In an outstanding speech made to the Centre of Independent Studies on 20 July 2017, the Federal Human Services Minister Alan Tudge stated that while Australia has done well in addressing absolute poverty in the last 30 years, the complexities of today’s modern day impoverishment does not require more instalments of welfare. Drink Tank responds to the Minister’s speech.
We wish to congratulate the Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge for very clearly acknowledging the destructive role alcohol plays in Australian society (A better path out of poverty, The Australian, 21 July 2017).
He is correct when he notes, “Drugs and alcohol are increasingly destroying the upbringing of children.”
Alcohol is a significant contributor to family violence in Australia. It is estimated that alcohol is involved in up to 65 per cent of family violence incidences reported to the police and up to 47 per cent of child abuse cases each year across Australia.
Large numbers of children are also substantially affected by others drinking, such as experiencing alcohol-related child abuse and neglect; being left unsupervised; put in an unsafe situation; or being verbally or physically abused.
Today, an estimated 10,166 children are in the child protection system, at least partly due to the drinking of a carer, and an additional 142,582 children are not within the child protection system, but are substantially affected by someone’s alcohol consumption.
The cost of alcohol-related child maltreatment in Australia is estimated to be $675 million. This estimate includes the costs of child protection services, out-of-home care services, and intensive family support services and morbidity costs. And when the intangible or indirect costs are included, this figure is likely to be much higher.
Tudge argues that we cannot address childhood impoverishment by increasing the number of frontline services or increasing welfare payments.
Instead he says we must “put our minds to the underlying factors…and be clear eyed about how to tackle them.”
We whole heartedly agree.
But, when it comes to alcohol, the ‘underlying factors’ are already well understood. We know, all too well, the levers to pull to reduce the harms from alcohol. Price, promotion and the availability of alcohol are the keys to addressing the harm from alcohol. Alcohol has never been cheaper, more aggressively promoted or more available than it is today.
These are the ‘underlying factors’ driving alcohol harms and contributing to childhood impoverishment, Minister Tudge.
What is now needed, is the political will to take action to address them, because if policy responses turn out to be merely a ruse to cut welfare payments, then Mr Tudge’s entreaty for new thinking on poverty will be very hollow indeed. Some might say impoverished!