THE FEDERAL Government’s 2004 Budget, which forecasts a $2.4 billion surplus and offers substantial tax cuts to high-income earners, is illegal under international law, lawyers claim.
Under the Howard Government’s Budget, there will be no satisfactory increase in expenditure on public housing for those people unable to access housing in the private sector.
As well, people at risk of homelessness will not receive adequate crisis accommodation, according to a network of lawyers associated with the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH).
In an interview with Lawyers Weekly, Tamara Walsh, associate lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the Queensland University of Technology, said she was a member of an informal network of people, some members of PILCH, who were passionate about these issues and lobbying for change.
Walsh said the Budget was contrary to international law obligations, and the significant number of people in Australia without access to adequate housing or an adequate income was a gross violation of human rights.
In 1976, Australia ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Article 11 of this Covenant provides that all people have the right to adequate housing which enables them to live in security, peace and dignity.
Article 9 says all people have the right to social security. The Public Interest Law Clearing House’s (PILCH) Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic announced recently that Article 2 of the Covenant obliges Australia to devote the maximum of its available resources to progressively ensuring that all people have access to adequate housing and social security.
If we have a surplus, said Walsh, all this excess money should be devoted to ensuring our international law obligations are upheld.
Youth allowance, which provides income support to young people and students, and Newstart Allowance, which gives income support to unemployed people who are looking for work are “pegged at levels well below the Henderson Poverty Line”, claimed PILCH’s Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic.
The same can be said for Disability Support Pension and the Age Pension, it stated.
The federal Treasurer is using money that should be spent on affordable housing to deliver surplus budgets and tax breaks for the rich, the group argued. This was despite research demonstrating that it cost three times more to provide health care and social services to people on the street than it cost to house them.
Social security benefits were pegged below the poverty line, Walsh claimed. Under the Budget, 100,000 people would remain homeless and without access to adequate housing or support, Walsh said. This meant that the benefits were inadequate.
Our argument, she said, is that if we have all this surplus money, we are contravening international law by not putting it in.
Because the Government had signed the agreement to make sure legal rights are enforced, “we would be calling for the Government to lift the social security level to the Henderson Poverty Line and use resources to make sure people are adequately housed”, Walsh said.
“We would like to be seeing extra money going into realising international law obligations,” she said. If Australia does not do this, Walsh argued, then we are failing to uphold the law.