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Speech at the launch of 'Money, Dignity & Inclusion: the role of financial capability' Canberra.



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Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens

Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Prime Minister for Social Inclusion 12 November, 2008

Speech

Launch of 'Money, Dignity & Inclusion: The role of financial capability'

11 November 2008, Australian Parliament House

Acknowledgements

z The Ngunnawal people - the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today. I pay my respects

to their traditions and elders, past and present. z Michael Yore, CEO Good Shepherd Youth & Family Services

z Dr Kathy Landvogt, author of ‘Money, Dignity & Inclusion: The role of financial capability’

z Senators, Members of Parliament and staff

Introduction

Welcome all of you to today’s launch. Dr Landvogt and Good Shepherd - congratulations on the publication

of this insightful and helpful piece of work, based on an ongoing action research project, led by Dr Landvogt.

It is particularly valuable in times of economic uncertainty, such as those we are experiencing due to the

financial crisis, providing us all with some important considerations as we strive as a government and a

community to create a stronger and fairer Australia.

Of course, money is essential and important for all of us. But equally important is having the capability to

juggle the day-to-day budget, make those short ends meet and having the skills and confidence to build longer

term financial security.

As Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen argues in his work Development as Freedom, shortage of income is a good

starting point but not a good ending point for the study and alleviation of poverty.

Rather, Sen says poverty needs to be seen as the ‘deprivation of basic capabilities, rather than merely as a

consequence of low income’. To alleviate poverty we must provide people with greater freedom and choice.

And therefore, development and anti-poverty measures must involve the removal of various types of

unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency.

It does not assume the individual is incapable of making their own decisions and choices, due to their

economic circumstances, but rather empowers individuals to determine what kind of life they would like to

lead and gives them the tools to achieve it.

These are powerful ideas. They have influenced the UN in the way it delivers its Development Program in

times of famine and distress. They have encouraged policy makers to pay attention not only to alleviating

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immediate suffering but also to finding ways to replace the lost income of the poor. They provided new

thinking about the power of microfinance which has proved effective in diminishing poverty in some of the

most impoverished communities, particularly for women.

This Good Shepherd report also draws on these powerful ideas. Income is not an end in itself. We must build

capability, confidence in and skills of individuals to take control of their finances and build a sustainable

future.

But more importantly, as Dr Landvogt’s report outlines, we must build dignity, respect and empowerment into

our policy approaches. Approaches to build people’s financial capability must not come at the price of

personal dignity, but rather recognise an individual’s existing capabilities.

Social inclusion agenda

There are some other reasons why this publication is so important and relevant to the government’s thinking

on social inclusion.

It defines social exclusion in a holistic way. It recognises that poverty and disadvantage is not addressed by

reaching an income level, but is about empowerment, engagement and social participation.

It recognises that low incomes are often accompanied by a lack of access to technology, lower education levels,

limited literacy skills and language barriers.

As a government we recognise that it is not acceptable for so many Australians to experience limited

opportunities. The opportunity to work, to access services, to connect with friends and family, to connect with

community, to deal with personal crisis, and to have voices heard.

We have to find new policy approaches, such as this, which can build opportunity, resilience and capability.

For example, the report recommends that there are a range of services that can interact to assist people in

health, employment or other crises which are part of a person’s overall capability to respond to a crisis and

manage their new financial situation. It also recommends that each of these services take financial capability into account.

It recommends a focus on financial education which maximised access to appropriate services and financial

products.

Through our social inclusion agenda we are working to create these opportunities for all Australians.

It is critical that the solutions we develop put people at the centre of programs, rather than ensuring people fit

into programs and services.

Innovative thinking

To develop this holistic framework for service delivery, it is no longer good enough to rely on one-size-fits-all

policies or approaches of all. Places and individuals matter. What works in one place might not work in

another and we have to be flexible in our approach.

The action research project behind the report was innovative in itself, engaging the participation of 20 women

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who experience or have experienced financial marginalisation through a range of performance and workshop

techniques.

Through this research, the report has brought about new knowledge and ideas about ways to build financial

capability. Recommendations from this report about using a range of new methods including theatre and

workshops to engage and hear the voices of marginalised people are thought-provoking.

The social inclusion agenda also requires some very new and different partnerships with all sectors, not least

of all the not-for-profit and human service sectors.

Organisations such as Good Shepherd are already leading the way through partnerships with all levels of

government and the commercial sector to deliver financial services on the ground to increase financial

capability and individual choice.

I would like to congratulate you, not only on the work in this report, but also for your partnership with the

National Australia Bank, now in operation for over 25 years to provide No Interest Loan Schemes (NILS). I

understand there are now over 250 NILS programs around Australia providing small no interest loans for

people on low incomes for their purchase of essential household goods.

The NAB is also leading the development of new products to expand access to affordable business credit for

people on low incomes, but have a good idea and business plan. These loans also build financial capability by

ensuring access for loan recipients to business skills training in the first year of their business.

Innovative thinking will spearhead the government’s social inclusion agenda. It is why the Government has

established the Australian Social Inclusion Board as a key body to advise Government on how to achieve

better outcomes for disadvantaged Australians.

The knowledge of Board members, including Mr Ahmed Fahour, CEO of National Australia Bank will support the development of evidence-based policy and help the Government to develop and use new networks in the

creation of innovation solutions to social and economic exclusion.

Conclusion

So, without further delay, I am delighted to launch ‘Money, Dignity and Inclusion: the role of financial

capability’ and thank you all again for your involvement today.

Today’s launch has provided an opportunity to highlight the linkages which exist between financial capability

and poverty.

An income, or a job, is not an end in itself to address poverty, if we do not seek to empower those we are

seeking to lift up. This is not about abdicating responsibility, but providing the tools for people to realise their

own power, take control and solve problems.

Amartya Sen’s other work also explored the importance of combating exclusion and poverty for the wellbeing

of our communities and our nations. Building social inclusion is of benefit to us all, not just those who are

marginalised and excluded.

I again congratulate Good Shepherd for their and look forward to hearing more about the research project and

its findings from CEO of Good Shepherd, Michael Yore and report author, Dr Kathy Landvogt.

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