A Fight for $75 is a Fight for Freedom

26 June 2019

Last year, I had been accepted to study the Master of Social Policy at the University of Melbourne. It was something that I was encouraged to do by the Professor of my undergrad, the Bachelor of Youth Work at Victoria University, due to my academic achievement, passion for youth issues, and a commitment to social justice on a structural level. I felt ecstatic, even though I did see a bit of an irony., Three years of hard work only to be rewarded with a further laborious three years? 

However, that feeling was short- lived when I found out a few things. Firstly, under the ‘Student Assistance (Education Institutions and Courses) Determination 2019’ created by Federal Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher, my course is not approved for eligibility for the Centrelink Austudy Payment. This concerned me as while I had casual work during my time at Victoria University, the student welfare payments helped in these times of precarious employment. I opted to apply for the Newstart Allowance, and to study part-time to allow time for myself to be compliant to the ‘mutual obligations’ that come with the payment. I was, and still am, intending to find part time work yet the Foundation of Young Australians estimated in 2016 that it takes an average of 2.7 years for young people to find any work after full time study. 

Under Newstart, the payment colloquially referred to as ‘the dole’, recipients on average receive $550.20 per fortnight or $39 a day. It, along with other Centrelink unemployed benefits like the Youth Allowance($249 – $768 per fortnight, depending on the recipient’s living circumstances)hasn’t been fully reviewed since the Keating government increased payment rates according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in 1994. However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) records that the CPI for all groups in Australia have increased from 66.2 to 108.2 between March 1996 and March 2016. In layperson’s  terms, a litre of milk was $1.03, petrol sold at $0.68 per litre, and the median house price in Victoria was $44, 000. . In 2019, the same items cost $1.45 for a litre of milk, petrol is $1.34, $815, 000 respectively.

According to the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), 55% of people on Newstart are living below the poverty line. It costs a minimum of $433 per week to afford the bare necessities like food, housing, clothing, transport, healthcare, and energy for a single person. AUWU claims that there is only one job available for every sixteen people looking for paid work, which means that 70% of people receiving Newstart have been unemployed for 12 months or more. People in this situation are dealing with dire circumstances in order to survive. 

The ABS stated in 2013 that 15% of students who are studying higher education rely on a government pension or allowance as their main source of income. While university itself proves to be stressful with assessments and exams, the added stress of making ends meet takes a toll on their emotional wellbeing. According to Mindframe, people aged 18 to 24- the tertiary education years- are most likely to have mental health concerns than any other age group in Australia. If we as a nation want to make serious improvements to young people’s mental health, we need to put pressure on the Federal Government to improve their material conditions.  

So why $75? ACOSS research shows that this amount will reduce poverty rates by 0.8 percent, and particularly benefit the bottom 5% of earners. For students, it will ease our worry and stress about day to day living. It correlates with reducing the demand for mental health services, which costs the nation $60 billion per year. On an individual basis, it means not having to make the difficult choice between not paying either rent, food, or bills. For students especially, this means not having to go without resources like textbooks , topping up their mykis, or participating in university life. 

The ‘fight for 75’ has not escaped the attention of organisations that fight for economic justice, like GetUp!, AUWU, and the broader union movement. I myself have joined YOUNG Campaigns, a newly founded, youth-focused activist group that focuses on issues like the ‘Fight for 75’ campaign. They play a vital role in engaging the public, helping them become better advocates for social change, and I hope more people can take interest in them. We need to take action in our communities, because this is a fight we literally cannot afford to lose.

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