Adelaide Vicar General Fr Philip Marshall addressed the forum held in Mary MacKillop Plaza today and told about 50 people present that from a “faith and values” perspective the community had a duty to demand an increase to the current $273 a week allowance, which is $160 below the poverty line.
“Our capacity to love and be loved is what makes us human – our capacity to care for each other,” Fr Marshall told the gathering.
“We cannot be proud of ourselves in a community when we don’t care for each other, particularly when we leave behind those who don’t have the opportunities others have.
“In this country there are 800,000 people seeking 200,000 jobs, and on the present Newstart Allowance people are forced to make choices between paying the costs of housing or providing food for their children.”
Fr Marshall added that every man, woman and child deserves to receive the “dignity and resources” they need to lead a full human life, including the right for “basic fundamental economic capacity to live properly”.
“Newstart must be raised. It is an offence against our humanity, and an offence against people who matter absolutely and have every right to all that constitutes a human life, where people in most need are left so beneath the poverty line,” he said.
“All human beings, including the unemployed, have a right to a dignified life – anything else is a shame on us.”
Fr Marshall was one of five guest speakers to address the ‘flash’ forum which was organised by Frances Bedford MP. The event also included a special performance by the Adelaide Day Centre for people experiencing homelessness.
Other speakers included Pas Forgieone, State organiser of the Anti-Poverty Network who outlined how one third of the unemployed had skipped meals over the past year, half had turned off their heating and cooling to save money and 46 per cent had “unsustainable levels” of debt in order to survive.
While there was still a “long way to go” in securing a significant increase in Newstart, he believed the “tide is turning”.
“It feels like there has been a quantum leap forward over the past month. It’s a shift out of nowhere and suddenly momentum and voices from all over the place are in our corner, calling for a raise and it goes to show that we have to keep pushing,” he said.
That support includes 10 local councils advocating for an increase to Newstart, an issue out of their jurisdiction.
Deputy mayor of the Port Adelaide Enfield Council, Matt Osborne, told the forum that the number of Newstart recipients in the council area had increased by 42.5 per cent from 2011 to 2016 and the low rate of the allowance presents a “barrier to employment” and risks entrenching residents in “poverty and homelessness”.
Senator Sarah Hanson Young spoke of her personal experience of growing up in country Victoria where her parents were “on and off” Newstart throughout her childhood.
“I know what it means to not have enough money to pay the electricity bill, to not have enough money to get a new school uniform.”
She said she was disappointed with last week’s Budget which ignored a Newstart increase and also the Opposition’s response that left the allowance off its list.
Her views were also supported by Tung Ngo MLC who briefly addressed the gathering.
The forum follows calls earlier this month from Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, for an urgent increase in minimum wages and the Newstart Allowance.
“Wages have stagnated since 2012, while costs such as childcare, electricity, gas, health and education have increase between three and five times average consumer price increases,” Bishop Long said.
“Most families are feeling the pinch, but the most vulnerable, including the working poor, are finding it virtually impossible to make ends meet. Meanwhile, the Newstart Allowance has not increased in real terms since 1994.
“The common good will not be served unless we ensure the greatest support to those most in need.”
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