Australia is masking its true unemployment levels, hiding the real number of its jobless, fiddling with the numbers of homeless, cheating Australians on the extent and depth of poverty. Poverty, acute and relative, is extensive, but we are sold that this is an affluent nation. We are told that there are 740,000 jobless Australians when there are more than 2 and half million who are jobless. We are told that 17 per cent of Australians live below the poverty line when in fact closer to 40 per cent should be recorded as living in poverty. We are sold a poverty line that is well below what should be the poverty line. We are told 750,000 children live in poverty when in fact more than two million Australian children live impoverished.
We are told that 110,000 Australians are homeless when in fact homeless Australians number around 300,000.
Both absolute and relative poverty are on the increase, and by 2050 the poverty crises will debilitate the nation, fracture society.
Yet, Australia, according to gross domestic product, is one of the world’s wealthiest nations. Its much lauded mining wealth is not shared with the nation but is reserved for the few. Mining may provide tens of thousands of jobs but that’s it. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of metallurgical coal. Coal based emissions are burning up the atmosphere while the few exploit.
Despite the environmental disaster that coal brings on, the mining of coal is not lifting Australians out of poverty. Unless Australia does a Norway and nationalises and owns its resources then they mean next to nothing to the population. The mining privateers are the only benefactors but of course they need people in jobs. It’s a wages only return from mining privateers as they bag just about all profits.
Australia’s mining elite exported 202 million tonnes of thermal coal in 2016 and 189 million tonnes of metallurgical coal were exported in 2016. Yet poverty is on the increase.
Australia is the world’s biggest producer of bauxite. Some of the regions in Australia where millions of tonnes of bauxite are extracted from open-cut operations are home to some of Australia’s poorest communities and towns.
Australia is the world’s biggest iron ore exporter, heading to nearly a billion tonnes of iron ore in yearly exports. In its last audited year of iron ore extraction Australia exported 819 million tonnes. Western Australia’s Pilbara region is renowned as the nation’s mining boom engine room but the Pilbara remains home to some of the state’s poorest communities and towns. More Australians live poor despite generations of boasting about ‘a mining boom’. But as stated the mining boom pretty much returned to the nation jobs only – for some. A work force is always necessary.
Australia is the world’s second biggest producer of gold but Australian streets are being filled with the homeless.
Despite the global financial crises Australians were told we’d get through them, that the Australian economy is one of the world’s best. We were told we have globally comparative low levels of unemployment and underemployment, comparative low levels of government debt and that we have good gross domestic product. But why then is the suicide toll increasing? Australians are not being told the truth about Australian poverty and unemployment and its intersection with pronounced negative behaviours and suicide.
We are being lied to. Data is produced from certain manufactured premises, from disingenuous, inauthentic starting points. Not all the unemployed are being counted. You have to be officially looking for work to be considered unemployed. There are millions of Australians who need work, want it but languish in poverty, have given up, broken lives to ruined lives. If you work one hour per week you are defined as employed. A number of ‘poverty lines’ have been enumerated but the income markers of these poverty lines should be increased by at least 50 per cent so as to stop identifying people as if living within means of various affordability when they actually live in poverty, unable to make ends meet.
There are at least six million Australians living in poverty, not nearly three million alone. At least one quarter of the Australian population lives in poverty – and the proportion in poverty will continue to increase long into the foreseeable future. There are more than two million Australian children living in poverty rather than the 740,000 children that we are officially told or allowed to believe who are living in poverty.
There is relative and absolute poverty. Relative poverty is a measure contextualising annual income to cost of living demands and therefore has to do with low income levels and the accumulation of cost of living stressors. Absolute poverty describes families that are not able to provide basic necessities such as housing, food and clothing.
Poverty is mounting and it is a crisis that will tear at this nation. In time there will be no more lies, no more spin and instead there shall culminate a divided society, fractured, with more effort spent on separating peoples. The United States of America’s response to poverty is prisons and gated communities. Nearly one per cent of the American population – 2.6 million Americans – are locked up; one in four of the world’s prisoners. The underclass of homelessness in the United States is a shame beyond words.
Australian pensioners will increasingly make up a significant proportion of Australian poverty. Today, a pension averages about $20,000 a year and it is more than tough going. It is punishing, for many psychologically damaging and irrecoverable trauma. The aged pension is in fact poverty. In 20 years the pension will be worth the equivalent of $70 per week comparative to today’s value – dirt-poor living. Unless Australians have their home paid off by their retirement and one million dollars saved in superannuation they will live their last stretch of life in poverty. With the passing of each year less Australians will be on track to achieve this, and soon enough it will be near impossible for the majority to come anywhere near close.
Australia provides more than 400,000 social houses while around 170,000 families remain on the waiting lists. If social housing were to disappear there would be hundreds of thousands, in fact millions more homeless Australians.
If I were Prime Minister, I’d significantly reduce absolute poverty by building the 170,000 homes – quality homes. If this first step is not taken then your children and their children will live societal fracture, disaster and civil unrest.
Dramatically reducing acute homelessness for those sleeping rough requires tailor-made support to address the negative issues and traumas that have alienated them to the streets. Nearly one in three of the chronic homeless are born overseas and one in four is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.
One in six of the chronically homeless is aged 12 years and younger – nearly 20,000 Australian children aged 12 and younger are homeless.
It has been stated over and again that for the last half century there has been pronounced economic growth, of such nature that we are envied globally. However the overall narrative is one of persistently increasing poverty. If it is true that the nation has generated strong economic growth for a long time then it is an indictment of the nation that we have not reinvested a significant return from that revenue into the needs of the most vulnerable.
If I were Prime Minister I’d publicly ask questions about where the wealth generated from mining is going, to whom – certainly not to the nation; that is not in any significant way. A Prime Minister who is concerned for the welfare of the people would galvanise the nationalisation of resources, as it should be. This would also establish environmental protections, and put an end to obscene levels of dangerous greed.
The real story that the official national figures are hiding from us is this: the unemployment rate is not 5, 6 or 7 per cent but it is above 20 per cent, maybe even 35 per cent. Depending on how we understand poverty lines and the life stressors, it is my view that poverty affected one in two Australians. Officially it is argued that about 750,000 Australians are out of work but in reality it’s around two and half million Australians of working age who are unemployed and possibly higher, between three and half million to four million. The suggestion that you are ‘employed’ if you work more than ‘one’ hour per week is nonsense.
If I were Prime Minister I’d ensure government instruments reported authentic facts. If I were Prime Minister I’d work towards establishing a healthy living wage for every Australian, so they do not starve, do not go without, can afford opportunities and live with dignity.
Ten per cent of Australia’s labour force is seriously under-employed. More than 1.1 million under-employed Australians want more paid hours, to meet cost of living, to be able to provide adequate food on the family table but can’t get the hours. If we add the 10 per cent to the 20 per cent who are unemployed, that’s a 30 per cent national unemployment rate. Among the youth labour force, underemployment is proportionately higher.
In 1963 Australia’s economy hit a significant downturn, and a significant proportion of the waves of migrants found little to no work, and the national suicide rate peaked, the highest it has ever been, 17.3 suicides per 100,000. In the 1990s economic downturn, out of control interest rates on mortgages, correlated with spikes in the suicide rates. During the last several years, the economic downturns and the hidden narrative of increasing poverty are playing out with the increasing suicide toll. I have long argued that the staggering, harrowing rates of suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are borne from a narrative of obscene poverty. In 2014 I disaggregated the suicide rate among Aboriginal peoples in the Kimberley to more than 70 per 100,000, one of the highest in the world. It’s now nearing 80 suicides per 100,000. Nearly one in 10 of the nation’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides are in the Kimberley. Seven per cent of the Kimberley’s population lives homeless and nearly 100 per cent of the homeless is of Aboriginal people – translating to one in 8 of the region’s Aboriginal people as homeless. More than one in two of the region’s Aboriginal people live below the poverty line. I estimate that 40 per cent of the nation’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders live below the poverty line. Nearly 100 per cent of the nation’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides are of people from within the 40 per cent living below the poverty line.
The majority of Australian suicides are intertwined with narratives of poverty. Poverty strips away vital protective factors, erodes resilience, makes for drudgery and unhappiness. The tipping points, the triggers are many, including relationship breakdowns, disordered thinking, anxieties, bullying, violence, substance abuse. Those living in poverty invest much into a relationship whether family or friends. For some who live in poverty to lose a relationship is to lose everything.
How is Australia one of the world’s biggest economies but home to increasing poverty? Australia’s wealthy are a minority but they own the majority of the nation’s wealth. Poverty affects one in two Australians and in less than a score of years will affect three in four Australians. If I were Prime Minister I’d deal in the truth, tell the truth and dedicate myself to working to what’s right, to genuinely lifting people out of poverty and to avoiding an otherwise inevitable abominable human catastrophe.