Barnaby Joyce backs Newstart raise, saying rate needs to reflect geography | Australia news
The inadequate level of Newstart is designed to leave out-of-work Australians “increasingly miserable”, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty has warned.
Philip Alston, the brother of former Liberal senator and federal communications minister Richard Alston, weighed into the debate about the adequacy of unemployment benefits on Thursday, as former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce joined the ranks of those criticising the level of Newstart.
On Wednesday Labor MPs Mike Freelander and Nick Champion called for a $75 a week increase in the unemployment payment, which has been frozen at $275 a week for 25 years, a reduction of 40% in real terms according to the Australian Council of Social Services.
Philip Alston, who is in Australia to receive an honorary doctorate from the Australian Nation University, compared Australia’s approach with the intentional hardship caused by the United Kingdom’s benefits system, the subject of his scathing country report in November 2018.
“What the government is trying to do is say that work is the only way out of poverty,” Alston told ABC’s AM. “And what we’re going to do to make that happen is to make any form of government assistance like Newstart increasingly unsustainable.
“There’s going to be no incentive whatsoever no matter how badly off you are to stay on this allowance. That’s the mentality that’s behind it.”
Alston said it was “fine” for governments to prioritise employment but “there is always going to be a significant percentage of the population who are extremely badly off” and “simply can’t drop things and go out to work” because they suffer from family, mental health or other chronic problems.
“They’re gong to be left in increasingly miserable conditions which are not at all fitting for a rich, advanced country like Australia.”
On Thursday Joyce told the Australian newspaper that Newstart “is a hard life” and suggested reforming the payment to consider recipients’ geographical locations, to compensate them for higher costs of living in the regions and higher rents in capital cities.
“If someone’s on Newstart in a town like Woolbrook, it’s going to cost you $50 to go to Tamworth to do the groceries or go to a job interview,” Joyce reportedly said.
“They live in those places because the rent’s cheap but the rent’s cheap because it’s a long way from the services.”
The Morrison government has so far resisted calls to increase the rate of Newstart, with treasurer Josh Frydenberg citing the fact that more than 90% of recipients receive some other form of payment.
Many Newstart recipients receive a fortnightly energy supplement of just $8.80 a fortnight, and are also eligible for rent assistance of up to $137.20 a fortnight if living alone or $91.47 a fortnight if living in shared accommodation.
Alston also took aim at the third phase of the Coalition’s income tax cut package, which passed the Senate with Labor and crossbench support earlier in July.
The third phase will flatten the tax rate to 30% for all workers earning between $45,000 and $200,000 from 2024-25.
Alston said the third phase was “a very bad policy initiative” because it will tie the government’s hands years in advance, “hollow out” its revenues and have a “highly significant” impact on its ability to deliver services.
“Clearly the sort of tax cuts that are envisaged in phase three are going to have a huge impact on the governments ability to provide protection for the broader community … [such as] to ensure a functioning healthcare system.”
On Wednesday the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, defended Labor’s decision to pass the government’s $158bn income tax package, telling 5AA Radio that Labor had decided “to be defined by what we supported, rather than by what we opposed” by passing the cuts after failing to excise the third phase.
Albanese noted that changes legislated in 2018 – which Labor opposed – were already going to remove a tier from the tax scales in 2024-25 and the new income tax cut package merely reduced the rate of the new flattened tax bracket from 32.5% to 30%.
“It is just a fact that the flattening of the tax scales happened in 2018. Labor voted against it in the House of Reps and the Senate.”