More than 2.5 million Australians, or one in seven (13.9 percent), are living below the internationally accepted poverty line, a report released on Monday revealed.
The Australian Council of Social Service report draws on new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics Income and Expenditure surveys for 2011-12 and previous years. It found that that 603,000, or 17.7 percent of all children were living in poverty in Australia.
The poverty line is defined as 50 percent of median disposable income, which was 400 Australian dollars (346 U.S. dollars) a week in Australia.
"This is deeply disturbing and highlights the need for a national plan to tackle the scourge of poverty which diminishes us all in one of the wealthiest countries in the world," said CEO Cassandra Goldie of the council in a statement.
"In particular, the child poverty rate should be of deep concern to us all, with over a third (36.8 percent) of children in sole parent families living in poverty. This is due to the lower levels of employment among sole parent households, especially those with very young children, and the low level of social security payments for these families."
The report found that poverty is concentrated among the groups of people facing the most disadvantage and barriers to fully participating in the community, including the unemployed (61.2 percent) and those in a household that relies on social security as its main source of income (40.1 percent).
"This finding brings into focus the sheer inadequacy of these allowance payments which fall well below the poverty line," Goldie said.
The report also found higher levels of poverty among people born in countries where the main language is not English (18.8 percent), which is much higher than those born overseas in an English speaking country (11.4 percent), or in Australia (11.6 percent).
Although workers in paid employment face a lower risk of poverty, they form one third (33.2 percent) of all people below the 50 percent poverty line, the report said. It is likely that most of these are either employed part time or supporting dependent children on a low wage.
"These overall findings are a wake-up call for us as a community and shine a spotlight on the current policy direction of the federal government. It provides an opportunity for the government to work with the whole community to reconfigure its first budget and national policy priorities around the urgent need to address poverty in Australia," Goldie said.