Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 09 Hansard (Thursday, 16 September 2021) . . Page.. 2646 ..
for some time to meet the needs of these people, and they know full well that they need support and security for longer than this lockdown might last.
On behalf of every Canberra household who is struggling right now, I appeal to those opposite finally to accept the reality that we have a problem. It is a big problem, and one that is not going away right now, or any time soon, unless we start doing something different from what the government has been doing. We need a poverty task force. We need the clarity, vision and direction that a poverty task force would provide. I commend my amendment calling for the establishment of this task force to the Assembly.
MS STEPHEN-SMITH (Kurrajong—Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Minister for Families and Community Services and Minister for Health) (4.35): The Labor Party and the government will not be supporting Mrs Kikkert’s amendment but I thank her for bringing it forward and giving us the opportunity to have the debate yet again. I particularly thank Mr Davis for bringing this very important motion to the Assembly and recognising the role of community sector partners in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the role of non-government organisations right across our community every day, every week, every year.
In relation to the poverty task force, Mrs Kikkert is absolutely right: this is not federal parliament. We do not have responsibility for income support. The plain fact is that raising the rate of NewStart, JobSeeker or whatever they want to rename it next is the single biggest thing that can be done to address poverty. And this not theoretical.
When the rate of JobSeeker was increased in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer people were living in poverty. Fewer people were seeking material and financial aid through the community sector because people could actually, for the first time in many, many months, or years for some of them, afford to pay their bills, not just scrape by but actually get a haircut. That meant they could actually go to a job interview. They could actually get themselves organised to seek that work that they are expected to do by the commonwealth government.
This is not rhetorical. This is very, very real. That was why our Chief Minister was the first leader of a state or territory government to support the call by ACOSS and the community sector to raise the rate of what was then NewStart and is now JobSeeker.
But back to Mr Davis’s motion, which I very much and sincerely thank him for bringing forward to the Assembly today: it is one of the great privileges of my job, right across the three portfolios, to engage and work with so many committed and skilled non-government organisations. Of course, the government will be supporting Mr Davis’s motion and I welcome the Assembly’s endorsement for our ongoing work and for improvement in the way that we partner with the community sector. I am pleased also that we are particularly highlighting the work of the community sector in supporting Canberrans throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the last several weeks of lockdown.