Why it’s time to rethink Newstart in Australia

Newstart has been in the news a lot recently, with plenty of stories about the difficulties everyday Australians face when trying to live off these government payments.

Most people have very, very strong opinions about Newstart – or as it was formerly known as, the ‘dole’.

There’s one camp that doesn’t want to see these payments increase, lest they encourage a slew of “dole bludgers” to ditch work in favour of easy, free money.


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In the other camp are those people who understand that life doesn’t always pan out the way we planned – and feel that in a country as prosperous as Australia, we should look after our people when they’re on Struggle Street.

People like Ricci Bartels, who appeared on ABC’s Q&A recently. A former manager, she is highly skilled and genuinely wants to work, but she was forced onto Newstart at the age of 62, after being retrenched by her former employer.

She has been unable to find a job for three years and is now living off the full-time Newstart allowance, which amounts to around $250-300 per week, depending on whether or not you have children.

That’s $300 to cover the rent or mortgage, groceries, petrol, electricity and other bills…

This is an impossible amount to live on as a functioning, adult member of society who actually wants the opportunity to participate in “life”.

When you’re living off no more than $300 per week, how can you afford to go to the movies? Buy a new pair of shoes? Or even treat yourself to a sushi roll for lunch?

I have a relative who has struggled with unemployment and underemployment over the last five years. She has a diagnosed mental illness that impacts her ability to work, but she desperately wants to find a full-time job – she just can’t land one.

In between jobs, she lives off Newstart, which doesn’t even cover her rent of $275 per week. When she does work, she loses her Newstart allowance… and tries to get ahead on her bills with her patchy, inconsistent casual income.

It’s a vicious cycle and one she’s unlikely to ever move forward from.

This is the reality for many people in Australia who are living on Newstart – which hasn’t been updated in real terms in 25 years.

Liberal MP Jason Falinski told Q&A: “We as a Government are doing as much as we possibly can to create a system that allow people to get as quickly from welfare to work as possible. We have a very highly targeted welfare system in this country. It has been very successful in ensuring poverty levels and inequality are kept low.”

That might be the official line – but the reality is far less optimistic.

What do you think: Should Newstart payments be increased? Or is the current amount more than adequate?