Dignity Not Dole National Campaign

For decades, politicians of every stripe have attacked unemployed workers to win political points. As a result:

  • Newstart is $243 per week below the Poverty Line 

  • There are 16 job seekers competing for every available job

Across Australia, unemployed workers are fighting for their lives.

No Political Party in Australia Has a Plan to Address This Crisis.

This Coming Election, the AUWU’s Dignity Not Dole Campaign will be uniting thousands of Australians across the country to fight for our fundamental right to a decent, dignified life.

Join us in our effort to challenge this broken system and create real systemic change. With your support, we can create the better world we all know is possible.

To Join Our Dignity Not Debt Campaign, Sign Up To Your Local AUWU Action Group.  Once you sign up, AUWU campaigners will be in contact with more information about how you can join the campaign.

Join Our Movement For A Real Fair Go. For Real Social Security and Real Jobs!

Sign up to Your Local Action Group!

Why Join the Fight?

Australia’s social security payments to the unemployed are the second lowest in the OECD. The rate of Newstart has not increased in real terms since 1994 (see Figure 1 and 2). At $275.10 per week for singles ($14,305 per year), Newstart is $243.53 per week below the Henderson poverty line, and is equivalent to 17% of the average wage and 38% of the minimum wage. The latest government data shows that there are as of November 2018 706, 424 receiving Newstart.

Figure 1


As a result, Australia has the second highest rate of poverty among the unemployed across the OECD. According to a 2018 Anglicare study, there were only three properties in Australia (representing less than .01% of properties surveyed) that were affordable and appropriate for someone receiving the single rate of Newstart. The Salvation Army found that after accommodation expenses, Newstart recipients must live on $17 per day. In fact, given that each unemployed worker on average is penalised by their employment service provider 2.5 times each year (see Table 1), many are forced to survive on payments that are further below the poverty line.


Figure 2

With a current ratio of 16 job seekers competing for every job vacancy according to the ABS (Table 2), Newstart is far from a temporary payment. In 2016/17, unemployed Australians received Newstart for an average of just under five years – a five-fold increase since 1995/6 (see Figure 3).


Table 1


As noted by the Department of Social Services in a 2016 report, the recent tightening of the eligibility criteria for the Parenting Payment and the Disability Support Payment has contributed to this rapid increase in the average time spent on Newstart.

Table 2

Researchers at the University of New South Wales have applied a ‘rigorous budget standards’ approach to assessing the adequacy of Newstart and Youth Allowance. Peter Saunders and Megan Bedford conclude that the current levels of income support for the unemployed are “woefully inadequate” and calculate that Newstart is $96 per week below the Minimum Income for Healthy Living (MIHL).


Figure 3

Using another poverty measurement approach, which examines material deprivation, researchers at the University of Melbourne have found that unemployed Australians are almost five times as likely to experience severe material deprivation (deprived of three or more essential items) as those who work full time.

The low rate of Newstart and Youth Allowance is an important part of the government’s ‘work-first’ approach to unemployment policy. Beginning with the Howard Government’s decision to freeze Newstart in 1996, a consensus developed in Canberra that unemployment payments must be kept at a relatively low level in order to provide strong incentives for recipients to enter employment. The Howard Government also claimed that keeping Newstart low was a crucial part of its plan to reverse Australia’s “growing culture of entitlement, which more and more was seen to be encouraging a damaging culture of welfare dependence”.

In a 2012 joint interagency submission to the Senate inquiry into the adequacy of Newstart, the Department of Workplace Relations, along with three other Departments, concluded that “data and evidence suggest that Newstart Allowance… is meeting its fundamental and longstanding purpose as a transitional payment, designed to incentivise work engagement”. At the time, Newstart was $225 per fortnight below the Henderson poverty line and the average time spent on the payment was three and a half years.

Responding to the demands of social security advocates to increase Newstart by $50, the joint submission perfectly summarised the dominant work-first approach to unemployment policy:

“An increase would not assist in maintaining the fundamental character of Newstart Allowance as a payment that predominantly supports work re-engagement. As the OECD acknowledges, an increase in the base rate of Newstart Allowance has the distinct disadvantage of reducing employment incentives, especially for those who can only obtain low paying employment.”

The Gillard Government apparently accepted the Department’s advice and did nothing to lift the abysmally low rate of Newstart. While the Greens are calling for a $75 increase in Newstart, both the ALP and the Coalition have stated they will not increase it. “Australia’s welfare system is there to provide a safety net for those in need,” said Minister Cash in 2017, “not to fund a lifestyle choice”. Indeed, until recently the Coalition’s policy was to reduce Newstart by cutting the clean energy supplement ($4-7 per week) for Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients.145 Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten acknowledges that the payment is low and committed to another review into the adequacy of the payment within 18 months of forming government, but has stopped short of a commitment to increase it.

As yet, however, there is no indication that government is inclined to increase the rate of Newstart or Youth Allowance. “Australia’s welfare system is there to provide a safety net for those in need,” said Minister Cash in 2017, “not to fund a lifestyle choice”.144 Indeed, until recently the Coalition’s policy was to reduce Newstart by cutting the clean energy supplement ($4-7 per week) for Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients.145 Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten acknowledges that the payment is low and committed to another review into the adequacy of the payment within 18 months of forming government, but has stopped short of a commitment to increase it.

What is Our Position on Newstart

The AUWU, in our list of demands, calls for unconditional social security payments at the rate of the Henderson Poverty Line. We measure poverty using the Henderson Poverty Line (see here), developed by the Melbourne Institute. It is the most comprehensive and thorough measure of the poverty line we have in Australia (see: Poverty in Australia (2018) ACOSS). For the March 2018 quarter, the Poverty Line for a single adult (including housing) is $1037.26 a fortnight ($518.63 per week).

For the period between the 1 of January – 19 March 2019, the fortnightly rate of Newstart for a Adult (22 years or older) with no children is $550.20. This is a total of $487.06 a fortnight below the poverty line.

Table #: Comparing Weekly Payments of the Poorest Australians

(Single Adult (22 years and older), no children)

NewstartHenderson Poverty LineMinimum Wage

(March Quarter, 2018)

(Note: this is adjusted every quarter)


per 38 hour week (before tax).

(Note: this is the minimum wage and doesn’t consider award rate)

(Note: some states have higher minimum wages e.g. South Australia at the Adult (21 years and over) $732.30)


The AUWU calls for Newstart, the benefit for unemployed people, to be raised immediately to the Henderson Poverty Line and be received unconditionally (i.e. without mutual obligations and punitive measures).

A question that is often asked by AUWU members is why not raise the rate to the minimum wage? The primary reason why the AUWU does not call for Newstart to be raised to the minimum wage is for pragmatic, political reasons working within our political system.

Pragmatically speaking, the AUWU recognises the political difficulty of trying to raise Newstart even to the Henderson Poverty Line: we are fighting against the entrenched ideological myth of the “dole bludger” and governments that routinely claim that “we can’t afford a raise”. The AUWU combats the neoliberal dogma of the “disutility of labour” (that workers’ have an inherent tendency to unemployment and we need to motivated – with punitive measures and withholding basic resources – to ensure that they will work. (See: S. Garton’s Out of luck: Poor Australians and Social Welfare (1990) for a history of this idea and the idea of the “work test”, and see Full Employment Abandoned (2008) W. Mitchell & J. Muysken).

The majority of unemployed workers’ want to work. Those who don’t want to work, can receive the (Henderson Poverty Line) unconditional social security payment. And others – such as the disabled, mentally ill, carers, etc. – would receive (higher rates) of social security payment, more in line with the minimum wage but adjusted to particular circumstances and needs.

What are the objectives of the ‘Dignity Not Dole’ campaign?

There are three key objectives of the Dignity Not Dole campaign.

Activate, Train and Resource Our Membership Through Our Action Group, Branch, Campaigns and Volunteer Structure

AUWU members across Australia will be encouraged to join Action Groups provided with training and resources to campaign.

Action Groups will be provided with the following:

  • Weekly Action Group Coordinations Calls, comprising of Action Group coordinators and campaigns coordinator
  • 1 X Action Group Handbook
  • 1 X National Campaign Framework and Action Plan
  • Leaflets, Posters, Postcards
  • Support to host a Public Form
  • 2 X National Trainings, held in collaborations with GetUp!
  • T shirts
  • Assistance running Stalls Events
  • Assistance running door knocking events
  •  Banners and Flags

Build Our National Media Profile, Reframe the Debate, Make Alliances, and be Recognised as an Important Stakeholder

As an issue affecting unemployed workers, it is key that the voices of unemployed workers are given prominence within media the on Newstart. 

Apply Political Pressure to All Political Parties to Commit to Increasing Newstart to Henderson Poverty Line and job Guarantee

The political objective of the Dignity Not Dole campaign is to convince political parties to commit to policies that protect the rights and dignity of unemployed workers – namely, increasingly unemployment payments to the Henderson Poverty line and committing to a Job Guarantee. The nature of the political environment is such that there is no political party that currently commits to these two demands. As a result, all political parties will be the target. It will be up to individual Action Group which local candidate they would like to apply maximum pressure towards.