Pressure to boost Newstart grows with launch of Senate inquiry
25 July 2019 at 4:23 pm
The Senate will hold an inquiry into Newstart amid growing calls within Parliament for the payment to be increased.
A joint Labor-Greens motion to establish an inquiry passed on Thursday after winning crossbench support.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert – whose bill to raise Newstart by $75 a week was recently rejected – said it was pleasing to see some concrete action on the issue.
“This week we’ve had people from all sides of politics come out in support of an increase to Newstart which has not had a real term increase since 1994,” Siewert said.
“It is vital that the government pay close attention to this inquiry where we will hear from the community on what it is like to survive on Newstart. Their refusal to raise the rate is out of step with community expectations.”
The inquiry will examine the rate of payment and look at alternative ways to set the level of income support in Australia.
It will also explore the changing nature of work, and the impact of location, age and other characteristics on the number of people receiving welfare.
The Greens also this week passed a Senate motion urging the government to immediately increase Newstart.
While the Morrison government remains steadfastly opposed to raising the payment, several Coalition backbenchers – including former deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, Liberal Senator Dean Smith and Nationals Senator Matthew Canavan – have broken ranks to voice support for an increase.
Growing pressure from the raise the rate campaign has also led Labor to shift its official position from backing a review of the payment to calling for an increase.
Community groups meanwhile have expressed alarm at reports that a bipartisan call to increase Newstart was recently removed from a parliamentary report at the direction of the Morrison government.
Anglicare Australia’s acting executive director, Roland Manderson, said the political process had failed unemployed people for years and it was clear that governments could not be trusted to help vulnerable people. He said income support rates should be set by an independent body.
“Our sector has been calling for an independent income support commission for years – and the public agrees. 61 per cent of Australians polled by Anglicare Australia want these rates to be set independently of government,” Manderson said.
“If the government won’t listen to its own MPs, experts, and inquiries – or respect the evidence – then it’s time to hand the power over to someone who will.”
Australian Council of Social Service acting CEO Jacqueline Phillips said the alleged political interference was “outrageous”.
“Rather than trying to avoid the issue, the government should listen to the clear calls from the community, business sector and economists, for an increase to Newstart, which would reduce poverty, stimulate the economy and create jobs,” Phillips said.
The campaign welcomed another influential supporter on Thursday, with the Australian Medical Association backing a Newstart increase at the National Press Club.
“People on that allowance are experiencing significant stress and issues and that must have health impacts on their wellbeing,” AMA president Tony Bartone said.
“Clearly, if they are struggling, clearly, if it is insufficient to meet their needs, certainly from a health perspective, it makes sense to increase.”