Poverty

The following content draws upon, in part, the Joint Australian NGO Coalition's fact sheets prepared for the Universal Periodic Review.

Unacceptably high levels of poverty

In 2008, 12 per cent of Australians were found to be living in poverty, which is a higher proportion than the OECD average. The risk of poverty for Australian sole parents is extremely high, at 70 percent.  (This means that 12 per cent of the population lives on less than half of the median average income.) Older Australians are also particularly affected by poverty. For single people aged over 65, the income poverty rate is 50 percent – the highest of all the countries in the OECD. Australia's Social Inclusion Agenda aims to address social exclusion and reduce disadvantage. However, social security benefits are currently pegged at rates that leave people living in poverty and the needs of many people on extremely low incomes are not being met. Further, Australia is not using a human rights framework to underpin its Social Inclusion Agenda.

In 2009, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommended that Australia take all necessary measures to combat poverty and social exclusion and develop a comprehensive poverty reduction and social inclusion strategy.

Compulsory income management

In 2010, the Australian Government passed legislation expanding the operation of compulsory income quarantining to apply to all "vulnerable" welfare payment recipients across the Northern Territory. Previously, the income management had only applied to Aboriginal communities as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response. The measure is punitive in nature and its operation is not based on reliable or credible evidence to support its effectiveness.

In 2009, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed concern that such conditionalities for the payment of welfare benefits have a negative impact on disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups and strongly recommended that abolition of the quarantining of welfare payments under the Northern Territory Emergency Response. Despite this recommendation by CESCR, Australia has expanded the operation of the scheme.

What the UN Human Rights Council recommended in the Universal Periodic Review

In January 2011 Australia was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council during the Universal Periodic Review (or UPR) (a process whereby the human rights performance of all UN member states is reviewed by other states).  In June 2011 Australia provided its response to the 145 recommendations made by the Human Rights Council.

The Government has accepted over 90 per cent of the recommendations and has committed to incorporating the recommendations it has accepted into the National Human Rights Action Plan.

In relation to poverty, the Human Rights Council made a number of relevant recommendations.  Australia has responded to these recommendations as set out in the following table.

Recommendation

Stance

Explanation

Take appropriate measures to ensure everyone has access to full and equal enjoyment of all human rights including economic, cultural and social rights (recommendations 86.49 and 86.50).

Already reflected

Australia accepts the recommendation on the basis it is reflected in existing laws or policies and Australia will continue to take steps to achieve relevant outcomes.

Continue the implementation of policies aimed at improving the living standards of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (recommendation 86.114).

Already reflected

"Close the gap" in opportunities and outcomes between indigenous (and other vulnerable groups) and non-indigenous communities, in consultation with indigenous communities (recommendations 86.116 and 86.142).

Already reflected

Remove obstacles faced by indigenous women and children in accessing health, education and employment opportunities (recommendation 86.119).

Accepted

No legal impediments to access have been identified.

Maintain and protect the internationally agreed target budget of .7% GDP for Official Development Assistance (recommendation 86.135).

Accepted

The Australian Government has committed to increasing aid to 0.5% of Gross National Income by 2015-16. As economic and fiscal conditions permit, the Government will then progressively increase Australia’s official development assistance until it reaches 0.7% of GNI.

Step up efforts to ensure that people living in the remote and rural areas, in particular the indigenous peoples, receive adequate support services relating to accommodation and all aspects of health and education (recommendation 86.101).

Accepted

The Australian Government will continue to take measures to ensure adequate support services are delivered to people in remote and rural areas.

Adopt a comprehensive poverty reduction and social inclusion strategy which integrates economic, social and cultural rights and ensures equality of opportunity for all Australians (recommendations 86.32 and 86.33).

Accepted-in-part

The Australian Government’s social inclusion agenda promotes economic, social and cultural rights, including by reducing disadvantage and increasing social, civic and economic participation.