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Greens will push for $75 Newstart increase as Howard weighs in

The Guardian logo The Guardian 9/05/2018 Christopher Knaus

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A bill increasing Newstart by $75 per week will be placed before parliament later this year, as the Greens attempt to wedge Labor and capitalise on a growing push for change.

Former prime minister John Howard unexpectedly breathed new life into the campaign to increase the dole on Wednesday. Howard, speaking at a post-budget breakfast in Melbourne, said a 24-year freeze on the Newstart rate had “probably gone on too long”.

“Yeah, I think there is an argument about that, yeah I do,” Howard said. “I was in favour of freezing it when it happened, but I think the freeze has probably gone on too long.”

Howard’s comments add to a broadening consensus that Newstart is inadequate, and follow a similar assessment by Deloitte Access Economics last month. 

The Newstart payment has not increased in real terms since 1994, and sits at $40 a day for single recipients. Welfare advocates say it is at poverty levels, and is not enough to meet even the most basic costs of living.

Former Prime Minister John Howard. © AAP Image Former Prime Minister John Howard. Labor have already signalled they believe the payment is too low, as have key crossbench senators Tim Storer and Derryn Hinch.

The Greens have now announced they intend to reintroduce a bill increasing the single rate of Newstart by $75 per week.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert said the bill will be reintroduced in the second half of the year.

“It is time we stopped leaving struggling Australians behind and for Newstart to be increased to a level where jobseekers can live with some dignity,” Siewert said. “We are a kind and generous nation and to leave Australians trying to find a job languishing well below the poverty is a national shame.”

The Australian Council of Social Service (Acoss) led the pre-budget campaign to increase Newstart. Its chief executive, Cassandra Goldie, said a large number of people made it clear, via social media and by contacting her organisation, that they’d rather forgo their $10 per week tax cut to help the most disadvantaged.

“The treasurer said ‘people are asking us what’s in it for me?” Goldie told Guardian Australia, referring to Morrison’s budget speech.

“I think he’s got us wrong. I think what people ask is what’s in it for us as a community.”

On Wednesday, treasurer Scott Morrison defended the decision to leave Newstart untouched, saying 95% of recipients also received other forms of assistance or payments.

“Newstart is not intended to be a payment you live on, it supports you while you get yourself back into work,” he said.

“Our priority is to provide tax relief for working Australians and ensure we create a stronger economy so we can provide those people not in work with the best from welfare which can be provided, which is a job.”

Labor wants a comprehensive review of welfare payments before deciding on an increase to Newstart.

Senator Doug Cameron conceded the rate was currently too low to live on.

“You can’t live on $40 a day, Labor recognises that, Labor concedes that,” Cameron told the ABC. “We just want to make sure that we do the right thing across the whole system.”

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