Leaders’ TV spat fires up voters


Liberal and Labor leaders descended into an argument over preference deals after being asked questions about Newstart payments on Monday night.

Simon Birmingham and Tanya Plibersek, wouldn't commit to upping welfare payments, and after fielding difficult questions from a young woman in the audience, a spat erupted over budgeting, the Greens and Clive Palmer on Monday night's episode of Q&A.

Ms Plibersek, Labor's deputy leader, said she personally couldn't live on Newstart, but wouldn't commit to raising the payments.

And, as the panel discussed the unpopular topic of raising payments, Ms Plibersek and Mr Birmingham clashed briefly over preference deals, sniping at each other as the audience cheered.

"Richard (Di Natale) will insist they do it if they win government anyway," Mr Birmingham said.

"Absolutely! Absolutely we will," Greens Senator Richard Di Natale fired back to the gibe. "You're damn right about that."

"Well I don't think Richard will be determining Labor policy if we form government," Ms Plibersek said.

"Yes they will. They always do," Mr Birmingham said.

"Like Clive Palmer's determining yours?" Ms Plibersek fired back, to which the audience applauded.



The leaders argued about their parties’ preference deals on Monday night's Q&A program.
The leaders argued about their parties’ preference deals on Monday night's Q&A program.

Mr Birmingham, Liberal frontbencher, acknowledged it would be "extremely difficult" to live on Newstart, but insisted that "most people" on Newstart receive supplementary payments and come off Newstart quickly.

"There's a broad acknowledgment that it is an inadequate payment," Mrs Plibersek said, but when pushed by the audience member to commit to raising the fortnightly payments by a small amount, she went silent.

Tony Jones suggested Mrs Plibersek was saying Newstart payments, "will go up, we just can't say just how much".

"Is that what you're saying?" Jones asked.

"I don't know how to say it more clearly. There is an acknowledgment, across the community, business, that it is an inadequate payment."

The audience member had originally asked Ms Plibersek if she could live on $39 a day, and if Labor could commit to raising the welfare payments.

"I'm 26 years old," audience member Molly said. "Newstart hasn't raised since I was one year old.

"I understand the need for a review because I think welfare reform is really important and we basically need to overhaul the whole system, but why not raise it by $10, $20, $50 a fortnight in the meantime? $20 a fortnight (would mean) five meals for someone on Newstart."

Audience member Molly asked politicians if they could live on $39 dollars a day.
Audience member Molly asked politicians if they could live on $39 dollars a day.

"I can't, I can't give you a better answer than we have to be methodical about it," Mrs Plibersek responded. "I agree it would be very, very difficult to live on Newstart. Absolutely."

Mr Birmingham defended the Coalition's handling of Newstart, saying the payments haven't been frozen, and are adjusted each year for inflation.

"What I'm pointing out here is we're not making promises we can't keep at this election," Mr Birmingham said. "We're not the ones that are saying we will have huge surpluses.

"Either Labor's costings are wrong, or there will be no increase to Newstart."

Host Tony Jones then asked Mr Birmingham if he could live off $39 a day.

"Well, Tony, I acknowledge that would be incredibly difficult," Mr Birmingham said.

"Now, most people on Newstart have a number of supplementary payments," he said.

At this point, Molly, in the audience, who had asked the question, scoffed loudly.

"I'm just saying what the facts are. Most people on Newstart come off of Newstart thankfully in terms of getting a job and that's the priority of our Government to keep the economy strong, to make sure there are job opportunities."

"Yes. You do make a point about supplementary payments," Molly responded. "I think it's only something like 40 per cent of people on Newstart receive a supplementary payment.

"Even then, with your supplements, your payment, probably about the weekly cost of a one-bedroom unit. It is still far below the poverty line.

"As for Labor not releasing costings, I haven't seen one thing from the Liberal Party about Newstart. Not one thing."

"We are not making false promises. The Labor Party are. They go to this election saying on the one hand, big surpluses," Mr Birmingham said.