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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1117

Newstart Allowance

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:37): My question is to the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Ruston. Minister, a constituent wrote to me about their experience living on Newstart:

I'm 59 years old on Newstart, living in a tent with my two dogs because I can't afford to live anywhere else.

Another constituent wrote to me saying:

My husband is nearly 64. I'm 61. We are both on Newstart. Life is tough, going through our savings. We deserve better.

Minister, if an increase in Newstart is off the government's agenda, what is your response to these people who are struggling to get by on Newstart?

Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaMinister for Families and Social Services and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:38): I thank Senator Siewert for her question. No-one has ever said it would be easy to live without a job, but one of the things that we have said as this government is that our very highest priority is to say to anybody who is living on Newstart that we will do everything that we can in the power of this government to get them off Newstart and to find them a job. We have never, ever said that Newstart was supposed to be a wage or a salary replacement. We have never said that. It is a safety net. And, in Australia, when it comes to our social welfare system, we enjoy probably one of the strongest safety nets of any country in the world. But this social welfare system is funded by the taxpayers of Australia, and we have an obligation to the taxpayers of Australia to make sure that we continue to manage it in a sustainable way. And this extends to the responsibility to those taxpayers, because we must never forget in this place: governments do not have money; only taxpayers have money. The taxpayers make available, through their taxation, the money that we use for a very comprehensive social welfare system.

But my absolute focus, as the Minister for Families and Social Services, is to make sure that this system is both fair and sustainable so that, for anybody at all in Australia who finds themselves in a situation where they need the support of their government, through taxpayer funds, to look after them in times when they need a little bit of help, our system is sustainable not just today but into the future so that future generations will always know that that safety net exists for them should they find themselves in hard times. So to anybody out there who is on Newstart: you can be absolutely assured that the highest priority of the Morrison government is to create jobs but also—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order. I remind senators that even interjections can't use unparliamentary language. I'm not sure if I heard correctly, but just be careful about interjections as well. Senator Siewert, a supplementary question.

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:40): In June there were 159,700 job advertisements. There were 711,500 unemployed workers. How can you get a job when there aren't enough jobs? How is that sustainable?

Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaMinister for Families and Social Services and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:41): Thank you very much. One of the things I'd probably point out to Senator Siewert is that the creation of jobs has been one of the great success stories of this government—1.3 million new jobs. But I suppose one of the most pertinent points in the creation of these new jobs is that a lot them have been full-time jobs and not part-time jobs, and we've seen a significant movement of people out of part-time work and into full-time work. The agenda that we went to this election with was a government that had a plan to create more jobs. It is absolutely incumbent on any government to create jobs. A strong economy creates jobs, which allows people to be able to get off Newstart and into a job. So I think that our track record in terms of job creation and our plans for job creation into the future send a very strong message to the people who are on Newstart, people who are doing it tough, and we recognise that.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert, a final supplementary question?

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:42): Through you, President, to the minister: Minister, have you or the government, the Liberal Party, had any discussions with the National Party about their proposal to link an increase to Newstart to the cashless debit card or income management? Can you categorically rule out that any increase that you may, in your heart, decide to give will not be linked to the cashless debit card?

Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaMinister for Families and Social Services and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:42): What I can assure the senator is that the policy of the coalition government in relation to Newstart, and our focus on finding people on Newstart a job, has not changed. In relation to the cashless debit card, which is currently being trialled in four sites—and I thank you very much for your continued engagement in making that program as good as we possibly can make it and better than it already is—I can assure you that our policy in relation to the benefits that are being delivered to the communities in which the cashless debit card is currently being trialled has not changed either. We believe that the benefits that have been generated in these communities—fewer incidents of alcohol and drug abuse, fewer instances of domestic violence, and the fact that children are now attending school—are very, very strong points for why this government should continue to pursue the benefits of the cashless debit card. But at the same time our overarching policy is always to create more jobs for more Australians.