Opinion Pieces

In that time, the cost of living has gone up dramatically. Just think of the cost of housing 20 years ago. Over that time, Australia’s prosperity has grown to the point where we now have the highest median wealth in the world.

Yet most people receiving Newstart or Youth Allowance are forced to live below the poverty line. The single rate of Newstart is $40 a day. While about 40 per cent of people receiving Newstart also receive rent assistance, this is a maximum of $10 a day. By the time people pay rent, most are left with just $17 a day to pay for food, staples, energy bills, and transport, leaving nothing or a mere pittance to stretch over other costs that come up.

Living in poverty makes it incredibly difficult to secure a job, especially as there is only one job available for every eight people looking, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

As a result, people get trapped in poverty – about two-thirds of people on  Newstart receive it for 12 months or more.

The need for social security isn’t isolated to a small section of the community. Over our lifetimes, 70 per cent of us will receive a social security payment or live in a household where someone does.

The government has the means to deliver a surplus, while tackling poverty by raising Newstart. Doing so would stimulate the economy and lead to more job creation.

Newstart recipients don’t have the means to save money so every dollar they have is spent getting by. This is partly why the Council of Small Business and the Business Council of Australia back an increase to Newstart. So do almost 70 per cent of Australians and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

The reality is that most of us are a job loss, a relationship breakdown or a health problem away from needing to rely on our social security safety net.

Raising Newstart is the single most effective step a government could take to significantly reduce poverty in Australia.

The only reason the major parties aren’t falling over each other to be the first to commit to this is because certain quarters of public debate have set out to demonise and humiliate people who can’t get paid work. But as the job market changes, becoming more casualised and competitive, more and more people are seeing through the myths pushed by those trying to fuel divisiveness in our community.

Demonising those who can’t find a job, just like demonising refugees, is old politics. It’s time that the major parties caught up with community expectations by supporting those who fall on hard times.

Cassandra Goldie is the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service.

Australian Council of Social Services chief Cassandra Goldie: Put decent tax reform back on the table

By Cassandra Goldie, Sydney Morning Herald
Sunday October 14, 2018

My father was a tax man and I was brought up in a household where paying your fair share of tax was a good thing, a value to stand up for, not something to avoid.

Taxes pay for the things people need to live a good life, such as quality education, health, aged care and a decent social security safety net. Taxes provide collective peace of mind.

I have been stunned by the tax choices politicians have made on our behalf. They have cut personal income taxes for the very wealthy, while refusing to close tax loopholes for those with means. They have offered tax cuts to corporations with record profits, while describing an increase to Newstart as ‘making whoopee’. They have promoted tax concessions that privilege those who are already wealthy, while cutting income support for families living in poverty.

Despite divisive decisions by politicians, across the business community, union movement and community sector we have been able to agree we need to improve the fairness and stability of the system.

There is broad agreement that we have a revenue challenge over the medium to long term and that we need to tackle tax concessions that are no longer fit for purpose.

We need to put decent tax reform back on the table and learn from the failures of the past. Governments must not cherry-pick single reforms or give in to powerful, well-resourced interest groups when the national interest is at stake.

We need a more adequate and reliable revenue base – where people contribute according to their ability to pay – if we are to provide the essentials into the future.

The royal commission into aged care will likely find a need more investment. The fairest way to do this is not user pays, nor the regressive GST which disproportionately affects low-income earners, but by fairly taxing income and land according to our ability to pay.

ACOSS will continue to urge consensus, while fighting for what we know is right.

We must tackle the use of trusts and private companies that allow the wealthy to shelter income. We must address housing tax concessions and finally put a tax on super earnings in retirement so that we can all contribute according to our ability to do so.

Ultimately, we must ensure we have an adequate revenue base for the future we want, and our children deserve.

Cassandra Goldie is the chief executive officer of the Australian Council of Social Service. 

We’ve abandoned gender equality and child welfare in the name of cost-cutting

Opinion article published in The Guardian on Friday 4 November 2016.

Low-income parents will feel the financial squeeze at every stage of childhood if the government pushes through cuts to family payments and paid parental leave.

What was once an effective family payments system – redesigned by the Hawke government to achieve a 30% reduction in child poverty – has been cut to the bone in recent years. Since 2009 alone, more than $12bn has been ripped out of the family payments system.

Both sides of politics are responsible, with measures such as removing the link between family payments and wages (an effective cut of more than $10 a week), freezing eligibility thresholds, tightening income tests and abolishing bonus payments.

On latest figures, there are 731,000 children living below the poverty line, including more than 40% of children in single parent families. Now the Coalition wants to cut payments to these families more in an attempt to generate a budget surplus.

The government’s latest attempt to do so is currently before the Senate. If they succeed in passing the bill, single parent families with teenage kids will be the worst affected, by $60 per week for those with two teens.

Read full opinion piece here

Flawed policies, not a scare campaign, nearly brought down Malcolm Turnbull’s government

Opinion article published in The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on Tuesday 12 July 2016.

It is now election folklore that a cleverly crafted “Mediscare” campaign pushed the ALP to within an inch of victory. There’s more to the story than this. Whatever the truth of the privatisation claim, people believed it because it was the kind of thing they expected the government to do.

The government’s first big mistake began in May 2014 when it announced a radical and harsh program of budget cuts to social security, health, education and community services, including the extraordinary proposal to deny income support for six months of every year to young people struggling to get a job.

Despite repeated warnings from ACOSS and many others this pattern continued in the 2015 and 2016 budgets. Two precious financial supplements – in total $8 per week – for people surviving on the $38 per day unemployment payment were cut, access to social security was reduced and an increasing number of people with disability were transferred to unemployment payments (losing more than $160 a week). Family payments to those on the lowest incomes (bound to increase child poverty) were cut and access to Centrelink services via the telephone severely reduced.

Read full opinion piece here

The long-term costs of the Sydney storms will outweigh the $100m damage bill

Opinion article published in The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on Friday 10 June 2016.

Extreme weather disasters affect all of us but they don’t affect everyone equally.

Last weekend as the super storm pounded Australia’s east coast and houses on Sydney’s northern beaches crumbled into the sea, Missionbeat’s phones ran hot with calls from rough sleepers in Sydney’s CBD asking for a lift to somewhere dry and warm.

The state government provided 20 beds in motel rooms for people who were homeless. But there are around 500 people sleeping on Sydney’s streets on any given night. Most of them, still soaking wet, sought shelter at Central station or in doorways and under archways while frontline charities handed out extra blankets, towels and raincoats.

Read full opinion piece here:

Opportunity lost: a quick-fix on superannuation delays the inevitable

Opinion article published in The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on Monday 7 March 2016.

For a while it looked like the government would seriously tackle tax issues around superannuation, but that hope has been quashed.

Is that it? As reports emerge that the government may have reduced its super reform agenda from a desperately needed makeover to a trim around the edges, policy wonks should be rightly aghast and the public should be too.

We all know that we have an ageing population and increasing pressure on government budgets. Remember all those graphs? We also know that one of the biggest strains on the budget is funding adequate incomes for people in later life, as well as paying for essentials like health, education, aged care and our safety net.

It is therefore unfathomable that the government would reduce superannuation reform to a mere tinkering at the edges, and do nothing to change the overall design of the system. Its mooted proposal is to shave tax breaks at the highest end in order to fund tax breaks for people who are on higher incomes. Can’t see the logic? You are not alone. But sadly, this appears to be where we are heading.

Read Full Opinion Article here.

Too many unanswered questions and too little evidence to support cashless welfare card

Opinion article published in The Australian newspaper on Monday 12 October 2015

The Federal Government must respond to concerns about the planned trials of a cashless welfare card following this week’s rejection by the Halls Creek and Kununurra communities in Western Australia and division in Ceduna in South Australia.

The Shire of Halls Creek’s Aboriginal advisory committee, which is representative of Aboriginal people right around the town of Halls Creek and surrounding communities, has voted against participating in the 12-month trial, citing similar concerns to those expressed in the ACOSS submission to a Senate Committee inquiry released last week.

Summit makes for diverse allies to reform economy

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie, published in The Australian Financial Review, Monday 7 September 2015

A wise woman once told me, ‘never assume where you will find your allies.’ It was sound advice that has stood the test of time. For ACOSS, the National Reform Summit was just such a case in point. For weeks, representatives of business, the ACTU, and the community sector, young people, and older people, worked hard, behind the scenes, to find our common ground and we succeeded.

National Reform Summit should look at all the options

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie, published in The Australian Financial Review on Thursday August 20, 2015

Australia’s future is in our hands. We are one of the wealthiest, most resource-rich countries in the world. Our public institutions are the envy of other nations. Our community is committed to fairness, we care about those who struggle, we celebrate diversity. Yet, we are deeply frustrated. We are frustrated by our political system, a parade of failed reforms. We do not understand why we lose great innovators overseas, nor why far too many of us live in poverty. The rise in unemployment worries us all. Our political debates pitch us against each other – young versus old, black versus white, citizens versus outsiders, gay versus straight – and we don’t like it.