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Howard's End: Giving The Government Ears

Hundreds of thousands of working Australians are going without meals, do not take holidays, cannot afford their own home, buy second-hand clothes and struggle to pay bills, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. What about NZ? John Howard writes.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has just released a previously unpublished and damning report from the Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in its claim for a $28 a week pay rise for the "working poor." And the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry now says it will support a modest wage rise.

The ACTU "living wage" case will be heard by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission on March 13.

There are 800,000 low-paid working families in Australia who are struggling to pay for the basic necessities of life, says the union.

The ABS Household Expenditure Survey was taken in September last year and found;-

115,000 families bought second-hand clothes because they could not afford new ones - 166,000 could not pay utility bills - 212,000 said they would not be able to raise $2,000 in an emergency - 41,000 households sold or pawned something because they were short of money - 220,000 felt their standard of living was worse that two years ago - 284,000 could not afford a holiday for even a week a year - 30,000 go without meals because they don't have enough money - 33,000 could not afford to heat their homes - and 22,000 had sought help from charitable organisations due to a money shortage.

ACTU secretary Greg Combert said the statistics would be used to try and have the Federal Government support a push for a $28 a week pay rise for low paid workers.

" While the economy was booming, many workers on low pay were missing out and had suffered worst with increases in petrol and interest rates," he said.

The bleak picture being painted now follows a Smith Family report last year which found two in every five families living in poverty had one or both adults working.

The latest ABS household statistics reinforce the bureau's centenary edition of its annual year book, released this week, which shows Australia as one of the most unequal countries in the Western world, debunking the myth that Australia is an egalitarian country.

The initiatives which now require global government's to measure poverty indicators are likely coming from the World Bank who have rediscovered poverty as a crucial focus, and even recently acknowledged that unbridled free markets may not be the solution after all.

But what of New Zealand? The government has recently announced that it is working on ways to measure the extent of poverty in New Zealand through its Ministry of Social Policy.

Is that enough? A Scoop reader recently suggested to me that what is needed is a community policy group with members drawn from both inside and outside government. In other words, networking by all New Zealanders to find solutions.

In a recent column "Turn Up The Volume On Poverty" I suggested that government would not be admitting failure if it simply said to all New Zealanders "We want your help."

Most of the great leaders of the world have recognised that government does not have a monoploy on judgment, knowledge and common sense. They recognise that a society working together can solve problems which on first look appear overwhelming.

Like most New Zealanders I don't belong to any particular group who is able to capture the ear of politicians. I'm simply an individual who thinks about a better New Zealand and wants to try and help do something about it. In the normal course of events the voice of people like me is unlikely to be heard.

So, I'm now suggesting that within the Ministry of Social Policy, a community policy group is established which will allow all New Zealanders to offer their thoughts, ideas and opinions to help drive this nation forward.

Let's call the group Vision Corp. - and let's finally stop any further alienation of our people.


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