Malcolm Farr

Apr 17, 2012

Nobody said “NewStart” should be “comfortable”, Malcolm – but it should be sufficient to survive

The classic form of intellectual dishonesty: r

Pure Poison IconThe classic form of intellectual dishonesty: reframing your target’s argument to something she never argued, ignoring her point completely.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert is presently highlighting the inadequacy of the NewStart payment by attempting to live on it for a week:

“My first task this weekend was to sit down and map out the week” Senator Siewert said today.

“I set money aside to pay for power, gas and the smallest mobile phone credit recharge amount that would still keep my phone connected, in case an employer wanted to ring and offer me work. I also factored in all the bus tickets I will need to visit to my local Centrelink and Job Service Provider, as well as trips to apply for jobs and to the shops.

“After taking all of these essential costs into account, I went from having $17.15 a day down to just $10.11 a day for everything else – food, toiletries and cosmetics, emergencies and so on. My next job was to plan a week’s worth of meals and go shopping. I ended up spending $52 dollars on food that will need to last me for the week, which leaves me just $17 total, or around $2 per day for the rest of the week.

“If I had an emergency now – broken glasses, a car breakdown, an unexpected bill- anything like that, I would have to rely on savings, credit card or help from family or friends to get by.

Which of course are not available to many on NewStart (and any such help would need to be declared and reduce the next fortnight’s payment.)

So how does the Punch‘s Malcolm Farr respond?

You’re not meant to be comfortable on the dole

…[Siewert] clearly doesn’t think a life on welfare is a life well spent.

But I’m not sure that the dole, or New Start Allowance as the bureaucrats would have us call it, is intended to fund a particularly comfortable lifestyle.

Who said that it was? Siewert certainly didn’t.

Siewert’s criticism is not that it’s not “particularly comfortable”, but that NewStart is inadequate for what it’s supposed to do – enable people to survive whilst they can’t find work. Here’s ACOSS giving examples of how it actually makes it harder for people to find work, and locks them in to ever more permanent poverty:

You can’t afford to pay for public transport, you can’t afford to clothe yourself, to be able to present well to an interview and this is now a widely recognised problem in terms of workforce participation.

Yes, and good luck getting to that interview if as a result of this poverty you live in an area with no public transport and you can’t afford a car.

Basically, the reframing of Siewert’s argument as “the Dole should be comfortable” is completely misleading.

Farr completely ignores the point Siewert and ACOSS are making about how the payment is set so low that it actually makes it harder – if not nigh-on impossible – for people trapped on it to escape and find work.

But why bother addressing the actual issue when you can pretend it’s about Dole Bludgers Living It Up? That’s what your readers want to hear, so they can convince themselves they don’t need to care.

UPDATE: Other thing to keep in mind is that we’ve set up a system where the poor actually have to pay more for most things. If it’s available where they live, public transport costs more – and is much sparser and less frequent. If it isn’t, they have to run a car, which will usually be older and consequently cost more to run. Credit costs more, as they subsidise the rest of us who repay our credit within the free period. They’re discriminated against by real estate agents, so they have to pay more for less. Renting, and with no confidence that they’re not going to be given notice at any time with 60 days notice, they can’t sign up to two year contracts for things like phone or internet or other utilities, so have to pay more for those basic services. They can’t lower their bills by taking advantage of government assistance for things like solar panels or water tanks, because they don’t own their own house.

There is a poverty trap, and those of us who’ve never experienced it often don’t know how lucky we are, and how stuck are the poor.

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15 thoughts on “Nobody said “NewStart” should be “comfortable”, Malcolm – but it should be sufficient to survive

  1. NeoTheFatCat

    One of the weird things about the debate is the assumption that people on Newstart don’t deserve it, but people on the Age Pension have earned it. I once pointed out to my grandmother-in-law (well, one of them) that some people on the dole have paid taxes for years, and some pensioners never bothered to save for retirement. I suggested a ‘work for the age pension’ scheme, where the oldies could knit socks for our troops in Iraq etc, pack them food parcels etc in return for getting the pension.

    What a great argument that was!

  2. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    There’s another incentive for people to stay on Centrelink. Due to the organisation’s incompetence, they often overpay people, and this is considered “debt”. If clients stay on the system, Centrelink will deduct money from payments, but deductions can be negotiated. In contrast, if clients leave the system, then Centrelink will try to get the “debt” back in one lump sum, and go so far as to hire “professional” debt collectors.

  3. returnedman

    Oh, but Marilyn, don’t you know that Israel is RENOWNED for taking in SO MANY migrants and refugees for the ENTIRETY of its EXISTENCE?!? Pity POOR LITTLE ISRAEL and the MEDIA that is so BIASED against it!!!!1!

  4. shepherdmarilyn

    Here is one for the human rights activists who keep insisting that Israel is a rogue state.

    Gotta love Mark Regev and others who benefitted from the refugee convention to get protection here and elsewhere though.

  5. shepherdmarilyn

    I wonder if we could stop spending $1 billion jailing refugees and spread the money out on newstart.

  6. Aliar Jones

    As usual, the sprogs of the upper middle class and their parents (you know Alan Jones listeners and Andrew Bolt troglodytes) stay at home with their iphones and are the REAL dole bludgers whilst the other poor sods trying to exist independently on a pittance and receive the same scorn.

    Conservatives like to rail against the welfare state, but only because they’re not honest about where they like to direct the welfare..certainly not into the hands of the working poor or genuinely unemployed.

  7. Deziner

    @superking: you’re actually on the right track. It’s more comfortable to live on Newstart if you don’t look for work. Once you stop thinking about buying clothes to look nice in interviews, or catching public transport to actually attend them, things get a little easier. You only have to turn up to Centrelink once a fortnight to present some bogus job applications and you’re sweet.

    Of course it does get harder when you add in rates, especially rent. Once you’re having to pay for accommodation, say $100/week, there’s very little left over. You certainly can’t buy that pair of business shoes you need, or get that rotten tooth fixed to be more presentable, or anything that might actually improve your chances of getting a job. Not everybody lives rent free and has so much “suff” they can just eBay their way out of trouble.

    Thats why the currently level is a disincentive to find work. It’s sufficient for somebody who wants to bum around, but not for somebody seriously trying to get employment.

    Don’t even get me started on Youth Allowance and the abhorrent “HELP” scheme (maybe now defunct, maybe renamed, not sure), punishing poor students who need a little extra financial help by having them accrue a HECS-like debt double the amount they’re really borrowing. Borrow $4000 in one year to increase your fortnightly income by $150, and you’ll owe the government $8000 plus cpi.

    Successive governments’ attitudes to the unemployed, homeless, and poor students has been to kick them while they’re down and sucker them into a life of debt and destitution for the crime of being poor. Whatever to make upper- and middle-class people feel happy about their baby bonuses and family tax benefits and solar-panel rebates.

  8. superking

    I’ve been on Newstart, but haven’t had to pay rent. Rent is the killer. Otherwise I did quite nicely, thank you, had a ball. Contrary to belief it is very easy to get a mobile phone, landline phone and adsl on a plan, I had top of the range from Telstra with a brand new Samsung Galaxy II and Telstra’s idea of unlimited broadband, plus a horrible T-Hub, but that wasn’t Centrelink’s fault, the T-Hub is just horrible. The hard part about being on Newstart is dealing with the idiots at the Job Network offices and the amount of power they have to arrange with Centrelink to have your payments cut off, three missed appointments (even, I found if the appointment was cancelled by them) and Centrelink will cut you off for 2 solid months.

    The hassle of dealing with Centrelink who have a mind set that it’s all your fault and see themselves as on a crusade to prevent as many people as possible from getting anything, and the agencies who are staffed with the inept simply drive anybody with any wit to abuse the system. It’s hardly ever necessary to go into a Centrelink office now, and with so many Job Network providers there should be one fairly close, there’s at least four in my town of only 6000 people. So, plenty of time to spend down the beach, selling stuff on eBay and still looking for work. If I was renting then it would be a whole different story I’m sure, and sadly the people who most need the money are likely those who lack the ability to play the system effectively, but nonetheless this has been my experience and the experience of many people I have known.

  9. Liz A

    Maybe Malcolm et al should read this:

    [The U.S. does rank ahead of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia, but trails Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Tunisia in terms of the amount of income replaced by unemployment insurance.]

    Great, so you are better off being in TUNISIA if you are unemployed?

    in fact, if you “want” to be unemployed (cos lets face it its a choice right? /sarc) then you are best off in Portugal of you want some sun, Norway if you want skiing.

    In fact there are 42 options BETTER THAN AUSTRALIA… 42!!

  10. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Since the change in Green’s leadership I’ve done lots more reading than usual, including reading lots of comments on Crikey and a few on The Drum.

    What is shocking is the degree of ignorance, hatred, and passion of anti-green feeling in the comments. This is not just from some of the posts, but almost ALL of the anti-green posts.

    Any robust and fact based political discussion will always have differing views because people have different values. But it seems to me that the public discussion is now so dominated by spin and lies that rational reason is almost irrelevant.

    Lets see if there are any comments (here or elsewhere) against Siewert’s views on Newstart which are not just spin and lies.

  11. SHV


    News Ltd makes shit up???

  12. Eric Sykes

    “A spokesman for Federal Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said the allowance was “paid at a level so as not to act as a disincentive to find work”.”

    …yes Bill but, as Fran succinctly points out, it is in fact a disincentive, ’cause you can’t afford to look for work anyway…

  13. Fran Barlow

    Ironically, if you organise yourself on the basis that you are not going to find work, then your chances of living without life-altering discomfort on Newstart actually improve. People who spend Newstart money on things that would improve their chances of finding work are really gambling with their life chances.

    If you can find someone who can say you live there, and who will pick up your mail and pass on messages promptly, you can sleep rough and save quite a bit. Abandoned cars often provide pretty good shelter. The dumping bins at supermarkets and bakeries offer edible food if you can be poised to grab it as it’s being dumped. Timing is everything. Clothing bins sometimes have shoes and typically something that can serve as a blanket.

    So provided you live like an urban hunter gatherer and embracve that identity, you can survive. Of course, you won’t be ‘job-ready’ but you may actually be less depressed so in that sense, in greater comfort.

  14. Andrew McIntosh

    Individuals like Farr like to see people being punished for not being able to get a job. Makes them feel better about themselves for some sorry reason. Such issues always bring out the “best” in Australians.

  15. Jay

    Indeed. Can you imagine the brain implosions occurring if the allowance was increased (as it should be), and taken from say…middle class welfare.

    “You’re not meant to be comfortable on the dole”

    Ok Malcolm, but why are you meant to be comfortable on middle class welfare?

    Imagine welfare being set aside for those truly in need. And yes yes I know there are people that rort the system, but such is life. Generally most needy people are truly in need.

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