Renewed hope: how the change in government presents fresh opportunities to get disadvantage to zero

Suzie Riddell posing in front of Parliament House in Canberra

With each change in government comes new opportunities – they enter with new commitments, new ambitions and a willingness to drive change.  

This most recent change of government presents exciting opportunities to advance SVA’s agenda for an Australia where all people and communities thrive. There are many areas where their priorities and ours overlap.  

Changes to the electoral map, including the rise of independents, point to positive change. These include gender, integrity in government and climate change, as well as a renewed focus on strong local representation – something that should bode well for those passionate about local community and place-based responses.  

The election of a more diverse Parliament, and with greater representation of women, is also cause for celebration. As the release of the 2021 Census data has shown, more than half of Australian residents are either born overseas or have at least one parent who was. 

Commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart 

One of the most momentous changes is the Albanese government’s commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, including that a referendum for a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Australian Constitution will be held in this term of government.  

This is a once in a many-generation opportunity for Australia to embed self-determination for First Nations people in one of contemporary Australia’s founding legal documents. SVA is a signatory to the Uluru Statement and has had the opportunity to engage with those leading the campaign to build our understanding of the importance of this effort.  

In our submission to the previous government’s Indigenous Voice co-design process, we emphasised our view that, consistent with the principles of self-determination, the views and perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and organisations must be prioritised in the constitutional recognition process. We feel that it is important to respect the consensus reached by First Nations peoples in the Uluru statement and to respond positively to this generous and open invitation to all Australians. 

Constitutional change is an ambitious and important reform. SVA will continue to seek opportunities to support and progress the Uluru Statement where we can appropriately do so. 

Re-focus on alleviating disadvantage 

In the Prime Minister’s election night speech, he stated: 

“No one left behind because we should always look after the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. But also no one held back, because we should always support aspiration and opportunity… I want every parent to be able to tell their child no matter where you live or where you come from, in Australia the doors of opportunity are open to us all.”

This renewed emphasis on reducing disadvantage in Australia is a very welcome sign. It is in line with SVA’s mission of an Australia where all people and communities can thrive, and of our 20th anniversary commitment to asking what it will take to get Disadvantage to Zero. 

It has also been pleasing to see recognition from incoming Ministers that people who are currently excluded and marginalised will be affected first and worst by the seismic social, economic and environmental changes affecting our community. The next step will be to ensure these voices are heard in the development of the responses, including the upcoming Job Summit, climate and energy policy, industry and labour market policy – and that they are not just confined to ‘welfare’ issues.  

Charities a key partner for a fairer Australia  

The incoming government’s understanding of charities as a key partner in reaching that vision of a fairer Australia is a welcome development. At SVA, we know that charities are the lifeblood of our society and key to ensuring everyone in Australia can thrive. Charities are also a key employer and contributor to the economy with one in ten workers employed across this diverse sector taking in hospitals, universities, early learning, disability services, religious and environmental organisations.  

We have been focusing an increasing amount of our work on the health of the charities sector – as seen in our Paying What it Takes and Partners in Recovery projects. It’s exciting to see the government recognise the vital role of charities by appointing an Assistant Minister for Charities, Dr Andrew Leigh. Assistant Minister Leigh has been engaged with SVA’s work over many years, including noting our Partners in Recovery work in Parliament at the height of the pandemic.  

In the few short weeks since the election the Assistant Minister has already attended the recent AGM of the Community Council of Australia (the peak body for charities). We’ve also seen other Ministers attending civil society forums that SVA has been involved in. This agenda to strengthen charities and civil society as a critical part of the Australian community is heartening and we look forward to working further with the Assistant Minister and other members of the  government.  

Social Policy reform 

Across the social policy spectrum, there are many areas in need of attention and reform.  

The incoming Government’s modest election promises and the practical constraints of government (number of sitting days, parliamentary negotiations, money, and attention) will no doubt also lead to disappointment for some with ambitious goals. However, there are opportunities to see a change in direction or build on the initial commitments. 

Further funding and reform of early learning is one area with significant commitments such as the national Early Years Strategy. At SVA, we know that investment in early years is the best time to maximise social impact. It saves government and communities many millions of dollars in reduced health, welfare and justice expenses, and is how we can change life trajectories for many of the children in our communities. Aged care is another and a renewed interest in the ‘care economy’ could create opportunities for positive changes to other sectors. We are also keen to see the NDIS deliver on its full promise.  

Political and economic pressures could also create the conditions for bolder reforms – housing for example. Not only do we seem to be entering another more intense period of debate about housing and homelessness, in the recent election we have started to see demographic shifts and potential tipping points in the debate. Millennials are now outweighing baby boomers and renters played a critical role in some key electorates that we haven’t seen in generations. 

The low-unemployment rates also belie the rising issues of a broken career ladder and insecure work. In an economy that is undergoing massive change, what does training look like for today’s young people, including those experiencing vulnerability? Amidst the industrial transformations sparked by climate change and the rise of the care economy, there is the opportunity for us to ensure that young people have access to the right training and career trajectories for the workforce of the future.  

Given these conditions, I’m optimistic about the positive change we can create. In this year of SVA’s 20th anniversary when we are interrogating what it will take to get Disadvantage to Zero, it feels as though there are more opportunities than ever to get closer to that goal.