State of the Nation: Supporting vulnerable and at risk communities panel: our indifference will imperil our resilience

Australia is now in a position to strengthen our economy by supporting our most vulnerable and those who have been most severely affected by the recent economic downturn, according to CEDA Board of Directors member, Ming Long AM.

“Our indifference will imperil our resilience”, she said while facilitating a panel discussion on supporting vulnerable and at risk communities at CEDA’s State of the Nation digital forum.

With more than 1.5 million Australians currently on JobSeeker and three million on JobKeeper, there is great concern felt throughout the community, according to Australian Council of Social Service CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“There are some people, some communities that are at the highest risk of the devastating effects – the social, the health, the economic effects of what we have been through and we are continuing to confront,” she said.

“The doubling of JobSeeker was absolutely the right move to provide additional support for what became from 800,000 to now about 1.7 million people feeling the devastating effects of unemployment.

“We've had a rapid rise in the number of people directly affected by that and of course for those people, the security and confidence you're going to be able to meet the basics has fundamentally changed.

“Before the doubling of JobSeeker we had over 80 per cent of people saying ‘I was skipping meals’ to get by.

“Nobody could live on $40 a day.

 “We know about $7 of the $10 going into hands of people on low incomes is getting spent on good things, that's what we need in the economy.”

Ms Goldie said that one strategy that can be deployed is to keep those most at risk socially, economically and in health terms, at the top of engagement strategies, to protect them from the long-term effects of a recession. 

 DFAT 2019 Australian Youth Representative to the UN, United Nations Youth Australia, Kareem El-Ansary, said that this generation of young people will be the first in 30 years to experience a recession.

“There is a mix of hope and fear in our generation,” he said.

 “We have so many opportunities that are available to us made possible through technology and we are finding solutions to tackle some of the great issues that are impacting us and will impact us into the future, there is faith that we can build a more prosperous nation.

“There is also a lot of fear that primarily is centred on the fact that we don't feel like we have a whole lot of control over our lives and our futures.

“There's a lot of uncertainty about what our future will actually look like particularly uncertainty about our economic future.

“Being members of a generation that will be graduating and trying to find work into a recession, the first generation in almost 30 years that will be doing that, that's going to reveal a whole host of new challenges as well and exacerbate a lot of the issues that already impact us.

“We know that a lot of the industries that have already been affected by COVID-19 are dominated by young workers, many of whom are working casually in quite insecure jobs and so the ongoing impact of a recession will be felt by us and borne by us and the recovery I think will fall on our shoulders as well.”

Mr El-Ansary said that one of the strategies to combat this was establishing a Youth Advisory Council at a Federal level.

“There is a model for that at the state level, a number of state and territory governments do have Youth Advisory Councils, a lot of local councils also have similar bodies that are really effective,” he said.

“Another thing we could do is refund the national peak body for young people.

“We have a series of peak bodies across Australia at the state and territory level, there was a peak body at the national level but it was unfortunately defunded in 2013.”

Speaking on the challenges posed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in weathering the COVID-19 health crisis and economic recession, Indigenous Business Australia CEO, Rajiv Viswanathan said there is opportunity for corporate Australia and the business community to engage better with ATSI communities.

“The opportunity coming out of COVID-19 is really huge and I think that revolves mainly around partnerships, meaningful, genuine, ethical partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” he said.

“I think there are three areas of partnership that can really be explored by corporate Australia in a more meaningful way.

“The first is around harnessing the vast assets that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have around the country.

“We know close to 40 per cent of Australia's landmass is held or controlled or requires participation of Indigenous Australians and there are many groups around the country that want to unlock the economic potential of that land, but they want to do it in an ethical and a sustainable way.

“To do that they need genuine collaboration, engagement, investment and building of relationships with corporate Australia.

“Also in doing that I think it's time to reimagine what's possible in terms of industries, we can look beyond mining, agribusiness and to new economies and we're seeing examples of that start to happen and continue even through COVID-19.

“The second area of partnerships is around truly valuing and recognising indigenous knowledge.

“Before COVID-19 we had the catastrophic bushfires and there was a conversation gaining momentum about Indigenous knowledge in fire and land management and how that could be better valued and recognised.

“The third area is in social procurement and supply chains.

“We know the Indigenous business sector has grown significantly over the past decade and a lot of that has been through the resilience and ingenuity of Indigenous business people themselves, but has also been supported by government policy like the Indigenous Procurement Policy at a Federal level.

“We want to make sure those gains aren't lost and we can continue that momentum as we come out of COVID-19 and I think that requires a different model from corporate Australia.

“It requires engaging with businesses early and seeing it not as a transaction but as a relationship.”