'Jobs and growth' focus ignores society’s most vulnerable, warns pre-election audit

23 June 2016

Ahead of the Federal Election, a group of leading academics have released a new audit questioning what the Coalition, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Australian Greens are doing to address poverty in Australia and beyond.

Homeless man on bench. Image: Tomas Castelazo/Wikimedia Commons.

The audit has been conducted by Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) Oceania, which was established under the auspices of the Social Justice Network at the University of Sydney in 2010.

Looking beyond the "jobs and growth" rhetoric, the 2016 Australian Poverty Audit provides a snapshot of policy announcements made by the three political parties during the 2016 election campaign.

The audit consists of short, readable analyses by leading experts from 10 different Australian and New Zealand universities, who assessed how policies impact on poverty in a range of areas, including:

  • Housing affordability
  • Welfare policy
  • Asylum seeker and refugee policy
  • Critical policies for women
  • The taxation of superannuation
  • Foreign aid
  • International investment and trade.

Overall, the new audit shows that there has been very little action on poverty since the last Federal Election in 2013.

"Our new report reveals that poverty is still largely absent from the political debate," said Professor Danielle Celermajer from the University of Sydney's Department of Sociology and Social Policy.  

"According to the current Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, 2.5 million Australians live below the poverty line. However it seems that poverty barely makes an appearance in the election campaign, and the implications of parties' policies for poverty is a neglected subject," said Professor Celermajer, who is also co-founder of the Australian arm of ASAP.

Associate Professor Susan Goodwin, ASAP Executive Committee member and expert in social policy from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Education and Social Work, said ASAP's aim was to "stimulate a robust and rigorous discussion about poverty both in Australia and internationally."

"We hope that these invaluable insights into what is at stake for many Australians will move this discussion on poverty and inequality from the periphery to the centre of debates about the future of Australia," added Dr Archana Voola, ASAP Co-Chair and postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Education and Social Work.

Welfare policy

For example, in an analysis of welfare policy, Associate Professor Ruth Phillips of the University of Sydney's Faculty of Education and Social Work found that the ALP is the only party to have a clearly spelt out and detailed equality policy that recognises key poverty groups and links to issues such as domestic violence and inequality.

In her analysis, Associate Professor Phillips stresses that a "jobs and economy" approach denies the complexity of why people are in poverty and fails to address inequality in all of its forms.

"Australia does not have a poverty policy, as the country would rather debate how poverty is measured than accept that around 13 percent of the population (around 2.5 million people) live in poverty," Associate Professor Phillips said.

Policies on temporary migrants

Another analysis of migration policy by Dr Anna Boucher, of the University of Sydney's Department of Government and International Relations, highlights how the situation faced by temporary immigrants in Australia has worsened since 2013.

"Not only have the policy parameters that limit their access to basic welfare and health entitlements continued, there are also growing concerns over the employment protections that these individuals enjoy," Dr Boucher said.

About ASAP

Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) is an international network helping scholars, teachers and students enhance their impact on global poverty. ASAP Oceania has been established under the auspices of the Sydney Social Justice Network at the University of Sydney, which supports University researchers working on social justice and foster networking between researchers within and beyond the University of Sydney.

Jennifer Peterson-Ward

Assistant Media and PR Adviser (Division of Humanities and Social Sciences)