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Submission to the Inquiry into the Adequacy of Newstart and related payments and alternative mechanisms to determine the level of income support payments in Australia (PDF, 200 KB, 13 September 2019)
See all the submissions on the inquiry website.
This submission unintentionally became one of our longest to date. The terms of reference were extensive, and there was a lot to say about our income support system, which has become stingier and more punitive over the past couple of decades.
Newstart and Youth Allowance have only been indexed to account for inflation for the last 25 years, while housing costs have increased much faster. As a result, unless you consider housing an optional luxury, people on these payments have become increasingly worse off.
Our recommendations to the inquiry were as follows:
- Immediately increase Newstart by $75 per week, and Youth Allowance proportionally. This is the amount recommended by an independent review and subsequently supported by business groups, the Reserve Bank Governor, and politicians from across the political spectrum.
- Create an independent committee to set ongoing changes to these amounts, taking into account the real cost of living. Many other organisations made the same recommendation.
- Simplify processes for new job seekers by only referring those who need support to face-to-face meetings, and simplify income reporting.
- Abolish mutual obligation requirements. It's easy to feel that people should be "doing something in return", but the very point of income support is that people just plain need a certain amount of money to survive. Work For The Dole is often exploitative, and appears to be less effective than wage subsidies in helping people find work. Job search diaries may seem like a trivial task, but they suck time from small businesses who must repeatedly turn down the same local job seekers. Job snobbery is not a common phenomenon.
- End Robodebt. The government's automated debt recovery program has caused needless anxiety for 445,000 Australians, and yet one in six debts was reduced (some to zero) upon review. The scheme also costs about as much as it recovers.
- Abolish mandatory (or coercive) cashless welfare.
As the inquiry plays out, the absurd cruelty escalates: a Newstart recipient has had her payments suspended after speaking at a hearing. The expensive cashless welfare card "trial" looks set to be extended even though it was badly implemented and its outcomes were badly measured. The proposal to drug-test people on specific forms of income support has reared its ugly head again.
Our once-decent social support system is being attacked from all angles. The Science Party is proud to advocate for income support that is compassionate as well as backed by evidence in achieving its aim of improving people's lives.
Right now, there is furious agreement from progressives, conservatives, the business community, and the people most affected that Australia should raise the rate of income support to benefit us all.
UPDATE 2/1//2019: A link to the submission in PDF format was added. It was not shared initially as parliamentary committees usually request that submissions are not shared until they are published on the inquiry website.