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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Wednesday, 15 October 2003: Anglicare - Australia Drop-in Centre: Labor Party strategy for national poverty reduction; George W. Bush visit.

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E & OE Subjects: Labor Party strategy for national poverty reduction; George W. Bush visit.

CREAN: We’re here today in Poverty Week because the Labor Party understands that poverty is not only a huge problem, it’s a growing problem in this country. The statistics actually are pretty revealing on a number of fronts. Why is it that a country as rich as ours has 2.4 million people who live in poverty? That’s one in eight. Why is it that 860,000 of our children actually live in a household in which neither parent works. Why is it that each night over 100,000 Australians have no place to call home? And why is it that over 1 million of our families have jobs but they can’t lift themselves out of poverty?

Now these are hugely challenging issues for a country like ours that prides itself on the principle of the fair go. These people are not being given a fair go. We need to increase their opportunity, their access, their ability to move forward. Accordingly, our view is that governments have got to tackle this problem. It’s not good enough just leaving it to the drop in centres.

It’s not good enough for organisations such as this who do a fantastic job - much of it through volunteers. Because they’re the people who are prepared to come and give of their time to help people in desperate need. But governments have to confront this issue and be prepared to act. Labor is prepared to act. In government we would convene a Poverty Summit.

We have to bring all levels of government together and approach this in a whole of governments approach, through heads of government


representation at the top level. We need to set long term objectives by which we can measure our success. This has been done in the UK and Ireland and there have been significant improvements.

These are targets that we are not trying to pretend we can solve overnight. We will have to develop them over the long period of time. But we will develop them in consultation with people who know what the problem is and can present us with real alternatives, real ways forward.

And just as an indication really of our commitment to that, I think it’s pretty important to understand that two of the indicators that we have to address - access to education, access to health - we have set ourselves targets. We don’t just talk about the need to do something, we’re actually prepared to commit resources to reorganise the Budget and commit to lifting bulk billing up to over 80% and also committing to university and TAFE places for 40,000 extra Australian students. Education is the way out of poverty, health is essential to people’s well being. These are two areas in which we’ve already moved. We want to move further, we want to do it properly, we want to do it consultation. That’s why we’re committed to the summit.

I invite Jenny and then Wayne to also comment. This is an important announcement by Labor, it’s a commitment again to the values that we hold important in this nation and we want to do something about it.

MACKLIN: Now just to focus on one of the critical groups in our community who are really suffering. We have about 200,000 young people who are neither in full time work, nor full time study who are just unable to make ends meet. Over 22% of young people are unemployed. This is completely unacceptable. We have set a target to make sure all young people either finish school or go on to some form of further training to make sure they get the start in life so that poverty will not become the future for them. This is a critical target for Labor that we give every young person the opportunity to get a great education, to get the training they need so they’ll get the jobs of the future.

SWAN: As I’ve travelled around Australia with Senator Hutchins’ Poverty Inquiry what I’ve really discovered is that the Australia of my youth - the egalitarian Australia - is simply another country. Out there today we have hidden poverty of massive proportions - 2.4 million people living below a modest poverty line. For example, for a family of four on $416 a week they are under that poverty line. No one can survive with a family of four on $416 a week. So why is it that in this country where wealth has doubled in the last ten years that so few people have gained the benefits of that wealth creation? There’s an American style gap opening up in this country where the rich get richer all of the time and the rest get left behind. It is simply obscene that in the 21st century a wealthy country like this is leaving so many people behind. That’s why today is so important because the alternative government is


saying, `we want to draw a line in the sand’. And we are making an essential commitment to return this country to its commitment to a fair go for all.

JOURNALIST: Mr Crean, how important, exactly how do targets work in reducing poverty given that they’re just notions after all?

CREAN: No, they’re more than notions. You go and ask people who can’t afford to go to a doctor whether lifting bulk billing rates to over 80% where they were when this government came in from where they are now seven years down the track and dropping through the floor. And that is a huge difference to people.

JOURNALIST: But how do they actually make the fight against poverty function?

CREAN: Well I think they hold governments accountable. Government is committing to this fight against poverty, government is joining with the band of people who give voluntarily of their service and to understand the needs of people who are really doing it hard. And government has got to do more than just mouth the words. They have to be held accountable. That’s what target setting does. And we don’t resile from it. We understand the importance but we’ve got to get it right. We’ve got to do it in a way in which people have confidence that what we’re committing to we believe in and is achievable.

JOURNALIST: How much money needs to be spent on fighting poverty in Australia?

CREAN: Well how long is a piece of string? I mean, if you’ve got 2.4 million people, one in eight in poverty, this is a huge challenge for us as a nation. No one is trying to pretend it can be addressed overnight. But we have to set our objective, we have to say this has got to end. We’ve got to start turning it around. Governments of all persuasions working together have to be better at it.

JOURNALIST: How long would it take a Labor Government to set up these targets?

CREAN: Well I think that would be, we would want to see the targets and the issues coming out of the Summit. The question of how long it may be before we can achieve results that we’re happy with, that also would be an issue for the Summit.

JOURNALIST: Are you talking about targets like no child will live in poverty by 2015?

CREAN: Bob Hawke regrets, and has said so, making that statement. And it think this is important for us to understand. What we don’t


want is circumstances in which the statement or the target simply becomes the issue. But understand this: that despite people talking about that target, the reality is that the policies that were introduced under the Hawke-Keating government lifted tens of thousands of children out of poverty. I think that’s the point that we’ve got to make. There was fairness in the family payments system then. There was a recognition of having to address issues like child care, access to jobs, employability, case management in the issue of work and placement activities. Case management so that we could understand the real needs of people seeking work so that we could better match supply and demand in the labour market. These are activist policies that actually work. And the long term unemployed numbers were significantly addressed and better addressed under those sorts of policies than currently. So my point is that it is important for governments to set objectives. But, to do it in consultation with the groups who have to implement it. But what we need to signal is our intention to be serious about it and to achieve results.

SWAN: I just want to make the point that there has been a flood of poverty in recent years. If you talk to St Vincent de Paul or any of the other great charitable organisations here they live daily with that flood of poverty. It’s not just those who are desperately dispossessed. It’s the working poor. We have now 1 million Australians in some form of work but living below a very modest poverty line. And it’s organisations like Anglicare here today that are at the front line. And they can attest to that. We have two Australias now. There are two Australias - those at the top doing very well and doing better all the time. The income of the top 5% in our community now equals that of the bottom 45%. Incomes of the top 20% are increasing at seven times the rate of the bottom 20%. In the last seven years inequality has opened up considerably in our community. And in ten years time we don’t want to turn around and say, `what happened to Australia? Where is the country of the fair go? It’s disappeared.’ That’s what today is about. It’s important to have targets because it’s important to have commitment and it’s important to try. This is not just about financial poverty, it’s about poverty of opportunity. And if kids can’t get decent educational opportunities and families can’t get access to a doctor there is no equality and there is no fair go.

JOURNALIST: Mr Crean, what will you be saying to your colleagues who won’t be clapping George Bush who will be taking acts of protest like wearing armbands when he addresses parliament?

CREAN: I think after yesterday’s performance in Question Time George Bush will get a much friendlier welcome than Malcolm Turnbull if he ever makes it into the parliament.

That being said, let’s not try and trivialise this issue in terms of who stands and who doesn’t. My message yesterday was pure and simple: we have coming to this country as an invited guest a person who represents all of his country. Whether people agree with him or disagree with him when we have


invited guests into our house we should show them respect and courtesy. That’s all I’m asking of my colleagues and I’m sure that they will respond appropriately.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there should be a standing ovation?

CREAN: I was very careful yesterday not to use that term.

JOURNALIST: Mark Latham used that term.

CREAN: I was careful not to use it. And it’s interesting that despite that care the media seemed to have jumped upon it. The reality is we are sitting, regrettably, for a very short period of time on both Thursday and Friday. Only for about half an hour. Normally a parliament stands when the Speaker and the House starts. That’s normal practice. It normally stands when the Speaker leaves and the guest leaves which is all the parliament will be sitting for. If people feel moved to respond to what they hear during the debate they will do it. They always do. That’s the parliamentary way. And I would expect that normal courtesy, normal respect will be shown. That’s all I’ve asked of my colleagues and I’m sure that they’ll do it.

JOURNALIST: …yesterday that that normal courtesy amounted to clapping last time around?

CREAN: Well it did, it did last time around. And interestingly enough it happened last time around despite the fact that the Prime Minister said it was not the normal courtesy.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect clapping this time?

CREAN: I think that that’s how the house has developed. That’s how it has evolved. The reality is we’ve only had two invited guests, two heads of other countries to have ever addressed our national parliament, in joint sitting. That’s going to be doubled next week. So, there are precedents, they’re limited but I’d be surprised if they weren’t followed. But quite frankly, it’s for the individual to decide. But what I’ve called for is that respect be shown and I’m sure it will.

JOURNALIST: …still wear the white armband. Do you think that is respectful?

CREAN: Look, I just make the point: we are a parliament and we are a Party within that parliament. We’ve taken a very strong and principled stance. No one can question where we stand. What we need to do is to present ourselves on Thursday and Friday in a respectful way. It doesn’t change any of the views that we hold and anyone who suggests otherwise is being silly. But respect is called for for invited guests. It is him on behalf of his country. We are great friends of the Americans, we’re great friends of the



Chinese and it’s that respect for the people of the US and of China that we will be demonstrating our support for.

JOURNALIST: Is it time for your colleagues, some of them, to move on from the extreme, from the passionate feelings that they had during the war?

CREAN: I think it’s time for you guys to move on about the significance of whether or not there is applause or standing for George Bush.

MACKLIN: And address poverty.

CREAN: And address poverty. It’s time for you guys to understand what the importance of today is. And the importance of today is that it’s one of five days in poverty week. And we’ve not heard a peep from the government of the day as to what it is going to do to address poverty in this country. Here we are in the middle of the week and the government has said

nothing. Well we’re going to test their accountability today. But more importantly, we’re not just going to expose the government for having been responsible for creating a lot of this problem, we’re proposing a way through it, a serious way of addressing it and helping not only those in need but supporting those who are out there doing their best day in day out to make sure that they don’t slip further into poverty and depravation.