Labor unlikely to back Newstart increase

Chris Bowen say the Newstart rate needed to be assessed with the resources of government.Labor appears unlikely to back raising Newstart, with shadow treasurer Chris Bowen confident the party won’t budge from its current position.
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Left faction members are pressuring the party to go further than its current position of committing to a review if elected to government.

But Mr Bowen believes the status quo will prevail at the ALP’s national conference in Adelaide.

“Newstart is low, we need to review it. That is the Labor Party’s position and I expect that to be reflected in the national conference resolution,” he told reporters on Sunday.

The dole has been frozen in real terms since 1994, prompting calls from advocacy groups for a $75-a-week increase on the current rate of $275.

With an expected cost of $3 billion a year, some within Labor are reticent to support such an increase, with the coalition set to target the opposition on economic management during the election campaign.

While right faction member Mr Bowen stopped short of saying the current rate was too low, Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong, from the party’s left wing, said it was.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in the Labor party who doesn’t recognise that Newstart is too low,” Senator Wong told reporters.

“The question is how do we go about rebuilding it, how do we go about lifting it, there is political will but it is a big task.”

She said Labor would work through the difficult fiscal issue at conference and through shadow cabinet.

Mr Bowen said the rate of Newstart needed to be assessed with the resources of government and departmental advice.

“These are all matters which would take some reflection in government to consider the best approach. We want to get this right,” Mr Bowen said.

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