Australia needs a ‘Green Fair Go’

RMIT University professor Rob Watts believes Australia needs a “Green Fair Go” — akin to the United States proposal of a “Green New Deal” — that would include a commitment to full employment through jobs linked to combating climate change. To make this a reality would require “people power”, he said.

Watts was speaking at a Fair Go For Pensioners conference on July 10, where he provided an overview of the neoliberal policies pursued by Labor and Coalition governments during the past four decades.

He spoke of the decline of the union movement, growing inequality, the abandonment of the goal of full employment, and the increasingly punitive and stigmatising treatment of the unemployed.

Council on the Aging CEO Ronda Held outlined some of the issues raised by the Royal Commission on Aged Care, such as the 128,000 people waiting for a home care package and the 53 people who die each month in the process.

Friends of Public Housing’s Jack Verdins told the conference there are 82,000 people on the Victorian public housing waiting list and 25,000 homeless people. Yet, there has been no new public housing built in Victoria in the past twenty years.

The state government has instead transferred public housing dwellings to the control of community housing organisations that generally do not take in those on the public housing waiting list with most needs.

Australian Unemployed Workers Union’s Sean Kelly said social security has been in a "quiet crisis" since the 1980’s. Today, despite the lack of sufficient jobs, the unemployed are being punished for not finding work.

Combined with the low level of the Newstart allowance, this has resulted in growing homelessness among older women and women being forced to stay with abusive partners. Kelly called for welfare payments to be raised above the poverty level.

Council of Single Mothers and their Children CEO Jenny Davidson said that a quarter of single mothers live below the poverty line.

In 2006, the John Howard Coalition government passed a "welfare to work" law that pushed many single mothers off the single parent pension and onto Newstart. Six years later, the Julia Gillard Labor government moved another 80,000 single parents onto Newstart, meaning a loss of $173 per fortnight as well as a requirement to "jump through hoops" to get the payment.

Victorian Trades Hall Council campaigns officer Wil Stracke said there are 673,000 registered unemployed in Australia, over a million underemployed, and 40% in insecure work. One fifth of young workers have their wages stolen by employers.

Stracke addressed some of the specific problems of migrant workers, who are often underpaid and work in dangerous conditions. In many of these cases, employers exploit visa laws that prevent migrant workers from speaking out about abuses.

Sudanese-Australian lawyer Akuol Garang spoke of the particular problems facing refugees, many of who are on bridging visas that give them no right to work and no access to Medicare.

Independent and Peaceful Australia Network’s Shirley Winton argued in favour of cutting the military budget and diverting some of the billions of dollars saved to useful purposes such as public housing and public transport.

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