Newstart Allowance

In Parliament, Matters of Interest, Speeches

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. T.T. Ngo: 

That this council— 

1. Recognises that all Australian jobseekers deserve adequate income support to maintain a decent standard of living and have access to resources to look for work, which enables and supports recipients to transition to paid work as soon as possible; 

2. Supports a root and branch review and measures which seek to increase and enhance Newstart and other related welfare payments, which adequately addresses the current level of poverty among Australian jobseekers; 

3. Acknowledges the work of the Anti-Poverty Network South Australia, for its advocacy in this policy area; 

4. Recognises that the Turnbull Liberal government, in its most recent Federal budget, failed to address this issue and calls on it to immediately undertake a root and branch review; and 

5. Recognises the last rise in Newstart occurred in 1994 under the Keating Labor government. 

(Continued from 19 September 2018.) 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (18:02): I rise to speak to this motion, largely in support but not entirely in support, and foreshadow that I will seek to amend it. I commend the Hon. Tung Ngo for bringing this issue before this place. I commend all members who are turning their attention to the issue of poverty, the growing inequality in our country and, indeed, the absolute fact that the Newstart Allowance has not been raised in real terms since the 1994 federal budget. Newstart is now somewhere around 18 per cent of the average wage, 41 per cent of the minimum wage, and that low rate is profoundly affecting the wellbeing of many people in our state, making it harder for jobseekers to seek work. 

When 40 per cent of Newstart recipients are unable to pay their bills, when 46 per cent are only able to afford second-hand clothes most of the time, when 44 per cent have unsustainable levels of debt and owe more than they can afford, when a majority turn off their heating and cooling to save money, when 32 per cent skip meals, when 25 per cent are suffering from housing stress and a housing crisis, spending more than half of their income on that housing, when 20 per cent report not having enough money for those essentials like housing, food and electricity, and when 63 per cent report that their income has fallen well beyond the cost of their living in the past two years, those people are left in an incredibly precarious position. 

I note and foreshadow the fine work of the Anti-Poverty Network. When this motion was first put, there were 13 South Australian councils. There are now 15 South Australian councils that have taken on the issue of poverty in their advocacy, well beyond roads, rates and rubbish, as this state body, this Legislative Council, can also do on behalf of those in our community who are currently being failed by federal policies. 

I note and foreshadow that I will move the Greens amendment that echoes the first part of the Hon. Tung Ngo’s motion but deletes ‘Supports a root and branch review and measures which seek to increase and enhance Newstart and other welfare related payments, which adequately addresses the current level of poverty among Australian jobseekers’ as unnecessary and a stalling tactic, a very unfortunate outcome of the national Labor conference recently to recommend within the first 18 months of a Shorten government a so-called root and branch review, when we all know we need to raise the rate not undertake another review. 

My amendment would also acknowledge the specific call of Anti Poverty Network, that its advocacy in this area calls for an increase of $100 a week to Newstart and other related welfare payments. It would not call upon the federal government to also take a root and branch review; it would delete that provision. I indicate that the Hon. Frank Pangallo’s proposed amendment is not in any way in conflict with ours, and we will supporting that as an addition. 

Finally, I note—back in the seventies, think it was, certainly in the eighties—some of the old political posters—and I still have one on my wall—which I cannot repeat all of in this place because I am sure it would be most unparliamentary, and unfortunately is quite true, which is: ‘If these people are dole bludgers, then what the…are the idle rich?’ I have to say that I am sick of the demonisation of people as dole bludgers when we know that jobseekers are facing only one vacancy for every eight people looking for that position. There are not enough jobs to go around, but there is enough wealth to go round. 

Should we look at that increase of $100 per week to Newstart? It would cost quite a bit: $4.5 billion per year. Yet, if we scrapped negative gearing, that could gain us $15 billion. If we eliminated superannuation tax concessions for those on high incomes, that could gain us $10.5 billion. You would have more than enough to raise the rate of Newstart with no root and branch review, but simply redefine and reprioritise those we support the most in this community. With those few words, I commend the intent of the motion and look forward to further debate. I move: 

Leave out paragraph 2; 

In paragraph 3 leave out ‘in this policy area’ and insert ‘for an increase of at least $100 per week to Newstart and other related welfare payments’; 

Leave out paragraph 4; 

In paragraph 5 after ‘last’ insert ‘real’;