By Mick White
BRISBANE — Queensland is the most poverty-stricken state in Australia, according to a Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS) report released earlier this month.
Drawing the Line on Poverty shows one in four children and two in three sole parents living in poverty in this state. The report is a further blow to the Goss government's credibility following widespread criticism of its abysmal performance in health delivery and environmental protection.
The report documents that more than 350,000 Queenslanders live below the poverty line, amounting to 18% of the population. This is 2% above the national average. Of these, 31,800 are young people.
According to the report, 139,000, or more than 25% of Queensland children, live in poverty due to the high rates of poverty among single parents and parents with more than two children. The report also found that 27.2% of elderly people were living in poverty.
The director of QCOSS, Peter Walsh, said Queensland's reputation for economic growth and prosperity masked appalling states of poverty and hardship involving large sections of the community.
Poverty is easily overlooked because it tends to be concentrated in particular places. Areas of particular concern identified in the report include Inala and New Farm in Brisbane, Aurukun in Cape York and Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Church leaders have endorsed the report's findings and called on the state and federal governments to review their "flawed" welfare programs. Anglican Archbishop Peter Hollingsworth said the findings were a sad indictment of Queensland. "The bulk of Australians do not believe there is poverty — it is always someone else's fault and there is this policy of blaming the victim", he said.
Catholic Archbishop John Bathersby deplored the "loss of educational possibilities and the loss of motivation for children who are caught in a cycle of poverty from which they cannot escape".
In Brisbane, the Salvation Army has reported a sharp increase in demand for its services. In a front-page article in the inner-city weekly City News, the Salvos reported that, in the last two months, their inner-city office has seen 187 men and 116 women in need of assistance. This compares with 113 men and 58 women in January and February.
Most of these were young people on benefits who suddenly found themselves in financial strife, reflecting the inadequate level of welfare resources for unemployed youth.
Walsh has criticised the Goss government's targeting of welfare measures, commenting that some of these, such as the senior's card, seem more oriented to maximising electoral popularity than assisting those most in need. Pointing to the fact that the Queensland, unlike most states, does not give travel concessions to the unemployed, Walsh suggested that current concession provisions for seniors needed to be extended to the jobless.
QCOSS argues that the government needs to concentrate on long-term solutions to poverty in the state. "Emergency relief is pretty much a band-aid measure", Walsh said. "The Queensland government needs to be creative and innovative and establish new programs to deal with poverty in the long term."
Contrary to the free market rhetoric of "non-interventionist government", Queensland provides higher levels of government assistance to industry than any other state. Sixty-nine per cent of these funds are allocated to already established industries such as mining, agriculture and tourism. In contrast, the amount of public resources allocated to health, education and welfare is well below that of other states.
The QCOSS submission for the 1995-96 state budget focuses on the need for an integrated social and economic policy agenda. This would entail the expansion of public sector employment and capital works projects, and an enlargement of current labour market programs. QCOSS is concerned that Queensland has one of Australia's smallest public sectors as a percentage of gross state product.
"It is imperative that the state government generate a much higher level of public sector employment as a key strategy in easing the burden of unemployment in Queensland", the submission stated.
The QCOSS report concluded: "A true 'leading state' is one that can boast both a strong financial position and social justice to balance economic and social priorities."