Independent MP David Pocock agreed to Labor’s new industrial relations bill only after it promised to set up an “independent” Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee to advise on JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and the aged pension.
The Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU), a peer-led advocacy group, was disappointed to discover that the “concessions” Pocock had spruiked in return for supporting the bill was for another advisory committee, when it is clear the rate needs to be raised in line with the Henderson poverty line — $88 a day.
Further, the advice of this new committee, which will be released publicly at least two weeks prior to each budget “will not be binding on Government”.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers talked up the committee as including “social security academic experts, representatives from key relevant advocacy organisations, unions, business peak bodies, the philanthropic sector and economists”.
The AUWU has written to Labor to demand that peer-led unemployment advocacy groups be included in the committee. It said it has expertise beyond what is captured in research and reports.
On December 16, social services minister Amanda Rishworth and Treasurer Jim Chalmers announced the committee’s interim membership. Its composition is narrow.
The AUWU’s plea for welfare recipients to be included has not been heeded.
The committee chair is former Labor Senator Jenny Macklin who, in 2013, dismissively said she could live on the then welfare rate of $35 a day.
Appointing a former Labor MP as chair also calls into question the advisory board’s independence.
Other members include five economics professors, three from the Australian National University, “philanthropists”, and Jennifer Westacott, from the Business Council of Australia.
Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) is the only appointee who has been batting for people living in poverty. The AUWU is calling on ACOSS to boycott the committee until Labor agrees to include peer-led unemployment advocacy groups.
The AUWU said on December 16 that it no longer had any “hope that this ‘independent’ Committee will give a tenth of a shit about making genuine change”.
“No Australian deserves misery, illness and death due to extreme poverty. Labor wasn’t wrong (when they were in opposition): no-one can live on Jobseeker.”
The AUWU said Labor could have “made a statement by choosing a true expert, someone with lived experience of poverty” to the committee.
It described the committee as a “farce: a hollow and distasteful piece of political theatre at the worst possible time of year”.