House debates

Monday, 29 July 2019

Constituency Statements

Pensions and Benefits

10:41 am

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Technology and the Future of Work) Share this | Hansard source

I want to make a statement today about Newstart and I do so on the basis of a number of people who have recently come into contact with my electorate office but also three organisations in my community that are doing extraordinary work in helping people who are doing it toughest at the moment. They are Monash Oakleigh Community Support And Information Service, Monash-Waverley Community Information and Support and South East Community Links. Those organisations have asked me to speak about this incredibly important topic today.

I know all of us in this chamber agree that Australia is a great country. We're one of the wealthiest countries in the world and we're one that actually has one of the fairest and most efficient safety nets in the world. During most of our lifetime as Australians, we will rely on welfare. When we fall on hard times as human beings in this country, we access the safety net and welfare state, and most of us are lucky to come back out and get back on our feet. So it's a system that generally works well, but there is a problem, and that is that the rate of Newstart is just too low. In fact, it's the lowest unemployment payment in all of the OECD and I think that, as a country, we can do better.

In the last day or two, ACOSS has released some research that talks about the impact that the low rate of Newstart has on the people who depend on this payment. They talked about people who don't have enough food to eat who are going to organisations like those to which I've referred just to seek tins of food to help them get through. We heard there are people who are not buying refrigeratable foods so they can save on energy costs. There are people who are not heating their homes in winter. The low rate of Newstart has real consequences, and one of those is that most people who are on that payment live in poverty.

When you have the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and just about every other major business industry and welfare group on the same page, telling us that this rate is too low, we know that something is wrong. Newstart is $40 a day. It has not increased in real terms since the Keating government, and in that time the aged pension has, I believe, in real terms more than doubled. It's a paltry amount that is inadequate not only for those people on Newstart to live; indeed, the evidence tells us that, for those people who are relying on Newstart, the low rate is actually preventing them from getting a job. Basic things like grooming, having food to eat and transport to go to job interviews are being prohibited.

We want government to raise the rate. The government has said they want people to get a job. Of course employment is the best way out of poverty that we know, but the idea that the people on Newstart don't want to work is ridiculous. Unemployment is unfair. It is demeaning, and we need to do everything we can as a parliament to help those people get back on their feet and into work.

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