Monday, November 27, 2023

Widespread costs of living shocks

I am one of the older generation who are not much affected by the crisis. We usually own our own homes so have no rent to pay and have built up savings through a lifetime of work.

But the reports below do bother me and I wonder what I could do to help. I already provide ultra-cheap rental accomodation to four people but I will have to think of doing more

Just about everywhere you look, there are worsening signs that Australia is no longer the lucky country – for just about all of us.

Just about everywhere you look, there are worsening signs that Australia is no longer the lucky country.

From record-high rents to skyrocketing mortgages, a cost-of-living crisis to the alarming emergence of a ‘working poor’ population, the country faces an unprecedented storm of factors putting pressure on millions of people.

And very few Aussies are immune.

“We’re seeing a new demographic of people turning to charities for support over the past 18 months,” a spokesperson for St Vincent de Paul Society in New South Wales said.

“It has been very concerning to see a growing number of people in employment and families on dual incomes reaching out in a time of desperation because of the cost of living.”

Whether paying a mortgage or renting, working for someone or running a business, earning a little or making a lot, this is a startling look at just how tough things are right now.

Skipping meals or not eating at all

An estimated 3.7 million households are battling serious levels of food insecurity, not-for-profit Food Bank revealed in its 2023 Hunger Report.

Food insecurity describes the need to make “unenviable choices about what and when they eat” such as skipping meals or going whole days without eating.

Foodbank’s research shows an extra 383,000 households are grappling with food insecurity than a year ago.

More than a third of the population – more than the total number of households in Melbourne and Sydney combine – are having to “compromise their meal choices”, the organisation said.

The proportion of Aussies who are experiencing “some level of distress in meeting the most basic needs” when it comes to putting food on the table is racing towards 50 per cent.

“Food insecurity is waking early and sending your child off to school with a rumbling tummy and empty lunch box because you’ve been forced into an impossible choice between paying the rent or buying food that week,” Foodbank chief executive Brianna Casey said.

“Food insecurity is living at home alone as a pensioner, convincing yourself that three meals a day is a luxury, and that two – or even one – will suffice.

“Food insecurity is rushing to the fruit platter at a working lunch in the office because fresh fruit and vegetables have become a treat, rather than a dietary staple.

“Food insecurity is now having a mortgage, a full-time job and a side hustle, yet food is a discretionary spend in the household budget.”

Cutting dangerous corners

As the country brazes for a particularly hot summer, the Australian Council of Social Services warns vulnerable households will go without cooling as a result of cost pressures.

An ACOSS survey released in October shows 74 per cent of people on income supports are slashing spending on cooling, while 62 per cent are cutting back on the use of lighting.

“As we head into a summer of extreme heat, the federal government needs to deliver a substantial package to urgently address energy affordability for people on low incomes,” ACOSS program director of climate and energy, Kellie Caught, said.

“Energy is an essential service, one which has serious implications for people’s health and wellbeing.”

Meanwhile, a recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data release shows seven per cent of people who needed to see a doctor in the 12 months to June delayed the visit or didn’t go at all because of cost-of-living pressures.

“This was double the number compared to 2021-22, when 3.5 per cent of people put off or did not see a GP when they needed because of the cost,” Robert Long, head of health statistics at the ABS, said.

One-in-five people delayed or avoided seeking mental health treatment because of the cost, while 10.5 per cent of patients needing to see a specialist didn’t due to price pressures.

“There was also an increase in people who delayed or didn’t get prescription medication when needed due to cost, from 5.6 per cent in 2021-22 to 7.6 per cent in 2022-23,” Mr Long said.

Crushed by mortgage repayments

Since the Reserve Bank began hiking interest rates back in May last year, the cost of meeting repayments on the average size mortgage has soared.

Those with a home loan balance of $590,000 – the national average – are forking out $1345 more per month, or an extra $16,140 per year.

“That’s a huge amount of extra money to be spending on your mortgage, especially when the cost of almost everything else is also going up,” Graham Cooke, head of consumer research at finance comparison website said.

Even if those huge increases were happening in isolation, rates of distress would be high, but with a cost-of-living crisis on top, countless Aussies are now up against the wall.

Martin North is the principal of economic research firm Digital Finance Analytics and tracks household cash flows, with data indicating more than half of mortgage holders are in cash-flow deficit each month.

That is, half of all mortgage households are now spending more than they earn every month.

“Looking in detail, we find that recent purchasers, especially young growing families, are most exposed,” Mr North said.

Many bought when mortgage rates were sitting around two per cent, and when then-RBA Governor Philip Lowe assured people the official cash rate would likely remain on hold until 2024.

It didn’t. Home loan rates are now sitting at about six per cent.


Aussie homeowners warned ‘perfect storm’ to hit as insurance is cut from budgets

This is a real problem. Recent natural disasters have cost insurace companies big so they have to allow for such big costs in the future. And increased premiums are the only way to do that. My home insurance has trebled in recent times. I can afford that but many can't. So they risk losing everything

Homeowners are crossing their fingers as the cost of living crisis has more Aussies cutting insurance from their budgets.

The increased frequency of extreme climate events, inflation, and Australians’ love for urbanisation in places most likely to be hit by weather have created a “perfect storm” in insurance markets.

Insurance Council of Australia chief Andrew Hall painted the grim picture during an address to the National Press Club on Thursday.

He said the “difficult choice” to forgo insurance or to be underinsured was creating a protection gap – the extent to which potential economic losses are not covered by private insurance.

“It’s the difference between what should or needs to be insured and what isn’t insured,” he said.

Many Australians have tried to maintain cover but Mr Hall said the risk was greatest in areas where “the threat of high natural peril risk is driving the biggest increases in premiums.”

“As the protection gap widens there will be serious implications. The first is the additional vulnerability that households and families, particularly middle and lower-income earners, will face if the worst happens.

“It means that when disasters and accidents occur, they disproportionately up-end the lives of people particularly in vulnerable lower socio-economic groups.”

As a result, he warned, taxpayers will be carrying more additional risk to clean up after a disaster and more pressure on the government’s coffers.

Banks will also be increasingly exposed.

A recent report by the Actuaries Institute suggested nearly one in eight Australian households is facing home insurance affordability stress.

Since the Black Summer bushfires in 2019, Australia has experienced 18, as Mr Hall described, “insurance catastrophes”.

“Last year alone, the insurance industry in Australia paid 302,000 disaster related claims, which caused more than $7.25bn in insured losses,” Mr Hall said.

The ICA boss said proper mitigation was key and pointed to an example of premiums dropping by on average 34 per cent in Roma, Queensland after the construction of a flood levee.

He also urged for a further strengthening of the National Construction Code to make homes more durable for the environment where they’re built.

Mr Hall welcomed the call from national cabinet to stop putting homes on flood plains.

“All too often, we have built our homes in places where we can touch and feel and absorb nature – in bushland, on river frontages, and backing on to beaches,” he said.

“But in so doing, we have put ourselves on flood plains, in fire-prone bushland, or coastal areas in direct paths of cyclones.

“We have ignored the red flags of nature.”

He also urged state governments to wipe the 10 per cent stamp duties on insurance customers.

“If insurance policies for houses or cars did not exist, or were priced out of reach, then the population would demand it of the government.

“For the sake of our future protection and productivity, Australian governments at the state and Federal level must have an eye on reform of insurance taxes.

“There is a clear opportunity here to think about how to incentivise states to lower their insurance taxes to ensure more people have the private cover that will protect.”


Stunning far-right victory as ‘smug elites’ crowed too soon
Holland’s hard-right new leader Geert Wilder’s victory has exposed an issue that Australia needs to learn from

Joe Hildebrand

The shock victory of Geert Wilders' far-right eurosceptic party in Dutch elections sent a political tremor through Brussels, seven months ahead of crucial EU elections.

It is an inherent characteristic of social and political elites that they treat populists with either fear or scorn: Scorn when they are considered unthreatening and fear when the threat inevitably becomes real.

But what is most remarkable about this cycle — indeed the very reason it is a cycle — is that our supposed intellectual betters keep making this same mistake over and over again.

They dismiss the fears of ordinary people as ignorant or prejudicial and then are stunned when those fears manifest in the form of Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro or Argentina’s Javier Milei, Italy’s Georgia Meloni or Holland’s Geert Wilders.

The list could go on forever.

While the cure-alls typically prescribed by such leaders are often simplistic and sometimes downright silly, the problems they highlight and the anxieties they tap into are both visceral and real.

Yet there is a lazy and self-defeating habit among the political establishment to think that once they have dispatched such leaders they have eliminated those problems and anxieties along with them.

Of course they haven’t and so of course such leaders rise again or a newcomer rides in on a similar wave of discontent.

No lesson could be starker than the resurgence of Donald Trump. Despite almost every single political and institutional force being applied against him — including a resounding election loss, complicity in an insurrection, the prospect of imprisonment and almost unanimous mainstream media opposition — Trump is currently probably odds-on to beat Biden even if he ends up beating him from a jail cell.

How is this possible? An obvious factor is Biden’s fumbling incoherence but the true genesis goes back to before Biden was even sworn in.

How many smug elites — political operatives, academic experts, media commentators and social media activists — shamelessly crowed after the 2020 election that Biden had won the highest ever Presidential vote in US history. The nightmare was over, they said.

Less mentioned was that the second highest ever Presidential vote in US history went to Donald J Trump — millions above his shock 2016 result.

And while all the anti-Trump votes were an unprecedented coalition that stretched uncomfortably from Romney Republicans to Sanders socialists, all the pro-Trump votes were just for him.

Anyone with half a brain or a grain of understanding would instantly realise the gravity of that political mass, the latent potential energy primed to be unleashed. Instead the champagne socialists were popping their corks, thinking the beast had been slain.

They could not have been more wrong. To paraphrase a prayer once recited about another messiah, Trump has died, Trump has risen, Trump will come again.

So what does this mean for Australia?

Aside from the likely uncertainty, possible carnage and definite entertainment that will result from Trump retaking control of our greatest ally there is a threat to our own internal stability.

Australians are at breaking point. We have absorbed a steady tsunami of rate rises over the past year or so but the latest Cup Day hike and the threat of more to come — after a pause in which we dared to hope the worst was over — is a significant blow to the nation’s psyche, let alone its hip pocket.

Citizens have thus far given goodwill to a genuine government in tough times but there is a palpable sense at servos and supermarkets that the mood has gone from stoic to stressed.

Charities like Foodbank, Salvos, Vinnies increasingly and repeatedly report mainstream middle-class families with one or even two full-time workers reaching out for the first time just to put food on the table.

Worse still, it is an invisible epidemic, cloaked by pride. The lawns might be immaculate but there is nothing in the fridge.

Faced with such crisis and anxiety people will turn anywhere and to anyone who offers them salvation, be it real or imagined.

This might be cutting fuel tax or cutting immigration, which the government has so far been reluctant to do for legitimate long-term reasons.

But long-term is a luxury that few Australians can now afford. Many are at a precipice and many more have the clifftop accelerating into sight.

The increasingly comical attempts to blame Peter Dutton for all the nation’s woes do nothing to alleviate this.

Instead the government needs to face the facts and fix them. And if it can’t fix them — as may be the cold hard economic reality — it needs to at least look like its fixing them in order to give punters some temporary respite and a much-needed dose of hope. Sometimes simple solutions are needed even when they don’t fully solve the problem.

To this end it is time for the government to cut the petrol tax. Howard did it, Morrison did it, Albanese can do it. It will not only provide some short term relief to battlers but also send a message that the Labor government listens to and cares about working Australians.

And in turbulent times that message is more important than ever.


The kids broken by lockdown: How Australia's gruelling stay-at-home orders during Covid have left an entire generation of schoolchildren 'too anxious' to go outside

The implications of Australia's harsh Covid lockdowns during the pandemic are now threatening 'end the lives' of students left too anxious and afraid to go to school.

Melbourne had the longest pandemic lockdowns in the world and the city has become the epicentre of a new condition known as 'school refusal'.

Year 10 student Sarah Turner, 16, is one of those deeply affected by the Covid lockdowns in Melbourne, missing 50 per cent of school in the past two years.

'It wasn't until the lockdowns where we were at home a lot that I started not wanting to go out and find, getting really anxious about going out,' she told 60 Minutes on Sunday.

Gabby, a 13-year-old boy who also lives in Melbourne, is another child affected by this and often he just can't face the idea of going to school.

Mental health social worker John Chellew's clinic treating children with a dread fear of going to school, and their families, has never been busier. 'I'm dealing with children who have pretty much shut down and gone on strike and who are locked in their bedrooms and there's massive conflict in the home,' he said.

The situation can sometimes lead to horrifying, desperate thoughts. 'Children have lost the will to live and are really threatening to end their lives,' Mr Chellew said.

It's not that the children have lost the desire to be educated, it's that the overwhelming anxiety they feel has led to them refusing to go to school.

Sarah used to love school. 'I was very outgoing and did a lot of things before the lockdowns,' she said. But things changed. 'It felt like it was kind of impossible to go to school. It wasn't like a choice kind of thing. It was like, I just felt like I physically couldn't go for this fear,' she said. 'I feel faint and sick and weak and I get heart racing and shaking and stuff like that.

'Some of my hardest days I'd just be having panic attacks all morning and I couldn't, like, move or I'd get, even if I'd get to school in the car, I couldn't get out or I'd get out and I just felt like frozen.'

There is no one type of child affected by the condition. 'It's an issue that affects kids aged five through to 17 school age from all walks of life and from neurodiverse and neurotypical backgrounds,' Mr Chellew said.

Gabby's parents, Christel and Gabor try to keep to their cool on days when he can't face school.

His dad explained what the worst scenario is for them. 'I'll drive him (to school) but he goes into like a really bad case of anxiety, I guess. 'He bangs his head against the seat and it's, yeah, it's not a good experience.'

Though Gabby tries his best to do his schoolwork from home, it has affected his grades.

Sarah understands what Gabby goes through - sometimes she just finds the idea of going to school unbearable. 'A lot of people just telling me to push through and just do it, or a lot of accusations that it's just because I don't wanna go,' she said.

'I would say that they don't know actually what it's like, and it's a lot more physical than you think. 'It's very isolating and it stops you from actually doing things you want and it's not like you don't want to do it.'

The number of students so ridden with anxiety they can't go to school has grown substantially in recent years.

By some estimates, one in three families with school aged children are affected by it.

Sarah's mum, Kirsty, is happy that school refusal is now being openly discussed and is no longer being treated as a made-up issue with straightforward treatment.

But it has changed the Turner family's life. 'It's been a full time job sort of over and above normal parenting,' she said.

'I haven't been able to go back to work. I was pretty much a 24/7 carer besides just being her normal mum and you know, became a bit of a mind coach for her as well at times.'

She said people who tell her to just drop Sarah at the school gate and drive away simply don't understand.

'I think we're talking about a whole generation of young people here that have fallen behind, and I think the impacts will stay with them unless we do something about this quickly,' she said.

Slowly, but surely, though, things are getting better for both Sarah and Gabby.

'I'm making a lot of progress,' Sarah said. She has been going to school more lately, which she said has made her 'very proud'.


Labor takes on Greens over gas with deal to add supply, lower price

Australians will be promised a boost to gas supply in a Labor move to ease pressure on energy prices, setting up a test for the Coalition and the Greens to back the federal changes or be blamed for deepening the nation’s cost-of-living crisis.

The federal government will reveal two energy deals to fix a looming gas shortage under an industry regime the Greens are seeking to block, raising the stakes in a Senate vote on Monday on the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

In a spate of domestic policy moves, the government is also poised to announce a deal to increase environmental flows in the Murray-Darling river system, claim a $250 million consumer saving from its changes to medicine prescriptions and unveil draft law to reform the Reserve Bank.

Parliament meets on Monday for the final sitting fortnight of the year with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese seeking a focus on domestic policy after arguments with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton over China, the release of detainees from indefinite detention and the response to conflict in the Middle East.

With retail energy prices rising, the government has been under pressure to boost gas supplies using the code it introduced this year to fix prices at $12 per gigajoule and force producers to meet local demand, in tandem with separate restrictions on coal.

Energy Minister Chris Bowen has struck deals with gas exporters Senex and Australia Pacific LNG to divert 300 petajoules to the domestic market over the next six years, with both commitments starting this month.

The gas will be supplied under enforceable undertakings that exempt Senex and APLNG from the price cap but expose them to action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission if they do not meet their pledges.

With about 140 petajoules promised by the end of 2027 under the new deals, the outcome initially adds 35 petajoules to the domestic market on average every year. The ACCC estimates household, commercial and industrial demand adds up to 447 petajoules each year.

The Greens are seeking to halt the gas code by moving a motion in the Senate to disallow the regulations Bowen put in place in July, which will force Labor to rely on the Coalition to keep the code in place. The Coalition voted against the legislation to set up the regime last December, making the disallowance motion on the code another test of its stance.

Greens treasury spokesperson Nick McKim has welcomed measures to cut prices but accused the government of encouraging new gas fields to be developed under the code.


Make masculinity great again

By Australian libertarian Senator Ralph Babet

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Babet is of ultimately Indian heritage

Sunday was International Men’s Day but blink and you would have missed it. International Women’s Day (March 8) is always marked by widespread celebrations of female achievement. LGBTQ people get a whole month in June to promote Pride, as well as half of February and March which is given over to coverage of events related to Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Men, however, who are, after all, half the human race, get one day.

The International Men’s Day website says the day ‘celebrates worldwide the positive value men bring to the world, their families and communities’, highlights ‘positive role models’, and raises awareness of men’s well-being.

Sunday (November 19) was International Men’s Day but there was precious little positivity. In part, that was because the theme for 2023 was ‘Zero Male Suicide’. There is no doubt that male suicide is an extremely serious problem. Over three-quarters of all Australians who take their lives are male and while the female suicide rate decreased in 2022 by 2 per cent compared with 2021, for men it increased by 3 per cent. Unfortunately, the main media coverage was an interview on the ABC which which didn’t celebrate men’s achievements or the positive contribution they make to humanity. Rather, it put the ‘spotlight on the high rate of male suicide’.

The failure to celebrate male achievement is perhaps one reason why too many men feel down but it’s not the only problem. There is a relentless attack on so-called ‘toxic masculinity’. Yet here’s the thing. While there is no doubt some male behaviour is toxic, so too is some female behaviour, and, for that matter, some LGBTQ behaviour. No sex or gender has a monopoly on behaving badly but it is masculinity that is under constant attack.

Indeed, the Albanese federal Labor government recently announced $3.5 million in funding for what it calls the healthy masculinities project. The goal of the project is supposedly ‘to help combat harmful gender stereotypes perpetuated online’. A government media release claims that 25 per cent of teenage boys in Australia look up to social media stars who perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes and condone violence against women.

But you won’t find the government admitting that some cultures have more toxic masculinity than others. Labor, the Greens, and the left-leaning independents refused to have a Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Indigenous communities because they can’t bring themselves to face the reality that there is a higher rate of sexual abuse in Indigenous communities. So it’s not surprising that there was no mention in the media release on healthy masculinities that Indigenous communities suffer higher rates of sexual assault and domestic violence.

There’s another problem men face. When it comes to sexual allegations, the #MeToo movement has reversed the onus of proof. Men are assumed to be guilty until they prove themselves to be innocent. In the US, Brett Kavanaugh, who is now serving as a Justice of the Supreme Court, was dragged through the mud in the court of public opinion about uncorroborated, decades-old sexual allegations.

In reality, the government’s healthy masculinities program is unlikely to address real instances of toxic behaviour and instead, waste taxpayer money emasculating and gaslighting healthy young men and promoting the idea that you have to be a woke left soy boy and apologise if you happen to be white or straight.

Teenage boys should be mentored by their parents and the government should do everything they can to support the family including tax arrangements that permit income-splitting to allow mums to stay home when children are small and to work part-time as children grow up.

If Labor is serious about helping families it has to address the cost-of-living crisis that is putting far too many of them under financial stress. One way to do that is to abandon its crazy climate change policies that are pointlessly driving up the cost of energy and driving Australian jobs offshore to places like China that are building new coal-fired power plants every week.

If the Labor Party is genuinely worried about teenage boys following poor gender stereotypes online then it should seriously address the elephant in the room which is the number of teenage boys that grow up without a father in their home. There is a mountain of evidence showing that too many of these boys are more likely to commit crimes.

This is not so surprising. It’s only in recent times that we have been crazy enough to imagine that we can raise a fatherless generation and outsource parenting to the nanny state with teenage boys mentored by far-left activists.

There are no easy answers for single parents, just a role for extended families, and church and youth groups to provide healthy male role models and create opportunities for teenage boys to meet together for face-to-face sport and recreation rather than spending their lives glued to screens playing video games.

Unfortunately, Labor’s healthy masculinities project is unlikely to help. It is more likely to create gender confused, non-binary they/thems than happy, healthy, strong, confident young men.

It is undeniable that weak men create hard times and we are seeing this play out in Canberra as the Albanese government flounders its way through its first term. It is too weak to solve the cost-of-living crisis. It is too weak to address the crisis created by criminals gaming the refugee system. It is too weak to set a sensible immigration level that won’t put homeownership out of the reach of young Australians.

Perhaps that’s why Labor has funded a project that will make young men weak. Perhaps it wants men who won’t stand up for themselves when the state overreaches as it did during the pandemic, men who won’t fight for their rights and push back against authoritarianism, men who won’t defend their families, their faith, their culture, their nation.

We need boys to be proud of their masculinity just like we need Australians to be proud of their country. The good news is that while weak men like Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese create hard times, it is just as true that hard times create strong men, and strong men create good times. That’s what we aim to do at the United Australia party. So, sound the starting gun because with your help at the next election, we’re going to make masculinity – and Australia – great again.




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