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Local councils helping lift the unemployed

  • 30 November 2017


There have been substantial campaigns against the harsh proposals to change the income support system, particularly since the 2014 budget. Each time, these measures have been stopped only to reappear, zombie-like, a few months later in another bill.

The community sector, led by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), has lobbied and campaigned against the changes, and has been successful at stopping some of the proposals. Where they haven't been able to make a dent is in the campaign to raise the rate of Newstart. The Newstart payment is now $538.80 per fortnight, with rent assistance of $133.00 per fortnight if eligible. This is below the basic amount budgeted by a new low-income living wage, and well below the poverty line of 50 per cent of median income.

The campaign to raise Newstart has been going for longer than the one against the zombie welfare cuts and included building coalitions with unlikely bedfellows. The Business Council of Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and ACOSS came together in 2012 to lobby hard for an increase. More recently, the Public Health Association of Australia added its voice to concerns about the health impacts of living in poverty — as did KPMG in their agenda for reform — and the Brotherhood of St Laurence launched its Share the Pie campaign.

Yet in a recent speech, Minister for Social Services Christian Porter railed against the politics of envy, saying that 'more money in welfare payments (is) a lazy means of demonstrating more compassion' and dismissing calls to raise Newstart. Human Services Minister Alan Tudge went further, saying 'it is a good safety net to ensure that no one need go hungry or without clothing, shelter and the basics', despite evidence pointing to exactly that being the result. Tudge said he'd like business groups and the welfare lobby to 'examine the underlying issues of modern impoverishment as much as they argue for higher payments'.

Given the intransigence of the federal government, and the unlikely willingness of the opposition to do anything different, what should come next for the campaign to raise the rate of Newstart and give people living below the poverty line some hope?

In South Australia, a group of people living on income support is working together on a different kind of campaign. The Anti-Poverty Network of South Australia is 'a voice for and of people living in poverty' aiming to 'highlight the personal experiences