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Publications archive - International Activities and Commitments


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Australia's report to the UNCSD - 1996

Implementation of Agenda 21
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996
ISBN 0 6422 4868 0

Combating poverty

Chapter 3 of Agenda 21

Generation of income through employment is considered to be the main way that Australians can improve their living standards. A main focus of government policy is therefore, the creation of an economic environment which is conducive to the generation of employment.

The then Commonwealth (federal) Government's active employment strategy was designed to provide a package of integrated policies which focus on initiatives intended to prevent permanent entrenchment of high levels of long term unemployment. The strategy encompassed modified income support arrangements which provide incentives for the unemployed to increase their income and maintain or extend their work related skills.

However, where self-provision is not possible, a comprehensive safety net comprising income support and the provision of free or subsidised goods and services ensures protection of a basic standard of living. The Australian 'safety net' is targeted at those in need, as measured by income and asset levels, rather than related to employment history, and protects people in situations where they have caring responsibilities or substantial disabilities, as well as retirement, unemployment or sickness.

Poverty and Australia's development cooperation program

Poverty alleviation is intrinsic to the objective of Australia's development cooperation program which is to promote the sustainable economic and social advancement of people in developing countries. The entire development cooperation program contributes to the reduction and alleviation of poverty, in different ways and with different degrees of impact and immediacy.

To achieve development, the government pursues a three-pronged poverty reduction strategy which requires action on a number of fronts such as: the promotion of sustainable economic growth; investments in human resource development and social development; and the provision of safety nets and emergency relief where needed. While the specific nature of poverty reduction programs will vary according to the particular conditions and needs of each recipient country, overall thirty per cent of the aid program is spent on social sector programs, in areas such as education and health.

The Government recognises that the impact of its development assistance on reducing poverty is strongly influenced by a range of other factors, particularly policy settings in the partner country. For this reason, the Government places considerable importance on supporting good governance. In the context of bilateral country programs, Australia's approach is positive and flexible. Emphasis is given to strengthening dialogue with partner governments on policy direction and strategies. Key aspects of this approach include: developing the capacity of the public administration to manage resources effectively; support for an effective legal system which gives individuals legal protection and facilitates a market-based economic system; improving transparency and information flows; assistance to electoral processes; and strengthening civil society through support for institutions outside the government sector, such as non-government organisations and community groups.

The Australian Government recognises that women comprise the greater part of the poorest of the poor and that removing obstacles to the full participation of women in social and economic activities remains one of the greatest challenges for development. Enhancing the contribution women can make to economic growth, particularly through extending the opportunities for women to achieve greater economic self-reliance, is fundamental to the relief of poverty. The Australian development cooperation program therefore has a comprehensive approach for women in development. This approach promotes specific measures to improve women's status, in the context of a general emphasis on the greater involvement of women in decision making at all levels of program design and implementation.

Poverty is closely associated with environmental degradation. The poor, having few choices, are the agents of environmental degradation in fragile rural areas. They are also the victims of that same cycle of degradation. The Australian Government is committed to the integration of ecologically sustainable development into all aspects of Australia's development cooperation program. This means that environmental impact and sustainability issues are taken into account in both activities aimed at economic growth and those directly targeting the poor.

The welfare budget

Several Commonwealth agencies provide substantial resources for social welfare programs. As well as assistance provided by the Department of Social Security, these agencies include the Departments of: Employment, Education and Training; Human Services and Health; Immigration and Ethnic Affairs; Primary Industries and Energy; Housing and Regional Development; Veterans' Affairs; and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

For 1995-96 the Commonwealth Government's social security and welfare budget is $A45 237 million, which includes:

Most social security assistance is provided as benefits paid directly to recipients and/or families and generally is indexed in order to maintain real value.

Social security services in Australia are provided directly by the Commonwealth Government or through State/Territory and Local Government authorities and voluntary organisations.

In this context, there is a recognition that poverty is a relative concept, whereby individuals on low income may not have access to the same goods and services, nor ability to participate in the same range of activities, as individuals with higher incomes. Because poverty is a complex concept, and non-cash factors such as access to government services and family support are also important in determining living standards, the Government does not endorse any specific measure of poverty.