Monday, August 29, 2016

Demand for rethink on Newstart Benefits

A former Liberal leader, a prominent comedian and an award-winning novelist are among those who have signed an open letter calling on the federal government to abandon plans to cut unemployment payments.

Thirty-four notable Australians – also including economists, academics and religious leaders – have put their names to the letter urging Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to change course on the Newstart benefit. They're also calling on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Labor to stand firm against the government's plans.

Former Liberal leader John Hewson, comedian Corinne Grant, Miles Franklin Prize-winner Anna Funder, businessman John Menadue and former politicians Carmen Lawrence and Cheryl Kernot have signed the letter.

Other signatories include economist David Morawetz, Uniting Church president Stuart McMillan and respected academics Barbara Pocock, Spencer Zifcak, Frank Stilwell, Marian Baird and John Buchanan.

The government plans to axe a supplement – introduced by Labor – for anyone who applies for Newstart after September 20.

But critics say cutting the supplement will create a two-tiered system in which the newly unemployed will be paid a record low of 32 per cent below the official poverty line.

The $1.4 billion cut was announced in this year's budget, going against the advice even of the Business Council of Australia which had previously argued Newstart "no longer meets a reasonable community standard of adequacy and may now be so low as to represent a barrier to employment".

The open letter – organised by the Australia Institute think tank – says cutting Newstart is bad economic and social policy.

"A government that plans to give more to the richest Australians while cutting support for people below the poverty line will only further entrench inequality in Australia," the letter says.

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