Politics — 21 July 2017

In a speech on child poverty on ThursdayTudge outlined his view on the alleviation of poverty, which is still experienced by three million Australians, including 731,000 children.

Tudge’s speech to the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney was largely an argument against further welfare spending and government services.

“Just continuing to put more and more government services into places, be they Aboriginal communities or not, and continuing to increase welfare payments, isn’t going to be the solution to the problems which exist in many dysfunctional locations today,” Tudge said.

 Instead, Tudge called for a focus on what he described as the “pathways to poverty” – citing welfare dependency, drug and alcohol abuse, family breakdown and poor education standards.
“Long-term welfare dependence is a poison on the individual, it reduces people’s ability, it reduces people’s confidence,” he said.

Tudge said government payments had increased by 38% in real terms to a couple on unemployment benefits over the past 30 years. Unemployment benefits had increased by 10% in real terms for a single person, he said.

He also warned support services in Indigenous communities were at “saturation level”, citing 2013 figures from Wilcannia, New South Wales, which suggested there were 102 funded services for an Indigenous community of 474 people.

Tudge used the speech to criticise calls by the Australian Council of Social Service (Acoss) and others for rises in poverty-level welfare payments.

But Acoss said Newstart had not risen in real terms since 1994 and family payments had been effectively frozen since 2010.

Cassandra Goldie, chief executive officer of Acoss, said many recent policy measures took a stereotypical view of welfare recipients rather than relying on evidence.

“Acoss has not argued that increasing payments is the answer to poverty: clearly access to jobs, support services and community support are also vital,” she said.

“The welfare ‘culture wars’ are counterproductive. Acoss would rather work with government to generate jobs where they are most needed, improve employment services for the 300,000-plus on Newstart allowance long-term, raise Newstart and family payments, and strengthen local communities and services such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol programs and mental health that are still sadly lacking in the communities referred to in the speech.”

Tudge said it was important to give an individual freedom of choice and the ability to control their own destiny, but denied any incompatibility between that belief and policies such as the cashless welfare card.

“I don’t see it as being incompatible to say that we can have financial management capability services there to help you develop that capability so you can be more independent for your own finances and for looking after your own children,” Tudge said.

This piece was first seen on ‘The Guardian’, July 20 2017.

 

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