Coalition faces internal pressure to raise Newstart
22 July 2019 at 5:22 pm
Liberal Senator Dean Smith has joined a growing chorus of Coalition figures calling for Newstart to be raised, amid another push from the Greens to increase the payment.
Smith told the Senate on Monday that Newstart – which has not risen in real terms since 1994 – should be lifted, noting this was a view shared by former Liberal prime minister John Howard and Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe.
“I am someone who believes the Newstart allowance amount must be more than reviewed – which was Labor’s lame position – it should be increased,” Smith said.
His comments came during a debate on a Greens’ private bill to raise the payment by $75 a week, which is an increase supported by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS).
Despite his personal support for an increase, Smith ruled out crossing party lines to vote for the bill, which he – along with several Labor senators – described as a “stunt” from the Greens.
Smith is not the only Coalition figure to voice support for a Newstart raise – with former deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos and Nationals Senator Matthew Canavan all calling for an increase.
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson and Katter’s Australian Party leader Bob Katter are also in support of Newstart being raised.
While Labor pledged to review the level of Newstart if it won office, its defeat in May’s federal election has left its position on Newstart unclear, although it admits the payment is too low.
In a wealthy county like Australia, no one should be living in poverty. But people on Newstart are forced to live below the poverty line on $40 a day #auspol
— Mehreen Faruqi (@MehreenFaruqi) July 21, 2019
The Morrison government meanwhile has remained steadfast in its opposition to an increase, with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann describing the payment as “transitional”.
“Most Australians who are on Newstart allowance are on that payment for a very short period,” Cormann told ABC Radio National.
“We are focused on getting Australians into work. We are focused on making sure that Australians are on Newstart allowance for as brief a period as possible.”
ACOSS released a “fact check brief” on Monday looking to dispel the Coalition’s argument that the payment was transitional, pointing out that two thirds of people on Newstart have received the payment for a year or longer.
It also noted that while the government was correct in saying 99 per cent of people on Newstart get other forms of welfare, this was only because recipients also receive an energy supplement of $4.40 a week.
This takes a single people’s weekly income to $282, or $40 a day.
ACOSS has welcomed Senator Smith’s support of a Newstart increase. Acting CEO Jacqueline Phillips said more political leaders were heeding the long-standing calls from the community and the business sector to finally raise the payment.
“The reality for people on Newstart is that they are in living in deep financial crisis that severely restricts their chance of finding paid work,” Phillips said.
“It is very hard to put your best foot forward in a job interview when you’re eating one meal a day, wearing worn-through clothing, and are worrying about how to pay rent.”
Without support from the major parties, the private members bill will not have the numbers to pass the Senate.
Senator Rachel Siewert – who introduced the bill – called on the Coalition and Labor to support the legislation.
“We then have to stop treating income support payments like a political football. An independent process for setting pensions and allowances is well overdue,” Siewert said.
“Labor and some in the Coalition are clearly feeling the heat when it comes to the abysmally low rate of Newstart, and those in Parliament who support an increase to Newstart should vote for it when they get the chance.”