Fremantle Council backs Newstart rise

Sam Wainwright (Left) and Anti Poverty Network activists outside Fremantle Council.

Fremantle City Council agreed on May 23 to support a rise in the federal government’s Newstart Allowance paid to unemployed jobseekers, becoming the first local government in Western Australia to adopt this position.

Acting on a motion proposed by Councillor Sam Wainwright, council took this decision following the presentation of a petition of residents organised by Anti-Poverty Network Perth (APN). The petition called for Newstart to be raised to a level sufficient to allow recipients to live in dignity.

Fremantle Council joins 10 councils in South Australia and two in Victoria that have made similar calls.

APN’s Graham Hansen said: “While income support is a federal government responsibility, its failure to ensure that it is providing an allowance for people to live on places an enormous strain on the services and supports provided by state and local governments, as well as not-for-profits.

“Local governments need to stand against this jurisdictional ‘cost-shifting’ and join with us in pushing the federal government to increase income support. They also have an important role in amplifying the voices of their community and we commend the City of Fremantle for taking this action.

“Over 3 million Australians, including 731,000 children, are living in poverty. Increasing Newstart will make a real and meaningful difference in their lives.”

APN (WA) now intends to petition other councils to support a rise in Newstart.

At just $272.90 a week, Newstart has not been raised in real terms in 24 years. As a result, Newstart has not kept pace with the rising cost of living, losing much of the purchasing power it once had and propelling many recipients into dire poverty.

Recent research showed that Newstart and Commonwealth Rent Assistance are $96 a week short of meeting a basic standard of living for a single person. Anglicare’s Rental Affordability Snapshot found only three properties across the country that could be considered appropriate and affordable for a single person on Newstart.

As the new world of automation and robotisation approaches, periods of unemployment will likely become the norm for more people. The Coalition and Labor must recognise that a society that cannot provide employment for all who need it has an obligation to provide decent levels of income support.