Raise the Rate
Australians who rely on Newstart, the unemployment payment, as their core income are at high risk of living in poverty. Newstart has not been increased in real terms in 24 years. The payment is now so low that people receiving it cannot afford the basics like rent, keeping the lights on or putting food on the table.
While Newstart is designed to be a temporary source of support while looking for work, three quarters of all Newstart recipients are on the payment for more than 12 months, reflecting the difficult nature of labour markets in key regions around Australia.
ACOSS, the national peak social services body, is leading a campaign to raise the rate of Newstart and other allowances by at least $75 per week, and index it to wage movements. The current base rate for a single person is a little over $250 per week.
The ACOSS campaign has won broad political support and is backed by influential economists such as Chris Richardson, who argue that raising the rate is the single most affordable, efficient and important response to Australia’s poverty rate. An estimated 2.9 million people – 13.3 percent of all Australians – are living below the internationally accepted poverty line.
ACOSS is working to:
- tell the story of people living on Newstart, exposing ‘dole bludging’ myths and highlighting the fact that 60% of people now support an increase in spending on social security.
- mobilise high profile and diverse supporters across many walks of life and key regional and urban electorates.
- build a grassroots and online campaign with more than 2000 community organisations and local governments and more than 18,000 individual supporters participating.
- engage with political parties and crossbenchers to ensure policy change.
The Reichstein is supporting Raise the Rate alongside The Wyatt Trust in South Australia, the Sidney Myer Fund, the Snow Foundation, Fay Fuller Foundation, RE Ross Trust and others.
Safeguarding human rights and opposing the use of race in the ‘law and order’ debate
During 2017 and 2018 some mainstream Victorian media outlets amplified race-baiting, sparking panic about the idea of a crime wave by ‘African gangs.’ This had the immediate effect of increasing racist verbal abuse and assaults against individuals, according to reports by Victorian community legal centres in multicultural areas.
Over several weeks and months Victoria Police provided a voice of reason, consistently moderating the idea of a ‘gang problem’ by reiterating more accurate and specific data regarding the real extent of offending.
Alongside this positive approach by Victoria Police, however, media reports arose of several incidents in which police appeared to use excessive and questionable force against a range of vulnerable people in the Victorian community.
In mid-2018 a Victorian bipartisan parliamentary committee recommended the establishment of an independent police complaints investigative system in Victoria – a long-term goal of the Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre (FKCLC). Greater police accountability and transparency now looks possible in Victoria.
The Reichstein Foundation has been a supporter of FKCLC work since 2007, including it’s landmark Race Discrimination case (settled in 2013) and the inception of FKCLC’s Peer Advocacy program to support victims of systemic racial discrimination by Victoria Police. Our support continues in 2018-19.
The Wimmera township of Rupanyup is on the brink of major economic renewal. When its supermarket started to decline and looked like closing altogether, residents in the north west Victorian town of Rupanyup resolved to act. Without a viable supermarket, local retail spending would leach out of the town, ultimately threatening its economic viability. Located in the Wimmera dry cropping region, Rupanyup is a place where the loss of each person and each dollar is counted like each drop of rain.
But now Rupanyup is on the brink of achieving its economic renewal plan through a new Market Centre on its main street. A partnership between Bendigo Bank, Yarriambiack Shire, Enterprise Rupanyup (E-Rup) and the local community raised more than $500,000 to develop the Market Centre, and in October 2018 E-Rup finally secured a State Government grant of $500,000. The then Minister for Regional Development, Jaala Pulford, said “Instead of standing back and watching their town lose important services, Rupanyup has come to the Government with an innovative solution – and we’re right behind it”.
The Rupanyup Market Centre will include a community supermarket, farmers’ market and plaza occupied by other businesses and public facilities. The Market Centre’s community-driven finance model cements Rupanyup’s growing reputation as an innovator: in 1998, with neighbouring town Minyip and the Bendigo Bank, it successfully piloted Australia’s first Community Bank when the traditional banks left both towns. Since 2000 local agriculture is increasingly focused on the growing consumer demand for legumes, producing and processing soy beans and lentils for the Australian market and export around the world.
While the Market Centre seemed just a dream at times, the character, talent and vision of the community, the obvious need for renewal, the solidity and experience of the key consultant Wayne Street, and the track record of the town and its leaders in embracing innovation meant that ultimately this vision was going to be achieved.
The Reichstein Foundation first provided project development funding to the Rupanyup-Minyip Finance Group in 2014; we have sustained our support with a grant in each subsequent year.
Challenging the power of Australia’s gambling industry
Australia loses more money to gambling per person than any other country. Victorians lost a record $2.726 billion on the pokies in 2018, a $103 million or 3.9% increase over losses incurred during 2017. The retail giant ALH/Woolworths now accounts for almost $700 million of poker machine losses in Victoria.
The addictive nature of gambling creates financial stress that exacerbates mental health problems, family breakdown and family violence. Recent research found that gambling causes twice as much harm to the health of Australians as diabetes, bipolar disorder and cannabis dependence combined.
Fortunately, there are a wide variety of sensible, evidence-based policies that could significantly reduce gambling harm. They range from reducing the maximum bet to $1, reducing operating hours and the number of machines. For state governments to implement these policies, strong public support is needed.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform (AGR) is pivotal in challenging the power and reach of the gambling industry in Australia:
- Coles has recently exited the pokies industry.
- the future of the industry in Tasmania and South Australia was a major issue at recent elections in those States.
- iconic AFL teams like the Western Bulldogs, Melbourne and Collingwood recently announced they will get out of the pokies business after pressure built by the Alliance in the media and among fans. And ALH/Woolworths and AFL clubs have agreed to cap their pokies licenses in Victoria – this is a major advance in reducing their dependence on gambling revenues over time.
- impact investors are growing new hospitality industry business models and patrons are challenging the dominance and reliance of the industry on gambling.
AGR so far has attracted over 12,000 new supporters and 18 local governments around Australia, many of which are successfully opposing applications for new poker machine pubs and clubs.
It is using online engagement, traditional media, education and advocacy events, strategic litigation, and direct lobbying of key business and political decision-makers to better regulate an industry with too much power and influence. Importantly, AGR will empower people who have lived through the damage done by gambling to become powerful advocates for change, often directly with decision makers.
The Reichstein Foundation has been supporting AGR since its inception in 2015.
Wage Justice for people with disability
The Association of Employees with Disability Legal Centre (AED Legal) is a smart and determined advocate for workers in supported employment, and a key partner in a long legal & community effort to unwind wage discrimination in the Australian Disability Enterprise sector. In 2012 the Federal Court, through the advocacy of AED Legal, struck out a highly discriminatory wage assessment tool (known as BSWAT) which had unfairly suppressed wages though its competency tests. And then in December 2016, through the advocacy of AED Legal and allies, the Federal Court agreed to a settlement for back pay for workers underpaid through the BSWAT mechanism. The landmark agreement won back pay for around 10,000 eligible workers, at an estimated cost to the Commonwealth over of $100M. The Reichstein Foundation is continuing to support AED Legal in 2018-19 as it pursues a new wages framework based on productivity. The Fair Work Commission is due to hand down a decision soon.
Saving the Great Barrier Reef
Time is running out, says the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres: if we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for humanity and all the natural systems that sustain us.
Among the major world assets at risk is the Great Barrier Reef, which is highly vulnerable to chemical runoff from land agriculture, ocean warming, acidification and other consequences of increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The Australian and Queensland Governments have been put on notice by the UN’s World Heritage Committee that they must respond to the state of the Reef to avoid it being put on the Committee’s Endangered List with all the reputational damage and tourism industry fallout this would entail. The Governments are responsible for a Management Plan to bring the Reef back to health.
In 2018 the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) worked assiduously to ensure that the Committee and its advisers updated the 2007 UNESCO World Heritage climate change policy. This aimed to ensure that climate change and its consequences would be incorporated as an obligatory element of the Management Plan for the Reef. Through direct lobbying of the Committee, AMCS was successful in requiring that an updated policy be completed and brought back for adoption at the 2019 annual meeting of the Committee.
As a result, the performance of our Governments in relation to climate change and the Reef will be subject to close international scrutiny for the first time. A smart, strategic, highly engaged effort by AMCS will lead to greater scrutiny of the Management Plan, its scope and implementation and the broader practical climate action steps being put in place by the two Governments.
The Reichstein Foundation participated in a collaboration of at least twelve members of the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network to support AMCS’ initiative.