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THE COUNTRYMAN

NEWS

 

Selwyn Johnston

INDEPENDENT COMMUNITY REPRESENTATIVES'

ADVOCATE

(Cairns... Far North Queensland)

 

Thank you for visiting my on-line office. 

I appreciate your interest in the issues that effect not only Queenslanders, but all Australians. 

Please let me hear from you about your views on the issues that matter to your Family, your Community and your State.  

Sincerely,

Selwyn Johnston

 

One person, with the support of the community, can make a difference

 

 

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CAIRNS COMMUNITY FORUM ON ANTI-POVERTY 

Presented by Selwyn Johnston,

Wednesday 8 August 2007 

Let me start off by saying that probably one of the greatest factors facing our so-called egalitarian society is the growing disparity in the distribution of income…and consequently wealth. Our society believes that every person should have adequate food and shelter as a minimum and sadly that minimum is increasingly not being met. 

Thirty years ago it was possible for a family to have a one-income earner, be able to pay off a house and raise a family at the same time, and, have what I would describe as a high happiness level. Jobs were generally permanent, wage rises were gauged to maintain this position and education for the family was not only free but also compulsory and beneficial. 

Something has happened.  

With progress many people are worse off, not marginally but, considerably worse off. We have now reached the point where, for vast numbers of Australians, the choice is between a house and a family, and, for just as many, the daily food simply cannot be taken for granted. What is even more alarming is that people’s “margin of safety” has decreased, which means that you can be going well today but with just one bad event… you are in trouble.  

Just ask anyone who works with any of the charities and they will tell you that not only are the numbers seeking help on the rise but the kind of people turning up is also changing.  

More and more previously self-sufficient people have now fallen on harder times and are seeking help. Unfortunately the situation can only deteriorate, as we all know following today’s .25% interest rates increase, will bring more grief to those in debt. In addition, there is a real possibility of another .25% increase in November. 

Australia [with 12.9%] presently has the record of being second only to the United States of America for the percentage of people below the income poverty line [US at 19.1%] with Canada a close third at 11.7%.  Lowest is Norway at 6.6% and Sweden 6.7%. 

The question is what do we do about it or more importantly what can we do about it. Given that the situation is worsening, not improving, things need to be done to minimise the immediate harm.

We are rapidly moving to the “American situation” where most things are done by private enterprise and the rest is picked up by charity. If many publications are correct the American social welfare system will be unfunded within about a decade and that is a frightening situation. As it is in Australia a couple need an income of the order of $70,000 to undertake any sort of housing loan and we all know that credit card debt is at record levels. 

Clearly and immediately there has to be additional resources made available by Governments to assist those worst off. This is particularly the case with regard to housing. There is a need for Governments to do more with the availability of lower cost housing and to ensure that that housing is available close to either work or public transport.  

There are presently too many Governments engaged in housing and dodging responsibility, and costs have become a major objective rather than dealing with the supply of housing. Area planning has to be global in that it provides for infrastructure such as health care, transport, sport and culture and community. The days where developers can develop an area with a minimum of services and growth provisions are, or should be, well and truly over. It is no longer acceptable that developers build houses and expect the ratepayers and/or taxpayers to pick up the infrastructure and services tab. 

But all these things are just to relieve the present and most obvious pain. By now most people will know that in America the housing boom has ended and is very close to crashing totally. The money poured into the American housing market to sustain the economy after the “2001 tech bubble” has now also ran out of road and without wishing to present as a pessimist the August to December period of 2007 could be a worrying time.  

Much of the money invested in what is called variable rate “sub prime housing loans” in America [that is loans given to people who had little prospect of being able to meet repayments] has come from Super Funds and other investment vehicles so in the end someone, many in fact, will share these future losses which are more likely to fall on investors and their funds rather than the larger bankers who sold the mortgages early in the piece.  

Since the Australian economy closely follows the American economy and we are now experiencing a minerals boom, as we have before, our future is somewhat obscure.  

In the longer term the objective should be to shrink the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest. Figures on this vary but some estimates on the American situation put 95% of the wealth and income with the top 5% of the population.  

Australia fortunately is not nearly as bad but it is still worrying. To correct the situation two aspects need to be addressed and both very carefully.  

Firstly there has to be a taxation transfer concept put in place as there was years ago whereby first homebuyers got not lump sums of money but rather long term concessional loans. This not only assisted homebuyers but also had a sobering effect on the rest of the market.  

The second aspect that has to be addressed is that the Government has to firstly stop selling government, or rather public assets, and it has to, in a serious way, re-enter the banking field. In other words the control and creation of housing credit must again become a government function.  

Until we address these macro problems we will not solve the social ills that are developing in Australia.  

In the meantime the State government should not be selling land for “housing” but should be using it for the provision of subsidised housing. Where large tracts of Government land is involved the matter should be dealt with in conjunction with private developers on a “land block swap” basis. In other words maintain an integrated society. 

For Governments to rely on the private sector totally to resolve the problem is not only impractical but also unfair to developers and eventual homeowners.  

Better planning and quicker approvals would be a great help but we have lost the art or science here. Our original surveyors provided for public lands, roads, stock routes, reserves of every type including recreational and water. Since then all subsequent land managers have just depreciated the situation as population increased. 

The problem is growing and serious. There has to be a dual approach involving immediate emergency relief while a long-term durable government assisted plan kicks in. 

Unfortunately, until this happens the misery and suffering will continue. 

On 6 December 2003, a leading political foundation announced, ‘… in Australia poverty is more widespread than ever before:  

More than 2 million Australians are currently live in poverty - being indigenous, unemployed, part of a sole parent family, young or in receipt of social security means that you are at greatest risk of poverty;

15 per cent of children in Australia live in jobless households;  

Half of all Australian households live on less than $30,000 per year;  

17 per cent of children in Australia live in poverty - the fifth highest in the top 25 industrialised nations;  

Less than 20 per cent of workers earn more than $60,000 and only 25 per cent of families have incomes higher than this;

350,000 families are struggling to pay private rents;  

Over 220,000 people are on public housing waiting lists;  

     The Affordable Housing Research Consortium estimates that the number of low incomes households facing difficulties meeting  accommodation costs will grow to over 1 million by 2020;  

3 per cent of low-income households cannot afford to rent an average 3-bedroom house  

It is interesting to note that this appraisal was made some six (6) years after the 1987 public scepticism with the announcement by then Labor Prime Minister, Bob Hawke who said, "... by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty".  

But what about the incumbent Coalition Government...  

There has been NO commitment or preparedness to advance financial guarantees to ensure that no Australian child does live in poverty and that no Australian child should be homeless. 

Nor, it would appear, has there been any commitment to even adopt a goal of reducing it by say 25% over a two or three year period?  

And worse, at a time of poverty hopelessness; when our fellow Australians are doing it tough... bipartisan support, that is from both sides of Parliament, was recently given to award a 6.7% Parliamentary salary increases, which equates to a minimum of $8,500 per year for each elected Federal representative.  

Is it any wonder that Australians have lost confidence in their elected Federal representatives? 

You will all be aware of that old adage... if you pay peanuts you will get monkeys!  

Well, following the latest parliamentary salary increases, all the taxpayer is getting are the same monkeys.... but who are hell bent on stealing heaps more peanuts!  

State Government... 

The Mooroobool housing commission precinct has, over the past 5 years, demolished over 15 liveable, taxpayer-owned homes, with 5 of these over the past 2 years!  

Local Government... 

16 September 2006… RESIDENTS of Cairns are accustomed to tiresome Councillors’ verbal and literary nonsense particularly when it comes to Council policy back-flips and subsequent damage control ploys. 

Councils failure to communicate the truth regarding Councils proposed sale of ‘small parcels’ of ratepayer-owned land when in fact the overall ‘small parcels’ tag seems somewhat extraordinary when these ‘small parcels’ range in size with one being 20,380 square metres... that’s over 5 acres!!! 

The fact is that Lot 301, (RP859356) Murphy Street, Gordonvale, became a ratepayer asset in the early 1990’s as part of a subdivision approval and, this 'small parcel' is capable of being developed into 16 residential lots (Residential 1 zoned) for low-income housing.  

I must add that the incumbent State Member for Mulgrave, Warren Pitt, asked CCC to hand this land over to the State for ‘public housing’ which was, unfortunately, refused outright by the CCC. 

Unless the obvious problems of poverty in our communities, plus the problems of children and youth associated with poverty, are addressed as a matter of urgency, we will all be back here next year talking about this very same contentious issue. 

Solutions to poverty in Australia are achievable, and are the responsibility at at both levels of (State/Federal) Government and local Authorities (Regional Councils), and, I would implore each and every one here this evening to take the poverty issue into account at the forthcoming Federal election, the Local Government election on 15 March 2008, and the ensuing State Government election.

 

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Written and Authorised by Selwyn Johnston, Cairns FNQ 4870