Temp

Join ACOSS

Support ACOSS in developing sound policy and undertake effective advocacy on the needs of people affected by poverty, disadvantage and inequality, and to build a strong and sustainable community sector.

Become a member today »

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

Budget statement a choice between people in poverty and vested interests

1 August 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service is calling on the Federal Government to put people and the community ahead of vested interest groups and make tackling poverty a priority in its economic statement due in the coming days.

"While the budget situation is clearly challenging for the Government, with over $60 billion in annual revenues lost since the GFC, budgets are always about priorities and choices," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The Government has chosen, against most economic advice, to set a fixed target to restore the budget to surplus in 2016-17. ACOSS continues to support a progressive return to surplus but the timing should depend on economic conditions. We agree on the vital importance of getting the Budget on a sustainable footing in order to fund the crucial social infrastructure we all want, however this must not be done at any cost.

"We cannot see cuts to vital programs or inaction on dealing with our national housing affordability crisis and growing rate of poverty. Similarly we cannot backtrack from much needed investments in education, health and disability support services.

"The Government has taken commendable action this year to curb poorly targeted and wasteful programs, including by removing tax subsidies for private use of company cars and capping the tax deduction for self-education expenses. It should hold the line on these decisions in the face of vigorous opposition from well-resourced campaigns.

"However, it is difficult to justify a tax subsidy of $14 billion for superannuation contributions made by employers, when around half of this goes to the top 20% of taxpayers. The Government's announcement of a five year freeze on further reform in this area is a retreat in the face of vested interests and does not augur well for the future of tax reform in Australia. Low and middle income earners are poorly served by a superannuation system that delivers too much tax support to people on higher incomes and too little to those who need it most.

"The Government should hold its course in curbing wasteful spending and tax breaks, and growing a sustainable revenue bad, in order to address the growing rate of poverty in Australia, including amongst our children.

"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.

"The Government faces a choice this week - whether to give priority to the poorest - including those languishing on payments like the $35 a day Newstart Allowance - and those who benefit from poorly targeted and wasteful programs and tax breaks.

"Newstart Allowance is still unfinished business for the Rudd and Gillard Governments. When the first Rudd Government increased pensions by $32 a week, unemployed people, students and sole parents were excluded. Rather than increase the lowest social security payments, the Gillard Government shifted another 100,000 sole parent families onto the lower Newstart payment.

"Unemployment is rising and around 110,000 more people have gone onto Newstart Allowance over the past year. Two thirds have had to rely on income support for more than a year. It is no longer just a short term payment.

"We need to see a $50 increase in the single rate of Allowance payments as an urgent priority if we are to stem the tide of worsening poverty in our nation. ACOSS has costed this modest increase at around $1.6 billion a year once fully implemented. This can be paid for by closing off wasteful and poorly targeted programs," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Condemnation for government’s asylum seeker policy – cruel and inhumane

22 July 2013

ACOSS joins with St Vincent de Paul and UnitingCare Australia to condemn Friday's announcement of a new immigration policy which increases offshore processing of asylum seekers and gives them no hope of being resettled in Australia.

‘ACOSS is opposed to any form of offshore processing,' ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said. ‘It has been found by the High court of Australia to be neither a just nor a credible response to people seeking refuge and protection in Australia.


‘This inhumane, costly and damaging policy sets up precedence for the Australian government to abdicate its responsibilities as signatories to the United Nations Refugees Convention, by effectively passing them onto one of our poorest and least developed neighbours and penalising vulnerable asylum seekers.


Dr Goldie continued, ‘The new agreement will not stem the number of people seeking asylum by boat but simply puts their futures in even more treacherous hands.'


"Australia receives less than 0.3% of refugees worldwide. Ninety percent of those who arrive in Australia by boat seeking asylum are found to be fleeing persecution and in need of protection." Said UnitingCare Australia, National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds


The current detention centre on Manus Island has been visited by the Australian Human Rights commission and Amnesty International, both reporting deplorable conditions for current detainees which under the new agreement will rise from 145 to as many as 3000.


ACOSS, St Vincent de Paul and UnitingCare Australia call for:

  • the immediate abandonment of the policy and for both the government and the opposition to focus on designing a genuine regional solution to the plight of asylum seekers. This policy must take a holistic and sophisticated approach to the reason people flee their homelands and seek protection, especially those who put themselves in danger by fleeing by boat;
  • a commitment by both sides of politics to processing asylum claims, particularly for families and children, in the Australian community and to ensure them a dignified and realistic standard of living through the provision of work rights or an adequate minimum level of financial assistance.

'As a country, we must adopt just and humane policies on the treatment of people seeking asylum and in doing so raise the level of debate and treatment of some of the most vulnerable people in the world, consistent with Australia's proud history in the international community as a nation with a commitment to human rights and a deep appreciation of the plight of people seeking a safe haven from persecution,' Dr Goldie said.


St Vincent de Paul Society CEO, Dr John Falzon said: "We look forward to the day when elections are not a competition on how punitive we can be to people fleeing persecution and suffering. We should be welcoming these desperate and courageous people rather than allowing them to be used for political purposes by both sides of politics."

Media Contacts:
Kristie Rue, ACOSS Media Officer - 0419 626 155
Lin Hatfield Dodds, UnitingCare Australia National Director - 0408 402 222
Colleen O'Sullivan St Vincent de Paul - 0400845492

Housing affordability crucial for job seekers

17 July 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today welcomed the release of the Australians for Affordable Housing report, Opening Doors to Employment: Is housing affordability hindering jobseekers.

ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie, said that the report sheds a new light on the challenges facing unemployment people looking for work.

‘This report shows that jobseekers cannot live in areas where jobs are available without being in housing stress,’ said Dr Goldie. ‘These jobseekers face a catch 22 – they either live in poverty on low income support payments, or they move to areas with jobs available and live in housing related poverty.’

For jobseekers prepared to move in order to secure employment, inability to obtain affordable housing acts as a hindrance to employment. Having to pay over 50% of income in some areas means that these jobseekers are working but their circumstances are not improving.

‘It’s time housing cost was recognised as a key barrier for unemployed people finding work,  particularly when there are calls for unemployed people to move to areas of available work.’

‘The findings of this report echo those of ACOSS' recent Community Sector Survey, which identified housing as they highest unmet need for clients of community services,’ said Dr Goldie. ‘It is essential that governments commit to policies to increase the supply of affordable housing to ensure that unemployed people can find a pathway into paid work.’

‘ACOSS supports the recommendations of the report and calls on all parties to commit to some immediate practical measures such as guaranteeing the future of the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS), establishing an Affordable Housing Growth Fund and increasing and indexing Commonwealth Rent Assistance to support the most financially vulnerable in the community.’

Media Contact:  Kristie Rue, ACOSS Media Officer - 0419 626 155

The report is available at: http://housingstressed.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Opening-doors-to-employment-2013.pdf

Unemployed young people: too many affected, too little support

11 July 2013

In response to today's unemployment figures which show Youth unemployment at more than 4 times the national average, ACOSS has joined with the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition in calling on the Government to respond to the increase in unemployment among young people by increasing Youth Allowance for single independent young people by $50 per week, along with the Newstart Allowance payment for adults. 

ACOSS Deputy CEO Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine said, ‘Today's release of the monthly ABS unemployment figures shows that young people are struggling to find work in a difficult jobs market and sinking into poverty as they rely on woefully low income support payments. The release of today's Productivity Commission working paper on deep and persistent disadvantage also highlights people with low educational attainment as a group particularly facing severe and persistent disadvantage.

‘Over the past 12 months there has been a 30% increase in recipients of the Youth Allowance payment. The inadequacy of these payments has been recognised by the Henry tax panel, the business community, trade unions and many economists,' said Dr Boyd-Caine.

‘Young unemployed people living independently of their parents are expected to live on $29 per day. This is even lower than the already inadequate Newstart Allowance, yet independent young people are expected to pay exactly the same amount for rent, food and other basic needs,' said AYAC Acting Executive Director, Reynato Reodica.

‘We are equally concerned about the lack of adequate services to support young people to train and look for work', Dr Boyd-Caine continued. ‘We need better career counselling available for all young people who leave school without Year 12 qualifications and those at risk of dropping out of school, along with more investment in Job Services Australia services for people who are unemployed long term.

‘ACOSS and AYAC renew our call on the Government, and whichever parties form the next Government, to raise both NSA and YA for independent young people, single adults and sole parents by $50 per week to lift people out of the deepest poverty.

‘We are also concerned that if the Coalition's proposal of an American-style approach were implemented, with a 6-month time limit on payments for young people in some regions, many could be left without any support at all', Dr Boyd-Caine said. ‘ACOSS supports strong job search requirements, but even when these are in place some people will always fall through the cracks in the jobs market. Many young people are trapped in a vicious cycle of lack of education, lack of work experience and employer's reluctance to give them a chance. These figures show that current employment and training programs are not meeting their needs. It is important to clarify exactly who would be affected by such proposals and whether there would be a safety net for those who reach the 6-month limit.

‘ACOSS and AYAC are calling on both the Government and the Opposition to close the gaps in employment and training services which include lack of career counselling opportunities and targeted employment and training initiatives for disadvantaged young people,' said Dr Boyd-Caine.

‘This can be done by extending Youth Connections counsellors to all early school leavers who need them, guaranteeing funding for the program beyond 2014, raising the level of investment in employment services (including a doubling of 10,000 wage subsidy places) for long term unemployed people, and reviewing funding for vocational training to make sure the system prepares unemployed people for real jobs.'

‘AYAC research from last year, talking with young Australians and the services that support them, shows a gaping hole in the government's learn or earn policy, that means far too many young people are struggling to survive in education and employment systems that do little to ensure that they are able to thrive and be the productive members of the Australian community that they wish to be' said Mr Reodica.

Quick facts on young people looking for work

  • Unemployed young people without Year 12 qualifications are required to return to education or training as a condition of receiving payments. The weak links in this ‘earn or learn' approach are a lack of intensive career counselling, training that's not matched to needs, and limited help from Job Services Australia (JSA) providers.

  • The Youth Connections program was set up to support disadvantaged young people to complete education, but the program only reaches one third of those young people needing help and funding is not guaranteed beyond 2014.

  • JSA services only receive enough funding to interview long term unemployed people once every 2 months, plus $500 to invest in training and work experience. JSAs are not funded to offer career counselling to those who need it.
  • Vocational training organisations receive no extra funds to help disadvantaged trainees who need mentoring and help with the costs of training, and no incentive to cooperate with JSAs to prepare people for jobs. As a result, many drop out of courses and the public investment in training is wasted.
Media Contacts:

Kristie Rue, ACOSS Media Officer - 0419 626 155,
Reynato Reodica, AYAC Acting Executive Director - 0416 929 252

United call for action on housing affordability crisis

2 July 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today brought together national housing peak bodies and leading welfare agencies in a united call to all political parties to make housing a top priority issue at the coming federal election.

The strong call followed the release of a disturbing new ACOSS report showing that Australia's housing affordability crisis is having a devastating impact, particularly for people on the lowest incomes who are falling deeper into poverty.

It also comes on the back of a powerful ABC Four Corners program highlighting the plight of people struggling to remain housed on the low $35 a day Newstart Allowance.

Community welfare organisations are dismayed that serious future responses to the affordable housing crisis seem to be missing from the policies of both major parties.

"With welfare agencies overwhelmingly reporting that housing availability and affordability is the greatest unmet need of their clients, the situation has become critical and it's time to act," said ACOSS Deputy CEO, Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine.

"Leading charities and national housing peak groups today outlined considered proposals that would go some way to dealing with a crisis that is hurting so many people, yet barely mentioned in the election context. We want to see all-party support for immediate action.

The priorities shared by the peak agencies and national welfare agencies participating in today's joint conference include:

  • Make the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS), that provides incentives for investment in affordable housing, permanent and immediately provide 50,000 new incentives
  • Commit to an affordable housing growth fund
  • Lift the level of Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) and review its effectiveness
  • Make a serious commitment to address homelessness and, as part of this, increase funding for homelessness services to match unmet need
  • Sign a new National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness

"Another urgent priority is to increase Newstart which has failed to keep up with community living standards. Our survey found almost 80% of people presenting to housing and homeless services were wholly reliant on income support payments, and most were on low payments like Newstart.

"If we are serious as a nation in addressing disadvantage, we need to ensure people have a decent income to live on when they are going through tough times.

"These priorities must drive both social and economic policies, as we plan for the investment in social support and infrastructure that Australia needs now and into the future.

"We call on federal representatives and candidates, from across all parties, to come together on the solutions to these critical challenges," Dr Boyd-Caine said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Spokespeople present at today's doorstop:
Tessa Boyd-Caine - Deputy CEO, ACOSS
Kelvin Alley - Spokesperson, The Salvation Army
Roland Manderson - Acting Executive Director, Anglicare Australia
John Falzon - CE, St Vincent de Paul Society, National Council
Adrian Pisarski, CEO, National Shelter
Jennifer Clarke, spokesperson, Homelessness Australia
Eddy Bourke, Acting Executive Officer, Community Housing Federation of Australia

National housing and welfare groups demand action on housing affordability crisis

2 July 2013

Who: Tessa Boyd-Caine, Deputy CEO, ACOSS and representatives from national housing peak bodies and leading welfare organisations

When: 10.30AM Tuesday July 2, 2013

Where: Senate Courtyard, Parliament House, Canberra

ACOSS will lead a joint press conference of national housing peak bodies and other leading welfare agencies in Canberra today, calling on all political parties to make affordable housing a priority issue at the coming federal election.

The united call follows the release of a disturbing new ACOSS report showing that Australia's housing affordability crisis is having a devastating impact, particularly for people on the lowest incomes who are falling deeper into poverty.

It also comes on the back of last night's powerful ABC Four Corners program highlighting the plight of people struggling to maintain secure accommodation on the low $35 a day Newstart Allowance.

The groups will outline the priorities their organisations see for an incoming government to respond to this critical situation.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Spokespeople attending the doorstop:
Tessa Boyd-Caine - Deputy CEO, ACOSS
Kelvin Alley - Spokesperson, The Salvation Army
Roland Manderson - Acting Executive Director, Anglicare Australia
John Falzon - CE, St Vincent de Paul Society, National Council
Adrian Pisarski, CEO, National Shelter
Jennifer Clarke, spokesperson, Homelessness Australia
Eddy Bourke, Acting Executive Officer, Community Housing Federation of Australia

Australia’s community services unable to meet growing demand

1 July 2013

The largest survey of Australia's community services sector reveals that frontline agencies are under enormous strain and unable to meet the growing demand for help, according to the Australian Council of Social Service.

The annual Australian Community Sector Survey of over 500 agencies shows that housing availability and affordability is the greatest unmet need for clients of welfare services, followed by community-based care and treatment for mental illness and emergency relief.

"The clear message from this year's survey is that Australia's housing affordability crisis is having a devastating impact, especially for people on the lowest incomes who are falling deeper into poverty," said ACOSS Deputy CEO, Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine.

"This is borne out by the fact that across the board, all services overwhelmingly nominated this as the greatest need of clients coming to them for help. Nearly 70% of housing and homeless services themselves reported that they struggled to meet demand, with a 5% increase in the number of people turned away.

"One of the striking features was that almost 80% of people presenting to the housing and homeless services that participated in the survey were wholly reliant on income support payments. They were also highly represented in numbers seeking help as reported by emergency relief providers (75%) and mental health services (61%). This is extremely alarming and further evidence of the damage being caused by keeping allowance payments such as Newstart as low as $35 a day.

"The other services under significant stress who reported being unable to meet demand among their own client groups were legal services (63%), youth services (52%) and emergency relief (47%) providers. Mental health (47%) and domestic violence and sexual assault services (46%) also reported being unable to meet demand for services.

"Most services reported having targeted their services more tightly or limiting service levels to meet demand. This was especially so for legal services (85%), emergency relief providers (82%) and mental health services (70%).

"These measures resulted in lower numbers of people being turned away than otherwise would have been the case. However, legal service still reported the highest level of turn-aways (20%). High numbers were also turned away from youth welfare (17%), housing and homelessness services (16%) and domestic violence services (13%).

"Our overall findings paint a disturbing picture of a sector under critical pressure, including from chronic underfunding and uncertainty about the funding of services. A majority of all services reported that the cost of delivering services exceeded revenue, and over the past three years our survey has consistently identified this as the most significant challenge facing the sector into the future.

"Australia's community welfare sector makes an enormous contribution to Australian society: community services and health are our country's largest industry grouping, employing 12% of the total workforce. This is projected to grow by at least 35% over the next ten years, according to the Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council. Our sector already contributes more than 5% to GDP.

"Yet the community sector is being undermined by severe underfunding and lack of action to deal with the national housing affordability and availability crisis that continues to squeeze households and plunge those on the lowest incomes into deeper poverty.

"We need urgent action to address these issues, along with a plan to increase the abysmally low income support allowance payments like Newstart, if we are going to prevent more people falling into poverty and into the arms of our already stretched community services," Dr Boyd-Caine said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155



DOWNLOAD SURVEY

 

Summary of key findings

Housing still the highest priority for clients and policy makers
• 66% of housing and homeless services report struggling to meet demand.
• Over 60% of overall respondents listed housing and homelessness services amongst those for which their clients had the highest need.
• 61% of all respondents said improving housing availability and affordability is the top policy priority.
• 62% said waiting times for services had increased since the previous 12 months.
• Services reported a 16% turn-away rate, up 5% from 2010/11.

Legal services turn away one-fifth of all clients in need
• 63% of legal service providers reported not being able to meet demand for services, and legal services ranked second highest on inability to meet demand.
• 20% of all clients in need of assistance from surveyed community legal services were turned away in 2011/12, the highest turn-away rate across all service types.
• 85% of legal services reported having targeted their services more tightly or limiting service levels to meet demand.
• 67% reported being underfunded and 59% said they had increased waiting times for services.
• 76% of services asked staff and volunteers to work additional hours in attempt to meet demand.

Youth Services also report extremely high turn-away rates
• Youth services reported the second highest client turn-away rate of 17% - almost 8% up on the previous year.
• 52% could not meet demand.
• 65% required staff or volunteers to work longer hours and targeted services more tightly or limited service levels to meet demand.

Mental health services, emergency relief in high need, yet struggle to meet demand
• 57% identified mental health services as ‘high need', while 40% identified emergency relief
• Increasing the availability of mental health services was the third highest policy priority for the sector's clients.
• Over 80% of emergency relief providers agreed that the cost of service delivery exceeded revenue and reported targeting services more tightly or limiting service levels to meet demand.
• 70% of mental health services also reported targeting services more tightly to meet demand.

About the Survey:
The Australian Community Sector Survey is the only annual national survey collecting data about the non-government, not-for-profit community services and welfare sector. The survey has been running since 1998 and this year was conducted between March and June 2013. It covers the period from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012. A total of 532 organisations responded to the survey, reporting on service provision, demand for services and unmet need, client demographics, and operational, policy and regulatory issues and challenges facing the community services sector. Through its use of a unique service classification scheme and its ability to reach significant numbers of smaller, locally based organisations across Australia, the ACSS accurately reflect the breadth of views, challenges and pressures experienced across the sector.

Australia’s community services unable to meet growing demand: New report

30 June 2013

Who: Dr Tessa Boyd- Caine, Deputy CEO ACOSS, and representatives of major charities and community welfare organisations

When: 10.30AM Monday July 1, 2013

Where: St Vincent de Paul Society Ozanam Learning Centre, Level 3, 99 Forbes St Woolloomooloo, Sydney.

ACOSS will today launch the results of the largest survey of Australia's community services sector, revealing that frontline agencies are under enormous strain and unable to meet the growing demand for help.

The annual Australian Community Sector Survey of over 500 agencies shows that housing availability and affordability is the greatest unmet need for clients of welfare services, and nearly 70% of housing and homeless services report that they simply cannot meet demand.

Representatives from a number of community welfare agencies will address the media at the launch, along with several clients who will talk about their personal experience of hardship.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

NOTE TO EDITORS: Several clients of services will be available for interviews. Please advise your intention to attend.

Attendees
Tessa Boyd- Caine, Deputy CEO, Australian Council of Social Service
Matt Cleary, Executive Officer of Vincent de Paul Society Support Services
Tony Devlin, Territorial Consultant, Moneycare, The Salvation Army
Maree O'Halloran, President, National Welfare Rights Network
Carolyn Bond, Spokesperson, Community Law Australia
Reynato Reodica, Acting Executive Officer, Australian Youth Affairs Coalition
Gary Moore, CEO, Homelessness NSW

ACOSS welcomes statutory definition as first step to a truly modern approach to charity

28 June 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service has welcomed the passage of the Charities Bill 2013 through the Federal parliament.

ACOSS Deputy CEO Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine said, "ACOSS welcomes the enshrining of the definition of charity in statute as an important step, in setting a clear, reliable definition of charity."

"Charities constitute the most economically significant part of the not-for-profit sector, which comprises 5% of GDP and 8% of employment in Australia. Clarity in the definition of charity and its consequent regulation is vital for the effectiveness of the over 57,000 registered charities in Australia and ACOSS has long called for a definition to be legislated," she continued.

"Until this reform, the definition of charity relied on over 400 years of caselaw. While the community's notions of what is charitable have changed significantly in that time, the taxation structures that show society's support for charitable work have struggled to keep pace with this change.

"While this reform does not broaden the access to tax concessions that leave many charities still struggling, it is a critical first step.

"ACOSS congratulates both the Government and the Greens, whose support was critical, for this legislation. It is the latest piece of an important reform agenda to ensure that our charities and not-for-profit organisations are given the support they need to provide effective support in turn for the millions of Australians who rely upon them," Dr Boyd-Caine said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

See ACOSS Submission to Exposure Draft Charities Bill 2013 - May 2013

New climate report maps way forward in securing Australia’s social infrastructure

26 June 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today welcomed the release of the federal government's Climate Adaptation Outlook, which presents a ‘National Adaptation Assessment Framework' to assist governments, businesses and communities to assess national progress on climate change adaptation.

Critically, the framework identifies the ability of disadvantaged groups to manage climate risks as one of three priority outcomes for adaptation in Australia. It also incorporates findings from research recently published by ACOSS and Climate Risk about the critical but overlooked role community service organisations play in supporting these groups to manage climate risks.

"This is a major step forward in recognising the importance of a resilient community sector as a shield against the worsening impacts of extreme weather events on people experiencing poverty and disadvantage in our communities," said ACOSS Deputy CEO Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine.

"ACOSS has long argued that the poorest members of our communities will be the worst affected by climate change and we're pleased this has been fully factored into this report.

"For the first time, our research clearly demonstrated the devastating impact on individuals and communities caused by climate-driven disruptions to critical social infrastructure and services, including aged care and disability services, emergency relief and crisis accommodation. The importance of these findings is reflected in the emphasis placed on ensuring resilient community services, by the Government's Climate Adaptation Outlook." 

"ACOSS has also made a series of considered recommendations on ways to strengthen the community sector's capacity to deal with these present and future challenges. First among these is the establishment of a Community Sector Adaptation Fund to support capacity and resilience building projects for community organisations and their clients.

"We welcome the opportunity to be involved in further consultations on the report as part of developing a much-needed comprehensive plan that will lock in the resilience of our communities and safeguard Australia's social infrastructure," Dr Boyd-Caine said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

See ACOSS Research led by Dr Karl Mallon of Climate Risk, and funded by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF).

More information on ACOSS Climate Change research here.

Six years of the NT Intervention is six years too long

21 June 2013

On the sixth anniversary of the traumatising Northern Territory Emergency Response, known as the Intervention, three leading national community welfare organisations are urging the major parties to dump the policy of mandatory income management, which they assert is wasteful, ineffective and harmful.

The Australian Council of Social Service, the National Welfare Rights Network, and St Vincent de Paul Society say compulsory income management punishes people who are already doing it amongst the toughest and is incredibly expensive. It should be replaced with a genuinely voluntary scheme, which is part of a broader development plan in communities. The Government should abandon plans to further extend wasteful and ineffective income management from 1 July 2013.

The 2012 independent evaluation of income management in the Northern Territory found no clear evidence of the value of the program. At best, some people perceived that they were being assisted by the program. More than two thirds of those surveyed said they felt discriminated against by income management. Three quarters felt it was unfair and a similar number reported feelings of embarrassment.

Each person subject to income management in the Northern Territory costs between $6,600 and $7,900 in remote areas, and $4,600 in the five trial sites.

More than half a billion has been spent so far. The nearly $100 million per year would be better spent in partnership with Aboriginal people on programs that actually work in their communities.>

For too long, the absence of real jobs and basic community infrastructure has been a blight on the social and economic life of many communities in the NT. The social impacts of prolonged unemployment and lack of basic services in many communities in the NT has demanded a holistic response. However, removing funds via welfare quarantining from entire communities was a crude and unfair response.

>Compulsory income management unfairly and wrongly assumes that just because a person receives an income support payment, they can't manage their own affairs. It should only be implemented as a part of an economic and social development plan negotiated with communities. 

Income management was expanded to five new locations from July 2012: to Bankstown (NSW), Shepparton (VIC), Playford (SA) and Logan and Rockhampton QLD. In May, there were 423 people on income management in these areas. Ninety-two per cent, or 391 of those on income management in these designated areas are voluntary participants. Thirty people were under the ‘vulnerable' category, due to homelessness or other problems, while just two people were placed on income management under the child protection measure.

The Government is to rollout a major expansion of compulsory income management from 1 July 2013 in the five trial sites and the Northern Territory, with little warning and very limited consultation.

Thousands of young people, including many fleeing violent and abusive families, may have their income support payments quarantined. The largest group impacted will be young people unable to live at home because of family violence and abuse. People under 25 leaving gaol and moving to one of ‘declared areas' who claim a Crisis Payment and people under 16 claiming Special Benefit will also be targeted.

Around 2600 people in the NT and place-based sites who receive the "Unreasonable to Live at Home" Youth Allowance are likely to be subjected to income management from 1 July 2013. No matter how well these young people are managing their financial affairs, they will be placed on income management just because they claim a certain payment and live and a specific location. This blanket approach is a step backwards to the early days of income management, when it targeted people on the basis of their Aboriginality. It will be harmful and hurtful to many young people.

Once again, the Government has got it wrong on income management.

Signed by:

Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO, ACOSS
Maree O'Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network
Dr John Falzon, CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society, National Council of Australia

Media Contacts:
Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) - 0419 626 155
Gerard Thomas (NWRN) - 0425 296 882
Colleen O'Sullivan - St Vincent de Paul Society - 0400 845 492

Retaining and attracting staff remains significant issue for Australia’s NFP sector

20 June 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service said a new report released today supports its own findings showing that attracting and retaining staff remains one of the most significant challenges facing Australia's Not-For-Profit sector.

The Maxxia Workplace Insights: 2013 Not-for-Profit Sentiment Study, involving more than 1850 leaders and employees from the NFP sector, found people who work in the non-profit sector are generally happier and more satisfied than workers from other sectors, however around 50% of managers have considered leaving their organisation for career development and better pay. 

Speaking from the Report's launch, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, "This confirms the findings of our own Australian Community Sector Survey, which for many years has pointed to this being a major issue for the sector.

"Clearly we need to work harder to ensure we can attract and retain the right mix of skilled and qualified staff. This is critical for the long-term sustainability of our vital sector, as well as its effectiveness.

"The wider Not-For-Profit sector employs nearly one million people, or around 8 per cent of Australia's total workforce, and the most recent figures indicate it contributes 5% of Gross Domestic Product.

"Health and community services in particular are the fastest growing areas of employment, yet we still don't have employment pathways and pay levels that are on par with other sectors.

"It's pleasing to know that most people who work in the sector derive a great deal of satisfaction from being part of organisations that help others. This is extremely rewarding and a key driver in attracting staff. However, as this new report shows, there is much work to be done to improve the systems that will keep good employees, especially in terms of career development and performance review processes, and remuneration.

"It is significant that human resources managers have identified this as their greatest challenge. As the peak body for Australia's community and social services sector, ACOSS will continue to highlight these issues and work with our members and other stakeholders, including government and business to ensure the long term sustainability of our crucial sector," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155 

Maxxia Workplace Insights: 2013 Not-for-Profit Sentiment Study here.

Govt must heed call from yet another report to raise Newstart

18 June 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today called on the federal Government to listen to the findings of yet another Senate Inquiry report and move to increase the Newstart Allowance as a matter of urgency.

"We commend the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee for going even further than previous inquiries by not only accepting that the Newstart Allowance is too low but recommending it be increased," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The evidence is now insurmountable, stemming from volumes of reports including three separate parliamentary inquiries. The Government cannot continue to ignore this evidence coming from its own Committees.

"ACOSS welcomed some of the positive steps taken in the recent Budget, such as increasing the income free area to allow people on the $35 a day Newstart payment to keep more of the money that they earn. However we argued that this is simply not enough because it does nothing for the four out of five people on Newstart who cannot get into paid work and have no other earnings.

"We also welcomed other measures such as extending eligibility for the Pensioner Education Supplement to all single principal carer parents and allowing this same group to hold onto their Pensioner Concession Card, however we don't think these can undo the damage caused by the move to drop single parents to Newstart in January. Most of the 80,000 single parents lost between $60-100 per week.

"We are pleased that the Committee has agreed with our view that these reforms do not go far enough and do not address the inadequacy of Newstart and other allowances. The Committee recommends that the government urgently respond to the recommendations and findings of the previous Inquiry into the adequacy of allowances in late 2012, which acknowledged that the payments are too low. But significantly, this new report calls on the Government to increase the base rate of Newstart Allowance and to index the payment appropriately.

"The effect of freezing the Newstart payment in time (not increased in real terms since 1994) has been devastating for people on it who have seen their payment fall further behind community living standards and has plunged them deeper into poverty. With one in eight people living in poverty in Australia, including one in six children, it's time we addressed this issue.

"The move to drop single parents to this low payment in January has made the situation worse, as reported in a recent Salvation Army report (‘Doing It Tough'), which revealed a 12% rise in the number of people seeking help who are now receiving Newstart. The report found that a disturbing 7% of single parents who presented for Emergency Relief were homeless and a further 7% are living with friends or relatives. Most reported cutting back on basic necessities and go without meals and vital medical prescriptions.

"Only last week we saw more alarming evidence in the latest HILDA survey (Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey), which revealed that 24% of children living with a single parent are subjected to poverty, compared with just 7.6% of children in two-parent homes. It showed that the rate of lone parent child poverty has jumped a staggering 15% since 2001, which is clearly linked to the ongoing welfare to work measures of successive federal governments.

"If we are to reverse this disturbing trend we will need a renewed commitment from all sides of politics to address growing poverty in Australia. We simply cannot achieve this without finally addressing the inadequacy of the allowance payments which are too low for anyone to survive on, let alone to look for paid work. It's time the Government listened to this irrefutable and overwhelming mountain of evidence, including from its own government Committees, and immediately move to increase the single rate of Allowance payments by $50 a week," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Click here to view The Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee report on the Social Security Amendment (Supporting More Australians into Work) Bill 2013

Find out more about the $35 a day is not enough! campaign

‘Critical decade’ to shield Australia’s vital social infrastructure

17 June 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today backed the findings of a new report arguing this is the ‘critical decade' for action on climate change, adding that disadvantaged groups will feel the full brunt of inaction.

"We strongly support the Climate Commission's well-considered report, which should be a wakeup call for our nation's leaders," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"ACOSS has long acknowledged the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, and supports immediate action to safeguard the future well-being of our planet, especially for our communities and the generations to come.

"ACOSS is particularly concerned about the disproportionate impact climate change will have on people experiencing poverty, inequality and social disadvantage - not only in our own country but around the world.

"All the evidence points to the fact that the poorest members of our communities will be the worst affected because they are least able to cope, to move, to adapt and to recover.

"We saw last summer's heatwaves pose serious risks to health, particularly for vulnerable groups such as the aged and people who were unable to modify their exposure to the elements. It's interesting to note that heat already kills more people each year than road accidents.

"Our own research - conducted in partnership with the Department of Climate Change and Climate Risk Pty. Ltd. and published only a few months ago - clearly demonstrates the devastating impact on individuals and communities caused by disruptions to critical social infrastructure and services, including aged care, disability services, emergency relief and crisis accommodation to name just a few.

"For instance, we found that up to 25% of service providers might close permanently if their premises were seriously damaged by a severe extreme weather event.

"The climate-driven failure of these services would have untold consequences for the thousands of people and communities they support. It would undoubtedly lead to increased poverty, worse health and mental health, reduced well-being and even death.

"We have argued that community-based organisations play a critical role in mitigating the inequitable social impacts of climate change and that now is the time for us to anticipate the risks and build individual and community resilience.

"This is certainly a critical decade, and we need swift and immediate action if we are to lock in this resilience and shield Australia's social infrastructure from these consequences.

"ACOSS has developed a comprehensive plan to do just that and stands ready and willing to work with partners from all sectors to implement this crucial work," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

NOTE: Dr Goldie will today speak at the launch of the Climate Commission report, 'The Critical Decade: Climate science, risks and responses'. For more information contact Fernando@acoss.org.au.

See ACOSS Research led by Dr Karl Mallon of Climate Risk, and funded by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF).

More information on ACOSS Climate Change research here.

C20 major step for inclusion of Australia’s civil society: ACOSS

13 June 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today welcomed the announcement of the formation of the Australian Civil Society 20 (C20) as an integral part of the program for Australia to host the G20 in Brisbane later this year.

"This is a good move by the Prime Minister and a major step forward in ensuring community voices are heard at the highest level," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"As the national peak body for Australia's community welfare sector, ACOSS is delighted to be part of this group's steering committee that will go a long way to strengthen the role of civil society in public policy and decision making at the international level.

"This is recognition of the crucial community groups play in the fabric of Australian society and will leave an important legacy of formalising engagement of civil society in G20 proceedings, with past events held in Russia, South Korea, France and Canada.

‘No longer are the big decisions that are made on the global stage solely the domain of Presidents, Prime Ministers and Finance chiefs. Civil society is now firmly part of this process to make sure decisions are more reflective of the community's wants, needs and aspirations.

"It is also an important opportunity for Australia to engage with global institutions and organisations on issues such as poverty and inequality, and the processes that are necessary to address these social issues that affect all countries.

"ACOSS welcomes the announcement that Reverend Tim Costello AO will chair the Australian C20 and looks forward to working with him, and alongside the leaders of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, the Australian Council of International Development and others in ensuring the views of civil society is truly represented at this important forum," Dr Goldie said.

Media contact: 0419 626 155

Find out more about Australian Civil Society 20 here.

Extend National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness to continue progress: ACOSS

5 June 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today called for an immediate extension of the National Partnership Agreement on homelessness, beyond the current one year that is on offer, to enable us to achieve a longer term reduction in homelessness across the country.

"We are pleased to see that the number of people sleeping rough has gone down. This is evidence that the increase in supported accommodation is working in tackling the most severe form of homelessness," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Despite this improvement - outlined in the new COAG report released today - it's clear that the overall level of homelessness is much higher than previous figures seemed to indicate, since the definition was broadened to include people living in temporary accommodation.

"Once this is accounted for the real number increased by 17%, meaning we are unlikely to meet the COAG 2013 benchmark to reduce homelessness by 7%. Most of this is attributed to an increase in the level of severe crowding and temporary accommodation, with nearly 10,000 more people living in severely crowded accommodation in 2011 compared to the last Census in 2006.

"It is important to note that around two thirds of people in this sort of accommodation were born overseas and likely to be recent migrants. This highlights that much more needs to be done to support newer members of our community, who are already some of the most disadvantaged groups.

"We appear to have made some progress in reducing the rate of Indigenous overcrowding, however Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are still 14 times more likely to be homelessness than the rest of the Australian community. This continues to be unacceptable and we need a sustained effort over time if we are to make a difference and close this disturbing gap.

"One important way to continue the momentum is for the Federal and State and Territory Government's to work more closely together on these long term strategies. Extending the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness for more than the one year currently on offer would go some way to steer us in the right direction," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

ACOSS calls on NT Government to scrap ‘discriminatory’ Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Bill

28 May 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today called on the Northern Territory Government to rethink its proposed Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Bill that is currently before the NT parliament.

"We are extremely concerned about the introduction of the Bill, which we view as discriminatory against Aboriginal people in the NT. It's not based on any evidence and simply won't work," said ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"It's clear that there is an alcohol issue in the Northern Territory, but what is needed is a broader policy and community response, not a half-baked measure that only targets a small piece of the problem, and in such a discriminatory manner.

"Let's face it, detaining visible people for drunkenness and forcing them into rehab, is targeted at Aboriginal people in the Territory. This is obscene, and contrary to the clear findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991.

"The Bill will effectively criminalise public drunkenness, but only for some in the community, namely Aboriginal people, particularly those living remotely who are often more likely to drink in public places when they visit service centres or towns.

"We don't believe the Bill is based on any evidence. It will not be cost-effective and it's hard to see how it could be effective in reducing levels of intoxication or the issues associated with alcohol abuse in the Territory.

"We're also concerned that detaining problems drinkers will lead to unnecessary tensions between Aboriginal people and police, and is likely to result in more Aboriginal people entering the criminal justice system - at a time when prisons in the NT are already overflowing with Aboriginal people.

"We believe the Bill in its current form may also lead to breaches of Australia's human rights obligations, including the right to freedom from arbitrary detention; the right to freedom of movement; the right to life (as the bill is likely to lead to increased deaths in custody); and rights contained in the Optional Protocol on the Convention Against Torture which seeks to prevent mistreatment of people who are held in detention.

"The NT Government needs to go back to the drawing board and work with communities and groups working on the ground with people to come up with a more comprehensive plan. We need solutions based on evidence of what actually works and will be effective in helping people and families with alcohol related issues," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

About the Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Bill

  • The bill introduces a scheme under which adults taken into police protective custody three or more times in two months when intoxicated in public will be subject to mandatory alcohol treatment.
  • After the requisite protective custody incidents, the person will be taken to an Assessment and Treatment Centre to be assessed.
  • They may wait up to 13 days for an independent tribunal to decide whether the person meet the criteria for the mandatory rehabilitation.
  • If a person meets the criteria they may be held for up to three months in a secure residential treatment facility, treated in a community residential treatment facility or treated in the community, including through income management.
  • There will be criminal penalties for absconding from a treatment facility whilst subject to a mandatory treatment order. Secondary supply of someone on a banning order is also an offence.
  • Further details can be found on the NT Department of Health website:http://health.nt.gov.au/Alcohol_Mandatory_Treatment/index.aspx.

Major parties must agree to increase Newstart to reduce worsening poverty

22 May 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today called on the nation's major political parties to agree to move urgently to legislate an increase in low income support payments, such as Newstart Allowance, in order to stem the rise in poverty, following the release of yet another report showing that people are falling deeper into poverty in our country.

"The Salvation Army report shines a spotlight on a problem community welfare groups, the business sector, unions and others have been raising for a long time," said ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie. "We know that the $35 a day Newstart payment is now grossly inadequate and has been allowed to fall further behind community living standards because it's not properly indexed and hasn't been increased in real terms for nearly 20 years.

"This new report puts a human face to the impact of the federal government's decision to cut the payments of over 80,000 single parents, most of whom are women. Not only has there been a 12% increase in people on Newstart seeking help from the Salvation Army, more than 40% cent were single parents with children older than seven. This is the age at which parents are forced off parenting payments onto Newstart Allowance, losing between $60-$110 a week.

"The Government was warned the move would be extremely damaging. We're been hearing from so many single parents about the impacts since they came into effect in January, and now we have solid data to illustrate this.

"It is distressing that about 60% of people seeking emergency relief from the Salvation Army cannot afford dental treatment and 35% go without prescribed medication. More than half the 2705 respondents said they could not pay for out-of-school activities for their children and 37% could not afford school activities such as excursions.

"The government's Budget announcement that people can keep more of their Newstart Allowance when they find employment does not help the 4 out of 5 people on Newstart who cannot get into paid work. The Salvation Army report highlights the challenges facing jobseekers - from finding child care, to inadeqate help from employment services for people disadvantaged in the labour market. People can't simply walk out of poverty into paid employment tomorrow, as is often naively assumed.

"It was extremely disappointing that the federal Government chose not to include an increase in the Newstart payment in last week's Budget, despite widespread community support.

"It was also disturbing that on the same day that the House of Representatives passed an Australian Greens motion declaring that the rate of Newstart Allowance is too low last week, the federal Opposition announced that it would take away a $4 a week supplement that provides a little extra support to those people on Allowance payments who are falling deeper into poverty.

"An increase in the lowest social security payments for single people including single parents is the one policy that would have the most immediate and widespread impact on the lives of people affected by poverty. Lifting the single rate of allowance payments would help lift almost one million people out of the most desperate of situations. Greater investment in employment assistance for those most disadvantaged in the labour market is also essential.

"As a nation we can and should do better. We call on our elected representatives to show leadership on this issue and legislate a much needed $50 increase in Allowance payments for single people as a matter of urgency," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Targeting Budget waste needs to free up spending for poverty alleviation: ACOSS

17 May 2013

The Australian Council of Social service has said it is very concerned with elements of the Opposition's Budget reply speech that would see income reduced for the poorest people in our community.

"On the same day that the House of Representatives passed a motion declaring that the rate of Newstart Allowance is too low, it is particularly disappointing to hear that the Opposition plans to take away a $4 a week supplement that provides much needed extra support. For these households, every dollar counts," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"This is inconsistent with the overwhelming evidence and widespread consensus in the community that allowance payments like Newstart are way too low. The only logic in withdrawing the Income Support Bonus would be to make way for a clear commitment to increase the meagre $35 a day base rate of these allowances.

"With one in eight people in poverty in Australia we need to be doing more to alleviate poverty, not less. It's hard to see how stripping $210 from more than one million people on the lowest incomes will make the situation better.

"The announcement that the Low Income Superannuation Contribution will be scrapped will also hurt low income earners who are most in need of a boost to their retirement savings. Superannuation tax concessions are already skewed towards the top end of income earners, yet this plan will further disadvantage those on lower incomes.

"We understand the current fiscal challenges and agree that we need bold action to strengthen the Budget if we are to fund important social infrastructure programs for our nation. We are pleased that it appears that some of the savings in this area will have bi-partisan support, such as the Medical Expenses Tax Offset. The reality is that most of the current waste in the Budget is on the revenue side, in the form of unsustainable tax breaks and concessions that predominantly benefit people on higher incomes. These are the areas we should be targeting for reform, not the income to people who are already living below the poverty line.

"There is no doubt that whoever forms government after the coming election will have a major task ahead in securing a sustainable revenue stream for vital services and infrastructure. These measures can be done with wide public support by targeting waste, not the essential services and benefits for people who are struggling the most.

"We welcome the proposal to develop a white paper to progress tax reform. Ultimately we need comprehensive tax reform that takes Henry Tax review proposals forward.

"We also need a national conversation about what benefits and services we can expect from government to focus on unmet needs, such as disability care, health, education and the alleviation of poverty in our country. Public spending should be rebalanced towards those who need support the most," Dr Goldie said.

ACOSS Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

ACOSS calls on major parties to agree to increase Newstart

16 May 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today welcomed the passing of a motion in the House of Representatives declaring that the rate of Newstart Allowance is too low.

"We praise the Australian Greens motion moved by Member for Melbourne Adam Bandt, which passed the House of Representatives today." said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"We now call on our nation's major political parties to agree to move urgently to legislate an increase in the low payment to help some of the most disadvantaged people in our community.

"The failure to include an increase in the abysmally low $35 a day payment in Tuesday's Budget was not good enough. It is cruel to now acknowledge the payment is not enough and yet do nothing about it.

"We need to translate this widespread community and now political support into action. We call on the major parties to include a clear commitment to increase income support allowances, such as Newstart, without delay," said Dr Goldie.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Budget secures landmark disability and education reforms, but gaping hole for poorest on allowances

14 May 2013

"ACOSS warmly welcomes the Federal Government's vision to secure disability care and dental and schools reform and the strengthening of public revenue to secure funding for these and other services, but cannot believe that there is no income relief for the people who are the poorest," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie. 

"We praise the move by the Treasurer to lock in government expenditure on crucial social reforms such as education and disability care, in some cases for a decade. We have also been strong supporters of the more equitable and effective system for dental care in Australia and that begins with two-thirds of all children in this Budget. These are not only visionary reforms but long overdue," Dr Goldie said.

"However, we remain deeply concerned at the failure to reduce the rate of poverty in Australia by increasing the single rate of Newstart and other allowances. While we welcome the modest easing of income rates for people on Newstart and other allowances, the Government has failed to assist the four-fifths of Allowance recipients who are unable to obtain paid work. Each year we fail to act, this gaping hole in our safety net grows. One in eight people, including one in six children, are living in poverty and an increase in the lowest social security payments would have the most immediate and direct impact in reducing it.

"On the savings side, there are some incredibly important measures in this Budget. In addition to the welcome increase in the Medicare levy to fund DisabilityCare Australia, we are pleased that the Budget makes significant inroads into closing tax loopholes and inefficient tax arrangements. With tax receipts down by over $20 billion from the pre-GFC period, we must pull back from generous tax breaks that are not delivering on policy outcomes and eroding our tax base. ACOSS advocated the extension of the Medicare Safety Net threshold, the abolition of the medical expenses tax offset, the capping of self-education expense deductions and the tightening of the thin capitalisation rules, all of which we welcome in this Budget.

"We are also pleased that there is greater investment in tackling tax evasion through trusts. We would have liked to have seen changes to tax rules as well, but hope this commences the reforms needed to close this glaring tax loophole.

"We welcome the integrating of the baby bonus into the family payments system so that it is better targeted but remain concerned about reductions in payments for the poorest families.

"The next step to secure our economic and social progress must be to strengthen revenue. Otherwise we face painful cuts to essential expenditure down the track. Australia is the 5th lowest taxing country in the OECD. If we want a decent safety net, and universal health education and dental services, as well as the housing and infrastructure for present and future generations, we need a sustainable tax base," Dr Goldie said.

ACOSS MEDIA CONTACT: 0419 626 155

Welcome measures in Budget 2013
• Securing the introduction of DisabilityCare Australia
• Building the blocks towards a more equitable basis for oral health care by funding the ‘Growing Up Smiling' program for two-thirds of children up to 17 years
• $9.8b in new funding for reform to improve equity of schools funding
• Continuing funding for the National Congress of Australia's First People
• Improved savings measures through the removal of tax loopholes and inefficient tax arrangements including:
o extension of the Medicare safety net threshold;
o abolition of the Medical Expenses Tax Offset;
o capping of self-education expenses; and
o tightening of the thin capitalisation rules.

Disappointing measures
• Failure to increase the base rate of Newstart and other allowances for single people; and to index allowance payments to wages
• Some reductions to family payments that will hit the poorest families

Key Facts on Poverty in Australia
• One in eight adults and one in six children are living below the poverty line.
• That number is growing.
• Increasing the base rate to single Allowance payments would have been the most direct and immediate way to reduce the most severe poverty in Australia and would have cost a modest $1.8 billion pa.

For ACOSS reports, publications and media release visit our website: http://www.acoss.org.au/

Joint Community Sector Response to Federal Budget

14 May 2013

Who: CEO's and representatives of major charities and national community welfare organisations

When: 10am Wednesday May 15, 2013

Where: Senate Courtyard, Parliament House, Canberra

Leaders of Australia's major charities and national community welfare organisations will stage a joint press conference to respond to the federal Budget at 10am on Wednesday 15th May in the Senate Courtyard of Parliament House in Canberra.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas at ACOSS - 0419 626 155

Participants so far include:
Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service
Carol Croce, CEO, Community Housing Federation of Australia
Andrew Cummings, Australian Youth Affairs Coalition
John Falzon, CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia
Steve Hackett, Executive Director, Family & Relationship Services Australia with Chairperson Michael Austin
Brad Halse, Spokesperon, The Salvation Army
Leah Hobson, Australian Federation of Disability Organisations
Lisa O'Brien, CEO, The Smith Family
Paul O'Callaghan, CEO, Catholic Social Services Australia
David Pigott - Mission Australia
Therese Sands, CEO, People With Disability Australia
Andrea Simmons - CEO, Disability Advocacy Network Australia

Lack of action to increase Newstart Allowance fails most disadvantaged

13 May 2013

Community welfare groups have expressed deep disappointment today at the news that the federal Government will not include a much needed increase in the below poverty line Newstart Allowance payment in Tuesday's Budget, despite growing community support.

"We welcome the news that the income free area will be increased to allow people on the $35 a day payment to keep more of the money that they earn. However, this will do nothing for the 4 out of 5 people on Newstart who cannot get into paid work and have no other earnings," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service.

"Increasing the income free area is only one part of the package and does nothing to help the most disadvantaged groups. We must address the inadequate allowance payment rates that have been effectively frozen in time for the past 20 years. And we must also invest in more employment assistance, especially for the long term unemployed, if we are to help people get into work and reduce poverty in Australia."

Terese Edwards from the National Council for Single Mothers and their Children said, "Allowing people to earn a bit more alone does not respond to the damage that has been done to around 80,000 single parent families.

"The Government has ripped $700,000 million dollars out the pockets of needy sole parent families, and will give around $300 million back to a potential pool of around 800,000 people on Newstart. This is simply inadequate," Ms Edwards said.

Maree O'Halloran from the National Welfare Rights Network said, "Increasing the income free area to $100 per fortnight will assist many of the people who call our Centres across Australia who are struggling to find full-time work. The increase may also encourage more people on Newstart to take up casual shifts."

"Lifting and indexing to the earnings thresholds, access to education support through the Pensioner Education Supplement and extending access to the valuable Pensioner Concession Card are important reforms. They could have been properly applauded if they had been accompanied by the much -needed increase to Newstart."

"We urge the community, business, the ACTU and all members of the Federal Parliament to continue to support a much needed $50 per week increase to the single Newstart Allowance and improved payment indexation arrangements," Ms O'Halloran said.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Fernando de Freitas at ACOSS - 0419 626 155
Terese Edwards - NCSMC - 0439 211 493
Gerard Thomas - National Welfare Rights Network - 0425 296 882

Bread and Water Call to Action: Show your support for increase to Newstart

8 May 2013

Join Community Press Conference – 12.00 Thursday May 9, 2013

Redfern Park, Sydney NSW (Chalmers street end, near grand stand) MAP

Bread and water will be supplied to symbolise the meagre existence of life on Newstart Allowance.

ACOSS is asking all supporters of the campaign to increase the single rate of allowances, including Newstart and Youth Allowance, to join our lunchtime press conference at Redfern Park on Thursday May 9, 2013.

ACOSS will be conducting a press conference to insist that the low payments must be increased by $50 a week when the Budget is delivered on Tuesday 14th May.

We are extremely concerned by media speculation today that the Government will not increase the Newstart rate in next week’s Budget – despite the overwhelming support across the community for such an increase.

Almost 1 million people are struggling to survive on these payments – single parents, people with disability, people long term unemployed, and older workers.

ACOSS understands the huge pressure on this Budget, but it is not the time for the most vulnerable to be asked to carry the load.

This year’s Budget is the time to fix this – we urge the government to be courageous and do the right thing by some of the most disadvantaged people in our community.

Please join us and spread the word!

See this video: $35 a day is not enough: Geraldine and Tony's Story.

Find out more about $35 a day is not enough! campaign.

Call for the single most important act to alleviate poverty for almost 1 million people and their children!


Adequacy of carbon price compensation must be legislated

8 May 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today called for legislation to ensure that an independent, transparent review of the adequacy of compensation arrangements under the carbon pricing mechanism is guaranteed.

"We welcome the news from Minister Combet that carbon price compensation already delivered through the social security and tax systems will remain in place. We are confident that the current arrangements are adequately compensating people for the modest impact of the carbon price on household costs.

However, today’s announcement of the deferral of further compensation highlights the need for a mechanism to allow independent review of the ongoing adequacy of the compensation package. We had argued for the annual review to be legislated, and to ensure that it was conducted independently, and based on verifiable evidence" said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Results from the first years of the carbon price in operation show that it is working – the carbon price has reduced emissions and this is good news for the community – especially for the poor who will be worst affected by climate change.

“It makes economic sense for aspects of the compensation package to be reviewed in light of changes to the price of carbon, but this needs to be done through an independent and accountable review process.

“At the same time, investment in renewable energy and clean technology, and assistance to business and households to become more energy efficient remains important – energy efficiency assistance to low income households is an important way of  reducing energy costs for those households and at the same time reduces emissions.

"It's critical that the carbon package remain fair and equitable. ACOSS has long argued that people on the lowest income levels will be impacted first and worst by the effects of climate change, but these individuals also have the greatest need for support.

"It is essential that the ongoing adequacy of compensation be assured. This can only be done through legislation," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Family payments need ‘overhaul’ but not by failing those most in need

7 May 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service has strongly opposed the federal Government decision not to go ahead with a family benefits increase that was specifically targeted at struggling families who need it most. 

"We understand the current pressures on the Budget but quite frankly there are other more important areas where savings can be found rather than going back on a promise that would greatly assist around a million of our nation's lowest earning families," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The family payment system is the bulwark against child poverty in Australia, which is growing despite two decades of unprecedented growth. We know that 2.2 million people are currently living in poverty, including some 575,000 children. If it wasn't for our family payments system the situation would undoubtedly be much worse.

"It is important to note that the adequacy of family payments has fallen behind due to loss of full indexation since 2009 and we believe the measure to provide low income families around $600 extra a year would go some way to improving that.

"Of course, we agree that the current fiscal environment requires us to question our tax and transfer payments. We do need to explore where assistance from government needs to be universal and when it needs to be better targeted.<

"That's why we had recommended that the government focus on better targeting the family payment system, especially Family Tax Benefits B so we can get that assistance to families that really do need it.

"In our Budget submission we've argued for an urgent restructure of family payments, which would see the money from things like the Baby Bonus and the Schoolkids Bonus go back into higher payments so we get that balance right.

"We think this decision that appears to have been confirmed today will make that task all the more difficult.

"We want to reiterate our call for the government to be courageous and shut down tax loopholes and wasteful spending at the top end. We have identified around $6 billion in savings from tax avoidance measures such as the use of private ‘discretionary' trusts and capital gains, International companies reducing tax paid in Australia, and the churning income through super accounts to avoid taxes on wages.

"We've also put forward proposals to tackle poorly targeted spending programs and tax breaks such as the health insurance rebate for ancillary or ‘extras' cover not related to hospital care; the 20% tax-break for medical ‘gap fees' exceeding $2,060 a year; and the Senior Australians and Pensioners Tax Offset.

"Budgets are about government priorities and this is where governments should be focusing their attention, not going after measures that assist families that need the greatest assistance and actually help reduce poverty in our country," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

ACOSS Budget Priority Statement 2013

ACOSS applauds the putting aside of politics for worthy NDIS

2 May 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today praised Federal political leaders for ensuring that the crucial national disability insurance scheme comes to fruition through funding.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, "Yesterday's historic announcement by the Prime Minister of a modest levy to fund Disability Care Australia has the widespread support of the community. It was essential that we lock in a funding stream to support this scheme that is so important to ensuring that people with disability are supported to have social and economically contributing lives.

"Today's announcement by the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, of his support for the levy is a further welcome sign of the Opposition's ongoing commitment to the scheme. With the Greens and Independents already on the record, we can congratulate our Federal leaders on this non-partisan show of support for such a crucial reform.

"Increasing the Medicare Levy by this modest amount gets the funding ball rolling to secure the much needed scheme. It is pleasing to see that all sides of politics have gone beyond politics on such an important issue.

"We congratulate the Prime Minister for confirming that she will bring to Parliament the necessary legislation to make this happen. This is indeed a historic day in Australian politics and in the lives of people with disability," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Prominent Australians support increase to Newstart in May Budget

30 April 2013

More than forty prominent Australians and leading heads of charities, unions, and national community welfare organisations, have united to sign an Open Letter to the Federal Government, calling for an increase in income support allowance payments in the May Budget.

The Open Letter, organised by the Australian Council of Social Service, calls on the Australian Government to increase the single rate of Newstart and other allowances and index these payments to wages, to address growing poverty in Australia.

"There is widespread concern among people from all quarters in our community that keeping Allowance payments like Newstart so low doesn't help people into work, but merely drives them further into misery," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"This only makes life even harder for people already struggling to lift themselves up and more fully participate in our society through paid work. It is simply unacceptable that Newstart hasn't been increased in real terms for nearly 20 years.

"We all understand the current budgetary constraints, however, this must be a priority in the coming Budget. We can afford the $1.8 billion. In fact we cannot afford not to do it.

"At present 2.2 million people live below the poverty line in Australia, including 575,000 children. The highest risk groups are people who are out of paid work and those on low income support payments.

"Increasing Newstart by $50 a week will help lift over one million people out of this despairing situation, and provide a welcome stimulus to the economy, because every single cent will be spent on mere survival.

"We urge the federal government to listen to this loud call from across the community and take the courageous step last taken by Paul Keating in 1994, and finally ensure an increase in the payments of some of most disadvantaged people in our community," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOAD OPEN LETTER

To understand how this effects people's lives watch this video: Tony and Geraldine's account of life on just $35 a day

Find out more about the $35 a day is not enough! campaign


Signatories to Open Letter

Mick Gooda
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission

Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO
Professor of Law, Australian Catholic University

Julian Burnside AO QC
Australian barrister, human rights and refugee advocate, and author

Jane Caro,
Author and media commentator

Eva Cox AO
Professorial Fellow, Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, UTS

Dr David Morawetz
Founder and Director, Social Justice Fund

Miriam Lyons
Public policy advocate and social commentator

Les Malezer
Co-chair, National Congress of Australia's First Peoples

Ged Kearney
President. Australian Council of Trade Unions

Major Kelvin Alley
National Secretary, The Salvation Army National Secretariat

Matthew Bowden
Co-Chief Executive Officer, People with Disability Australia Incorporated

Alison Brook
National Executive Officer, Relationships Australia

Kasy Chambers
Executive Director, Anglicare Australia

Narelle Clay AM
Chairperson, Homelessness Australia

Tim Costello
Chief Executive Officer, World Vision Australia

Carol Croce
Executive Director, Community Housing Federation of Australia

Andrew Cummings
Executive Director, Australian Youth Affairs Coalition

Dr John Falzon
CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society

Carolyn Frohmader
Executive Director, Women with Disabilities Australia

Angelo Gavrielatos,
Federal President, Australian Education Union

Dr Cassandra Goldie
CEO, Australian Council of Social Service

Steve Hackett
Executive Director, Family Relationships Services Australia

Lesley Hall
CEO, Australian Federation of Disability Organisations

Toby Hall
CEO, Mission Australia

Lin Hatfield Dodds,
National Director, UnitingCare Australia

Prof Karen Healy
President, Australian Association of Social Workers

John Heath
CEO, SANE Australia

Anne Hollonds
CEO, Benevolent Society

Rob Lake,
Executive Director, Australian Federation of Aids Organisations

Caroline Lambert,
Executive Officer, YWCA Australia

Claerwen Little
Director, UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families

Cedric Manen
Chair, Settlement Council of Australia

Ron Mell
Chief Executive Officer, YMCA AUSTRALIA

Michael Moore
CEO, Public Health Association of Australia

Paul O'Callaghan
Executive Director, Catholic Social Services Australia

Maree O'Halloran AM
President, National Welfare Rights Network

Adrian Pisarski
Executive Officer, Queensland Shelter Inc. Chair, National Shelter

Marc Purcell
Executive Director, Australian Council for International Development (ACFID)

Frank Quinlan
CEO, Mental Health Council of Australia

Bishop Christopher Saunders
Chairman, Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

Michael Smith
National Convenor, National Association of Community Legal Centres Inc

Louise Tarrant
National Secretary, United Voice

Lee Thomas
President, Australian Nursing Federation

David Thompson
CEO, Jobs Australia

Rebecca Vassarotti
Executive Director, YWCA Canberra

Jo Watson
Executive Director, National Association of People with HIV Australia

Lack of affordable housing report highlights desperate plight of people surviving on Newstart

29 April 2013

Human rights experts to consider international action

A disturbing report released today highlights that people struggling to survive on Newstart face an impossible task of affording decent housing, and backs the call for an increase to the single rate of Newstart Allowance.

The 2013 Anglicare Australia Rental Affordability Snapshot report found that just 13 properties of 56,414 rental properties surveyed across Australia were affordable for anyone on the Newstart or other allowances. With competition for low cost housing intense, people who are unemployed have no chance.

"This is a distressing finding and highlights the need for more adequate support for disadvantaged groups in our community, particularly those on the lowest of payments. As Anglicare is the latest to report, the single rate of Newstart must be lifted by $50 a week in the May federal Budget. Newstart hasn't been increased in nearly 20 years and simply is not keeping up with community cost of living, especial rental prices," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

At a Public Seminar to be held today in Sydney, human rights experts will discuss what action can be taken to place pressure on the Australian parliament to finally increase the single rate of Newstart and other allowances. There is widespread concern, both nationally and internationally about the unbearably low rate of Newstart, including from the OECD, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, three Australian Parliamentary Committees, numerous reports from leading welfare agencies and academics, and leading business groups, including most recently, Mr Tony Shephard, the President of the Business Council of Australia, at his recent National Press Club speech.

Dr Goldie said, "With more single parents and more people with disability being forced onto Newstart as a result of recent social security changes, the case for an increase is compelling".

"At just $35 a day, people cannot survive on Newstart with any dignity, including being able to afford a roof over their head. An increase in Newstart is a vital investment in supporting people back into paid work. The Anglicare Report is another distressing example that adds to the overwhelming evidence that urgent action is required." 

Media Enquiries: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Seminar: Realising the Human Right to Social Security: An Australian Story Unfolding
Date: 1 - 2pm Monday, April 29, 2013
Venue: Staff Common Room, Level 2, UNSW Law (F8) UNSW

Attendance is free and media are invited - Enquiries: 02 9385 1803

Speakers:
Beth Goldblatt - Beth is a Visiting Fellow at the Australian Human Rights Centre, UNSW.
Dr Cassandra Goldie - CEO, Australian Council of Social Service
Gerard Thomas - Media and Policy Officer, Welfare Rights Centre

The Seminar is a joint event between the Australian Human Rights Centre and ACOSS.

Raising Newstart for the first time in 20 years a legacy for 43rd Parliament: ACOSS

19 April 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today said raising the single rate of Newstart Allowance could be the greatest legacy of the 43rd Parliament if the Federal Government takes the courageous step for the first time in 20 years.

"The Hawke-Keating government was the last government brave enough to increase unemployment benefits in 1994, now this government has the chance before the federal election to leave a lasting legacy," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie. "The government would certainly have the support of the wider community, including the entire community welfare sector, unions, business, the Organisation for Economic Co-ordination and Development, and its own Henry Tax Review panel."

Speaking at the launch of the peak community welfare body's 2013 Budget submission today, Dr Goldie said, "Increasing the abysmally low base rate of Allowance payments by $50 a week is the single most important thing this government could do in the immediate term to lift more than one million people out of worsening poverty in Australia.

"This is not rocket science and it is completely fundable. We estimate it would cost about $800 million dollars this year to increase the payments, including indexation, and $1.8 billion in 2014-15.

"We understand the current pressures on the Budget, however, this is doable, especially if the Government tackled the current waste in the Budget in the form of tax avoidance and poorly targeted spending programs and tax breaks. We've identified around $6 billion dollars in savings, some of which could be used to fund this must needed increase.

"We are calling on the government to clamp down on things like the use of private ‘discretionary' trusts and capital gains. We are also proposing the scrapping of the health insurance rebate for ancillary or ‘extras' cover, the Seniors and Pensioners Tax Offset, and non-superannuation termination payments, which are wasteful measures.

"We are pleased the Federal Government has capped the deductions for education expenses and moved to make the superannuation system fairer. However it appears they have backtracked on the opportunity for more far-reaching reform of the retirement savings system, particularly the churning of income through super accounts to avoid taxes on wages.

"Now is the time for courageous decisions to be made in the national interest if we are to move towards creating a more sustainable tax base to fund the important social programs and services we all want into the future for our aging population.

"In his speech at the National Press Club this week, the President of the Business Council of Australia, Tony Shepherd, declared that our nation is at the crossroads and urged our political leaders to be brave and be prepared to lose their jobs to lift national prosperity. ACOSS supports those sentiments, especially the recognition that we need to do more as a country to ensure the benefits of that social progress are felt by all.

"With 2.2 million people, including 1 in 6 children living below the poverty line, we were pleased to hear the strong statement from Mr Shepherd that income support allowances need to ensure people without paid work are able to ‘live in dignity'. He is the latest in long line of prominent people speaking out in support of lifting the $35 a day Newstart payment.

"Now is the time for our federal leaders to listen to this widespread call and show this courage by prioritising an urgent increase in the single rate of Newstart Allowance in the May federal Budget," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWN LOAD ACOSS Budget Statement

SUMMARY

ACOSS submission finds $6b in savings and $5b in spending for the most immediate needs.

Key ACOSS asks:

• Increasing Newstart and other Allowances by $50 and indexing payments
• Doubling number of wage subsidies very long term unemployed to 20,000 places per year and boosting job assistance
• Establish an Affordable Housing Growth Fund to expand the stock of affordable housing
• Increase the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 30% (around $15 per week) to assist people on low incomes to meet rising rental costs
• Invest in capacity for community health services to engage with key health policies, including the establishment of Medicare Locals and the Partners in Recovery framework
• Urgent Investment in the capacity of the community sector to deliver services and engage in national industry initiatives that will strengthen the third sectors ability to meet the crucial social demands of the future
• And the establishment of a Community Sector Adaptation Fund to support climate change adaptation and extreme weather preparedness of the community sector.

Key ACOSS Budget savings: $6b in 2014-15

Curb income tax avoidance

• The use of private ‘discretionary' trusts
• Capital gains - income from sale of assets such as property and shares
• International companies reducing tax paid in Australia
• Churning income through super accounts to avoid taxes on wages

Tackle poorly targeted spending programs and tax breaks
• Health insurance rebate for ancillary or ‘extras' cover not related to hospital care
• The 20% tax-break for medical ‘gap fees' exceeding $2,060 a year
• Senior Australians and Pensioners Tax Offset
• Deduction for education expenses - already announced.
• Non superannuation termination payments

Revenue Neutral measures
• Restructure Family Tax Benefits - Target families at risk of poverty and simplify the family payments system - review Baby Bonus and School Kids Bonus and better target through higher Family Tax Benefit Part A to low and middle income families.
• Remove Child Care Rebate - Use saving to introduce a universal minimum level of Child Care Benefit - the maximum rate of Child Care Benefit should be increased to better reflect child care needs, reasonable costs and capacity to pay. This would increase subsidies for low and middle income families facing the highest costs and reduce the regressivity of present subsidies for 'gap fees'.

NSW Government must reverse cuts to crucial Welfare Rights service

18 April 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today called on the New South Wales Government to reverse a decision to the cut funding for the Welfare Rights Centre, which provides vital support for some of the most vulnerable people and families throughout NSW. 

"The decision by the NSW Department of Community Services is short-sighted as a cost cutting measure, because cutting funding that prevents homelessness, poverty and empowers peoples rights will end up costing us more in the end," Said ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie. 

"The Welfare Rights Centre provides crucial advise and support for people in dealing with the federal bureaucracy over income support. It's work leads to poor decisions by Centrelink to be overturned each year so that people have enough income to stabilise their lives, find paid employment and strengthen their families.

"Although social security and family assistance are Commonwealth areas, states like NSW get enormous value and benefits. For instance, approximately $2 million of debt is prevented or waived annually by the Centre's caseworker interventions.

"Welfare Rights' work is so important is assisting some of the most disadvantaged families and young people, people with disabilities, older people and unemployed people. Some of their casework prevents the removal of children, and their work relieves pressures on other agencies.

"There is no alternate provider of this specialist service in NSW and it would be a travesty if these cuts were to proceed.

"At the end of the day tackling poverty is a federal and state responsibility. NSW cannot simply relinquish that responsibility to the Federal Government in an area that clearly crosses that federal-state divide.

"We ask the NSW Community Services Minister Pru Goward to reconsider her department's decision and reinstate this important funding. In this way she would send a strong message of her state's commitment to sharing responsibility for supporting people needing specialist assistance in an area that's fundamental to their daily lives.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

ACOSS welcomes BCA call for long term plan and strong relationship with community sector

17 April 2013

ACOSS has today welcomed the BCA call for long term policy and planning, and the clear recognition of the role of the community sector working with business in the interests of strong economic as well as social policy in Australia.

Speaking from the National Press Club in Canberra following the speech by Business Council of Australia President Tony Shepherd, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said: "We welcome the BCA's recognition of the importance of the compact between government, the non-government sector and business, alongside the wider community, to support social and economic progress.

"Equally important is the recognition that we need to do more as a country to ensure the benefits of that social progress are felt by all. With 2.2 million people, including 1 in 6 children living below the poverty line, we are particularly pleased to hear the strong statement from Mr Shepherd that income support allowances need to ensure people without paid work are able to ‘live in dignity'. We also agree that we need ‘employment services that get them back to work quickly so they don't fall into long-term, entrenched unemployment'.

"It is critical that we ensure the revenue base to support these objectives, and a fair, sustainable tax base must be the first order for this priority. For this reason we have viewed the Henry Tax review as the best blueprint and have consistently called for many of the recommendations to be acted on.

"We share many of the objectives outlined today, including the call for a long-term plan on population and urban and regional infrastructure, ‘that fully integrate land use, transport, social infrastructure and access to natural resources'.

"We also want to see improved gender representation in senior leadership and Board roles, an issue ACOSS has been working to address in the community sector. Similarly, we are working towards appropriate and effective regulation to ensure accountability for our activities and that they are effective in supporting the communities who rely upon them.

‘We agree that we must commit with courage to having the key debates, however difficult, so that we can progress our efforts to lift our social and economic outcomes. whilst we don't agree with all of the proposals outlined today in their entirety, ACOSS is firmly committed to building a strong relationship with the business community to form a consensus on important issues in the national interest.

"ACOSS has long worked to ensure that our social policy agenda is accompanied by the economic policies and strong, sustainable tax base to sustain them. Our work with the business community is an important part of this agenda and we look forward to continuing this work, including through our alliance with the BCA and ACTU to support improved employment prospects in the longer term," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Joint Statement on ACOSS, ACTU and BCA Cooperation - 3 December 2012
Download the joint statement: Opportunity for All [PDF]

People at heightened risk because community groups overlooked in disaster management

11 April 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today released extensive new research showing the ability of communities to respond to natural disasters is being severely weakened by the exclusion of community based organisations from disaster management planning.

The research project, ‘Extreme Weather, Climate Change and the Community Sector - Risks and Adaptations', is a world first review of the preparedness of community service organisations that provide critical social services and support to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the community.

"A major finding was that despite the crucial role locally based organisations play in supporting and rebuilding people's lives during disasters like bushfires and floods - they are not included in official emergency response planning and are critically under-resourced to participate effectively," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The report highlights the serious consequences, especially for people who rely on social services to meet basic needs, if vital service agencies are not able to cope with increasing extreme events.

"One research participant in the research bluntly told us that clients would die if their organisation could not provide services because they will not be able to eat, use shower and toilet facilities or get out of bed without the assistance that their organisation provides.

"Another example provided demonstrates the critical consequences of service failure in rural and remote areas, with an organisation that provides high security accommodation for women and children at immediate risk from domestic and family violence telling us: 'We are the only service of its type for 1500 km. Women's and children's safety in the region would be extremely compromised'.

Dr Karl Mallon the project's principal investigator, stated, "Our research indicates that one week after an extreme weather event 50% of community service organisations that sustain serious disruption to their premises or utilities would still be out of operation."

He said, "This research confirms what we have seen recently in the USA and Europe, that highly vulnerable groups like the elderly and people with disabilities are being left to fend for themselves for days and even weeks after a disaster because the community organisations that normally tend to them have themselves been crippled. Therein lies the key to the solution, to protect vulnerable people from worsening extreme events society must prepare the community sector."

Yve Earnshaw from the Dunalley Tasman Neighbourhood House in Tasmania joined ACOSS at the Senate hearing to confirm the report findings through her recent experience in the devastating Tasmanian bushfires. Ms Earnshaw said, "As a community organisation with extensive local knowledge and expertise, we established our two centres as free public phone and internet centres and in Dunalley as a temporary health service facility for stranded people during the fires. We have had to fund the extra financial costs entirely from our own financial reserves. Three months on from the devastating fires, we are still employing additional staff to meet increased demand for community services and to run fire recovery programs, without yet receiving any promised additional funding to meet the associated costs."

Dr Goldie told today's Inquiry that the community sector also has the solutions and presented the 12 core recommendations from the report to the Senate Committee. They cover resourcing and funding mechanisms, building sector preparedness and resilience, and sharing risks within the sector, with government and with the private sector and through insurance and collaboration.

Dr Goldie stated, "This research has come to light on our watch. It is incumbent on us all, in government, the emergency services and the community to work together to fix this problem. No modern wealthy country can conscionably leave its most vulnerable to the ravages of natural disasters and extreme weather events. We must now collaborate to ensure community service organisations are fully prepared and a formal part of the solution- anything less would be negligent."

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOAD REPORT: Adapting the Community Sector for Climate Extremes
from the NCCARF website.

About the research:
The ACOSS research was led by Dr Karl Mallon of Climate Risk, an expert on weather and climate impacts for infrastructure and insurance, and funded by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF).

Key Recommendations:
The report identifies a series of recommendations about the resources and action required to prepare and adapt community service organisations - and the community service sector broadly - to climate change and extreme weather impacts:

1. The Commonwealth should establish a Community Sector Adaptation Fund to support capacity and resilience building projects for CSOs and their clients.

2. Contracts for service delivery must provide greater flexibility to CSOs and enable them to participate effectively in disaster response and recovery efforts.

3. Contracts for service delivery must ensure timely compensation for their contributions to response and recovery efforts; and

4. Contracts for service delivery must ensure they are not penalised for failing to meet contractual obligations due to their participation in disaster response and recovery.

5. Raise awareness about the serious risks to its service delivery and to people experiencing poverty and inequality from climate change and worsening extreme weather impacts;

6. Undertake climate change and extreme weather risks assessments and develop and implement disaster management and service continuity plans; and

7. Invest in climate change and extreme weather preparedness and response training for staff and volunteers engaged in direct service provision as well as management and administrative roles.

The community services sector must be resourced and supported to develop:

8. A set of easily accessible, practical adaptation and preparedness tools that meet the needs of a broad spectrum of community service organisations and can be implemented and institutionalised within their current operational arrangements;

9. Adaptation and preparedness benchmarks specific to community service provision that enable organisations, their funding agencies and insurers to plot progress towards risk reduction, resilience and adaptive capacity; and

10. Sector level initiatives to adapt CSOs and the sector as a whole that ensure inclusiveness and recognise the particular barriers faced by small and medium-sized organisations to engage in risk assessment, adaptation planning and implementation.

11. In partnership with the insurance sector, national and state sector peaks must develop affordable, sector-specific insurance packages that specifically address the climate change and extreme weather risks identified in this report;

12. The sector must be supported to build on existing relationships and to develop new links and partnerships with peer organisations, including those that are experienced in climate change adaptation and emergency management, as well as non-traditional partners such as local councils, state government departments of environment and climate change, emergency services and utilities in order to create strong adaptation and preparedness ‘networks' at the local level; and

13. Formal federal, state and local government recognition of the critical role the community services sector can and does play in climate change adaptation and emergency management with commensurate resources to facilitate and support its effective participation in planning, response and recovery at all levels.

Super industry flexes its muscle at expense of ordinary people: ACOSS

5 April 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service has supported changes announced today to reform the superannuation tax concession system, but expressed major disappointment that it does not go anywhere near making the system fair and sustainable into the future.

"Whilst we obviously welcome these improvements, the reality is the changes announced today by the federal Government amount to a mere tinkering at the edges of a system that is grossly skewed in favour of people on the highest incomes," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Capping tax exemptions on superannuation earnings supporting pensions and annuities at $100,000 will only affect people with super assets of more than $2 million. They will still only pay a rate of 15 per cent tax on their super savings, making savings of just $350 million over the next four years.

"This is a drop in the ocean of unfair super tax arrangements that are expected to be valued at $44.8 billion by 2014-15. It is less than half the money the Government took away from single parents in the last Budget, who are likely to have little hope of securing adequate retirement savings.

"We agree with the Treasurer asking, ‘Why should someone who has millions of dollars in a superannuation account pay no tax on their earnings'. But why are they able to pay 15 per cent tax while someone on $80,000 a year pays a marginal tax rate of 37 cents in the dollar on every additional dollar they earn?

"Why should we continue to allow people on the highest incomes to park more and more of their earnings in super accounts at discounted marginal tax rates?

"We need deep reform to make our superannuation system work for everyone, not simply continue the merry go round of changes at the margins. Progressive tax reform is not a new idea. The Henry Tax Panel called for reform four years ago.

"This cannot be put on the policy never-never for fear of a predictable backlash from vested interest groups. The fact is real reform requires a redistribution of breaks to people who need them most - low and middle income earners.

"We congratulate the Government on the proposal for a Council of Superannuation Custodians. Whom it represents will be the most critical factor in its success. We need to make sure the voices and interests of low and middle income people are at the centre of these policy debates. Sadly over the last weeks, once again, those voices have been drowned out by those who are well-resourced.

"ACOSS has long argued for major reforms that would shut down obvious super tax loopholes, and boost the savings of people on low and middle incomes, rather than those who are already secure.

"Under our revenue neutral proposals, based on the Henry proposals, the tax concession system would be turned right side up and ensure our retirement savings system supports the great majority of people trying to secure their post work futures, as well as reduce the overall reliance on the Aged Pension which at the present course is unsustainable. We made these proposals during the 2011 Tax Forum and have consistently urged their adoption throughout the debate since then," Dr Goldie said.

Media contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Find out more about the ACOSS Superannuation proposals

Stop the piecemeal changes to make much-needed and lasting Superannuation reform

28 March 2013

Comments this week suggesting that households on $250,000 annual income are struggling as much as anyone else have provided a less than useful contribution to the debate about Australia’s superannuation system, says the Australian Council of Social Service.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, ‘These comments were unhelpful because they ignore the fact that the average wage in Australia is around $70,000, and 2,265,000 people – including  575,000 children - are struggling to survive below the poverty line of a paltry $39,104 for a family. But the real issue is that superannuation is costing Australia billions of dollars, while its benefits go disproportionately to high earners at the exclusion of those on low incomes. That’s why we need a revenue-neutral restructure of the current unfair and wasteful tax breaks for superannuation contributions.

‘The reality is we need deeper reform to make our superannuation system work for everyone. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand and deny the need for such reform. It's time to stop the merry go round of changes at the margins and reform superannuation properly.

‘In the coming Federal Budget, ACOSS has called for tax concessions on superannuation contributions to be restructured to make the system fairer and simpler, with tax breaks being redirected to those who need them most – low and middle income earners.

‘This is simply a modification of the system advocated by the Henry Review and would be much simpler than the present mess that is just inequitable. Its main purpose would be to make superannuation fairer and more sustainable, not to save the Government money in the short term. Yet even if the reform was revenue neutral, it would yield fiscal savings because future age pension costs would be reduced. The bottom line is that unlike many attempts at reform in the past, this one would “stick” because at least three quarters of wage earners would be better off.


Fast facts on superannuation:

  •     Super tax concessions are currently skewed heavily in favour of high income earners

  •     In 2015-16, spending on super tax concessions is expected to overtake spending on the Age Pension.

  •     The cost of superannuation tax concessions will increase from $31.8 billion in 2012-2013 to $44.8 billion by 2015-15.

  •     Superannuation tax concessions became the biggest tax expenditure in 2012-2013, exceeding the cost of tax concessions for owner-occupied housing for the first time:

       o   Superannuation tax breaks are by far Australia’s largest tax expenditure - estimated by Treasury to cost $32 billion annually, about the same as the age pension.

       o   Half of this total cost, $16 billion, is ‘spent’ to subsidise contributions to superannuation funds, especially those made by employers. Those contributions are taxed at a flat rate of 15% instead of the individual’s marginal tax rate. As a result it is strongly biased towards those on the top marginal tax rate, who save over 30 cents in tax for every dollar contributed to super by their employer compared to no tax saving at all for those on the lowest wages.

       o   We estimate that half the $16 billion spent on this tax break in 2007 went to the top 12% of taxpayers.

  •     Tax concessions for superannuation contributions should be restructured to make the system fairer and simpler:

o   Implement a scheme along the lines of that proposed by the Henry Report where employer contributions are taxed at the individual’s marginal rate before they are deposited into the fund, and this is offset in full or in part by a rebate on all contributions up to an annual cap. This revenue-neutral reform could roughly double the gains in retirement incomes for low income earners from higher compulsory contributions. It would cap poorly targeted tax breaks for the top 20% of taxpayers, who currently receive half of the benefits of $16 billion in annual tax concessions for superannuation contributions.

       o   The Government’s proposal to increase the annual cap for contributions that attract a tax break from $25,000 to $50,000 for individuals over 54 should not proceed as this would mainly benefit taxpayers who are already able to secure their retirement future.

       o   These reforms would help to curb the current avoidance of personal income tax through ‘churning’ income through superannuation funds, by reducing the caps for concessional contributions by the amount of any benefit paid during that year ($500 million in 2014-15).

See Opinion piece by ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie: Super breaks inefficient and unfair: tinkering won’t help

First Published in The Age March 29, 2013

ACOSS National Conference Newstart Resolution

26 March 2013

More than 400 participants of the 2013 ACOSS National Conference have today passed a resolution calling on the federal parliament of Australia to urgently legislate for a $50 increase in the single rate of Newstart and other low paying allowances.

The resolution reads:

‘Participants of the 2013 ACOSS National Conference unanimously call on the federal parliament of Australia to urgently legislate for a $50 increase in the single rate of Newstart and other low paying allowances.

Allowance payments also need to be indexed to wages as opposed the CPI.

This must be included in this May Budget before the federal election if we are to prevent worsening levels of poverty in our country.

Already one in eight people are living in poverty in Australia, including one in six children.

This is an indictment on our nation and it's in our national interest to take immediate steps to redress this.'


Day 2 of the ACOSS National Conference 2013 has just begun in Adelaide (9.30am Tuesday March 26,2013).

Live on A-PAC Channel 648, participate on Twitter #ACOSS2013

Keynote Address - Julia Slay, Senior Researcher and Coordinator of Social Policy, New Economic Foundation, United Kingdom

Community engagement - what can we learn from the UK?

• The Hon. Kevin Andrews MP - Shadow Minister for Housing, Families and Human Services
• Miriam Lyons - Executive Director, Centre for Policy Development
• Julia Slay - Senior Research Officer, New Economic Foundation, UK

Elephant in the room: Australia's affordable housing crisis
• The Hon. Mark Butler - Minister for Housing and Homelessness and Social Inclusion
• Senator Marise Payne - Opposition spokesperson on Housing and Homelessness
• Senator Scott Ludlam - Senator for Western Australia, The Australian Greens

Other conference sessions today include:
• Thongs, BBQs, Human Rights? What the National Children's Commissioner really means for young people
• Women's experiences of poverty
• Power to the people - making energy affordable in a fast changing market
• Income management: what do we know now?
• Extreme weather, climate change and the community sector
• Community based health care in a post-reform era
• Putting community at the heart of Election 2013

Media contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

United call for Newstart increase at ACOSS National Conference

25 March 2013

Australia's community welfare sector gathering in Adelaide today will make a united call for a $50 increase in the single Newstart Allowance payment in this year's federal Budget.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will tell the peak body's National Conference that the much needed increase is urgent and must be funded in this last Budget before the federal election if we are serious about dealing with the worsening level of poverty in our country.

Dr Goldie will tell the gathering that, "One in eight people are living in poverty in Australia, including one in six children - this is an indictment on our nation."

"People who are out of paid work and on the lowest payments are among those at highest risk. The Newstart payment continues to fall further behind pensions because it's indexed only to the Consumer Price Index instead of wages.

"In last week's indexation increases people on the Aged Pension received an $18 a week increase whereas people on Newstart only received a $2 a week increase. The single rate of Newstart remains $35 a day.

"The difference between the payments is now $150. Newstart hasn't been increased in nearly 20 years. Now is the time to correct this record.

"In recent years we've seen changes to tighten eligibility for the Disability Support Pension force as many as 70,000 more people with disability onto the low Newstart payment. And recently more than 80,000 single parents and their children were dropped to the same payment and lose between $60-$100 a week.

"This get tough approach to the vulnerable members of our community has simply got to stop.

"The parliament has the most compelling responsibility to act now and urgently - business, unions, economics and tax experts, employment experts as well three parliamentary committees, the OECD and UN monitors all agree.

"What more evidence do we need? How many more people need to suffer?" Dr Goldie will say.

Strong supporters of the campaign Senators Doug Cameron and Rachel Siewert will speak at the conference. Delegates will also hear the real life stories of people trying to survive on the low payment as they look for work.

Media contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

ACOSS National Conference 2013 - start at 9am on Monday 25th March 2013 in Adelaide

Opening speeches:
Jay Weatherill, South Australian Premier
Jody Broun, Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples

Conference sessions today include:

  • A New Start for income support payments in Australia
  • Harsh reality: Life on income support in Australia
  • Redesigning Australia's Employment Services System
  • Pathways to employment through VET
  • The Future of Australia's Retirement Income
  • How will the NDIS work?
  • Gender matters: How far have our workplaces come?
  • Unmet need: Access to Justice
  • Working towards better partnerships in the NT
  • "Racism. It stops with me." Thinking, speaking and acting to stop racism in Australia

Live on A-PAC Channel 648, participate on Twitter #ACOSS2013

Wake up call for the nation: More than 620, 000 people with disability living in poverty

22 March 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service has today released new figures showing 620, 600 people with disability in Australia are living below the conservative, internationally accepted poverty line used to measure financial hardship in wealthy countries.

"ACOSS welcomes the passage of the National Disability Insurance Scheme legislation through federal Parliament yesterday. We congratulate the across the board political support for this vitally important reform that will make a real difference to the lives of people with disabilities," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The new research forms part of the Poverty in Australia report released in October 2012 that showed that 2,265,000 people are living in poverty in Australia. Data for the number of people living in poverty with disability was not available in time for that report.

"This figure should be cause for great concern. It shows that 27.4% of people with disability are currently living below the poverty line of 50% of median household income," Dr Goldie said.

"This means that people with disability - or those with a ‘core activity restriction' as defined in the Australian Bureau of Statistics income survey - are more than twice as likely to be in poverty than other people in our country. This compares with 12.8% of the overall population living in poverty, including 17.3% of children. It's simply not good enough. We can and must do better.

"When you take the 60% poverty line used by the UK and other European countries, the situation is even more dire, pushing that figure to 44.5% or one million people.

"The lack of real employment opportunities is a main factor for the above-average risk of poverty. In 2009 only 54% people with a ‘core activity restriction' were employed compared to 83% of people generally of working age.

"We also know that many people with disabilities rely on social security payments,such as the Newstart Allowance and the Disability Support Pension, as their main income source. Since the introduction of Welfare to Work policies in 2006, an increasing number of people assessed as having a ‘partial work capacity' (ability to work part time) have been placed on the lower Newstart Allowance rather than the Disability Support Pension.

"Disturbingly, the most recent changes to the Disability Support Pension will likely have further increased the number of people forced to live on Newstart, since this report. The findings by the National Welfare Rights Network that successful claims of the Disability Support Pension have plummeted from one in three, to just one in every two claims in 2011-12 is extremely disturbing.

"This has meant that over 67,000 people with disabilities have been pushed onto the lower-paying Newstart Allowance, which is $150 less per week. This change appears likely to be saving the Government at least a further $500 million per year.

"Currently, over 824,000 people with disabilities receive Disability Support Pension and more than 100,000 receive Newstart Allowance.

"This is yet more evidence of the urgent need to increase the grossly inadequate Newstart Allowance payment which hasn't been increased in real terms for nearly 20 years. People on this payment have to make do on just $35 a day which clearly isn't enough for anyone to live on, especially if you have added difficulties and costs associated with disability.

">"We need urgent action to address the inadequacy of income support payments for people with disability, including the single rate of Newstart Allowance, onto which more people will be reliant into the future.

"We also need a determined effort to lift languishing employment rates. Nationally, we have seen an alarming decline in participation rates, including within the Commonwealth Public Service. It's extremely disappointing that the employment levels of people with disability in the Australian Public Service has been going backwards over the last 20 years - from 5.8% in 1992 to 3.7% in 2001 to 2.9% in 2012.

"It is high time that we considered introduction of targets and quotas, to provide the incentives necessary to ensure equality of employment opportunities. The great productivity debate in Australia needs to have at its core how we ensure that people with diverse capabilities and backgrounds are fully enabled to participate in our workplaces, now and into the future.

"We also need a national commitment to reduce the rate of poverty in Australia, as part of our quest to lift our GDP growth. It is shameful that, despite two decades of strong economic growth, with Australia now one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we have so many people struggling.

"Our report is a wake up call for our nation and highlights that there is a long way to go for us to provide people living with disabilities the same opportunities to participate in society as the rest of us enjoy," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Poverty in Australia Report - Updated version 2013

Key Findings of Report:

• 2,265,000 people or 12.8% of all people living below the internationally accepted poverty line (50% of median household income)
• 575,000 children or 17.3% were living below the poverty line
• 620,600 people with a disability or 27.4% were living below the poverty line
• 63% of people in unemployed households were below the poverty line
• 25% of people in lone parent households were below the 50% poverty line
• 37% of people in households whose main income was social security were living below the poverty line
• 14% of women were below the poverty line compared to 12% of men
• 54% of people living in households below the poverty line were female compared to 46% male
• 26% of adults living in households below the 50% poverty line came from a non-English-speaking-country
• The level of poverty was higher (13.1%) outside capital cities than in capital cities (12.6%)
• The proportion of people in poverty rose by approximately a third of a percentage point from 2003 to 2010 but it is difficult to compare poverty levels over the long term due to changes in the various ABS surveys

Evidence is in: Government must now reverse single parent cuts and lift Newstart

21 March 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service is today calling on the federal Government to take immediate steps to reverse the damaging cuts to single parenting payments and increase the grossly inadequate Newstart Allowance following the release of the final report of a key Parliamentary Human Rights Committee.

ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie, says the report, released late yesterday evening, is historic. "As the first ever final report from this new Joint Committee on Human Rights, established by this Government, it is vital that the Government accedes to its recommendations, if we are to have any faith in this Committee process being an adequate method for protecting human rights in Australia."

"The Committee's report was unanimous and confirms the view of frontline groups and the entire community sector, that the decision to move more than 80,000 single parents onto the Newstart Allowance when their youngest child turns eight will ‘place additional stress on vulnerable families, without providing a correspondingly better outcome in terms of work prospects'.

"It's clear the decision was merely a budget saving measure that must now be overturned if we are to prevent already struggling single parents and their children falling deeper into poverty," said Dr Goldie.

"The Committee's report also shines the light on the complete inadequacy of the Newstart payment, which although out of the scope of the Committee's work, now places the onus on the government to either prove the payment is adequate or raise it for the first time in nearly 20 years.

"ACOSS supports the view of the Committee that the government adopt an official poverty line as previously recommended by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). It is unacceptable that as a nation we don't have an official measure of the level of poverty that would enable us to set targets and take measures to address the problem, nor have we set any measure of progress in poverty reduction. It should disturb as all that the rate of poverty in Australia - 1 in 8 people, and 1 in 6 children, is on the rise, despite twenty years of strong economic growth.

"In light of the Committee's concerns about lack of consultation and impact assessment with affected families, the absence of considered alternatives, and a monitoring mechanism to assess the impact of the changes, the only appropriate action now is for an immediate reversal of the cuts, and to ensure that Newstart and other allowances are adequate for the other 682,873 people who barely survive on them.

"Upon a request from ACOSS and other groups the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights recently wrote a strongly worded letter to the government raising serious concerns that the cuts may be a violation of several rights included under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Commonwealth Government has still not responded.

"Now the government's own Human Rights Committee says ‘The evidence suggests that the government has neglected to fully integrate human rights considerations into the development and implementation of these measures as required under the ICESCR'.

"It is not a good look for a country that has only just taken up a temporary seat at the UN Security Country to be breaching key international human rights obligations.

"We are calling on the government to do the right thing by single parents and their children and reinstate their payment. We also want to see the Government act on the Committee's recommendation for ‘a more concerted effort to address the question of adequacy' of Newstart Allowance. ACOSS and others have recommended a $50 increase to the single rate, in line with the Henry Review panel finding in 2010, and to link indexation to wages.

"This simply must happen in the upcoming Budget. It is extraordinary that, just yesterday, whilst people on the Aged Pension received $18 per week increase, people on Newstart only received a $2 a week increase. The growing gap between these payments, now $150 per week, is untenable." Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

See Report: 

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights Examination of legislation in accordance with the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 Social Security Legislation Amendment (Fair Incentives to Work) Act 2012.

Tackle $6 billion in tax loopholes and Budget ‘waste’ to make room for priority programs

11 March 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today released proposals to cut tax loopholes and wasteful spending in the federal Budget worth almost $6 billion - that would help fund essential services and improve the budget bottom line.

Download ACOSS ‘Waste' Paper

"ACOSS accepts our nation faces a challenge to strengthen the fiscal base if we are to fund important programs we all want, such as adequate income support payments for people living below the poverty line, the National Disability Insurance System, better education and health outcomes and more affordable housing," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"We will not be able to meet this challenge if we remain hamstrung with poorly targeted and wasteful spending and generous tax breaks that mainly benefits people on higher incomes.

‘It's unfair that public subsidies for services such as the private health rebate for ancillary health care and the tax rebate for medical expenses go disproportionately to people on the highest incomes while people on low incomes avoid visiting the dentist because they can't afford to.

"Valuable public dollars should be targeted to assist people who need it the most, not people who have less need for government support.

"In this way we will be able to fund urgent measures like raising the Newstart unemployment payment by $50 a week for single people. This payment hasn't been increased in real terms for nearly 20 years. The evidence is in from the Henry Report and last year's Senate Inquiry that $35 a day is not enough to live on and seek employment. More delays in fixing this problem are unacceptable.

"Our expenditure saving and revenue proposals are in line with key Henry Tax Review recommendations and would make Australia's tax and social security system fairer, more efficient, and more sustainable as our ageing population increases the demands on Government to provide essential services.

"Obviously we will need to look for sustainable ways to generate revenue for our shared future, and Henry provides a good blueprint for some of the ways we can do this. ACOSS is also undertaking further work on how we should expand our tax base, including looking at tax investments for property speculation, which is inflating property prices and cost of living pressures that particularly impacts low income households. 

"Australia is not a high taxing country, as the 6th lowest in the OECD. If we want a decent safety net, and universal health education and dental services as well as the housing and infrastructure for now and future generations, we need a sustainable tax base. Now is the right time to implement these important tax reform changes that are long overdue," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Download ACOSS ‘Waste' Paper

Key Proposals to curb income tax avoidance
• The use of private ‘discretionary' trusts
• Capital gains - income from sale of assets such as property and shares
• International companies reducing tax paid in Australia
• Churning income through super accounts to avoid taxes on wages

Key proposals to tackle poorly targeted spending programs and tax breaks
• Health insurance rebate for ancillary or ‘extras' cover not related to hospital care
• The 20% tax-break for medical ‘gap fees' exceeding $2,060 a year
• Senior Australians and Pensioners Tax Offset
• Deduction for education expenses
• Non superannuation termination payments


ACOSS National Conference - March 25-26 in Adelaide
‘Community: The Heart of the Economy'

Not an either-or: Newstart must be lifted

7 March 2013

Peak community welfare groups and charities today restated their call for a $50 increase in Allowance payments such as Newstart in this year's Federal Budget as a fundamental requirement to help lift hundreds and thousands of people out of worsening poverty in Australia.

Media reports yesterday suggested the Government is considering a proposal to allow single parents and other people on the Newstart Allowance to keep more of their earnings before losing benefits, rather than increasing the Newstart payment itself. This is not an ‘either or' choice. While we need to allow people to keep more of the money they earn, we also need a more adequate base payment.

There should not be a trade-off or the central problem that current payment levels are driving people further into poverty and making it more difficult for people to find paid work will be missed. It is like filling potholes in a road when the road should be rebuilt.

The poverty experienced by people on these very low payments, including those parents who are unable to find any paid work, is real and must be addressed if we are going to make any difference in the worsening plight of people on allowance payments.

If the problem with Newstart Allowance isn't fixed then more and more people will suffer a loss of income as they are bumped down from the pension onto Newstart. The gap between the pension and Newstart Allowance for a single adult without children is $140. For single parents on Newstart it is $120 per week.

The evidence is clear that the inadequate $35 a day payment is having a devastating impact on people's lives. They are simply unable to keep a roof over their head, feed themselves, pay bills and look for work on a payment that hasn't been increased in real terms for nearly 20 years.

There's no doubt that increasing the amount people can keep before they start losing their payment is crucial, and this will help the hundreds and thousands of people already supplementing their income through part time and casual work. However this does nothing for the most disadvantaged people on unemployment benefits, especially those with disabilities, mature age people and single parents who are unable to find paid work.

There are currently over 100,000 on Newstart Allowance with a partial capacity to work, with significant disabilities. By 2014, one in five people on Newstart will have a partial capacity to work. Of the 789,976 on Newstart and Youth Allowance, 253,000 have been looking for work for more than two years, 250,000 are aged over 45, and 155,000 are aged over 50.

With one in five receiving the Newstart Allowance for more than five years, it can no longer be claimed that the Allowance is a ‘temporary' payment for people in between jobs.

We need a comprehensive approach to this issue if we are really going to make a difference to worsening poverty in Australia, and provide people with a hand up to participate in our society.

We are calling on the Federal Government to listen to the overwhelming body of evidence from parliamentary inquiries, countless reports from charities and community groups, unions and business groups, and its own Social Inclusion Board and Henry Tax Review panel. 

Signatories to this statement:
Australian Council of Social Service 
Anglicare Australia 
Australian Federation of Disability Organisations
Australian Youth Affairs Coalition 
Catholic Social Services Australia 
COTA Australia 
Financial Counselling Australia 
Homelessness Australia 
Jobs Australia 
National Council of Single Mothers and their Children 
National Welfare Rights Network 
St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia 
The Benevolent Society 
The Salvation Army 
The Smith Family 

Media Contacts:
Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) - 0419 626 155
Roland Manderson (Anglicare Australia) - 0412 241 379
Stephen Gianni (Australian Federation of Disability Organisations) - 0417 589 373
Andrew Cummings (Australian Youth Affairs Coalition) - 0435 146 979
Jackie Brady (Catholic Social Services Australia) - 0417 220 779
Ian Yates (COTA Australia) - 0418 835 439
Fiona Guthrie (Financial Counselling Australia) - 07 3004 6911
Nicole Lawder (Homelessness Australia) - 02 6247 7744
David Thompson (Jobs Australia) - 0419 527753
Terese Edwards (National Council of Single Mothers and their Children) - 0439 211 493
Gerard Thomas (National Welfare Rights Network) - 0425 296 882
Colleen O'Sullivan (St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia) - 0400 845 492
Carolin Wenzel (The Benevolent Society) - 0411 766 682
Brad Halse (The Salvation Army) - 0417 095 989 
Lisa O'Brien (The Smith Family) - 02 9085 7222

For more information: $35 a day is not enough!

UN asks Australian Government to explain violation of single parents’ rights

4 March 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today called on the Australian Government to detail its response to a United Nations request for it to explain the decision to cut the payments of over 80,000 single parent families.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights and Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice has written to the Australian Government about the slashing of about $100 a week from the payments of single parents, which took effect on 1 January. The letter is in response to an urgent complaint that ACOSS and other welfare groups and human rights experts made last year to the UN Special Rapporteur, following the Federal Government's refusal to follow the recommendation of its own Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights to delay the cuts.

"We thank the UN Special Rapporteur for taking this issue up on behalf of these single parents, 90% of whom are women, and their children.

"The strongly worded letter from the UN Special Rapporteur raises serious concerns that the cuts may be a violation of several rights included under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The ball is now in the Australian Government's court to explain otherwise.

"These include the rights to social security, (article 9 ICESCR), the right to an adequate standard of living (article 11 ICESCR), and the prohibition of non-discrimination in the enjoyment of these rights (article 2 paragraph 2 ICESCR). The letter states that there could also be a violation of additional provisions of the ICESCR such as the prohibition of retrogressive measures (article 2 paragraph 1 ICESCR) and the general limitation clause (article 4 ICESCR).

"Even more concerning is the apparent violations of the Conventions on the Rights of the Child and on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women. The Children's Convention states that:

"in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration."

"It is clear that this certainly was not the case. Unfortunately achieving a Budget saving was the primary consideration ahead of the rights and wellbeing of children in single parent families who are already among the most disadvantaged in this country. Single mothers are also among the most marginalised and vulnerable groups.

"With one in six children living in poverty in Australia, it is unfathomable that, in the face of such a letter of concern from the UN Special Rapporteur, the Federal Government still went ahead with these cuts. It is also an indictment on both major political parties that the Federal Parliament ignored the first-ever recommendations of the new Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights. Only a handful of parliamentarians, including the Australian Greens and Independents, respected its findings and voted against these cuts. It is incumbent on the Commonwealth Government to address this wrong-doing that will cost our community more in the long term by driving more single parents and their children into poverty.

"The UN Special Rapporteur asks some pertinent questions needing urgent answers, such as whether an impact assessment was conducted concerning an adequate standard of living of the families affected, and whether there was an impact assessment carried out concerning children's rights and interests.

"Like the UN, we would all like to know what monitoring mechanisms have been put in place to assess the implementation of the Act and its impact on the rights of those affected. And what processes or mechanisms for redress will be included. We would also like an explanation for the inadequate consultation with those parents directly affected by the cuts and the lack of alternatives considered.

"These questions need immediate answers. We've been asking them for many months and the Government has had this letter since October last year, several months before the cuts in payment took effect," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

This will be one of the issues to be discussed at the up-coming ACOSS National Conference
'Community: The Heart of the Economy' - 25-26 March 2013.

The UN Special Rapporteur's letter to the Australian Government dated 19 October 2013: 

Letter from ACOSS and other groups to the UN Special Rapporteur dated October 5, 2012

Find out more information

Sydney Mardi Gras: Reminder that much still needs to be done to end discrimination

2 March 2013

ACOSS Chief Executive Dr Cassandra Goldie today wished organisers and participants of the annual Mardi Gras Parade a joyous celebration, adding that much still needs to be done to achieve equality and an end to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Australia.

"The annual festival has become one of our nation's most popular events , drawing people from all over the world. It is a wonderful celebration of all that has been achieved in the past 35 years, but also a reminder that's there's still much more to be done to achieve true equality," Dr Goldie said.

"There is no doubt there is more acceptance today and we've seen key reforms in areas such as social security, tax and superannuation. However we still need to urgently address the legal discrimination against LGBTI people in Australia. The denial of the right of people to marry regardless of their sexuality, and inconsistent approaches to parental recognition and alternative gender identities amount to a denial of human rights. It is discriminatory and needs to end. We fully support the move to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, as part of enacting the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012.

"Australia is lagging behind many countries on this front now, even the UK and US, not to mention Mexico, Argentina and others. It's about time our governments showed courage and gave people of diverse sex, sexuality and gender identity the same rights that all other people enjoy.

"There is still some work to be done to make our communities safe, with reports of violence against LGBTI people still persistent. We know that this continual discrimination is having a devastating impact on people's health with members of these communities experiencing disproportionately higher rates of mental health issues, poorer health outcomes, and suicide.

"Sexuality, sex and gender diverse people have disproportionately negative mental health outcomes in comparison with the rest of the population. Research indicates rates of depression, suicidal ideation, suicide and other forms of self-harm between 2 and 14 times higher, as a result of the experience of discrimination and marginalisation.

"We simply cannot allow this to go on. We need a concerted effort to tackle this deeply disturbing evidence of chronic inequality in health outcomes. We need policies which address the longstanding legislative, human rights, community and health issues that impact on the LGBTI communities.

"Today's Mardi Gras Parade will celebrate all the community activism and ongoing resilience of the LGBTI communities and all that has been achieved in the past four decades. As we welcome so many people from all over the world to today's celebration, we should also be cognisant that the world is watching and waiting. It's time for a deeper commitment and action by Australian Governments to true inclusion and participation of LGBTI people," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Putting improved social outcomes at the heart of economic policy debates

25 February 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service is staging its annual conference in Adelaide next month to kick-start a national conversation about the important social and economic policy issues at the forefront of this year's election debates.

The ACOSS National Conference is the meeting place of Australia's community sector, bringing together leading experts, decision makers and people at the front line of social policy and services.

"This year's theme - ‘Community: The Heart of the economy' is about making people and communities the focus of national debates about the economy and our collective future.

"We want to ensure that improved social outcomes are at the heart of productivity debates, tax reform and economic policy in Australia, especially in this election year," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Too often the community is excluded from economic debates amongst ‘experts', commentators, and decision makers. Our conference will provide a platform to bring the community into the important national conversation.

Key topics for discussion at the conference include:

    How do we guarantee the crucial social services we will need with our aging population?
  • How do we tackle the growing housing affordability crisis?
  • How do we lift productivity to include more people in the benefits of growth?
  • How do we reduce poverty in Australia?
  • What is the future of Australia's income support payment system and when will we see an increase in the base rate of inadequate allowances like Newstart?
  • How do we deliver key reforms like the National Disability Insurance Scheme and a more equitable basis to school education?
  • How do we strengthen the capacity of the nation's community sector to deliver vital community services?
  • How do we improve the democratic and public policy processes of the country?

"Ultimately the decisions we make today must be grounded on the best possible evidence of what works and ensure they improve the lives and health of our communities.

"Our conference will dissect how past and current decisions and reforms measure up, and what changes and improvements are needed to ensure enhanced social outcomes.

"This can only be guaranteed if community voices are heard, and are equal partners in the key national forums that guide the decision making process.

"Australia faces some real economic and social challenges that each and every one of us has a stake in. We want to make sure that this conversation is front and centre of federal election debates and beyond," Dr Goldie concluded.

To arrange interviews contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Find out more, including the full conference program.

Register here.

Key Conference Sessions:

Putting Community at the Centre of the National Economy
• Elephant in the room: Australia's Affordable Housing Crisis
• The Future of Australia's Retirement Income System
• A New Start or more of the same: the future of allowance payments in Australia
• Assessing community engagement, from frameworks to implementation
• Where is the vulnerable energy consumer in market led reforms?
• Gendered experiences of entrenched poverty
• More Carrots, Less Stick: Empowering Communities to Improve their Own Lives
• Beyond the scope? Extreme weather, climate change and the community sector
• Driving the policy agenda for Election 2013

New National Commissioner a major step in safety of children: ACOSS

25 February 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today applauded the appointment of Megan Mitchell as Australia's first National Children's Commissioner.

"This is indeed a major set forward in ensuring that children across our country are kept safe and well and given every opportunity to lead healthy lives in this crucial stage of their development," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"As the peak body for the community sector, ACOSS has long wanted to see such an overseer role created that will provide the important link to the protection of our most precious asset, our children and young people.

"We welcome the choice of Megan Mitchell, who is a former ACOSS Director, and has extensive experience and personal commitment to this area, especially in her most recent role as NSW Children's Commissioner.

"The announcement fulfils a major objective under the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children, which is the nation's first-ever roadmap to deal with child abuse and neglect and to promote the wellbeing of our children.

"It is vital we have a Commissioner focused on championing the aspirations, needs and interests of children and young people. ACOSS, and the entire community sector look forward to working closely with Megan Mitchell and the new office," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0417 626 155