The Opposition pledged at the 2019 election to an independent review of the JobSeeker rate (then called Newstart) when it was only $40 a day, with then-Labor leader Bill Shorten admitting the rate was too low.
The unemployment payment is currently worth roughly $642.70 a fortnight – around $46 a day – for a single person with no children, after the Federal Government last year agreed to permanently increase the fortnightly rate by $50.
Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh told a welfare sector forum on Tuesday that Labor had not committed to an increase and had no plan for an independent review “at this stage”.
Opposition health spokesperson Mark Butler argued this morning the party now has a “much more focused and more modest” agenda.
“We wouldn’t be able to deal with all of the damage done to the country over the last 10 years,” he told ABC RN Breakfast this morning.
“[We said] we would prioritise those things we could do in a focused and modest way if we were elected to government, things like making it cheaper and easier to see a doctor.”
He later added the party has been “very clear that we would not be able to take every single one of the almost 300 commitments we took to the last election to this election”.
Asked whether he would be able to live on $46 a day, Butler said: “I think we’ve all been very clear that the rate of the JobSeeker rate is a very difficult rate to live on in Australia.”
“That’s why we argued so hard for the increase of $50 a fortnight to be locked in and not see the government cut it back to the old rate of $40 a day,” he said.
Butler insisted Labor was still “very clearly focused still on the needs of Australians with fixed and low incomes”, highlighting the Opposition’s “strong social and affordable housing policy” along with reforms to childcare and TAFE.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese later sought to rebuff claims the party had dropped its commitment to a review, saying while Labor did not have a plan to raise the payment in its first budget, reviews would be conducted in subsequent years.
But he said a new Labor Government “can’t do everything” due to the nation’s increasing debt.
“If we are fortunate enough to form government, we will form government at a time where debt’s heading towards $1 trillion, whereby you can’t repair all of the damage,” he told reporters today.
But the move has already drawn criticism from social services groups and the Greens who have been calling for an increase in unemployment benefits.
Australian Council of Social Services CEO Cassandra Goldie, whose peak body has been calling for the unemployment rate to lift to at least $70 a day, questioned how “anyone [can] claim to care about the cost of living without addressing the inadequacy of JobSeeker”.
“The 1.5 million people struggling to survive on JobSeeker and other income support need hope that their lives matter, and clarity from the major parties and candidates that their incomes will be lifted,” she said in a statement.
“JobSeeker is just $46 a day, and completely inadequate to cover basic costs. And yet, neither the ALP nor the Coalition have committed to increasing these payments.
“People on JobSeeker must not be treated as a political football. It’s unacceptable they appear to be caught up in a scare campaign on budget deficits.”
Greens community affairs spokesperson Janet Rice labelled Labor’s decision “outrageous”.
“Labor are supposed to be the party of the working class, yet they are forcing millions of Australians into poverty,” she wrote on Twitter.
“The Greens is the only party committed to raising income support. In balance of power, we will fight for a liveable income guarantee of $88 a day.”
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