Thursday, 17 October 2019
At the outset I acknowledge the senator from Western Australia's passion in relation to this issue and I note that it's an issue which she often speaks about in this place. I don't think that there's a single senator sitting in this chamber who is not concerned about the opportunities which some people in our community are struggling to find: to obtain work, sustainable employment and to progress their lives in the way that I think everyone in this country should have the opportunity to do so. The question is: what are the appropriate policy settings to address that circumstance? That is where the government differs in its approach from the good senator from Western Australia.
We should place this debate in a context. The fact of the matter is that we currently have the lowest proportion of working-age people on welfare in 30 years. That's a good thing. It's a great thing that we have the lowest proportion of working-age people on welfare in 30 years. It should also be noted that in the last budget year this country spent $172 billion on welfare—35 per cent of all government spending is spent on welfare. We do have a substantial social net in this country, and that's an important thing. We should have a substantial social net. We are a rich country and I think we're in a position to offer that.
With respect to Newstart, as the senator did recognise, it is indexed to CPI twice a year. Secondly, the fact of the matter is that many people—and I'd say most people who receive Newstart—are eligible to receive other entitlements from the federal government and indeed from a number of state governments around the country. That should be recognised as well. This government's focus is to try to provide an opportunity for people currently on Newstart to find a path to work, because work is the best form of welfare you can provide to a person. Every day that I'm standing in this place, I'll be looking to how we make it easier, not harder, for every business in this country to employ more people, especially young people—especially young people in regional Queensland in some of the socioeconomically disadvantaged areas in my home state—and get that extra young person an opportunity to seek employment. That's important; it's absolutely fundamental.
The government has instituted a number of programs in order to provide that pathway to work. The government is focused on breaking down the barriers some Australians face in returning to the workforce, which is why we are investing $96 million in Try, Test and Learn, which is trialling innovative pathways to work for people at risk of long-term welfare dependency.
Now, I know that the senator has passionate views with respect to the next subject I am about to touch upon: the cashless debit card. The results in my home state of Queensland are promising. That is the reality of the situation.