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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14755

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (16:16): It was a privilege to be part of this committee. I thank: the member for McMillan, as chair; the hardworking secretariat; those who made submissions and appeared before the committee; and of course my fellow committee members for their combined efforts in bringing this valuable report, Living on the edge: inquiry into intergenerational welfare dependence, to fruition.

Intergenerational poverty is a wicked problem without simple solutions. Disadvantage has become entrenched and breaking vulnerable Australians out of the path of dependence is not easy. For the most disadvantaged Australians, not only do opportunities first need to exist but people need to be supported so that those opportunities can fall within their grasp. Supporting Australians to escape the intergenerational poverty trap should be seen, I believe, as an investment, not a cost.

But, as with any investment, we need to ensure that Australians receive a social return on their investment. To ensure this, we need to adopt a wraparound support program that works. The term 'wraparound' generally means a holistic approach that does not look at individual, singular interventions. It looks at the whole person and the whole circumstance around them and their whole community. For example, access to better medical care to ensure our disadvantaged Australians are fit and healthy for work will not be enough if those people have no access to affordable housing or, indeed, public transport, or if they are trapped in homes where domestic violence prevails.

This is why the first recommendation of the report is so important; namely, that the Australian government needs:

… to prioritise funding for place-based and wrap-around services that can demonstrate evidence of successful programs for people living with entrenched disadvantage.

We know what works. We don't need to debate this anymore. The social services sector has been working on these issues for decades now, which leads me to a second but equally important recommendation of this report—recommendation 4. I will quote it in full:

The Committee recommends that funding arrangements for welfare-related programs are reviewed, with a view to avoiding short-term funding cycles. Three to five year agreements, with annual extensions subject to meeting agreed performance measures, would assist with funding certainty, while ensuring progress and satisfactory outcomes are achieved.

In plainer English, we need to stop chop-changing programs all the time. We have a program that works really well, and then we get rid of it after three years because it's a Labor program. Then we have a change in government and we have a program that works really well. Why did we get rid of it? Because it was branded as a Liberal program. We know what works; we need to allow continuity. These problems are intergenerational; they have been there for a very long time. We are not going to turn around the problem in a mere two or three years.

Even a modicum of better planning from state and federal governments will avoid these unnecessary valleys of death. I worked in social services for a number of years, in the youth sector. The best staff leave when they know a program is ending. It then takes an extraordinary period of time to ramp up for a new program, and to try to get the staff. In the meantime, communities are left with no support. Then, when new supports come in, they're expected to embrace those new employees, who are working on an entirely different program with a new set of parameters. What happens is, particularly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, there is an overwhelming feeling of distrust—naturally there's a feeling of distrust—that this program, too, will end and that they will be in the same circumstances, or perhaps worse, when they end.

My time is limited in here, and I don't wish to take up too much of the Federation Chamber's time, but I will say this: we often, in this place, hear speeches where people say, 'People just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.' But what do you do when you don't have any boots? One of the greatest privileges of my life was working in the youth sector. I remember a young person—we only found him by happenstance—who had a little two-man tent; he was camped out behind one of our jobactive organisations. We found this young man, who was homeless, and we were able to support him into housing and then into education and employment. If you are 18 years of age, you can't read and you have nowhere to live, there is no point being told, 'Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,' if you don't even have a pair of boots.