Poverty: scornful Labor and Greens don’t care 

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“The breathless re-election housing policies announced by ACT Labor and the Greens will do no more than return the level of public housing in Canberra to that which existed in 2010,” writes columnist JON STANHOPE.

THERE has been such an avalanche of election announcements in recent weeks I have found it hard to remain focused and have reached the point where I no longer bother to read them. 

Jon Stanhope.

I have the sense that both sides of politics resolved to simply match or seek to out-do the other on anything the other promises.

That is with the notable exception, dare I say it, of poverty. 

The Liberal Party has, as you may be aware, resolved should it win the election, to commission an inquiry into poverty. Both the ALP and the Greens have poured scorn on the idea and dismissed it as unnecessary and presumably a waste of time and money. 

In the interests of transparency, I advise that I have been invited by the Opposition leader Alistair Coe to chair the inquiry should it eventuate. An invitation I was happy to accept.

I cannot understand the attitude of the ALP and the Greens. My confusion is, I know, shared by others in the community. I note for example the strong support expressed by ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell for the inquiry and the CEO of Winnunga Nimmityjah, Ms Julie Tongs, had this to say: “My understanding is that somewhere in the order of 35 per cent of Aboriginal children in Canberra live in poverty. This is an issue about which I care deeply. 

“I have, accordingly, over the last four years written to the Chief Minister as well as calling publicly for an inquiry into poverty. My calls were rejected by the Chief Minister but the Liberal Party has said it will establish such an inquiry.

“The Labor Party and the Greens have, unfortunately, maintained their opposition to such an inquiry. 

“I can’t help wondering if any of them have ever bothered to meet an Aboriginal family or child living in poverty and cared enough to try and understand what it potentially means for the path which that Aboriginal family or child’s life will almost inevitably take if we, as a society, especially our politicians, don’t do everything possible to understand and address poverty.”

Cartoon: Paul Dorin

While on the issue of poverty and how tough life in Canberra is for battlers and low-income households, I was shocked by the revelation in the election statement issued by the St Vincent de Paul Society, of the extent of the cuts which the current Labor/Greens government has made to social housing in Canberra. 

St Vinney’s summarised its concerns as follows: “A caring society is one that ensures that every individual or family is adequately housed. “However, in the ACT many people have no choice but to wait up to three-and-a-half years for public housing. Too many people spend years living in poor-quality, insecure or unhealthy conditions.

“Building more social housing would enable more people to the right support when they need it. The ACT has one of the lowest expenditures on social housing nationally, according to the Productivity Commission Report on Government Services (ROGS) 2020. There has been a net decline in social housing numbers since 2010. ROGS 2020 reports that in June 2019 there were 10,529 households in social housing in comparison to 2010 when there were 10,737.”

In other words, the St Vincent’s analysis reveals that, in the last decade, Labor and the Greens have reduced the number of households in public housing in Canberra by a total of 208 in a period when there has been an increase of 65,000 in the Canberra population.

To be blunt, the breathless re-election housing policies announced by ACT Labor and the Greens will do no more than return the level of public housing in Canberra to that which existed in 2010. It is also sobering to reflect that a Canberra family that registers with Housing ACT today will, in all likelihood, still be waiting to be allocated a house when the next election comes round in 2024.

One final reflection on the current campaign. I have noticed on a number of occasions journalists and others asking, almost invariably in relation to a newly released Liberal Party policy, “ Where’s the money coming from?”

The answer is, of course, from the same place that the money to fund Labor and Greens promises will come from. That is to say, if not from increasing taxes or cutting services then from borrowings. On that point the largest borrowing anticipated by the competing parties in this election is the Labor/Greens commitment to Stage 2 of the tram.

Labor and the Greens have revised up the cost of construction of Stage 2 of the tram to $1.9 billion. I think we all know in our hearts that it will be more than that, but let’s be generous.

So where is the money for this coming from? It will, of course, come from borrowings which it appears have not, apart from the sum of $365.498 million, been included in the Budget update released by the Chief Minister and Treasurer, Andrew Barr, a couple of weeks ago. 

In light of this, I would have thought it behoves the Chief Minister to explain why the reported debt of $7.7 billion does not include the potential increase of $1.535 billion in debt, which the construction of the tram will necessitate. What, I wonder, was the basis of the decision to report our debt as only growing to $7.7 billion when just this single, long-standing commitment will take it to $9.235 billion.

Jon Stanhope was chief minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only chief minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.


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Jon Stanhope
Jon Stanhope was Chief Minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only Chief Minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.


  1. My own life was personally changed for the better by growing up in a nice area with good public schools thanks to public housing, something my family couldn’t afford to do otherwise. Was a shame that after we left our home of over 17 years it was sold off almost immediately instead of giving another young family a better life. In some ways I’m sad I can’t afford to live where I grew up because the cost of living in the ACT is too high these days (something Andrew Barr and Shane Rattenbury have forgotten what it feels like).

    I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the support I’ve received from previous ACT governments.

  2. Again, the response to any Greens/Labor questioning of how the Liberals intend to fund their promises must be “how are you going to fund light rail and when are you going to be honest about it?” By the way, what are the chances that Andrew Barr will be as wonderful a former Chief Minister as Jon Stanhope? Let’s give him the chance to show us sooner rather than later.

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