Parliament House Canberra 4th September 2023
I would like to express the Society’s sincere thanks to the Parliamentary Friends of Ending Poverty for hosting this launch of “A FAIRER TAX AND WELFARE SYSTEM FOR AUSTRALIA”. The recommendations of this report, if implemented, would make a significant contribution to improving the wellbeing of so many Australians doing it tough.
As we all know, along with many highs, life can also deliver unexpected challenges and for people in vulnerable circumstances, these can often lead to homelessness. Once begun, the downward spiral can be very hard to escape.
The estimate of homelessness numbers on any given night is currently around 123,000 Australians, although this is likely to be a conservative figure.
Some people remain homeless, or in uncertain and often unsafe circumstances, for a lengthy period. Others manage to transition back into mainstream society, often with the help of organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society, which provide a "hand-up" for the long term, and where necessary, a "hand out" to help them survive the day.
The report we are launching today explains how a large number of vulnerable Australians could be lifted out of poverty by targeted and easily implemented reforms to personal income tax, welfare and superannuation policy.
We hope the recommended reforms will be made before more Australians face circumstances such as those described in this video.
The cost of living and housing crises have touched us all.
But spare a thought for those who were doing it tough before these crises hit.
As mentioned, I live, work, and help those in Launceston.
Launceston has the highest number of JobSeeker, Aged Pension and Disability Support Pensioners in Tasmania. I do not have to look too far to see where help is needed. In fact, on my daily walk along the Seaport in Launceston I encounter many individuals and families living in tents, cars and caravans, a scene that was not evident less than three years ago.
Actually, Launceston, Glenorchy, Clarence, Hobart and Devonport, all appear as the local government areas with the highest number of income support recipient payments in Tasmania.
Some might be wondering why the Society is involving itself with reforms to personal income tax, welfare and superannuation policy.
One of the Society’s core Values is advocacy – to push for change to improve people’s lives.
Our governing document, The Rule, is all about helping people living in poverty achieve their full potential. The Society’s central guiding principle is embedded in Catholic Social Teaching which encompasses the dignity of the human person and the common good. Social order must invariably work to the benefit of the human person and not the other way around.
For many years we have advocated for increases to working age payments.
We’ve done this because most of those we help are unemployed or underemployed.
Most are living in poverty. And we could see no change.
Rather than keep asking, we approached ANU to model how these increases could be paid for.
This invariably involves a debate on taxation reform.
And the Government has indicated it is open to a debate on tax.
These debates are not easy. They challenge the status quo – they require each of us to think broadly, and sometimes differently. They sometimes require putting the needs of others above our own self interests.
Various proposals have recently been put forward, such as a tax on super profits (CFMEU) or a broadening of the GST (Business Council of Australia).
The latest Intergenerational Report highlights that something needs to be done to pay for the services needed for our ageing population.
It also shows that our younger generations will be shouldering an unfair tax burden into the future.
We believe that all views deserve respect and consideration – in other words, a fair hearing.
Our proposition does not require a significant overhaul of existing systems.
Our proposition reduces inequality and involves asking those who can, to pay just a little more.
Our proposition lifts up to 834,000 people out of poverty. This figure represents the entire population of Tasmania and the Northern Territory plus 30,000 more people.
Our proposition increases the superannuation balances of young people with lower and middle income by around 16 per cent.
That’s got to be good for Australia.
We know how generous Australians are – we could not have operated since 1881 without their help.
We also know that Australians don’t want to see their neighbour, friend or indeed family member sleeping rough or struggling to put a meal on the table.
These are the reasons why the Society is involving itself in the tax debate.
And these are the reasons why this debate is important.
I would especially like to thank Ben and his team for this important work. There has been a considerable amount of time and effort gone into the research required to produce the findings and subsequent recommendations and I commend it to the public and political decision makers for their consideration.