Nationals MP and inescapable political artefact Barnaby Joyce has called for a conditional increase to the Newstart welfare payment, breaking with the Coalition’s stance on an issue impacting thousands of young Aussies.
Speaking to The Australian, the one-time Nationals leader and deputy prime minister said “Newstart is a hard life” for recipients living in rural communities.
Joyce said the payment, which has not been increased in real terms in 25 years, should be adjusted to reflect the power prices and a lack of public infrastructure away from major 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,” the New England representative said.
The Newstart payment, which entitles single jobseekers to $555.70 a fortnight, has long been criticised for leaving recipients in a state of financial turmoil. While the payment has essentially remained static for 25 years, it has been far outpaced by the rising cost of rent and utilities across the nation.
There are some caveats. Joyce’s comments seemed to reflect the idea that the payment should be indexed based on the geographical location of its recipients, and maintained tHe BeSt FoRm Of WeLfAre is just to go and GeT a JoB.
Still, the Australian Council of Social Services today broadly supported Joyce’s stance, adding that financial hardships are faced by Newstart recipients across the country.
“For people living in regional areas, often job searching requires access to a car and fuel,” said acting CEO Jacqui Phillips.
“For those in more urban areas, rent is even more expensive and there are public transport costs, on top of food, energy and other bills.”
Joyce joins Liberals Arthur Sinodinos and Matt Canavan in suggesting a lift to the payment, but the suggestion isn’t widely supported in the Coalition.
Before the May federal election, Nationals leader Michael McCormack said the payment should only be revisited “when we get better economic conditions as we put in more budget surpluses”.
After taking a Newstart ‘review’ platform to their election loss, some Labor Party backbenchers have again called for the rate to be jacked up by $75 a week – a stance wholly backed by the Greens.