Lifting Tasmanians out of Poverty

Background

Tasmanians shouldn’t have to worry about how they are going to pay the rent, keep the power on or feed their family, but an estimated 120,000 Tasmanians living in poverty do, every day.[1]

While the COVID-19 emergency measures were in place, low income Tasmanians were lifted out of poverty by the JobSeeker supplement[2], and protected from rent increases and eviction by measures the Greens made sure were included in the COVID-19 emergency legislation.[3]

On 1 February this year, the Gutwein Government ended these tenancy protections.[4]  Landlords and real estate agents were quick to raise rents, which have been soaring ever since.[5]  Meanwhile, there are almost 4000 people on the housing waiting list[6] and homelessness is on the rise.[7]

The JobSeeker supplement was removed by the Morrison Government on 31 March. Overnight, according to the Australia Institute, 7000 Tasmanians were plunged in to poverty.[8] Children are now going without.

The Australia Institute research indicates that the number of people in poverty in Tasmania increased by 30,000 people between March 2020 and March 2021.[9] This is a social crisis that requires an urgent response to bring down the cost of living for Tasmanians in financial crisis.

Rental Instability

The average rental household in Greater Hobart pays 31% of its total income for a median rate dwelling. [10] 30% is the commonly used threshold for housing stress.[11] High and increasing rents, due to the supply shortage and failure to regulate short stay accommodation, are driving Tasmanians into poverty.

SQM Research and the Tenants Union of Tasmania confirm rents are soaring.  Rental prices in the private rental market have increased in Hobart by 41% to an average $483 a week over the past four years.  In the same period, rents went up in Launceston by 42% and Burnie by 29%. [12]

With rents still rising, cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker could not come at a worse time for Tasmanian tenants.

A Fair Go for Tenants and Home Seekers

 

We will introduce controls on unreasonable rent increases, remove provisions allowing tenants to be evicted solely on grounds of lease expiration, provide secure tenancy and wrap-around supports to homeless Tasmanians, invest in 8357 additional social and affordable homes by 2030, and regulate short-stay accommodation.

Crisis Accommodation

Census data shows that between 2006 and 2016, the average number of homeless Tasmanians on any given day increased from 1,145 to 1,622.[13] Given the rapid acceleration of the housing crisis since 2016, [14] this number is very likely to have significantly increased.

The data is also likely to significantly under-represent homelessness, one anonymous senior ABS official observed –

"When you think about the census, it isn't really fit for purpose when it comes to gathering data on [homelessness]… people are falling in and out of homelessness and sometimes aren't being counted, or perhaps they aren't registering their situation for whichever reason… Frankly, we don't really know, it's a data shadow.”[15]

Workers in homelessness services describe a State, and a system, in crisis. People are increasingly being turned away from services, and nine to ten people in a property has become normal.[16]

Crisis Accommodation

 

We will invest $2 million per year, for two years, into the brokerage fund for emergency accommodation. This will provide for secure emergency accommodation while we invest in Housing First properties, to provide secure tenancy and wrap-around supports to homeless Tasmanians.

Household Energy Costs

With power prices continuing to increase, renewed investment in household energy efficiency programs for low income households is urgently needed.  Under a Green Minister between 2010-14, the Labor Green government rolled out 9500 free household energy efficiency upgrades[17], bringing down energy costs for households, community organisations and small businesses by hundreds of dollars each year.

Tackling household energy costs through a large-scale energy efficiency roll out to low income households will help to alleviate increasingly severe cost of living pressures.

Free Household Energy Efficiency Upgrades

 

We will provide free household energy efficiency upgrades for low income Tasmanians, through a collaborative project between Housing Tasmania, community housing providers and the Climate Office. The roll out will be accelerated in collaboration with the not-for-profit and small business sectors.

TasTAFE currently lacks courses focusing on renewable skills.[18] Investment in these courses will be critical in ensuring that the rollout can occur as quickly as possible.

Energy Efficiency and Renewables TAFE Funding

 

We will provide $6 million over four years to TasTAFE to expand vocational courses in household energy efficiency and small-scale renewables roll-out.

Increase concessions

The current concessions system provides vital cost of living relief for low income Tasmanians, particularly those wholly or partly reliant on Commonwealth income support.

As household costs keep rising, however, and the COVID supplements have come to an end, concessions relief needs to be expanded as an emergency poverty alleviation measure.

Increasing Concessions

 

We will fund an extra $10 million per annum for two years initially to expand eligibility for the full range of Tasmanian Government concessions to every person resident in Tasmania, including temporary visa holders, who currently lives below the recognized poverty line, on less than $430 a week, and every household living on less than $600 a week.

Children and Young People Living in Poverty

Children and young people often pay the highest price for household poverty.[19]  If parents and carers are unable to make ends meet, children will go without.

Poverty can have a devastating impact on childhood development and future life outcomes. It affects physical development, mental health, educational and employment outcomes.[20]

As a society, we cannot accept tens of thousands of children and young people being consigned to a life of struggle and underachievement.  The loss of human potential through a failure to alleviate poverty is immeasurable. Young Tasmanians deserve so much better.

An investment in lifting children and families out of poverty is one of the most important responsibilities of any democratically elected government. It’s an investment in Tasmania’s future health, wellbeing and productivity.

To flourish, children need a loving, secure home. They need healthy food and plenty of exercise, and they need to go to school to learn and for the positive social development that produces well balanced young adults.

Funding Educational Costs

 

We will fund all school costs for children and young people from households in poverty, including levies, uniforms, stationery, excursions and text books.

Transport should not be a barrier to participation in education – whether it be high school, primary school, college, university, vocational training, or any other formal or informal training program.

Free Public Transport

 

We will fund private bus operators to provide free bus transport services and free Metro services.

Skills and Training to Lift People out of Poverty

The level of unemployment and underemployment remains high post COVID-19.  There is a clear need to make it easier and more affordable for Tasmanians to access skills and training opportunities.

The cost of TasTAFE courses is too often a barrier to skills development, particularly for people living in rural and regional areas, or in poverty.  Removing these barriers is key to increasing employment opportunities for young Tasmanians from disadvantaged backgrounds, and every Tasmanian who is unemployed or underemployed and struggling to make ends meet.

Free TasTAFE

 

We will eliminate student fees and charges for TasTAFE students.

Healthy, Affordable and Accessible Food

Poor nutrition, obesity, chronic disease and low life expectancy are all linked to poverty.[21] In Tasmania, we have the nation’s highest chronic disease burden[22] and life expectancy is lower than the national average.[23]

The Heart Foundation has identified ‘food deserts’ in Tasmania, where entire communities are denied access to fresh, healthy food.[24] We must ensure every Tasmanian has access to fresh, quality and affordable food near where they live.

Relieving Food Insecurity

 

We will provide an extra $2 million funding to be disbursed to Loaves and Fishes Tasmania and Foodbank and for collecting, repurposing and delivering food to food insecure Tasmanians. We will fund government programs, Loaves and Fishes Tasmania, and other partners to expand school breakfast programs to every public school in Tasmania.

We will provide funding for a staff member at all 34 of Tasmania’s neighbourhood houses to coordinate food distribution in their communities.

We will also expand community gardens in educational facilities, Community Houses and Child and Family Centres.

Tackling Addiction and Poor Mental Health

Poverty can feed addiction that furthers poor physical and mental health outcomes, harming individuals and children in families affected.[25] Alcohol, drug and gambling addiction are key causes of individual and family breakdown, and they add to severe financial distress.

EGM use as a means to escape personal problems is the motivating factor that has been found to have the highest correlation with risky gambling behaviour.[26] This is likely related to the fact that EGMs disproportionately harm vulnerable people such as PTSD affected veterans,[27] people with a childhood history of physical and sexual abuse,[28] people with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression,[29] people with mental health disorders such as antisocial personality disorder and attention deficit disorder.[30] Many of these characteristics have a connection with poverty.

The harms of EGMs have already been well established in Australia. In 2010, the Productivity Commission pointed out that the vast majority of problem gamblers primarily use EGMs, many of them lose a sizable portion of their household income, have significant misconceptions about how the machines work, and vastly underestimate their losses.[31]

The Productivity Commission highlighted that the harms arising from problem gambling include “suicide, depression, relationship breakdown, lowered work productivity, job loss, bankruptcy and crime.”[32]

Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs) are by far the preferred means of gambling by problem gamblers.[33] All aspects of the machines are designed to enhance addiction. The payout schedule is designed based on expertly implemented Pavlovian and Operant conditioning techniques[34], and the visuals and sounds are all designed to promote a hypnotic like effect.[35]

Various game design features, such as losses disguised as wins, the number of play lines available, the introduction of interactive features, right down to the game play speed, are all meticulously designed to promote addiction and to minimise user control.[36] Misleading techniques, such as a symbols appearing on the reel more times than they are likely to actually occur, are also utilised.[37]

The examination of electronic gaming machine patents paints a picture of an industry that is not only shamelessly aware of the misconceptions of gamblers, but actively tries to capitalise on them. The patents openly admit that technological advancements are designed to increase player participation, and therefore, losses,[38] and that design factors are important to capitalise on consumer misperception about payout probability.[39] A patent filed in 2016 openly states that –

“A significant technical challenge is to improve the operation of gaming apparatus…

… by making them yield a negative return on investment in the long run (via a high quantity and/or frequency of player/apparatus interactions) and yet random and volatile enough to make players feel they can get lucky and win in the short run.”[40]

Progressive jackpots, “bonus” games[41] and “free spins”[42] are often used for this purpose.

Both the Liberal and Labor Parties support the extension of poker machines in pubs and clubs until 2043, despite knowing the severe human and economic cost of this policy.  It will compound and deepen poverty in Tasmania.

With an estimated 120,000 Tasmanians already living in poverty[43] and the rate set to increase unless urgent measures are implemented,[44] there is an urgent need to end the Federal Monopoly Deed and wind back poker machines to casinos.

End Monopoly Deed and Remove Pokies from Pubs and Clubs

 

We will end the Federal Monopoly Deed and wind back poker machines to casinos.

 



[1] TasCOSS, What does poverty look like in Tasmania?, 2019.

[2] TasCOSS, JobSeeker and the Coronavirus Supplement, 2020.

[3] Consumer, Building and occupational Services, Residential tenancy - Changes to residential tenancies in Tasmania during COVID-19, 2021.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Humphries, A, Tasmanians face sudden rent hikes as COVID-19 protections expire, ABC News, February 2021.

[6] Department of Health, Human services dashboard, 2021.

[7] Dennien, M, Homeless increase outpacing some populations, report finds, The Examiner, May 2019.

[8] Holmes, A, JobSeeker cut plunges 7000 more Tasmanians into poverty, according to the Australia Institute, the Examiner, April 2021.

[9] Bailey, S, Cuts to JobSeeker predicted to push thousands of Tasmanians into poverty, The Mercury, April 2021.

[10] SGS Economics and Planning Pty Ltd, Rental Affordability Index, 2020, p. 40.

[11] Ibid, p. 5.

[12] SQM Research, Weekly Rents, 2021.

[13] Shelter Tasmania, Shelter Tas Fact Sheet - Homelessness In Tasmania, 2019.

[14] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Residential Property Price Indexes: Eight Capital Cities, cat. 6416.0, December 2020.

[15] Zwartz, H, Tasmania's hidden homelessness crisis worse than data shows, case workers say, ABC News, March 2018.

[16] Ibid.

[17] The Examiner, Greens: Cassy O'Connor, March 2014.

[18] TasTAFE, Corporate Plan 2020 – 2023, 2020.

[19] McClelland, A, ‘No child…’ Child poverty in Australia, 2000.

[20] Childfund Australia, How does poverty impact child development, 2019.

[21] Czapp, P and Kovach, K, Poverty and Health - The Family Medicine Perspective (Position Paper), AAFP, n.d.

[22] Australian Bureau of Statistics, National Health Survey: First results, cat. 4364.0.55.001, 2018.

[23] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Life tables, cat. 3302.0.55.001, 2020.

[24] Elston, R, From fine dining to food deserts: Tasmania's food paradox, SBS News, 2014.

[25] Rintoul, AC, Livingstone, C, Mellor, AP, Jolley, D, 2012, Modelling vulnerability to gambling related harm: How disadvantage predicts gambling losses

[26] Thomas AC, Allen, FC, Phillips, J, 2009, Electronic Gaming Machine Gambling: Measuring Motivation, p. 352.

[27] Biddle, D, Hawthorne, G, Forbes, D, Coman, G, 2005, Problem gambling in Australian PTSD treatment-seeking veterans, p. 764.

[28] Lane, W, Sacco, P, Downton, K, Ludeman, E, Levy, L, Tracey, JK, 2016, Child maltreatment and problem gambling: A systematic review

[29] Raylu, N and Oei, TPS, 2003, The Gambling Related Cognitions Scale (GRCS): development, confirmatory factor validation and psychometric properties, p. 766.

[30] Blaszczynski, A and Nower, L, 2006, A pathways model of problem and pathological gambling, p. 494.

[31] Productivity Commission, 2010, Gambling Inquiry, vol 1, pp. 13-14

[32] Ibid, p. 16

[33] Livingstone, C and Woolley, R, 2007, Risky Business: A Few Provocations on the Regulation of Electronic Gaming Machines

[34] Commonwealth of Australia, 2011 Parliamentary joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform, pp. 32-33.

[35] News.com.au, 2015, Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation documentary lifts the lid on the insidious nature of the pokie industry

[36] Williams, RJ, West, BL, Simpson, RI, 2012, PREVENTION OF PROBLEM GAMBLING: A Comprehensive Review of the Evidence and Identified Best Practices, pp. 52-57

[37] Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2008, Do slot machines play mind games with gamblers?

[38] Patent No. US5116055 A,  Progressive jackpot gaming system linking gaming machines with different hit frequencies and denominations

[39] Patent No. US4448419 A, Electronic gaming device utilizing a random number generator for selecting the reel stop positions

[40] Patent No. US20160232752A1, Gaming systems, gaming devices and methods for incrementing progressive jackpots

[41] ibid

[42] Patent No. US20080113779A1, Gaming system and method having progressive free games

[43] TasCOSS, What does poverty look like in Tasmania?, 2019.

[44] Holmes, A, JobSeeker cut plunges 7000 more Tasmanians into poverty, according to the Australia Institute, the Examiner, April 2021.