About 13.2 per cent of Australians live in poverty. Three. Million. People. That's more than the entire population of Brisbane.
According to the UNSW report on Poverty in Australia, our government adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, the first of which is to "end poverty in all its forms", with a target to reduce the proportion of men, women and children living in poverty in Australia by 2030.
And yet, we do not have a poverty reduction plan. We do not even have an agreed national definition of poverty.
Nothing was mentioned about our most vulnerable citizens in the Coalition budget speech last week. I watched Josh Frydenberg declare that Australia is "back in the black and back on track" and proudly remind us that we have "enjoyed" our 27th year of consecutive economic growth, despite the Australian Council of Social Service's report that poverty is growing in Australia.
I was staggered to learn more than one in eight Australians live below the poverty line. We may be ranked the fourth-wealthiest OECD country in the world (GDP per capita), however our poverty rate is 14th-highest out of 34 OECD countries. This is not something to be proud of.
The Coalition budget's lack of mention of our most vulnerable people was a deafening silence on the issue. The Australian Council of Social Service has been running a campaign to #RaisetheRate of Newstart Allowance by $75/week underscored by a plea to our government to ensure there is a "roof over very head, a meal on every table."
Still, last week, marked the 25th consecutive budget that failed to deliver any real improvement to Newstart and related payment rates, and Labor's budget response failed to right this wrong.
Newstart offers a maximum payment of $278/week. The poverty line currently sits at $433/week for a single, unemployed person.
According to the Poverty in Australia report, the freezing of Newstart has had a significant impact on the poverty levels among those receiving it - rising from 61 per cent in 1999 to 78 per cent in 2015. Even John Howard has been quoted as saying that while he supported the freeze in 1994, he thinks it's time it was lifted.
We may be ranked the fourth-wealthiest OECD country in the world, however our poverty rate is 14th-highest out of 34 OECD countries. This is not something to be proud of.
In his speech, Frydenberg acknowledged the need to provide immediate relief to address cost of living pressures ... for all but those who feel it the most. He focused on "incentivising and rewarding hard work", and reiterated the importance of "additional tax relief for hard-working Australians."
But our poorest neighbours were not even given the one-off energy assistance payment of $75 until there was an overwhelming response to this oversight and they backflipped first thing on Wednesday morning.
ACOSS's disappointment in the government's refusal to take action on poverty is a disappointment we should all share in. Where is their fair go? When did the bonds of mateship come with the condition of employment?
As Australian citizens, we pay 95 different taxes and the only one a Newstart recipient doesn't pay is income tax. The government still reaps the tax dollars in for Newstart allowance spent on fuel, goods and services, road tolls, etc. They are still taxpayers. And yet they are treated like second-class citizens, supported as if income taxpayers are paying them directly.
In a capitalist economy, unemployment is inevitable. There simply aren't enough jobs for everyone - in fact there is one job for every eight people desperately looking. The government knows this. However parliamentary parlay still perpetuates the myth that the job seeker is at fault. That somehow, they aren't trying hard enough or working hard enough or are enough. For them to be out of work, there must be something wrong with them, right? Seventy per cent of Newstart recipients are long-term unemployed: surely this is just because they are lazy?
Newstart is meant to help people, and yet it is treated punitively, cruelly and deliberately to "incentivise" people to find a job that doesn't exist by paying them less than enough to keep their noses above the poverty line.
We used to be a nation that prided itself on its sense of mateship and community support. A nation to be proud of. What happened, Australia?
Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer and coach at impressability.com.au