Child poverty, $3.5 billion for tanks, and a government that does not care

Feb 20, 2023
Baby hand on mums palm.

The child’s face in the Smith Family ad sums up all that is wrong with Australia. In this rich, first world nation, the Smith Family call us to sponsor a child so that she might go to school. A basic human right is being denied and in that denial our state and government stands condemned.

The Smith Family ads that we see nightly on our televisions and daily in our newspapers are a brutal reminder that poverty is destroying lives in Australia. The ads tell of a broken society and of economic structures that do not serve the needs of the people. Poverty affects 3.2 million people in this country. One in every six children is living in poverty.

About $500 million needs to be found to keep the most vulnerable of Australian children at school. As the Smith Family point out, disadvantaged children, by the age of 15 are on average 2-3 years behind those from more affluent backgrounds in numeracy and literacy levels. Only 60 per cent of those same disadvantaged children complete year 12 and are three times less likely to go to university.

Poverty breeds poverty. It becomes intergenerational. It means poor job prospects, and low health outcomes. It means violence and exploitation. Our prisons are full of those who began life as poor and disadvantaged. Governments talk of wealth creation, of investing in the future, of building a strong economy, of nation-building, while sentencing millions to the scrap-heap.

The Australian economy is the 13th largest in the world. Its GDP is more than $1.5 trillion but charities must solicit sponsorships to get books and school uniforms for our most vulnerable.

It was only a very few years ago that charities were seeking people to sponsor a child in Bangladesh, or Nepal, or wherever the need was seen as most pressing. The ads were designed to pull at heartstrings. A dollar a day was being asked to turn a child’s life around. And now?

Foodbank Australia, like so many other organisations struggle to keep people well. They should not have to. They report that over a half a million households in Australia struggle on a day-to-day basis to meet their food needs. 306,000 receive assistance from food relief organisations. All this in an affluent first world country.

While people find a few dollars here and there to help those who are being left behind, there are some who have never had it so good. Last year Chris Ellison, of Mineral Resources, increased his worth by $600 million.

Oxfam figures, taken from the Forbes Rich List show that Australian billionaire wealth has risen by 61 per cent since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Australian billionaires now have a combined wealth of almost $236 billion. There are 41Australian billionaires. How many children they will be sponsoring is unknown. What is known is how much is required to ‘fix’ the problem.

The Smith Family puts a figure of $55 a month to see that a child gets the basics required to keep him or her in school and to give that child the same opportunity as every other child. The total figure for a year is around $500 million. It sounds like a lot of money but is less than the amount that Ellison’s wealth grew last year.

But it is not just a handful of rapacious, greedy individuals that are keeping those children from enjoying the freedoms that some enjoy.

Successive Australian governments have permitted the movement of wealth from the bottom to the top.

It is unlikely that anything will change and nor will the policy of government that sees vast and reckless spending on the military as our leaders speak openly of an impending war.

Each year that passes sees the military budget grow. The current budget is for $49 billion to ensure that the three million Australians living in poverty will be living in peaceful poverty.

Setting new records for spending on the war machine is of little comfort for the hundreds of thousands of children whose needs apparently cannot be met. It is doubtful that anyone would know the difference if half a billion were shaved from military spending and spent on getting children books, computers and school uniforms.

The spending spree on weaponry that our governments have been undertaking is insulting to those who have nothing in a country as rich as Australia.

At the peak of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan unveiled his Star Wars project and joked about how the ‘launch’ of the missiles against Moscow was just a few minutes away. The peace and anti-war movements offered resistance. One famous placard read, ‘it will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a cake stall to buy a bomber.’ It was a good slogan then and it is no less significant today. The Cold War, of course, came to an end but the relentless drive to Armageddon did not. Today, the hands of the doomsday clock are closer to midnight than when Reagan threatened the bombing. There is now greater wealth for a tiny few and greater poverty and despair for a greater many and we are closer to war than at any time since WWII.

In the last 12 months, Australia has committed to $568 million for the new HIMARS Rockets, $3.5 billion for new tanks and $3.5 billion for new naval missiles systems. This is only a partial look at the shopping list. Next month Richard Marles will unveil the Defence Strategy Review. If anybody is hoping that good sense might prevail and spending will be cut, then it would be wise to think again.

The insanity of all this defies logic. We can see venal capitalism making obscene individual profits for a tiny handful. We see governments, at the behest of the United States, spending unimaginable millions on weaponry that will make us all that little less secure and we have a generation of our youth, being cast adrift for the sake of what amounts to small change.

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