Australian opposition minister gives speech on poverty

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Australian shadow minister for work, family, youth, and community, Tanya Plibersek, gave a speech today on poverty as part of Anti-Poverty Week 2005. During the speech she criticised the government in a number of areas, including not committing to the UN Millennium Development Goals, the proposed industrial relations legislation, and the governments funding of services for the homeless.

Anti-Poverty Week runs from Monday 17th to Friday 21st October, and is derived from the United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on October 17th. Shaun Mortimer, the coordinator of Anti-Poverty Week at UNSW, said that the week was about "creating awareness and finding solutions to the plight of those living in poverty all around the world."

UN foreign aid target

Ms Plibersek said that Australia is not doing enough to help those in poverty overseas. She said that Australia currently gives 0.28% of its Gross National Income in foreign aid, however this is far short of the United Nations target of 0.7%.

"The Australian government is refusing to commit to the 0.7% target," she said.

The UN development goal states that governments should reach the target by 2015. Labor has committed to meet the target, but the government has not.

"Labor is committed to the 0.7% target. In the interim, the government should be spending 0.5% of GNI," Ms Plibersek said.

Millennium Development Goals

Shadow Minister Plibersek accused the government of weakening Australias commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. The goals were agreed to in 2000 by all 191 member states of the United Nations. There are 8 goals, which signatory states have committed to work towards. The eight goals are:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

Ms Plibersek said that Australia signed on to the goals, but is now not honouring that commitment, and is attempting to reduce the impact of the goals in an attempt to win the favour of the United States.

"We signed on to the millennium goals," she said.

"In it's rush to be popular with the US the government went along with watering down the millennium goals"

Industrial Relations legislation

Shadow Minister Plibersek strongly criticised the governments proposed industrial relations legislation. She argued that the proposed changes will disproportionately affect already vulnerable people such as single mothers, and push working people into poverty.

"Industrial relations changes will see poverty worsen. It will increase the number of working poor," she said.

Speaking about the governments hypthetical worker, "Billy", used in promotional material, Ms Plibersek said individual workplace agreements will result in lowered working conditions for all workers. She also claimed that if a working person is paid a wage that does not provide them with enough resources to live, they will need to depend on government services such as income support, and therefore taxpayers will be subsidising the low wages.

"If Billy can not earn enough to live, then taxpayers are effectively subsidising business," she said.

"If the system has no minimum standards it will drag everyone down. Unions have fought against this for over a century"

Poverty in Australia

Ms Plibersek spoke about the problem of poverty in Australia. She said that 2.4 million people in Australia are living below the poverty line, and 1 million of them have jobs. She also argued that wealth inequality is getting worse.

"We have a nation now more divided than ever. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer," she said.

Ms Plibersek felt that this situation was unnaceptable, and that the solution was only a matter of will.

"I don't think we have to accept that people will always be poor. It is a situation we allow," she said.

She also criticised the government for inadequately funding services for the homeless, and said that many homeless people who wanted help were unable to find any. Ms Plibersek argued that women escaping domestic violence were especially affected by this situation.

"We turn away 1 in 2 people who approach homeless services for help," she said.

Ms Plibersek also condemned what the government describes as the "skills shortage", saying that there are lots of Australians willing to gain skills, but are unable to get places in training institutions.

"We turn 20,000 people away from TAFE and University each year," she said.


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.