Putting a $ value on life

In Malaysia last week, I happened to meet an Australian project manager working in Kuala Lumpur. He was horrified at the safety standards especially those covering migrant workers from Bangladesh. It turns out that when a company is liable for roughly $3500 USD if a Bangladeshi worker dies on site, the business case for acceptable safety standards becomes very hard to articulate.

Continue reading “Putting a $ value on life”

Labor’s big move during anti-poverty week

The verdict is in. With the latest Fairfax/Ipsos poll showing Malcolm Turnbull pretty much trashing Bill Shorten on every count of what Australia considers their PM should be, Labor’s desperate and quite pathetic attempt at smearing attracting attention to Malcolm Turnbull’s personal wealth and tax affairs has failed miserably.

It also gave Mr Turnbull a chance to demonstrate yet again that he has the gift of the gab:

“This country is built upon hard work, people having a go and enterprise. Some of us will be more successful than others. Some of us are fortunate in the turn of business. Some of us are fortunate in the intellect we inherit from our parents. There is a lot of luck in life, and that is why all of us should say, when we see somebody less fortunate than ourselves, ‘there but the grace of God goes me’.”

The unfortunate thing is that inequality and poverty are both increasing in Australia and last week being anti-poverty week would have been good timing for Labor to focus on how this government has done very little on both fronts. Instead, they opt for a policy-free personal attack.

Bravo, Bill, bravo!

PS: the paper on poverty by St Vincent de Paul, “Sick with Worry”, makes for harrowing reading. The society decided to focus on individual stories to paint a picture that statistics cannot easily tell: the misfortune and suffering of the poor. I guess that it is also an attempt to bring compassion back into the hearts of people who’ve had 2 years of the Abbott government and their media lackeys sinking the boot into the poor.

Why are there so many homeless in Melbourne?

Walking along Swanston Street today, I saw something that I’d never thought to see in Melbourne: a homeless mother, daughter and their cat camped on the sidewalk in front of a 7-11. I’ve seen the younger woman and her cat a number of times in the last few weeks. She normally has a post at the corner of Collins and Swanston in front of the Westpac branch, opposite the community kitchen that runs there all week. This was the first time that I’d seen her with an older woman – I’m not sure if she is her parent or not, I probably just want them to be together because that might mean they are less vulnerable together.

In another way, if they are related, I can’t help but see this as a sign that the situation of homelessness in Melbourne has got worse. Families encamped on footpaths is something I associate with India, a country with a per capita income of 5,350 PPP dollars (2013) (ranked 125) as opposed to Australia with a per capita income of 42,450 PPP dollars (2013) (ranked 15).

For a mother, daughter and family pet to be on the streets, a whole host of systemic failures must be occurring in our society. Even if these women have accommodation or shelter (which I hope), the fact that they have chosen to beg as a form of livelihood is a social issue and not something that should be dismissed.

I think that these two are only the most visible tip of a huge social crisis that is occurring under our noses. A couple of weeks ago I saw a young couple asleep together in their sleeping bags on Swanston Street in front of another 7-11 (7-11 never mind its exploitative labor practices must provide a fair amount of safety to and acceptance of the homeless). And it seems to me that every week, the numbers and type of homeless in Melbourne is increasing.

How can this sort of thing be happening in such a wealthy country, in the most “liveable city in the world” with so many empty apartments?


Peter Saunders from the Centre for Independent Studies releases not just one but two Issue Analysis papers on the St Vincent paper on inequality. For those interested, the papers can be found here and here.

This is a little late perhaps as it all took place last month but I’ve only just got around to putting it up for the sake of completeness seeing as I was writing about it a bit when St Vincent’s first published their paper.


Ok, so the measurement and definition of poverty is a huge controversial field with scholars, politicians and social welfare groups disagreeing with each other about it.

The current measurement of poverty is the Henderson Poverty Line (HPL) which estimated the poverty line in 1973 for a family of two adults, two dependent children, one full-time wage earner on the basic wage including child benefits (or family allowances). Since then, that original dollar figure has been updated quarterly by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (MIESR) based on the movement of average weekly earnings over that time. The current weekly earnings figure for a family of four with one working person is $598 per week (including housing costs) disposable income which translates into $31,096 per year after tax. Assuming 20% is taken off by tax, this becomes $37,315 annual income (including family allowance). For a single person, this becomes $318.48 per week, $16,560.96 per year after tax, assuming 10% tax, $18,217.056.

I dont have a family so have no idea if that’s too little or too much but $318 a week after tax as the single person poverty line! Crickey! Luxury, that’s wot it is. Ok, I am notoriously tight but crikey!

The latest MIESR update can be found here.

So, it’s a relative measure based on data collected in 1979 then reasonably simple adjusted over that time. No investigation of underlying societal and economic changes. Interestingly enough, if the poverty line was adjusted based on CPI (which is more an absolute figure for purchasing power), the CPI adjusted poverty line would be on average 36% less than the current HPL measure.

I did find two interesting papers both by Prof Peter Saunders (director of the Social Policy Research Centre), one printed by the SPRC itself here and the other not quite as interesting or controversial making but still valuable one published by the ATO here.

The first is interesting in that he adjust the proportion of people below the HPL based on income, expenditure and hardship parameters (for example: Cannot afford a week’s holiday away from home each year). I wont bother repeating his findings here except using his adjusted values except that he finds the not surprising result of proportion of people below the poverty line falling remarkably. Whether his resulting figures are more accurate or not is hard to say.

The other thing of interest is that he finds the proportion of people below the poverty line more than halfed when he used half-median income as a new poverty line.

Anyway, it seems pretty clear to me that the HPL is inaccurate and needs to be modified. Poor and distrusted measurements result in the poverty question being swept under the rug with government finding it easy to say that people have become richer and opposition waving inflated poverty statisitcs. The question as to why, even though everyone seems to have criticised the HPL as a crap measure, a better measurement has not been created is mystifying to me.