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Poverty inquiry short on hope

media release - 7 march 2024 - poverty inquiry report short on hope

The final report on the extent and nature of poverty in Australia delivers little in the way of solutions to end poverty in Australia, according to the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare CEO Deb Tsorbaris.

Despite receiving over 250 submissions and holding 9 public hearings over the past 18 months, the inquiry fails to deliver a plan or any solid recommendations to address poverty in Australia.

“The report tells us more of what we already know,” says Ms Tsorbaris.

“We already know that we need urgent and appropriate action through government policy to reduce the number of Australians living with the impacts of poverty and disadvantage; we know that we need to alleviate the crippling effects of the cost of living crisis on those that are already going without many of the basic essentials they need to live well and safely; and we know that more support for children and families – through the provision of subsidised, quality early education and care, and an overhaul of the child support scheme – are imperative to empowering the next generation,” she says.

“We are in the depth of a cost-of-living crisis and people are struggling and having to make tough choices for their families. Australia faces an insecure housing market, and mental health and family violence challenges like we’ve never seen, and this report offers us little hope for change,” she says.

The Centre’s submission to the Senate Inquiry focused on the devasting consequence of poverty on children and young people and the disadvantage they faced as a result.

Ms Tsorbaris says it’s encouraging that the inquiry includes a statement that says children must be central to policy solutions, acknowledging children as a priority group “rather than them being treated as an extension to adults. The committee also understands that addressing child poverty would result in major long-term reduction in rates of poverty overall, by breaking the intergenerational cycle that is seen far too often and experienced by so many Australians.”

However, the 14 recommendations include only investment “to ensure that children, especially those from disadvantaged or vulnerable backgrounds, have access to high-quality early education and care,” and a loose call for the government to take “action to reduce child poverty”.

“I join the Brotherhood of St Lawrence and other community service organisations in their criticism of this report – there is no clear vision or agenda for tackling poverty in Australia,” says Ms Tsorbaris.

The final report includes a set of 15 additional recommendations from the inquiry chair Green’s Senator Janet Rice, which the only concrete action recommendations. Additional comments from Labour Senators and a dissenting report from Coalition Senators suggest there is little agreement on solutions stemming from this group.

“Poverty in our society is a policy choice and is something that our leaders must work together on and commit to eradicating. It can be done, but not without commitment from both sides and a willingness to leave party political agendas behind.

“We saw huge leaps forward during Covid when governments did what was needed to preserve the dignity of all Australians. It’s time to do that again to permanently address poverty in Australia,” says Ms Tsorbaris.


Recommendations scorecard

The Senate Inquiry into the Extent and Nature of Poverty final report makes 14 recommendations, with some of them echoing the messages the Centre gave to government on behalf of the child and family services sector in our submission in 2023.


The Centre’s recommendations were:

Centre recommendations Inquiry recommendation What’s missing

Reform the social security payment system to make sure all payments provide recipients with an income that enables them to participate fully in society, look for work, and support themselves and their families to enable material and other needs to be met.



Rec 1 -> 2.130 The committee recommends that the Australian Government take urgent action so that Australians are not living in poverty, including through considering the suitability, adequacy, and effectiveness of the income support system.


Rec 2 -> 2.132 The committee recommends that the Australian Government take action to better support applicants and recipients of the Disability Support Pension and ensure people can participate in their communities and cover their living costs.


Rec 4 -> 2.140 The committee recommends the Australian Government reform mutual obligations, giving consideration to the report of the Select Committee on Workforce Australia Employment Services.




Actionable changes are missing from recommendations. Inquiry chair recommendations go someway to detail changes that will make a material difference to families living in poverty.


Recommendation 15 (chair) – 1.25 The Australian Government lift the base rate of all income support payments to $88 a day.


Recommendation 24 (chair) – 1.71 The Australian Government:

Undertake a review of Parenting Payment (single), with a view of increasing the allowance and improving eligibility to better support single-parent families and children, particularly those experiencing domestic and family violence; and

Expand coverage of the Parenting Payment (Single), so that eligible single parents remain eligible for the payment until their youngest child’s 16th birthday.


Reform the tax system to


strengthen enforcement for people who do not pay tax or who pay minimal tax,


reduce taxes on essential items for low-income families,


strengthen compliance measures for perpetrators and others who evade their responsibilities for childcare support,


enable asylum seekers to work to support their families, and


re-examine existing policies of tax minimisation and negative gearing.



Rec 11 -> 4.180The committee recommends the Australian Government conduct a review of Australia’s child support scheme, which specifically considers:

the adequacy of the current child support formula and rates;

improving and increasing the enforcement of unpaid child support payments;

ensuring the system adequately addresses the needs of victim-survivors of domestic and family violence; and

improving the overall administration of the scheme.



Missing reform of tax system, enforcement measures, and direction on the many tax leavers that could benefit low-income families, such as reducing taxes on essential items for low-income families.


No support measures for asylum seekers.


Missing effect of tax policies on housing affordability and need to address impact of tax policies such as negative gearing on rental and housing market for low-income families.



Continue to raise wages, particularly for those involved in low-paid care sectors caring for the elderly, for children, and for those with disability, but at a faster rate than is currently the case.



No recommendations


The final report ignores care economy and low-paid workforce, and the effect under-valuing of this sector has on poverty.


Establish a national housing strategy which encourages low-cost, innovative solutions to the housing emergency, particularly for people experiencing homelessness, women and children fleeing family violence situations, families at risk of child protection involvement, and young people who have left care or who are young parents.



Rec 3 -> 2.135 The committee recommends the Australian Government consider asking the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee to review Commonwealth Rent Assistance, to determine effectiveness and appropriateness at alleviating cost of living pressures.


Housing instability is recognised as a key driver of poverty, yet inquiry recommendations don’t look at any of the broad economic drivers of housing crisis, focusing only on rent assistance provisions.




Examine what has worked in other jurisdictions to address the drivers of poverty and fund policies, initiatives and strategies that seek to eradicate poverty.



Rec 9 -> 4.169 The committee recommends that all levels of government invest significantly to ensure that children, especially those from disadvantaged or vulnerable backgrounds, have access to high quality early education and care.


Rec 13 -> 4.193 The committee recommends the Australian Government takes action to reduce child poverty.



Recommendation 13 provides a loose catch all with little direction for policy change.


The inquiry chairs additional recommendations offer the only concrete recommendations that might move forward, including:


Rec 26 (chair) -1.82 The Australian Government make a national commitment to reduce child poverty.


Rec 29 (chair) – 1.90 The Australian Government ask the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee to develop a national poverty measure or measures, and national poverty targets, which includes specific measures relating to child poverty, with the view to establishing an overarching Poverty Reduction policy framework and legislation.


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