Community Support Renews Pressure on Major Parties to Raise Newstart
6 June 2018 at 5:56 pm
New polling has suggested more than two-thirds of Australians support raising Newstart, with community groups and political advocates putting pressure on the major parties to support lifting the payment.
Results from an Essential Poll released on Tuesday revealed that 68 per cent of people backed an increase to Newstart, which has not increased in real terms in 24 years.
The poll also found that 70 per cent of people totally agreed that “a fair government would raise the rate of Newstart, Youth Allowance and related payments to ensure everybody has enough to live on while they look for paid work”.
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), which has led a concerted push to raise the rate of Newstart, said these latest results highlighted strong community support for a welfare payment rise.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie called on the government to listen to the community and raise the rate of welfare payments.
“The vast majority of people in Australia support raising the rate of Newstart, Youth Allowance and related payments. The poll confirms that almost everyone agrees no one in Australia should go without basic essentials like food, healthcare, transport and power,” Goldie said.
“The Australian government can and should ensure that we can all live with dignity. It must do all it can to ensure that we can all put food on the table, including when we’re looking for paid work, studying, caring for children or suffering an illness.”
The Coalition government controversially failed to raise the rate of Newstart in this year’s federal budget.
The Labor Party meanwhile, has acknowledged a “problem” with the level of payment, but has committed only to reviewing the system if elected.
“I do think that there is a real problem for the government payments to people at the very bottom of our society,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said in May.
“That is why Labor has proposed having a root and branch review of our government payments system on Newstart and like-minded allowances and payments.
“There’s no doubt that there is a problem with the payment level, and what we need to do, is we need to review it to see what is appropriate.”
However Australian Capital Territory chief minister Andrew Barr, who leads the ACT Labor Party, broke ranks with the federal party this week to urge for Newstart to be raised.
“At just $273 a week – some $400 less than the national minimum wage – the current rate of Newstart is too low to help people get back on their feet when they end up out of work,” Barr told the ACT Legislative Assembly.
“Instead, it simply traps them in disadvantage.”
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert – who will soon present a bill to raise Newstart – has used Barr’s comments to put pressure on the federal Labor Party to commit to raising the payment.
“Mr Barr can see like most that Newstart is far too low to survive off and it needs to be increased if unemployed Australians are genuinely going to be supported into finding work,” Siewert said.
“Bill Shorten and the federal Labor Party need to show some courage and admit what we all know, that the payment has to increase so people can survive on it with some dignity.
“I urge the federal Labor Party and Bill Shorten to get off the fence and support my bill to increase Newstart by $75 a week rather than promising a ‘review’ of the payment if elected. For too long the payment has not increased and it is time the Labor Party did the right thing.”
ACOSS also raised concerns on Wednesday about the government’s planned tax cuts, on the day a Senate Committee held its only hearing to discuss the tax legislation.
Goldie said it was extraordinary that the fate of the cuts were being decided in a single day of hearings, without full details of the annual cost of the tax cuts, and its effect on services like Newstart.
“This income tax package comes at a time when our budget is in a much worse position than in 2007 and the gaps in essential services such as aged care, health, and Newstart are wider than they were in 2007,” she said.
“This is the time for cautious, responsible budgeting, not a reckless tax cut auction.”