Anti-poverty activists criticise Labor’s job summit for being a talk fest

September 5, 2022
Anti-poverty activists, denied entry to the Jobs and Skills Summit, hold their protest outside Parliament House. Photo: Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union & Antipoverty Centre

The Antipoverty Centre and the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) wanted the federal government to hear directly from unemployed people and welfare recipients at its Jobs and Skills Summit (JSS).

But they were denied a permit for their “counter-summit” on September 2, so they instead read excerpts from those already struggling.

Antipoverty Centre spokesperson Jay Coonan described the summit results as “incredibly disappointing”.

“On the one hand [the federal government] are committed to give a raise to the wealthiest who don’t need it. While, on the other, they continue to deny people on social security a desperately-needed increase during a poverty crisis.”

Coonan said the coming white paper on employment “won’t put a roof over our heads or put food on our tables”.

Coonan said the government should focus on “decent, secure work for everyone who wants it” and “a liveable social safety net … vital to protect people from being forced into unsuitable, unsafe and underpaid work”.

Coonan said the “obsession” with “consensus” between unions and big business meant that “people who’ve never done a real day’s work in their life agree that poor people should continue to starve, to forego healthcare, to fall behind on bills, to be left without a safe place to live”.

AUWU spokesperson Jeremy Poxon criticised Labor for ruling out a rise in the JobSeeker payment.

He said the JSS “has been a cruel farce”. “While the government hob-knobs with billionaires and business leaders, they’ve now confirmed they will continue starving people on JobSeeker in the next federal budget.”

Social services minister Amanda Rishworth on September 5 said people on support payments are set to receive “the biggest increase to their payment in 30 years”.

But she was referring to the automatic indexation of payments to match the Consumer Price Index (CPI), not a real payment rise.

She and the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese have implied the rise is a decision by the government to “protect our most disadvantaged”.

In fact, the indexation will mean a rise of just $1.78 a day to the base rate of JobSeeker, hardly enough to make a difference to the “millions of people subjected to poverty payments”, the Antipoverty Centre said.

The rise “won’t even cover the cost of a loaf of bread”, the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) said. “While an extra $1.80 a day will help, the JobSeeker payment remains grossly inadequate to cover essentials.”

Once the indexation is applied, JobSeeker will sit at 45% below the latest poverty line figure of $611 per week. Youth Allowance, the payment for students under 25, is even lower and won’t be indexed until January. “The federal government must urgently increase JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and related payments in the October budget,” ACOSS said.

“We need a genuinely safe safety net and we need it now,” Coonan said.

“Lift all payments above the poverty line, then work with us to do the hard work of addressing the structural barriers to work facing so many of us who have relied on Centrelink payments long-term.”

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