It is illegal to beg for money in most Australian states -- WA, NSW and ACT are exempt -- but this is just the beginning of a far greater poverty crisis, TV host Waleed Aly said on Monday night.
The Project co-host delivered an impassioned Something We Should Talk About segment grilling the Federal Government on not only cutting funding to homelessness programs, but domestic violence shelters and failing to reduce unemployment rates in many states around the nation.
"Joe Hockey's now-infamous 2014 Budget slashed $70 million from community services programs and that is despite experts telling us that almost 120,000 people had to be turned away from homelessness shelters last year," Aly said on the program.
"That's 329 people every night being told they will have to find somewhere else to sleep. And of those desperate people, 36 percent are escaping domestic violence."
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This has left many more begging, he claimed.
"In South Australia, they hit a five-year high for arrests for people accused of begging. If they go to court they face a $250 fine. I'm not sure where they are supposed to get that money from. And South Australia isn't unique. In Melbourne, one legal service has reported clients coming to them with $50,000 in fines for begging."
The Project aired footage from 2012 of two homeless men allegedly being beaten by a cop, "for no valid reason at all", Aly claimed.
"Last week, one of the men was offered an out-of-court settlement for the police brutality. The other one might have been offered the same but he has gone missing. Which is not surprising, by the way, because being homeless is dangerous. Another homeless man was found last week drowned in Adelaide's River Torrens and we still don't know who he is," Aly said.
"So, here's a thought -- maybe the reason that we're treating homeless people this way isn't that we're worried about fuelling their drug habit or prolonging their cycle of poverty. Otherwise, we wouldn't be cutting funding to the services that would address those very problems.
"Maybe, it's the same sense of injustice in this video that makes each of us recoil, that is the thing that we don't want to face. Maybe the reason we're punishing the homeless for begging us for help isn't because we object to taking some coins out of our pocket. Maybe our real objection is to the guilt we're forced to carry away with us when their poverty is rubbed in our face."