Media Release by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

Poverty and hardship submission

The Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Kay Patterson, today welcomed the publication of the Department of Family and Community Services’ submission for the Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee Inquiry into Poverty and Financial Hardship.

Senator Patterson said during the past week there had been much discussion about poverty and the submission highlighted traditional approaches to measure poverty using simple income measures were inadequate to identify this type of complex problem.

“Of even greater concern is that the measures are incredibly inefficient in identifying those with real needs and fail to address the fact that Australians who face disadvantage do so as a result of a number of compounding factors.

“We need to realise that poverty is a very complex issue that can’t simply be measured on income alone.”

Senator Patterson said the FACS submission to the poverty inquiry underscores the vital importance of strong economic growth and good economic management in tackling poverty.

“The submission draws attention to the fact that the earning level of low-income earners has increased markedly since 1996 and that there are currently more jobs available and fewer people unemployed.”

Senator Patterson said since 1996 the minimum wage has risen by more than 8%.

“This is in stark contrast to the period between 1992 and 1996 when Labor was in office. The minimum wage fell by 5%.

“An important fact highlighted by the document that is often missed or misrepresented is that Australia has high living standards that continue to rise and the benefits have been shared widely across the community.

“It also reinforced that Australia’s income support system is strong and there are a range of programs in place to support individual, families and communities.

“The submission supports the Australian Government’s commitment to continue with the reform of its welfare system, including simplifying structures and addressing anomalies in the system.

“Two clear messages are given. First, improving social outcomes for disadvantaged Australians can’t be done by governments alone, it needs commitment by individuals, families and communities, in fact, a concerted effort Australia-wide to accept the responsibility.

“Secondly, a narrow focus on income-based poverty lines does nothing to help this.”

Senator Patterson said the best protection against poverty and hardship was to have a job.

“The best thing the Australian Government can do is to create employment opportunities,” she said.

Australia experienced strong economic growth since the mid 1990s, which had led to improved employment, earnings and household incomes.

  • National output has grown by 29%, unemployment fell from 8.3% to 5.8% and inflation has averaged less than 2.5% a year.
  • About 1.2 million new jobs have been created, average weekly earnings increased in real terms by 16% and average disposable income has increased in real terms from $414 in 1995-96 to $469 a week in 2000-01 – a 13% rise.
  • The average disposable income for low-income households has increased in real terms from $227 in 1995-96 to $245 a week in 2000-01 – an 8% gain

Related information
Occasional Paper 9 Inquiry into poverty and financial hardship: Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee October 2003