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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 3750

Newstart Allowance


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:21): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. Last week the government got its tax cuts through the Senate, giving people on the highest incomes an increase almost as much as the Newstart allowance itself, yet those on Newstart got no increase. When pushed, the government keeps pedalling the myth that the payment is sufficient because the majority of Newstart recipients are on another payment.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Is there a question in this or is this just a speech?

Senator SIEWERT: In fact, many of those receiving another payment are still living below the poverty line. Given this, why won't the government increase Newstart?

The PRESIDENT: I remind senators: senators are given a minute to ask the first question, and they are allowed to use a preamble in asking that question. I ask for no interjections during questions.





Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South WalesMinister for International Development and the Pacific) (14:22): As I have indicated to the chamber, and as Senator Cash said earlier, the coalition believes that the best form of welfare is a job. The government wants a welfare system that supports the most vulnerable, that encourages those capable of work or capable of study to do so, that reduces intergenerational welfare dependency and that, more than anything, is sustainable into 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. Calls to raise the rate of Newstart ignore the nature of the social security system, which is designed to target need. Over 99 per cent—can I underscore that: 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 to those raising children. The combination of these supplementary payments often exceed—can I underline that: often exceed—the value of the Newstart payment itself.

As I said, the coalition believes that the best form of welfare is a job. One of the dividends of the good management of this government and the increase in the number of jobs in our economy is that 140,000 people have been taken off welfare. That is very important, because that's about 140,000 individuals or family units— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert, a supplementary question.



Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:24): The only payment the majority of Newstart recipients receive is the $4 energy supplement, which the government wants to cut. Thirty-eight per cent of the people receiving Newstart also receive rent assistance because they pay private rent. If the minister were paying private rent, does she think that she could survive on these three payments, which equate to about $49 a day? Could the minister live on $49 a day if she were living in private rental?


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South WalesMinister for International Development and the Pacific) (14:25): As I was saying, the positive dividend of our good economic management is that there are more jobs in the economy. This economy is seeing 1,100 jobs created every day, and that means that's 1,100 families or 1,100 individuals who are now in employment. As I said, you may not—

The PRESIDENT: Order. Senator Siewert, a point of order?

Senator Siewert: The minister's halfway through her allotted time and yet she hasn't anywhere near approached answering the question asked, which was: could she live on those three payments which slightly increase the base rate of Newstart?

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Siewert. You have kindly reminded the minister of the question. I'm listening carefully. She has 28 seconds remaining to answer.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you, Mr President. As I was saying, the coalition knows that the best form of welfare is a job. Under this government, we have seen the largest increase in jobs since the GFC. Clearly, people who are in employment are able to meet their commitments. Newstart and the other benefits are about assisting people who do not have employment. But the object of the exercise, Senator Siewert— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert, a final supplementary question.







Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:26): Would the minister be prepared to try to live on the Newstart allowance—I will throw in the other allowances—for even a week?


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South WalesMinister for International Development and the Pacific) (14:26): As I have indicated through you, Mr President, 99 per cent of Newstart recipients receive more than the base rate. Senator Siewert, please listen to the answer; you might learn something. 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—leave income support—within 12 months. As I said, our welfare system encourages those capable of working or studying to do so while supporting vulnerable people within our society, and we remain committed to ensuring family assistance and social security payments are well targeted but, most importantly, are sustainable into the future.