PM brushes off calls for boost to Newstart

Scott Morrison wants to roll-out drug testing and cashless cards for those on welfare.

Scott Morrison wants to roll-out drug testing and cashless cards for those on welfare. Photo: AAP

Scott Morrison has rejected calls to increase the dole as new data confirmed an improvement in the unemployment rate, declaring, “how good are more jobs?”.

But the Prime Minister’s claim that the majority of Newstart recipients receive extra supplements that make the actual payment more generous than it appears has been questioned by welfare groups.

On Thursday, Mr Morrison was asked whether he would increase the current Newstart payment – worth $282 a week, or $40 a day – after former deputy PM Barnaby Joyce joined in calls for an increase, citing the plight of the unemployed in the bush.

“No plans to do that,” Mr Morrison said in Dubbo.

“We will continue to increase Newstart every six months, as has always been the practice.

“Newstart goes up on the indexation that has been in place for many a year, and will continue to do that. But, more importantly, for those who are on Newstart, well over 90 per cent, in fact 99 per cent, are on other forms of payments.”

The Australian Council of Social Services said just under half of all Newstart recipients were eligible for rent assistance. About 20 per cent are eligible for parenting payments because they have children.

The unemployed can get rent assistance of up to $137.20 a fortnight if they live alone, or $91.47 a fortnight if they are in shared accommodation – but fewer than half of are eligible for it.

But Mr Morrison said “99 per cent” get other forms of payment – possibly referring to a $4 a week energy supplement.

“They are not just on Newstart. There is rental assistance and other support measures in the income support system and social services, which support people in those situations,” he said.

“More importantly, it is about getting people into jobs and the latest jobs figures showed over … 20,000 additional full-time jobs. That is good news. Great news, more jobs How good are more jobs?”

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday found the country’s overall jobless rate was steady in June. Raw employment numbers were up slightly, and underemployment was down.

The argument that Newstart is adequate was also backed by Anthony Albanese when Labor was in government.

In 2012, Mr Albanese used a similar form of words to Mr Morrison to resist calls for a $50 increase. Welfare groups claim the dole has not increased in real terms since 1994.

“The government has no plans to change those arrangements, ” Mr Albanese said at the time.

“Newstart is, of course, a temporary payment while people are unemployed.”

But figures confirm that more older Australians than ever before are on the dole and the older workers are, the longer they are staying on welfare.

Mr Albanese faces growing pressure in Labor ranks to formally back an increase to Newstart. Before the federal election, Labor backed a review.

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