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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 16387


Senator MOORE (8:42 PM) —This week, from Monday, 13 October to Friday, 17 October, is Anti-Poverty Week. The week aims to strengthen public under-standing of the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship around the world and within Australia and also to encourage research, discussion and action to address these problems, including action by individuals, communities, organisations and governments—all of us. This Friday, 17 October, has been designated by the United Nations as International Anti-Poverty Day. Across Australia, as indeed across the world, during this week there will be events and activities to focus our attention on the issues of poverty—its causes and its impacts around the world and at home.

In launching this week in Canberra last Monday, Julian Disney, a former World President of ACOSS and the President of the International Council on Social Welfare, stated that in the world anti-poverty cup Australia would not even make the quarterfinal. Our record, both at home and in our overseas aid, does not place us anywhere near the top of the ladder. In 2003 over a billion people around the world are desperately poor and suffer real hardship. At home, by any estimation, more than a million Australians are facing disadvantage. During Anti-Poverty Week, we have a genuine opportunity to learn, listen and definitely take up the challenge to do better. Through activities around the country, we can find out more about the real stories and the people behind the quite terrifying statistics. Internationally, the world's leaders adopted the millennium development goals, known as the MDGs, in 2000. We are part of this international community and we have accepted a wide range of goals. I quote:

We are sharing the battle to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. We want to achieve universal primary education. We want to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. We want to reduce child mortality, we want to improve maternal health, combat the horrors of HIV Aids, malaria and other life threatening diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.

These are strong aims and we share that responsibility. Part of the aim of Anti-Poverty Week will be to make those goals real and to ascertain that we can do better and we must.

At home sometimes I think we run away from the issue of poverty. It is almost comfortable to accept that internationally there are areas of extreme poverty. But at home people are suffering disadvantage and we must see that. During Anti-Poverty Week we must face up to the individual challenge. As Uniting Care Australia has publicly stated, `Poverty exists.' Poverty is more than just income deprivation; it is about being vulnerable, excluded and different and feeling as though you do not matter. The aim must be to empower and support individuals, families, communities and governments from the ground up as we work together to build a just and compassionate society, where everyone has access to social opportunities and the basic goods required to live a decent life.

Over the last few months the Senate Community Affairs References Committee has had the opportunity to visit every state in Australia and to meet with people who are the living faces of disadvantage in our community. These people tell us their stories. They tell us that we have no option to hide from these issues. We as a parliament must accept responsibility and awareness, because poverty exists in our community. Most terrifyingly, it exists for families and children. Almost 680,000 Australian children are growing up in jobless households. The link between unemployment and the lack of education, poverty and disadvantage is clear. We cannot run away from that. We know that children are facing immense risks of not being able to build their lives. The challenge for all of us must be that we work together to overcome this issue.

There are so many statistics that we can quote and they all confront us. Within Australia at the moment, at least a quarter of a million Australian job seekers have had no significant amount of paid work over the last 12 months. Terrifyingly, most have had little or none for at least two years. What kind of opportunity does that give to Australian families when all they can see before them is a pattern of unemployment and lack of opportunity? More than 10 per cent of the work force are either unemployed or have identified that they want more work. The total number of job seekers is several times higher than the number of vacancies. During this period, when we all celebrate the increased economic stability in Australia and surpluses of amounts that still boggle my mind, we have people in families who are disadvantaged who do not understand that there are opportunities that we must share.

Many organisations now have united to put together a cry to governments at all levels, not just the federal government. This is not just an issue for people who sit here; this must be an all-of-government, in fact an all-of-society, response. As part of Anti-Poverty Week—I do not like the term poverty week; I prefer Anti-Poverty Week—a letter has been sent to the Prime Minister, state premiers and territorial chief ministers, signed by leaders of all faiths in Australia. They have taken up a challenge. In fact, they have called upon governments at all levels to get their act together—to get our act together—to acknowledge the following:

We write to seek your support for the concept of a national forum, the purpose of which is to develop a national strategy for the reduction of poverty, and hopefully the elimination of child poverty, in this country. We are also urging you to take positive steps to bring this about.

This is the challenge to us all. They go on to say:

If current trends of wealth distribution continue, our country is in danger of losing its traditional national character. Notions such as a `fair go' and `mateship' could become empty. We will become two, not one, country, and certainly not a `Commonwealth'. We risk becoming a country of `haves' and `have nots', with all the undesirable social consequences which must follow.

That challenge is clear. We must now overcome divisions amongst ourselves and look at the genuine issues facing our community. During Anti-Poverty Week there are activities in all parts of the country to raise awareness of the issues about which we are speaking and to identify that poverty is not just a lack of income; it is a lack of opportunity and awareness. We can overcome this. We can work together to achieve some kind of result at home as well as overseas. The challenge that we are given during Anti-Poverty Week 2003 is to accept that poverty exists and identify ways to fight it, so that by Anti-Poverty Week 2004 the Australian community will have taken steps to ensure that we have a better society in which the circumstances of the haves and have-nots are closer together.