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Wednesday, 29 August 2001
Page: 30587


Mr MOSSFIELD (9:52 AM) —I want to speak about a report prepared by the St Vincent de Paul Society regarding the way in which Australia should address inequality and poverty. The St Vincent de Paul Society has prepared a report into the growing rift between the rich and poor in this country. This gap has widened over the past 20 years, and will continue to widen in the future if action is not taken to reverse the trend. The report indicates that there is emerging concern and impatience in the community about inequalities and injustices in Australia, and a growing desire to see these concerns attended to realistically.

The St Vincent de Paul Society report refers to the fact that, based on a wide range of official data and private research, over five million Australians—up to 30 per cent—live at a distinct economic disadvantage compared to the rest of Australia. In support of this statement, the report refers to the official household expenditure survey data for 1998-99, which shows that 5.5 million people are living in households with an income of less than $23,000 per annum. The report refers to an increasingly large sector of our society known as the working poor. We have seen a massive drop in the number of full-time jobs and a large increase in the number of part-time and casual jobs in recent years. Globalisation, new technology and the economic imperative of profits before people have led to this change. This has not only distorted the labour market figures and hidden the true level of unemployment but also created the situation where many families are really struggling to get by.

The report points out that nine to 10 per cent of Australians live on the edge of poverty. This is where a minor crisis such as school fees, the need for a new washing machine or refrigerator or sickness in the family could result in families moving into stressful and long-term economic difficulties. I remind the House that many people are caught up in major financial collapses such as HIH. I refer also to the situation of one of my constituents, Les Emerson, who has lost his entire modest superannuation entitlement of $150,000 through the collapse of a superannuation fund, Commercial Nominees.

While globalisation and technological change have created enormous wealth, ABS data shows that between 1992 and 2000 gross domestic product grew by almost $180 billion and Australia's net worth grew by over $830 billion, but this wealth has been confined to Australia's capital cities and a relatively limited number of wealthy households. It has not benefited middle income Australians and it has not trickled down to the poor. I urge all members of the House to read the report titled Two Australias—addressing inequality and poverty by the St Vincent de Paul Society and heed its recommendations. (Time expired)