Newstart

How much bigger has Australia’s economy become since 1994? The answer, per head of population, seems to be: close to 50%. That’s not in current dollars, but adjusted for inflation. So can “Australia” (read: the big end of town) afford to raise the rate of Newstart payments — currently at a base rate of $273 a week for a single person — for the unemployed?

Here’s a novel idea: Instead of politicians voting themselves another pay rise, how about we give them a pay cut? A real pay cut. We ask them to do what a couple of million Australians are expected to do, week in and week out.

Currently more than 800,000 people are without paid work and are struggling to meet basic needs such as housing and food. There are countless stories of those living on welfare having to choose between paying a bill or eating a meal. Anyone who has been unemployed knows it costs money to seek employment, from printing your resumes to the cost of travel to interviews, appropriate clothing or a haircut. It is nearly impossible to look for paid work if you are homeless and hungry.

The wealthy and corporations got a visit from Santa Claus, but the rest of us got Scrooged again on Budget night.

A windfall in tax income — derived in part from higher than expected royalties and corporate taxes in the mining sector, owing to higher prices for iron ore, coal and oil — provided ideal conditions for the government’s pre-election budget.

There was never a chance that Treasurer Scott Morrison would use this windfall to boost social spending — that just wouldn’t accord with the Malcolm Turnbull government’s “trickle down” economics.

The City of Port Adelaide Enfield, in Adelaide's northern suburbs, made history on August 8 when it became the first local government in Australia to publicly advocate for the Newstart Allowance to be raised.

The motion, calling on Port Adelaide Enfield Council to lobby the federal government to raise Newstart, as well as produce a report into how council can assist local unemployed residents who are struggling, was sponsored by Councillor Michelle Hogan, and seconded by Councillor Peter Jamieson. It was passed by 11 votes to 2.

Recently Facebook reminded me of a “memory” of an article I posted three years ago. I had said that I was doing the happy dance because we were making progress and were finally being heard.

Whether it is welfare or wages, the income of youth and students seems to be under attack from the government and big business sectors.

From the beginning of this year, commencing students will no longer receive the start-up scholarship of $1025, paid in two instalments over the year. New students now have the option of applying for a start-up loan of the same amount, which, similarly to the HECS debt, will be repaid to the Australian Tax Office once their income reaches a certain level.

Young job seekers today are facing the toughest job market seen in Australia for more than 20 years. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, in September last year youth unemployment was 12.93%, after peaking at 14.43% in November 2014.

However, there are youth unemployment hotspots in the Northern Territory, Victorian suburbs, Adelaide, Cairns and North-West Tasmania with much higher rates.

This is how Tony Abbott explained the new work-for-the-dole measures in the latest federal budget to the Queensland Chamber of Commerce: “That person can do up to four weeks of work experience with your business, with a private sector business, without losing unemployment benefits so it gives you a chance to have a kind of try-before-you-buy look at unemployed people.”

The Anti-Poverty Network South Australia released this statement on May 11.

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This year marks the 21st anniversary of the last time Newstart Allowance was raised in real terms.

Since the 1994 federal budget, when Newstart was raised by a mere $2.95, the level of the payment has stagnated, falling increasingly behind the rest of community, and creating widespread poverty for unemployed people.

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