the proposal down to 28 days still leaves people without the support of family and friends in desperate need, particularly as a cascading number of other waiting periods will also be applied. The Government would be better placed to give up this proposal altogether and look to real solutions to the looming and pressing problem of youth unemployment," Ms O'Halloran said.

"Australia's social security system does not need the added complexity of another waiting period be it 28 days or six months. We already have the Liquid Assets Test Waiting Period (up to 13 weeks), Income Maintenance Period (often months, sometime more than a year) and Ordinary Waiting Periods. These are designed to make people live off their savings while looking for employment, before they can access income support."

"It is our understanding that the New Zealand model expects all claimants for income support to serve a 28 day waiting period. If the Government has a desire to introduce such a waiting period for people under 30 years and then potentially to Age and Disability Support Pension recipients, Carers, Single Parents and Veteran Pension recipients, then it should test this whole New Zealand proposition with the public," Ms O'Halloran added.

Dr Goldie said: "The starting point for policies that work to reduce youth unemployment is investing in the transition from school to paid work. This is where our focus should be. Many young people are not getting the career advice and support they need at school, and schools need to be better connected with local employers and support services. The Youth Connections program is providing that support, but in the same Budget that cuts unemployment payments for young people, that program lost its funding. Youth Connections had assisted over 74,000 young people since 2010, helping them in to study or paid work.

"We have welcomed the federal government's announcement of wage subsidies to give long term unemployed young people a foot up in the tough jobs market. Wage subsidies in regular paid jobs are extremely effective and should be expanded.

"We also need to focus on addressing the barriers to employment for people disadvantaged in the labour market and work together with employers and unions to ensure that employment services are more effectively linked to employer needs and that funding is redirected to more targeted training and in-job support," Dr Goldie said.

"With youth unemployment rates at around 20% in some electorates, the community wants our political leaders to assist unemployed people into jobs, not to make life harder. We urge our elected federal leaders to reject any proposal that deprives young people of crucial income, whether for six months or one month," they concluded.

Media Comment:
Fernando de Freitas, ACOSS Media - 0419 626 155
Maree O'Halloran, National Welfare Rights Network - 0417 672 104
Gerard Thomas, Policy and Media Officer (NWRN)- 0448 007 201

Community groups demand halt to harmful Budget measures

Find out more about the Community Sector's ongoing campaign against the harsh measures in the Federal Budget here.

Joint Community Sector Statement on Budget social security changes

ACOSS has released a statement signed by more than 100 community organisations from around the country expressing serious concerns about these unfair budget measures, and urged parliament to reject the proposals outright. 

DOWNLOAD PDF of Statement here.

Read accessible version of statement here and see list of signatories here.

SIGN statement by emailing info@acoss.org.au.

ACOSS calls on Government to tackle sacred cow of super tax breaks

28 August 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today said the Federal Government cannot afford to keep giving the top 20% of income earners half of all superannuation tax concessions if it wants the superannuation system to be effective in helping the majority of people to have a decent standard of living in later life, and have the revenue to pay for vital services for an ageing population.

"Right now, the superannuation system has become one of the most favoured tax minimisation vehicles for high net worth individuals, whilst it fails to deliver decent savings for the great majority. To reduce poverty and future pressures on the age pension, we need to target super tax concessions so that they help saving by people on low to middle incomes, not wealthy people who will have no trouble securing their retirement future," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Chair of the Financial Services inquiry David Murray is right to question whether superannuation is doing the job it is supposed to do. Our superannuation tax concessions are inefficient, inequitable and wasteful. As Mr Murray points out, those on higher incomes would save for their retirement without such generous incentives.

"When the top 10% of male tax payers receive more from super tax concessions over their lifetime than they would if they received the full rate of the age pension in retirement, we have a system that is not achieving its aims of ensuring adequate retirement incomes and taking the pressure off the age pension.

"We can no longer afford to allow the majority of super funds to pay no tax at all of their investment incomes, when any other investment would be taxed. The Government should shut down tax schemes which allow people over 55 years to churn their wages through their superannuation accounts, reducing their income tax rates to 15%, at most.

"Decent reform of superannuation tax concessions is long overdue. With broad consensus that Australia faces a budget challenge in the medium term, now is the right time to grapple with the deep inequities in who gets tax relief through superannuation.

"The fact is there are alternatives to the current Budget proposals on the table which overwhelmingly hurt people on the lowest incomes. Instead of cutting future age pensions for those with the least, and penalising low income people on their super contributions, the Government should reduce super tax breaks for those with the most.

"It is unbelievable that the Government wants to abolish the Low Income Superannuation Contribution which would have supported retirement saving by people on lower incomes, when such generous tax concessions are going to top income earners.

"The reality is that we will need to pay for services for an ageing population. Retired people on the lowest incomes cannot afford to pay for doctor's visits or aged care. Nor can they afford to have the real value of their pensions frozen, or to live on the $36 a day Newstart Allowance until they reach the age of 70. These budget proposals shift the burden to those least able to pay.

"In the short term ACOSS proposes that the $25,000 annual cap on super contributions attracting tax breaks be restored and that super fund earnings in the ‘pension phase' be taxed at 15%, the same as fund earnings in the contributions phase.

"Over time, the system of tax breaks for contributions should be restructured, so that all contributions are taxed at the individual's marginal tax rate, minus a rebate. The high income earners would get the same tax break per dollar invested as low income earners, no more and no less.

"It is important that we look at how to fund quality aged and health care in an equitable way, by identifying areas of inefficiencies where those already on high incomes are being subsidised to do what they would do anyway," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

AMA co-payment plan knifes Medicare principle of access for all

AMA co-payment plan knifes Medicare principle of access for all

21 August 2014

Australia's leading community and health consumer groups have rejected the Australian Medical Association's proposal for mandatory medical co-payments as representing a first step towards the breakdown of universal access under Medicare.

"A co-payment would erect a barrier to primary health care for many thousands of families and individuals who would not qualify for concessions. The Government, and now the AMA, are proposing a new impost on health consumers before investigating other ways to make health care in Australia more cost effective," the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Adam Stankevicius said.

"At a time when 700,000 people are hospitalised a year for conditions that could have been avoided through better primary care, the AMA plan would place a mandatory $6.15 charge on general practice care for many people."

"The AMA plan swallows the $3.5 billion in expected budget savings and highlights the need for a stronger primary health system. The AMA itself says that general practice is ‘a low cost and efficient part of the health system'. Why complicate a system that has worked well for 30 years. And where is the Government modelling to support such a dramatic change to Medicare?"

Rebecca Vassarotti, Deputy CEO of Australian Council of Social Services, said:

"The release of the AMA's proposal to Government has done nothing to ease the concerns of ACOSS that the poor and vulnerable in our community will be hard-hit by the GP co-payment plan. Exemptions will always miss out on groups in the community who are at risk."

"Under the AMA plan, we know that groups of people will not access the care they need because they can't afford it. Low income workers, people with chronic illness, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are all groups that will continue to face access issues under the AMA plan."

"Again, ACOSS calls on the Parliament to protect the principles that underpin Medicare - universal access to GPs for everyone in the community, regardless of how much money they have in their pocket. Price signals in primary healthcare just don't make sense. We don't want people to be making decisions about whether or not to go to the doctor or put food on the table. It's bad for them, it's bad for the economy and it's bad for the community".

Michael Moore, the CEO of the Public Health Association Australia, said:

"If the government is really serious about red tape and less regulation and more efficiency it will drop the co-payment idea as soon as possible. The co-payment idea was flawed from the beginning."

"The attempt by the AMA to find a compromise solution illustrated just how farcical the idea is and provides yet another reason for the government to shelve the notion and for the Senate to reject it. Even if the government accepted the AMA proposal they would be seeking to implement yet another tax that will most likely cost more to administer than what it would raise in revenue."

Media Contacts:
Rebecca Vassarotti (ACOSS) ¬ 0408 668 963
Mark Metherell (CHF) 0429 111 986
Michael Moore (PHAA) 0417 249 731

 

Groups reject secret co-payment talks when it’s about the well-being of ALL of us

Thursday 21, 21014

National peak community and health consumer groups today called on the Parliament to reject any deal struck by the Health Minister and the doctors union, declaring that a Medicare co-payment posed an unwarranted burden on the chronically ill and the most vulnerable in our community.

“Health and illness concerns us all and Health Minister Peter Dutton should be listening to voices in the community and groups representing all users of the health system,” said Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service.

“We know that imposing a fee to see a doctor will lead to people putting off visits than can lead to early treatment which is the best health outcome, both for them and the community because later interventions are always more costly.

“It would hit poor and chronically ill people hardest, and exemptions would not go far enough. Many people would remain exposed and people on the lowest incomes will still face cost barriers,” Dr Goldie said.

Consumers Health Forum CEO, Adam Stankevicius said: “The Government suggests the Medicare co-payment is a price signal for consumers. Price signals work for discretionary items. Health care is not discretionary!”
“It is unacceptable that consumers have been left in the dark. Why is the minister restricting his negotiations with doctors, what about the people who will have to pay?
“At a CHF meeting this week, health system experts suggested several ways Australia could make the health system more effective and save billions of dollars a year. We should be considering these options before slugging consumers with a $7 price hike.”

The CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, Michael Moore, said: “At a time when so many countries across the world are working to achieve universal health care it is appalling that the Australian government is working to undermine the very same thing.

"it is not free - it's called Medicare. And it works pretty well. Suggestions that health spending is unsustainable are not borne out by the figures. Australia spends almost half as much as United States on healthcare (10% of our GDP) but have higher health outcomes. So why would we want to go down the US road?” Mr Moore said.

In conclusion, the three organisations made the following points:

  • When it comes to health costs, no decision about us should be taken without us.
  • A mandatory co-payment would wreck a fundamental principle of Medicare: universal access to healthcare.
  • We urge the Health Minister, Peter Dutton, to consult on the Medicare co-payment issue with groups representing all users of the health system, not just the doctors.

Media Contacts:
Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) – 0419 626 155
Mark Metherell (CHF) – 0429 111 986
Michael Moore (PHAA) – 0417 249 731

Big power company profits: the real outcome of any changes to the Renewable Energy Target

18 August 2014

Weakening or abolishing the Renewable Energy Target (RET) would benefit owners of polluting coal plants at the expense of households and small business, finds independent analysis released today.

"Who really benefits from weakening the Renewable Energy Target?" is the question asked by The Climate Institute, Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF-Australia. Based on independent modelling by Jacobs, the report finds that a weakening of the RET as per companies' proposals would result in:

• $8 billion additional profit to coal and $2 billion to gas generators (net present value of future profits 2015-
2030).This includes $2 billion in extra profit for EnergyAustralia, $1.5 billion for Origin and $1 billion for AGL.

• No decline in electricity prices: in fact, they could increase slightly (an average $30 increase to the annual
household power bill, with most of this increase taking place after 2020). This is consistent with modelling
commissioned by the Government and studies conducted independently by leading economic analysts.

• Additional carbon pollution of about 150 million tonnes to 2030 (equivalent to adding nearly 4 million cars to the
road) with additional pollution costs of over $14 billion.

• Loss of $8 billion in investment in new renewable capacity, with New South Wales and South Australia each
standing to lose over $2 billion in foregone investment.

"This modelling highlights the cynical self-interest behind power companies' calls to weaken the Renewable Energy Target. Companies like Origin and EnergyAustralia are pushing to weaken the target not, as they like to claim, because that would be good for customers, but because a weaker target is better for their bottom line," said John Connor, CEO The Climate Institute.

"The RET is a bipartisan policy that is effectively reducing carbon pollution from the electricity sector and building our nation's renewable energy industry. Both these objectives are vital - they help avoid dangerous climate change and sensibly position Australia's economy to remain competitive in a world moving to clean energy sources."

Various power companies and industry lobby groups want to weaken the RET, or to do away with it altogether. However, any change to the legislated target will need to be agreed by the Senate.
"Some of the claims that have been made do not stack up against the clear evidence and are a distraction from who would really benefit from reducing the amount of clean renewable energy in the electricity market," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS.

"We need to be investing in the future - in clean energy for people in Australia, energy efficiency measures particularly for people on low incomes and in new jobs in sectors that are growing around the world."

Kelly O'Shanassy, Australian Conservation Foundation CEO said: "These power companies are trying to hide behind the customers as they work to undermine Australia's efforts to become a clean energy leader. This research shows the power companies have eight billion reasons to attack clean energy and they have actually forgotten about their customers - and the air we all breathe."

Dermot O'Gorman, WWF-Australia CEO said: "Renewable energy is crucial to combating climate change and helping protect the Great Barrier Reef and much of our unique wildlife."
"Australia has a natural advantage in solar and wind energy. We must build our renewable energy industry instead of supporting old, dirty power stations. The RET benefits jobs, the economy and the environment," he said.

The full report telling the story of "Who really benefits" can be found here.


For more information
Kristina Stefanova | Communications Director, The Climate Institute | 0407 004 037
Josh Meadows | Media Advisor, Australian Conservation Foundation| 0439 342 992
Mark Symons | Senior Media Officer, WWF-Australia | 0400 985 571

ACOSS proposes ‘common income support payment’ in overhaul of social security system

12 August 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service is calling for a major overhaul of the social security system for people of working age, proposing a single or ‘common' income support payment with added supplements depending on a person's need, similar to the 'Universal Credit' in the United Kingdom.

In its submission to the Federal Welfare Review released today, the peak national community body, proposes the establishment of an Independent Commission of experts to review and develop a benchmark for rates of the new payment.

It also wants the Federal Government to abandon a number of harsh Budget measures that pre-empt and undermine the Review.

"The social security system for people of working age is complex, unfair and it undermines employment participation. The system is broken, and tinkering at the margins won't fix it," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"People with the same financial needs receive vastly different payments and those on the lowest payments such as Newstart Allowance receive as little as $35 a day. A carer, person with disability or sole parent who moves to the lower Newstart Allowance loses up to $170 a week in income for no valid reason.

"To qualify for higher payments people have to prove they cannot engage in paid work. This is counterproductive and it means too many people are being ‘written off' in the jobs market. Payment levels should be based on people's financial needs now, not their future employment prospects.

"We believe the best solution is to remove the distinction between pensions, allowances for unemployed people and student payments and replace them with a common income support payment for people of working age, based on essential living costs.

"Under this model, people with extra costs - including the costs of a disability, caring for a person with disability, and raising a child alone - would receive supplements on top of the common income support payment. These supplements would extend to many people on low to modest wages.

"The levels of payment needed by people to meet basic essential living costs in Australia today should be based on recommendations by an independent Commission of experts. This would help ensure that payment rates are based on objective assessment of financial need, not the opinions of decision-makers that some groups ‘deserve' more or less than others.

"Comprehensive payment reform will take time. In the short term, the Government should adopt the sensible calls in the Interim Report to improve Newstart and other allowances for single people - as was done for people on pension payments.

"It should also boost Rent Assistance for those paying the highest rents, to stop payments for sole parents from falling as their children grow older, and to bring student payments for adults up to the same level as Newstart Allowance. These are sensible and urgent reforms to reduce the worst poverty.

"A key condition for our support of payment reform is that no group should be worse off and those on the lowest payments such as Newstart Allowance should be better off. There is a danger that many people will be worse off if proposals to shift people whose disability is not ‘permanent' to a lower payment than the Disability Support Pension is implemented. The ‘shell game' of endlessly shifting people from higher to lower payments to save money has to stop.

"We urge the government to drop the harshest of the Budget's social security changes and wait until the Welfare Review runs its full course. These include the proposal to deprive young people under 30 of income support for six months of each year, reducing the indexation of all payments, and changes to Family Tax Benefit B which cut payments for families on the lowest incomes.

"We need to reform the safety net, not to shrink it," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Summary and Recommendations - Download

ACOSS Submission to Welfare Review - Download


Key ACOSS Recommendations
• A common income support payment to replace pension and allowance payments for people of working age, based on essential living costs;

• Supplements should be paid in addition to the common income support payment to people on low to modest incomes to meet specific costs incuding the costs of disability, caring, and raising a child alone.

• Independent Commission of experts appointed by Government to review and develop a benchmark to determine base rates of payment and report to Parliament on adequacy of the common income support payment and supplements on a regular basis;

• In setting future payment rates no group should be financially worse off and those facing the greatest hardship should be better off;

• Withdraw or suspend Budget proposals that pre-empt the Review's findings
1. six month waiting periods for unemployment payments for young people
2. indexation of pensions to the CPI only
3. changes to Family Tax Benefit Part B;

• Social security should be paid as cash benefits without restriction on their use: ‘Income Management' should only apply where the recipient or local community elects to use it.

• Activity requirements should be reasonable and directly relevant to people's employment prospects. The social security system should not be used as a social engineering device by imposing requirements around the care of children or how money is spent, that don't apply equally to the rest of the community.

Unemployment is rising and Budget policies cast young people adrift

8 August 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today said the sharp rise in unemployment is disturbing and highlights the risks posed by current Federal Government proposals that strip away supports and payments for people struggling to find paid work, especially young people.

"The latest unemployment figures expose the folly of policies that cast young people adrift without income support for six months and make them search for 40 jobs a month," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The reality is that it's becoming increasingly difficult to find work, not easier. In many parts of the country, the jobs simply aren't there. There are less jobs available to young people now than there were before the GFC six years ago.

"The answer is not to make people search harder, or push them into failed ‘work for the dole' programs.

"The starting point for policies that work to reduce youth unemployment is the transition from school to paid work. Young people are not getting the career advice and support they need at school, and schools are not well connected with local employers and support services. The Youth Connections program is providing that support, but in the same Budget that cuts unemployment payments for young people, that program lost its funding.

"ACOSS welcomed the recent announcement of wage subsidies to give long term unemployed young people a foot up in the tough jobs market. Wage subsidies in regular paid jobs are much more effective than working for the dole.

"However, the Government has largely ignored cost-effective proposals that are widely viewed as likely to help, such as the joint recommendations from the Business Council of Australia, the ACTU and ACOSS Alliance on how to remove barriers to employment for people disadvantaged in the labour market.

"We all - business local communities, unions, and social services and governments - need to work together to open up job opportunities for unemployed people. If we don't do this, a temporary weakness in the labour market will become an economic and social disaster," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

More information on ACOSS proposals:
Alliance proposes partnerships to secure jobs for disadvantaged jobseekers
- 30 June 2014
ACOSS calls on government to dump plan to cut payments for young unemployed people and focus on jobs
- 5 June 2014
Focus on jobs not penalising people: ACOSS
- 28 May 2014

Community Organisations to get savvy with IT

7 August 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today launched the Community Sector Digital Business Kit Project in partnership with Infoxchange and has released modules on a new website www.improveIT.org. This is part of the Australian Government's Digital Business Kit programme.

"Australia's community sector is facing great challenges but also great opportunities in this fast moving digital age. This project has the potential to revolutionise the way small and medium sized organisations do business and better serve low-income and vulnerable people in our community," said ACOSS Deputy CEO Rebecca Vassarotti.

"The aim of project is to equip community groups with important IT skills, information and resources that will lead to more efficient and effective delivery of services. Smarter use of IT - through faster connections, better use of technology to manage information, and tools to measure the impact of programs are making in the community - will ensure organisations can better support their clients.

"This project is specifically designed to target small and medium sized groups that may not have access to large IT budgets and in-house expertise. We know that improved IT performance is not about how much money you spend, but how you use the resources."

Infoxchange CEO David Spriggs said, "One of the most exciting aspects of this project is that we have been able to host it on our new ImproveIT website. This website has been designed as the ‘go to' place for community organisations to improve their efficiency and effectiveness using information technology."

"It will help organisations who are looking for resources and how-to guides, want to discuss IT problems, or are looking for events, conferences and IT training. This means that the Digital Business Kits will be supported by a range of complementary information and tools, and organisations accessing them will be connected to a community working through similar issues."

Ms Vassarotti said, "ACOSS has been delighted to work with Infoxchange to provide this much needed resource to the sector. The first part of the project has dealt with issues such as how to make the most of current information technology options, how to ensure appropriate on-line security, how to improve websites and how we can support new modes of working such as teleworking."

"This is just the first stage of this exciting project, which will then go on to develop resources to support the sector make the most of new opportunities presented by cloud technologies, as well as to utilise electronic referrals and on-line collaboration tools.

"We hope that community organisations all over the country access the resources and make the most of the opportunities that IT provides," Ms Vassarotti concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

ACOSS joins voices welcoming Government rethink on RDA changes

6 August 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today joined the chorus of human rights and community leaders welcoming the Federal Government's decision to maintain current protections against discrimination in the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Government's proposed amendments to section 18 C of the Act were widely opposed by ethnic community leaders, state governments and civil liberties and human rights experts, who warned it would effectively give the green light to racial based vilification of minority groups in our country.

"This is a sensible step and we praise the Prime Minister for listening to the overwhelming voices in the community," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The last thing we want to see in our country is the watering down of important protections that have helped make our community strong, by condoning abuse and intimidation on the basis of a person's race or ethnicity and potentially fuelling racial tension.

"This decision ensures that an appropriate balance between freedom of speech and protection from racism is maintained in our laws," Dr Goldie said.

Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

Forrest review includes some sound proposals, but radical social security changes should be rejected

1 August 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today responded to the Andrew Forrest review of Indigenous Training and Employment Programmes by welcoming the emphasis on early learning and demand led employment but cautioning against radical measures that fly in the face of available evidence and would cause more harm than good.

"The report's focus on early childhood investment is a positive step, including the proposal for comprehensive case management for children 0-3 years who are identified as being vulnerable. This emphasis reflects the substantial evidence base highlighting the importance of early childhood intervention, education and care in determining long-term educational and employment outcomes," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"We also support the proposal to provide schools with extra support to engage with parents and broader community to deliver responsive services. We have long argued that part of the solution to improving school attendance is to improve the engagement between schools, parents and the broader community."

The Forrest review also highlights the effectiveness of demand-led employment models.

"We welcome the emphasis on demand led employment, which has been a focus of ACOSS' work with the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Demand-led or partnership based employment models should effectively link employment services with employer needs and redirect funding to more targeted training and in-job support."

"Other welcome measures include setting a 4% target for the employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the public service within 4 years, and imposing procurement requirements on the Commonwealth Government to buy from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enterprises (4%).

"These are sound policies that will make a real difference. However, the potential benefit of these policies risks being undermined by damaging proposals such as the so-called Healthy Welfare card. This card would apply to 100% of income to all payment recipients (except veterans and age pension). It would remove individual autonomy and decision-making and imposing unnecessary bureaucratic controls on the lives of people reliant on income support.

"This proposal would take our nation back to 1930s when unemployed people did not get cash benefits and had to work on the roads or beg for charity to survive.

"Punishing families by cutting Family Tax Benefit payments if children don't meet school attendance targets would inflict further pain on families struggling to cope and does nothing to address the complex issues these families may be facing.

"We also strongly oppose proposals to make it harder for young people to access vital income support by requiring that Youth Allowance recipients be endorsed for eligibility by a school principal. Eligibility should be based on need, not principal discretion.

"The report also recommends that all of Centrelink's discretion to waive job seekers' obligations and grant exemptions or transfer to non-activity tested payments be removed (for ‘capable people'). This would be extremely detrimental for many people, especially those experiencing complex issues like family violence or homelessness.

"We are deeply concerned by the hardline and counterproductive approach to people who are out of work, which demonstrates the need to move beyond welfare stereotypes and towards social security and employment policies based on consultation, partnerships and evidence. Extending a costly and intrusive system of income control and expanding the failed Work for the Dole program would risk undoing all the good work that could be achieved by the adoption of the positive measures in this review.

"ACOSS strongly believes that our income support and employment systems should be non-discriminatory in design and implementation and be based on evidence of what works to assist people into work.

"We urge the government to review the evidence and engage directly with communities in determining employment and education pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and all those in our community facing barriers to participation," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

One sided obligations will make it tougher for people looking for work: ACOSS

28 July 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today described the Federal Government's proposed changes to job search requirements as one-sided and harsh, with Government investing too little to make a difference and jobseekers expected to undertake activities that will not help them get a job.

"Australia's employment services system is premised on the notion of mutual obligation. The current policy proposals fail to meet the Government's obligations," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Governments have a duty to provide income support and to help people to get a job, while people who are unemployed are required to search for jobs and participate in employment programs.

"The youth employment measure in the Federal Budget would breach the Government's income support obligation by providing support for only six months a year in many cases. At the same time, Government investment in employment assistance is inadequate, at only half the OECD average (0.3% compared to 0.6%).

"New requirements appear to be designed to make unemployment unattractive rather than assist people obtaining employment. There is too much activity for activity's sake and not enough flexible investment in what works such as wage subsidies and vocational training relevant to the labour market.

"The proposed expansion of the Work for the Dole program is likely to be expensive and ineffective. At least $1,500 per person is being invested in this program despite less one in four jobseekers getting a job after Work for the Dole.

"The doubling of the number of jobs people have to search for - from 5 to 10 jobs a week - is likely to be self-defeating and demoralising. It reflects thinking that jobseekers are mainly responsible for their own unemployment regardless of the availability of jobs or the individual's personal circumstances. Missing is an equal onus on government to invest in strengthening people's employment capacity.

"Capacity building is especially vital given that most people are now unemployed for over 12 months and half for over 2 years. Over 100,000 people have an assessed disability and another 100,000 are sole parents.

"ACOSS welcomes increased investment in wage subsidies for people who are unemployed long-term. We have long supported wage subsidies for young people who are unemployed long-term, but are concerned that this is being funded by a reduction of income support for young people who need it.

"We think wage subsidies should go to those experiencing long term unemployment and disadvantaged in the labour market, rather than eligibility being determined by age.

"The new model appears to provide more flexibility for providers to invest in individual jobseekers through reduced red tape but is dominated by a single program, Work for the Dole. This focus creates an ‘inflexible flexibility' that overshadows other activities.

"We need to see greater investment in employment capacity building to ensure assistance is individualised rather than standardised. For instance, funds available to providers to invest in training and other help for people disadvantaged in the labour market range between just $850 - $1200 per year and access to vocational training will be much more limited than at present.

"Simply increasing job search requirements and increasing punishments without added investment will make it tougher for people looking for work, and skews the mutual obligation model against the very people the employment services system is meant to support," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Long live climate action: groups call for end to polluting politics

Long live climate action: groups call for end to polluting politics

17 July 2014

A coalition of civil society groups has urged Parliament to end divisive climate politics and take constructive action to reduce carbon pollution. The group has expressed deep disappointment at the abolition of the carbon tax today, while welcoming Senate action on renewable energy. It has issued a call for the Australian Parliament to show national and global leadership on climate change.

Andrew Dettmer, National President of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) said:  "The Abbott government has deliberately misled the public about the costs of action to protect Australians from climate change. Thanks to the measures around the carbon tax for instance, Australia now produces lower emissions and uses less energy to smelt metal. It seems that abolition of the tax suits the government’s rich mates, who don't want to pay a price for their pollution.

“The AMWU is joining calls for the Abbott government to stop the lies and come clean about the cost of inaction on climate change. Rather than being hell-bent on abolishing industry programs that create real jobs, the government must take positive action to address climate change urgently. Failure to act on climate will lead to long term damage to the environment, hobbling our economy and generations to come."

Michael Moore, CEO of the Australian Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) said: "The impact of climate change on our health will be serious and costly. The Public Health Association of Australia calls on the government to be honest about who pays the real costs of carbon pollution. The government must act to protect Australians from increases in vector-borne disease, the incidence of depression as farm land becomes less viable, as well as injury and death associated with adverse weather events.”

Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), said: “We know that people experiencing poverty will be hit first and hardest by the impacts of climate change and have the least capacity to adapt. We also know that the drivers of energy prices and other costs of living pressures are much broader and more complex than the introduction of a carbon price or renewable energy target.”

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the securing of the Renewable Energy Target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority was now crucial to protecting jobs growth and opportunities for innovation into the future.

“Investment and support for the local clean energy industry is vital if Australia is to create and capitalise on the high skilled, innovative, clean tech jobs of the future,” Ms Kearney said.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific stressed the importance of protecting renewable power laws, particularly considering there is now effectively nothing to discourage big polluters from dumping carbon pollution into the environment.

"With the disappointing repeal of the Carbon price, protecting the Renewable Energy Target is now even more essential," said Senior Climate Campaigner, Nic Clyde. "Doing so should be a no-brainer, because not only is the Renewable Energy Target an effective mechanism to cut pollution, it also means billions of dollars in investment in Australia and lower electricity bills for households.”

Oxfam Australia emphasised that cutting carbon pollution is essential to fighting poverty and hunger.

“Climate change is hitting developing countries first and hardest. It is the single greatest challenge in the fight against hunger,” said Kelly Dent, Oxfam Australia’s food and climate specialist. “Australia must do its fair share towards global efforts to cut carbon pollution and support communities to adapt to climate impacts. The repeal of our carbon price is a significant step backwards that puts us out of step with the international community.”

GetUp's National Director Sam McLean said:  "Australians want to see our nation lead the way on renewable energy. Support for meaningful action on climate change continues to grow, yet the Abbott government has failed to present a credible climate policy. The government needs to get with the times. We need climate action that makes polluters, not ordinary Australians, pay for the price of carbon pollution."

Civil society groups have released a joint video stating their commitment to keep up the fight to force responsible action on climate change: http://youtu.be/Ir5KGOeivbk

MEDIA CONTACT: Alison Martin 0432 941 5330432 941 533

 

 

 

Australian community leaders unite in defending a price on pollution

8 July 2014

Note: representatives of the AMWU, ACOSS, ACF, AYCC, PHAA, UFU and ARRCC will conduct a press conference in the Senate courtyard, Parliament House, on Tuesday 8 July at 10.30 am.

More than twenty civil society groups ranging from trade unions to youth, health, emergency services and faith-based groups, have united in a call to Australia’s new Senators to protect Australians from climate change.

For groups including ACOSS, the ACTU and Save the Children that means that the Senate must vote to keep a price and limit on greenhouse pollution and to protect our existing renewable power laws.

This legislation is crucial as it creates jobs in the renewables sector and provide billions in investment to industry.

Andrew Dettmer, National President of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, says the union movement supports a price on pollution because it is the best way to secure the future of workers, their families and the Australian community.

“Making polluters pay, rather than ordinary Australian families, is the fairest way to protect Australians from climate change,” Mr Dettmer said.

“Investing in clean energy production creates jobs, it’s as simple as that.”

Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, says that ACOSS supports a price on pollution and renewable power laws, because low-income earners are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather, bushfires, floods and food price increases.

“People living on low-incomes will be the first and worst hit by the effects of climate change.

“It is irresponsible to repeal the clean energy laws when they remain the only credible and independently assessed mechanism for Australia to adopt.”

“Rewarding investment in clean energy and energy efficiency assistance programmes makes sense, creating significant employment opportunities and leading to substantial savings in energy costs over time,” Dr Goldie said.

“There are no climate change sceptics at the end of a firehose. Firefighters know that climate change is real and happening now. They see it in the changing patterns, frequency and intensity of recent blazes in several states,” said Peter Marshall, National Secretary of the United Firefighters Union of Australia.

"Global warming is not only an environmental issue. Without dramatic action the potential for adverse impacts on health are enormous. There is already evidence of an increase in vector-borne disease, depression as farm land becomes less viable as well as injury and death associated with adverse weather events,” said Michael Moore, CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia.

“We see it as a moral and theological imperative to recognise the rights of all people, especially the rights of future generations and those in poverty, who will bear the heavy cost of our dependence on carbon-based energy if we lack the will to limit climate change,” said Dr Beth Heyde, Member of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, and Chair of the Public Affairs Commission of the Anglican General Synod.

“The Synod met just last week and unanimously expressed grave concern to the Government that a market mechanism such as an emission trading scheme is not part of its strategy to address climate change - and urged the Government to do much more to decrease Australia’s heavy fossil fuel dependence.

“A market mechanism such as an Emissions Trading Scheme is not a carbon tax - it is a key way by which 21st century Australia can achieve two important goals: lowering the very serious risks from global warming which have been so clearly identified by the IPCC, and moving to a thriving, sustainable economy based on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels,” said Dr Heyde.

"As young people, we have the most at stake and we need our leaders to listen and act urgently. Our message to new Senators is this: think about your children and grandchildren, the future generations who will bear the cost of your decisions on climate,” said Lucy Manne, National Co-Director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.

“What mustn’t be forgotten in this debate is that our price on pollution is working,” said Kelly O’Shanassy, CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

“Since its inception, pollution from electricity generation has fallen more than ten per cent, total pollution has fallen more than at any time in more than two decades, clean energy is booming and all without hurting families.

“Why would any government scrap a policy that works as well and as efficiently as this one?”

ACOSS pays tribute to Graeme Innes’ contribution as Disability Discrimination Commissioner

5 July 2014

ACOSS pays tribute today to Disability Discrimination Commissioner Mr Graeme Innes AM for his important contribution to human rights in Australia, as he leaves the role that he has held since 2005.

"Mr Innes has made an important and valuable contribution to the recognition of human rights in Australia for those living with disability. He has showed great leadership in important initiatives to improve the lives of people with disability, including the drafting of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the development of the National Disability Insurance Scheme," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

As Commissioner, he has also made a significant contribution to improving employment opportunities for people with a disability. He has challenged the business sector, government and the broader community to work together to remove barriers to employment for people with disabilities.

"He has brought to the role not only decades of experience as a lawyer and human rights advocate, but also the experience of living with disability and a personal insight in to the barriers and discrimination that all too often affect those living with disability", said Dr Goldie.

"Mr Innes has demonstrated by example the enormous contribution people with disability have to make to public life and our community. He, and the role of a dedicated full-time Disability Discrimination Commissioner, will be missed."

Media contact: 0419 626 155

Payment reform must reduce poverty, complexity, and exclusion from employment

30 June 2014

In responding to the Interim Report of the Reference Group on Welfare Reform, ACOSS says reforms should ensure that no disadvantaged group is worse off, that payments are targeted to need and that the system supports employment participation.

“The current review is an opportunity for the Government to reset its income support reform agenda, away from reducing payments and towards reducing poverty, system complexity, and exclusion from employment,” said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

“We will be looking to the Government to engage with the sector and affected individuals as partners in reform. However, we are concerned that the six weeks for consultation is inadequate to enable people to get to grips with these complex issues and participate meaningfully in the Review. The lesson from the Budget is that Governments have to listen the community and bring people with them if reform is to be achieved.”

“Real welfare reform is not about shifting people, including people with disabilities, sole parents or carers, from one payment to another. We need to change the system: from a labyrinth of higher and lower payments based on degrees of ‘deservingness’ towards a simpler one based on financial need. Once it meets people’s basic financial needs, income support should connect them with employment opportunities and supports.”

The strengths of the report are its focus on reforming the whole payments system rather than changes at the margin, its recognition that payments for unemployed people and students and many sole parents are inadequate, and its emphasis on building bridges between income support and employment through employment services and social supports.

The Report’s main weaknesses are that it does not take payment simplification far enough and it takes activity requirements too far. It proposes to retain different levels of payment for pensions, unemployment and student payments regardless of financial need. It advocates new requirements for people receiving income support that go well beyond training and finding employment, including requirements for the care of children and management of their budgets. The use of income support as a form of social engineering is unnecessary, intrusive and wasteful.

 “Like many reports before it, the interim report once again shines a spotlight on the inadequacy of Newstart and student payments. We welcome the recognition that the gap between pensions is unfair and counterproductive,” said Dr Goldie.

 “The interim report also recognises the disadvantage experienced by sole parent families as their children get older, when costs increase but payments fall. Child poverty in sole parent families is the fifth highest in the OECD and 286,000 children are living in poverty in sole parent households. Increasing support for these families must be a high priority in the reform process.”  

The interim report rightly argues for reform of the employment services system to make it more responsive to the needs of both jobseekers and employers. ACOSS shares this goal and has today released a joint proposal with the ACTU and the BCA to develop and pilot a demand-led employment model based on a partnership between jobs services and employers to achieve better results for disadvantaged jobseekers.

“The report recognises that Rent Assistance is currently not meeting the needs of many low income renters and should be increased for those with the highest housing costs. It is important that this issue is considered in the context of the Federal/State housing review later this year to ensure Rent Assistance is designed in a way which supports affordability and sustainability over the long-term as part of a comprehensive national affordable housing strategy.”   

While there are a number of positive reform directions flagged in the interim report, ACOSS is concerned that some proposals could leave vulnerable people at greater risk of poverty and with less autonomy over their lives.

The apparent retreat from the much simpler model proposed by Mr McClure in his 2001 report of a single payment benchmarked to basic costs of living standards with supplements to meet additional costs, for example those related to job search, disability, sole parenthood, is disappointing.

“The four tier system proposed is likely to retain unfair and complex distinctions between payment levels for students, those who are unemployed and pension recipients. Inherent in this model is the risk that people will continue to be moved from higher to lower payments as part of ‘welfare to work’ policies, a concern already raised by disability advocates. This would further impoverish people of working age on income support.” 

“People should not have to move to payments that are $80-$170 per week lower simply because their youngest child reaches 8 years of age, they have a disability and have moved closer to finding employment, or they have ceased caring for a family member with a chronic illness. The system should support these transitions, not make them harder for people.”

“ACOSS cautions against the attachment of further conditions on income support payments which are not linked to paid employment, such as the extension of income management or requirements to care for children. We should not turn income support recipients into second class citizens. Children should be protected, and people should be helped to budget, whether or not they receive income support. Beyond reasonable work requirements, people should not be treated differently simply because they need income support.”   

“Payment reform should be based on key principles: payments should be based on need, no disadvantaged group should be worse off, the system should support employment participation and any participation requirements must be relevant, reasonable and backed by employment and other supports.”

“Whatever road is taken, it is vital that the divide between pensions and allowances be reduced (including through a $50 per week increase in Newstart Allowance) and ultimately removed. This is the main source of poverty, unfairness and complexity in the system of working age payments.”

“In the next stage of the review, ACOSS encourages the Reference Group and representatives from the Government to engage directly with people who currently rely on income support payments to ensure their voices are heard in this process. We stand ready to assist in bringing individuals affected together with the Reference Group to enable this important engagement to occur.” 

ACOSS Media: 0419 626 1550419 626 155

Alliance proposes partnerships to secure jobs for disadvantaged jobseekers

Alliance proposes partnerships to secure jobs for disadvantaged jobseekers

30 June 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Business Council of Australia today jointly proposed improvements to employment services to deliver better job outcomes for people disadvantaged in the labour market.

The proposal, put forward ahead of the announcement by the federal government of new national contracts with employment services providers, follows the development of an alliance between three organisations to work together to tackle entrenched disadvantage. Click here to read the proposal.

The organisations propose employment services be reoriented towards a ‘partnerships approach’, which more effectively links employment services with employer needs, and where funding is redirected to more targeted training and in-job support.

The partnerships approach is proposed to include the following:

  • Establishment of employment brokers to create partnerships between employers and employment services to better match jobseekers with labour demand.
  • Establishment of regional employment boards in areas of high unemployment to promote the partnerships approach among industry, unions, employment services and training providers.
  • Redirecting training resources from the existing Employment Pathway Fund to focus more on disadvantaged jobseekers, and to fund work experience and training as part of the partnerships approach.

“Stronger partnerships, supported by employment brokers would enable job service providers to better respond to employer demand, tailor training opportunities to employer need and provide in-work support to jobseekers to ensure lasting employment outcomes,” said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

“It is critical that people currently excluded from the labour market are given support to participate, and at the same time, employers need to have a direct line of sight to disadvantaged jobseekers,” she said.

The demand-led model offers employers the opportunity to partner more directly with service providers, and ensure services can link jobseekers with opportunities.

“The employment services system needs to be much more effectively matched to the needs of employers, the other crucial half of a successful job match,” said Business Council of Australia Chief Executive, Jennifer Westacott.

“Business wants to play a role in ensuring all jobseekers are in a position to contribute to and benefit from economic growth. A partnership with service providers will help make the most of opportunities for disadvantaged jobseekers,” Ms Westacott said.

The ACTU believes the model offers an opportunity to overcome obstacles facing disadvantaged jobseekers.

“There are groups of people in Australia – the very long-term unemployed; many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and high numbers of people with disability who remain excluded from society,” said President of the ACTU, Ged Kearney.

“A partnerships approach would be facilitated by the broader community, including training providers, unions and community services. By working together we can reduce poverty, enhance human dignity, and improve job security and the economy”, Ms Kearney said.

The organisations are seeking government support to facilitate two trials of the employment partnerships – one at the national level focused on large national employers, and one at the regional level focused on a network of regional employers.

Media contacts

ACOSS media: Jacqui Phillips, Director of Policy, ACOSS, 0419 626 155

BCA Media: Scott Thompson, Director, Media and Public Affairs, Business Council of Australia, (03) 8664 2603, 0403 241 128

ACTU Media: Carla De Campo Ph: 0410 579 575 E: cdecampo@actu.org.au

 

Background: The model explained

The system would focus on three groups: very long-term unemployed people; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People identified as disadvantaged jobseekers, and people with disability identified as disadvantaged jobseekers.

As far as possible the employment partnerships approach would be embedded into the mainstream employment services system, to avoid duplication of effort and to allow best practice to be spread as widely as possible.

The organisations propose two trials of the partnerships proposal be conducted – one at the national level focused on large national employers, and one at the regional level focused on a network of regional employers, with employment services and jobseekers at the centre.

The trials should be facilitated by our organisations and government, but initiated by service providers and employers, and would run for two years prior to being evaluated.

Specifically, the organisations have recommended:

  • The appointment of national and regional employment brokers to promote and coordinate partnerships and to connect employers with disadvantaged jobseekers.
  • Establishing regional employment boards or networks in regions with high unemployment to promote employment partnerships among employers, industry organisations, unions, employment services and training providers.
  • Redirecting resources for provider investment in the Employment Pathway Fund to focus more on disadvantaged jobseekers, and allow providers to use the fund for employer partnership development and related work experience and training.
  • Rewarding lasting employment outcomes where jobseekers remain in paid employment.
  • Giving providers more incentives to attract the most disadvantaged jobseekers, and giving jobseekers more information to make an effective choice of provider.
  • Ensuring access within the Vocational Education and Training system to training up to AQF3 level for jobseekers in receipt of income support payments, while ensuring that the training matches the jobseeker’s interests and skill sets and aligns with current skills shortages and labour market needs.

 

C20 Summit: ACOSS challenges Government to lead G20 response to youth unemployment

21 June 2014

In her address to the C20 Summit, Dr Cassandra Goldie will call on the Government to show global leadership in reducing youth unemployment and achieving inclusive growth.


"A key goal of this year's G20 agenda is to reduce youth unemployment and increase employment opportunities for young people. As host of the G20 Summit, the Australian Government should be leading the way by strengthening supports to assist young people to transition from school to work," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

The 2012 G20 Employment Task force report pointed to the need to strengthen training and school to work transition programs and provide career guidance as essential measures for reducing youth unemployment.

"By contrast, the measures proposed in the recent federal Budget will leave young people who are unemployed with no income support for the first 6 months each year. This move is unprecedented among wealthy countries and contrary to the advice of respected organisations like the OECD which have called for a strong income support safety net and more investment in training for those affected by the Global Financial Crisis."

At the same time, the Government is offering no commitment to funding vital programs like Youth Connections, which work with young people to help them complete their schooling and make a successful transition to further education, training, or employment."

The youth unemployment rate is now 13%, or around 260,000 people aged 15 to 24. This compares to an unemployment rate for the working age population of 6%.

"We call on the Federal government to confirm its responsibility to take the lead in reducing youth unemployment and to ensure a decent income support safety net for those affected. The Government should work with civil society organisations and employers to reverse the loss of over 30,000 jobs for young people over the last six years."

"The C20 Summit offers a crucial opportunity for Government to meaningfully engage with civil society and community sector representatives to develop an inclusive and sustainable growth agenda and to ensure that no one in our local or global community is left behind, including young people."

"Australian civil society organisations are already working in close partnerships with business groups and others on policy solutions to address social and economic policy challenges. It's time the government worked with us in this effort by supporting civil society organisations and providing opportunities for meaningful engagement in the policy process."

Dr Goldie will be addressing the C20 Summit at the University of Melbourne Law School at 9am on Saturday 21 June.

ACOSS Media contact: 0419 626 155

ACOSS National Conference Resolution on the Federal Budget

12 June 2014

More than 300 participants of the 2014 ACOSS National Conference have today passed a resolution calling on the federal parliament of Australia to reject divisive and unfair budget proposals that severely impact on the most vulnerable people in our community.

The resolution reads:

Participants of the 2014 ACOSS National Conference call on the Australian Parliament to ensure that Australia moves to become a fair and inclusive society, in which all people can participate economically, and be included in the community.

We call on the Australian Government to work with us in designing policy that is sustainable, inclusive and fair.

The Government and the Parliament should abandon the following divisive and unfair proposed budget measures that severely impact on the most vulnerable people in our community:

  • Removal of the income support safety net for many young job seekers;
  • Measures that erode the value of income support for people at risk of poverty;
  • Reductions in family tax benefits for low and moderate income earners; Increases in user charges for essential health services, including GP payments, medicines and tests;
  • Withdrawal of federal funding to essential social services;
  • Silencing of advocacy organisations working to ensure that the voices of disadvantaged and marginalised groups are heard.

National leaders to deliver major addresses at ACOSS National Conference

12 June 2014

When: June 12, 2014
Where: Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre

National leaders will today present their parties vision for a fair and equitable Australia, including the direction of welfare reform, at the ACOSS National Conference in Brisbane.

The annual ACOSS National Conference is the premier community sector event and will include lively discussions on the state and future of universal health and employment services, as well as inclusive policy practices that ensure the most vulnerable people in our community are protected as we move to put our national budget on a long term sustainable path.

The conference will bring together key decision-makers, experts, policymakers, and frontline workers and agencies to discuss public policy priorities to address poverty and inequality in Australia.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOWD Full Program

Speakers

Political leaders

  • The Hon Kevin Andrews MP, Minister for Social Services
  • The Hon. Bill Shorten MP
  • Christine Milne, Leader of the The Australian Greens

Key speakers

  • Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
  • Fred Chaney AO, Senior Australian of the Year
  • Patrick McClure, Chair, Welfare Review Reference Group
  • Helen Szoke, CEO, Oxfam Australia
  • Mike Callaghan AM - Director, G20 Studies Centre, Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Senator Scott Ludlam, The Australian Greens
  • Eddie Cubillo, Executive Officer, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
  • Kirsty Parker, Co-Chair, National Congress of Australia's First Peoples
  • Peter Martin, Economics Editor, The Age

Key Topics include:

  • The direction of welfare reform in Australia
  • Health - a retreat from universalism?
  • Employment, equity and diversity
  • What does justice reinvestment look like in Australia?
  • Driving inclusive growth through infrastructure investment
  • Can inclusive growth address inequality?
  • Harnessing partnerships for community development
  • Sector sustainability: A people powered response to rising energy prices and climate change

ACOSS calls on government to work with - not against - Australia’s civil society

11 June 2014

What: ACOSS National Conference (program)
When: 11th and 12th June, 2014
Where: Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre

The Australian Council of Social Service is calling on the Federal Government to embrace the capacity that civil society brings to public policy debate.

In the aftermath of a divisive federal budget, ACOSS is bringing together civil society groups to discuss the importance of community advocacy in setting future policy directions at its annual conference in Brisbane.

"ACOSS has long argued that the quality of our democracy requires governments to engage in meaningful dialogue with all key stakeholders, including civil society organisations and the broader Australian Public. However, this is largely absent in the current approach.

"It is disappointing that the voices, experiences and ideas of the community are going unheard, leading to an erosion in confidence in public institutions and our democratic systems.

"Since its election, and particularly through its first Budget, the government appears to have taken the view that supporting the legitimate advocacy activities of civil society is not an appropriate role or responsibility of government.

"At the same time as it delivered a budget that will severely hurt the people who are the most vulnerable in our community, the government has de-funded a number of organisations representing politically marginalised groups: young people, refugees and asylum seekers, people affected by drug and alcohol addiction and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"We were deeply disturbed with the recent comments made by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, a Senior Cabinet Minister, that "It's not the government's view that taxpayers' funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group".

"ACOSS strongly rejects this view. Good public policy relies on the informed and meaningful engagement and input from affected stakeholders and the broader community. However this is not happening.

  • At least nine community advisory or engagement mechanisms have been dismantled and five peak or advocacy bodies gone;
  • There are a limited number of new advisory, review or engagement structures, but with limited scope and membership;
  • No new advisory mechanisms have to date been announced on key policy issues, including housing and homelessness, child and family policy, income support, employment and others
  • There is no prime ministerial, or ministerial, community sector advisory body like the Prime Minister's advisory council on business.

"We call on the federal government to confirm its responsibility to support civil society advocacy to enable robust, open, informed and balanced public policy debate and better policy outcomes.

"Australia's civil society organisations are already working in close partnerships with business groups and others on the best policy solutions for our nation. It's time the government worked with us and not against us.

"A good starting point would be for the government to urgently establish an open and transparent community advisory council to the Prime Minister to provide high level expert advice on the national challenges we face - particularly focusing on inclusive and sustainable economic growth, providing an adequate safety net and creating job opportunities, including for our younger generations.

The Government must also:

  • Reaffirm it's pre-election promise not to reintroduce gag clauses to stifle civil society voices;
  • Reject any suggestion that advocacy and policy work is not a legitimate role for civil society, locally, regionally and at national level. Policy and advocacy by civil society organisations is a vital role that clearly needs government funding and support;
  • Reverse funding cuts or bans that have already abolished or reduced the ability for civil society organisations to advocate on behalf of their constituents.

'Everyone loses when our voices and solutions are lost from the debates we need to have," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas – 0419 626 155


ACOSS National Conference:

Global problems, local solutions: Tackling inequality in Australia and beyond - June 11-12 at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre.

TWITTER hashtag: #ACOSSConf2014

The annual ACOSS National Conference is the premier community sector event, providing an important platform for community voices to be heard.

ACOSS calls on government to dump plan to cut payments for young unemployed people and focus on jobs

5 June 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service is calling on the Federal Government to drop its damaging plan to deny young unemployed people access to income support for six months after analysis from the Department of Social Services that it will lead to a 24% increase in demand for emergency assistance.

"This is a shocking revelation that government policy makers are well aware that many more young people who can't get paid work will be forced into begging for charity when they are cut off income support. It makes no sense for the government to pursue a policy that will cause this level of hardship and does little to give young people a sense of hope and self worth through getting a foothold into a real job," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Frontline agencies working with young people looking for work have made clear that depriving young people of payments and employment services will make it tougher for them to get ahead, especially those with no family support or from in families living on low incomes.

"The focus should be on opening up job opportunities for our young people, in collaboration with business leaders, investors, local communities and social services to give young people hope, and help them get a foot in the door.

"A more effective way to address youth and long term unemployment is to invest in overcoming skills and capability related barriers to work. Instead of penalising young people the government should invest in programs we know to be effective like Youth Connections which has been discontinued. They should also increase the availability of places in cost-effective wage subsidy programs like Wage Connect.

"It's disappointing that the Budget has cut funding to important career counselling and vocational programs such as Youth Connections, which has assisted over 74,000 young people since 2010. Ninety-three per cent of participants in this program were still engaged in study or paid work six months after completing the program in 2012 with most no longer receiving Centrelink payments.

"Similarly, 47% of people out of work for over two years assisted by the Wage Connect wage subsidy scheme retained their positions after the program ended, which is more than double the results achieved under the work for the dole scheme.

"The government has announced that it will pay subsidies of up to $10,000 over two years to employers who hire mature workers over the age of 50. This initiative should be extended to other groups locked out of the labour market, including young people.

"With the rate of unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds more than double the overall rate (12.5%), and the Fair Work Commission noting that earnings inequality is on the rise as it handed down its minimum wage decision yesterday, it's time for a new approach.

"The main reason for high youth unemployment is that young people were worst affected by the global financial crisis. The overall number of jobs for 16 to 19-year-olds was still below 2007 levels five years later. Employers want experience but it is difficult for young people to gain experience if they can't get entry-level positions.

"Strengthening support and investing in programs will save us more in the long run because more young people will be able to overcome the barriers they face to entering the workplace and would reduce the need for emergency support. Investing today in their futures will save us more in the longer term.

"We urge the government to rethink its current policy of withdrawing income support and work with business leaders, local communities and frontline agencies on solutions that work," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

ACOSS National Conference to discuss the future of public policy and advocacy in Australia

4 June 2014

In the aftermath of a divisive federal budget, Australian civil society will come together to discuss the current state and future direction of public policy and community advocacy in Australia, on June 11-12 in Brisbane.

The annual ACOSS National Conference is the premier community sector event, providing an important platform for community voices to be heard.

This year's conference theme is Global problems, local solutions: Tackling inequality in Australia and beyond, and will be held in Brisbane, the host city for November's G-20 heads of government summit.

The conference will bring together key decision-makers, experts, policymakers, and frontline workers and agencies to discuss public policy priorities to address poverty and inequality in Australia.

When: June 11-12, 2014
Where: Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOWD Full Program

Speakers

Political leaders

  • The Hon Kevin Andrews MP, Minister for Social Services
  • The Hon. Bill Shorten MP
  • Christine Milne, Leader of the The Australian Greens

Keynotes

  • Kirstie Parker, Co-chair National Congress of Australia's First People
  • June Oscar, CEO of the Marninwarntikura Women's Resource Centre
  • Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service

Key speakers

  • Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
  • Fred Chaney AO, Senior Australian of the Year
  • Patrick McClure, Chair, Welfare Review Reference Group
  • Helen Szoke, CEO, Oxfam Australia
  • Mike Callaghan AM - Director, G20 Studies Centre, Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • John Daley - CEO, The Grattan Institute
  • Sediqa Karimi, President, The Association of Australian Tertiary Students from Afghanistan
  • Senator Scott Ludlam, The Australian Greens
  • John Falzon - CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society, National Council of Australia
  • Kasy Chambers, Executive Director, Anglicare Australia
  • Peter Martin, Economics Editor, The Age

Key Topics include:

  • Inequality: The role and response of civil society
  • How will we pay for adequate support and services for an ageing population?
  • Making sense of the budget ‘crisis'
  • Health - a retreat from universalism?
  • Driving inclusive growth through infrastructure investment
  • Can inclusive growth address inequality?
  • Employment, equity and diversity
  • The pursuit of justice in refugee and asylum seeker policy
  • What does Justice Reinvestment look like in Australia?
  • The G20 - More than a meeting

Workshops:

  • We're all in this together: 21st Century Advocacy Campaigns
  • Innovative financing for social services: risks and opportunities
  • Working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities
  • People's experiences at the heart of advocacy: a world cafe conversation


Community Sector Awards finalists announced
Join us to celebrate the outstanding achievements of the community sector at the conference dinner where we will be presenting the annual HESTA Community Sector Awards. The finalists for the awards have now been announced - you can check them out here.

ACOSS Board expresses deep concern at funding cut to Refugee Council of Australia

3 June 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service notes with deep concern the decision by the Commonwealth Government to end funding to the Refugee Council of Australia and the implication for the Government's ongoing support of civil society advocacy. The announcement was made on Friday that $140,000 per annum allocated to the RCOA as part of the 2014-2015 Federal Budget and allowed for under the Government's forward estimates to 2018 has been withdrawn. ACOSS acknowledges the vital role of the Refugee Council and expresses its deep disappointment at this development.

ACOSS acknowledges that the Refugee Council's dual roles supporting vulnerable people and demonstrating the contribution that people from refugee backgrounds make to Australian society is profound. RCOA was founded by Major-General Paul Cullen in November 1981, just a month after he received the UNHCR's global Nansen Medal for his support of refugees through Austcare and Australian Jewish community organisations, and has represented the community sector's views on refugee policy to governments of both political persuasions for almost a third of a century.

The decision to withdraw funding already committed to RCOA is particularly concerning and will be a significant disappointment to RCOA's 185 member organisations and over 800 individual members. The Council's vital work has included extensive consultations with member organisations and refugee communities, provision of reports, submissions, letters and public statements as well as direct representations to government and inter-governmental bodies.

RCOA Chief Executive Paul Power said he had no prior warning the funding was under threat and had been advised of the decision in a phone call from a Department of Immigration and Border Protection official.

Of particular concern are the alarming comments made by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to reporters in Melbourne on Friday, that "It's not the government's view that taxpayers' funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group."

ACOSS calls on the Abbott government to confirm its role in and commitment to supporting civil society advocacy and public policy discourse and to affirm the centrality of open and transparent discussion to the Australian political system.

Australia has experienced waves of different refugee communities arriving from vastly different corners of the globe and refugees make up an important part of, and make a significant contribution to, the Australian community. It is crucial that their experiences and voices have an opportunity to continue to be heard and that the vital work of RCOA does not end.

ACOSS calls on the Australian community to rally behind the Refugee Council to provide direct support in order to allow it to continue its constructive work in such an important area of Australian public policy.

Spokesperson contact - 0419 626 155
Micaela Cronin, Deputy President, ACOSS and Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

Find out more on Refugee Council of Australia website and support its ongoing work here.

Major Panel: Issues in refugee and asylum seeker policy at the ACOSS National Conference, June 11-12 in Brisbane.

Focus on jobs not penalising people: ACOSS

28 May 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service has called on the Federal Government to focus on improving job opportunities for young people and strengthen training and education available instead of penalising them at the very time they need support and hope.

"It makes no sense that the government has decided to spend new and precious dollars on restarting the failed work-for-the-dole yet cut programmes that clearly work, flying in the face of all evidence," ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.

"The problem in high unemployment areas around the country is the lack of jobs, not inertia on behalf of people who are looking for paid work.

‘‘Past experience shows that work-for-the-dole programs are not effective in helping young people get jobs. Under the previous Coalition government's scheme, only about one in three participants were still employed three months after the program.

"We know that the main reason for high youth unemployment is that young people were worst affected by the global financial crisis. The overall number of jobs for 16 to 19-year-olds was still below 2007 levels five years later. Employers want 'experience' but how can young people gain experience if they can't get entry-level positions?

"The focus should be on opening up job opportunities for our young people, and this should be done in collaboration with business leaders, investors, local communities and social services to give young people hope, and help them get a foot in the door.

A more effective way to address youth and long term unemployment would be to address skills and capability related barriers to work. A first step would be to increase the availability of places in cost-effective wage subsidy programs (such as Wage Connect), and Youth Connections, providing a subsidy roughly equivalent to the Newstart Allowance to a real employer, and mentoring and sustained supports. This gives young people with work experience they desperately want.

"Instead the government has decided to withdraw support from young people for six months of the year and make it harder for them to put themselves in a position to get paid work.

"Young people are already subject to tough requirements to get assistance - people under 22 years who leave school early are already required to complete school or train, or they lose income support. Those over 21 are required to search for 10 jobs a fortnight and prove it to Centrelink or they risk a loss of payments for eight weeks.

"The Budget has also cut funding to important career counselling and vocational programs such as Youth Connections, which has assisted over 74,000 young people since 2010. Ninety-three per cent of participants in this program were still engaged in study or paid work six months after completing the program in 2012 with most no longer receiving Centrelink payments.

"Similarly, 47% of people out of work for over two years assisted by the Wage Connect wage subsidy scheme retained their positions after the program ended, which is more than double the results achieved under the work for the dole scheme.

"The government has announced that it will pay subsidies of up to $10,000 over two years to employers who hire mature workers over the age of 50. With the rate of unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds more than double the overall rate (12.5%), this initiative should be extended to people locked out, including our young people.

"Young people want to work and participate in society. Now is the time to invest in their futures, not put further barriers in their way," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

See ACOSS Opinion: Removal of income support for young people risks creating a lost generation - by Cassandra Goldie, 21 May 2014

Who will really pay for Budget repair? ACOSS analysis

22 May 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service has released new analysis revealing that people on low and middle incomes will carry the overwhelming burden of repairing the federal Budget.

"Our analysis brings home the harsh truth that the heavy focus on spending cuts will be socially harmful and cost our nation more in the long run," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The burden of restoring the Budget will not be fairly shared. Over the next four years, people and families living on low incomes will be expected to contribute over half the savings in the Budget (52%), compared with less than one sixth coming from people on high incomes.

"More than $19 billion out of $37 billion (52%) in budget savings in key programs and services over the next four years will come from reductions in spending on programs that mainly assist low and middle income earners. Only $5.7 billion (15%) billion are tax increases or savings in programs mainly benefiting people on high incomes.

"The people that will particularly be affected are those under 30 looking for work, people with disabilities, carers, single parents and struggling low income pensioners and families. The income losses sustained by many people relying income support and family payments are large and crippling.

"Lowering indexation for pensions and freezing family payments for two years will affect families living on low incomes the most and increase poverty and inequality. A single parent on a low income with one child over 6 years stands to lose $50 a week from the changes to Family Tax Benefits alone. We estimate that over a decade, changes to indexation will mean that single people relying on most pensions will be $80 a week worse off.

"New rules will deny income support to young people up to 29 years for six months of every year, unless exempted, resulting in income losses of $207 to $255 a week. Changes to eligibility for the Disability Support Pension are likely to result in more young people currently on this Pension being moved to the much lower Newstart or Youth Allowance, an income loss of at least $166 per week.

"The same people will also be hardest hit by the move to introduce $7 co-payments for doctor's visits and other services. It will deter patients with severely constrained incomes, particularly those with complex health conditions, from seeking necessary help, leading to more costly hospitalisations down the track.

"In contrast, people with high wealth and incomes will scarcely feel any pain, and much of it will be temporary. There are some efforts to remove or tighten access to a number of poorly targeted entitlements, such as abolishing the Seniors Supplement, capping Family Tax Benefit part B payment at $100,000, and the introduction of a temporary deficit levy. However, measures impacting disproportionately on those with high incomes represent just 15% of the overall savings and revenue measures considered in ACOSS' analysis.

"Everyone is expected to contribute to repair the Government Budget but more is expected of those with the least ability to pay.

"To be fair and sustainable this budget should have restored public revenue as well as reducing waste on the expenditure side. Three fifths of the decline in the Budget bottom line since the Global Financial Crisis was caused by a loss of revenue, yet the Budget has not begun the process of major structural reform of the tax system. The Budget instead left generous tax concessions that mainly benefit people on higher incomes in the too-hard-basket: superannuation, the treatment of private and company trusts and generous housing tax concessions. It is vital that these are front and centre in the Government's tax review.

"We urge the government to withdraw the harshest of the spending cuts and start an open dialogue on budget reform to design and build support for the structural change that's needed on both the revenue and expenditure side. " Dr Goldie.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Find out who pays and who should be paying for Budget repair:
DOWNLOAD ANALYSIS

G20 lead-in gets underway with C20 Summit

21 May 2014

Global civil society will come together in Melbourne in June for the C20 Summit which is the first of the lead-in G20 ‘satellite' conferences to debate policy suggestions to be put to the G20.

The C20 Summit on 20-21 June, will refine and endorse the specific policy issues and solutions civil society wants the G20 to consider when it meets in Brisbane in November.

The C20 (or ‘Civil Society 20') brings community voices to the G20 as the world's leaders face massive challenges including fostering sustainable, inclusive growth. In a world where there is increasing inequality within and between countries, the C20's primary aim is to ensure that people are put at the centre of G20 decision making.

Delegates chairing discussions or speaking at the event include senior representatives of the leading NGOs including World Vision, ACOSS, WWF, Oxfam, Transparency International and the National Council of Churches, as well as international speakers across the four key policy issues of:
• Inclusive Growth and Employment;
• Infrastructure;
• Climate & Sustainability; and
• Governance.

Who: Politicians, policy-makers, civil society leaders and advocates including:

• Hon Julie Bishop MP: Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs
• Hon Tanya Plibersek MP: Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
• Hon Kevin Andrews MP: Minister for Social Services
• Huguette Labelle: Chair, Transparency International
• Sharan Burrow: General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation
• Tim Costello: Australia's C20 Steering Committee Chair and World Vision Australia CEO
• Cassandra Goldie: CEO, Australian Council of Social Service
• Gillian Triggs: President, Human Rights Commission


When: 20-21 June 2014
Where: Melbourne University, Parkville

For more information on the C20 and the full list of Summit speakers go to: www.c20.org.au

Media enquiries: John Lindsay, Media & Communications Manager, C20 Secretariat Tel 0423 456 046 email johnlindsay@oxfam.org.au


Budget rethink needed to keep Australia on course

20 May 2014

The Federal Budget does not set a course for building the social infrastructure and opportunity that Australians need according to representatives from state and territory Councils of Social Service meeting in Sydney.

"An open and transparent conversation is needed with the community, business and state and territory governments to identify the services and safety net Australians expect, who will deliver these services and how they will be funded.

The backlash the budget has received from State and Territory governments and from the community shows it delivered no certainty on any of these points.

Australia stands at a cross roads. If implemented, this Budget will deliver some of the harshest living conditions low income earners and vulnerable people have seen in decades. It will also go no way to addressing the true challenges Australia currently faces.

We are currently one of the lowest taxing countries in the OECD with one of the lowest debt levels. What we don't have is the sustainable revenue base needed to deliver the services that a country in Australia's economic position has the capacity to support.

Government, business and the community must work together to deliver a long term plan for Australia that is sustainable and does not disproportionately hit those who can least afford it.

Many of the measures in this Budget, including co-payments to see a doctor and changes in support for young people and people with disability are quite extraordinary. We must see changes in these and other areas of the Budget or it is unclear how many people affected will get by.

If people start avoiding going to the doctor because their income won't allow it we will see a huge rise in chronic illness and even more pressure on our health system.

The big questions Australia now faces about how to deliver and fund these services and provide the safety net Australians expect must be answered through robust public discussion, not by using a budget to starve the states and push the debate into crisis mode.

We must ensure there is no longer a situation where federal, state and territory governments can pass the buck on responsibility for delivering crucial services such as health and education.

Part of this is establishing a sustainable revenue base. Tax reform has to be a part of the process of delivering this but we are concerned there is an assumption that increasing the GST is the only fix.

While the GST should be part of a broader discussion about tax reform, we cannot assume that its adverse impact on low incomes earners can be wholly addressed through compensation which we know to be vulnerable to erosion or withdrawal over time.

We would be very concerned if this discussion did not also look at reforming other tax concessions that mainly benefit high income earners, including superannuation tax concessions, negative gearing and capital gains tax, company and family trusts, land taxes and stamp duties.

All of these were identified by the Henry tax panel which is widely considered the best place to restart our debate about tax reform in this country."

MEDIA CONTACT: Fernando De Freitas, 0419 626 155

State and territory community sector leaders respond to Federal Budget

20 May 2014

MEDIA ALERT

Who: Leaders of state and territory Council's of Social Service
When: 10.30am Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Where: NCOSS Courtyard, 66 Albion St Surry Hills

Leaders of state and territory Councils of Social Service met today in Sydney to discuss the implications of the recent Federal Budget for the states and territories.Leaders of state and territory Councils of Social Service are meeting in Sydney to discuss the implications of the recent Federal Budget for the states and territories.

They will provide a joint statement with ACOSS responding to key Budget initiatives at a press conference in Sydney this morning.

The response will cover:
• the need to secure a sustainable revenue base and current debate around the GST;
• reform of the Federal and State and Territory relationship; and
• the impact of budget initiatives around the country.


Speakers:
• Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service
• Alison Peters, CEO, Council of Social Service of NSW
• Emma King, CEO, Victorian Council of Social Service
• Mark Henley, CEO, Queensland Council of Social Service
• Ross Womersley, Executive Director, South Australian Council of Social Service
• Irina Cattalini, CEO, Western Australian Council of Social Service
• Susan Helyar, Director, ACT Council of Social Service
• Tony Reidy CEO, Tasmanian Council of Social Service
• Wendy Morton, Executive Director, Northern Territory Council of Social Service

Media Contact: Laura Maclean 0412 867 658

Budget divides the nation, young and old, rich and poor: ACOSS

13 May 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service tonight said it was deeply concerned that those in our nation who carry the greatest burden from spending cuts in the Budget are those who can least afford it.

"The Budget divides rather than mends. It entrenches divisions between those with decent incomes, housing and health care and those without them. It undermines the fabric of our social safety net with severe cuts to health, disability support, income support, community services and housing programs," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"A few measures are in the right direction, targeting those for whom the age of entitlement should be coming to an end: Abolishing the Seniors Supplement, Capping Family Tax benefit part B at $100 000, introducing a levy for people earning over $180,000, and taking super payments into account in assessing eligibility for the Senior's Health Card. Corporate welfare is also shaved. However, most of these measures will inflict little damage or will only be felt for a short time.

"The real pain of this budget - crushing and permanent - will be felt by people on low incomes, young people, single parents, those with illness or disability, and those struggling to keep a roof over their heads. These are the groups doing the heavy lifting' for the Budget repair job.

"One of the most disturbing targets of this budget are our young people. The new rules will deny income support to young people up to 29 years, for six months of every year, unless exempted, and then force them into work for the dole. It will deny them Newstart Allowance until 24 (a loss of $48 per week), and move more young people on DSP to Newstart or Youth Allowance, a cut of at least $166 per week. We are excited about the investment for older workers who lose their jobs, but why treat the young and the old so differently?

"Poorer families will also be worse off as a result of the freezing of family payments for 2 years, the $7 co-payments for doctor's visits and other services, the fuel excise, and the increasing costs of PBS medicines. And no investment in lifting the abysmally low unemployment benefit (Newstart Allowance) for the individuals and families living the most meagre lives, in an otherwise wealthy country.

"For people on low incomes, housing is the biggest cost of living problem. Yet, this Budget offers no guarantee of future funding for homelessness services, and cuts funding to the NRAS, the one bright light for creating new affordable housing.

"To then cut funding for community services, including financial counselling and emergency relief - small amounts in big budget terms - just seems a cruel blow.

"We were told on election night that the new government would not leave anyone behind, now we find its first Budget places the most vulnerable directly in the firing line," Dr Goldie said.

"The Government managed to find room in the budget to deliver a $4 billion tax cut for business, and major investments in infrastructure and defence.

"For a decent society, we need a budget that brings us together, rather than pulls us apart," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

NOTE TO MEDIA:
ACOSS CEO Budget Response: 9.30pm tonight, Press Gallery boxes
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will outline the peak community sector body's response to the Federal Budget tonight at 9.30pm at the Press Gallery Boxes, Parliament House, Canberra.

Further comments
Social security

"The safety net is being pulled out from under young people in this Budget. Unemployment is twice as high for young people yet school leavers who struggle to find a job could be deprived of income support for 6 months of every year. It is not realistic to expect parents on low incomes to support their young people until they reach 29, and many young people out of paid work don't have parental support. Removing the Youth Connections program that provides career counselling and support to early school leavers will only make matters worse.

"Most people with disabilities on the DSP payment want a job but employers are often reluctant to take them on, especially people with mental illness. Shifting people to the lower Newstart Allowance will leave them $166 a week worse off without getting them a job.

"The age pension is a vital safety net for older people. Indexing it to the CPI instead of wage movements would reduce it by around $80 a week in a decade's time. We oppose increasing the pension age any further until Newstart Allowance is increased. Without doing so will only leave more people on the lowest incomes worse off.

Health and education
"The Medicare co-payment and cuts in schools funding move us closer towards a two tier system in health care and education - where those who can pay get first class service and those who can't afford it are relegated to second class.

"People on low incomes can't afford GP visits unless they are bulk billed. Already many people have to choose between feeding their families and buying the medicines they need. The health system can't afford to leave people to get sicker.

Housing
"The effective cessation of the NRAS scheme for investors in low cost housing will make it even harder for people on low incomes to keep a roof over their head.

Debt levy
"The proposed debt levy is a much fairer way to pay for essential services such as health care and the NDIS as the population ages than the harsh ‘user pays' approach. However, the proposed levy lacks a clear purpose, it is introduced when it's least needed and withdrawn just when it's needed most - in 2017, exactly when more revenue is needed for essential programs like the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

"The public supported a levy to help finance NDIS and has long supported a levy to help pay for health care. Any new levy should build on these firmer foundations.

"The levy would return to government a fraction of the massive tax cuts given to high earners over the 2000s which were clearly unaffordable both then and now.

Community sector response to Federal Budget

13 May 2014

Joint community sector response to Budget: Doorstop

Who: ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie and representatives from Australia's Community Sector
When: 10.30am Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Where: Senate Courtyard, Parliament House, Canberra

Dr Cassandra Goldie will be joined by representatives from leading charities and community sector organisations to provide a comprehensive response to the Budget at a press conference in Canberra on Wednesday morning.

The groups will provide their reaction to any changes to essential services, programs and payments which impact on people living on low incomes and others who are vulnerable in our community.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Participants to speak include:
• Craig Wallace, President, People with Disability Australia
• Matthew Wright, CEO, Australian Federation of Disability Organisations
• Ian Yates, Chief Executive, Council on The Aging (COTA)
• Emma Robertson, Director, Youth Coalition of the ACT
• Frank Quinlan, CEO, Mental Health Council of Australia
• Kasy Chambers, Executive Director, Anglicare Australia
• Terese Edwards, CEO, National Council of Single Mothers & their Children
• Gerard Thomas, spokesperson, National Welfare Rights Network
• Adrian Pisarski, Executive Officer, National Shelter
• Carol Croce, Executive Director, Community Housing Federation of Australia
• Dr John Falzon, CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society, National Council of Australia
• Steve Hackett, Executive Director, Family Relationships Services Australia
• Mary Mallett, CEO, Disability Advocacy Network Australia

Other participants include:
• Kelvin Alley (Major), National Secretary, The Salvation Army National Secretariat
• Stephanie Gotlib, Executive Officer, Children with Disability Australia
• David Pigott and Patrick Flynn, Mission Australia
• Therese Sands, Co-Chief Executive Officer, People with Disability Australia
• Eddy Bourke, Spokesperson, Community Housing Federation of Australia
• Susan Helyar, Director, ACT Council of Social Service

Cutting payments and employment supports puts young people at risk

5 May 2014

Australia's peak community sector and youth affairs bodies today expressed deep concern at proposals to deprive young people of payments and employment services, that would make it harder for them to get ahead, especially those with no family support or from low income families.

"We want to see more opportunities for young people to build a future for themselves and participate fully in our society, but the draconian measures being considered would only create hardship at a time when young people are struggling to get a start in the world," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service.

"How will young people get a leg up if we force them to wait six months after graduating before they can get any assistance? And how will keeping 22 year olds on the lower paying Youth Allowance until they are 25 years help them get a job? Dr Goldie asks.

Mr Craig Comrie, Chair of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (AYAC) said, "this proposed cut in income would mean that some of the most vulnerable young people could end up homeless and put them on a downward spiral that would make their job prospects even worse. We cannot assume that all parents can support their children until they are 25, especially when we know that the parents of unemployed young people have low incomes themselves."

"The neat tag line ‘earn or learn' would be more appropriate if it involved real incentives and investment in programs that are effective. However, the complete opposite is being proposed, including a reduction in funding for employment assistance, which will make it harder for many people to find work.

Dr Goldie said, "it will be even tougher if effective programs such as Youth Connections and the School Business Community Partnership Broker program, which have been hugely successful, are discontinued. Youth Connections has helped many thousands of young people who had disengaged or were at risk of disengaging from education or employment. It has achieved excellent results in an increasingly tough job market.

"Similarly, the wage subsidy scheme has been very effective in getting people who have been out of work for extended periods into ‘real' jobs. Recent figures from Senate Estimates show 47 per cent of Wage Connect clients who completed the 6 month job placement retained their positions after the program ended, which is more than double the results achieved under the previous work-for-the-dole scheme," Dr Goldie said.

"How can we even consider cutting crucial programs that are clearly working at a time when youth unemployment is growing? The latest figures show youth unemployment is twice the general unemployment rate (12.2%) and as high as 20% among 15-24 year olds in some parts of the country," Mr Comrie said.

"We urge the government to steer away from such hard line proposals that will only make the situation worse."

"Young people are crying out for opportunities to develop their skills and get a crack at their first job that will put them on the road to a decent future. We would be harming their chances by wielding a bigger stick while taking away assistance at a time when they need support the most," Dr Goldie.

Media Contacts:
Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155
Craig Comrie (AYAC & YACWA) - 0405 972 978


Background Stats:
• The number of Youth Allowance (other, non-student) recipients rose 6.8% from 106,244 to 113,456 between February and March 2014.
• At March 2014 there were 216,363 young people receiving Youth Allowance (student) making a total of 340,000 young people on Youth Allowance.
• March figures reveal the number of Newstart recipients has grown 7.5% over the previous 12 months, from 682,120 to 733,601.
• Long term Newstart recipients increased 9.2%, from 443,932 to 485,069 people.
• Youth Allowance (single) = $207.20 per week.
• Newstart Allowance (single) = $255.25 per week
• Those not eligible for Newstart who previously were will be $48.05 a week worse off, or $100 per fortnight.
• The national unemployment rate for young Australians aged 15 to 24 years hovers around 12% per cent - double that of the headline figure.

Commission of Audit recommendations

1. Force young people who are unemployed to move home in search of work:
• Require young single people aged 22 to 30 without dependants or special exemptions to relocate to higher employment areas or lose access to benefits after a period of 12 months on benefit;
• Will remove access to income support for young people who are unemployed but can't move.

2. Tighter income tests for Newstart Allowance:
• Increasing the income test withdrawal (taper) rate to 75 per cent for Newstart Allowance and pension recipients;
• Cuts the incomes of many income support recipients and discourages part time employment.

3. Cuts to employment services:
• Reduce average cost per jobseeker for Job Services Australia providers from 2015;
• This will make it harder for many people to find work.

4. Scrapping wage subsidies
• Wage subsidies for employers employing long term unemployed people to be cut - proven to be a very effective programme;
• Recent figures from Senate Estimates show 47 per cent of Wage Connect clients were in paid employment at the end of the six-month program - more than double the results achieved under the previous work-for-the-dole scheme;
• In the last two years, the Wage Connect scheme was paused part way through the year when the annual cap of 10,000 places was reached before the end of the year, indicating strong employer interest in the program.

Youth Transitions programs at risk:
• The Federal Government funds the Youth Attainment and Transitions programs, including Youth Connections and the School Business Community Partnership Broker program;
• They have been funded since 2010 and are delivered across Australia by a large range of organisations including youth specialist NGOs and local or State Chambers of Commerce;
• Together they cost $124M in a full year ($77M YC and $44M Partnership Brokers);
• There is wide speculation they will not be re-funded in the May budget although it would cost only $62M in the forthcoming financial year 2014-15 as they are funded to 31/12/14 already;
• Youth Connections serves young people still at school, about to leave school or those who have recently left school;
Nationally, 67 organisations deliver Youth Connections over 113 service regions, assisting over 70,000 young people.

Audit fails the fairness test: ACOSS

1 May 2014

The Australia Council of Social Service said that most of the recommendations contained in the National Commission of Audit report fail the fairness test, and has called on the Government to adopt a few but to reject the majority.

In responding to the release of the Commission of Audit report today, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, "the biggest failure is that this Commission never got the chance to look at the real problem which is public revenue. Revenue is more than $30 Billion down a year on pre GFC levels. The Commission tackles some areas of poorly targeted spending, but if the report was adopted, the community would lose many essential social protections and services."

"The Commission came up with a radical proposal to give the States a share of federal income tax revenues, yet tax breaks for high income earners such as superannuation and negative gearing were out of scope.

"It is fair and reasonable to expect that governments to ensure that when any of us get sick we can get treatment; that when we lose our job, there's a safety net to see us through the tough times; and that all children get a chance to a decent education.

"However, these reasonable expectations are under challenge by proposals to create a two tiered system in health and education that will result in decent services for those who can afford to pay and a second rate system for those who can't. For this reason we reject the proposal of a GP co-payment that will severely impact people on the lowest incomes and those with chronic illness. It would lead to reduced visits to doctors and greater pressure on the hospital system.

"The Federal Government should not retreat from its responsibilities to ensure that everyone has access to affordable housing, and all children have access to quality schooling.

"Similarly we strongly oppose cuts to incomes for people doing it the toughest in our community - people with physical and mental disabilities, carers, sole parents, and younger people struggling to get into paid work, people on the maximum rate of age pension, and minimum wage earners.

"Pensions are already frugal and the proposed cuts to indexation, which would reduce the single pension by around $100 a week in decade's time, and payments for sole parents by around $75 a week should be rejected, as well as the excessively tough 75% income test for income support payments.

"The pension cuts remove much of the increase that was granted in 2009, and there is no proposal to increase the abysmally low Newstart Allowance.

"Reducing funding of employment services and wage subsidies will make it even harder for unemployed people to find paid work, and forcing unemployed young people to move home to search for work will cause hardship without improving their job prospects.

"The Audit advances a number of welcome proposals to curb spending for people who arguably don't need assistance. These include restrictions on health cards for retirees with financial assets over a million dollars, a fairer system of child care benefits and paid parental leave, opening up pharmacies for competition, potentially fairer means tests for the pension and family payments, and an increase in the preservation age for superannuation.

"But the Commission does not go far enough in clawing back poorly targeted programs. A balanced review, which looked at the revenue side as well as spending, would review superannuation tax concessions, one third of which goes the top 10% of wage earners. These cost the public purse around $40 billion each per year. They are growing more quickly than the age pension and they are unfair and grossly inefficient, yet they remain untouched.

"The Audit is a first step not the last, in our collective effort to develop a reform blueprint to put our national finances on a sustainable footing.

"This should not be left with a small handful of experts. We all have a stake in this, and we urge the government against rushing to wholesale adoption of these radical changes in the coming Budget without closer evaluation and taking them to the community at the next general election.

"In his election speech the Prime Minister said his government ‘would not leave anyone behind'. ACOSS agrees that as a nation we need to be prudent about the way we spend our money. That should mean cutting back on the generous supports for people who don't need it, not crucial support services and payments for people who really do need it," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

 

Fair
• Age Pension: single means test for income and assets.
• Tighter means testing of Senior's Health Cards
• Increasing super preservation age, however, this should be equal to the age pension age.
• Paid Parental Leave: lowering the government contribution to average wages
• Childcare - a fairer, single payment to replace Childcare Benefit and Childcare Tax Rebate.
• Expanded role for allied health professionals in medical practice
• Independent pricing authority for PBS, and opening pharmacies up for competition
• Tighter means tests for family payments, excluding families on high incomes.
• Establish a policy process to review and simplify the structure of welfare payments.

Unfair
• Freezing of tax revenue at 24% of GDP for a decade, which will severely limit provision of essential payments and services beyond about four years.
• States having access to personal income tax. Income tax is the fairest way to raise revenue and if the States compete tax rates down, fairness would be jeopardised.
• Abolish direct federal funding for affordable housing and homelessness programs
• Market rents for public tenants, offset only by the inadequate Rent Assistance payment.
• Cuts to pensions, including Age Pension, Disability Support Pension, Carer Payment and Parenting Payment: reduction to pensions of 28% of overall average wages (25% for Parenting Payment Single) instead of average male wages. This reduced indexation would cut single pensions by $100 a week in a decade.
• Cut in minimum wages which will increase poverty and could also lead to future reductions in Newstart Allowance.
• Tighter income test for pensions, Newstart Allowance and other income support payments, reduced at 75c in the dollar instead of 50-60. This will mean less money for people and less incentive to undertake part time work.
• Schools funding: transferring responsibility for schools policy and funding distribution, to States.
• Aboriginal programs - rationalising 150 programs into 67 (potential loss of programs). Converting some programs into vouchers for individuals
• Commonwealth grants: Abolition of financial management program with the exception of problem gambling. Also abolition of rural financial counselling program.
• Family Tax Benefits: abolish Part B payment. No alternative payment for single parents whose youngest is over 8 so their payments are cut. Low income couples would experience a cut in payments as well.
• Employment services - cuts to Job Services Australia services for people who are unemployed, making it even harder for people to find employment; including reduced wage subsidies for long term unemployed.
• Tougher and more frequent medical assessments for Disability Support Pension which would shift people onto Newstart Allowance which is $166 a week lower
• Increasing the Age Pension eligibility age to 70 without raising Newstart Allowance would cut income support for many older people by $166 per week;
• $15 co-payments to visit, restricted access to hospital emergency departments, and increases in the cost of medicines, will have the greatest impact on people on low income peoples and those with chronic illness.
• Extending private health insurance into primary health care services, risking a two tier health system where only those who can afford to pay receive a decent service.

Snapshot highlights need for expansion of NRAS and a National Affordable Housing Plan

30 April 2014

Australia's peak community sector body and leading housing groups today called on the Federal Government to commit to continuing the National Rental Affordability Scheme as part of a national affordable housing plan, following the release of the Anglicare national Rental Affordability Snapshot.

The annual snapshot shows that while the number of houses advertised for rent has increased in the past year, the number affordable for those most in need is extremely inadequate, virtually non-existent.

According the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), the Community Housing Federation of Australia (CHFA), and National Shelter, this neon sign of housing distress should light the way for the Abbott government to extend the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS).

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, "Clearly the market is failing when it comes to providing a market for low-cost and affordable rental properties. NRAS has been designed to respond to this market failure and attract private finance to increase the supply of affordable rental housing. While the current scheme is not perfect, it has shown that there are ways to get the private market interested in different types of housing for a modest government outlay."

"The benefits flow to low and moderate income households not eligible for other housing assistance but who are priced out of the private rental market. It is creating a new form of housing that moves beyond social housing and supports households doing it tough," Dr Goldie said.

CHFA Chief, Carol Croce, said that "despite the additional supply made possible by NRAS, it's clear this is just a start. But NRAS is doing what it was intended to: promote investment at the affordable end of the rental market where it's needed."

"NRAS has been a significant driver in the expansion of not-for-profit community housing organisations, who are both developers and tenancy managers of NRAS dwellings. Indeed, more than half of all NRAS recipients are not-for-profit community housing organisations," she added.

A number of media reports have looked for alleged failings and abuses of the Scheme, which has built over 20,000 new affordable rentals and cast doubt on its future.

According to National Shelter head Adrian Pisarski, "all new government programs require tuning. NRAS is tracking better than the US Low Income Housing Tax Credits which took seven years to gain acceptance as an institutional asset class."

"The Anglicare Snapshot proves the need for Government to build the supply of affordable housing. Any program that leverages private investment to do this means better value for the taxpayer. The Anglicare Snapshot is evidence we need to build on the strengths of NRAS rather than abandoning what is a fundamentally sound program.

"Ultimately, we need to have a national affordable housing plan with a dedicated housing minister if we are to begin to address Australia's housing affordability crisis," Mr Pisarski said.

Media Contacts:
Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS - 0419626155
Adrian Pisarski, National Shelter - 0417 975 270
Eddy Bourke, CHFA - 0407 211 413

A National Affordable Housing Plan would include:
1. Developing a National Affordable Housing Strategy
2. Having a dedicated Cabinet Minister who can coordinate national policy levers and cooperate with states and local authorities
3. Treating housing as an infrastructure investment rather than wealth creation or welfare
4. Tax reform to ensure new supply of affordable rentals and which does not inflate house prices
5. Expansion of the National Rental Affordability Scheme based on institutional investors
6. Planning coordination with states and local government
7. Improved housing tenure for renters and certainty and security for owners of rental property

In addition a national housing plan must include:
• Addressing the gross inadequacy of income support payments such as Newstart - currently $36 a day and has not been increased in 20 years.
• Increase the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) to assist people on low incomes to meet rising rental costs.

NRAS was introduced by the Labor Government in 2008 with support from the Coalition and the Greens and provides financial incentives over a ten year period for new dwellings that are rented out at less than 80% of market rent to low and moderate income earners.

Don’t target the most vulnerable to restore the budget: ACOSS

29 April 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Government to prevent unnecessary cuts to vital payments for some of the most disadvantaged people on the lowest incomes in the country, as it prepares its first Budget.

“If proposals under discussion were implemented, pensions for people with a disability, carers, sole parents and older people would be much lower in future and people on the lowest incomes could not afford to visit the doctor when they need to,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“In his speech last night the Prime Minister said, ‘'this budget won't be for the rich or the poor but for the country'. Yet so far it appears that most of the pain will be borne by people who can least afford it.

“We urge the Government to stand firm in its commitment to target government funding to the people who need it. This is a Budget that should be there for people who are poor, including the almost 600 000 children living in poverty. Government support for people who do not need assistance should be targeted, by reducing tax concessions, rebates and supplements which are benefiting people in the higher income brackets in our society. This would be good policy.

“Superannuation tax breaks cost the same as the age pension (around $40 billion a year) and one quarter of their value goes to the top 5% of wage earners. It’s time to put superannuation reform, and the generosity of the pension assets test, on the Budget agenda. The Seniors Supplement and private health insurance rebates for ancillaries are also poorly targeted, and disproportionately benefit higher income households.

“A fairer alternative to cutting the payments and services most needed by people on low incomes is to restore budget revenue. The mooted ‘deficit levy’ could help pay more of the future cost of the NDIS and health care and avoid policies such as $6 GP co-payment that would harm people on low incomes, but it lacks a clear purpose and as it stands it is only temporary. It would be removed in a few years’ time, just when the budget is coming under the greatest pressure.

“Reducing indexation for pensions to inflation only instead of wage movements would inevitably increase poverty as people on the lowest income fall further behind the rest of the community. One of the main reasons Newstart Allowance is only $36 a day now is that it has only been indexed to the CPI for the last 20 years. 

“We have long said that the Government should not consider raising the retirement age to 70 in the future until it first deals with the gross inadequacy of allowance payments such as Newstart for those who are unable to work and addresses the discrimination experienced by older people trying to stay or re-enter the workforce. The age at which people can access their superannuation, which is still only 55 years, should first be raised to the same as the pension age (67 years).

“ACOSS has already advocated a tightening of access to family payments to ensure they are targeted to households who really need assistance the most. We have proposed reducing Family Tax Benefits Part B once family incomes exceeds about $100,000. Any changes would need to ensure that single parent families, who have already been targeted under previous governments aren’t penalised again. ACOSS has proposed replacing FTB Part B for sole parents with a Sole Parent Supplement, paid at a higher rate for parents of older children to reflect the higher costs and demands of caring for children as a sole parent.

“To date, there are no signs of greater investment and support for people who need government to be there, including people locked out of the labour market. Closing the gap between the adequacy of the unemployment payment, and pensions should not be achieved by cutting the adequacy of pensions, but by lifting the adequacy of Newstart. Raising the rate and indexation of Newstart is an urgent and overdue reform, widely supported across business, economists, unions and the community sector. 

“Putting more money into compulsory income management is not the priority, It costs per person more than half the value of the social security payments which are being ‘managed’ by Centrelink, and remains widely unsupported by the sector that has the direct experience of what is needed to support families and individuals to move out of poverty and into economic independence.

“The Prime Minister has said that budget measures will be fair and equitable. To be fair and equitable we need to seriously look at the revenue problem and be brave enough to embark on the structural reform that is required. Ultimately this is the way to restore the Budget coffers and put our national finances on a sustainable path, without resorting to unfair cuts and charges that hurt those at the bottom the most,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

 

Signs low income and vulnerable to bear brunt of Budget repair

24 April 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today said that those living on low incomes and vulnerable appear likely to bear the brunt of the Federal Government's effort to steer the Budget back on a sustainable footing, following the Treasurer's speech in Sydney last night.

"ACOSS agrees we face a significant fiscal challenge but all the signs are that people at the very bottom of the income and wealth scale are to be asked to carry the overwhelming burden of the Budget repair job," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Despite the rhetoric that the Government would prioritise spending for those who need assistance, measures proposed to date will disproportionately target those with the least in our community.

"The proposed 1.75% cap on growth in spending would freeze spending for a decade once growth in the population is taken into account. That means a ten year spending freeze in government benefits and services everyone relies upon, including basic health services, pensions and benefits, community services and schools.

"ACOSS urges the Government to deliver on its promise to target expenditure to people most in need. It should take a balanced approach to balancing the budget, which means that the burden of fiscal restraint should be shared equitably across society according to means.

"However, currently the Government is failing to meet urgent needs, including people on the intolerably low Newstart Allowance payment of $36 a day, and is providing generous assistance to those who don't need it, such as those on high incomes benefitting from housing and superannuation tax concessions at enormous cost to the budget, and pensions and concessions for retired couples with a million dollars in financial assets.

"We are particularly concerned that focus to date by Government, including through the National Commission of Audit, has been exclusively on direct spending, ignoring the other side of the ledger - tax expenditures and the need to raise revenue.

"Restoring tax revenue to 24% of GDP would raise the equivalent of $30 billion a year in extra public revenue. This would go a long way to restoring the Budget and more could be done by closing tax shelters and loopholes, not by relying on income tax bracket creep alone.

"We welcome the Treasurer's acknowledgement that the growing cost of superannuation tax concessions is unsustainable. These concessions now cost around the same as the age pension, at around $40 billion a year.

"As the Treasurer Joe Hockey said in his speech, we need structural reform to get our national Budget back in the black in the longer term. This cannot be achieved in a single Budget. And we simply cannot allow it to be achieved through hitting the most vulnerable members of our community. This will only accelerate growing inequality and poverty in Australia and cost us more as a nation in the longer term," ," Dr Goldie said.

"The majority of savings measures mooted to date have been targeted to social programs and supports, which will disproportionately affect those least able to manage with less - those on low incomes and vulnerable. This is clear when you look at who will pay for the proposals raised so far:

Who will pay?
• The introduction of a $6 GP co-payment will impact on low income people most and those with chronic illness and is likely to lead to reduced visits to doctors and greater pressure on hospital system;
• Proposed changes to eligibility for the Disability Support Pension will require more frequent medical assessments and shift many people onto Newstart Allowance which is $166 a week lower, without addressing barriers to work;
• Increasing the Age Pension eligibility age will force many older people to struggle on the $36 a day Newstart payment for longer;
• Proposed changes to indexation of pensions to prices instead of wages will cause payments to fall behind community living standards and lead to an increase in poverty amongst older people, people with disability and others relying on pensions;
• Abolishing Medicare Locals will reduce the access to primary health care services for those on low incomes;
• Abolishing the low income superannuation contribution will effectively penalise people on low incomes for saving for their retirement;
• Abolishing the Income Support Bonus Payment would reduce assistance to people on the below poverty line Newstart payment by $4 week;
• Cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, including legal services and peak representative bodies and community legal services will all reduce access to essential services to some of the most disadvantaged members of our community.

Who should pay?
While the Government has signalled a reduction in ‘corporate welfare', the Government has been reported as refusing to touch expensive tax expenditures or poorly targeted payments, which benefit those who are wealthier, driving greater inequality in Australian society, including:

• Superannuation tax concession, of which one third go the top 10% of wage earners, now cost the same as the age pension, around $40 billion per year;
• Housing tax concessions, which also largely benefit those on high incomes and contribute to house price and rent inflation which is locking many low and middle income households out of the market, at a cost of more than $8.3 billion a year;
• The assets test for eligibility for the part pension, by which people with investment assets of more than $1 million, in addition to the family home, are eligible to receive a part pension - causing rapid growth in uptake of the pension;
• The Seniors Supplement, which extends to those who are too wealthy to receive a pension;
• The Private Health Insurance Rebate for ancillary cover; and
• The tax treatment of private trusts which largely benefit those on high incomes.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Avoid DSP changes that are likely to further exacerbate mental illness

20 April 2014

DOORSTOP: 12.30pm Sunday, April 20, 2014

Press Gallery boxes, Parliament House, Canberra

The Australian Council of Social Service and disability advocacy members today urged the Federal Government to ensure that changes being considered to the Disability Support Pension do not further exacerbate the health conditions, poverty and disadvantage experienced by people who rely on the important payment.

"ACOSS supports a review of income support payments, but we won't support any changes that simply take money away from people in desperate situations and which will risk making them sicker and more disadvantaged," said ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie.

"Reform is needed to improve job prospects and invest more in skills development and support. The last thing we need is to plunge people into further distress. If the Government chooses to go down that road - it would be a major backward step and extremely damaging to some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

"We know that people with disabilities and those with severe work incapacities, such as mental illness, face enormous challenges. More than 600, 000 people with disability are living below the poverty line. A shocking 42% per cent of people on the DSP are already living in poverty. This is unacceptable and it would be unconscionable for us to make the plight of those who rely on the DSP worse.

"We cannot accept that people with major work incapacities are shifted onto the below poverty line Newstart Allowance payment of $36 a day, purely to save a few pennies that will make little difference to the overall Federal Budget. This would merely further punish people who are already doing it tough.

"It would be wrong to put people who are in a vulnerable position through constant reassessments in-order to retain crucial income that they need to keep their head above water. And creating a tiered payment structure would add further complexity to an already complicated system.

"Our nation does not have a DSP or 'welfare crisis' but rather a jobs crisis, with record low rates of employment of people with disability including in the Commonwealth Public Service.

"How will these changes open up job opportunities? How will they tackle discrimination? How will they improve training and support?

"People with disability and major work incapacities like mental illness want to be in paid work when able - but many simply can't without additional support. The Government and the private sector can and should do more to increase employment opportunities for this group of people.

"A great place to start is in the public service where employment of people with disabilities has more than halved from six per cent in the early 90s to just 2.9 per cent now.

"The federal government should focus on how to better transition people on DSP into secure paid employment, while ensuring those with significant barriers to work are still provided adequate support.

"We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes made by past governments, where welfare reform involved little more than shifting vulnerable people on to lower payments to make budget savings, putting them through further assessments, and in and out of training program's leading no-where - while failing to provide sufficient support to improve their chances of securing paid work, and providing a pathway into a real job," Dr Goldie said.

Stephanie Gotlib, Executive Officer, Children with Disability Australia, said, "We know that two thirds of people with disability between 15 and 64 don't complete year 12, and education is one of the biggest enablers of employment. Whilst students with disability continue to confront an inadequate and underfunded education system it is a fast track for many to the Disability Support Pension."

"People with disability on the DSP are not fakes. Using this kind of language is less likely to endear employers to employing people with disability," said Fiona Given, Vice- President, People with Disability Australia (PWDA).

PWDA President Craig Wallace said, "Moving people into poverty won't get them jobs. The only people to get more work will be Doctors and we need them helping sick people."

"We're very concerned that the Government seems to be conducting reform discussions around DSP in an ad hoc way. It's alarming vulnerable people with disabilities when they should be spending time with family on Easter Sunday and when we haven't even seen the interim report of the McClure review," Mr Craig Wallace said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155


Media Contacts:

Cassandra Goldie, CEO, ACOSS - 0419 626 155
Fiona Given, Vice, President, People with Disability Australia - 0417 693 696
Craig Wallace, President, People with Disability Australia - 0413 135 731
Stephanie Gotlib, Executive Officer, Children with Disability Australia - 0425 724 230
Maree O'Halloran, President, National Welfare Rights Network: 0417 672 104

Australia’s vital community services face funding uncertainty crisis: New Report

15 April 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Government to make funding certain for vital community organisations, in the wake of an alarming survey revealing almost nine in ten organisations (87%) have no guarantee of key funding for services beyond June 2014.

The survey run by ACOSS in conjunction with the Community Council for Australia (CCA) and NetBalance and distributed through Pro Bono Australia - shows that Australia's Not for Profit sector is in crisis with the lack of funding certainty forcing agencies to lay off staff and unable to fill vacancies.

"The results are indeed disturbing with only 13 per cent of organisations reporting that they have settled funding arrangements, which is impacting on their ability to keep staff and stretching services, providing vital support to the most vulnerable members of our community," said ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie.

"It's simply not good enough that within months of contracts expiring and funding drying up that so many groups remain in the dark about the viability of their service and the continuation of important community programs.

"The ongoing uncertainty is having a serious impact across the country, with service management unable to plan, and staff increasingly anxious. Valued workers are under pressure to start looking for new jobs, with many not knowing if they will be employed in just a few months. Whilst we can't establish the exact number of clients and staff who are affected, it is clearly in the thousands.

"It's time the Government put an end to all this uncertainty and immediately signal its ongoing commitment to funding these crucial services. Services that ACOSS is aware of that are facing this uncertainty include, employment services to unemployed young people, financial counselling for low income people in financial stress, and health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, among others.

"Just like business, the not-for-profit sector needs the certainty of funding to drive confidence, leading to longer term planning, investments in people and operational assets to foster productivity and growth.

"In contrast the lack of confidence leads to short term planning and potential inefficiencies as uncertainty creates churn in the workforce and a lack of investment leading to low productivity and stagnation and decline. Sadly this is the current situation, and is happening at the same time that more people will need these services due to the economic down turn. It can only exacerbate the national economic picture at a time when we are trying to lift our economic fortunes.

"Australia's 600,000 not-for-profit organisations play an enormous role in society, not only in supporting some of most disadvantaged people in our community, but also as a large and growing employer (6.8% in 1999-2000 to 8.5% in 2006-07). Our sector contributes more than $40 billion annually to gross domestic product and shouldn't be underestimated or undervalued," said Dr Goldie.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Key Points
• 248 respondents representing organisations in receipt of Commonwealth funding
• 87% stated that their organisation was yet to agree all their funding for July 2014
• 13% stated all their funding had been agreed
• 57% stated that less than 10% of their Commonwealth funding for July 2014 had been agreed
• 15% stated that less than half of their funding had been agreed - which means that almost three-quarters of respondents (72%) have less than half of their funding agreed.

Implications of funding uncertainty
• 62% of respondents have not extended staff contracts
• 34% stated that they had delayed filling staff vacancies
• 35% have delayed recruiting staff
• 38% have developed a contingency budget
• 13% had increased the frequency of board meetings.
• 12% have revised their reserves policy

Will you continue to deliver the service from July 2014?

• Only 15% of organisations that had not agreed their Commonwealth funding stated that they would continue with the service after July 2014
• 43% were unsure
• 42% stated that they would not continue with the service

Of those that said that they would continue to deliver the service
• 66% stated that they would use their financial reserves.
• 16% stated that they would secure other short-term non-government funding

What interim action can government take to reduce this uncertainty?

• 74% stated that Government should provide an interim funding agreement for 12 months
• 15% stated that Government should provide an interim funding agreement for 6 months.

Govt has stark choice on pension reform to improve fairness and Budget sustainability

14 April 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Government to tighten access to the Aged Pension for people with significant assets and increase the preservation age of superannuation rather than introduce changes that make savings from those on the lowest incomes.

"The Government has a stark choice in this Budget: it must target payments to people who really need them, not make people at the bottom of the income and wealth scale struggle to survive day to day on even less income or work longer by increasing the retirement age," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"We reject calls today for the Federal Government to "cut hard and cut early" in next month's budget. This is unnecessary and risks hurting people at the very bottom the hardest.

"The Aged Pension is a vital shield against poverty for older people and many people of working age, and it is frugal by international standards. ACOSS has consistently argued it should be better targeted to those who need it - couples with a million dollars in financial assets should not receive a part-pension - but the rate of the pension for those who do need it must be high enough to prevent poverty.

"Before we can consider raising further the age to receive the age pension, two things must happen in tandem: income support payments especially Newstart Allowance must be raised to an adequate level, and the preservation age for superannuation should be increased so that it is the same as the pension age.

"ACOSS acknowledges the Government faces a challenge to restore the budget, but it must not be done at the expense of people struggling to survive on the lowest incomes . Raising the pension age would mainly affect people on the lowest incomes. Many people would be stuck on Newstart Allowance if unable to get paid work and lose $166 a week in income. Before increasing the pension age, we need to increase other working age payments to a liveable level and improve the employment prospects of older people.

"The maximum rate of pensions and other income support payments should not be cut, and all income support payments for people on low incomes including pensions and Newstart Allowance should be indexed to wage movements, not just to prices. The inadequacy of Newstart shows what happens when we only index payments to the Consumer Price Index. It hasn't been increased above price movements since 1994, which means people who are unemployed have their living standards frozen at 1994 levels, falling well behind the rest of the community.

"The gap between pensions and allowance payments should be closed, but lowering the indexation of pensions to the CPI is not the way to do this. Instead, the lowest payments for single people should be raised by $50 a week, so that people who are unemployed, sole parents and students, also benefit from the payment increases awarded to single pensioners in 2009.

"On the other hand, the superannuation preservation age is only 55 years, a full ten years before the existing pension age. This early access to super mainly benefits people on high incomes and significant assets with large super account balances, who can either chose to retire early or avoid income tax on their earnings by churning their wages though their super accounts.

"Our immediate recommendations for changes to the retirement income system are targeted, and measured, generating savings for other priorities, and taking long term reform in the right direction. Our proposals would tighten the pension assets test to make it fairer (so that the pension is no longer available to those with over a million dollars in assets in addition to the family home), while reforming superannuation tax concessions to reduce the proportion of tax breaks going to those on the highest incomes.

"This would include capping concessionary contributions to $25,000, extending the 15% tax on superannuation earnings to include earnings generated in the retirement phase, and reducing the capacity for people in the retirement phase to churn their income through superannuation funds. These changes could be introduced in the short term, without impacting on those on the lowest incomes.

"The pension age should not be increased until the alternative social security payments are adequate. To strengthen workforce participation among older people, the best and fairest place to start is to raise the age at which people can claim their super," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

More information on ACOSS Budget proposals here.

The ACOSS Board stands with refugees and asylum seekers

14 April 2014

On Sunday 13th April 2014 thousands of Australians attended peaceful rallies around the nation to express their concern over current policy approaches to asylum seekers and refugees. The ACOSS Board stands together in echoing this deep concern.

There is currently a significant gap between Australia's human rights obligations under international law and our treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. As key representatives from the community and social services sector, who have expertise working with people in Australia who have been severely traumatised, including by long term and indefinite detention, we unanimously call on both the Government and Opposition to adopt a more humane approach.

The ACOSS Board urges our political leaders to increase the accountability and transparency of Australia's immigration detention facilities by committing to regular, publicly accountable independent monitoring. The establishment of an independent monitoring mechanism is particularly important in the case of Australia's off-shore immigration facilities, due to their remoteness and the current lack of transparency about operations in those locations. For instance, there is currently no monitoring or advisory body regarding the Manus Island regional processing facilities, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has described conditions on Manus Island as both harsh and below international standards. The establishment of an independent and accountable monitoring mechanism is therefore vital in ensuring that conditions in Australia's immigration detention facilities do not violate human rights standards.

We also urge the Government to provide full disclosure about off-shore detention facilities, including providing the Australian public with information about the costs of running offshore processing systems. There are significant budget savings to be made by ending the offshore processing system. These funds could be better invested in community services to provide adequate support to asylum seekers, the majority of whom have historically been found to be refugees and have gone on to make a valuable contribution to the Australian community as citizens and tax payers.

The ACOSS Board reaffirms our previous strong opposition to offshore processing and mandatory detention. We continue to urge the Government to commit to processing asylum claims within the Australian community, and call on the Government to work with the community and social services sector to develop processes which ensure asylum seekers can be placed, and assessed, with the least trauma to enable either the beginning of a new life in a safer country, or to enable them to be safely returned to their country of origin, should their claim for refugee status be unsuccessful.

Media Enquiries: 0419 626 155

Spending cuts won’t restore budget: A lesson from the Treasury Secretary

3 April 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service has called for action to close tax avoidance arrangements to ensure higher income and wealthy individuals pay their fair share, rather than looking to GST reform as the 'simple' solution to our revenue challenge.

"We need a wider public dialogue on what action the Federal Government should take to restore public revenue," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie after last night's comments by Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson's on the Budget and tax reform.

"In our view, the work of the Henry Tax Review remains our best conversation starter.

"Last night's comments by the Treasury Secretary make it clear that revenue is our biggest challenge. The federal budget can't be restored by cutting spending," said Dr Goldie.

"What we need now is not a narrow and divisive debate over whether or not to raise the GST. We need a national discussion about what services Governments should provide and how they can find the revenue to pay for it.

"For ACOSS there are two core principles when it comes to taxation: that tax should be based on people's ability to pay, and that those at the bottom of the income ladder should not bear the burden of balancing the budget, whether through spending cuts or higher taxes."

Dr Goldie said public revenue would have to be restored if governments were to have any prospect of meeting the community's basic needs for essential services such as health care and affordable housing, and provide a decent social security safety net.

"Tax reform will only be achieved if the wider community is brought into the discussion from the beginning and we have some agreement on what the problems are. It will not be achieved by attempting to impose a solution from above.

"It's clear the Government has a serious revenue problem, but two thirds of the budget problem was caused by weaker tax collections, not higher spending. Compared with the decade before the Global Financial Crisis, Federal Budget revenue has fallen by $45 billion a year in today's dollars and spending has increased by $30 billion.

"It is now clear that, as ACOSS warned at the time, the eight successive income tax cuts during the 2000s were unaffordable.

"The tax base cannot be repaired simply by avoiding tax cuts for a decade and leaving income tax ‘bracket creep' to do all of the work. We need to take a long hard look at the unfair superannuation tax arrangements which cost as much as the age pension, at the inconsistent way different kinds of investments are taxed - including negative gearing arrangements - and at the ability of people with high incomes to avoid tax using private trust and companies.

"This is a much bigger conversation than what to do with the GST. The Henry Report's many recommendations to improve the fairness and efficiency of the income tax system should not be left to gather dust."

For interviews and more information:
ACOSS Media, 0419 626 155

ACOSS welcomes launch of $100m Westpac Bicentennial Foundation

2 April 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today welcomed news that Westpac Group has established the $100 million Westpac Bicentennial Foundation, the single largest private education scholarship program in Australia.

The Foundation will fund around 100 educational scholarships and awards each year which will be awarded in partnership with Australian universities.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said: "Education is a fundamental way to empower people living in poverty and disadvantage, and ACOSS welcomes Westpac's commitment to help extend the benefits of education to those for whom it might otherwise sadly have been out of reach."

Dr Goldie singled out the Young Technologists program, which will offer 30 to 40 three-year undergraduate scholarships annually to encourage diversity and overcome economic disadvantage, as well as the Community Leaders program, which will provide ten awards annually to community leaders to undertake educational opportunities that will have direct value to their communities.

The Westpac Bicentennial Foundation was launched today by the Westpac Group Chairman, Mr Lindsay Maxsted, Chief Executive Officer, Mrs Gail Kelly, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP.

For interviews and more information:
ACOSS Media, 0419 626 155

Westpac Bicentennial Foundation website.

Patchwork energy concession schemes failing people in need: new ACOSS report

31 March 2014

People on low incomes across Australia are going without lighting, hot water and basic heating because of the failure of schemes designed to assist them, a new report from the Australian Council of Social Service reveals.

Preventing shocks and addressing energy poverty, launched today by ACOSS, details the important role that adequate energy concessions play in helping people avoid disconnections, and the failure of current arrangements on energy concessions to protect people on low incomes from disconnection and hardship.

Among those worst hit are single parents and couples with children, including those on the Newstart allowance of just $36 per day.

A quarter of people relying on Newstart are unable to pay their electricity bill on time, according to the latest data, which also reveals people on Newstart are eight times less likely to be able to afford heating than other members of the community.

Concessions in South Australia and Queensland are singled out as being in the most urgent need of reform.

"Lagging states need to lift their game to ensure that everyone can meet their basic energy needs," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The 12.8 per cent of people (or 2.2 million) in our community experiencing poverty continue to struggle energy stress. The impacts of this include going without water, heating and lighting, disconnections and being forced to make other trade-offs to make ends meet."

"Many energy concession schemes are poorly targeted and actually fail the people they're designed to help, leaving them in the grips of energy poverty," Dr Goldie said.

The ACOSS report recommends lagging states improve their concessions to ensure those on lowest incomes receive adequate assistance. It sets a longer term goal of moving to a nationally consistent concessions framework that protects low income households from energy poverty, preventing them from being forced to make the sorts of biting sacrifices detailed in the report.

Media Enquiries: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

DOWNLOAD REPORT

Key states where energy concessions are failing people in need

South Australia
• The value of concessions in South Australia stands out as particularly low in relation to other states and territories, despite relatively high energy prices and disconnection rates.
• In South Australia, a $50 energy concession boost promised by the South Australian Government will make a big difference to households feeling the pinch. But even if the promise is delivered, the state will still have the lowest concessions in the country.
• New research from the University of Adelaide shows that South Australia has a higher rate of death from hypothermia than Sweden, suggested to be partly attributable to poor heating and insulation. (Link: http://www.adelaide.edu.au/news/news68322.html

Queensland
• Queensland is the only state in the National Energy Market that does not give concessions to all Commonwealth health care cardholders.
• This comes as the Queensland Government prepares to launch its 30 Year Energy Strategy later in the year.

New South Wales
• 24,888 households were disconnected in 2012/13 alone which is evidence the current concessions regime is failing.
• The introduction of a Family Energy Rebate reflects genuine efforts to assist families, but is poorly targeted.
• A proportional rebate that reflects actual energy bills would better assist families on low incomes, and give large families with higher base energy needs a higher rebate.
• This proportional rebate could be funded by combining funding for the Family Energy Rebate and Low-Income Household Rebate.
• Low-income regional households are paying more, but getting the same rebate, even when they use the same amount of electricity.

Housing experts to call for clear action in May Budget to address affordability crisis

27 March 2014

When: 10.30AM, Thursday, March 27, 2014

Who:

  • Adrian Pisarski, National Shelter
  • Glenda Stevens, Homelessness Australia
  • Carmel Rosier, Community Housing Federation of Australia
  • Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council for Social Service (ACOSS)

What: Press conference on housing affordability crisis and Senate Economics References Committee Inquiry into Affordable Housing

Where: Senate Courtyard, Australian Parliament House, Canberra

Housing supply and affordability are in crisis.

Australia was short 228,000 dwellings at the time of the most recent national census. The shortage has driven price inflation and locked many out of access to housing, particularly those experiencing poverty and disadvantage.

Leading housing organisations and peak bodies will tomorrow unite and demand a coordinated national agenda led by the Federal Government, as they tender their submissions to the Senate Inquiry into Affordable Housing.

The groups will urge Government to implement reforms to negative gearing and capital gains tax arrangements in order to stimulate supply of new and affordable housing stock.

They will call for Budget certainty on the future of the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) and the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS).

The NPAH funds 180 homelessness services around the country, including 39 family violence services.

The NRAS, in the five years to June 2013, delivered almost 15,000 dwellings, with almost 24,000 under construction. It has provided secure, affordable housing to many people on low and moderate incomes, including people at risk of homelessness. The Scheme plays a key role in stimulating private investment in affordable rental housing at a time when the scarcity of supply is contributing to high rents.

Submissions to the Affordable Housing Inquiry are available here or by contacting the below spokespeople.


For comment:


Cassandra Goldie, Australian Council for Social Service (ACOSS), on 0419 626 155 or media@acoss.org.au

Adrian Pisarski, National Shelter, on 0417 975 270

Carmel Rosier, Community Housing Federation of Australia, on 0405 245 512 or carmel.rosier@chcsa.org.au

Glenda Stevens, Homelessness Australia, on 0405 900 360 or media@homelessnessaustralia.org.au

Reducing poverty should be the final word on budget measures: New OECD report

19 March 2014

ACOSS Press Conference

Who: Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service

When: 12.30pm Wednesday March 19, 2014

Where: ACOSS, Level 2, 619 Elizabeth St Redfern

An new OECD report shows that there has been an increase in child poverty in Australia:

  •     14% of Australians are surviving on less than 50% of median income, while the OECD average is only 11%. This rate is higher than  the UK, Greece and New Zealand, and the 7th highest out of the 34 OECD countries.

  •     Australia's social spending as a proportion of GDP is lower at 19% than the OECD average of 22%.

  •     Child poverty  increased between 2007 and 2010.

  •     Poverty among the aged has decreased mainly due to an increase in the age pension.

  •     While income inequality in Australia has remained stable, it is still above the OECD average.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie will respond to report findings and set out the measures needed to turn the tide in this disturbing trend. She will argue that reducing poverty should be the final test of any measures to return to a balanced budget.

OECD report available at: http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/social-issues-migration-health/society-at-a-glance-2014_soc_glance-2014-en

Senate should oppose repeal of clean energy laws

17 March 2014

Leading welfare, research, environment and trade union groups today urged the Senate not to repeal clean energy laws especially given the absence of credible Government alternatives.

“The Government should be congratulated in recognising the need for ‘strong and effective climate policy’ but it should not be supported in repealing clean energy laws while it has no credible, independently assessed, alternative policies,” said The Climate Institute CEO John Connor.

“These laws remain the only mechanism so far that can credibly help Australia do its fair share in helping avoid dangerous climate change up to and beyond 2020. No independent assessment of the Government’s proposed policies show they can meet even their minimum target of 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, let alone the stronger targets recommended by the Climate Change Authority.”

“People who are the most vulnerable are already suffering the most from extreme weather and climate change impacts. Many will never recover from the floods, fires, and droughts that are devastating whole communities. We must back the experts about what needs to be done to reduce carbon pollution. The good news is that, if we reward investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, we can also create jobs and a brighter future for us all" said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

The Australian Council of Social Service, The Climate Institute, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Australian Conservation Foundation have been active participants in carbon, energy and climate change issues separately and through the Southern Cross Climate Coalition (SCCC). Last year the SCCC released Productivity, Fairness and Sustainable Climate Action: Foundations for a Competitive, Low Pollution, Clean Economy.

“There are enormous opportunities to create jobs, skills, innovation and investment in a low carbon economy that are being put at risk by the Abbott Government,” Australian Council of Trade Unions President Ged Kearney said.

“Australians are looking to the Government to support traditional industries to adapt and play an important role in a low carbon economy and to drive innovation in new industries to create new jobs and opportunities for the future. Yet Prime Minister Abbott who promised 1 million new Australian jobs is determined to get rid of these laws and the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation that would have created thousands of new high skilled, innovative clean tech local jobs.

“These laws end the entitlement of Australia’s biggest companies to pollute our atmosphere for free and have an independently monitored and flexible system of pollution limits – we should be building on these laws not destroying them,” said Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Don Henry.

For more information contact Garrett Stringer: 028239 6299 or 0405 306 623

NRAS vital in increasing affordable housing stock

11 March 2014

Responding to media reports today alleging abuses of the National Rental Affordability Scheme, leading housing organisations and peak bodies have expressed strong support for the role of NRAS in starting to address our housing affordability crisis.

The group has instead urged the federal Government to tackle the tax arrangements that are the real problem, inflating housing prices and shutting out people on modest incomes from the housing market.

“If the Government is looking for ways to save dollars, and address our housing crisis at the same time, capital gains tax concessions and negative gearing should be top of the list. Both promote speculative investment in existing housing stock, and further concentration of wealth through property portfolios, that deliver little to stimulate affordable housing supply,” said Dr Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

“At a cost of about $4 billion per year to taxpayers, negative gearing drives up house prices, as well as exposing individual small investors to the vagaries of the housing markets. Well-off investors are the big winners out of housing tax breaks, at a time when every tax dollar and incentive should be going to help people on low and modest incomes into stable and affordable housing. Housing is our real cost of living problem," said Dr Goldie.

Adam Farrar, Chair of National Shelter said that “Tax incentives for speculative investors are inefficient, expensive and inequitable. They cannot be justified in this climate of fiscal restraint when questions are being asked about the future of a range of programs which assist low and moderate income households, including the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness and the National Rental Affordability Scheme.

“Australia has a chronic housing supply crisis, especially at the affordable end of the market, and we must maintain efforts to increase supply, including via the NRAS,” he added.

“NRAS plays a vital role in attracting private finance to increase the stock of affordable housing by offering an incentive to investors. It also benefits low and moderate income households, many of whom are not eligible for other housing assistance but who are priced out of the private rental market,” Mr Farrar said.

“A sustained commitment to NRAS is consistent with the Government’s stated commitment to an infrastructure agenda, providing as it does an efficient vehicle for private financing of infrastructure and cost-effective affordable housing program,” Dr Goldie said.

In the five years to 30 June 2013, NRAS has delivered 14,575 dwellings with 23,884 dwellings in progress. The Executive Director of the Community Housing Federation of Australia, Carol Croce, said that “NRAS is doing what it was intended to do:  promoting significant investment where it’s needed at the affordable end of the rental market.”

“Many builders and developers involved with NRAS have reported that NRAS incentives can operate as a counter-cyclical stimulus to the construction industry in times of economic or construction downturn,” she said.

“NRAS has been a significant driver in the expansion of not-for-profit community housing organisations, who have roles as both developers and tenancy managers of NRAS dwellings.  Indeed, more than half of all NRAS recipients are not-for-profit community housing organisations,” she added.

Glenda Stevens CEO of Homelessness Australia said that NRAS had benefitted many vulnerable Australians, including those at risk of homelessness.

“NRAS was never designed to be a social housing program but is delivering benefits to thousands of low and moderate income households. It has also played a role in preventing homelessness by providing secure housing to many people at risk,” Ms Stevens said.

The organisations above are joined by Mission Australia, the National Association of Tenants Organisations, Anglicare Australia, St Vincent de Paul, PowerHousing and People with Disability Australia in highlighting the valuable role that NRAS has played to date. While recognising that there is scope to improve NRAS, including to ensure appropriate incentives to build larger dwellings for families and address administration problems, all agree that the Government should seek to build on the Scheme’s strengths, rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Available for comment:

  • Cassandra Goldie (ACOSS): 0419 626 155
  • Carol Croce (CHFA): 0402 017 557
  • Adam Farrar (National Shelter): 0409 669 936
  • Glenda Stevens (Homelessness Australia): 0405 900360
  • Kasy Chambers (Anglicare Australia): 0401 494 380
  • Nicola Hazell (Mission Australia): 0467 783 421
  • John Falzon (St Vincent de Paul): 0400 845 492

Disability leaders and community sector representatives unite: doorstop interview

7 March 2014

 Disability leaders and community sector representatives unite in push to address jobs crisis for people with disability, amidst growing speculation about possible cuts to income and service supports

Who:

  • Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council for Social Service (ACOSS) 
  • Stephen Gianni, National Policy Officer, Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO)
  • Fiona Given, ACOSS Board Member
  • Craig Harrison, CEO, Disability Employment Australia
  • Maree O’Halloran, Director, Welfare Rights Centre
  • Craig Wallace, President, People with Disability Australia (PWDA)
  • Simon Viereck, Acting CEO, Disability Advocacy Network Australia (DANA)


When: 12:45PM Friday March 7, 2014


Where: Senate Courtyart, Parliament House, Canberra

Amid current debates about the future of the Disability Support Pension (DSP), leaders from the disability community and national representatives from the welfare sector will meet in Canberra to agree reforms needed to open up job opportunities, and improve income support and employment assistance for people with disability.

The leaders are meeting amongst growing speculation about whether the federal government is planning to move more people with disability off the DSP onto a lower payment, including the much lower and grossly inadequate Newstart Allowance. The group will oppose cuts to income  support, arguing people are already just getting by in the DSP.

The group will release an analysis to show that the nation does not have a DSP or 'welfare crisis' but rather a jobs crisis with record low rates of employment of people with disability including in the Commonwealth Public Service.

Representatives emphasise that people with disability want to be in paid work when able. However, people with disability and employer groups must lead reforms together with governments if they are to succeed. Income support and assistance must be adequate z Significantly, action must be taken to address erroneous employer perceptions, misconceived notions of efficiency and productivity drivers, and workplace barriers that lock people out of jobs.

Following the meeting, the group will hold a door stop to announce the outcome of the meeting. Proposals are likely to include how to improve:

  • job opportunities for people with disability
  • employment assistance and support services
  • adequacy of income support when people are unable to be in paid work due to their disability, or can't get a job.

Media Contact to attend the doorstop or arrange interviews:

ACOSS Media - 0419 626 155

 

Community organisations call for a certain future for family violence services: Doorstop

6 March 2014

Who:
  • Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council for Social Service (ACOSS)
  • Fiona McCormack, CEO, Domestic Violence Victoria (DV Vic)
  • Jenny Smith, CEO, Council to Homeless Persons (CHP)
  • Jacinta Wainwright, CEO, WRISC Family Violence Support
  • Antoinette Braybrook, CEO, Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention & Legal Service (AFVPLS)
  • Jocelyn Bignold, CEO, McAuley Community Services for Women

When: 10AM Thursday March 6, 2014

Where: Level 2, Queen Victoria Women's Centre, 210 Lonsdale St, Melbourne.

In the lead up to International Women's Day, community organisations will today highlight the current uncertainty facing women's and family violence services, with the impending expiration of the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) funding in July 2014.

Representatives from peak bodies and service providers will explain the critical nature of the family violence services, in providing accommodation, preventing homelessness and offering essential practical, economic, psychological and legal support to at risk and vulnerable women.

Since 2009, NPAH funding has supported 180 services across Australia, 80,000 clients and 3,000 staff. Of these initiatives, 39 provide specialist domestic and family violence assistance to women. These services and jobs are on the line.

The organisations will point to the potential negative consequences if funding under the NPAH is not maintained, and urge the government to commit to renewing the funding agreement to allow these essential services to remain viable.

Media Contacts to attend the doorstop or arrange interviews:

  • Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) - 0419 626 155
  • John Kelly (VCOSS) - 0418 127 153
  • Alison Macdonald (DV Vic) - 0433 760 182
  • Sarah Toohey (CHP) - 402 677 566
  • Jacinta Wainwright (WRISC) - 0417 122 596
  • Ginger Ridgeway (AFVPLS) - 0433 700 552
  • Penny Underwood (McAuley Community Services for Women) - 0409 925 299

ACOSS calls on Commonwealth to end funding uncertainty over services

4 March 2014

Amid growing budget speculation, the Australian Council of Social Service has today called on the Federal Government to end uncertainty about the future of key community services.

In a supplementary submission to the Senate Select Committee Inquiry into the Federal Government's Commission of Audit, ACOSS has highlighted it's concern that many services are now being caught up in budget speculation, with no certainty about where the government plans to make cuts in the May Budget.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said: "Services for people who are homeless, women and their children leaving violent situations, at risk young people disengaged from training and employment, and people in financial crisis are all up in the air."

"Funding for these programs is only secure until 30 June. Government departments have been unable to confirm the future of these services, including under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, the Youth Connections program and funding for financial services are all affected.

"Other vital community programs have already been cut, or are clearly in the firing line, including funding for the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA), Aboriginal Legal Services, legal aid and community legal services, and community programs for people from diverse cultural backgrounds. The recent open letter calling for funding to be restored to ADCA, signed by ten highly respected Australians, shows the level of growing community concern, " Dr Goldie said.

"The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) supports adults and their children who are homeless. Whilst accurate figures aren't available, Mission Australia has estimated that about 180 services, 80 000 clients and over 3000 staff are covered under the NPAH.

"It would be extraordinary to pull the rug out from under these services when the Treasurer has promised that government funding will be targeted to those most in need.

"It would also be crushing for young people who can't get a job if their support programs were cut, when they should be expanded. The latest figures show youth unemployment is twice the general unemployment rate (12.2%) and as high as 20% among 15-24 year olds in some parts of the country. Programs such as Youth Connections have helped many thousands of young people who had disengaged or were at risk of disengaging from education or employment. The program has achieved excellent results in an increasingly tough job market. Nationally, 67 organisations deliver Youth Connections over 113 service regions, assisting over 70,000 young people.

"The ongoing uncertainty is having a serious impact across the country, with service management unable to plan, and staff increasingly anxious. Valued workers are under pressure to start looking for new jobs, with many not knowing if they will be employed in just a few months. Whilst we can't establish the exact number of clients and staff who are affected, it is clearly in the thousands.

"Services are increasingly alarmed that the government may use the expiration of funding contracts on 30 June to deliver budget savings. Whether this is intended or not is unknown. However, in the absence of new contracts being put in place, services are understandably concerned.

"We agree we have a budget challenge, and have supported a responsible audit of government expenditure. However, we need to be looking for savings amongst the tax breaks, loopholes, rebates and payments which benefit people who already have significant income and assets: superannuation, discretionary trusts, private health rebates, the assets tests for the age pension, negative gearing and capital gains, as well as generous supplements and concessions to people already enjoying a well above average standard of living.

"Services and payments to support vulnerable and low income people should not be in the firing line in search of a budget surplus.

"This was the previous government's mistake, one that Labor's leadership now regrets in Opposition. Over 100 000 single parents and their children suffered the consequences, and are still waiting over a year later, for something to be done. Let us not make the same mistake again. The funds needed for these vital services are modest, and will save us far more in the future.

"The Government must put an end to all this uncertainty and urgently signal its ongoing commitment to funding," Dr Goldie said.

Media Enquiries: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Download ACOSS Additional Submission to the Senate Select Committee Inquiry into the Federal Government's Commission of Audit

Also see ACOSS Commission of Audit submission and key recommendations here.

ACOSS calls for action on jobs and employment support to stem growing unemployment

28 February 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service has called for urgent Government action to improve income and employment supports to tackle growing unemployment.

In response to the latest unemployment figures showing the number of people on the unemployment benefit and Youth Allowance is at a 15 year high, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said the news highlights the pressing need for action on two fronts: to strengthen the social safety net and to help people get into paid work.

"The latest figures show that the number of people on Newstart Allowance increased 6.4 per cent in the past year from 682 873 to 726 740 and the number on Youth Allowance increased by 7.7 per cent last year from 107 103 to 115 310. The unemployment rate is back up to six per cent and projected to stay there for another year.

"One of the significant reasons for the increase in Newstart numbers is the previous Government's decision to move single parents onto the payment in January 2013. That decision has had a devastating impact on the lives of a great many single parents and their children, taking about $100 from their weekly income.

"We are also extremely concerned by the levels of youth joblessness, which has reached more than 20 per cent in some parts of the country. The average youth unemployment rate in Australia is double the general unemployment rate of 6 per cent, with 12.2 per cent of 15-24 year olds looking for work.

"We need to ensure that forthcoming government decisions stemming from the Commission of Audit and the next Federal Budget will include measures to reverse the unemployment trend. Future decisions must be based on the principles of sustainability and fairness, not compound the struggle of people who are already doing it tough.

"Two thirds of people on Newstart Allowance have been on income support for over a year. That makes it much harder for them to find a job without work experience and training. Job Services Australia providers are laying off their own workers because they get less to assist a growing population of long term unemployed people. They are only funded to interview long term unemployed people every two months and invest $500 in training. That won't get people into jobs and prolonged unemployment is becoming entrenched.

"Also the Youth Connections program which offers career counselling and support to young early school leavers runs out of funds this year. If it isn't renewed, then more young people will fall through the cracks.

"We need a national plan for jobs that has investment in people at its heart. This means targeted investment in employment assistance for people unemployed long term, including career counselling for young unemployed people and sole parents returning to paid employment, and expanded wage subsidies for long term unemployed people to give them experience in a regular job.

"We have to focus on evidence based strategies that we know work. Impoverishing people doesn't create jobs or help people into work.

"The Prime Minister said, in announcing the farmers package, that "we will stand by people in need". This must extend to the growing number of people left to makes ends meet on the $36 a day Newstart payment. It's time to increase the payment and expand positive measures that will improve people's chances of getting paid work as part of a wider jobs and inclusion plan for our nation," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

ACOSS to appear at Senate Inquiry into Commission of Audit

18 February 2014

Who: ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie
What: Senate Select Committee, Abbott Government's Commission of Audit (Commission of Audit established by the Commonwealth Government)
When: 2.30 - 3.15pm Tuesday February 18, 2014

WATCH Streaming of ACOSS hearing at 2.30pm Canberra time here.

ACOSS will appear before the Senate Inquiry into the Commission of Audit at 2.30pm today (Tuesday 18 February) in Canberra. 

CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will tell Select Senate Committee members that the Commission of Audit is an important opportunity to review Commonwealth expenditure with a view to long-term structural reform to put the budget on a sustainable footing.

However, she will argue that the Commission will be a missed opportunity if tax expenditures are off the table and if the process is done behind closed doors, with a view to short term savings. 

Dr Goldie wants to see the Commission of Audit focus on identifying current waste in the Federal Budget in the form of generous tax breaks and poorly targeted programs, and avoid recommending cuts to funding that is already well-targeted to low income and vulnerable communities. 

In its submission to the Commission of Audit, ACOSS has cautioned the Federal Government against relying on a ‘quick fix' of spending cuts to restore the Budget, pointing out that the deficit is mainly due to falling revenues, and proposes this be restored to pre-GFC levels to raise an additional $23 billion a year. 

ACOSS will outline its concerns about the scope and process of the commission, which it maintains should be conducted in an open and transparent manner with active community participation. 

For media interviews: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155 

WATCH Streaming of ACOSS hearing at 2.30pm Canberra time here.

Senate Select Committee, Abbott Government's Commission of Audit (Commission of Audit established by the Commonwealth Government)

See ACOSS Commission of Audit submission and key recommendations here

ACOSS CEO to outline a responsible path to budget reform at CEDA

12 February 2014

Who: ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie

What: CEDA - the Committee for Economic Development of Australia - 'Economic and Political Overview' in Brisbane

When: 10.00 to 2.00pm Wednesday 12 February 2014

Where: Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre

In a presentation responding to CEDA's Economic and Political Overview 2014 in Brisbane, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will outline key proposals to steer the Australian Budget onto a sustainable long-term path of inclusive economic growth.

The head of the Australia's community services peak body will challenge the myth that there is a ‘welfare payment crisis' and make the case for the shared interest across the business and community sectors in jobs growth and reducing inequality in Australia.

Dr Goldie will call for a united approach to addressing the pressing gaps i n our economic and social infrastructure through cutting wasteful spending and growing the national revenue base.

To arrange interviews: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

More information on content of speech:
ACOSS Budget Priorities Statement: ‘Budget should be based on needs, not wants'

More information on event here.
CEDA Contact: Clint O'Brien - clint.o'brien@ceda.com.au or 0411 570 370

CEDA's annual Economic and Political Overview provides analysis and insight on critical economic and policy issues for the year ahead.

Budget should be based on needs, not wants: ACOSS

10 February 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Government to deliver on its promise to put the nation's Budget on a sustainable long-term footing in a fair way that doesn't leave anyone behind, adding that future government entitlements and subsides should be based on needs, not wants.

Speaking at the release of the peak body's Federal Budget submission, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, "We agree with The Treasurer that it's our duty to help people who are most vulnerable in our community. People are entitled to expect Governments to provide income support and essential services such as age pensions, health services, and tax breaks for superannuation, but those entitlements can only be sustained and improved if they are based on need."

Dr Goldie said, "Now is the right time for Government action to clamp down on wasteful and inefficient expenditure to allow us to close the worst gaps in our economic and social infrastructure."

"The Coalition Government's first Budget is a real opportunity to better direct spending and tax breaks to areas of greatest need, such as adequate income support and employment assistance for people who are unemployed. There's also great need in the areas of affordable housing and child care for low and middle income families, and for maintaining the critical support provided by community services helping the most vulnerable members of our community.

"The budget should take urgent action to meet the needs of those who are excluded from the benefits of a wealthy society - a job, affordable housing, a decent income, and basic community services such as disability services and dental and mental health care.

"These priorities are all the more important at a time when employment growth is stagnating. Already we see that more than 60% of people receiving the unemployment allowance Newstart are left to survive for a year or more on $36 a day without access to the training, work experience and job counselling they need to help them secure a job. More people are likely to face this experience in the coming year with the unemployment rate expected to rise to 6%.

"ACOSS supports a review of government entitlements, but it should take aim at wasteful and poorly targeted programs, not benefits and services for people who are already doing it tough such as homeless people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, unemployed people and people living with disabilities and relying on income support.

"The Government cannot ignore the fact that much of the waste in the budget lies on the tax side of the ledger. For instance, super tax breaks cost around $40 billion each year, about the same as the Age Pension. Almost a third of the tax breaks for super contributions go to the top 10% of workers.

"The current set of retirement and age-based tax concessions are both unfair and inefficient. As the population ages, governments will face increasing and legitimate demands on health and aged care services, yet less than 20% of individuals over the age of 64 pay any income tax.

"Clearly, this is not sustainable. To begin the process of reigning in these subsidies, ACOSS proposes restoring the $25,000 annual cap on concessionally-taxed super contributions. We also want to see the curbing of income tax avoidance by the ‘churning' of wages through superannuation accounts that pay an equivalent pension; and progressively extending the 15% tax on super fund earnings to accounts in the ‘pensions phase'.

"Another key area of reform is housing tax concessions, and in particular negative gearing which encourages excessive borrowing to invest in existing rental properties with a view to making capital gains rather than rental returns. This contributes to house price inflation and excessive levels of household debt during investment booms.

"Our proposal is to quarantine deductions for expenses relating to passive investment in housing, shares, collectables and similar assets purchased after 1 January 2015 to offset income received from those assets, including capital gains realised on their subsequent sale.

"We propose that half the revenue savings from this measure be earmarked to help alleviate Australia's worsening housing affordability crisis through an Affordable Housing Growth Fund and future expansion of the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS).

"On the spending side, there is scope to redirect health and child care programs towards those in most need and to stem inflation in costs to consumers and Governments at the same time. The health insurance rebate for ‘extras' cover and Extended Medicare Safety Net should be removed and child care assistance restructured to absorb the Child Care Rebate into a simpler, better targeted Child Care Benefit.

"The Age Pension is a vital safety net for retirees and ACOSS supported the recent pension increases for singles. To put the pension on a more sustainable footing, it should be better targeted. As a result of a poorly conceived easing of the assets test in 2007, a couple over 65 with assets apart from their home worth a million dollars can now claim a part pension.

"Retirees whose income and assets are too high to qualify for a pension under these rules receive a Seniors Supplement. These public supports are clearly not well targeted to people who need them.

"Our Budget proposals would improve the bottom line by $1 billion in 2014-15, $5 billion the following year, and much more in future years, making room to fund the services that will be needed by an ageing population.

"This gradual tightening of the Budget, paid for by curbing wasteful and poorly target programs, is the fair and responsible path to budget reform," Dr Goldie said.

Media Advisor: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626155

 

DOWNLOAD ACOSS Budget Priorities Statement


Summary of ACOSS proposals

ACOSS Budget Savings Measures (Total $4.4b in 2014-15 and $10.2b in 2015-16):

• Quarantine tax deductions for expenses relating to passive investments in housing, shares, and collectables purchased after 1 January 2015 to offset income received from those assets, and earmark half the savings to the affordable housing growth fund (-$500 million) (-$1,000 million in 2015-16).

• Reform tax treatment of private trusts (-$1,000 million in 2015-16)

• Restore $25,000 annual cap on concessional superannuation contributions (- $500)

• Curb tax avoidance through the ‘churning' of wages through superannuation (- $500 million in 2015-16)

• Progressively extend the 15% tax rate on super fund earnings to accounts in the ‘pension phase' $300 million in 2015-16)

• Remove 30% Private Health Insurance Rebate for ancillary cover (-$1,000 million in 2015-16)

• Reduce Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme subsidies for out-of-patent medicines (-$1,300 million)

• Abolish the Extended Medicare Safety Net (-$550 million)

• Restrict the tax offset for Seniors to people who qualify for a pension (-$900 million in 2015-16)

• Restrict income support Supplements for Seniors to people who qualify for a pension (-$250 million)

• Tighten the pensions assets tests that couples with assets over $1 million apart from their homes no longer qualify (-$1,300 million)


ACOSS spending measures (Total $3.4b in 2014-15 and $5.6b in 2015-16):

• Raise level of Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance and other Allowance payments for single adults and young people living independently of their parents by $50 per week as recommended by the Henry Report ($400 million) ($1,800 million in 2015-2016).

• Index all Allowance payments to wage movements ($300 million) ($600 million in 2015-16).

• Improve the targeting of the family payments system and raise payments for families at greatest risk of poverty ($300 million) ($350 million in 2015-2016).

• Double the number of wage subsidies available for very long term unemployed people to 20,000 places per year ($30 million) ($30 million in 2015-16)

• Establish an Affordable Housing Growth Fund to expand the stock of affordable housing, with a down-payment of $750 million in the first year and increased and sustained long term ongoing funding ($750 million) ($900 million in 2015-16);

• Maintain current funding for homelessness services beyond expiry of the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness and index to Consumer Price Index (CPI) ($160 million) ($170 million in 2015-16);

• Increase the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) by 30% (around $19 per week) to assist people on low incomes to meet rising rental costs ($880 million) ($920 million in 2015-16).

• Maintain critical support for services assisting the most vulnerable members of the community, including legal services ($6.5 million), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative organisations and multicultural services ($17 million).

• Strengthen the capacity of the community sector by: properly indexing community service contracts to a standard index to improve the contracting environment for government-funded services ($350 million) ($360 million in 2015-16); funding an Industry Plan for the community sector ($20 million) ($30 million in 2015-16); and establishing a Community Sector Adaptation Fund to support climate change adaptation and extreme weather preparedness projects undertaken by community sector organisations ($10 million) ($10 million in 2015-16).

• Introduce a universal minimum level of Child Care Benefit and increase the maximum rate of Child Care Benefit to better reflect child care needs, reasonable costs and capacity to pay, as recommended in the Henry Report. This revenue-neutral reform should be funded by savings from removing the poorly targeted Child Care Rebate. (Cost neutral).

ACOSS calls for Budget to be based on needs, not wants

9 February 2014

Who: ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie

When: 10AM Monday February 10, 2014

Where: ACOSS Office, Level 2, 619 Elizabeth Street, Redfern, NSW

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will on Monday unveil comprehensive proposals to help put the nation's Budget on a sustainability long-term footing in the fairest possible way.

Dr Goldie will urge the Federal Government to deliver on the election promise that it won't 'leave anyone behind', and to use it's first Budget to realign government entitlements and subsides based on needs, not wants.

The head of the community sector's peak body will argue that now is the right time for Government action to clamp down on wasteful and inefficient expenditure to allow us to close the worst gaps in our economic and social infrastructure.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

NOTE: Media outlets and journalists should notify Fernando on 0419 626 155

ACOSS response to Government’s plans for ACNC

30 January 2014

Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO, said:

"In 2010 the Productivity Commission conducted the most comprehensive assessment of the contribution of Australia's non-profit organisations and what was needed to sustain their effectiveness. It's major recommendation in this respect was for a national regulator. This recognised that regulation of charities should not be confined to the assessment of tax status under the ATO, but needs also to incorporate charitable activities and purpose. The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission was established to meet this aim.

"The PC also recommended a Centre for Sector Effectiveness as a separate but important vehicle to promote the role and value of our charities. While ACOSS welcomes the Government's commitment to a National Centre for Excellence, this cannot replace effective regulation."

Having previously indicated its intention to abolish the ACNC, the Government has now announced it will replace the national regulator with a US-based model that evaluates charities based on league tables.

Dr Goldie said, "We are unclear why the Government would use a US style league table when the PC did not propose this. A simple league rating system which fails to tell the full story could be the beginning of the end for many great Australian charities. Indeed, in the US the call is now to have a proper national regulator, which we already have.

"Australia's charitable and non-profit sector constitutes 5% of GDP and 8% of employment and its growing. To support this vital sector, we need to develop a greater understanding of the diversity of our charities and the significant value they produce, much of which comes from small, locally-based and supported community organisations. This is particularly important for funders, including governments and philanthropists, to have real choice about who they want to support."

See Pro Bono story: ‘Charity Navigator' Model Tipped to Replace ACNC - Wednesday, January 28, 2014

ACOSS CEO on review of social security payments

22 January 2014

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie today responded to the Federal Government's announcement that it is reviewing Australia's social security payment system, expressing support for a review provided it improves job seekers' prospects and isn't used as a short-term budget fix.

Speaking to reporters Dr Goldie emphasised the following:

  • ACOSS' support for a comprehensive review of the income support system to simplify the system and improve payment adequacy and support to get a job, as well as to improve the fairness and equity of the system.
  • The review should not be conducted behind closed doors, with policy outcomes announced on Budget night.
  • The process needs to be open and transparent, allowing dialogue between community organisations, employment services, and employers, so that we can develop and back policy changes that will work to improve the job prospects of people disadvantaged in the labour market, and to provide adequate income support for those who need it.
  • The need to increase support for those receiving Allowance payments (reiterating ACOSS' call for a $50 increase to allowance payments and improved indexation to be linked to wage rises).
  • Our support for reforms to create a simpler system, including support for a single base payment with supplements for additional costs where relevant (costs of disability, rent, job search, and so on).
  • Our concern about proposals to introduce a tiered payment structure, which will only increase the complexity and inequities in the system.
  • The need to ensure that reform of the welfare system is complemented by increased support to assist people to find paid work, particularly people who are long-term unemployed, older people, single parents, carers and people with a disability. 

 

Quotes

"This could be a fantastic opportunity to get the most out of the dollars we are spending and to put the whole system on a more sustainable footing."

"But if it becomes a behind-closed-doors, short-term fix to find budget savings, we will strongly oppose it."

"The process of this review is vital. We need to have an open process, clear terms of reference, we need to have a discussion paper to highlight where the thinking is going."

"We cannot have a review of a major, vital part of our social infrastructure done behind closed doors with the policy changes announced on budget night."

 

Main Media Clips

Jobs groups oppose Abbott welfare cuts - Patricia Karvelas, The Australian, Thursday January 23, 2014

Welfare review could recommend stricter conditions on carer pensions - Bridie Jabour, The Guardian, Thursday January 23, 2014

Disability Peak Bodies Meet with Welfare Reviewer - Pro Bono, Thursday January 23, 2014

Kevin Andrews delivers welfare warning - Cassandra Goldie interview on ABC Radio National Breakfast, January 21, 2014

We would back sensible reform to make sure tax concessions are targeted to lower income families, says head of ACOSS - ABC News Radio January 21, 2014

Welfare groups welcome review, but want Newstart increase - ABC PM Program, January 21, 2014

Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews signals overhaul of welfare system - Jonathan Swan, SMH January 21, 2014

ACOSS boss sees value in welfare review - AAP, January 21, 2014

Welfare must be reined in, says Kevin Andrews - Patricia Karvelas, The Australian, Tuesday January 21, 2014

 

Recent ACOSS Opinion Pieces

Poverty is real, and here - Cassandra Goldie, The Australian, Friday January 24, 2014

Welfare ‘blowout' doesn't add up - Toni Wren, AFR, Friday January 24, 2014

The so-called welfare problem is by and large an ageing population problem - Greg Jericho, The Guardian, Thursday January 23, 2014

Jobs are key to Disability Pension Reform< - Daily Telegraph, January 8, 2014

Jobs not Newstart the key to disability pension reform - The National Times, January 2, 2014

Joint endeavour can boost jobs for the disabled - Craig Wallace, The Australian, January 22, 2014

ACOSS to respond to review of social security payments

21 January 2014

Who: ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie 

When: 1.15pm Tuesday January 21, 2014 

Where: ACOSS Office, Level 2, 619 Elizabeth Street, Redfern, NSW 

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will respond to the Federal Government's announcement that it is reviewing Australia's social security payment system. Dr Goldie will also provide comments on where real savings to the Budget can be made. 

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155 

NOTE: Media outlets and journalists should notify Fernando on 0419 626 155

End Child Poverty Starting with Newstart

1 January 2014

1 January 2014 marks twelve-months since thousands of single parent families were forced onto Newstart and into severe hardship - it’s also the launch of the 10 stories website.: http://www.10storiesofsinglemothers.org.au/

The website features 10 courageous mothers who candidly speak about the reality of Newstart; its cruel impacts, the humiliation, and why change is desperately needed. It gives voice to the silent but staggering increase of child poverty within single parent families.

Listen to the stories of 10 single mothers speak about the harsh reality of struggling on Newstart and the cruel impact of poverty on their children: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHpa8KQ9-G8

Terese Edwards, CEO National Council of Single Mothers & their Children said, "the 10 women represent the plight of thousands of Australian families, the victims of this cruel and harsh policy. Newstart was never meant for families and it occurs when the youngest child turns eight".

The ongoing campaign to end child poverty starting with Newstart has shone a light on the inadequacy of Newstart. Newstart is not a new start for families.

  • It’s so low that families can’t afford the essentials, like putting food on the table, and keeping a roof over their family’s head. 
  • It punishes a parent in employment with reported losses of up to $160 per week
  • It has forced women to stop studying, and the chance for a secure job.

The heartache grows when parents can no longer protect their children from poverty. The sadness of not being able to play sport, not having a friend over for tea, or forced to give up the family pet is the new norm. Christmas and school holidays are particularly fierce as children are reminded that they are poor and the ones that are missing out. The 10 Story website calls for:

  1. Immediately increase Newstart by $50 per week
  2. Make paid work a family’s financial gain. Increase the allowable earnings to the equivalent of the parenting payment single.
  3. Index Newstart and payments to wage movement to stop it from falling further behind.
  4. Commit to a national strategy to end child poverty in Australia

Read the facts and take action.

10 stories is a national collaboration, made possible by the Sydney Community Foundation’s Sydney Women`s Fund, Snow Foundation and Filmstretch. Join us from 1st Jan 2014.

www.10storiesofsinglemothers.org.au

Media: Terese Edwards 0439211493

Download this media release.

The good, the bad and the ugly:  new social security changes begin today

1 January 2014

Australia’s leading welfare advocates are gearing up for the ‘fight of their lives’ in 2014,  as the Government gets ready to consider its response to the Commission of Audit, amid talk of a further tightening of eligibility for disability pensions and additional co-payments for the sick to visit a doctor.

From January 1 2014, a number of social security payments will rise in line with increases in the Consumer Price Index.

However, it will not be a Happy New Year for everyone according to Maree O’Halloran, President, National Welfare Rights Network and Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service.

“Today marks 12 months since over 63,000 single parents were moved off the Parenting Payment Single and pushed onto the lower Newstart Allowance resulting in a 20 percent decline in the numbers of single parents receiving the higher Parenting Payment.”

“Raising children alone is a very tough job and there is no evidence that reducing a person’s income support will assist them into employment. Single parents who were already working have been made financially worse off under the lower earnings thresholds,” said Maree O’Halloran.

“Single parents on the maximum rate of payment are now over $80 per week worse off, and are struggling to get by on just $275 per week. With a further half a billion dollars due to be slashed over the next three years, this places enormous strain on some of Australia’s poorest households,” Dr Goldie added.

From today, young people over 18, mature age students and Disability Support Pension recipients under 21 will see their fortnightly payment modestly increase to between $272 and $414 a fortnight. This leaves young people who live away from home with just $30 per day.

“Young people continue to face ongoing financial difficulty and experience high levels of financial stress as they are poorly supported while searching for work or undertaking study,” Dr Goldie said.

“The maximum age for Youth Allowance job seekers increased from 20 to 21 in July 2012. This, and a deteriorating market for young people, has led to a massive 35.8% increase in young unemployed people looking for work since June 2012, rising from 83,802 to 113,804 in June 2013.” Dr Goldie said.

Today also marks the start of the Clean Energy Supplement for all youth-related income support payments. Depending on their circumstances, the supplement will range from between $3.90 and $11.70 per fortnight.

“Young people will need to make these small increases last, because their income support payments are only indexed yearly for cost of living increases, unlike pensions, which are indexed every six months, and to a higher, improved formula,” Ms O’Halloran explained. 

Other changes beginning today will see single parents on Newstart eligible for the Pensioner Education Supplement of up to $31 a week to assist with the costs of study.

 

For interviews and more information: 

Australian Council of Social Service, 0419 626 155

National Welfare Rights Network, 0425 296 882

Cool head needed to restore budget balance: ACOSS

17 December 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service has cautioned the Federal Government against trying to restore the nation's Budget in one-hit, following today's release of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) which forecast a $47 billion budget deficit. 

"Our fiscal challenge is structural, and requires long-term reform. It would be dangerous to attempt to fix the problem in one budget," said ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie.

"We now know that two thirds of budget deterioration this year due to "economic parameters" is on the revenue side. What we need is careful and considered reform to both revenue and expenditure.

"We understand the big fiscal challenge facing the nation, but previous governments share the blame by spending the revenue windfall from the housing and mining booms on eight successive income tax cuts and a range of cash bonuses and poorly targeted programs.

"Recent decisions show a concerning trend towards targeting those at the bottom to bear the brunt of budget cuts and largely sparing those at the top end. For instance, those on low incomes will be hurt by the abolition of the Income Support Bonus, the School Kids Bonus, and the Low Income Superannuation Contribution.

"Today's decision to cut funding to much-needed legal assistance programs, including the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, is short sighted and counter-productive. It will have little impact on the budget bottom line, but a devastating impact on those who need access to legal assistance.

"Meanwhile, those at the top have been spared by the decision not cap tax breaks on superannuation - tax breaks that flow mostly to those on high incomes. Government has also deprived itself billions of dollars in revenue from an effective Mineral Resources Rent Tax and pricing carbon pollution.

"What we need right now is a cool head and a serious national conversation about how we will restore budget balance, and close the gap between the community's reasonable expectations and government revenue.

"Organisations who represent those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged have a vital role to play in this conversation, no more so than those who work on the front line in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

"We can restore revenue, reduce waste, close gaps in essential services, and look after the most disadvantaged in our community if we take the sensible and much needed reform road.

"The Government should restore revenues to the level obtained before the GFC (25.1% of GDP), and hold expenditures at that level as the economy grows. This would enable the Government to restore the Budget to surplus without unnecessarily cutting essential programs," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas

Read the ACOSS submission to the Commission of Audit here.

It’s electricity, but not as we know it - Future Grid Forum

6 December 2013

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie participated in the Future Grid Forum panel

Australia's electricity landscape could change significantly in the future and consumers will be deciding just what that future will look like.

A new report from the Future Grid Forum, Change and choice: The Future Grid Forum's analysis of Australia's potential electricity pathways to 2050, looks at a range of opportunities and presents four scenarios, not predictions, through which we can view potential futures for our national electricity system.

CSIRO Energy Flagship Chief Economist, Paul Graham, said recent declining demand, higher electricity prices and strong adoption of roof-top solar panels have changed the industry's view of what is plausible in the future and trained a focus on affordability challenges.

"All of the choices in the Future Grid Forum scenarios have consequences for the price of electricity, something that has significantly impacted consumers in recent years," Mr Graham said.

"Electricity will not get cheaper in the coming decades, but bills can be reduced through the adoption of energy efficiency, peak demand management and on-site generation.

"These steps, in combination with general wages growth, means the share of income average households spend on electricity is projected to be similar - shifting marginally from 2.5 per cent in 2013 to between 2.3 and 2.9 per cent in 2050 depending on the scenario."

Electricity has traditionally been a service with which consumers have not proactively engaged, but the Forum's scenarios present a number of ways for people to take greater control of how they consume and produce electricity.

"This proactive shift could potentially influence the business model for the electricity sector, encouraging the emergence of new services to supply an individually tailored product - not dissimilar to the telecommunications industry shift from a one-size-fits-all landline telephone system to a wide variety of mobile and associated data and entertainment services," Mr Graham said.

"One of the Forum's scenarios looks at the option for around a third of consumers to disconnect from the electricity grid through the use of on-site generation using technologies like rooftop solar panels and battery storage; and this is projected to be economically viable from around 2030 to 2040.

"Under the full range of scenarios Australia could see on-site generation grow from the current figure of 8 per cent to reach between 18 and 45 per cent of total generation by 2050, but mostly while staying connected and using the grid as an electricity trading platform," Mr Graham said.

The Forum also projected that technology will allow more sophisticated ways of managing household demand during peak times through the introduction of devices such as smart air conditioners and in-home storage systems.

"Better strategies for peak demand management could save two cents per kilowatt hour or $1.4 billion per annum on distribution costs for households," Mr Graham said.
The Forum findings are a starting point from which all stakeholders can begin to understand, manage and benefit from changes to the electricity system.

"This is an extraordinary time of change for Australia's electricity industry and the Forum partners see the release of this report as an opportunity to begin a national conversation to decide the right answers for the sector, its stakeholders and, most importantly, all Australians," Mr Graham said.

The Future Grid Forum report, Change and choice: The Future Grid Forum's analysis of Australia's potential electricity pathways to 2050, and the supporting technical modelling and social dimensions reports can be downloaded at www.csiro.au/future-grid-forum.

Commission of Audit must confront long term challenges, not deliver ‘quick fix’ cuts: ACOSS

29 November 2013

In its submission to the Commission of Audit released today, the Australian Council of Social Service warned the Federal Government against relying on a ‘quick fix’ of spending cuts to restore the Budget, adding that the deficit is mainly due to falling revenues and should be restored to pre-GFC levels to raise an additional $23 billion a year.

“ACOSS understands we face a big challenge to balance the budget and meet the community’s expectations with falling revenues and an ageing population,” said CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie. But it won’t be fixed in one hit, and certainly not with a sledgehammer.”

“The reality is that previous governments spent the revenue windfall from the housing and mining booms of the 2000s on eight successive income tax cuts and a range of cash bonuses and poorly targeted programs.  This was something we couldn’t afford and has led to our current fiscal challenge.

“Australia is a low taxing, low-spending country by international standards – the third lowest in the OECD as a proportion of GDP (at 37%). Public revenue is also the third lowest in the OECD (32% of GDP).  The deficit is due more to a decline in revenue than a rise in spending.

“Pending a comprehensive review of current unmet needs and potential savings, in the short to medium term, we are proposing that expenditures should be capped at the level of revenue obtained before the GFC (25.1% of GDP), and tax revenues restored to that level as the economy grows.

“This would enable the Government to restore the Budget to surplus without cutting essential programs. On the expenditure side, major structural reform is needed to replace wasteful programs with more efficient ones, and to shift the focus from curing problems to preventing them.

“Within the expenditure cap that we are proposing, expenditures would be re-ordered to prioritise areas of unmet need and reduce spending on programs that are poorly designed. Some of these are well known but have for too long been left on the ‘too-hard’ basket.

“During the boom, there was an expectation that Government would underwrite ever-increasing living standards, including for people who didn’t really need extra public support. The Commission of Audit should begin a national dialogue about public expectations of Government that poses some tough questions.

"Should a couple with a million dollars in assets in addition to their home receive a part aged pension and associated concessions?

“Can we afford to meet the community’s reasonable expectations of health and aged care services for an ageing population if less than one in five people over 64 years pays any income tax, due to superannuation and other tax breaks?

“Should a family earning $120,000 receive the same ‘Schoolkids Bonus’ as one on $40,000?

“What can we do now to prevent future epidemics of chronic illnesses related to obesity, and the associated rise in hospital expenses?

“How do we restructure tax breaks for housing such as negative gearing to stem inflation in the cost of housing, and redesign subsidies for health care and child care to stem inflation in the cost of those services?

“At the same time there are yawning gaps in essential areas that will require greater investment. These should remain ‘off bounds’ from any cuts. They include disability services and supports, schools funding – which should be maintained, adequate allowance payments for unemployed people and sole parents, employment services, productivity and job creation efforts, to stem the rise in long term unemployment, affordable housing and homelessness, and mental and oral health services for low income people.

“It would be a travesty if we failed to act to close these gaps, and spending constraints today instead made way for tomorrow’s tax cuts. The community expects Governments to provide essential services. 

“While revenues are restored to return the budget to surplus, poorly targeted programs should be removed or redesigned to pay for overdue action to close these gaps in essential services and payments.

“At the end of this process the community will be looking for the Commission to identify the big questions that we need to resolve as a nation. If we want government to deliver quality essential services and infrastructure, we need a new consensus about how to put our nation on a path to sustainability,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOAD ACOSS SUBMISSION

Summary of Key ACOSS Recommendations

  1. Restore government revenues to pre-GFC level (25.1% of GDP) and keep expenditures below this level, as a short term goal whilst the economy is growing at or above trend
  2. Protect the people who are the most vulnerable from further government retreat
  3. Affirm primary role for government in securing essential services
  4. Include social infrastructure and improving jobs for people disadvantaged in productivity and job creation measures by government
  5. Target income support to those in need and Invest more in prevention
  6. Fill major gaps in the social safety net as high priority
  7. Realign poorly targeted expenditure to these priorities
  8. Close tax loops holes and shelters that benefit high income earners
  9. Include both direct and indirect tax expenditures
  10. Commence national dialogue on community expectations

ACOSS to call on Commission of Audit to confront long term challenges, not ‘quick fix’ cuts

28 November 2013

Who: ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie

When: 11.30am Friday November 29, 2013

Where: Outside Channel 7, 52 Martin Place, Sydney

The Australian Council of Social Service will caution the Federal Government against relying on a ‘quick fix' of spending cuts to restore the Budget, when it releases its submission to the Commission of Audit on Friday November 29, 2013.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will outline considered proposals to put our nation's economy on a sustainable long term footing. She will argue this can be done by replacing wasteful and poorly targeted programs and tax concessions and raising much needed revenue without cutting essential programs.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Lift inadequate allowances and fix unfair super before you raise pension age: ACOSS

22 November 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service says it opposes any suggestion of lifting the pension age to 70 until working age payments are adequate and superannuation tax breaks for older people are delayed and reformed, following the release of today's new Productivity Commission report, An Ageing Australia: Preparing for the Future.

"We agree that there is a problem, however the solution lies elsewhere," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie. "The real problem is the enormous difference between pensions and allowance payments, the ability of people to take their super at 55 years of age and our unfair and wasteful super tax concession system, which is skewed to people on higher incomes."

"We understand that we face a budget challenge and to fix it Governments will have to re-balance their budgets - to restore public revenue, remove wasteful and poorly targeted spending and replace it with overdue action to close the major gaps in the community's social safety net.

"The gap between Newstart Allowance and the Aged Pension, for instance, is now $150 per week and this difference will continue to grow because they are indexed differently. We see this as a necessary first step before we contemplate a further increase in the pension age that would condemn many more people to poverty in their later years.

"Above all we need major reform of Australia's retirement system. A fundamental problem is that people can retire on super at 55 or keep working and pay tax at just 15 per cent by churning their wage through super accounts. This is the rort, not the age pension.

"It is not acceptable for a 55 year old unemployed person with a disability to be forced to live on $35 a day for up to another 3-5 years while their well-off neighbour of the same age can reduce their tax rate from 45% to 15% by churning their wages through their super account.

"The fact is that one third of all tax breaks for contributions go to the top 10 per cent of wage earners, earning more than $100,000, a significant proportion of whom wouldn't be entitled to the pension in any event and will save for retirement with or without tax concessions. There is an inbuilt bias in favour of higher earners and is simply unsustainable due to its ballooning cost (now $32 billion per year). The Treasury estimates tax concessions for private super will soon exceed the age pension.

"We also need to address the many barriers to workforce participation for older people and do more to enable older people the flexibility to stay in paid employment. This requires a focus on addressing age discrimination in the workplace and the community and looking at strategies which enable older people greater flexibility in the workplace as they grow older.

"We need a national debate about what are reasonable community expectations of government and an inclusive and considered process to make the long term structural changes we need to make as a nation. This should involve a preparedness to put all issues on the table.

"We hope the up-coming tax reform process announced by the new federal Government will allow all these issues to be laid out so we can begin the work of addressing our longer term fiscal challenge," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Tackling rising child poverty must be core purpose of 44th Parliament and Commission of Audit

12 November 2013

The peak body of Australia's community services sector, ACOSS, and the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, are today calling on the new Australian parliament to make tackling growing child poverty a national priority and commit to do more to reduce the problem globally.

As the 44th Parliament sits for the first time in Canberra, and with the Commission of Audit underway, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said it's time for all sides of politics, business and the community to come together to develop a comprehensive national poverty reduction plan.

"Reducing poverty must be a key plank of the nation's efforts to improve participation and productivity, and secure a sustainable revenue base to meet the future needs of our country," Dr Goldie said.

"The sad reality is that despite two decades of strong economic growth and enormous success in reducing child poverty since the 1980's, we've gone backwards in recent years. Our updated Poverty in Australia report, which we are releasing today, shows that nearly 600,000 or 17.3% of children in Australia are living in poverty."

"The most recent Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) report found that child poverty in sole parent families has increased by 15% since 2001.* Australia has the fifth highest poverty rate for sole parent families of OECD countries.

"The early signs of our new government seem to be taking us in the wrong direction. Foreign aid, the school kids bonus, the modest supplementary allowance for people unemployed and the low income super contribution rebate are all on the chopping block without clear plans to invest more in our poorest children, families and communities.

"In contrast, many tax breaks for people on higher incomes seem set to be continued," Dr Goldie said.

UNICEF Australia spokesperson, Tim O'Connor said, "The only way to reverse this disturbing trend is for the new parliament to unify behind a renewed commitment to reduce child poverty."

"We must start by developing a national anti-poverty plan with children at the centre. This national plan needs to be ambitious but both attainable and measurable. We already have a model in the UN Millennium Development Goals, which have been enormously successful in reducing child poverty globally.

"It is ironic that while internationally the rate of child poverty is decreasing, a wealthy nation like Australia is slipping when we really should be a world leader in ensuring that all our children get the best possible start in life so they can reach their full potential.

"We also urge the new Government to keep children at the centre of our international development efforts in the wake of deep cuts to our foreign aid budget and a re-focus of aid priorities," Mr O'Connor said.

Dr Goldie said, "ACOSS' analysis points to reductions to family payments and income support over the past decade as key driver of this worsening picture in Australia, especially the move to delink indexation to wages and the decision to move more and more single parents onto the much lower Newstart Allowance payment. There is now virtually universal agreement that Newstart is too low for anyone to live on. Housing costs are also increasingly prohibitive."

"Reducing the number of children living in poverty in Australia should be central to the work of the Commission of Audit, and subsequent budgetary decisions.

"As our newly elected representatives sit for the first time today, we urge them to make this commitment and work with us to provide opportunities and futures for all our children," Dr Goldie concluded.

ACOSS is joining with UNICEF and bringing together child welfare experts, agencies and frontline workers for a forum, ‘Turning the tide on growing child poverty in Australia' today to map out the way forward in this important area of public policy. Find out more here.

Media Contacts:
ACOSS - Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155
UNICEF Australia - Kate Moore 0407 150 771

Doorstop:
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie and UNICEF Australia spokesperson Tim O'Connor will hold a joint doorstop at 12.15pm on Tuesday 12 November 2013 at the ACOSS policy forum: Venue - NAB Building, Level 15, 255 George St, Sydney.

ACOSS Report
Download updated ACOSS Poverty in Australia Report here.

All speeches  from the forum are now available on our dedicated child poverty page here.

 

*Correction made on 25 November 2013

ACOSS/UNICEF call for tackling rising child poverty to be core purpose of 44th parliament

11 November 2013

Who: ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie, UNICEF Australia spokesperson Tim O'Connor, and spokespeople from Australia's community sector 

When: 12.15pm Tuesday 12 November 2013

Where: NAB Building, Level 15, 255 George St, Sydney

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), will hold a joint doorstop at 12.15pm on Tuesday 12th November to call on the new Australian parliament to make tackling growing child poverty a national priority and commit to do more to reduce the problem globally.

On the first day of the 44th parliament, the two organisations will be joined by representatives from leading child welfare agencies and peak bodies to urge all sides of politics, business and the community to come together to develop a comprehensive national poverty reduction plan as a key plank of the effort to improve participation and productivity, and secure a sustainable revenue base to meet the future needs of our nation.

The call will be made at the ACOSS policy Forum titled, ‘Turning the tide on growing child poverty in Australia' which will bring together child welfare experts from Australia and overseas, as well as agencies and frontline workers, to map out the way forward in this important area of public policy.

Find out more about the forum, including program and speakers here.

To confirm attendance at 12.15pm doorstop and arrange media interviews contact:

ACOSS - Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

UNICEF Australia - Kate Moore 0407 150 771

Government’s announcement on tax bills sends wrong signal on budget strategy: ACOSS

6 November 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service says it is concerned that today's announcement on tax bills runs the risk of undermining the Government's stated goal of bringing integrity to the Federal Budget.

"The Government has sent a concerning signal today that low income households could bear the brunt of fiscal restraint by retaining tax breaks that mainly benefit high income earners, such as the tax exemption for certain superannuation fund earnings and the cap on self-education expenses claims, while cutting programs which support low income households," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

"In recent weeks, the Government has confirmed its decision to cut the rebate for super contributions for low income earners, the allowance supplement ($4 a week for allowance recipients), and the School Kids Bonus - which ACOSS argues should be re-directed into higher Family Tax Benefits for low income families, not abolished altogether.

'The allowance supplement is the only real increase in Newstart Allowance for almost 20 years. ACOSS has called for a $50 increase to ease entrenched poverty among unemployed people and single parents, many of whom were affected by recent payment cuts. Against that backdrop, to take away a $4 increase is unconscionable. 

"The removal of the super contributions rebate penalises compulsory superannuation contributions, increasing the tax rate for low income earners below $37,000 by 15 cents in every dollar contributed. 

"This stands in contrast to the decision not to proceed with the $100,000 cap on tax exemptions on superannuation earnings supporting pensions and annuities which benefits the 'top end'.

"This measure would only have affected those with super assets worth more than $2 million, and would have delivered $350 million in savings over the next 4 years. While it was only a drop in the ocean in the context of Government superannuation tax concessions expected to be worth $44.8 billion by 2014-15, it was a step towards a fairer system.

"ACOSS is also concerned the measures to address profit-shifting and tax minimisation by companies investing overseas may be watered down. The ATO has indicated that these avoidance strategies pose a major threat to public revenue so firm action is needed.

"The Commission of Audit should comprehensively review Government spending and tax expenditures to help set the Budget on a path to sustainability. Much of the waste in the budget is on tax side and this disproportionately benefits high earners.>

"Equally, the Government should not be ruling out or repealing tax measures without a considered tax reform process, such as was conducted through the Henry Tax Review. As the Assistant Treasurer noted upon taking up his Senate position, this Review is unfinished business. We have strongly backed the Prime Minister's pre-election commitment to pursue tax reform through an open process, including a White Paper. Yet, today we have a surprise announcement by the Government about tax measures upon which only two weeks of consultation will occur, and only with industry.

"The community sector has an important and useful role to play in discussions about the future of government revenue and expenditure, including through the Commission of Audit, and we urge the Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer to engage directly with the sector going forward in these processes.

"With Australia to assume the Presidency of the G20 in December, the world will be looking to this Government to set an agenda for inclusive growth in which the benefits of growth are shared with a view to creating stronger economies and communities," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Affordable housing vital to participation and productivity: ACOSS

4 November 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service has welcomed Kevin Andrew's first speech as Federal Housing Minister, and is calling on the new Government to work with the States and Territories to improve the supply of affordable housing and address homelessness as an urgent joint priority.

"We were pleased to hear the Minister acknowledge the scale and seriousness of the housing supply and affordability crisis and the clear link between lack of supply and homelessness," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"ACOSS supports a range of investment models and policy levers to increase affordable housing for people, including direct government investment, incentives for private sector investment and tax reform.

"We were also pleased to hear Minister Andrews' pledge to engage with the community sector in developing a plan for the future of Australia's housing system. ACOSS and the community sector are very keen to work with the Government to develop and implement effective and innovative housing policy solutions.

"With poverty and homelessness at unacceptably high levels, and a need to increase productivity, we must address a key obstacle to getting and keeping a job - which is Australia's housing affordability crisis.

"We know that 2 in 5 low income households are in housing stress, paying over 30% of income in rent. This is much worse for families on very low incomes, 61% of whom are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

"Recent investments in homelessness and affordable housing programs have reduced the number of people sleeping rough, but the number of people who do not have stable, secure housing continues to grow. 

"With reports this week that Australian property prices will surge by more than two times average wages between now and the end of 2015, it's imperative that governments take effective action to prevent the situation from getting worse.

"In the short term, all governments need to provide funding certainty for vital programs already in place. We support the Commission of Audit focusing on removing real waste in government administration and tax arrangements so that now and in the future governments can respond to community expectations about meeting real needs.

"Having an affordable roof over your head would have to be near the top of what most people expect. While this review is being taken, it is critical that the individuals, families and communities that are supported through the current National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness have certainty into the future.

"Affordable housing is also a key issue for the forthcoming tax review. This is an opportunity to tackle current distortions in the tax treatment of housing that drive up prices, including tax breaks for geared property investments. We must be prepared to put all issues on the table.

"Working with developers, investors, and the community, the Federal Government has a great opportunity to play a major role in encouraging investment in new and affordable housing. Increasing the supply of affordable housing would not only address our most pressing cost of living problem, but would also support increased employment participation and productivity. Housing is essential social infrastructure." Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas0419 626 155

Aboriginal organisations and NGOs launch collaboration to put communities back in control in the NT

1 November 2013

An alliance of Aboriginal organisations and non-Aboriginal NGOs today launched a set of principles aimed at empowering Aboriginal organisations and communities in the NT to take control of their futures.

"Today a number of local, national and international NGOs have publically endorsed a set of principles which will guide partnership centred approaches for NGOs working in Aboriginal communities" said Ms Priscilla Collins, spokesperson for Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT (APO NT). (A copy of the principles is attached.)

"These non-Aboriginal NGOs have agreed to work together with Aboriginal organisations and communities to promote Aboriginal community-control of service delivery. It's about putting Aboriginal people back in the driver's seat", said Mr John Paterson, spokesperson for APO NT.

Organisations endorsing the principles include national and international NGOs engaged in delivery of health and community services in the Northern Territory. A full list of NGOs that have endorsed the principles is below.

Development of the principles was informed by a forum in Alice Springs in February that brought together sixty participants from twenty-seven non-Aboriginal NGOs and six NT Aboriginal representative organisations - the first gathering of its kind in the NT. The forum acknowledged that there are a number of NGOs that already have good working relationships with Aboriginal organisations, but this is not systematic.

The principles offer significant opportunities to learn from each other, create better partnerships and working relations with Aboriginal organisations operating at the ground level and achieve better outcomes for communities.

Organisations leading the initiative include APO NT, Strong Aboriginal Families, Together (SAF,T), the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the NT Council of Social Service (NTCOSS).

"It is important that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations work side by side in partnership to put Aboriginal people back in control of service delivery in their communities," said Mr Lindon Coombes, CEO of The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples (Congress).

The general consensus reached at the Alice Springs Forum was that the formal endorsement of the principles by organisations should effectively operate as a voluntary code.

"This work represents significant leadership and partnership from both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal NGO sector, in pioneering new ways to work together to get the best possible outcomes for Aboriginal people in remote NT communities," said Mr Simon Schrapel, President of ACOSS.

The next stage of the collaboration will be to operationalise the principles.

"We look forward to working together to develop operational guidelines for how these important principles will work in practice," said Ms Wendy Morton, Executive Director of NTCOSS.

"This is something that Aboriginal agencies have been wanting for a long time. These principles will guide the development of true partnerships that will result in better understanding and outcomes for all concerned," said Terry Chenery, Acting CEO of SAF,T.

Read the principles here.

Agencies which have signed onto the principles for developing partnership centred approaches for non-Indigenous NGOs working with Aboriginal Organisations and Communities in the NT:
  • Amnesty International
  • Anglicare NT
  • Benevolent Society
  • Brotherhood of St Laurence
  • Fred Hollows Foundation
  • Lifestyle Solutions
  • Mission Australia
  • National Shelter
  • NT Mental Health Coalition
  • NT Shelter
  • Oxfam
  • Reconciliation Australia
  • Red Cross
  • Save the Children
  • The Smith Family
  • World Vision
  • YWCA

National Commission of Audit must be about long term sustainability not short term cuts

23 October 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service says the federal Government's National Commission of Audit must prioritise getting the federal budget on a sustainable footing for the long term, not short term cuts to important programs. 

"ACOSS welcomes the commencement of the Commission of Audit and the appointment of Mr Tony Shepherd AO to chair the Commission," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie. "The federal Government faces a major fiscal challenge which it can only resolve with concerted effort on both the revenue and expenditure side of the Budget.

"The appointed Commissioners bring excellent skills from business and government to the process. However, the absence of a community representative from civil society means it will be vital that the Commissioners work closely with the community sector . We have every confidence that will be the case.

"Governments will not be able to meet the community's reasonable expectations of essential services such as better education and health, disability care, decent allowance payments, affordable housing, without action to cut wasteful expenditure and strengthen the tax base.

"While Australia's public debt is low by international standards, there is an imperative to progressively restore the Budget to surplus as the economy grows. This is needed to make way for future expenditure on essential services as the population ages, and insure against another economic downturn." 

"The reality is that Governments missed the opportunity to close the gap between public revenue and expenditure when tax revenues rose strongly over the past decade. Instead, they responded to community concerns about living standards with a range of ‘quick fixes', including eight successive income tax cuts and poorly targeted expenditure programs, despite the fact that most people who have secure jobs and housing have been enjoying living standards better then ever before.

"Yet despite two decades of unprecedented growth, a growing number of people are being seriously left behind - poverty, homelessness and long term unemployment are on the rise. We can no longer ignore this.

"The challenge for the Audit Commission is to chart a path to a sustainable Budget while at the same time closing the worst gaps in our social safety net.

"The forthcoming review of the tax system must also play a role in restoring the Budget to sustainability, by strengthening future public revenues. All sectors, including community, business and unions should be invited to participate in a properly structured conversation.

"The Commission of Audit should at least examine tax expenditures (tax breaks) that have the same effect as direct expenditure programs. For example, Australian Governments now spend as much on tax breaks for superannuation as on the age pension. Both are public subsidies to support an adequate retirement income. Tax expenditures equally affect the Budget bottom line, and many are wasteful or poorly targeted.>

"We look forward to supporting the work of the Commissioners to remove real waste so that we can meet real needs. The Audit is an excellent opportunity to engage the public in a balanced, forward-looking debate about what should be the responsibility of government, how public money is spent in Australia, and how we will fund the essential services and infrastructure we all need into the future," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Time to face the facts on rural poverty in Australia

14 October 2013

Two of the nation's peak community bodies have come together to release a snapshot of the extent of poverty and disadvantage outside Australia's major capital cities, highlighting the devastating impact on people's lives and on country towns and communities.

The report, 'A Snapshot of poverty in rural and regional Australia', shines the spotlight on poverty and other resource disadvantages that prevent people in country areas from attaining the basic standard of living and access to services the rest of us take for granted.

Speaking at the launch of the report in Tamworth today, Executive Director of the National Rural Health Alliance, Gordon Gregory said, "It's time for our leaders to face the fact that for many people in rural areas life is extraordinarily difficult, with an unfair share of basic resources like income, work and access to essential services and infrastructure being the norm rather than the exception.

"There's a perception that somehow life in rural and regional areas is easier and cheaper, away from the stresses and speed of life in our major cities. In so many respects life in rural Australia is the best in the world, however, we know that country life brings its own set of stresses that are mostly unseen and not talked about. That's precisely the reason for this joint effort by our two peak bodies to bring this reality to the attention of policy makers and our government leaders at all levels.

"People living in poverty in our country areas are missing out on opportunities and resources the rest of us enjoy, such as adequate health and dental care, good education, employment opportunities, affordable quality food and recreation. Overall the prevalence of deprivation is higher in large country towns and other rural areas than in our major cities," Mr Gregory said.

Also speaking at the launch, Deputy CEO of ACOSS Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine said, "We certainly want to see measures to address growing poverty in our country to be a priority of this federal Parliament.

"We know that despite two decades of unprecedented growth, the gap between people who are doing well and those that are falling behind is growing. This includes the city-country divide.

"ACOSS' major poverty report last year found that, allowing for the costs of housing, poverty is worse in rural, regional and remote areas (13.1 per cent outside capital cities) than in capital cities (12.6 per cent). Having more than two million people living below the poverty line in a country as wealthy as ours is simply unacceptable.

"It's critical we all work together to improve the underlying factors that are leaving people behind in our country areas. These include reduced access to services such as health, education and transport, declining employment opportunities, lower incomes of people living in these regions, and distance and isolation," Dr Boyd-Caine said.

"From the perspective of the National Rural Health Alliance, alleviating poverty is a crucial part of what needs to be done to achieve better health for the people of rural and remote communities," said Mr Gregory. "To do this there needs to be work on critical determinants of health, such as education, work, housing and transport, access to and the cost of goods and services, and community connectedness," he added.

"ACOSS and the National Rural Health Alliance will continue to draw attention to these issues and urge our elected representatives at local, state and federal government levels to work together in the shared interest of improving the life opportunities of all our citizens," Dr Boyd-Caine concluded.

Media Contacts: 

Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) - 0419 626 155

Penny Hanley (NRHA) - 0430 102 488

DOWNLOAD REPORT

Rural poverty: time to face the facts

11 October 2013

Who: Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA)

When: 1.30 - 4.15 pm, Monday 14 October 2013

Where: Heritage Room, Tamworth Community Centre, corner Peel and Darling Streets, Tamworth

ACOSS and the National Rural Health Alliance will launch a new snapshot on poverty in rural and regional Australia as part of Anti-Poverty Week on Monday 14 October 2013.

The report, 'A Snapshot of poverty in rural and regional Australia' will shine the spotlight on the extent of poverty and other disadvantage outside Australia's major capital cities, and the devastating impact on people's lives, country towns and communities.

For more information or to arrange interviews contact:
Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) - 0419 626 155
Penny Hanley (NRHA) - 0430 102 488

Find out more about the snapshot and the launch in Tamworth here.

Speakers include:
• Dr Jenny May, Rural GP academic, University of Newcastle, and National Rural Health Alliance
• Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine, Deputy CEO, Australian Council of Social Service
• Dr David Briggs, Chairman, New England Medicare Local
• Rosemary Young, Former CEO of Frontier Services

Forum: Presentations from local service organisations about challenges in housing, employment and community services
• Jim Booth, Service Manager, Richmond PRA
• Sue Snook, Manager Family Services, Tamworth Family Support Services
• Julie Green, Manager Children Services, Tamworth Family Support Services

St Petersburg G20 Summit: Australian C20 statement

9 September 2013

Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO, ACOSS and Tim Costello, CEO, World Vision Australia

At the close of this 2013 Summit, we celebrate the inaugural official Civil G20 process under the Russian presidency, which enabled the voice and ideas of civil society to be heard by key decision makers at critical points in the process.

The C20 Summit in June in Moscow gave us significant access to the Russian G20 Sherpa and President Vladimir Putin, where our concerns around more equitable growth that benefits the poorest people were clearly heard and inserted into the process early enough to help shape the outcome.

This fruits of this labour can be seen in the recognition of the G20 that strong, sustained, balanced growth on its own is not good enough, it must be inclusive as well. This means the G20 must ensure that economic growth is shared more equitably. At a time when inequality is increasing in all but four of the G20 countries, this is clearly a major global challenge that must be tackled, and with great expertise in this area, civil society stands ready to assist leaders in meeting this challenge.

We also welcome the leaders' recognition that jobs creation, particularly for the vulnerable, should be a priority of growth stimulation. Leaders stated that job creation efforts must prioritise employment for disadvantaged groups, particularly women, youth, people with disabilities and those unemployed over the long term.

We know that one of the most effective ways that countries can build community resilience to shocks and better protect their most vulnerable people is through strong social protection systems. Leaders have recognised this and we welcome their commitment to establishing and strengthening these systems in their countries.

There has been good progress on anti-corruption, with an agreement to crack down on tax evasion through automatic exchange of tax information between countries. We also welcome the action Leaders have committed to take on tax base erosion and profit shifting, which is particularly important for developing countries who lose £160 billion a year through tax evasion and dodging, this is a very positive step.

The St Petersburg Development Outlook, the much-awaited successor to the Development Working Group's (DWG) Multi-Year Action Plan from Korea in 2010, has sharpened the focus of the group's action to five priorities. In doing so, it has expressed its intention to have a stronger emphasis on action and outcomes. Achieving these will rely on close collaboration with civil society organisations, who work with the poor and vulnerable communities that the DWG strives to reach, and intimately understand their needs.

The Australian C20 recognises the groundbreaking role the Russian Civil G20 played in formalising civil society engagement with the G20 for the first time. We will build on this by running the second such C20 process as part of the Australian Presidency. This will be an inclusive process of policy development and engagement with G20 officials aimed at providing influential policy input to G20 decision-makers as they tackle the challenge of ensuring inclusive growth. The C20 will be a critical voice in adding depth to sustainable growth policies.

The Australian C20 steering committee will meet next Friday, 13 September to begin this process. We welcome the responsibilities, but our work has just begun as we look to build upon the impressive precedent created by the Russian C20 process.

6 September 2013

Find out more about Australian Civil Society 20 here.

ACOSS concerned by proposed cuts to Aboriginal legal services and foreign aid

6 September 2013

Speaking from the G20 Leaders Summit in Russia, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council of Social Service, Dr Cassandra Goldie said, "It is very disappointing that some of the Coalition's proposed savings measures appear to target some of the most disadvantaged people at home and overseas

"We are concerned that in addition to the $4.5 billion cut to foreign aid, a proposed cut of $42 million over 4 years to the ‘Indigenous Policy Reform Program' could cut funding from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services.

"Affected services tell us they are still awaiting further details about the announcement that comes without notice or consultation with services that provide vital assistance to some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community.

"The incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is a national shame, accounting for a quarter of the prison numbers despite being less than 3 per cent of the total population. It is difficult to see how the proposed funding cut is consistent with our shared interest in reducing this disturbing gap.

"ACOSS accepts that our nation faces a fiscal challenge, however, we have always maintained this should not be solved at the expense of people doing it the toughest.

"We are deeply disappointed about the Coalition decision to cut $4.5 billion dollars to Australia's foreign aid growth over the next four years.

"We join Australian international aid organisations in urging the Coalition to rethink this savings measure, which will harm hundreds of thousands of the poorest people in the world, and damage Australia's image overseas, especially in our region.

"As the global community watches Australia take up the Presidency of the G20, as well as the Presidency of the UN Security Council, these actions will only diminish us all. We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, where the majority of us are enjoying living standards better than ever before. We must carry our responsibilities as global citizens.

"Whoever forms Government will need to find a way to meet the gap between falling revenues and the community's reasonable expectations. This should be done by targeting budget waste and reform of the tax system as ACOSS has advocated, not cutting essential services and supports," Dr Goldie said.

To arrange interviews with Dr Goldie: contact 0419 626 155


National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) -Media Release

Coalition signals 20 per cent funding cut to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services


Recent ACOSS releases:

Make jobs and tackling poverty top priorities of next parliament: Leaders told

ACOSS outlines proposals for first 100 days of new government

Tackle $6 billion in tax loopholes and Budget ‘waste' to make room for priority programs

Make jobs and tackling poverty top priorities of next parliament: Leaders told

4 September 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today called on the major political parties to make employment and lifting people out of poverty the top priorities for the next Parliament, following the positive announcements on jobs and training of the past week.

"Whoever wins Government must act to reduce long term unemployment and the growing wave of people being left behind, having to make do on below poverty line social security payments," said ACOSS President, Simon Schrapel.

"The number of people on the unemployment payment (Newstart Allowance) for over 12 months has risen from 300,000 to 500,000 since the Global Financial Crisis. With Treasury expecting unemployment to rise by another 80,000 next year, it is imperative that we take action.

"Far too many unemployed people are being locked out of the labour market due to low skills, lack of recent work experience, age discrimination, disabilities and health problems. They have to survive on the $35 a day Newstart payment, which has not increased in real terms since 1994.

"ACOSS welcomes Labor's proposed Jobs and Training Guarantee for unemployed people, announced today. People unemployed long term need guaranteed help that leads to a job, instead of two week training courses and work for the dole schemes that lead nowhere. Training should be linked to jobs and the needs and aspirations of unemployed people.

"The challenge will be to make the guarantee work. ACOSS calls for more resources to job services providers and training organisations, especially to help people unemployed for over 12 months, which is the biggest gap in the system.

"Job Services Australia providers generally receive funding to interview a long term unemployed person every 2 months plus $500 to invest in training. The next Government should avoid sacrificing help for those unemployed long term in order to boost funding for people with less severe disadvantages.

"ACOSS has also welcomed the recent Coalition announcement that it would provide $3,250 to Tasmanian businesses that hire long term unemployed jobseekers. We urge both major parties to double the number of wage subsidy places for long term employed people nationally beyond the 10,000 currently available.

"Providing employers with incentives to take people on long term unemployed people gives them access to valuable on-the-job training while giving people a shot at jobs that they are likely to keep.

"ACOSS wants to see the elected Australian Government come together with business, union and community groups to develop a compact about growing job opportunities and making our employment services and training systems more effective, particularly for people who are long term unemployed.

"Alongside this, in the first 100 days of the next government, we must develop a clear anti-poverty strategy for our nation. With 2.2 million people, including nearly 600,000 children currently living in poverty, it's time we set a target - a national development goal - to reduce poverty in our country. We welcome the Australian Greens' support for a National Anti-Poverty Strategy and targets.

"The first steps should be to raise the Newstart payment for single people by $50 a week and increase family payments for the poorest families. This would restore the incomes of the poorest of the 100,000 sole parents whose payments were cut in last year's regrettable Budget decision.

"ACOSS looks forward to working closely with whoever wins Saturday's Federal Election to address the key challenges facing our nation," Mr Schrapel said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Tackle inequality within and between nations to boost jobs, economic growth: G20 told

4 September 2013

Governments struggling to meet community needs and aspirations must listen to a broad range of voices as their leaders meet for the world's premier economic forum in Russia this week.

As the leaders of 19 countries and the EU converge on St Petersburg for the G20 Leaders Summit, rising inequality is feeding cynicism and protest in many parts of the world.

"In high, medium and low income countries alike there is a growing sense of dissatisfaction stemming from a feeling that ordinary people are being left behind as national leaders focus on economic growth as an end in itself," ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.

World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello said tackling inequality within and between countries was necessary not only to improve quality of life, but to remove obstacles to increased productivity.

Mr Costello and Dr Goldie are Australia's civil society delegates to the G20 Leaders Summit, to be held on September 5 and 6.

The Civil 20 (C20) has joined the B(usiness)20 and the L(abour)20 as a key means of channelling policy ideas to the G20 forum, as it attempts to boost global economic growth and create jobs at a time of economic and strategic uncertainty.

With Australia assuming the G20 presidency in December this year, the Australian Government has appointed a C20 Steering Committee to run an inclusive process of policy engagement between civil society and the G20.

"Ordinary people directly impacted by G20 policies need a voice at the G20 table, and the C20 process has allowed this to happen on an unprecedented scale in 2013," Mr Costello said.

"Including a broad range of community voices in the global economic policy-making process ensures that attention is paid to sharing both the benefits and burdens of economic transition. Sustainable, inclusive growth based on investment in people will help to close the gap between those that are doing well, and the people being left behind."

Dr Goldie said even prosperous countries like Australia are not immune from the problems caused by growing inequality.

"That's why ACOSS has called on the next Australian government to set a specific target - a national development goal - to reduce poverty in our country," she said.

Mr Costello said richer countries like Australia should not be trying to achieve Budget goals on the backs of the poor, by cutting the amount committed to effective foreign aid programs.

"In a tough international environment we should spend valuable public funds to do our bit to reduce poverty and inequality both in Australia and overseas."

Dr Goldie and Mr Costello will meet with Russia's Civil G20 secretariat to learn from their experience ahead of Australia's C20 Summit, expected to be held in the middle of 2014.

"Our aim is to run a transparent, inclusive process to ensure as broad a range of community voices as possible can contribute to the C20 policy process, which in turn will feed into the G20 Leaders Summit to be held later in 2014 in Brisbane," Mr Costello said.

Media inquiries: 

Cassandra Goldie - Fernando De Freitas +61 2 419 626 155

Tim Costello - Kris Gough +61 3 481 005 468

Find out more about Australian Civil Society 20 here.

ACOSS report calls for action on energy efficiency for low income households

29 August 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service is calling for urgent government action to make energy more affordable for low income households, in a new report released today.

The report titled, Energy Efficiency and People on Low Incomes identifies a series of measures to empower households to become active participants in controlling their energy use, becoming more actively engaged in the energy market and reducing energy costs.

"Energy efficiency should be a key policy response to address the impacts of rising energy prices, yet we've heard little mention of it in the current political debates about cost of living pressures and energy affordability," said ACOSS Senior Policy Officer, Andrea Pape.

"ACOSS advocates an energy efficiency policy agenda which includes direct investment in building and fixture upgrades as well as incentives to stimulate private landlord investment in energy efficiency measures.

"These policy proposals are designed to improve the energy efficiency of low income households, including private rental and social housing dwellings. Such investment will improve affordability, climate resilience and health outcomes for current and future building occupants.<

"People on low incomes are particularly feeling the burden of rising energy prices, but they lack the capital for energy efficiency upgrades and are more likely to own inefficient appliances.>

"Those in the rental market are also often unable to improve the energy efficiency of rental properties. This has resulted in a lower incidence of insulation in low income housing and tenanted properties.

"Government and industry programs have to date largely targeted people on low incomes with behaviour change and minor retrofits to help reduce electricity costs. While these programs are beneficial, they need to be complemented by measures that deliver over the long term - particularly investments in building and fixture upgrades.

"Targeted retrofits of the worst performing social housing where health, climate and hardship risks are greatest should be a high priority. We know that those most at risk from heatwaves are low income people, the elderly and people living with disabilities or health issues.

"We need to build the safety and resilience of our housing stock, and we need to start with the most vulnerable households first. This is a sensible approach in the current fiscal environment and we urge all sides of politics to commit to action on this important front," Ms Pape said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas

Download report: Energy Efficiency and People on Low Incomes

 

ACOSS proposals to improve energy efficiency and housing standards for people on low incomes:

1. Introduction of landlord tax incentives for energy efficiency measures in rental properties

2. Introduction of energy efficiency standards for rental properties, and mandatory disclosure of energy and water efficiency of all properties at point of sale

3. Additional funding for targeted retrofits for the worst performing and highest risk social housing stock

4. Financial support (microfinance) to help with up-front costs of energy efficiency upgrades

5. Face to face assistance for targeted advice and services

ACOSS outlines reform principles for a fairer and more efficient tax system

27 August 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today released a set of principles to serve as a starting point for reform of Australia's tax system.

"Too often, would-be tax reformers start with their preferred solutions and work backwards to identify the problems. We think it's important to take some time to identify and discuss the problems first, to build community support for change," said ACOSS Senior Policy Officer, Peter Davidson.

"This also helps avoid polarising the debate from the outset, which could spell defeat for any major reform project.

"An unsustainable gap has opened up between the revenue available to Governments and the community's reasonable expectations for disability services, school funding, adequate income support payments, dental and mental health, and affordable housing, not to mention the future costs associated with population ageing.

"This gap can't be closed by cutting wasteful spending alone. Federal and state governments will need more revenue to meet the community's needs. Since the GFC, federal revenues have fallen by four per cent of GDP or 60 billion a year.

"Government revenue cannot simply be restored by increasing tax rates. Those who are well advised will avoid higher income taxes leaving everyone else to pay more. Shelters and loopholes in the system must be closed.

"ACOSS has long advocated tax reform on efficiency grounds, since many of the flaws in the system that undermine equity also compromise efficiency. A good example of this is that our tax system currently provides incentives to over-invest in existing housing, through relatively low tax rates on capital gains and the ability to fully deduct property investment expenses against wages. This inflates housing prices and diverts investment from more efficient and economically useful activities.

"We want to see an open and transparent process with governments giving stakeholders the opportunity to identify the problems they aim to resolve through tax reform, and debate their proposals, before developing their own policies.

"State and Territory Governments should participate fully in these processes. A Green Paper - White paper process would facilitate this, using the Henry Tax Review as a foundation. There should be no last minute ‘surprise packages' announced within weeks of a Budget or an election.

"Ultimately, successful tax reform is a partnership between government and the community. All sectors, including community, businesses and unions, should be part of a well structured dialogue.

"We look forward to working with all stakeholders and the next federal government in this vital reform process," Mr Davidson said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOAD REPORT: Tax reform: Purpose, Principles and Process

ACOSS calls for reform of family payments to tackle child poverty: New campaign is launched

23 August 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today unveiled new modelling detailing a path for making Australia's Family Tax Benefit system fairer - by better targeting payments to families that need support the most and simultaneously reducing poverty.

We've heard very little in this election campaign about poverty and ideas for reforming Australia's complex tax and transfer systems. ACOSS has been arguing for reform of both using the Henry Tax Review as the blueprint," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"We know there are nearly 600,000 children currently living in poverty in Australia and the recent annual report of the longitudinal study of households (HILDA) showed that it has increased in sole parent familiesby 15% since 2001*. This is simply unacceptable in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

"Our family payment system performs the vital dual roles of helping prevent child poverty and treating low and middle income families with children fairly by taking account of the costs of raising children in the tax-transfer system. We do not consider assisting low and middle income families with children as ‘middle class welfare'. However, it urgently has to be reformed if it's to prevent even greater levels of poverty.

"The family payment system is in urgent need of repair, having strayed from its primary goals over the past decade and increasingly been used for purposes that are not well targeted, such as the Baby Bonus, the Schoolkids Bonus, and the ‘Part B' payment for single-income couples.

"These two bonuses should be replaced with the savings not to be used to restore the budget bottom line, but instead used to restore the budget bottom line of low and middle income families.

"We want to see the savings from the Baby Bonus rolled into increased Family Tax Benefit A payments for preschool children aged 0 - 4, and the savings from the Schoolkids Bonus put into higher Family Tax Benefit A payments for school age children aged 5-18.

"Under our proposals, modelled by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), around 50% of low income families (about 600,000 thousand families) in the bottom two quintiles would be on average around $1300 a year ( $25 a week) better off.

"Among the bottom 40% of families, three out of four families would receive higher payments. Sole parents, most of whom have low incomes, would particularly benefit with 71% better off.
"This reform, together with our proposed $50 a week increase in Newstart Allowance for single people, would help to offset recent payment cuts for sole parents fully reliant on income support.

"Our modelling using ‘cameos' of low income families with children of different ages shows that half currently fall below the poverty line. We found that three of these families currently below the poverty line (2 sole parent cameos and 1 couple families) would be lifted above the poverty line by the proposed changes.

"We call on the major parties to take the issue of poverty seriously and commit to restructuring the confusing Family Tax Benefits system as part of an anti-poverty plan for our nation.

"In these times of significant economic challenges, and falling revenues, we need to go ‘Back to Basics', with government assistance targeted to those who need it. Our proposals do not complete reform, but they take us in the right direction.

"ACOSS and our members across Australia's community welfare sector look forward to working with all parties and the next government in advancing such reforms," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Download report: 'Back to basics: Simplifying Australia's family payments system to reduce poverty and support families'

Have a Heart: Say No to Child Poverty: http://www.facebook.com/Australiahaveaheart.com.au/posts/424765044298653


Summary of NATSEM modelling:

• Half of all low income families in the bottom two quintiles (594,662 families or 50%) would receive increased payments

• Among the bottom 40% of families, three families would receive higher payments for every one that receives lower payments

• Among the top 40%, approximately roughly equal proportions of families would receive higher and lower payments

• The changes particularly benefit low income sole parents with older children and low income couples with younger children

• Among the bottom quintile (those at high risk of poverty) 106,000 sole parents would gain an average of $1,410 a year and 66,000 couples with children would gain an average of $1,179

• Sole parents would particularly benefit - 71% would gain and 14% would receive lower payments, compared to 27% and 21% respectively for couples with children.• Modelling using ‘cameos' of low income families with children of different ages shows that of 16 cameos fully reliant on social security payments half (8) currently fall below the poverty line

• Of these families, 3 (2 of the sole parent cameos and 1 of the couples) would be lifted above the poverty line by the proposed changes

• Overall, incomes of 1,175,000 families (25% of all families) would rise by an average of $1,203 per year

• Incomes of 606,000 families (13%) would fall by an average of $2,316

• Incomes of 2,857,636 families (62%) would be unchanged

 

ACOSS Proposals:

• Replace the Baby Bonus and the School Kids Bonus with increases in the maximum rate of Family Tax Benefit A for preschool and school age children respectively. Current expenditure on the Baby Bonus would go to increase the maximum rate of FTB A for parents of children aged between 0 - 4; and spending on the Schoolkids Bonus would go to increase the maximum rate of FTB A for school age children.

• Replace FTB Part B for sole parents with a Sole Parent Supplement (at a higher rate for parents of older children than the current FTB B) to reflect the higher costs and demands of caring for children as a sole parent.

• Limit FTB Part B for couples with one parent at home caring for children until the youngest child turns 13, and tighten the income test on the primary earner (usually the father) to target this payment to families in greatest need.

• Index family payments to movements in average earnings as well as the CPI.

 

* Correction made on 25 November 2013

ACOSS to release modelling on reform of Australia’s family payment system to reduce child poverty

22 August 2013

Who: ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie and representatives from Australia's community welfare sector

When: 11AM Friday August 23, 2013

Where: Mural Hall, Parliament House, Canberra

The Australian Council of Social Service will today release new modelling to show how Australia's complex Family Tax Benefit system can be made fairer and simpler.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will be joined by other heads of leading charities and welfare agencies to outline proposals to better target payments to families that need support the most and simultaneously reduce poverty.

For more information and to arrange interviews contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Participants at the joint door-stop include:
Cassandra Goldie, CEO, ACOSS
Terese Edwards, CEO, National Council of Single Mothers and their Children
Kasy Chambers, Executive Director, Anglicare Australia
Anne Hollonds, CEO, Benevolent Society
John Falzon, CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society, National Council of Australia
Kelvin Alley, National Secretary, The Salvation Army National Secretariat
Steve Hackett, Executive Director, Family & Relationship Services Australia
Wendy Field, Head of Policy and Programs, The Smith Family

$1.8 billion drug savings the right medicine for consumers and taxpayers

21 August 2013

The latest cuts to drug prices announced by the Government today are welcome news for taxpayers and people who struggle to meet their medicine bills, says the Consumers Health Forum, CHOICE and the Australian Council of Social Service, ACOSS.

The Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, has revealed that the Government would cut prices it pays for generic drugs by a massive $1.8 billion over the next four years. The new measures will also save patients about $125 million in direct prices they have to pay.

"We have been appealing for the Government to bring down the prices of drugs to reflect the steep falls in the actual cost of many of these drugs," CHF CEO Carol Bennett said.

CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland said: "This is a welcome break for consumers, up to 15 per cent of whom struggle to meet prescription medicine costs. It is also welcome to see the benefits of greater transparency in the setting of medicine prices."

Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS, said: "This measure makes it easier for government to extend the benefits of modern treatments to more people, particularly the chronically ill, for whom medicine costs are a major burden."

Ms Bennett said: "The bi-partisan price disclosure policy is proving that taxpayers and consumers have been paying too much for their medicines for years.

"These cuts translate into savings to individual patients of up to $150 a year. That's a significant saving for many people struggling with the cost of living."

Media Inquiries
Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) - 0419626 155
Mark Metherell (CHF) - 0429 111 986 

Also see: Stand up for cheaper medicines! 20 August 2013

Learn more and ask your local politicians to ‘Stand up for cheaper medicines!'. Click here.

Focus on carbon productivity for fair, sustainable climate action

21 August 2013

Australia can only achieve prosperity, competitiveness and fairness in the 21st century with stronger climate policies that improve carbon and energy productivity, said an alliance of social, union, environment and research organisations today, releasing a policy platform Productivity, Fairness and Sustainable Climate Action.

The Southern Cross Climate Coalition, which comprises the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Council of Social Service, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Climate Institute, was formed in 2008 and aims to promote climate change solutions that will create employment opportunities and protect the most vulnerable parts of the community.

"The adoption of low carbon and energy productive technologies and practices is essential for maintaining and growing jobs," said Australian Council of Trade Unions President Ged Kearney.

"This applies to both traditional industries that will continue to play an important role in a low carbon economy, and innovative industries that can emerge with a focus on carbon and energy productivity.

"People on low incomes are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change, so we need action that is environmentally effective, protects the most vulnerable and creates clean employment opportunities for all," said Australian Council of Social Service CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

The platform says more than 190 countries, including the US and China, agree that keeping average global warming below 2oC gives the world a good chance - although not a guarantee - of avoiding the worst of climate change. Avoiding 2oC is in Australian's national climate interest.

The platform recommends policies in 4 areas to: reduce emissions intensity; boost energy efficiency; underpin industry development, and; build resilience to climate impacts.

"The world is currently heading towards 4 degrees of warming. All countries including Australia need to step up and deliver their fair share of the global effort to keep warming below 2 degrees" said Australian Conservation Foundation Director of Environmental Campaigns Paul Sinclair.

"Ignoring carbon productivity ignores both climate risks as well as the economic opportunities that are available in taking climate action," said Climate Institute CEO John Connor. "Our economic debate needs to focus on carbon productivity as well minimising the costs of growing climate impacts."

You can download the policy platform here.

Media contacts
Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) - 0419 626 155
Josh Meadows (ACF) - 0439 342 992
Eleni Hale (ACTU) - 0418 793 885
Kristina Stefanova (TCI) - 0407 004 03

Stand up for cheaper medicines!

20 August 2013

Today ACOSS, CHF, and Choice have launched a major campaign to call on consumers, Government and members of a future Government to ‘Stand up for Cheaper Medicines'.

They say that Australian families are now being forced to pay some of the highest prices for medicines in the world - up to ten times the British price for the same prescription medicine.

CHF, ACOSS and Choice are calling on consumers and all political parties to support the current Price Disclosure policy that sees savings on medicine price reductions passed on to consumers and taxpayers - rather than to pharmacy owners and not to support the union representing pharmacy owners, The Pharmacy Guild in calling for a $150 million taxpayer compensation scheme to pharmacy owners.

Learn more and ask your local politicians to ‘Stand up for cheaper medicines!'. Click here.

Read the Media Release by ACOSS, CHF, and Choice.

ACOSS welcomes digital training kit for Australia’s community sector

15 August 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service has welcomed the announcement of their successful application, in partnership with Infoxchange, to roll out a Digital Business Kit for the not-for-profit sector across Australia.

The aim of the program is to assist community sector organisations to use the NBN enabled platforms in order to deliver more reliable and accessible options to disadvantaged and socially excluded people in Australia.

“Having worked across the community sector for over 50 years, we are well placed to assist community organisations to take full advantage of these new improvements to information and communications technology,” said ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“The expansion of the National Broadband Network is an ideal time to increase the community sector’s capability to reach - and provide services for - greater numbers of people living across Australia who may not have the ability to contact services face-to-face.

“Infoxchange has the experience working within the not-for-profit sector to help them improve their capabilities and increase their knowledge and understanding of the opportunities the NBN will bring to their service for staff, clients and communication between organisations,” Dr Goldie said.

Infoxchange CEO Peter Walton said, “The NBN provides significant opportunities to improve the productivity, reach and impact of the work done by community organisations, allowing them to assist more people in more places, more efficiently.”

“We are pleased to be working with ACOSS to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of community organisations that assist the most disadvantaged members of our community.

The ACOSS bid, which was also supported by the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), recognises the important contribution the not-for-profit sector makes to Australia’s economy and national prosperity.

AIIA CEO Suzanne Campbell said, “Australia’s positioning as a globally competitive digital economy requires that all sectors, all businesses, organisations and citizens develop the capability to effectively participate in a dynamic digitally driven environment. AIIA is pleased to support ACOSS in the development of its Digital Business Kit.”

The project will run over the next four years, working across small and medium organisations in both regional and metropolitan locations. Further research and identification of needs will be initially undertaken to ensure the most effect information and communication technology information can be provided to support organisations well into the future.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

 

ACOSS outlines proposals for first 100 days of new government

12 August 2013

Monday August 12, 2013

In the run-up to next month’s federal election, the Australian Council of Social Service today unveiled a set of comprehensive proposals for the first 100 days of the new government.

“Whoever wins the September 7 poll will be faced with some big challenges requiring bold action to ensure our nation is fairer as well as prosperous,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“The reality is that despite more than two decades of strong economic growth, fault lines are emerging in our economic and social foundations that we simply cannot continue to ignore.

“There are major holes in our social safety net that the next government will have to  address – in affordable housing, education, disability, mental and dental health, and community controlled services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“Most alarming is the growing gap between those that are doing well and the people falling further behind. In spite of our wealth, a greater number of people are living in poverty, which will worsen as unemployment rises.

“Having 2.2 million people living below the poverty line, including nearly 600,000 children, is unacceptable. If we don’t take action to reverse this trend now, it will be more damaging and costly down the track.

“ACOSS wants to see the next Australian government set a specific target, a national development goal, to reduce poverty in our country. We want to see the development of an anti-poverty plan, and an annual report on progress to the Australian parliament.

“As part of this we need to increase the single rate of allowance payments, such as Newstart and Youth Allowance, by $50 per week and index them to wage movements, to alleviate and prevent worsening poverty.

“ACOSS understands the big task ahead for the next government to meet the needs and expectations of the community. It won’t be easy. However, we believe room can be made for investment in high-priority social programs by cutting waste in the Budget that has accumulated over the last decade (such as the Schoolkids Bonus and the Extended Medicare Safety Net).

“Ultimately, we need structural reform of Australia’s tax and transfer system. Therefore, ACOSS wants to see the new Federal Government commit to comprehensive tax reform, including a Green Paper and White Paper process to enable broad public consultation on tax. This should use the considered recommendations of the Henry Tax Review panel as the blueprint.

“We also call on the next government to come together with business, union and community groups to develop a compact about growing job opportunities, particularly for people who are long term unemployed. We are extremely concerned about rising unemployment, especially youth and long term unemployment, which is already at crisis level.

“ACOSS has developed concrete proposals in this area, including expanding the proven wage subsidy scheme and paid work experience, and greater investment in case management. We also need to tailor training and support to better prepare long term unemployed people for the available jobs of the future.

“In this election, we look to our political leaders for a clear plan to meet our challenges. We urge the ultimate winner to hit the road running with actions that demonstrate a commitment to deliver a fairer future for all - one which is inclusive and gives everyone the opportunity to participate and enjoy a healthy, decent and productive life,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

Download ACOSS Election Statement: Bold Action for a Fairer Future

ACOSS proposals in brief:

In its first 100 days, the next Australian Government should commit to:

  • Commence a Green Paper and White Paper process for tax reform using the Henry Tax Review as blueprint
  • Commence the development of an anti-poverty plan. Set a specific target - a national development goal - and report annually on progress to the Australian parliament.
  • Promise to increase the single rate of Allowances, including Youth Allowance and Newstart, by $50 per week and index them to wage movements
  • Review family payments, including the Schools Kids Bonus, to target the payments to child poverty prevention, improving the income support for the poorest families.
  • Bring together business, union and community groups to make a compact about growing job opportunities particularly for people who are long term unemployed.
  • Commit to the National Rental Affordability Scheme as a long term government priority
  • Commence negotiations with the states and territories to fund a long term plan of action to expand affordable housing options and reduce homelessness.
  • Commit to investing in effective community based health care that creates healthy lives while reducing the pressure on hospitals and health budgets.
  • Make a long-term investment to improve Australia’s mental and oral health so that neither condition predicts poverty, disadvantage or isolation.
  • Outline the policies that will ensure people with disability can get the job and income they need to live with dignity
  • Reaffirm commitment to the findings and recommendations of the Gonski review.
  • Agree on a timetable to hold a referendum on recognising Australia’s First Peoples in the Constitution.
  • Commit to developing justice targets in relation to the Safe Communities Building Block under ‘Closing the Gap’ and to achieving such through the implementation of a National Partnership Agreement.
  • Abolish compulsory income management and redirect the savings to community development initiatives based on strong partnerships with local community leaders to improve economic and social outcomes at the local level.
  • Commit to strengthening engagement with civil society (for example through the COAG Reform Council) and ensure mechanisms for civil society to contribute to the broad agenda for structural reform.
  • Include the community sector in national economic reform agendas to ensure everyone shares the benefits of lifting productivity, jobs growth, structural shifts in our industries and developing a strong economic future.

Major parties shouldn’t turn their back on young and long term unemployed

8 August 2013

In response to the latest unemployment figures, the Australian Council of Social Service is calling on the major political parties not to turn their back on young and long term unemployed people in Australia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force data released today estimates 5,000 more people (707,000) unemployed in July 2013 than the previous month. This follows the Federal Government's recent Economic Statement indicating there will be around 80,000 more unemployed by mid-2014, as unemployment rises from 5.6% in 12-13 to 6.25% in 13-14.

"Although the unemployment rate was steady we are extremely concerned about the steady rise of unemployment, which particularly impact young people, those already long term unemployed, and single parents returning to paid work," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"These groups have borne the brunt of the economic slowdown and we need to work together to minimise the economic and social damage caused by prolonged unemployment.

"A separate Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, also released today, confirms our own finding that 13% of the people are living below the poverty line in Australia. Without immediate action, this will only get worse.

"We believe youth and long term unemployment has already reached crisis proportions, yet those affected are not getting the help they need to live decently and secure jobs.

"So far, the Government has denied unemployed people a much needed increase in payments, and the Coalition announced yesterday a reduction in unemployment payments (removal of the $210 per year Allowance Bonus) to help fund a company income tax cut.

"Today's Coalition announcement that it would provide $3,250 to Tasmanian businesses that hire long term unemployed jobseekers is welcome and we urge both major parties to extend wage subsidy schemes for long term employed people nationally beyond the 10,000 places currently available.

"Only the Greens, so far, propose both increases in unemployment payments and improved employment services. The major parties should also do so. A decent and effective response to rising unemployment should be bipartisan. It should relieve hardship immediately and improve people's job prospects for the future.

"ACOSS has developed a set of proposals to help address this growing problem, which is included in our Election Statement to be released next week. It doesn't include poorly conceived ideas such as boot camps for unemployed young people, nor time limits for long term unemployed young people in areas with strong labour markets, or reductions in unemployment payments.

"It does include a $50 increase in Allowances for adult and young unemployed single people, and sole parents on the lowest income support payments. We also advocate targeted investment in employment assistance for people unemployed long term, including career counselling for young unemployed people and sole parents returning to paid employment, and expanded wage subsidies for long term unemployed people to give them experience in a regular job.


"Above all, people who find themselves out of work deserve to have national leaders who understand their struggle and who use their position granted to them by the community to ensure they are not forgotten," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Make homelessness an election priority: Major parties told

8 August 2013

Australia's major political parties have been issued a challenge to put homelessness back at the top of the federal election campaign agenda and agree to fund a long-term partnership to halving the rate of homelessness by 2020.

Australia's Councils of Social Service (COSS), representing all states and territories, have called on Prime Minister Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to stand by the federal government's commitment made in 2008 to halve the number of homeless Australians, estimated to be more than 100,000 individuals each night.

While the COSS network has welcomed the federal and state governments' agreement for an interim 12-month funding for the National Partnership Agreement on Housing and Homelessness, until 30 June 2014, it remains concerned that such a short-term approach cannot capitalise on the momentum of the past three years.

"A long-term approach is critical if we are to truly tackle homelessness and provide safe and secure homes for all Australians," the network said.

"We are united in our urging for the Federal Government to commit to a four-year partnership now with the country's state and territory governments.

"We acknowledge Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's vision and leadership shown in putting homelessness squarely on the agenda in 2008, but we now challenge Australian political parties to carry on these intentions with clear and concise actions."

The Australian Council of Social Services' (ACOSS) annual Australian Community Sector Survey recently revealed just how critical the issue of homelessness is across every state and territory in the country, with 66 per cent of housing and homelessness services nationwide reporting that they are struggling to meet demand.

On Homeless Persons' Week, the COSS network is advocating for a number of actions from the Federal Government in relation to the issue of homelessness, including:
• funding for a further four years for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness
• making the National Rental Affordability Scheme permanent and immediately provide 50,000 new incentives
• committing to an affordable housing growth fund
• lifting the level of Commonwealth Rent Assistance and reviewing its effectiveness, and
• increasing funding for homelessness services to match need.

"Addressing homelessness involves more than just having a roof over someone's head," the network said. Having safe, affordable and accessible housing and the appropriate support, is critical, so individuals and families have the foundation from which to build a solid and fulfilling future."

Media Contacts:
Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) - 0419 626 155
Susan Helyar (ACTCOSS) - 0448791987
Alison Peters (NCOSS) - 0425 231 814
Karen Murphy (QCOSS) - 0423 245 252
Marnie Round (SACOSS) - 0423 767 015
Kath McLean (TasCOSS) - 0439 322 350 
John Kelly (VCOSS) - 0418 127 153

Economic Statement not bold enough: ACOSS

2 August 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service has warned that bolder action will be needed to stem poverty and restore the federal budget to surplus over time, following the release of today's Economic Statement.

"While we welcome many of the savings measures, the Government will need to tackle Budget waste at the top end that would pay for essential investments in payments and services for the most disadvantaged in the community, including an increase in the Newstart Allowance and disability care," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Wasteful programs and tax breaks should also be curbed to help put the Budget on a more sustainable path, but a quick return to surplus should not be sought for its own sake, regardless of the risks to the economy.

"The change to the Fringe Benefits Tax on cars, increasing the tobacco excise and the introduction of a bank levy are all sensible measures. However the tobacco revenue will drop off long term and the bank levy has a different purpose to funding important social programs like an NDIS, education and health into the future.

"We are pleased that the Government has held the line on the commendable action to remove tax subsidies for private use of company cars and capping the tax deduction for self-education expenses (albeit deferred for a year) in the face of vigorous opposition from well-resourced campaigns.

"There are other areas of waste that remain to be tackled as part of wider reforms to the tax and super systems, including parts of the tax subsidy of $14 billion for superannuation contributions made by employers, around half of which goes to the top 20% of taxpayers. The five year freeze on further reform in this area is a retreat in the face of vested interests and is a setback for the future of tax reform in Australia.

"We are extremely disappointed that the Government has cut the aid budget again to raise the $1b needed to fund offshore processing arrangements in PNG. This funding should be directed towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals for the world's poorest people, the majority of whom live in the Asia Pacific region, rather than supporting cruel and inhumane domestic policy solutions.

"Similarly the government has again failed our nation's poorest people by not increasing low income support allowances such as Newstart and Youth Allowance.

"We've said that Newstart Allowance is still unfinished business for the Rudd and Gillard Governments, which failed to increase the payment when raised pensions by $32 a week in 2009. With unemployment expected to rise further we'll see more people forced into worsening levels of poverty in our country.

"The reality is that despite two decades of unprecedented growth our country faces growing inequality. One in eight people are currently living in poverty, including one in six children. This is simply unacceptable.

"Whoever wins government must be prepared to secure a sustainable revenue base to make room in the budget for essential services and increases in income support for the poorest. A measured and considered approach to tax reform and improving productivity are both essential," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

ACOSS response to Federal Government’s Economic Statement

2 August 2013

Who: Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO, ACOSS

When: 2.30PM Friday August 2, 2013

Where: Martin Place, Sydney (Between Elizabeth and Phillip Streets, near Channel 7)

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will hold a door stop to respond to the Federal Government's Economic Statement at 2.30pm today in Martin Place, Sydney (Between Elizabeth and Phillip Streets, near Channel 7).

In a statement issued yesterday, the peak body for Australia's community welfare sector called on the Commonwealth Government to put people and the community ahead of vested interest groups and make tackling poverty a priority in the economic statement.

Read statement: Budget statement a choice between people in poverty and vested interests

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155