Australia

Liberal MP breaks ranks to call for increase to Newstart

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Liberal senator Dean Smith has broken ranks with the federal government to call for an increase to the Newstart payment.

WA Senator Dean Smith has become the first Liberal MP to publicly back an increase to the Newstart rate, joining a growing chorus of welfare advocates, economists and a former prime minister pushing for an increase.

West Australian Senator Dean Smith on Monday broke ranks with the Morrison government, which is refusing to heed growing calls to lift welfare payments for the unemployed.

"I am someone who believes the Newstart allowance amount must be more than reviewed - which was Labor's lame position - it should be increased," Senator Smith told the upper house.

He said Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe and Liberal 'legend' Mr Howard had provided a "very powerful starting point" in the Newstart debate, which should weigh heavily on the coalition.

Liberal Senator Dean Smith speaks before the vote for the same-sex marriage bill in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, November 29, 2017. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Liberal Senator Dean Smith thinks the Newstart payment is too low.
AAP

"I do think that these matters should be top of mind. They do deserve careful consideration," Senator Smith said.

The central bank governor has said raising Newstart would help stimulate the economy, while Mr Howard has stated the payment should no longer be frozen.

His comments came during debate on a Greens' private bill to legislate a $75 a week increase to the payment, but Senator Smith stopped short of voting against party lines, describing the move as a "political stunt". 

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert moved a private members bill to increase the Newstart payment by $75 a week.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert moved a private members bill to increase the Newstart payment by $75 a week.
AAP

Greens senator Rachel Siewert's doomed private bill was debated for about an hour on Monday.

"Every vote for this bill is a vote for the unemployed, for those living in poverty, for members of our community doing it tough," she said.

Greens co-deputy leader Larissa Waters choked up while speaking about Labor dismissing the Newstart boost.

"This is real people we're talking about and it's very disappointing ... that hope is given up too early," she told parliament.

The government is resisting the growing pressure to raise the rate which has not risen beyond inflation since the mid-1990s. 

Last week, former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said the rate was so low some recipients may be forced to sell drugs for extra cash. 

Earlier, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson also demanded a boost to the rate.

"Yes, I do," Senator Hanson told reporters in Canberra on Monday, when asked if she wanted the Newstart allowance raised.

Senator Pauline Hanson is during the.swearing in of the Senate at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, 2 July 2019. (AAP Image/Sam Mooy) NO ARCHIVING
One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson says Newstart is too low.
AAP

The payment is $555.70 a fortnight for a single person without children, leaving job-seekers which is worth about $40 a day.

Liberal senator Wendy Askew led the government's rebuttal of raising the dole, repeating its mantra that "the best form of welfare is a job".

"You can't just wave a magic wand and give welfare recipients a few more dollars and say you've fixed the so-called poverty trap," she said.

Labor senator Pat Dodson said the situation would not change without the government supporting a Newstart increase.

"The rate of Newstart is obviously too low and the government needs to raise it. It's just not possible to live with dignity on $40 a day," he said.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has stressed the payment is "transitional".

"Most Australians who are on Newstart allowance are on that payment for a very short period," he told ABC radio.

But data from the department of social services shows the average time people receive Newstart is 156 weeks, or three years.

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