Conaghan defies party line to call for raise in NewStart

Photo: Ruby Pascoe
Photo: Ruby Pascoe

Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan says the minimum Newstart unemployment benefit of $280 a week is inadequate and he is calling on members of both sides of Federal Parliament to start a meaningful discussion on how it could be raised.

Mr Conaghan said he decided to make this call after listening to representatives from neighbourhood centres, charities and churches who say more people in Cowper are living below the poverty line.

"Because Newstart payments are tied to inflation the unemployment benefit hasn't been increased in any real terms for about 20 years," he said.

"I know the timing of my call isn't popular due to the unexpected pressures on the budget due to coronavirus and bushfire recovery costs, but I have to make this a priority because Newstart recipients are living below the poverty line.

"I hear of children regularly going to school without food and in Nambucca and Kempsey, according to a recent report by the New South Wales Council of Social Services, 41 per cent of kids under the age of 15 live below the poverty line.

"We need to start a genuine discussion on this now, in conjunction with the other measures we have been delivering to improve job prospects for people by lowering taxes and encouraging job growth."

Kempsey Neighbourhood Centre Manager Shirley Kent welcomed Mr Conaghan's advocacy on this issue.

"I welcome Mr Conaghan highlighting the need to raise Newstart payments," Ms Kent said.

"I am seeing an increase in the number of people coming to our centre in need of food and other basic needs. We would average 20-50 people a week coming in for food help and the majority of these people are on Newstart or another welfare benefit.

"Even basic private rental accommodation in Kempsey costs around $200 per week, so for someone receiving $280 in Newstart per week, there just isn't enough money left over for them to buy their food, petrol and other basic needs themselves.

"Our Neighbourhood Centre of course can't fix it all, but we assist people where we can and we provide meals, food packages and other services like financial counselling to people who want it with a great deal of care and dignity for those receiving it."

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