2016 Federal election priority issues and our scorecard

Imogen Ebsworth Blog

By Imogen Ebsworth, Advocacy, Engagement and Campaigns, SARC

The election campaign has been long and largely uninspiring, but the issues we care about are not. It can be hard with all the election campaign noise to spot the real issues and good policy responses worth voting for.

Accordingly SARC is supporting the work of our fellow Anglicares around the country to highlight priority issues that matter for achieving a more just and equitable society.

A lego-inspired traffic light guide to election policies; green/a tick for good, orange/ a neutral sign for some good but not enough, red/a cross for no policy or detrimental ones

We wrote to all major parties and candidates for the federal election in Tasmania and asked them to give us their policy responses to our top priorities: —

  • Adequate income for all Australians by raising Newstart and related allowances;
  • Addressing the affordable housing crisis and ending homelessness;
  • Addressing the increasingly insecure work conditions for millions of Australians that leaves them without basic entitlements like sick leave; and
    • Tax reform to ensure there is sufficient government funding for essential services and social security.

We then compared each party / candidate position against the policy responses we were looking for (these are detailed below). We only received a direct reply from the office of Andrew Wilkie; the rest were taken from policies on the party websites.

You can see the results above. We used a simple traffic light system to compare policies against what is required — green for good match; orange for some good signs but not enough; and red for no policy or policy that would make the situation worse.

What we were looking for on our top issues

Adequate income

The problem

Government pensions and allowances have fallen well behind the cost of living in Australia. We now have one of the lowest paid social security nets in the OECD and there have been no real increases for most government pensions for more than a decade. The result is that our social security system is no longer a safety net: — it has become a poverty trap.

No amount of good financial budgeting can help people stretch an inadequate allowance further. As a result our research shows people are forced to choose between essentials — such as rent or regular meals. One unexpected bill is enough to see people enter into serious poverty.

Solutions

  • Immediately increase Newstart and related allowances to bring them above the poverty line.
  • The establishment of an independent commission with the responsibility for assessing cost of living, and setting government pensions and allowances accordingly

More affordable housing; and ending homelessness

The problem

It is no secret that housing in Australia is increasingly unaffordable. People on low incomes are being locked out of the chance to own a home. The decline in available public housing means that more people are competing in the private rental market, and people on low income are being priced out, or in extreme financial stress. Some are paying as much as half or more of their income just to put a roof over their head, going without food, heating, and other essentials to afford rent.

The cost of housing is a major driver of homelessness, which has been rising. More than 100,000 Australians are homeless and at the same time, services to help the homeless have been cut.

Solutions

  • An increase in government allowances and pensions such as Newstart, which now fall well short of the cost of living, particularly housing.
  • An increase in homelessness services, reversing recent cuts and providing more resources.
  • Major government investment to create more affordable and appropriate housing options.
  • An end to tax concessions such as negative gearing which skew the property market, increase housing prices and have failed to increase the availability of affordable housing.

Secure work

The problem

Australians are increasingly finding themselves in work without long-term security or basic entitlements such as leave. Work is increasingly casual, offered on contract, and without any guarantee of continuation. There is an increasing expectation that people should be willing to relocate or otherwise drastically alter their lives in order to secure work.

At the same time there are as many as ten job seekers for every job vacancy, illustrating that the desire to work and take on insecure conditions is not enough. The situation is particularly acute for those with multiple barriers to employment; and young people, who face some of the least secure work prospects and conditions compared to previous generations.

Solutions

  • Raise Newstart and similar allowances, and consider moving to a ‘basic income’ approach to ensure people have their basic needs met and are in a position to seek employment.
  • Increase funding for ‘placement based’ employment services that are tailored to individual needs and work to remove multiple barriers to obtaining and maintaining employment.
  • Invest in education, housing and community infrastructure that is essential for obtaining and retaining a job.
  • Broaden the definitions of ‘employer and employee’ to ensure all workers have basic rights.
  • Recognise and act on the power of governments to invest in and create secure work.

Tax reform for a more equitable society

The problem

While there has been a major public discussion on government debt and spending, there has been far too little focus on revenue raising and distribution to ensure a fair Australia. Research shows that Australia has become an increasingly unequal society. Governments are forgoing critical revenue that could be used to address that inequity and tackle many key issues such as homelessness, a living wage and greater employment.

Solutions

  • End negative gearing, which disproportionately benefits the highest 10% of income earners.
  • End overly generous superannuation tax concessions for the wealthiest Australians.
  • Ensure that multinational companies operating in Australia pay their fair share of tax.
  • Ensure that business taxation adequately reflects the public resources they use and rely on to profit.

Where the parties stand

We looked at the commitments made by each party and Andrew Wilkie against our priority issues as detailed above. The following is a summary of their positions, with links to the policies on their websites.

The Coalition — disappointingly has no policies on raising Newstart or related allowances. On affordable housing their only clear announcement has been to oppose changes to negative gearing. Similarly the Coalition have not announced any policies that address insecure work. On tax reform while they have brought in modest reforms to superannuation to reduce the unequal advantage given to the very wealthy, and brought in some measures to decrease tax avoidance by multinational companies, these measures are unfortunately far outweighed by they corporate tax cut promises, which will cost nearly $50 billion without any discernible gain for the broader community.

The Labor Party — has a range of good policies and clear commitments towards addressing the housing affordability crisis and ending homelessness; for increasing employee rights and investing in education and training to address insecure work; and on tax reform through ending negative gearing, closing loopholes for tax-dodging multinationals and reforming superannuation benefits. The one area of concern is despite a good policy to increase the old-aged pension, Labor has no policy to increase Newstart and related allowances. This is despite the pension being at least just adequate, whereas Newstart and other allowances are now clearly below the poverty line and untenable.

The Australian Greens — have comprehensive policies that provide commitments on all priority issues. They are the only party surveyed to make a clear commitment to raising Newstart and related allowances; have a suite of policies that address homelessness and affordable housing including community housing options; will introduce legislation to counter the casualisation of the workforce and employee rights; and in addition to taxing multinationals fairly and reforming superannuation and negative gearing, propose a ‘Buffet’ tax on the country’s wealthiest.

The Nick Xenophon Team — have a set of policy principles on their website that are relatively light on detail and unfortunately do not include specific topics for issues of adequate income, secure work or tax reform. On affordable housing there is recognition that there is a significant problem and a commitment to form an expert taskforce and ‘reform negative gearing’ without further detail provided.

Andrew Wilkie — provided direct responses to our priority issues via his staff and was the only party or candidate to do so. Mr Wilkie has clear commitments to see Newstart and related allowances raised and recognises this is also an important part of addressing insecure work, while not having any clear position on other aspects of employee rights relating to the latter. He also provided clear commitments on affordable housing, citing a need to restore the National Affordable Housing Strategy initiated by the Rudd Government. On tax reform his position is very similar to the Labor and Green Parties with an additional commitment to pursue a super profits tax on banks.