By Dr Lucia Boxelaar
25 February 2022
The 2022 federal election will be one of the most important elections we have had in a long time. As a nation we face a pressing question: how will we ensure equity as we emerge from the pandemic and as we address the challenges of climate change?
The pandemic exposed what most of us knew: there are underlying inequities in our society and, in times of crisis, those already experiencing disadvantage and hardship are hit hardest.
The pandemic has also shown that we can make different policy choices. Financial measures such as JobKeeper and the Coronavirus Supplement prevented people from falling into poverty and lifted many out of it. Our research shows that a relatively modest increase in social security expenditure can significantly reduce poverty among JobSeeker recipients.
As an agency on the frontline, we are advocating for change in four priority areas at this important election.
First, in our programs we see how low social security payments trap people in poverty. We meet job seekers unable to afford the bus fare to attend an interview, or the clothes to look presentable enough to secure the job. We see single mothers on low incomes who struggle with the overwhelming stress of combining fixed hours of childcare, unpredictable work, and a punitive social security system. A review of our social security system is critical to ensure that payments and conditions are fair and adequate, so that they enable people to live a life of dignity and to navigate a pathway out of poverty.
Second, we often come across people who have fallen through the cracks of our services system; very isolated elderly people – some living in squalor – left without support, because they can’t navigate the complex aged care system and get the help they need. Or we see NDIS participants who wait months for the supports they need to thrive, and young people who can’t access the right training in their community for the jobs that are available locally.
We are calling for transformation of our services system, for a system that is built on an aspiration to help people thrive. One where services are funded and coordinated to cope with the complex issues that people experiencing disadvantage often face. To address these systemic challenges, the Brotherhood of St. Laurence has long argued that there is a role for organisations such as ours. This goes beyond delivering government contracts, to leveraging our strong connections within local communities, and to harness the contribution they can make to helping people thrive.
Third, and most heartbreaking, is the hopeless situation forced on people seeking asylum, especially those who arrived by boat. Even if they are assessed as refugees, they often face indefinite detention, extreme hardship, and long periods of uncertainty as they rotate through a never-ending cycle of temporary visas. An urgent review of our policies is required to ensure a humane and compassionate approach to visa processing and settlement.
And finally, we are witnessing increasing impacts of climate change, which affect us all, but impact the most those with the least. Fair, fast, and ambitious action on climate change must be our government’s main priority. This should include support for households and communities to cope with the impacts of climate change and help us transition to a zero-carbon future.
We know from our work that many Australians share our compassion, and our vision for an Australia free of poverty. There is great willingness in the community to support those who are doing it tough. It is time that this is reflected in the policy choices that we make.
Dr Lucia Boxelaar is acting Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St. Laurence.