Contributed by Joe Montero
Australia is in serious trouble. Wages have not only stagnated. They provide for less than they used to. Most find that it is getting harder to make ends meet, and many can only maintain their standard of living, by getting into ever growing debt.
Pensioners of all kinds, and especially the unemployed are finding survival even tougher. Indigenous Australians are the worst off.
Despite this harsh reality, there are still grounds for optimism. Concern about poverty and the economy have now become a priority for the Australian community. There is a stirring among those who do not want to accept it, and who, as individuals or members of groups, work to make a difference. It brings great potential to draw others into building a powerful movement for change.
Activity founded on compassion and fighting for the right of everyone to have a decent life is having an impact. The truth is being uncovered. More people are speaking out. There is a higher level of anger, coupled with a growing realisation that the political system is failing and not providing answer to problems crying out for attention. Politicians are no longer trusted by most people, and this must inevitably lead to a search for alternative answers.
This ferment has been enough to pressure the media, to as least some recognition to the problems. Telling us that things are getting better, that there is light at the end of the tunnel, or we just have to wait for the trickle down effect doesn’t wash. No one believes these things anymore.
On 3 July, an episode of Insight on SBS television exposed, just how tough life is for a considerable number of Australian, and that one out of five kids go without meals because of poverty. Mission Australia, the salvation Army and other welfare organisations have reported, that a rising number of older people are ending up homeless. Further reports show that young Australians are doing it hard and that women are particularly vulnerable.
Then there is the list of ongoing sagas involving Centrelink, the rolling out of the “Indue” welfare card, and the terrible treatment of Indigenous Australians.
The Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU) is battling against the odds, campaigning for a major increase to Newstart, and even more importantly, building a network and campaign to put an end to poverty. Fair Go For Pensioners is campaigning on several fronts. Many other organisations are similarly active. Although under direct attack from the government, GetUp and other online activist groups are being heard.
Battles are being waged for improvement of conditions for women, migrants, those with disabilities, the hoeless and others. Indigenous Australians are pushing forward their battle for Treaty and self-determination.
All of this is making the truth visible and lifting the level of awareness across the nation. It may not have reached the level of an outright revolt, but there is enough there to start moving the community sector. For a long time, more than a few of the organisations within it have been compromised, by their tendency not to rock the boat to ensure ongoing government funding. Now they are feeling the pressure to step up and act. The reality of the leaky and emptying government funding bucket is adding to the effect.
The role of the community sector is important. It often deals with the most vulnerable and marginalised, and when doing what it should, it works to empower those who it serves. In doing this, the sector contributes to enabling the vulnerable and marginalised to stand up for themselves.
The unions’ Change the Rules campaign has been important. Although its focus is on the industrial relations system, wages and conditions at work, it is giving greater confidence to the community at large, and a sense that it is possible to bring about change through collective strength. Here there is an opportunity to build a stronger union/community alliance, based on involving as many people as possible in activity on the ground.
Adverse times really do throw up opportunities.