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SA Major Parties Urge Federal Government to Raise Newstart

7 December 2018 at 3:16 pm
Luke Michael
Both major parties in South Australia have agreed Newstart is “far too low” and are calling on the federal government to urgently increase the payment.

Luke Michael | 7 December 2018 at 3:16 pm


SA Major Parties Urge Federal Government to Raise Newstart
7 December 2018 at 3:16 pm

Both major parties in South Australia have agreed Newstart is “far too low” and are calling on the federal government to urgently increase the payment.      

An interim report from a South Australian parliamentary inquiry into poverty, released on Thursday, focused closely on issues related to the Newstart Allowance.

The committee – made up of Liberal, Labor, Greens and SA Best MPs – agreed the current rate of Newstart was too low, said raising the payment made good economic sense, and warned the state government and charities would bear the cost of helping vulnerable people if Newstart wasn’t lifted.  

This cross-party support for raising Newstart is a national first.  

The report’s first recommendation said the committee agreed with the overwhelming majority of inquiry submissions that Newstart was “far too low”.

“The committee calls on the federal government to make a meaningful increase to the rate of the Newstart Allowance (and other base allowances) as a matter of urgency,” the report said.

Evidence to the inquiry repeatedly stressed that Newstart – currently $275 a week for single people with no children – was well-below the state-based poverty line of $408 per week, as defined by the South Australian Council of Social Service.

SACOSS’ submission to the inquiry said more than 60,000 households in SA were living below the poverty line, making up 8.9 per cent of all SA households.

The committee also noted unemployment was not a temporary state for many people and that the longer the duration of unemployment, the more damaging the impact.

A 57-year-old woman explained in an inquiry submission that even with university qualifications and extensive experience in a variety of fields, she struggled as an older person to find work after losing her long-term job without warning.

“Being forced to depend on this payment for extensively long periods of time puts people into such a desperately severe state of extreme poverty that becomes impossible to recover from,” her submission said.

The social sector used the committee’s report to renew their calls for the federal government to raise the rate of Newstart by $75 a week.

SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley welcomed the committee’s cross-party support for increasing Newstart.

“This is the first time in Australia that we have seen this cross-party support for increasing Newstart and we congratulate the committee on listening to the voices of those in poverty, and putting their needs above partisan political debates,” Womersley said.

Australian Council of Social Service CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie echoed her SA counterpart, and said the committee joined a growing chorus of Australians who supported raising Newstart.

“Nationally, almost 70 per cent of the community, the majority of federal crossbench MPs, the Business Council of Australia and John Howard agree on the need to increase Newstart,” Goldie said.

“We’re calling on both of the major parties to commit to raising the rate of Newstart and Youth Allowance, which is the single most effective thing they can do to tackle the persistent poverty we have in Australia.”

Despite this growing support, both major parties at a federal level have refused to commit to raising the payment.

Speaking to Sky News on Thursday, Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher rebuked calls to raise Newstart, and said the government’s focus for people on Newstart was getting people “off the welfare rolls and into employment”.

He spruiked the Coalition’s efforts in reducing the number of welfare recipients by 230,000 since coming into government.

“Every time somebody moves from the welfare rolls… that’s a personal victory for them in terms of the sense of contribution [and this means a] better financial outcome for them, and a better financial outcome for the nation,” Fletcher said.

“And so that’s why what we’re focused on is creating more opportunities for people to move from welfare to work.”

The opposition has also refused to commit to raising Newstart, but Labor leader Bill Shorten promised to undertake “a root and branch review” of welfare payments if elected.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

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

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