Entrepreneur Dick Smith has joined the growing clamour for an increase to Newstart, urging the government to stop “dragging its heels”.
Mr Smith, who is one of Australia’s richest men, used an opinion piece in Wednesday’s Australian newspaper to reveal he was among those who backed a rise in the dole.
“The Prime Minister likes to talk about ‘having a go to get a go’, but I wonder if he really understands the great difficulty thousands of Australians have in finding a job,” he wrote.
Mr Smith said Newstart, which is paid at about $40 a day, and has not risen in real terms since 1994, was “not enough to feed and house a person, let alone to look presentable for job interviews or pay for the bus ticket or fuel to get to them”.
“I’m told that people have to skip meals, sleep rough, wear worn, old clothes – nobody wants to live like that, and they shouldn’t have to in a country such as Australia,” he said.
Mr Smith joins a sometimes unlikely alliance of support for a boost to Newstart.
The Business Council of Australia, the Country Women’s Association, the ACTU and the Australian Medical Association have all called for its increase – as have former prime minister John Howard, former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and independent MP Bob Katter.
The idea also has the backing of the Greens, Labor and several crossbench MPs, but has been repeatedly ruled out by the government.
“I’m not going to lead people on about this. You ask me ‘Are we increasing Newstart?’ Well the answer is ‘No, we are not’,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week.
“They believe the best form of welfare is a job and they believe that our welfare system should work as much for taxpayers as it does for those who benefit from it.”
But Mr Smith said the Newstart freeze had gone on far too long.
“Amazingly, half of those on Newstart are over 45. Many have decades of experience but get rejection after rejection in the modern jobs market,” he said.
In July, The New Daily revealed that people over 55 made up the largest group of Newstart recipients.
“Then there are young people who can’t get a go because they don’t have much experience and the low-skilled jobs are drying up as automation takes hold,” Mr Smith wrote.
“What they have in common is that they know there are more people looking for jobs than jobs available. When the government tells them the best form of welfare is a job, I bet most agree and say: ‘I know, that’s what I’m out there trying to get’.”
Mr Smith is a millionaire and philanthropist who revealed in July that he had received about $500,000 in franking credits 2016-17, and a further $250,000 in 2017-18.
“I can’t stop it. I think it’s outrageous for wealthy people to be getting money from the government,” he said at the time.
In Wednesday’s article, he said that raising Newstart by the projected $75 a week would cost $3 billion a year – less than a third of the cost of the government’s tax cuts for high-income earners.
“In fact, wealthy people like me could easily pay additional tax to cover the $3 billion required,” he said.
“I sincerely believe in the need to increase Newstart but the government is still dragging its heels … An increase isn’t just urgent, it’s overdue.