By JULIETTE CAPOMOLLA and ELLINOR FRISTROM
Monash City Council has joined the fight to raise welfare payment Newstart by passing a motion in support of an increase.
To be eligible to receive the Newstart Allowance, Australians must be older than 22 but not eligible to receive the pension.
The fortnightly payment for singles is $555.70, amounting to a weekly budget of $277.85 and a daily budget of just below $40.
The payment has not been increased in real terms for about 25 years, despite singles earning less than $356.39 considered to be living below the poverty line.
Greens councillor Josh Fergeus submitted the motion to council after Monash University student Michelle Devlin helped rally the support of the community.
Ms Devlin created the campaign ‘Motion to publicly advocate for Newstart to be increased to the Henderson Poverty Line’ on website megaphone.org.au and received 432 signatures, just shy of her goal of 500.
“It’s an attack on lower income people when you make these sort of payments so low because it really condemns people to a life in poverty,” Ms Devlin said.
“Sentiments being pushed by people in the council have a lot more weight than random emails from people in the community."
Her campaign was inspired by the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU), which has been encouraging anti-poverty groups to lobby councils to publicly advocate increasing Newstart, together with the Australian Council of Social Service.
After failing to pass the motion previously, Cr Fergeus was successful this time around, with Monash City Council becoming one of 35 local councils across Australia to pass similar motions.
Cr Fergeus says motions from local councils are an effective method of raising issues in the Federal Parliament.
“I think in terms of passing that sort of motion, it does something two-fold," he said.
“It strengthens that momentum and that campaign in a national sense by adding our voice, but I think it also serves to bring issues of social justice front-and-centre for the local communities.”
In 2017, Monash City Council was one of the first local councils in Melbourne to pass a motion in support of marriage equality.
Cr Fergeus said people were now more aware of growing levels of inequality, as they encountered it more in everyday life.
“I think that people have a view that regardless or not of whether that payment is actually helping someone get into a job...they still have a right to have a life filled with dignity and to be able to interact with their community and be healthy and well.
“I think once people understand how little [the Allowance] actually is they get an idea that it's actually not possible to live on that amount of money.”
The Federal Government has dismissed the prospect of raising Newstart, despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledging the allowance was “modest” during parliamentary question time last month.