‘Skint’ Barnaby: 'Now I know what it’s like to do it tough'
FORMER deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce is so skint he turns off his heater at night to save money and his "treat" is a cup of coffee because by the end of the month he barely has any cash left.
The ultimate call-a-spade-a-shovel politician is not looking for sympathy but today is telling his story to explain why he has broken ranks with the Morrison Government to call for an increase to the rate of the dole.
To not speak out would make him a "coward", Mr Joyce exclusively told The Courier-Mail, while revealing how else he saved his dollars: killing his own meat, buying the cheapest groceries, not going out for dinner, turning off his heater in the middle of the night (even when it is -10C) and trying to fix things himself if they break down. It has been a massive change for a man who used to take home $20,000 a month as deputy prime minister.
Mr Joyce, now a father of six, earns about $211,000 a year but the New England MP is financially supporting his estranged wife and their youngest daughter who is at boarding school, plus his current partner Vikki Campion, who just six weeks ago gave birth to their second son.
"I'm not crying in my beer because there are thousands, thousands doing it much tougher than me,'' Mr Joyce repeatedly stressed, adding his changed circumstances were a "good thing" because as a politician it gave him fresh insight into those facing extreme financial pressure.
"It's not that I'm not getting money it's just that it's spread so thin.
"I'm just saying these circumstances have made me more vastly attuned … it's just a great exercise in humility going from deputy prime minister to watching every dollar you get.
"A politician (renting a duplex without a dishwasher) for 415 bucks a week, he's not living high on the hogg, is he?
"There is a reason for that and that's basically what I can afford. You do become a lot more mindful.
"So the big thrill of the day to be honest is a cup of coffee. We (he and Vikki) rarely if ever go out for dinner.
"You're very mindful of what's coming up in the next couple of weeks and try to make sure I don't miss any payments.
"There has to some purpose for everything. The purpose of this - I'm a lot more focused people who don't have money."
He said the financial pressure had made him more astute to understanding the stress for those living off $550 a fortnight on Newstart or $600 a fortnight if they had dependent children. Some may receive extra payments and the base rate of Newstart is indexed twice a year, but in real terms it has not increased since 1996.
"If there's one thing that is incumbent on me now is to say, 'No, that is not fair and that is not appropriate and we should do something about it'.
"And if people get upset, so what."
It has also reinvigorated his fight for welfare-reliant people living in the bush and regional areas - not those struggling on the land but those in small country towns just existing. Some are living in "shouters" - basically a shed house, Mr Joyce said. Some can't afford the power to run a fridge so they live on pasta.
Mr Joyce said part of the solution was building new infrastructure - dams, roads, rail and communication - to bring jobs to people.
He said living off Newstart was harder for those aged over 50 years and was particularly unfair to single mothers. Currently, parents only go on Newstart when their youngest turns eight years old, meaning they do not have the same mutual obligation requirements to look for work.
He said it was easier for blokes to do cash-in-hand jobs to supplement their welfare, saying they could chop firewood, shoot roos or "sell dope".
It was harder for some single mothers because "generally the bloke's a prick and leaves her with nothing. Some blokes are all right and do the right thing but not every bloke".
Mr Joyce said it was right to say the best form of welfare was a job but work was not always easy to find.
"If you're a single bloke following the work around, fair enough.
"Let's say we're going to move for work. The first thing you have to do is pay bond on a new place but you haven't got that. So you live with somebody else, there's a word for that - couch surfing.
"You could be putting yourself in a much worse position.
"Even if you say I'm not doing it (raising the rate of Newstart) for everyone you have to say who are the crucial people we need to look at here? What's the priority, who's at the top of the priority list?
"I would say they are single mothers in regional areas."
He said he understood that the Government was focused on the Budget but there needed to be a blowtorch on the issue.
He said it may be that only some people needed an increase - and there was probably a need to shift unemployment payments on to a cashless debit card.
"You have to have a cashless debit card. It gets out of people's minds they are swindling the system. They can only use it for rent, food and medical supplies. They can't use it for holidays, they can't use it for grog.
"I'm not just going to follow the Zeitgeist on this. I'm not going to shut up because it's politically correct
"We've got to have a more honest conversation about how this actually works.
"If I don't raise the issue than I'm a coward. It would probably help my career if I shut up."
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the Government's priority was to ensure those on Newstart could get a job.
"The Government's policy on Newstart has not changed ¬- it is a taxpayer funded allowance that provides a safety net for people while they look for a job and is increased twice a year, every year in line with CPI,'' Senator Ruston said.
"Newstart was never meant to be a salary or a wage replacement; it's a safety net.
"The creation of jobs is the best way that we can get people off Newstart and we are delivering results with more than 1.3 million jobs being created since we were elected."