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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2909

Pensions and Benefits


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:23): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. I note that even John Howard—the architect of Welfare to Work—has joined businesses, community organisations and the public in calling for an increase to Newstart. As I'm sure the minister knows, the current maximum single rate of Newstart is just $545.80 per fortnight and that has not increased in real terms for two decades. Does the minister concede that the support payment is unliveable? Could the minister live on it herself?


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South WalesMinister for International Development and the Pacific) (14:23): The coalition knows that the best form of welfare is a job. The government wants a welfare system that supports the most vulnerable, encourages those capable of work or study to do so, reduces intergenerational welfare dependency and is sustainable for the future. We have one of the best welfare transfer systems in the world. Australia targets a bigger share of its cash transfers to households in the bottom income quintile than any other OECD country.

Coming to Newstart, calls to raise the rate of Newstart ignore the nature of the social security system, which is designed to target those in need. Over 99 per cent of Newstart recipients receive more than just the base rate of Newstart. This includes providing rent assistance to those in the private rental market and family tax benefits—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert on a point of order?

Senator Siewert: I've given the minister a minute to read her pat answer. I asked a very direct question: is it unliveable and could she live on it? Could she please answer the question?

The PRESIDENT: As I remind senators, when there are preambles to questions, it is entirely in order for ministers to address those as well. The minister is directly relevant to the question.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: As I was saying, this includes providing rent assistance to those in the private rental market and providing family tax benefits to those raising children. The combination of these supplementary payments often exceeds the value of the Newstart payment.

The coalition knows that, as I said, the best form of welfare is a job, and under this government we have seen the largest increase in jobs since the GFC. For this reason, the system also allows recipients to earn income from work or other sources before their payment is affected. It is also important to note that many recipients of Newstart do not remain on the payment for long. Around two-thirds of those granted Newstart exit income support within 12 months. Our welfare system encourages those capable of work or study to do so while supporting vulnerable people within our society. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert, a supplementary question.







Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:26): Could the minister live on Newstart for a year?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order all around the chamber! Senators on my left! Senators at the rear of the chamber!



Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South WalesMinister for International Development and the Pacific) (14:26): The vast majority of people, as the Prime Minister said yesterday in response to—

Senator Siewert: On a point of order, Mr President: I did not include a preamble. I asked a very clear question: could the minister live on Newstart for a year? There was no preamble. It was a direct question.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert, you quite correctly point out that you asked a direct question without a preamble. It is difficult to judge direct relevance in seven seconds, but you have taken the opportunity to remind the minister of the specific nature of your question.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: We appreciate that some people have made the contention in relation to Newstart, but, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, we believe the setting is right. Newstart is a safety net. It's not like the disability pension or an age pension, which is entitled to be a substitute—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert on a point of order?

Senator Siewert: I've now given the minister half a minute, but this is not relevant to the question I asked. I asked a very direct question. You pointed out the issue around preamble. I didn't include a preamble in there. I asked a very simple question. I point to the lack of relevance of this answer.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Fierravanti-Wells, I do remind you of the specific nature of the question asked by Senator Siewert. I call you to continue your answer, if you haven't resumed your seat—I wasn't sure if you were indicating you'd concluded.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: As I was saying, the Newstart allowance is not like a disability pension or an age pension, which is entitled to be a substitute for employed income. This is a safety net to enable people to get additional support from government to enable them to look for work. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert, a final supplementary question.










Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:29): Could the minister live on Newstart for six months?


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South WalesMinister for International Development and the Pacific) (14:29): As I was saying, our welfare system encourages those capable of work or study to do so. I'm actually in a job; therefore, I do not need Newstart, because I'm already in a job. Our welfare system encourages those capable of work or study to do so, while supporting vulnerable—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Fierravanti-Wells, please resume your seat.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Fierravanti-Wells, please resume your seat. I don't blame you for not being able to hear me, because there was so much noise in the chamber. I appreciate it is Thursday, but I will ask for some semblance of order in the chamber during even contentious issues being discussed. Senator Cameron?

Senator Cameron: I couldn't hear any of that answer. Could you reset the clock?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, it would not be the first time you may have made noise in the chamber either, among many others. I will wait until there is some order before I call Senator Fierravanti-Wells to continue. Senator Fierravanti-Wells, please continue.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Our welfare system encourages those capable of work or study to do so and supports vulnerable people within our society. We remain committed to ensuring family assistance and social security payments are well targeted and sustainable into the future.

Of course those opposite sit there and they bleat about this issue, but do you know what they have offered in response? It is a review. (Time expired)