Greens co-deputy leader Larissa Waters has delivered a powerful speech in the Senate this morning, urging her colleagues to do the right thing and raise Newstart.
Despite growing support from across the political spectrum including – if you can believe it – Barnaby Joyce, the government has continually shot down any discussion of raising the allowance.
The Senate spent an hour debating the Greens’ bill to raise Newstart by $75 a week, which has not increased beyond inflation since the mid-1990s.
In the opening minutes of her speech, Waters expressed her disappointment at hearing the debate being described as a waste of time by her colleagues.
“What’s the point of parliament if we’re not here to advocate for the right thing to do,” she said. “To help people and to argue our case for good policy measures that help genuine human beings.”
Waters praised both ACOSS and other community organisations who have long supported a raise in the Newstart Allowance. She also noted how people in the Nationals and people in the Labor ranks have openly called for an increase.
So I just don’t accept that it is a waste of time for us to be continuing to raise this [discussion], and to put forward the actual experiences of people who are being forced to live so far below the poverty line, it is beyond a lack of dignity – it is a crime in my view.
I think that’s a really important task for us. That is how we convince people to change their minds, to do the right thing, and to step up and act like a government. And act in the interest of people.
“We have three million Australians that are living in poverty, below the poverty line, on Newstart,” Waters continued. “You want economic stimulus? Even if you don’t care about the human face of these people and it’s pretty clear you haven’t so far – you want economic stimulus? Lift Newstart.
“These people are desperate to spend that money because they don’t actually have enough money to reach their basic needs. I’m sure they want a secondhand pair of shoes to go to that interview, I’m sure they want the bus fare or the petrol money to get to that interview or I’m sure they want to buy their child lunch for school,” Waters said, tearing up.
“It’s very disappointing that hope is given up too early. We will not give up fighting for this and more and more people are going to join the call for this. I think it’s inevitable. We will get an increase in Newstart.”
Waters added that no one can live on $40 a day – “let alone for the average of three years that we condemn people to live on it for.”
“I am very embarrassed by the agenda of this government,” she said. “And I think it brings the entire institution into disrepute when we see massive tax cuts handed out to wealthy people, massive corporate tax cuts, favours done for big donors, and ordinary Australians and the environment on which we all rely utterly neglected, and derided, and degraded.
“The cheek of you. Have some dignity, have some compassion, and please reflect on what your role is in this place.”