Dropping off the Edge report: not a surprise

DISADVANTAGE: Centacare chief executive officer Dr Jen Cleary, Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey and former Minister for Social Services Dan Tehan in conversation. Photo: Luca Cetta
DISADVANTAGE: Centacare chief executive officer Dr Jen Cleary, Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey and former Minister for Social Services Dan Tehan in conversation. Photo: Luca Cetta


The results of the Dropping off the Edge report are not surprising to Dr Jen Cleary at Centacare Catholic Country SA, but the solution is simple: raise the rate of unemployment benefits.

Chief executive officer Dr Jen Cleary said the current Job Seeker payment is barely livable and contributes to the report outlining serious disadvantage across regional South Australia, with much of the disadvantage in the Federal Electorate of Grey.

"It's pretty easily fixed, raise the rate," she said.

"We saw the difference that was made when Job Seeker was at a higher rate during COVID, people were living with dignity.

"What we're seeing now since it's dropped again, it's almost impossible to live on the amount given, it's among the lowest in the world."

The Dropping off the Edge report stated Port Augusta, Port Pirie, Ceduna and Whyalla were among the top 20 most disadvantaged communities in South Australia, a category they have also fallen into during the two previous reporting periods in 2007 and 2015.

"This new one doesn't surprise us," Dr Cleary said.

She said the rollback of the Job Seeker payment amount was premature for the regions, as there was a lag time when they felt the effects of a crisis.

"Policy makers need to understand when you think it's time to roll back the supports, it's not time for regional communities," she said.

"They will always take longer to feel the effects, and then longer to recover from those impacts.

"That supported needed to be there, and does still need to be there a little bit longer until there is real signs of recovery in those communities."

She also said there were a lot of factors at play that create "a perfect storm" for disadvantage, some involving the pandemic and others from challenges within each town.

Shifts within major industries in regional towns, like the switch from coal to renewable energy at Port Augusta, uncertainly around the steelworks plant at Whyalla, and fluctuating commodity prices, would always have an impact.

The report outlined indicators for a disadvantaged town:

  • Social distress: low family income; no internet; overcrowding
  • Health: receiving disability support pension; need assistance with core activities
  • Community safety: confirmed child maltreatment; prison admissions; domestic violence
  • Economic: unskilled workers; long-term unemployment; young adults not in employment, education or training; public housing; rent assistance
  • Education: Year 3 NAPLAN Numeracy; Year 3 NAPLAN Literacy; school attendance; left school before Year 10; no post school qualification; young childhood development
  • Environmental: particulate matter; tree cover; heat stress
  • Lifetime disadvantage: teenage childbearing; children where no parent in family working.

Ceduna and Port Augusta had five or more indicators in the top five per cent of disadvantaged towns in the state.

Dr Cleary said communities like Ceduna which rely heavily on tourism economy and passing traffic, would be feeling challenged at the moment.

"We need to understand the nuances of each place before putting measures and support in place," she said.

"You can't generalise towns because every town is different."

Federal Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey said he was aware parts of Grey faced challenges and the government was addressing the multi-dimensional nature of disadvantage with investment across many areas.

"Grey is bigger than NSW and with its population spread across the electorate, providing services is clearly more difficult than in urban areas - unsurprisingly, some areas do not have the same level of services," he said.

"But the Government is acutely aware of this and provides a broad range of investment in Grey."

Internet access was the largest contributor to the disadvantage in SA. This was not identified in any other state or territory, and suggests it was a particular issue to the state.

ABS surveys have also identified internet access as an issue in SA, particularly low income households.

"The internet is becoming increasingly important as a way of accessing a range of government and education services as well as information and support, and it is likely communities with inadequate access will continue to be constrained," the report stated.

Mr Ramsay pointed to different government grants that have been delivered to communities since 2016.

A total of $43,366,983 in grants had been given to Indigenous related projects, business and providers, $42,735,538 in drought related funding, and almost $40,000 to the health sector including Headspace clinics and hospital improvements.

Around $150 million of grant funding had also been given to local councils over past year.

Despite this, Dr Cleary also called for more services for low-intensity mental health issues, preventative measures to maintain the level of emergency situations occur.

The anguish felt from poverty may be eased with access to support and someone to talk to, avoiding crisis level mental health emergencies in an already overwhelmed medical service.

"When the system is so overwhelmed, you have to triage people who's needs are most serious" Dr Cleary said.

"Whereas, if we can tackle the other end, you could possibly prevent a lot of that escalation."

This story Dropping off the Edge report: not a surprise first appeared on Port Lincoln Times.