Tackle poverty like road safety (The Mercury Talking Point, 18/10/19)

Kym Goodes says reducing entrenched, generational poverty requires leadership.

WHEN it comes to road safety the Tasmanian Government has a target “Towards Zero” — the goal is zero fatalities. It invests, monitors, researches and aims to reduce the number of deaths on our roads. We all agree, even one fatality, one life, is too many.

The Government, to their credit, has taken charge on the issue of road safety as a matter of priority. As it should. After all, good governments respond to challenges with leadership.

So it begs the question, why isn’t the same leadership shown by state and federal governments when it comes to tackling poverty?

As Tasmania’s strong economic growth continues, everyone should have a fair chance to participate and succeed. And all Tasmanians should have the opportunity to live a good life on this beautiful island.

This week, as we endeavour to give a voice to those living below the poverty line across Tasmania, to yet again plead with governments to make policy and budget choices that alleviate the despair of poverty, many of us will ask can anything really be done to reduce or eradicate poverty?

There is much to celebrate about the reduction of poverty … that is, if you live in Canada or New Zealand. Canada is now leading the way and demonstrating just what can be done when governments make a decision to take action, set targets and invest time and resources accordingly.

Since 2015, the Canadian Government has made a major investment aimed at growing the middle class and reducing poverty. And it’s working. In March this year, a mere four years since the introduction of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, the interim target of reducing poverty by 20 per cent by 2020 had already been reached ahead of schedule. At 9.5 per cent Canada now has the lowest rate of poverty in its history. As a reference point, in 2015 12.1 per cent of Canadians lived in poverty.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, the approach is similar with the introduction of a Child Poverty Reduction Act. Yes, that’s right — so determined to reduce poverty, they have created a law to ensure it happens. The Act introduced last year requires the Government to establish three and ten year targets and report on progress against those targets to Parliament.

There are a few things we could learn from the approaches taken by Canada and New Zealand:

GOOD outcomes happen when governments prioritise and commit.

SHOULD they choose to, just like governments can find millions of dollars for infrastructure and roads, they can prioritise millions of dollars to tackle poverty.

WHEN a leader is prepared to set a target, a timeline and a vision, the policy response and budget will follow.

WHEN governments stop focusing on populist policy and outcomes driven by electoral cycles, then longterm change is possible. Just ask the 825,000 Canadians who no longer live with the despair of poverty.

These lessons are based on what governments can do, but poverty isn’t just about governments; first and foremost, it’s about people. People in Tasmania who are waiting to be seen, to have some hope the government will prioritise and commit to their needs, set targets, timelines and allocate resources.

In Tasmania, poverty is very personal for the 120,000 people — mums, dads, children, older Tasmanians living every day with the despair, anxiety and isolation of poverty. We need to remember that entrenched, generational poverty could be tackled head on if a government made a choice to prioritise unlocking the potential that is dormant in our communities. We see it in so many of our neighbours, the children in our local school. Poverty is experienced at a deeply personal level but the solutions lie in moving past partisan policymaking, which rarely achieves good outcomes, and instead looking to good policy solutions — like Canada, and like New Zealand.

We should learn from our fellow members of the Commonwealth and set a target, take action and achieve it. If one death on our roads is too many, then one Tasmanian living in poverty should be held in the same breath.

Kym Goodes is chief executive of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS).