2019 Commonwealth Election

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“It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those in the shadows of life–the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

This 1977 quote from Hubert Humphrey, the 38th Vice President of the United States, remarks in unequivocal terms the responsibility of government to the community it serves. 

On Saturday 18 May, Australians head to the polls to elect the 46th Parliament of Australia. Election campaigns can be brutal and tiresome affairs, where making sense of the rhetoric and noise is challenging.

This election Samaritans is advocating on three key issues: increasing affordable and social housing, raising the rate of Newstart and meaningful progress toward equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

One of the biggest stressors for many of the people supported by Samaritans is finding an affordable and appropriate place to call home.

Recent analysis from the UNSW City Futures Research Centre highlighted that Australia will need to build 1 million new social and affordable rental homes by 2036 to meet current demand and keep pace with population growth. In our region, this equates to 12,600 homes in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie and an additional 10,100 in the Hunter Valley.

The 2019 Rental Affordability Snapshot was released on 29 April, with analysis from Samaritans revealing the reality of this shortfall- 1,190 applications currently awaiting social housing in the Newcastle LGA alone and, typically, a 5-10 year wait for a family home.

The alternative to this is the availability of affordable and appropriate housing – of which only 2.5% of properties fit the criteria for people on any kind of income support.

We have endorsed the Everybody’s Home campaign which calls on all levels of government to work together to fix Australia’s housing system. A key step in this process is the development of a National Housing Strategy that will address the desperate shortfall in social and affordable housing.

People of the Hunter share with us their stories of struggle that no person or family should ever have to face.

When it comes to poverty, there are a range of measures that analysts use, but these mean little to the people who come to our Emergency Relief centres seeking food, clothing, and financial support.

The standard OECD measure is relative income poverty, set at 50% of median household income after tax. This equates to around $433 a week for a single person, or about $24,000 a year.

For a single person on Newstart, the weekly payment including the maximum amount for rental assistance is just $343.

There have been repeated calls from peak bodies including the Business Council of Australia and Deloitte Access Economics for an increase in the rate of Newstart, noting that its inadequacy had become a barrier to job seeking and a possible pathway to poverty.

Samaritans supports the Raise the Rate campaign, requesting an immediate increase in the rate of Newstart, Youth Allowance and other related payments by a minimum of $75 a week.

It has been 11 years since then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, delivered a national apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples, acknowledging the intergenerational impact of past government policies that resulted in the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families. It is also 11 years since Close the Gap Day launched to address significant gaps in health and life outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.

The last line in the Apology paints a vision for the future.

‘A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.’

After 11 years, we are struggling to make meaningful progress towards this worthy goal with very few gains in Closing the Gap across health, education or housing. This is why we have endorsed the Uluru Statement from the Heart, calling upon Government to end inaction and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a voice in laws that affect them.

Regardless of the outcome of the 2019 Federal Election, Samaritans will continue to measure our governments against the standard of Hubert Humphrey’s moral test, and advocate for policies that will have a positive impact on the most vulnerable in our community.

Brad Webb, CEO of the Samaritans Foundation

This article was initially printed in the Newcastle Herald