Social services minister slammed for ‘out-of-touch’ welfare comments
4 October 2019 at 4:02 pm
Community groups are demanding Social Services Minister Anne Ruston apologise and retract comments she made suggesting that raising Newstart would give drug dealers and pub owners more money.
Ruston made the comments at a community forum in South Australia, where single mothers explained how the low rate of Newstart was pushing them into poverty.
The minister for social services said increasing the payment was a simplistic solution to improving the lives of vulnerable people.
“We can’t just keep on adding money to this bucket, because we’re not making a difference,” Ruston said.
“Giving [people] more money would do absolutely nothing… probably all it would do is give drug dealers more money and give pubs more money.”
The Australian Council of Social Service on Thursday called for Ruston to retract the comments and apologise to Newstart recipients.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said it was unacceptable for a social services minister to show such a lack of understanding and empathy for the plight of people struggling to find work.
“The minister’s out-of-touch, inexcusable comments make it clear she needs to spend more time with people on Newstart, who are skipping meals, sleeping rough and going without the very basics in our wealthy country,” Goldie said.
“Instead of making irresponsible, stigmatising comments, the minister should focus on getting people through tough times by increasing Newstart, which 72 per cent of the community agrees is overdue.”
National Council of Single Mothers and their Children CEO Terese Edwards was at the forum, and said the minister’s comments were deplorable.
She said she asked Ruston to broker a meeting between the prime minister and Newstart recipients about the urgent need for a real increase to the payment after 25 years.
“People on Newstart, including 100,000 single parents trying to raise kids on next to nothing, should not have to put up with this sort of stigma while they’re doing everything they can to find paid work and make ends meet,” Edwards said.
Following the backlash, Ruston attempted to clarify her comments on Sky News.
She said reporting of her comments had been “misleading”.
“[I] made the comment that if somebody had an alcohol addiction, then giving them extra money on Newstart was more likely to result in that money being spent at a hotel,” she said.
“We need to come up with more inventive and innovative ways to deal with the barriers… that is what the government is absolutely focused on doing.”
Ruston isn’t the only government minister to come under fire for comments made about welfare.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also faced criticism for saying protesters disrupting traffic should have their payments cut and face mandatory jail sentences.
This call was backed by Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, who told The Australian “those who refuse to look for a job because they are too busy protesting may find they have their payments suspended”.
Minister Ruston’s office declined to comment when contacted by Pro Bono News.