Inequality 'not rising', says Liberal minister confronted by Newstart recipients
Welfare in Australia Inequality 'not rising', says Liberal minister confronted by Newstart recipients
Paul Fletcher and Laborâs Linda Burney questioned at welfare conference over lack of Newstart increase
New social services minister Paul Fletcher has been confronted by Newstart recipients about the historically low rate of the unemployment benefit, as he argued inequalit y in Australia was ânot risingâ at a conference on Monday.
In his first major speech since taking up the role, Fletcher told the Australian council of social service (Acoss) conference in Sydney that claims of rising inequality in Australia were âfactually inaccurateâ.
Fletcher, who was appointed in August, was later confronted by audience members who expressed frustration at the governmentâs refusal to raise the rate of Newstart payments. The benefit has not risen in real terms since 1994.
Ivan, a Newstart recipient who said he had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety but was still ânot good enough for the DSPâ, asked Fletcher about the economic benefits of lifting Newstart.Home ownership plummeting among Australia's young and poor, report finds Read more
Disability support pensioner Duncan Storrar, who made headlines for asking a question on Q&A, asked why the government did not have a yearly poverty report, which occurred while Bob Hawke was prime minister.
âIâd like to know whether the Liberal Party, or parliament, anyone in that big house in Canberra is going to sit down and work out a path out of poverty for us poor people who have to live in it year in and year out?â Storrar asked.
Fletcher said the governmentâs position on Newstart was âpretty well understoodâ and he did not plan to to âannounce any change to our positionâ.
Laborâs shadow minister for social services, Linda Burney, was also grilled over the oppositionâs failure to commit to an increase.
Burney described Laborâs position as ânot a difference of view, a difference of timingâ with Acoss. âThere is agreement across the Labor Party now that Newstart is not adequate.â
She said Laborâs commitment to review the payment would be âshortâ and ârigorousâ, would examine other payments, and allow her âto absolutely build the case for an increase in th e rate of Newstartâ.
She likened the review to the process that occurred during Gillard government that led to an increase in the pension.
Burney also twice said she expected the Newstart policy to be debated at the Labor conference later this year.
The Acoss chief executive, Cassandra Goldie, took issue with Fletcherâs speech, saying that âeven if in your version things arenât getting worse, they certainly arenât getting betterâ.
âWhat weâve heard in this room is the deep distress thatâs being caused [to] people who are on the very lowest incomes in the country,â she said.Inequality index: where are the world's most unequal countries? Read more
She also told Burney that Laborâs failure to make a pre-election commitment to increase Newstart while claiming it intended to tackle inequality in Australia âisnât good enoughâ.
Arguing that inequality was not rising, Fletcher cited minimal changes to the Gini coefficient since 2007 and the Melbourne Instituteâs Hilda survey since 2001.
Opponents argue that, measured over a few decades, the Gini coefficient shows inequality is the highest it has been for a generation. They also note the OECD has raised concerns about rising inequality in Australia.
Fletcher responded to a recent Acoss report that said more than three million Australians were living in poverty.
He noted the study tracked ârelative income povertyâ rather than âabsolute povertyâ.
âWhile it is an important measure it has its limitations,â Fletcher said.
âAn increase in relative poverty could indicate that real incomes at the bottom of the distribution are falling â" but it could equally mean they are holding up but there is strong growth in median or upper incomes.âTopics
- Welfare in Australia
- Linda Burney
- Australian politics
- Australian economy
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