A chance sighting of a passing reference on another Facebook event page alerted us to this action, scheduled for the State Library lawns immediately before the refugee rally featured next (which means above here). It was lamentably ill attended, though as people began to arrive for the refugee rally some joined the audience for speakers delivering a range of perspectives on the situation of sole parents both overall and also specifically since the recent transfer of sole parents to Newstart, and especially the issues of affordable housing and availability of jobs.
As well as introducing the other speakers. Kerry described her own experiences as a sole parent and read extracts from contributions to an online petition she organised following the introduction of the changes. (See also this article on Motherpedia)
Having survived two eviction notices already only thanks to help from friends, and at the mercy of cyclical contract work she is terrified for the future. She recalled how Kevin Rudd, then a backbencher, called on the Gillard government to ‘show a bit of heart’ when she introduced the changes; now she called on him as Prime Minister to show a bit of heart himself, not least considering he grew up in a sole parent household himself. From her work managing an online forum she gets messages from people telling her they want to ‘give up on life and kill themselves because they feel inadequate and unable to support their kids.’ Others have turned to prostitution because of the cuts. Then there was the question of homelessness, summed up perhaps in the shocking figure that “more than a quarter of our homeless population are children under the age of eighteen. On census night  almost eighteen thousand children under twelve were counted as homeless; four hundred and two were sleeping rough.” (For a survey of homelessness in Australia see for example this report by the Wesley Mission. See also the website of National Shelter, Australia’s voice for housing consumers.
(See also this earlier article in the same paper: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/we-owe-it-to-single-mothers-to-ward-off-a-return-to-pennypinching-20130323-2gmt4.html.)
Another of the speakers was Alex Bhathal, Greens candidate for the federal seat of Batman:
Here is an unofficial transcription of her speech:
Good morning everyone, and thank you for being here for this incredibly important cause, which is really about the future of Australia, because it’s the kids who are the future. I want to talk to you today about delusion and the impact it is having on a significant proportion of children and parents in Australia today. Because I believe that actually delusion, a false impression of reality, is the key driver of poverty, in which over 600,000 kids in Australian families find themselves today. It’s a delusion unfortunately shared by both the Liberal and Labor parties, as well as by many policy makers and bureaucrats across government. This inability to grasp the reality facing ordinary Australian families has led to one of the more reprehensible policy decisions in Australia’s recent history, this year. It’s a delusion which instantly moves more than 65,000 families around Australia into poverty, instantly, overnight. And poverty is just one of the aspects that are problematic with this decision. On the Newstart Allowance, with its punitive activity testing and reporting regime, sole parents are expected to try and find work in a labour market where the workforce is over 60% casualised, and where shift work and irregular hours are the norm for entry-level employees. How do you find care for your child when you have to work a night shift at short notice? When you get rung up that afternoon and told to come in to work? And for plenty of mothers[? indistinct] finding childcare at all is an enormous challenge in itself, with waiting lists of three to four years the norm in many places across Australia.
In 2010 as the Rudd government was looking at introducing this raft of recommended welfare reforms, so=called reforms, I read a report analysing the barriers single parents faced when trying to enter the workforce. And the study focused on mental health, drug and alcohol addiction and the incidence of physical disabilities and illness amongst single parents. But not once did it touch on the realities of the labour market that these people are trying to enter, and not once did it mention childcare. The reality is that single parents face real barriers to work, barriers of a structural kind which have nothing to do with their personal deficiencies as the government [?thinks]. These barriers are things that they have no control over. the reality is that regular work with regular consistent pay of the kind that supports a family is actually increasingly rare in this country.
Another delusion is the regime of activity testing. [The idea] that single parents aren’t already substantially engaged in community service and caring activities and work is actually farcical. And probably the greatest delusion of all is that a family might be able to live on less than $450 a week or $538 in the case of a three-child family. And that somehow it’s OK for single-parent families to try and scrape by on incomes more than $100 a week below the poverty line. And this in a country with an annual GDP of $1.65 trillion.
And then there’s the fundamental reality which somehow escapes our two major parties and government bureaucrats, that children, being children, need care. In 1973 when Bill Hayden introduced the Supporting Mothers Benefit, there was a recognition of this basic fact. The so-called reforms and restructuring of our welfare system are failing to get more single parents into the workforce, and that’s a fact. What they are doing is making life much more difficult for
single parents as Bianca and Kerry have shown us today, told us within their own families. They are directly conflicting with single parents’ responsibility to care for their children. Because the fact is that it’s children who are suffering from the reality gap of the major parties.
I wanted to end today by reading a bit of writing from Elspeth McInnes, who was the convenor of the single mothers and their child organisation here today. She wrote this in 2001, which is well before the most punitive lot of changes to our welfare system were introduced by John Howard. So in 2001 Elspeth wrote:
“To return to the kitchen sink…
“My children are not interested in welfare reform, but they are acutely aware that there are competing demands on their mother’s time. The trade-off between compulsory paid work activity and the obligations of care presupposes a care-free child. No longer requiring access to parental care, the care-free child rises, eats and attends school by itself, travels home alone, completes its homework and after school commitments, prepares meals, cleans and washes up, tells itself
about its day – and puts itself to bed with a hug and a kiss. The care-free child knows the parent would be there if they could be, and it knows that it is important and valued – and alone.”
That’s the reality that the delusions of our two major parties are forcing on single parent families and children around Australia today.
The Greens are absolutely committed to turning this reality into a happier one. We want to restore payments for single parent families so you can get on with the work of caring for your children, the most important thing of all. Thank you.
Alex was followed by Kerry Davies, Project Officer with the Council of Single Mothers and their Children (CSMC), Kate Borland of Save Public Housing, Godfrey Maose, Campaigns organiser with the National Union of Workers, Diane McAlpine (see <a href="http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/parents-fight-to-reverse-payment-cuts-20130205-2dwdu.html” target=”_blank”>http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/parents-fight-to-reverse-payment-cuts-20130205-2dwdu.html and Nick Costello, a rough transcript of whose speech can be read on the Facebook page of Parenting Payment for Parents – NOT Newstart