Armidale Regional Council has resolved to advocate, in writing to relevant federal government ministers, for the Newstart Allowance to be increased to the level of the Henderson Poverty Line. Letters will be sent to all NSW Federal Members and duty Senators, but debate on the matter was slightly longer than may have been expected.
In moving the resolution, Cr Debra O'Brien thanked Armidale Neighbourhood Centre manager Robbie Passmore for providing council with information about poverty in Armidale, during the earlier "Have Your Say" segment of the meeting.
There needs to be an increase to Newstart of about $150 per fortnight to bring recipients up to the poverty line.Robbie Passmore
Ms Passmore said Armidale was a microcosm of the state of our nation. Anglicare found that nationally, of 67,000 rental properties surveyed, just three were affordable for a young person receiving unemployment payment.
"You might be interested to know that in Armidale there were 923 Newstart recipients, and 1318 Youth Allowance recipients according to 2018 research by Deloittes Access Economics," Ms Passmore said.
"There are two regions, Coffs Harbour and New England that appear in the worst 20 places for youth unemployment, according to ABS data analysed by the Brotherhood of St Laurence.
"There needs to be an increase to Newstart of about $150 per fortnight to bring recipients up to the poverty line."
Ms Passmore said moral courage and personal integrity were required to speak up about issues that needed to be addressed.
Cr O'Brien said a single person on Newstart received about $275 per week, a rate she said had not been raised in real terms since 1996.
"Since then the cost of most things has increased ... and electricity has increased since 1996 by 292 per cent," Cr O'Brien said.
"It is now considered a national emergency, the number of people living in poverty. There are 3 million people living in poverty in Australia, including 739,000 children.
"Most of these can be defined as living in deep poverty, that's defined as $135 below the poverty line."
My concern here is the relevance in regard to local government.Cr Bradley Widders
She said as of two weeks ago, 21 councils had added their voices to the calls by businesses, unions and welfare groups to have Newstart increased.
Crs Dorothy Robinson and Margaret O'Connor spoke in favour of the motion, while Cr Bradley Widders said he would place his comments in the against column for the moment.
"My concern here is the relevance in regard to local government. Whether it's part of our role, and whether by supporting this we're stepping outside of our lane," Cr Widders said.
"I think what is more relevant for us is to get businesses to come here to create jobs and hope for these people who need to be on Newstart."
He said while he thought the reasons were valid, he wondered if it would be better if the Armidale Neighbourhood Centre wrote the letter themselves.
If this issue has been so pressing for the last 18 months, why has it only come to the surface now?Cr Peter Bailey
Cr Di Gray said she supported the motion in principal, but did agree with Cr Widders.
"I think this problem does go beyond the Newstart allowance," she said.
"I think it requires a far broader investigation, from a Federal level to a local level, of how we can support people to rise out of the poverty and homelessness existing in our community today."
Cr Bailey said he did not doubt the need, but found it extraordinary it had been raised during a Federal Election.
"If this issue has been so pressing for the last 18 months, why has it only come to the surface now?" Cr Bailey asked.
"Does this mean that the next time we have a matter concerning State or Federal government, as Cr Widders says, "go out of our lane" and start telling Federal or State governments how to dictate policy?
Representation is about making the case for all manner of people on all manner of issues.Cr Ian Tiley
"I think we have enough challenges in our own right here to deal with, without trying to be involved in policy development outside of local government."
Cr Ian Tiley asked Cr Bailey what better time was there to advocate a very pressing, serious issue than when the ear of all parties could be gained.
"We were legitimately elected as the 11 representatives of the people of Armidale Regional Council. We have a representational role that I don't think some of us understand," Cr Tiley said."
"Representation is about making the case for all manner of people on all manner of issues. This particular matter, as Robbie so plainly pointed out, is of dire consequence.
"I listened the other day in a Community Wellbeing Meeting to an Indian lady who told that committee how she was organising food for youth at the university who couldn't afford to eat. It's that basic, it's that simple. We have to stand to our full height, as representatives of this community and advocate where that's need, and we shouldn't equivocate about that."