Time to stop bleeding social welfare

Issue 

By Peter Boyle

MELBOURNE — While there's talk in sections of the Labor Party about asking governments to create jobs, Victorian Premier Joan Kirner is not remotely interested. She is preparing the state's harshest budget ever, at the expected cost of another 15,000 jobs.

Harry Van Moorst of the Campaign Against Poverty and Unemployment says state and federal Labor governments, spellbound by right-wing monetarist economic nostrums, have ruled out creating jobs through proven methods such as socially useful public works. Liberal/National policies are even worse.

While both parties ignore the total failure of monetarism in the 1980s, Van Moorst thinks the pendulum will inevitably begin to swing the other way.

South Australian Premier John Bannon, for instance, is starting to swing around to Keynesian demand stimulation with requests for federal funding of a Darwin-Alice Springs railway and the Multi-Function Polis.

There are large numbers of urgent social needs begging for funding. Jenny Trethewey of the Social Policy and Research Unit of the Brotherhood of St Laurence thinks many other job-creating projects merit consideration ahead of the MFP and the Darwin-Alice link. She supports an immediate turnabout in government policy on welfare and job creation. "Many people don't realise how much unemployment and the recession are tearing at the very social fabric", she said.

The recently released report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody pointed to an enormous need for basic facilities and services in Aboriginal communities. It cited low economic and social status as a major contributor to Aborigines' over-representation in prisons. Its figures were gathered prior to the recession:

  • unemployment six times the national average, and even this statistic is distorted by work-for-dole schemes in remote areas, as well as the classification of large numbers as not actively seeking paid work;

  • average life expectancy 20 years less than the rest of the population;

  • an Aboriginal child mortality rate three times that of non-Aboriginal children.

The growing problem of domestic violence against women highlights another area in desperate need of more public spending. According to some estimates, women in three out of 10 households face domestic violence. Victorian refuges say they are able to accept only one out of five women seeking help.

Child-care has also been starved of funds, says administrator Cheryl Cameron. The federal government has promised to create 30,000 additional places by the end of next year and 50,000 by 1995, but it this will not meet the demand.

"I work in a 30-place centre and we have 100 names on our waiting list", she says.

By law in Victoria, the ratio of child-care workers to children should be no less than 1:5 for children under three years, and 1:15 for children between three and five. For quality child-care the ratios should be lower, said Cameron. A large number of jobs should be created in the area.

Shelter Victoria says there are about 200,000 households waiting for public housing across Australia. "Now is the prime time to defend public housing. Low-income earners did not create this recession and should not have to pay for it."

Even before the recession, around 500,000 households in the lowest 40% income group paid more than 30% of their income in rent.

"Expanding the public housing sector to at least 20% of all housing stock in Australia, accompanied by an opening of the doors of public housing to all, would build a genuine and viable public housing system rather than the limited welfare housing sector that currently exists", says Shelter. n

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