Barnaby Joyce may be a threat to PM Scott Morrison’s desire for Coalition unity in rejecting widespread calls for increasing the Newstart Allowance to assist the unemployed to find work.
But his outspoken support for the measure resonates with regional Australia, National Party heartland, and displays an empathy for the plight of isolated rural youth, which Scott Morrison tactlessly ignored by branding the Labor opposition policy on Newstart as “unfunded empathy”. It was a taunt that voters may not soon forget.
The Basic Newstart Allowance of about $288 dollars per week for Australian citizens over 22 years of age carries with it an obligation to be continually active in seeking work. Both major parties acknowledge the impossibility of it meeting modest cost of living requirements, let alone the cost of clothes and transport to job interviews.
The government position presented by Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz in the Q & A program on the 5th August 2019, was that the government could not afford the increase, and that the best form of welfare anyway is a job.
Of course, the Opposition policy supporting higher payments it took to the last election, and had not at that time been able to include in funding proposals, is quite academic now. Only the government can show that it cares sufficiently for the unemployed to perhaps forego a budget surplus it has been trumpeting.
The other consideration in the Newstart issue is access to employment opportunities in regional and urban areas. Is the government willing to effectively tackle this problem, and limit the migration of youth to the cities for work?