Q&A guests left speechless by question
AN elderly woman has shared her heartbreaking experience with Australia's welfare system on live national television, leaving one of tonight's Q&A panellists at a loss for words.
The questioner, named Ricci Bartels, said she was forced onto Newstart at the age of 62 following retrenchment at her former workplace, and more than three years later remains unable to find a job.
"What would you or how would you suggest people like me have a go to get a go?" she asked the panel, quoting Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Liberal MP Jason Falinski said he "doesn't know enough" about the woman's personal circumstances to comment, but said the government "has done a number of things to make sure our system is as bespoke as possible".
Responding to him directly, the woman then shared more of her emotional story, revealing that being on Newstart has been "the worst time of my life".
"The loss of dignity, the loss of friends because you can't go out, you can't socialise, not eating proper food even though I suffer from various ailments … for me it has been the worst time of my life," the woman said.
"Jason, with respect, you haven't answered my question. What do you suggest people like me, at my age, or at a young age for that matter … how do they have a go to get a go? This is so important. 'Have a go, get a go'. It is so divisive."
Mr Falinski appeared to be at a loss for words, before responding: "I can't tell you how … I don't know enough about your life circumstances to comment.
"All I can say is we as a Government are doing as much as we possibly can to create a system that allow people to get as quickly from welfare to work as possible. We have a very highly targeted welfare system in this country. It has been very successful in ensuring poverty levels and inequality are kept low.
"If the system has failed you personally at your, in your particular circumstances, I can only apologise for that. I'd love to know more and we'd love to create a system that makes sure that what has happened to you doesn't happen to others."
Independent member Zali Steggall said Australia's welfare problem was "an embarrassment for our nation".
"I agree with the policy that we need to create opportunities and job opportunities to get off the welfare. But the welfare has to be at a level that you can live reasonably," she said. "You have to be able to still have that quality of life, a standard. You can't have it where it pushes people so low and we talk about mental health issues and isolation … and if the rate is so low, which it is, it's the lowest in OECD countries … I think it's embarrassing for us as a nation that we haven't addressed it and raised it.
"We have an economy that's flatlining and it needs a boost. We have addressed it with tax cuts and things that are coming into play but the RBA has come out and said the boost of raising Newstart would actually kickstart as well the economy in putting more funds into the system.
"So I think it has a multipurpose and it should be I think bipartisan. There are people supporting it across the aisle."
Fellow panellist Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, said Ricci's question represented a "huge problem in our social security system".
"In case you hadn't heard it, just about everybody else in the country agrees that Newstart is unbearable. It is not working. And it desperately needs to be increased to something that's liveable after over 25 years of not having been increased in real terms.
"It's an absolute travesty that we, as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, have refused to do what a good government would do so far."
Many on social media praised Ricci for sharing her story, saying it was relatable and represented the broader issue of unemployment in Australia.
Excellent first question by Newstart recipient on #QandA. Older women are a key demographic on welfare and struggle to get jobs. “How do people like me have a go to get a go.?”... “(Being on Newstart was) the worst time of my life. The loss of dignity.”— Louise Milligan (@Milliganreports) August 5, 2019
What's this woman doing in the audience, put her on the panel. #Qanda— Peter Fox 💧🦊🇦🇺 (@Peter_Fox59) August 5, 2019
#qanda Older women on Newstart unable to afford rent, mortgages and cost of living, unable to access public housing and unable to find work. Disgraceful, careless, socially irresponsible Australia. 💔— Julie Macdonald. (@macdonald_julie) August 5, 2019
Towards the end of the segment, host Tony Jones asked her what she would say to Mr Morrison if she could speak to him directly.
"I would say 'Prime Minister, in your acceptance speech you said that you would govern with compassion and strength'. I would like to say to Scott Morrison that you can be both compassionate and strong by increasing Newstart," she said.
"They actually work together."