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Community Groups Dismayed at Labor’s Failure to Raise Newstart

17 December 2018 at 4:02 pm
Luke Michael
Labor’s failure to commit to raising Newstart at their national conference has been slammed by anti-poverty advocates, who say welfare recipients will needlessly struggle to survive if forced to continue living on $39 a day.

Luke Michael | 17 December 2018 at 4:02 pm


Community Groups Dismayed at Labor’s Failure to Raise Newstart
17 December 2018 at 4:02 pm

Labor’s failure to commit to raising Newstart at their national conference has been slammed by anti-poverty advocates, who say welfare recipients will needlessly struggle to survive if forced to continue living on $39 a day.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten told conference attendees on Monday that a Labor government would review, rather than immediately raise, the rate of the Newstart Allowance.

“If we are elected, a Labor government will initiate an urgent review into the inadequacy of Newstart payments, the first in a quarter of a century. We will ensure the review will be completed within 18 months,” Shorten said.

Some left faction members of the party, along with a number of community groups including Anti-Poverty Network SA, have pressured Labor to pass a motion to raise Newstart ­– which hasn’t increased in real terms since 1994.

The Australian Council of Social Service has led a campaign to raise the payment by $75 a week, after a Deloitte Access Economics report found while this would cost the budget $3.3 billion a year, it would also create 12,000 new jobs by 2020-21 and lift wages.

The call to raise Newstart has been supported by a diverse range of figures, from the Greens, to the Business Council of Australia and John Howard.

Polling suggests almost 70 per cent of the Australian public also support raising the payment from its current rate of $39 a day for single people with no children.

Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) media officer Jeremy Poxon told Pro Bono News while it was incredibly disappointing Labor ignored the pleas of anti-poverty advocates to raise the payment, it was not unexpected.

He said there was no need for Labor to review the payment, since research from community organisations had already proved beyond doubt the rate of Newstart was too low.

“We’ve done everything we can. We’ve almost chewed Labor’s food for them and done all the work for them on this,” Poxon said.

“Labor’s decision is incredibly disappointing. It makes us feel that Labor has to look after its own interests first, before it believes it can afford to commit to a policy that helps the lives of poor Australians.”

Poxon warned that around 770,000 Australians on Newstart – receiving little more than half of what someone working full-time on the minimum wage earns – could not afford to wait 18 months for the payment to be reviewed.

“These people are starving and struggling to make rent, and we know judging by a huge spike in homelessness that they are being driven out onto the streets and dying because of how low this payment is,” he said.

“It’s basically guaranteeing this will continue for no rational reason at all. More than half a million Australians will needlessly struggle to survive over those 18 months.”

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said Labor could not continue to keep people waiting in poverty any longer.

“People living in poverty have already been forced to bravely share their stories of struggle for years now – we don’t need to put them through this again to know that they desperately need this increase,” Goldie said.

“Labor didn’t need a review to commit to $73 billion (over 10 years) in personal income tax cuts for people lucky enough to have a job. This is about twice the cost of raising the rate of Newstart.”

ACOSS have urged Labor to implement a two-step reform – immediately increasing Newstart, Youth Allowance and other payments by $75 a week followed by a review.

“Anything other than a commitment to immediately deliver a substantial increase to Newstart will be a disgrace from the Labor opposition. You can’t be taken seriously about tackling inequality without providing this relief to people who have the very least in the country,” Goldie said.

Protestors from the Anti-Poverty Network SA converged on conference delegates at the Adelaide Convention Centre on Sunday, with a choir singing a reworked version of Gough Whitlam’s iconic political jingle “It’s Time”.

Anti-Poverty Network SA state coordinator Tammy Headon said Labor should commit to raising the payment by at least $100 a week,

“All I want for Christmas is a commitment to an immediate $100 raise from Labor, and a welfare system that treats people with dignity and respect. That way more of us could look forward to a happy new year,” Headon said.

The Greens also attacked Labor for failing to commit to a Newstart raise, and vowed to continue pushing for an urgent $75 a week increase to the payment.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said it was extremely disappointing and disheartening that Bill Shorten did not think addressing poverty was a priority.

“I ask Mr Shorten, how it is fair to force the people who cannot find work to live on payments as low as [$39] a day?” Siewert said.

“A commitment to a review is simply not good enough when people who have been living in poverty for a long time will be condemned to continue to live in poverty. There is clear evidence that increasing Newstart is socially and economically viable.”

Labor’s shadow assistant treasurer, Andrew Leigh, defended the opposition’s position on Monday.

He said a review was the most appropriate way of tackling the low rate of Newstart, like how the previous Labor government dealt with a pension increase.

“In 2007, we didn’t go to the election promising a dollar increase in the pension,” Leigh told Sky News.

“We promised to review… which delivered the biggest increase in pension in its 100 year history. And that’s the sort of process we will go through in assessing what the right level of Newstart should be.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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  • justif01 says:

    From a fairness point of view, it should be increased but I suppose if the ALP committed to a dollar amount then the LNP would say that it is financially “irresponsible” (although the LNP were more than happy to give the big end of town $35 billion in tax cuts over several years!). These welfare payments should be set by an independent panel to remove the politicisation that seems to always surround them. Having had personal experience with these payments I have no idea how you could survive for more than a few months on them and realistically have much hope of finding work.

  • Michael says:

    The question of if, when and by how much the Newstart Allowance should be increased is beyond the level of party politics. All the major political parties need to be involved in resolving this matter. It can and should be done by Christmas. There is more than adequate time available. Give these people some hope i.e. a significant increase in the Newstart Allowance. By opting for a review to be completed within 18 months if it wins office, the Labor Party is acting in a craven and irresponsible manner. It could and should take the high moral ground in this matter.

  • Diarmuid says:

    I suspect that labours promise of a review is more to do with political expediency rather than anything else. Instead of taking a moral leadership decision they have one eye on the election in 2019. And it is much like their stand on refugees and Adani. They fear “slipping up” before the polls. Visionary, authentic and compassionate leadership is lacking in our political discourse right now.

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