Angela Carr knows what a social justice deficit looks like. A dedicated trade unionist, co-convener of Geelong Housing Action Group and a Community Service Worker, Carr works closely with marginalised communities, most already struggling even before the pandemic took hold.
Carr sees first hand every day the devastation to families and communities wrought by the unholy trinity of stratospheric housing costs, low wages for insecure employment, and an increasingly undermined social security safety net.
Carr told Green Left the housing crisis has reached nightmare proportions. “Many people are no longer guaranteed housing security,” she said, “and they are living on grossly inadequate income support payments or low wages”.
While politicians bicker over Stage 3 tax cuts for the rich, housing has become a commodity and the crisis is tearing families apart.
Carr believes the lack of wage increases are a major driver and said the rental market has “a lot of greedy landlords who just continue to jack up rents”.
This leads to the “working poor” living in greater poverty, paying “up to 70% of their income in rent,” Carr said, which leaves people with nothing for the basics of life.
“We now have two income families who are priced completely out of the [housing] market,” she said, which leaves no hope for single income families, pensioners, or the unemployed. Victoria alone has over 110,000 people on the public housing waiting list and Carr says “not enough is being done to address this.”
Nationally, poverty and inequality continue to rise as Australia’s most vulnerable pay the true cost of “can-do capitalism”. “I’ve seen first-hand the absolute desperation out there in the community,” she said. “The only way out it of this [housing] crisis is a large scale expansion in quality public housing.”
Like the Greens, the Socialist Alliance says the bare minimum build needs to be 1 million homes. “We need a million properties across the nation,” Carr said. “And we need all of the governments — state and federal — to come together [and implement an effective model].” This includes stopping the privatisation of public housing and getting rid of for-profit public housing providers.
Affordable health care
Medicare and the inclusion of dental and mental health is an essential pillar of Socialist Alliance policy. Carr said the government’s own actions make a mockery of treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s statement on budget night that “Medicare is guaranteed”.
Carr said that claim is “rubbish”. “Last year under the cover of COVID-19, they actually removed 900 items from the [Medicare] scheme. They have also eroded things off the schedule over the last nine years.”
Psychiatry via Telehealth for regional and remote areas was recently removed, as people struggle to access specialist services during bushfires, floods and pandemics.
“Mental health access and accessing bulk billing GP services has to be improved,” Carr said, adding that lack of affordable health care is setting people up for “poor and preventable health outcomes” for life.
Lack of paediatrics is another issue; Carr said it is now about $300 per visit — “It’s just not affordable”.
Changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme aren’t helping either. “People are struggling to access medicines now. If they’re on a pension they’re already below the poverty line.”
While private and religious schools are gifted millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money they don’t need, the public school system is under resourced and its teachers are underpaid.
“This one’s pretty simple really,” Carr said. “We just need to guarantee free, publicly-funded education through primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education.”
She pointed out we did have free education in this country — once — so it’s not an abstract idea. “What we continue to see across all service areas including education is the neoliberal agenda of privatisation … and we know once profit is put above people, any hope of service provision equity is basically destroyed.
“Public schools should be funded sufficiently to bring them up to the same standard as private schools,” Carr said, “so that it offers equality and real opportunity to kids".
Disability sector, NDIS
Socialist Alliance has been extremely critical of how the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been applied in ways Carr said will “only further stress and disadvantage those with disabilities”.
“The current implementation is unjust and adds to the crisis. Every day we hear about critical support funding being slashed from people’s plans … and people [already deemed eligible] struggling to access the scheme.”
She said the system needs a radical overhaul, which will require political will — something the government doesn’t appear to have.
“Last year, we actually saw the NDIS spend $29 million … to fight [NDIS] participants in the courts over their funding.” Carr said. “It is just disgusting.”
Nonetheless, it will take more than simply putting the NDIS back the way Labor had it to address the ever-growing list of issues, including significant workforce shortfalls.
“The conditions for staff are not what they should be; it’s a highly casualised workforce and low paid.” Carr believes bringing back permanent contracts with better pay and conditions will go a long way towards filling the gaps in privatised services. “The lives of disabled people should not be for private profit. Private for-profit organisations should not be receiving public money."
“SA believes that democratic governance of all disability bodies, including the NDIS, fundamentally needs to be organised by people with lived experience of a disability.”
Realistic eligibility models are needed that are based on the disabled person’s need, not the government’s funding model, she said. “That’s not happening now … eligible people are struggling to access the NDIS.There is a lot of work to be done, but it needs to be done from the ground up and people with a disability need to have a say.”
Socialist Alliance is fielding 15 candidates in the federal election, including Carr. Along with Greens, independents and alternative party candidates, the good news is that unhappy voters will be spoilt for choice on May 21.