'It's Time' To Raise Newstart, Poverty Group Pleads
"Newstart is $40 a day. You can't survive on an income like that"
Labor is under pressure to back a substantial rise in the Newstart rate, with an anti-poverty group recording a cover of Gough Whitlam's iconic "It's Time" campaign song in its push to increase the welfare payment.
The Anti-Poverty Network South Australia, a community network advocating for those affected by poverty and unemployment, is calling for an increase in the Newstart rate by $100 a week.
The payment, for those aged over 22 and looking for work, is currently set at $272 a week for a single person -- far below the poverty line (defined as half the median income) of $426 a week.
Additionally, according to the Australian Council of Social Services, the Newstart rate has not increased in real terms in 24 years.
ACOSS and countless other social service organisations have been pushing for welfare payments to be increased as part of the 'Raise The Rate' campaign, and on Wednesday, Anti-Poverty Network SA shifted the pressure squarely onto the federal Labor party to back a rise.
The group organised a 60-person choir -- most of whom are currently or have previously been on Newstart -- to re-record Labor's iconic 1972 campaign song, altering some lyrics:
Time Oz Labor, For better wages Has been for ages Yes, It's Time Time for Newstart To give a real start One hundred more a week start Yes, It's Time
The group now plan to perform their version of the song outside Labor's national conference, to be held in Adelaide in December, to push party members to back a rise in the payment.
Pas Forgione, coordinator of the Anti-Poverty Network SA, said both Labor and the Coalition had dragged their feet on the issue.
"This is us saying to politicians on both sides, 'it's time, get on with it'. Newstart is $40 a day. You can't survive on an income like that for very long," he told ten daily.
"A lot of the people in the choir are actually on Newstart, so they've got skin in the game. They're skipping meals, can't afford dental care, have to go into debt to make ends meet. They're singing about their own lives."
Labor leader Bill Shorten committed to a "root and branch" review of welfare payments in May, but stopped short of endorsing increases if Labor wins the next election.
“I do think there’s a real problem for the government payments for the people at the very bottom of our society,” he said.
Tammy Headon, one of the choir members, has been on various welfare payments at points in her life. She said the Newstart rate was the hardest to survive on.
"None of them are easy to live on," she told ten daily.
"I've never felt as unable to provide the needs for my children. I was able to scrape by on other payments, but on Newstart it's completely disempowering to have that much less.
"It's a constant juggle, 'what's most important on the list this week?' It's never a good choice because you're choosing between essential things."
Forgione said "the time for reviews" into raising the rate was over, and pleaded for the major parties to commit to increasing welfare payments ahead of the next federal election, tipped for late this year or early next year.
"People have wondered where the 'fair go' has gone to," he said.
Headon said a $100 weekly rise in the rate would make a huge difference to those on the lowest incomes.
"It has been so needed for such a long time," she said.
"Get it to a rate to empower people to make the positive changes they want to make.
"If people aren't empowered as individuals, it's hard to develop a strong functioning community."