National protests have been held around the country to oppose changes to welfare payments for sole parents. The federal Labor government is forcing parents to switch to the Newstart allowance once their youngest child turns eight, leaving parents up to $140 a fortnight worse off.
A new group, the Single Parents Action Group (SPAG), coordinated protests across the country on February 5. Rallies took place in every state and territory.
In Sydney, about 100 people rallied at Martin Place. Event organiser Samantha Seymour said: "Moving single parents from Parenting Payment to Newstart Allowance when their youngest child turns eight years of age will have many well-documented negative impacts for single parent families. Such changes will have a ripple effect and the social ramifications are already horrendous."
In Newcastle, 30 people marched from the Centrelink office to local Labor MP Sharon Grierson’s office. Fifty people rallied in Perth outside Western Australia's parliament house and were supported by the Australian Services Union, the Greens and the Socialist Alliance.
Organiser of the Adelaide rally and SPAG Sherree Clay told Green Left Weekly: “The Single Parent Action Group was originally formed by a small group of single parents who planned on going to Canberra to hold a small protest, it was formed [in] November last year and grew so fast that it was decided that there was to be protests held in many cities.
“We don’t just fight for the rights of single parents, we fight for all low-income families and recipients of Newstart, including people who are single and don’t have kids. We will continue to fight for all causes that take away the basic rights of Australians — including poverty or social justice issues.”
Clay is a single mother and full-time student. When asked what the changes will mean for parents, Clay answered: “Parents who are students [were] also cut from the Pensioner Education Supplement one month before the Newstart changes came into effect. In December last year, the government also increased the JET [jobs, education and training] childcare fees for students 10-fold.
“As a student I stand to lose $300 a fortnight when my youngest turns eight in May. As there is no evening or weekend child care, I will struggle to find work to make up this loss. Students can switch to Austudy, however they then lose their healthcare card if they choose to do this.
“Many families who have been switched to Newstart have as little as $6 a week left after rent and power deductions to feed their children.
“Working parents must be working 35 hours a week. If they are not they are forced to either find a different job or take on a second job, they lose 40c to the dollar after earning $31 a week and the cut-off amount from Centrelink is ridiculously low. Regardless of how many children you have, there is no extra allowance to compensate this. It is all set for a single person rate.”
A speaker at the rally in Hobart, Linda Seaborn, said: “This policy is a Liberal party policy and Labor should be ashamed of themselves for pushing such an anti-Labor piece of legislation.
“The rationale for these changes is that it will motivate single parents to work. We are asked to believe that more financial penalties will motivate more people to work. How are sole parents being punished for working?
“What they lose in benefits when they earn money has changed. Parenting payment single recipients keep more for each dollar earned and have a higher threshold for earnings, before their benefits start being reduced and there’s a per-child adjustment.
“On Newstart the threshold for earnings is lower, there’s no adjustment for the number of children and the amount of the reduction is higher.”
Clay said: “The national protests we held this week went very well. We definitely will be holding more protests in the future. We won’t back down on this issue and as SPAG grows, they will become larger protests with more and more organisations on board and by our side.”