Senate clock ticking on payment increase for millions of Aussies

It's estimated the changes will lift 80,000 Australians out of poverty.

It's estimated the changes will lift 80,000 Australians out of poverty. Photo: TND

Raising the payments of millions of Australians on welfare is the first order of business when Parliament resumes this week after a long winter break. 

The government’s safety net bill, which would deliver combined fortnightly increases of between $55 and $175 for recipients of a range of allowances, such as single parents or the unemployed, will come before the Senate on Monday.

But the payments will only be passed on to two million Australians in full if the bill passes the upper house this week. 

“People need relief now,” Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said on Sunday.

“I’ll be urging everyone in the Senate to pass our bill.”

Relief needed now

Ms Rishworth said the regular indexation increase of the payments, announced on Sunday and beginning in September, would be lower if the measures did not pass in time.

Whether the Strengthening the Safety Net bill has the numbers is yet to be seen.

The Coalition opposes raising the rate of the unemployment allowance, formerly known as the dole.

And while the Greens’ social services spokeswoman called the increases “seriously inadequate” on Sunday, the party previously said it would not stand in their way when they were announced in May’s budget. 

The combined increases will raise the incomes of about two million Australians and cost about $9.5 billion over four years. 

The Greens are supporting an amendment that would more than double the government’s proposed increase in unemployment benefits. 

Ms Rishworth defended the scale of the government’s proposed increases on Sunday. 

The budget surplus for the past financial year is projected to reach $20 billion, driven mainly by a mining windfall caused by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and its dislocation of global energy markets. 

Greens Senator Janet Rice called for that revenue to be redirected to welfare payments.

“If Labor is serious about helping people on JobSeeker, they should back the Greens amendment,” she wrote. 

Ms Rishworth argued that changes to the social security system could only be funded by lasting, structural changes to the budget.

“They’re ongoing increases,” she said.

“We have calibrated these to be responsible to help people that are doing it tough but also that they are sustainable into the long term.”

Between the bill’s proposed increases and other cost-of-living relief measures announced in the budget, such as targeted support for increasing energy bills, independent analysis has found 80,000 Australians will be lifted out of poverty.

The bill also includes a change announced in the budget extending a rise in JobSeeker for recipients aged over 55.

The half-yearly indexation increases announced on Sunday, which follow inflation, will add 2.2 per cent to payments.

If the bill is passed by the Senate this fortnight, the increase will also reflect proposed increases of up to 15 per cent to payments like a rent assistance allowance received by an estimated 1.3 million households.

For a single person on the JobSeeker allowance, this would translate to a $40 fortnightly increase matched by a $16 increase in indexation. 

That equates to a combined fortnightly increase of more than $105, or a $2700 yearly increase.

Coalition opposed

The Coalition is formally opposed to that rise.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s budget reply speech pitched an alternative proposal: Doubling the threshold for the amount job seekers can earn while still receiving payments.

The government has accused Mr Dutton of not being forthcoming about the impact of that change on the budget.

“Our conservative estimates are that with a doubling of the Income Free Area, there would be an additional 50,000 people who would become eligible for JobSeeker overnight,” said Ms Rishworth.

A request for comment sent to the office of Coalition social services spokesperson Michael Sukkar was not returned on Sunday afternoon.

But Mr Sukkar has previously said the Coalition would support the Safety Net bill, even if its proposed amendments were not carried. 

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.