ACOSS urges Parliament to pass flood levy

Cut wasteful tax breaks, not essential programs or income support payments

A delegation of leading community and welfare groups, including Australia’s major charities, has arrived in Canberra to urge the Federal Parliament to include them in the decision making process in the response to the reconstruction of devastated communities in Queensland following the recent floods and Cyclone Yasi.

They are calling on the Federal Government to focus on cutting costs in the national Budget, such as removing tax breaks and concessions that unfairly benefit higher income earners instead of cutting essential programs and services.

And they warn the Government against any rash move to reduce the disability support benefit as recently flagged in media reports, saying that this would only exacerbate the hardship of people who are already among the most disadvantaged in society.

“Our call for Parliament to act quickly is motivated by the need to ensure that people receive the help they need to rebuild their lives and their communities,” said ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“The community sector is at the forefront of these disasters – major charities like St Vincent de Paul, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Catholic Social Services, Anglicare and UnitingCare – assisting people on the ground to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

“Given this crucial role these groups are playing, we are clearly an essential part of the solution. We are extremely disappointed to have been left out of the Government’s Flood Taskforce.

“There is also widespread concern among our groups about the implications of further spending cuts to cover the economic cost of these disasters, especially for the future of essential programs and services.

“Already the Government has announced cuts to the important National Rental Affordability Scheme, which is a grave mistake considering it was designed to address homelessness and add to the supply of low-cost housing at a time of desperate need. Australia is experiencing an acute crisis in the affordable housing market, which will be made worse by these recent events.

“We don’t want to see cuts to vital programs in order to deal with unexpected expenditures. People are already under enough stress, and those socially vulnerable or struggling financially should not have to pay to meet the Governments self-imposed fiscal constraints.

“This is the principle reason for ACOSS, as the peak body of the community sector, to support a flood levy. As long as it is progressive and exempts those most disadvantaged in society, ACOSS believes it could have gone even further to cover more of the anticipated cost of the damage so essential programs are not compromised.

“To find savings, the Government should look at cracking down on poorly targeted spending and concessions in the federal Budget.

“In particular, tax concessions that mainly benefit higher income people, like tax breaks on golden handshakes and removal of tax shelters on private discretionary trusts, which we calculate would raise in the order of $2.5 billion per year. We need to secure the funds needed for vital economic and social reforms.” Dr Goldie said.

“The Government is still planning on dramatically extending Australia’s submarine fleet, at an estimated cost of $3 billion dollars per submarine for 12 submarines. It is time for us to re-think our budget priorities. We need to find homes for people who don’t have them, whether their homelessness was caused by a flood, a cyclone, unemployment or by shifting economic sands,” said Frank Quinlan, National Director, Catholic Social Services.

The delegation has applauded the Prime Minister for making workforce participation one of her national priorities but highlights that this is not a quick fix and will require a substantial and long term investment.

“Improving workforce participation is central to reducing poverty in Australia, estimated as affecting about 2 million people. We urge the Government to take this opportunity to draw on the Henry Review’s recommendations to promote positive measures for supporting people into paid work.

These measures include:

  • reducing the gap between Newstart Allowance and pensions by raising Newstart Allowance by $50. With the weekly gap between the Newstart payment ($33 per day) and those for people of DSP being $130 – this is an urgent priority
  • more intensive help for the long term unemployed – including a six months paid work experience scheme in a regular job
  • boosting Job Services Australia funding after the current review process, so we have more targeted help that will get people on income support into paid work, and
  • easing the Newstart Allowance income test for sole parents and people with disabilities – to make part-time paid work financially worthwhile.

“You don’t build long term workforce participation by keeping people on unemployment benefits below the poverty line. People on the edges of the labour market deserve to live with dignity. The Government knows this. We call for genuine welfare reforms that flow from this reality,” said John Falzon, CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society.

“If the Government’s participation agenda is little more than simply moving people with disabilities onto the lower-paying Newstart Allowance, it will fail.

“The fear of ending up on a lower payment means that instead of looking for work, many spend their energies trying to continually “prove” eligibility for the Disability Support Pension, afraid to take the opportunities that are available,” said Maree O’Halloran, President, National Welfare Rights Network.

“Given the community sector’s extensive experience in working disadvantaged communities, including the crucial role our groups are playing in the rebuilding process in Queensland, our voice needs to be heard in the big decisions our leaders are about to make,” Dr Goldie said.

“This is why we have come to Canberra on the first parliamentary week of the year. We do not want to see rushed decisions that will further adversely impact people’s lives, especially those already disadvantaged and marginalised in Australian society. Our voice should be heard and included in this decision making.”

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Click here to read what the welfare and community sector are asking for>>

Present and available for interview:
Dr Cassandra Goldie – CEO, Australian Council of Social Services
Dr John Falzon – CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society
Maree O’Halloran – President, National Welfare Rights Network
Frank Quinlan – National Director, Catholic Social Services
Roslyn Dundas – Executive Director, ACT Council of Social Services

Also available for interview after the press conference:
Major Brad Halse, Media Spokesperson, Australian Salvation Army

And supported by ACOSS Members: UnitingCare Australia, Anglicare, and more than three thousand services groups through the network of state and territory Councils of Social Service.