South Australians’ choice: Heat or eat?

South Australians are increasingly having to choose between heating their homes or putting food on the table, a report warns.

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More than 100,000 people seek out help from charity Foodbank every month, an increase of 21 per cent from last year, the organisation says in figures released on Monday.

Foodbank SA chief executive Greg Pattinson says the organisation partly blames the increase in demand on the state’s rising energy prices, with people having to decide to pay their bills or eat.

“There are plenty of stories of people who come in wanting food because they haven’t eaten for three or four days because they just can’t keep up with the bills,” Mr Pattinson said.

About one quarter of those seeking assistances are children and Mr Pattinson said the increased demand on the agency meant it was struggling.

“We know that we are missing people within the community simply because we can’t meet the growing need.”

The reports points to wider problem with 3.6 million Australians nationally experiencing food insecurity in the past 12 months, with nearly half of these people employed.

The organisation blames this on the cost of living including high rent costs, mortgage repayments and food itself becoming more expensive.

This week marks World Anti-Poverty Week and the South Australian Council of Social Service says the public needs to better understand the costs of being poor.

The poorest in the community must spend disproportionately more of their income on basic goods, senior policy officer Dr Greg Ogle said.

These “poverty premiums” are incurred because people cannot buy in bulk, access bank credit services or buy energy-saving technology like solar panels.

“We need to better understand the day-to-day struggles of those living in poverty and ensure that there is adequate support for the most vulnerable,” Dr Ogle said.

Govt, Labor offer competing views of world

The federal government and Labor opposition have gone head to head with competing foreign policy visions for Australia’s role in Asia.

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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop insisted government policy was independent as she addressed an Australian Institute of International Affairs conference in Canberra on Monday.

“We do not outsource our decisions to other countries,” she said in a thinly-veiled attack on recent Labor announcements.

Ms Bishop warned it would a “retrograde step” for Labor to axe her signature New Colombo Plan – a scholarship program that sends Australian university students to study and do internships in the Asia-Pacific region.

The region had acknowledged it was one of the most significant investment efforts by any Australian government to become more Asia literate and more engaged in Asia, she said.

However, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has previously hinted the program would be safe and potentially expanded.

She dismissed as “very light on substance” the opposition’s FutureAsia policy which Mr Bowen outlined in September.

The government’s foreign policy blueprint, to be released later in October, would chart a course for Australian engagement with the world over the next decade.

That decade will see the combined military budgets of Asian nations likely match the military spending of the United States for the first time in at least 100 years.

“Stability and security in Asia continues to depend on a United States-centric system of bilateral alliances and security relationships,” Ms Bishop said.

Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong stressed the importance of the Australia-China relationship in the context of a “disrupted world”.

“If we want to get it right with Asia, we need to get it right with China,” she told the conference.

The starting point in Australia’s relationship with the US and China should not be their place in the world as competitors, but Australia’s national interest.

“Labor’s policy will therefore not start or finish in deciding between China and the US, but instead, in continually deciding for us,” Senator Wong said.

“We need a step change in our thinking. Not tinkering, not gradualism, but a fundamental whole of government, indeed whole of nation, effort to deepen and broaden our engagement with Asia.”