Anti-Poverty Advocates Say Albanese’s Childhood Rhetoric Is ‘Cruel’ When He Won’t Raise JobSeeker


Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has made no secret of where he’s come from.

“It says a lot about our great country that a son of a single mum who was a disability pensioner, who grew up in public housing down the road in Camperdown, can stand before you tonight as Australia’s prime minister,” he said in his election victory speech.

But this repeated rhetoric has been met with anger and frustration from welfare recipients and advocacy groups who have said it’s cruel optimism coming from a politician who has no interest in raising JobSeeker or improving the lives of people like his mother.

“We can’t do everything,” Albanese said in April about dumping Labor’s plan to review JobSeeker. “Every time governments do a budget, they should look at what is responsible and do what they can to help those in need.”

But Antipoverty Centre spokeswoman Kristin O’Connell told PEDESTRIAN.TV welfare recipients felt abandoned by a new government which used them as political capital.

“When he talks about a better future there are three million people that he’s excluding from that and those people represent the life that his mother led,” she said.

“The cruellest thing Anthony Albanese has done is give false hope to people on welfare who genuinely believe that he is going to do something to help them even though he has repeatedly committed to do nothing.”

A lot has changed since Albanese was born in 1963.

“Public housing was at its peak in Australia in 1966,” Dr David Kelly of RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

“Around 8 per cent of all dwellings in Australia were public. Accessibility was at its highest, there was the most amount of stock and the stock was all brand new and it was being maintained really well.”

Since then it’s been a long, slow decline.

“Right now we’re at the lowest point in history of public housing in Australia where access is actually quite hard, tenure has become less stable … and all the properties built in the ’60s and ’70s are coming to the end of their life because they’ve been under-maintained.”

Public housing now makes up less than 3 per cent of dwellings in Australia but demand has escalated as welfare and wages have stagnated and the population has swelled.

New housing constructed in capital cities in the previous 15 years has fallen well short of agreed housing targets which has exacerbated housing affordability problems nationwide, according to a National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation report in 2020.

From 2009 to 2019 the cost of living increased 24 per cent but wages only rose about 3 per cent.

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver told PEDESTRIAN.TV housing affordability relative to wages was the real problem for low-income earners today.

“That’s where the hardship is. If you’re a middle-income earner your quality of life today is arguably a lot higher than in the ’60s but if you’re a low-income earner on welfare it’s a lot more difficult that it was,” he said.

He said while the cost of most goods and services including food, electronics, cars and healthcare had dropped relative to wages since the ’60s, expectations had also changed. 

“Once you get over the hurdle of getting housing then you could still have a reasonably high quality of life [in the ’60s], whereas today because public housing is restricted to people of acute need, you might find you’ve got a lower living standard.”

Kelly said public housing in 2022 was basically an “ambulance service” for the most severe cases.

Most people on welfare who experience housing stress, rental stress or mortgage stress face waiting periods of up to a decade for public housing — a property that is likely in poor condition or could soon become defunct — and he said the likelihood of getting a place as a single, childless person was “quite low”.

Albanese’s mother Maryanne Ellery on the other hand did not apply for public housing, she inherited it from her parents. Kelly said if she were to apply today as a single, childless woman in her 20s, her chances would be slim.

O’Connell is a recipient of the Disability Support Pension (DSP) and on the waiting list for a public housing residence. But she said even though she has a disability she is still not considered high priority because she doesn’t have children.

But that’s only part of the struggle.

“The disability pension at [the time Albanese was in primary school] was higher than the poverty line,” she said.

The relative poverty line in Australia was $450 a week in 2018 when the data was last updated but experts have said it has no doubt increased as inflation and the cost of living have exploded since then. JobSeeker payments (including the current Energy Supplement) in the 2021-22 financial year sit at $321 a week. A disability support pension is $450.40 a week, but O’Connell said the cost of living was much higher for disabled people.

Accessing welfare payments also comes with “punitive” mutual obligations requirements that didn’t exist for Maryanne. Recipients are forced to apply for 20 jobs a month and if they are still unemployed after a period of time they must enter the controversial Work for the Dole program which carries financial penalties for non-compliance. When they do find a job their payments decrease.

“If I earn $90 in a week my pension starts to go down, but my pension’s below the poverty line,” O’Connell said. 

“It used to enable people to find work opportunities [but] the current welfare system is a poverty machine and it’s trapping people in it. We cannot escape.”

O’Connell says she feels “sickened” when she hears the PM using his mother’s experience to position himself as a voice for disadvantaged people.

“He did not grow up rich but he also did not grow up in anything like the circumstances that kids like me … and parents now have to deal with.”