Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 May 2020


Community Affairs References Committee; Report

5:13 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

In respect of the Community Affairs References Committee report Adequacy of Newstart and related payments and alternative mechanisms to determine the level of income support payments in Australia, I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I chaired this inquiry. I'll just call it the Newstart inquiry report because it has such a long title. This was tabled on 30 April and made 27 recommendations.

First off, I would particularly like to thank individuals with lived experience who took this brave step, because many people feel quite worried about talking about their personal experiences in front of a group of senators. I'd like to thank them most strongly and deeply for the time that they took explaining their lived experiences. For many it was very painful to basically relive the difficulties they are facing living on Newstart.

People talked to us about not being able to get their teeth fixed; about their health concerns; about not being able to afford the out-of-pocket expenses for medical appointments and not being able to adequately access mental health services; about choosing to forgo meals for themselves, sometimes only eating one meal a day so their children could eat; about not being able to send their children to school with lunches; about making choices about medication, including medication for their mental health; about forgoing their medication so their children could have medication; and about repeatedly trying to get the disability support pension because they had significant disabilities and did not meet the eligibility criteria or found the system so complex and hard to navigate. They talked about not being able to relate to Centrelink. Unfortunately, I have heard many of those experiences through my constituent office as well, and it really did reinforce for the committee that people are struggling and cannot survive on $40 a day.

We made 27 recommendations, because we looked at a range of issues when we were looking at the adequacy of Newstart. We overwhelmingly found that it was inadequate. The key thing that we looked at to begin with was the issue of poverty and people living in poverty. It was very clear that people on $40 a day are living in poverty. We looked at the fact that there is not a definition of 'poverty' in this country, so our first recommendation is: how about Australia defines what 'poverty' is? The second recommendation is about ensuring that people on income support payments do not live in poverty, which of course they do if they're living on Newstart or youth allowance, at $40 a day. We looked at the issues around Commonwealth rent assistance and recommended that that be looked at.

We also looked at the barriers that people face beyond poverty. As I mentioned, there are the out-of-pocket expenses for health care. We looked at the barriers that single parents face, particularly those that are struggling to survive on Newstart when their oldest child turns eight. We looked at the very specific barriers that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples face, and we make recommendations there. We also looked at the adequacy of our employment services and heard many accounts of people's concerns and the lack of support that they get from employment services and the need to improve those. We also looked at a range of other barriers, which I urge members of the Senate particularly to have a look at in the report. It outlines very clearly why the jobseeker rate—because Newstart, of course, is now the jobseeker payment—of $40 a day is so inadequate and also why the argument, 'You get plenty of other payments, so it's not too bad, folks—there's nothing to see here,' is just a fallacious argument. It really is a fallacious argument. We make a number of recommendations about how to address specific barriers. We make a recommendation to the Senate that we should be looking at another inquiry into health inequality, because we think that's a particularly important issue. We also make recommendations that the department look at the adequacy of support for young people and the adequacy of the payments.

The last recommendation we make is recommendation 27. How many times do we have to tell this place that the jobseeker payment of $40 a day is inadequate? I know people say, 'It's just another recommendation,' but read the report; see the arguments about why the payment is so inadequate. Read the lived experiences of Australians who are telling you from their hearts of their lived experience. You cannot deny people's lived experience. Read that and then see why recommendation 27 is that, once the coronavirus supplement ends, the rate of the jobseeker payment be increased so that people do not live in poverty.

Read the bit in the report that talks about the OECD relative measure of poverty, which finds that it is $1,012. This is extremely close to where we are right now with the jobseeker payment and the supplement, at $1,100. That's why we are so passionate in our support for retaining the current rate and for making sure that people are no longer living in poverty—because the current rate is above the rate of the OECD relative measure of poverty.

It is really essential that we do not condemn Australians on income support to living in poverty. Please read the report; please take on board their messages. Please read and understand people's lived experience. We need to retain the new rate of jobseeker so that this country is not condemning people to living in poverty. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.