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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 16680

Senator MOORE (6:57 PM) —In the very short time I have I will go right to what we should be doing about this issue—that is, cooperating. Instead of arguing across the chamber about who is right, who is wrong, whose stats are right and whose stats are wrong, and talking about mind-boggling concepts such as moving the culture towards that of North Korea, we should be listening to the people who are working in this area, and most speakers have mentioned these people. What we have now, in Anti-Poverty Week in Australia, is an acknowledgement by the people who work in the community that there is poverty and that there can be achievements to overcome it in our society.

A wide and diverse group of church groups, as part of their action for this week in raising awareness and focus, have written to every government in the country—the federal government and all state and territory governments—telling us that it is about time that we did our job. They have said that there is poverty in our community and that, rather than arguing about what it is and what the stats are, we should be working cooperatively to address the issue. That should be the focus of our debate, rather than judgments about what causes poverty and whether it was worse in 1994 than it is now. When you talk to people who are suffering, you find that they do not really care whether it was worse in 1994 or 1954 or, in fact, whether it is going to be any worse in 2004. They are busy trying to survive.

I think that governments can achieve some kind of solution. The idea of a national forum which brings people together to work through the issues and identify how there can be a whole-of-government response is one that has absolute value. However, I have to admit that, having heard the debate we have had and the rationale that has been put forward, my fear—which we have raised through the committee—that it is going to degenerate into a lot of hot air and argument has been raised again. Certainly, I hope that through this debate we will be able to acknowledge that there are people who are suffering disadvantage in our community.

We can take heart from the work that is being done, mainly by the volunteer organisations that Senator Greig and Senator Forshaw talked about and whom we have met—we know them. We can look at the statistics and at the argument and the definition that UnitingCare put up. Perhaps we can consider this definition:

Poverty exists. It's more than just income deprivation; it's about being vulnerable, excluded, different and feeling like you don't 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 the social opportunities and basic goods required to live a decent life.

(Time expired)