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Anti-poverty choir says "It's Time" to raise Newstart


A choir of welfare recipients and anti-poverty advocates has reworked the iconic 1972 Gough Whitlam campaign song “It’s Time” as part of its push to convince federal Labor to commit to increasing the Newstart Allowance.

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The Newstart Choir already comprises 60 Newstart recipients and welfare supporters – mostly from community choirs across Adelaide – but it plans to grow to 300 people by December to perform the song in front of the Adelaide Convention Centre for the Labor Party’s national conference.

The “It’s Time” television jingle, used by former Labor prime minister Whitlam for the 1972 federal election campaign, featured a chorus of famous Australian personalities including Bert Newton, Barry Crocker, Graham Kennedy and Jacki Weaver.

The track’s cheesy lyrics, film clip and melody cemented its place in Australian political history.

The Newstart Choir’s reworked version calls for an end to the “slick manoeuvrin” of politicians and a “one hundred more a week start” increase to the welfare payment, which it says hasn’t increased in real terms in 24 years.

The song will be performed for the first time tomorrow afternoon at Anti-Poverty Network SA’s “It’s Time” campaign launch at The Jade, which will feature keynote speeches from union leaders, church groups and local councillors.

“Anyone who thinks this is Gough Whitlam nostalgia might be surprised when they hear the lyrics,” Anti-Poverty Network SA coordinator Pas Forgione said.

“The lyrics have been significantly revised to send a strong message to the Labor Party about their need to do better on this issue.”

TOP: The original “It’s Time” campaign song used during the 1972 Gough Whitlam election campaign. BELOW: The Newstart Choir’s rendition, “It’s Time for Newstart”.

Labor entered the 2016 federal election promising to review the rate of Newstart – currently set at $278 a week – but Opposition leader Bill Shorten has refused to commit to an increase. The Liberal Party is also unsupportive of a change to the payment.

Newstart is the main income support payment for unemployed and under-employed people. It is currently set at less than 41 per cent of the minimum wage.

Last month, Liberal MP Julia Banks was criticised for being “out of touch” after she claimed she could live on the $40 a day currently allocated by the payment.

Forgione said there was “great momentum” for an increase to the welfare payment after an Essential poll earlier this month showed two-thirds of Australians supported a raise.

He said he hoped the Newstart Choir’s rendition of “It’s Time” would go viral and would send a “strong message” to those attending the Labor Party’s national conference that the campaign to raise the rate of Newstart had the support of most Australians.

“We think music should always be part of activism and campaigning,” he said.

“We really want to give the Labor Party a very rousing welcome when they come to Adelaide for the national conference and we don’t want 60 people there, we want two or three hundred.”

Choir member and disability pensioner Jan Stevenson said she initially suggested the choir sing a rendition of the “It’s Time” campaign song after she remembered handing out how-to-vote cards with her father during the 1972 election.

“I just remembered that moment and hearing the song at the time and so I said at one of the meetings, ‘Why don’t we do that cheesy song?’,” Stevenson said.

“I don’t want to take credit for the idea but it must have been thought of as a good suggestion because that’s what we ended up doing.”

Stevenson said she was motivated to join the campaign after seeing her family members struggling to live on the $278-a-week payment.

“I have a daughter trying to raise a son on Newstart; she’s in her second year of uni and struggling working at a café. It really is an atrocious payment.

“I think it’s great that this choir has brought a whole community together of people who are on Newstart and people who aren’t but who want to support the cause.”

Fellow choir member and Newstart recipient Tracey Phillips, who currently earns $100 from her four-hours-a-week job, said she got shivers when she first heard the audio recording of the choir singing the song.

“I thought that it was really moving, even though I knew that I was one of the voices singing.

“The song is really just saying we’ve had enough of the bullshit – there are children living in poverty… it’s about saying even Bob Hawke had said no child should live in poverty.

“The people in suits, they’re playing with the numbers of unemployed people in the past, saying ‘Look at these numbers, we’ve reduced unemployment’, but they haven’t – they’ve just put people on these bogus training programs.

“This song really comes from the people living this experience – they’re the people who are singing.”

Forgione said the case to raise Newstart was particularly important for South Australia.

“I don’t think we’ve quite felt the end of the car industry,” he said.

“There is such a growing number of people who are not just unemployed but under-employed, who are working casual or part-time but who still rely on Newstart to get by.

“I’ve heard so many stories of people skipping meals and they can’t afford dental care or somewhere to live. They feel totally isolated and cut off from their community.”

The Newstart Choir will release a film clip to accompany their rendition of “It’s Time” early next month.

Members of the public are invited to attend Anti-Poverty Network’s “It’s Time” campaign lauch tomorrow at 2pm at The Jade.

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