Disadvantaged Still Missing Fair Share of Rich Pickings

Herald Sun
12 October 2012

By Jennifer Westacott
Chief Executive, Business Council of Australia.

Next week is Anti-Poverty Week, an initiative that aims to improve public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty, and encourage actions to deal with it.

The week gives us the chance to reflect on what Australia has achieved in tackling poverty and disadvantage, and also to reflect on our continuing failure in breaking cycles of disadvantage experienced by groups of Australians.

Despite the efforts of successive governments, business and the community, the gap in living standards between Indigenous and other Australians remains unacceptable.

Across the community, there are too many young Australians who do not achieve a Year 12 or equivalent qualification, and too many families are struggling to afford a roof over their heads.

While Australia has experienced more than 20 years of continuous economic growth, with many Australians experiencing associated rising living standards, some people continue to miss out. All too often it’s the same groups of people who miss out.

Clearly, the benefits of growth have not been felt by every Australian despite our success in maintaining a strong economy overall.

This is why I want to mark Anti-Poverty Week by renewing my suggestions for the federal government to ask the Productivity Commission to investigate the sources and extent of entrenched disadvantage.

This inquiry would provide independent advice about the nature and causes of persistent poverty and produce recommendations that could transform people’s lives.

When business talks about the need to be competitive, it is because only strong and vibrant businesses can invest, create jobs, and provide the revenue for governments to fund services and an adequate social safety net.

When we talk about enduring prosperity, it is not just with our shareholders in mind.

Business has a huge stake in the prosperity of the community as a whole. We want every Australian who is able and wanting to take part in the labour force to have that opportunity.

Poverty serves nobody’s interests, most particularly those who are part of an entrenched cycle of intergenerational disadvantage.

Eliminating persistent poverty would require government, business and the community working together, but first we must understand more about why some people are continually left behind.

As we approach Anti-Poverty Week, I can say with confidence that business is up for the challenge of continuing to tackle barriers to enduring prosperity in Australia.

The Productivity Commission is the correct body to conduct an inquiry into entrenched disadvantage because it has the capacity to undertake detailed research and can provide frank, independent advice.

Such an inquiry would also send a strong signal that the shared vision for Australia – from government, business and the broader community – is one where every citizen is in a position to contribute to, and benefit from, our nation’s enduring prosperity.