Federation Chamber - COMMITTEES - Intergenerational Welfare Dependence - Report

03 April 2019

I rise to speak to the report of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence. I thank the member for McMillan for so ably and sensitively chairing the committee. I thank my fellow committee members for their consideration and support, and I especially thank the member for Cunningham for her wisdom, her careful and selective questionings and her counsel throughout the committee.

Welfare payments are a vitally important part of the social compact. They must be adequate. Whilst we rightly view them as a social safety net protecting people when vulnerable, they can also be seen as an important investment helping people access important opportunities. That is why I am pleased that the inquiry's name did not have an impact on the outcomes of this committee. The real issue, of course—as indicated in the body of the report and, I'm pleased to say, in the recommendations—is that of intergenerational disadvantage. For many people facing profound disadvantage, the provision of social security payments are, and must be, a lifeline which mean that they and their children have the basics of life but also have the ability to reach out and grab the opportunities necessary to break that cycle of disadvantage.

Many people say, 'You just need to pull yourself up by your boot straps, get a job, get moving'. But it's very hard to do that if you have challenging children and your only concern is making sure they get to school and stay at school. It's hard if you are worried about getting enough food and have to walk around looking for food parcels to make sure your children are fed. It's hard if you have trouble paying for a place to live or if you are homeless or dealing with sickness in the family. That's why I am pleased that the recommendations of this report do go to that very sensitive issue of intergenerational disadvantage.

The recommendations include the need for place based programs that are driven by and accepted by the communities involved, programs that actually reflect an understanding of who the people are that require these initiatives and what their local circumstances are. The recommendations call for wraparound services—services that are coordinated, meaningful, localised and not replicated or unnecessary. Targeted, wraparound support services are essential in engaging children and their families where barriers to education and employment are complex.

I have perfect examples of such situations in my own seat of Batman. Families where there is domestic violence, families where there are complex health issues and families where there might be drug related issues require a great deal of support beyond social security payments. They require the support of experts who know how to help these families through, around and over these barriers so that the children can get access, as I've said, to the opportunities of education and help when they need it. We need social security payments that are adequate and provide the necessary resources to actually be able to live as well as pursue opportunities for a better life.

The report highlights the importance of transition phases that occur in each person's life, and each of these are individual and must be individually tailored. One thing we learned from the inquiry is that one answer or one intervention simply does not meet everybody's needs. They must be individualised. They must be tailored. This approach is referred to as the 'life course approach', and there were many examples where this has worked from many wonderful people who presented to our inquiry.

The report discusses the need to provide targeted and early intervention to support people through life's changes in order to prevent entrenched disadvantage. It considers early intervention programs that should target the following phases of life: prenatal and parenthood. It's astounding to see the success of such programs that helped new mums right through their pregnancy, through the early stages of parenthood and on to when their children are transitioning to school. The results have been astounding—simply sitting with parents and helping them read to their children, understanding healthy living during pregnancy and understanding that having a connection and being a good parent is vitally important to breaking that cycle of disadvantage. This is something that, I guess, as policymakers, we may not see as important but was highlighted over and over again in the inquiry.

It is the transition to education, including preschool, primary and secondary; through to year 12, TAFE and tertiary; and then, of course, on to employment. It is something as simple as having somebody sit in a household and read to children after school or at any time they can, because the parents are not able to do that. Simple interventions like that can mean a world of difference, and we should be prepared to be flexible enough in the provision of our programs to make sure that such interventions are available.

Finally, the importance of collecting data for evaluation and effectiveness of programs is highlighted in the recommendations. Collecting data shows us where people who need our services are located. There were some very stark examples of how important data is. There are nearly a dozen postcodes in this country where interventions are needed. We can put our finger on them on a map and say, 'That is where we need to focus.' We can take some of those children from those families by the hands, so obvious it is to indicate to us where these children are at risk of being in this cycle of disadvantage, and we can lead them to a better life. It is the data and the evaluation of these programs that shows us that.

On behalf of the committee, I would particularly like to acknowledge and thank the inquiry participants and their representatives for their willingness to share difficult personal experiences of entrenched disadvantage. I must admit there was some reluctance on behalf of many of the organisations to present to the committee but I am pleased to say that they did so, with great vigour, with great interest and with great compassion, and I think now they would be very happy with the recommendations thanks to their submissions.

It became clear during the inquiry that Australian communities have people that are doing it really tough, particularly in remote and regional areas of Australia. In many instances they are single mothers and their children. I thank all of them for their stories and I thank all of the people who came forward with their submissions. I recommend this report to the House.