NEWSTART ADEQUACY

"We cannot turn our backs on the unemployed and leave them to battle with inadequate support, as has been the case for far too long."


I rise today because I am sick and tired of the attitudes in this building, in some elements of the media and in some elements of the community which seem to equate those who are unemployed with bludgers, with leaners, with those who are just lazy and aren't getting up and doing anything to help themselves.

That kind of attitude leads to us turning our backs on families who are living in poverty and, too often, are cases of intergenerational welfare dependency. So I want to address the issue of Newstart and its adequacy, because to just dismiss this issue, as we dismiss those who are unemployed, does no justice to any of us and certainly does no justice to the communities we represent.

I was recently approached by one of the councils in the electorate that I am so privileged to represent here. The Acting CEO of the Prospect council, Nathan Cunningham, wrote to me saying:

“We have listened to our residents, heard the stories of the difficulties of living on the current rate of Newstart and write this letter to advocate on behalf of our community … An inadequate income support level not only leads to poor health and wellbeing for those who are unemployed or under employed, it is also a barrier to them finding employment and a drain on the local community …”

I can tell the Prospect council, I can tell the residents of Adelaide and I can tell this parliament that I absolutely agree. We cannot turn our backs on the unemployed and leave them to battle with inadequate support, as has been the case for far too long.

Recently we saw a stunt from the Greens on this issue—as we so often see, grandstanding, trying to send something out to their supporters but not actually achieving anything—when they introduced a bill to increase Newstart in the Senate, achieving nothing except creating some sort of false hope for some of the most vulnerable in our community. The Greens know, as each and every one of us here knows, that appropriation bills in the House of Representatives have to be introduced by a minister. They were never going to get action; it was all about political pointscoring.

It's time we talk about a course of action that will lead to increased support for those who need it. We know that, as has been the case so overwhelmingly, it is Labor who will lead the debate in this country on equality, it is Labor who will stand up for those in poverty and it is Labor that who stick up for people that have been left without a voice for far too long.

I'm very proud that Labor recognise the need to assess the adequacy of Newstart and have outlined a process to do just that. In some of the amazing work that Jenny Macklin has done we've identified that we need to assess Newstart against two fundamental objectives: (1) alleviating poverty and (2) encouraging work. We also need to consider the interaction of Newstart with other factors such as jobseeker support and requirements that are placed on individuals.

We know that the best way to bring about change and lift people out of poverty is through a thorough investigation—real action leading to real consequences. We know this because we have form in this regard. We set up the Harmer review, which saw a million Australians have their pensions increased and have additional support.

We have announced that we need an adequate investigation and review of the levels of Newstart. This is a particular issue of importance to me as a South Australian member. In my state too many people have found themselves unemployed as a result of transitions in our economy, meaning that longstanding industries have contracted or shut down, and too many people are struggling to get back into work and while living on the Newstart payments provided for them.

Unfortunately many of these people have been dealt a further blow in the recent state budget, where housing trust rents will increase massively for a number of people in our population.

To all of those people I say: we hear you. We on this side will act on Newstart and alleviating poverty.