Adequacy of Newstart and related payments and alternative mechanisms to determine the level of income support payments in Australia
What is a Senate Inquiry? And why me?
A Senate Inquiry is a committee made up of Senators that sets aside time to investigate and discover the facts about a issue. They don’t want it to get all waffly, so they decide in advance what topics it’s going to look at, and no others: these are called the “terms of reference“.
Anyone who has knowledge or experience relevant to the topic is invited to make a submission to the Inquiry: so if you know something about the questions they’re investigating they need you to tell them about it so that they can understand it properly.
Contributing to a Senate Inquiry is much easier than you probably expect, but because it is a formal process you just have to make sure the t’s are crossed and the i’s have dots so that your contribution will be accepted.
It doesn’t need to be long — 4 pages is the absolute maximum length, and the shorter the better — and it has to address the inquiry’s Terms of Reference, which is just a formal way of saying “the set of questions the Senators are meeting to investigate”. They need to stay very focussed on just those questions, so you do too.
Your submission can be public (published online so anyone can read it, with your name attached); anonymous (anyone can read it, but your name and other identifying info is taken out before it goes online); or confidential (only the Senators and their support staff will read it).
If you want your contribution to be anonymous or confidential, make sure you put that in big letters at the top of your first page. You’ll find a template at the end of this guide to use for some formatting when you’re finishing up; it’s for a confidential submission, but you can change that.
You can talk to the Committee’s support staff, the Secretariat, if you have any questions or concerns. They’re very kind and friendly on the phone, and part of their job is helping people get their submissions in (their number is 02 6277 3515).
Above all else be honest, and be aware that you are going on the record.
Be serious and careful, but not afraid.
Step 1: Introduce yourself
The Inquiry needs to know what qualifies you to advise them about this issue — if you have direct first-hand experience of the adequacy of Centrelink payments then you are very qualified.
You don’t have to put your name in the main part of your submission, but you do need to tell them how you came to have your knowledge. You also need to directly mention the inquiry.
If you’re not sure how to do that it’s okay to copy this sentence below and then finish it by adding what payment you were/are on and when.
I have knowledge of the adequacy of Newstart and related payments and alternative mechanisms to determine the level of income support payments in Australia because I…
If you don’t want to talk about how the level of Newstart and other payments should be decided, you can delete that second half.
Step 2: Work out which of the inquiry’s questions you will be giving information about, and make some notes
That’s what “addressing the Terms of Reference” means, really: answering one or more of their questions. You don’t need to answer all of the questions, but you do need to answer at least one of them.
These are the Terms of Reference for this Inquiry, in everyday language.
The full version is here.
Read through them — yes there’s a few, but if you want you can just pick one! — and when you get to something you know something about, write down the question’s letter (a, b, c, d), and make some notes.
a. What is a ‘good enough’ standard of living in Australia? “Standard of living” is all of the physical/material things that go into quality of life, like food and comfort, and includes safe and secure housing. (see h. for more about standard of living)
b. What is going on with the labour market, unemployment, and under-employment in Australia? Are there structural causes of long term unemployment and long term reliance on Newstart?
c. How has work changed in Australia? Is work in Australia more insecure than it was?
d. When people have some work but it’s insecure, inconsistent, has unreliable hours, or could end at any time, are they getting support that is useful and appropriate?
e. Is the way they’re deciding the amount of income support payments in Australia correct?
f. What impact does the way they’re currently deciding the amount of income support payments have on older unemployed workers, families, single parents, people with disability, jobseekers, students, First Nations peoples, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people living in regional and remote areas, and any others affected by the process?
g. How does people’s age, where people live, and other things about them impact long term unemployment, the need for income support payments, and poverty?
h. Are income support payments in Australia enough to live on? Do income support payments in Australia let people have a good enough standard of living? Are income support payments in Australia enough to help people find a job or get training?
i. What is the economic cost for the community of long-term unemployment, underemployment, poverty, inequality and inadequate income support payments?
j. What are the economic benefits of increasing and improving income support payments and supports, and decreasing poverty and inequality? This might include job creation, locally and nationally.
k. What is the relationship between income support payment levels, minimum wages, and wage stagnation in Australia and other comparable economies?
l. If income support payments went up, what would happen to other payments and services? Would any increase just get eaten up by higher rents and costs?
m. Would it be too expensive for Australia to increase the rate of income support payments?
n. What if instead of increasing income support payments directly, the government spent more money on health, education, housing and other programs to improve outcomes?
o. What methods are other countries using to decide the level of their income support payments, minimum wages, and awards?
p. What other bodies set payments, minimum wages, and awards in Australia?
q. What role should independent experts play in setting payments?
r. Is there anything else you want to say about the rate of Newstart and other income support payments in Australia?
Step 3: Get your notes to tell a story
You’ve made notes of things you think the Senators need to know about Newstart and other income support payments. Now you just need to give it a bit of shape — not as hard as it sounds!
First thing to do is divide the things from your list into groups based on common themes.
These themes might be things like “trying to find a decent job”, “bigger picture in the community”, “things I worry about”, “ideas I have”, “how I feel”, “things I’ve seen”, etc.
Under your introduction, write a sentence or two describing your first topic.
For example: “Now that I’m on Newstart, I have a lot of worries that I never used to” would be a topic introduction.
Then list things from that topic.
You can leave it as a simple list if you need to, or you can expand on some or all of your points and give more detailed information.
Then do the same thing for your next topic… And the next…
Until you’ve run out of topics.
You can wrap it up with a final statement at the bottom, if you want, something like:
In my experience, the adequacy of Newstart and other income support payments in Australia is…
I think that work and unemployment in Australia are…
Or whatever fits what you’re talking about. That’s your Submission!
Now you just need to pretty it it up a little bit and do some double checking, so…
Step 4: Make sure it’s easy to read and touches the Terms of Reference.
Read back through your story and make sure that it says what you want it to say. Check for any mistakes, and make sure it goes through everything in order, from beginning to end.
If you have a friend or family member that you trust and who is good with words, it’s a very good idea to ask them to help you with this part.
Even just a few (gentle) comments like “I’m not entirely sure I know what you mean in this bit, can you explain” or “I think you already mentioned this thing” can help you see it with fresh eyes.
Putting in keywords from the Terms of Reference will help Committee members feel like they know where they are — can you use “adequacy” and “standard of living”? can you swap “Newstart and related payments” for “the dole” or “Centrelink payments”?
Step 5: Check formatting.
❏ Have I used black writing on white paper? (for handwritten, typed and printed, and electronic submissions)
❏ Is the whole document typed in the same font or written in clear plain handwriting?
❏ Have I given my full name, address, and telephone number at either the top or bottom of my submission?
❏ Have I started with the name of the enquiry?
❏ I don’t want my submission published — have I written CONFIDENTIAL at the top in big letters?
❏ Did I double check all the addressing details?
❏ Have I saved it as a pdf or doc document with a clear file name? (for both email and online portal)
❏ Is my supporting documentation complete and either printed out clearly (if posting) or saved as a pdf or doc document with a clear file name (for both email and online portal)?
That’s it! You’re done! It’s ready to send.
More info about the inquiry here:
Submission methods and addresses are all near the bottom of this page:
If you have any more questions, the Senate Committee’s support staff (called the Secretariat) are very friendly and helpful.
Making sure that as many people as possible can participate in inquiries is part of their job, so it’s totally okay to ring them to clear up anything you’re worried about.
Their phone number is: 02 6277 3515.