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Poverty in Canberra

By Andrew Leigh MP - 29 November 2017 10
chalk house drawn on the ground.

Poverty in Canberra: reflecting on our vulnerable communities and how we can help.

A couple of years ago, a newly appointed public servant was giving an interview to a business magazine. ‘Everybody is happy’, he said. Then he went on ‘in Canberra in particular, everybody is deliriously happy and comfortable.’

I thought of this interview when my team last cooked a barbecue for residents of the Early Morning Centre on Northbourne Avenue, which provides meals, health care and social support to city residents who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Looking in the eyes of the men and women at the centre, I saw a lot of resilience, but can’t say that everyone appeared deliriously happy.

The two toughest things about poverty in Canberra are icy winters and high housing costs. Not long ago, I met a woman who told me that she wore two beanies in her home, because she couldn’t afford to turn the heating up. Another constituent who came to my office told me about her struggle to pay rising rents on a fixed income.

A recent ACTCOSS report documented the extent of poverty and disadvantage in our city. Overall, 11 percent of Canberrans are living in low-income households. That’s a smaller share than in other Australian cities, but it still amounts to nearly 40,000 people.

As the report notes, disadvantage in Canberra is less clustered than in other parts of the country. We’re less likely to have whole suburbs that are poor, with poverty clustered in smaller pockets. This is partly due to the way in which Canberra’s planners took a salt-and-pepper approach to distributing public housing. It’s good for social mixing, but it also makes disadvantage easier to overlook.

What’s the best way of tackling these challenges? The good news is that Canberrans are relatively well-educated, with only one in twenty having left school before year 10. But as automation hits the labour market, we’ll need to do more to raise the skills of the community. That means ensuring all schools have the resources they need to employ and support first-rate teachers, raising the quality of vocational training, and providing university places to match the rising demand.

On the social side, Australia has the most targeted social safety net in the world. This means that when we cut back on social spending, the impact on poverty can be dire. While the ACT Government offers pensioners a utilities concession of up to $600 per household, the Federal Government is trying to cut the Energy Supplement, which could cost couple pensioners over $500 a year. Rather than worrying about providing tax cuts to multinationals, I’d prefer if the Turnbull Government put those resources into helping Canberra’s 24,000 pensioners keep the heat on.

On the personal front, there are lots of ways to help. Local food banks providing low-cost groceries are always looking for volunteers. Volunteers from ‘Canberra Refugee Support’ help asylum seekers settle in our community. ‘Prisoners Aid’ assists those coming out of jail transition back into the community. ‘Menslink’ runs mentoring programs for young men. If you have clean clothing – particularly business attire – just drop it into the collection bin in my office so that it can go to someone who needs it. If you can afford to donate, consider giving to one of the many inspiring philanthropic bodies, such as Hands Across Canberra.

There’s no question that Canberra is a great city. Recently rated the third most attractive tourist destination in the world by Lonely Planet, we’re a seriously cool little capital. In New Acton, Braddon and Kingston, you’ve got some of the best eating and drinking in the nation. Thanks to the Barr Government, stage one of light rail will soon be running from Gungahlin to the city, fulfilling another part of the Burley Griffin Plan. For bush runners or urban cyclists, there are a plethora of ways to stay healthy. Our university campuses are more diverse and liveable than ever before.

But all this success shouldn’t lead us to forget those who are doing it tough in our community. A great city doesn’t airbrush out its most vulnerable – it reaches out to give them a helping hand.

What are your thoughts or experiences on poverty in Canberra? Let us know by commenting below.

Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fenner, and his website is www.andrewleigh.com. To find out more about volunteering in Canberra, go to www.volunteeringact.org.au.

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10 Responses to
Poverty in Canberra
dungfungus 8:10 am 04 Dec 17

dungfungus said :

“People with a disability have waited their whole lives for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.”

That is absolute rubbish. People with disabilities were already receiving the best care from a combination of government and voluntary community resources. What has been created now is a dysfunctional and unfunded bureaucracy which cannot meet targets and it is in constant funding conflict with the states – W.A. is now considering withdrawing from the scheme. The volunteers have been eliminated.

Before anyone tries to defend the NDIS, read the latest:
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-04/disability-sector-under-financial-strain-due-to-delays-in-ndis/9218754

DangerMouse 10:50 pm 30 Nov 17

What a poor response from Andrew Leigh re healthcare. Someone raises the appalling health services in the ACT and he blames low medicare bulk billing rates as a commonwealth/liberal govt problem. How about the ACT having the longest hospital emergency wait times in the country? How about the ACT having the worst post birth infection rates. Is that caused by the lack of liberal party investment in clean energy, or perhaps because Barr has ripped out all funding from essential services to pay the tram, which lets face it, was the Faustian pact he made with Rattenbury to cling to power. And twice the govt has been caught fabricating hospital wait times… so even when faking the stats they are still the worst! Dunno what’s worse…. trying to fake stats or being so incompetent they fail to fake them enough to improve the standing compared to other jurisdictions.

This is a smaller jurisdiction that Newcastle! With a higher paid population and higher education rates. Smaller than Newcastle, and yet more hokey that the budgewoi local council. Sheesh.

chewy14 2:00 pm 30 Nov 17

it’s truly hilarious to mention a project like the light rail in an article about poverty.

This is the same project where hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are being directed into the pockets of already wealthy inner city landowners.

dungfungus 8:49 am 30 Nov 17

“People with a disability have waited their whole lives for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.”

That is absolute rubbish. People with disabilities were already receiving the best care from a combination of government and voluntary community resources. What has been created now is a dysfunctional and unfunded bureaucracy which cannot meet targets and it is in constant funding conflict with the states – W.A. is now considering withdrawing from the scheme. The volunteers have been eliminated.

gbates 10:18 pm 29 Nov 17

Andrew Leigh MP said :

As housing, prisoners, light rail and rates are state matters, can I suggest you reach out to one of your local MLAs?

Nice try Mr Leigh but you can’t laud the Barr government’s tram and energy policies in the context of poverty and then ignore the way they choke land supply, jam vulnerable people in far out suburbs where Barr doesn’t have to look at them, and ratchet up the rates whilst continuing to maintain the same level of revenue from stamp duty. Oaks Estate is an absolute disgrace. Whilst their actions on transport and energy are commendable, the net result is that the poor have no worse enemy than the Barr government and if you’re going to include them in your argument then you have to include the whole Barr government.

That aside, thank you for this article. It grates me no end when people throw Canberra’s mean and/or median income into a debate about poverty and then conclude that there’s nothing wrong. I can’t imagine how people could possibly live here on low incomes.

Andrew Leigh MP 4:16 pm 29 Nov 17

Andrew Leigh MP said :

A_Cog said :

The Light Rail project you laud involves throwing hundreds of poor and vulnerable residents out of their homes and punting them to the periphery – with poor/no ACTION service, forcing them to spend thousands of dollars annually owning a car, or, not owning a car at all.

Prisoner support doesn’t come close to need. ACT has the highest rate of recidivism by a mile.

Despite Barr opening the flood gates for developers, public housing supply is nowhere close to demand, and the recent housing and homeless summit was a fizzer (I was there and interviewed on news that night).

With job automation coming, ACT has no plan to help kids prepare for that economy – no coding classes (even QLD has them and they don’t fluoridate the water!) and poor NAPLAN results (the Australia Institute reckons we need an inquiry into how poor ACT education is)

And you take a dig at Turnbull over energy policy and prop up Barr re pensioners. But on health care (some of the worst outcomes nationally), aged care (the emerging abuse and care scandal with zero inspections), residential rates (doubling, tripling) , NDIS (tested here and already a disaster), pretty much everything else for pensioners, Barr is skinning them slowly.

Take a look at my previous posts about Oaks Estate, the poorest and most disadvantaged suburb in the ACT by a mile. Ministers and staffers looking me in the eye and refusing to lift a finger. That’s what 16 years of a Labor government does for disadvantage.

1/2 Hi A_Cog,

Thanks for reading, some interesting points you raise.

Healthcare is indeed a problem in the ACT, we have some of the lowest bulk-billing rates in the country. It’s an issue which Labor takes very seriously and that we have been pushing the Government on. Labor believes that healthcare is a right, not a luxury, and that all Australians should have access to affordable health care.

Whilst locally, the Barr Government has been working to make the ACT powered 100% by renewable energy (something which should lower prices and ensure the sustainable management of the environment), Federal Labor has been working tirelessly to push the Turnbull Government to take power prices seriously, and ensure that the renewable energy sector is properly supported.

On education, I share your concern, especially about the new school funding as proposed by the Turnbull Government. The Government’s budget effectively proposed a $22 billion cut from school funding promised for Gonski. Australian Labor is interested in ensuring that all children, regardless of whether they attend a public, catholic or private school, receive the education they need. Annual average growth rate in per student funding is only 1.6 per cent for the ACT over the decade, compared with 4.1 per cent growth for Australia as a whole. This is not something I will be supporting.

If you or someone you know is having problems with an aged care facility, I suggest you contact the Aged Care Commissioner https://www.agedcarecomplaints.gov.au/raising-a-complaint/. If you would like assistance pursuing this with the Minister, please let my office know.

2/2
People with a disability have waited their whole lives for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We believe it will transform the lives of people with disability, their families and carers for the better. I’ve heard countless stories from Canberrans about how the NDIS has improved their families lives. If you are experiencing a difficulty with an application or implementation of a plan I encourage you to please get in touch with my office.

As housing, prisoners, light rail and rates are state matters, can I suggest you reach out to one of your local MLAs?

It’s not fair that Turnbull is giving big business a $65 billion tax cut but families like yours are struggling. For the Labor side of politics, egalitarianism isn’t an abstract idea. Reducing inequality is a principle that undergirds how we would govern.

Thanks again for commenting.

Andrew Leigh

Andrew Leigh MP 4:15 pm 29 Nov 17

A_Cog said :

The Light Rail project you laud involves throwing hundreds of poor and vulnerable residents out of their homes and punting them to the periphery – with poor/no ACTION service, forcing them to spend thousands of dollars annually owning a car, or, not owning a car at all.

Prisoner support doesn’t come close to need. ACT has the highest rate of recidivism by a mile.

Despite Barr opening the flood gates for developers, public housing supply is nowhere close to demand, and the recent housing and homeless summit was a fizzer (I was there and interviewed on news that night).

With job automation coming, ACT has no plan to help kids prepare for that economy – no coding classes (even QLD has them and they don’t fluoridate the water!) and poor NAPLAN results (the Australia Institute reckons we need an inquiry into how poor ACT education is)

And you take a dig at Turnbull over energy policy and prop up Barr re pensioners. But on health care (some of the worst outcomes nationally), aged care (the emerging abuse and care scandal with zero inspections), residential rates (doubling, tripling) , NDIS (tested here and already a disaster), pretty much everything else for pensioners, Barr is skinning them slowly.

Take a look at my previous posts about Oaks Estate, the poorest and most disadvantaged suburb in the ACT by a mile. Ministers and staffers looking me in the eye and refusing to lift a finger. That’s what 16 years of a Labor government does for disadvantage.

1/2 Hi A_Cog,

Thanks for reading, some interesting points you raise.

Healthcare is indeed a problem in the ACT, we have some of the lowest bulk-billing rates in the country. It’s an issue which Labor takes very seriously and that we have been pushing the Government on. Labor believes that healthcare is a right, not a luxury, and that all Australians should have access to affordable health care.

Whilst locally, the Barr Government has been working to make the ACT powered 100% by renewable energy (something which should lower prices and ensure the sustainable management of the environment), Federal Labor has been working tirelessly to push the Turnbull Government to take power prices seriously, and ensure that the renewable energy sector is properly supported.

On education, I share your concern, especially about the new school funding as proposed by the Turnbull Government. The Government’s budget effectively proposed a $22 billion cut from school funding promised for Gonski. Australian Labor is interested in ensuring that all children, regardless of whether they attend a public, catholic or private school, receive the education they need. Annual average growth rate in per student funding is only 1.6 per cent for the ACT over the decade, compared with 4.1 per cent growth for Australia as a whole. This is not something I will be supporting.

If you or someone you know is having problems with an aged care facility, I suggest you contact the Aged Care Commissioner https://www.agedcarecomplaints.gov.au/raising-a-complaint/. If you would like assistance pursuing this with the Minister, please let my office know.

Andrew Leigh MP 4:14 pm 29 Nov 17

dungfungus said :

Yes a “cool” capital for most of us but a very “cold” one for some.

Indeed, thanks for reading.
Andrew.

dungfungus 2:22 pm 29 Nov 17

Yes a “cool” capital for most of us but a very “cold” one for some.

A_Cog 2:02 pm 29 Nov 17

The Light Rail project you laud involves throwing hundreds of poor and vulnerable residents out of their homes and punting them to the periphery – with poor/no ACTION service, forcing them to spend thousands of dollars annually owning a car, or, not owning a car at all.

Prisoner support doesn’t come close to need. ACT has the highest rate of recidivism by a mile.

Despite Barr opening the flood gates for developers, public housing supply is nowhere close to demand, and the recent housing and homeless summit was a fizzer (I was there and interviewed on news that night).

With job automation coming, ACT has no plan to help kids prepare for that economy – no coding classes (even QLD has them and they don’t fluoridate the water!) and poor NAPLAN results (the Australia Institute reckons we need an inquiry into how poor ACT education is)

And you take a dig at Turnbull over energy policy and prop up Barr re pensioners. But on health care (some of the worst outcomes nationally), aged care (the emerging abuse and care scandal with zero inspections), residential rates (doubling, tripling) , NDIS (tested here and already a disaster), pretty much everything else for pensioners, Barr is skinning them slowly.

Take a look at my previous posts about Oaks Estate, the poorest and most disadvantaged suburb in the ACT by a mile. Ministers and staffers looking me in the eye and refusing to lift a finger. That’s what 16 years of a Labor government does for disadvantage.

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