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Wellbeing joins the bottom line

 Director of UnitingJustice Australia, Rev Elenie Poulos. Photo courtesy of Uniting Church of Australia Assemblyc

AUSTRALIA'S progress can't just be measured in dollars says UnitingJustice Australia Director Rev Elenie Poulos.

Participation, progress and better public policy are important long-term goals of the Australian National Development Index (ANDI), a collaboration of 40 leading community organisations, church groups (including the Uniting Church), businesses and universities to develop a national wellbeing index.

Journey asked Ms Poulos how ANDI will make a difference.

"The point of ANDI is to provide an alternative to GDP [Gross Domestic Product] as a view of Australia's progress – one that is based on indicators of wellbeing rather than that sort of gross measure, which is all about consumption and spending," she said.

The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) changed the way a lot of Australians view money and the outward trappings of success.

"The GFC highlighted for people that the system wasn't working. It kind of woke us up.

"The fact that there are banks that are too big to fail, I think, came as a shock."

The international movement to develop alternative measures of wellbeing and progress is not new.

"In fact, it probably goes back a couple of decades," says Ms Poulos.

"The OECD [the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] has a longstanding program, and is one of our partners in the ANDI project.

The partners are varied and range from the Uniting Church in Australia to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as well as the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Council of Social Service – what you might call the usual suspects – to business groups like Bendigo Bank.

On the way together

"One of the things that's special about ANDI is that it aims to be a participatory project that engages Australians in a conversation about what matters to them.

"Once we get past the pilot and the organisation is set up, the ANDI will begin to look at how Australia is progressing in certain broad areas of life, such as health, education, finance, the economy, the environment and happiness."

Ms Poulos says there are many long-term outcomes.

"One is community engagement: a national conversation that takes place regularly in local contexts and also online.

"Local community groups can log on to a website to get ANDI data and statistics for their region, which will be good information to which they can add their local knowledge to make good decisions."

Building a decent society

"Another outcome of ANDI will be a national conversation both in the media and on the ground.

"Eventually, ANDI will probably be a single number, so that as we now say the GDP's gone up 2% for the quarter, once every three months ANDI might release its own wellbeing index which might be, say, 2.

"Plus, every quarter might also see more detailed results released on a particular domain, such as health or education.

"We anticipate this feeding into public policy, with the outcome of better public policy in Australia, developed from our values and dreams about building a decent society, rather than on our economic bottom line.

"I think Australians are ready to hear policy conversation that is about how we make a better country, not just who can be a better manager of the economy.

"Both parties joined forces in October to reduce the single parenting payment.

"Single mothers are now going to be forced onto Newstart, which is just not enough.

"People who live on Newstart live in poverty in this country.

"The reasons are about balancing the budget.

"Now, balancing the budget is important and we need to act responsibly economically, but Australia is a very wealthy country and we have a lot of money to spend.

"ANDI will provide a good basis for discussions such as: What do we want to spend our money on?

"Do we want to spend our money on more submarines?

"Do we want to spend our money on growing our defence forces for imaginary wars?

"Or do we want to give it to people who struggle to put food on the table and give them a hand to get out there and find ways of participating in society?

"It's been very sad to see the polarised debate in this country on often really marginal issues that have become highly politicised – whereas we actually share a whole lot of values.

"Whether you're a unionist or a business person, or a church person or an atheist, when you say, 'What kind of society do we want to be?', it is amazing and brilliant how common the answers are.

"They're about people being able to raise their family in comfort, educational opportunities for their kids, good quality and accessible health care, an environment that's not plundered but one that's sustainable and can actually meet our needs, and also contributes economically to our wellbeing."

To find out more, visit andi.org.au.

Photo : Director of UnitingJustice Australia, Rev Elenie Poulos. Photo courtesy of Uniting Church of Australia Assemblyc