Featured below is a transcript of Deputy Premier Jackie Trad’s speech to the Raise the Rate, Anti-Poverty Week Forum at Kurilpa Hall in West End. It was delivered as follows at 10.30am on 18 October 2019.
Also available for download is the presentation given by ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie – please click here.
Thank you Karyn Walsh and thank you Gaja Kerry for your Welcome to Country.
- Karyn Walsh CEO Micah Projects
- Dr Lewe Atkinson Chair of Micah Projects
- Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of Australian Council of Social Services
- Professor Karen Healy, University of Qld
- Krystal and Fiona (Panel with People with Lived Experience)
Thank you very much for inviting me to speak at this morning’s event. We are here today to recognise Anti-Poverty Week. To increase the understanding of poverty. And to stimulate the conversations around collective action to end it.
Anti-Poverty Week gives us the opportunity to highlight the challenges faced by the thousands of Queenslanders and Australians who are at risk of, and living in poverty – and to challenge ourselves and each other to find solutions.
Now, in its 16th year, Anti-Poverty Week is an important opportunity to examine the issues of:
- financial hardship
- homelessness and
affecting Queenslanders right around the state.
The year’s theme is ‘Raise the Rate’. It is a topic I am particularly passionate about.
It is important to have this conversation now more than ever, given the cruelty that the federal government is inflicting on so many Australians.
To be honest, I struggle to understand how in a modern, civil society we are even having this debate. But the prominence of this issue in the national conversation is testament to the tireless work of the unemployed workers, activists and advocates in our community. I encourage you all to maintain the rage until the Morrison Government raises the rate!
It is incumbent on the Morrison Government to raise the rate of Newstart. It is no longer fit for purpose of assisting jobseekers into employment and out of poverty. Instead, it is providing unemployed workers with yet another obstacle to finding a job.
As Australians, we have a long and proud history of supporting our mates when they need it most. Queensland has long been at the forefront of supporting unemployed workers.
In 1923, under Labor Premier Ted Theodore, Queensland was the first Australian state to introduce legislated support for the unemployed, through the Unemployed Workers Insurance Act. It’s no surprise that Queensland took the lead on the initiative. We are the state, more than any other, where the concept of a fair go is a central tenet of our community expectations.
Ted Theodore’s scheme was vastly different to our national welfare support programs today. It was established as a co-contribution insurance scheme between workers, employers and government and limited to 15 weeks of support.
Despite its limitations, the Act provided a key platform for future reform on a national level. The Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time that both the Country and Labor parties had clauses in their platforms advocating for a system of national insurance against unemployment.
While hopes were high that a national approach would soon follow Queensland’s experiment, it would be more than 20 years before a national scheme would be put in place. And once again it was a Labor government that implemented an historic social policy, this time for the national good.
As part of the Curtin Government’s drive for a more egalitarian Australia, the Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Act was passed in 1944 and came into effect on 1 July 1945. Men between 16 and 65 and women between 16 and 60 were eligible, after a means test, to receive benefits.
Male and female adults aged 21 or over received 22 shillings a week. Singles aged between 18 and 20 received 20 shillings while singles under 18 received 15 shillings. Married men with a dependent wife could also get an extra 20 shillings. Payments continued for as long as the unemployment or sickness lasted but were subject to conditions around training and medical tests.
Over the years, the framework that supports Australians seeking work has evolved. But two things have remained constant – the expectation of a fair go and the idea that, as a nation, we will always support our fellow Australians who need it most. Sadly, we have reached a point where these values of a fair go and helping those who need it most have faded under this Federal Government.
Let’s be blunt – Newstart is too low. As a nation, we should be making sure that people who are looking for work have all the right tools at their disposal to make the most of their potential. Instead, we are having to fight to ensure they have enough money to simply survive day to day.
Newstart is not helping people into employment and a better future – it’s pushing them into poverty and actively preventing them from getting jobs. Suitable clothing for an interview, keeping a car on the road, paying for a mobile phone, buying tools for your trade – these are all necessities to finding and maintaining employment. But they are a pipedream if you can barely feed and house yourself on the meagre amount provided on Newstart.
We also need to consider the proposition that Newstart is simply a short-term solution for jobseekers. On average, people on Newstart have been on the payment for three years. Over 358,000 Australians have been on Newstart for more than two years. This means that poverty becomes even more entrenched, making progressively harder to break the cycle. For people who have recently been retrenched, it is incredibly difficult and stressful to get a new job quickly, while trying to rearrange the financial arrangements that make up everyday lives.
There are 1.9 million people in Australia who are classified by the ABS as wanting to work but who don’t have a job – and 677,000 who are formally unemployed. That compares with just 243,000 job vacancies.
Even for those jobs that are available, people looking for work can often find themselves living in the wrong area, or lacking the right skills to take advantage of those opportunities. As a state government, we are doing what we can to help jobseekers address these challenges. Our Back To Work program offers employers in regional areas $20,000 to hire a jobseeker. Our Skilling Queenslanders for Work initiative is a $420 million investment over six years to help 54,000 Queensland jobseekers get back into work.
Its training and support programs are particularly focused on:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
- Mature jobseekers;
- People with a disability
- Women re-entering the workforce;
- Veterans and ex-service personnel
- People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
- And young people, especially those in and transitioning from out-of-home care.
These measures will never entirely solve the challenge of geography, especially in a state as large as Queensland. Moving to find a new job is not a simple or cheap experience. For many people it is not just impractical but impossible because of family connections and obligations. You have to pay moving costs, the cost of breaking a lease, the cost of a new bond among other expenses. You simply cannot do that on $40 a day. It’s not as easy as blithely stating ‘the jobs are out there if you want them’, despite what many conservative commentators suggest.
The other issue that needs to be seriously addressed is the risk of older jobseekers being pushed into poverty. We know there are over 183,000 people over 55 who are on Newstart – that is more than one in four of all people on Newstart. Age discrimination is common and is faced by many job seekers. We also know that older women having a higher risk of finding themselves in living in poverty and homelessness. State Government statistics show that the number of women aged 55 or older, seeking assistance for homelessness, increased by 21 per cent between 2011 and 2017.
The average superannuation balance for women at retirement (aged 60-64) is already 42 per cent lower than it is for men. Even more disturbingly, one in three Queensland women will retire with no superannuation at all. It is unacceptable that older Australian women are being prevented from finding work and increasing their risk of poverty and homelessness over the matter of $75 per week.
CHALLENGE TO THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
Of course, there would be a cost to the Budget, and as Queensland’s Treasurer I understand the need to manage the government’s finances responsibly. It is up to the Federal Government to prioritise budget spending to meet the urgent need to increase the Newstart payment and lift people out of poverty. It’s not Labor who support an increase to the Newstart payment among social services and industry groups, there is widespread support for an increase.
An increase in the payment is supported by:
- the Business Council of Australia
- John Howard
- John Hewson
- Chris Richardson
- Ai Group
- The Council on the Ageing
- National Seniors
- the Local Government Association of Australia
- COSBOA, and
- the Small Business Association of Australia.
The Reserve Bank has also indicated support, with the Governor, Phillip Lowe, stating in answer to a question about the importance of increasing Newstart “anything at the moment that can boost income growth, I think, is good for the economy”.
The Senate recently passed a Labor-sponsored motion to increase Newstart. And Labor has set up a Senate Inquiry to look into what the Government should do – and to bust some of the myths the Government and conservative commentators keep putting forward.
Frankly, the Prime Minister needs to discard the talking points and explain to Australians why he has ruled out doing anything about the inadequacy of Newstart and the hardship it is causing. Scott Morrison needs to listen to former Liberal leaders and his own backbench – with Russell Broadbent, Dean Smith, Arthur Sinodinos, and Barnaby Joyce all calling for a boost to Newstart.
I think community attitudes are changing, which is why it is critical we have this conversation now. With structural economic change, age discrimination, low wage growth and rising job insecurity, the prospect of needing to get by on Newstart for any length of time is something that worries many people.
Of course, mutual obligation and job search and training requirements should be part of the social contract for receiving unemployment benefits. But we need a system that supports people through change, not punishes them when they are not to blame.