Transcript: Canberra Doorstop with Andrew Leigh, David Smith, and Alicia Payne

9.12am | April 12, 2019




SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan to restore and boost emergency relief funding in Canberra. 

DAVID SMITH: Look, it's great to be here in the electorate of Bean. My name is David Smith, Labor Senator for the ACT and we're here at one of the great social enterprises of the ACT, Communities@Work at their headquarters and alongside me is our Shadow Assistant Minister for Communities and Families, Jenny McAllister and I'm also with Andrew Leigh, Member for Fenner and Alicia Payne, our candidate for Canberra. 

One of the things that Labor is well aware of is that the fight against inequality is real. It's real here in Canberra. Here in Canberra at any time up to 35,000 Canberrans are living in poverty and that includes people who are working one or two jobs. That includes 9,000 children across the Territory. 

Communities@Work does amazing work right across children’s services and senior services but there's particular work that they do in emergency relief work and that's why we're here today to talk about Labor's commitments both locally and nationally to restoring funding to this critical work here and across the country. 

I'd like to introduce Jenny McAllister, our spokesperson. 

SENATOR JENNY MCALLISTER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES: Thanks Dave and it's really good to be here in the electorate and to be welcomed by in fact all of our colleagues here in the ACT who are running for office. 

Labor understands that many families are doing it tough. The economy is increasingly not working for people and it certainly doesn't work for many low income families. Our charities and our not-for-profits tell us that demand for emergency food relief is going up and up and many of those charities report that they cannot meet the need that is there. That's why Labor has committed to provide $40 million additional money for emergency relief. This is a service that means they might be able to get a meal. If your family is doing it tough, you might be able to get some assistance with a petrol voucher. You might be able to get a little bit of help paying a chemist bill or back to school costs. But, most importantly it's money that means that your family doesn't fall into crisis. Doesn't fall behind in the rent, maintains the family and maintains all the integrity of a family unit and keeps the show together. The work that's done by organisations like Communities@Work in helping families here in the ACT is hugely important but at the end of this year across Australia, the Government is going to cut $5.5 million out of the emergency relief sector. We don't think that's right. We are going to put it back and we'll make sure that there's also a top up for other organisations providing emergency relief across the country because we know the need is there. 

Today we are announcing an extra $30,000 for Communities@Work and also additional resources for many of the other organisations that right here in Canberra, right here in the ACT provide support for families. I might ask Dr Leigh to make a few remarks about the way we've set this up and the reason that Labor considers this such an important announcement. 

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks Jenny and it's just terrific to have Jenny here joining the Labor House of Representatives team to talk about the important issue of poverty and disadvantage, announcing emergency relief grants. We're able to put in place this additional funding for emergency relief grants and to reverse the Coalition's cuts, because we've made tough decisions around tax reform. We'll ensure that multinationals pay their fair share by closing debt deduction loopholes and cracking down on tax havens like the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas. We'll ensure that family trusts can't be used for income-splitting to mature aged beneficiaries. We'll close unsustainable tax loopholes around negative gearing and cash payments to shareholders. These are tax exemptions that exist in few - if any - other countries around the world. We'll also ensure that Australia's banks pay a banking levy. There are extremely profitable banks in Australia, turning a combined profit of some $30 billion last year. We think it's appropriate that they make their contribution to ensuring we are a fair and equitable society. I'm passionate about inequality and disadvantage and it's what propelled me into politics. I've seen from organisations like Communities@Work the rise in the demand. We know the impact that poverty has in a city like Canberra on our entire social fabric. We need to do more as a community to help the most vulnerable. Before we take your questions, I might just hand over to Lee Maiden, who can say a few specifics about how these emergency relief grants are used. 

LEE MAIDEN, COMMUNITIES@WORK CEO: Thank you Andrew. We've been supporting families in the ACT for over 40 years and we know that this demand never gets any less. There are many families in the ACT that we call the working poor where mum and dad are both working, but they've got a mortgage, the gas bill comes in after a very cold winter and the car needs to be registered, so they hit a point where they are in crisis. If we can support them with some food and some other support and help them with their bills to get them over that hump, it then provides that family to get an opportunity to get back on track and that's what crisis support is all about. Let's address that crisis. Let's support them so that they can then move on with their lives. So that's what we try to do in the community and we know that the demand is just consistent. It just never stops so we try very hard to support the people as much as we can. 

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) the extra $30,000 that's been promised today, how much of a difference rather, is that actually going to make on the ground (inaudible)

MAIDEN: Every dollar counts, so our organisation will also invest its own resources into supporting the community, so additional funding from the Government certainly helps us to be able to continue to put more money into supporting vulnerable people in the ACT so it will come as a great asset to us. It will be great. 

JOURNALIST: Would the funding for the relief here be entirely dependent on ACT Labor getting in the House and also a Shorten Government getting elected or either/or, or would be entirely dependent on both factors? 

MCALLISTER: These are commitments that we'll be able to deliver should we win government and we don't take that for granted. We know that we have to fight every day to gain that privilege but these are commitments we will deliver should we win and I would hope, well put it this way, I hope that all of the candidates in the ACT that are standing behind me are returned. But this is a commitment that we would be doing should we win. 

JOURNALIST: So, it's only dependent on federal winning not necessarily just the ACT and federal as well? 

MCALLISTER: This is a commitment that we will bring in, should Labor win Government. 

JOURNALIST: And the supporting million, where else are we going to see some of that money going towards? 

MCALLISTER: We're working to look at all of the organisations across the country. We'll restore the cuts that have been made by the Government at the end of this year and we'll also provide a top up to the organisations that are presently providing emergency relief around the country. 

LEIGH: Just to give you a little bit more detail, these emergency relief grants in the ACT will also go to MARSS, YWCA and Companion House, that's alongside Communities@Work. You also have organisations such as Anglicare ACT and NSW that serve Canberra as part of the broader region. These are organisations that are operating on the smell of an oily rag, and do extraordinary work with some of the most vulnerable in our community. They'll be supported by this announcement that Jenny's been outlining today. 

JOURNALIST: So will these organisations have to compete for that funding? Is it on a first come first served basis? How is the funding sort of decided for each particular organisation on its merits? 

MCALLISTER: We've looked at all of the organisations that are presently providing emergency relief and we are going to restore the funding to those organisations that are anticipating cuts. We are restoring the funding. To the rest of the organisations that are presently doing emergency relief, we are lifting their funding because we know that they do important work and we do know that the demand is there. 

JOURNALIST: Do you know of many organisations in the ACT or Canberra are currently experiencing funding issues? 

MCALLISTER: All of the organisations tell us that they need more resources and that's why the announcement today provides additional resources for all of the organisations working in the ACT area delivering emergency relief. 

JOURNALIST: So you are talking like a dozen more than that? Like how many organisations? 

MCALLISTER: The number is in the order of seven or eight. 

LEIGH: Thank you very much for coming along. We really appreciate it.