Jesuit Social Services welcomes the opportunity to respond to the inquiry into Regional Inequality in Australia. The terms of reference for the inquiry called on submitters to examine the indicators of, and impact of, regional inequality in Australia, with particular reference to government policies and programs across a range of areas, including infrastructure, education, employment and innovation.

Our submission focuses on some of the broader issues underlying, and appropriate responses to, entrenched locational disadvantage. Given our work in the Northern Territory, which has the highest proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people among Australian jurisdictions, particular challenges in this context are also a focus of our submission.

With place-based strategies as a starting point, and bearing in mind the interrelated factors that cause and compound disadvantage, we highlight several key areas where reform is needed. As one initiative, Jesuit Social Services supports calls to raise the single rate of Newstart, Youth Allowance and related payments to ensure they are adequate for people to live a dignified life and have a realistic opportunity of securing a job.

Many of the people we work with have little stable employment experience, low levels of basic skills, and a range of other barriers to inclusion. Jesuit Social Services believes that for this group of people, the employment and wider human services system needs to broaden its focus from the narrow aim of securing short-term employment outcomes. In particular, we note various shortcomings of the remote-area Community Development Program and outline key features of reform that should be incorporated into any new system.

Finally, we draw attention to the specific mental health needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities – particularly in rural and remote areas. It is critical to base any services, supports, and responses on the unique conceptions of mental health within Aboriginal communities and cultures, and the understanding of mental health as part of a continuum that applies to individual people, extended families and entire communities, interconnected with physical health and spirituality. The most effective mechanism for improving the responsiveness of services and effectiveness of outcomes is to increase the involvement of, and control by, communities and locally-based organisations in the planning, coordination and provision of services.

Download your copy of our Submission to the Senate Economics References Committee’s inquiry into regional inequality in Australia