Politics

Even John Howard Thinks Centrelink’s Newstart Allowance Is Too Low And Should Be Increased

EVEN JOHN HOWARD.

John Howard and a bunch of business leaders have announced that even they think Newstart is too low and should be increased, and wow, how has welfare in this country sunk this low?

I think Greens senator Jordon Steele-John summed it up when he told the ABC “my god, if  John Howard is on board with an increase then Labor should be too.”

At a post-budget breakfast at PricewaterhouseCoopers yesterday, Howard said that while he was initially in favour of freezing Newstart, “I think the freeze has probably gone on too long”. By freeze, he means the 1994 decision to stop increasing Newstart with inflation, which means it’s stayed at the same level for over twenty years even though living costs have been rising steadily since.

The Australian Council of Social Services pointed out late last year that because of this, the weekly Newstart payment is well below the poverty line. It works out at around $40 a day, which only rich politicians seem to think is adequate to live on. People who’ve actually been on Newstart have been saying the situation is appalling for years. Just recently, top economists also slammed our welfare system as “unnecessarily cruel”.

Howard, though, was Prime Minister when the widely criticised Work for the Dole scheme was first introduced. He also presided over the Northern Territory Intervention, which featured welfare policies that micromanaged the spending of welfare recipients in Indigenous communities. In short, his track record on welfare is not one that demonstrates great respect or empathy for people on Centrelink payments — the fact that we’ve reached a point where even Howard agrees Newstart is way too low is pretty astonishing.

On top of that, he’s joined by people like the Business Council of Australia’s Chief Executive, who suggests that maybe we’ve reached a tipping point where the level of Newstart is actually low enough to register as appalling to people who don’t need it.

Not the government, of course — Scott Morrison refused to raise Newstart in this week’s federal budget — but Bill Shorten said Labour would “contemplate reviewing it”, and the Greens are gearing up to push for a $75-per-week increase. It’s about time.