A live debate is under way about whether the federal government will raise the rate of welfare payments, as pressure mounts from its own back bench as well as advocates and economists.
An open letter addressed to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and signed by more than 300 people said it was long past time to address the structural injustice of welfare payments.
Last week, the government’s economic inclusion committee recommended a substantial increase to the JobSeeker payment and related working age payments as a top priority.
Independent MP David Pocock, who pushed for the inclusion committee’s establishment, said he would be disappointed to see the government ignore expert advice in the budget which will be handed down in the second week of May.
“It shouldn’t take independents to negotiate a deal for the government to look after Australians. It’s frankly ridiculous,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Four government backbenchers Alicia Payne, Kate Thwaites, Louise Miller-Frost and Michelle Ananda-Rajah signed the open letter along with Liberal MP Bridget Archer, independents and Greens MPs on the cross bench.
Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said MPs supporting a push to raise the rate are listening to their communities.
“We now have the lowest unemployment payment in 50 years and Australia is a wealthy country,” she said.
“Let’s hope this is the budget that delivers on the promise that we actually won’t leave anybody behind.”
Dr Goldie said she was keenly watching every word from decision makers in the lead-up to the budget.
“This is a live debate … I don’t think (an increase) has been ruled out,” she said.
Mr Albanese said he understood the struggles people were facing due to the cost-of-living crisis, and the budget measures had not yet been finalised.
“I know what it is like to grow up in a household reliant upon a pension … and I know the pressure that can place people under,” he told reporters in Sydney.
“What we will be doing in the budget is balancing the need to provide cost-of-living relief for people while making sure we show restraint so we don’t add to inflationary pressure.”
Grattan Institute chief executive Danielle Wood, Australia Institute executive director Richard Denniss and former Treasury secretary Ken Henry were among the prominent economists who backed the call.
Dr Henry said the inclusion committee’s findings should not be a surprise, given several reports over the past decade had recommended a welfare increase.
He told ABC News it would be cruel not to increase JobSeeker in the upcoming budget.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil, human rights activist Craig Foster, Indigenous academic Megan Davis and Climate 200 founder Simon Holmes a Court also signed the open letter.
(Australian Associated Press)