Senate debates

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Motions

Pensions and Benefits

5:09 pm

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

It is time to shatter the mythology peddled by those sitting at the end of the chamber and opposite and shine a very bright light on the compassionate assistance the Morrison government is actually providing to Australians in hardship. One by one the myths have to be smashed. There's no more compelling example of this than the government's care, than the disaster recovery funding arrangements after a heartbreaking summer of devastating bushfires. These arrangements are facilitating the early provision of disaster assistance; alleviating the significant financial burden of the states; providing relief from personal hardship and distress; restoring essential public assets such as roads, bridges, stormwater infrastructure, public hospitals, schools and public housing; and funding small businesses, primary producers and non-profit organisations in their efforts to recover from the horrendous impacts of the Christmas and New Year infernos.

The funding is also devoted to futureproofing communities from further disasters. It allows a state or local government to use other funding to enhance assets above their predisaster standard by improving their durability and strength and relocating them if necessary. Under the disaster recovery funding arrangements, the Morrison government may contribute up to 75 per cent of the costs under the program. That includes additional assistance in the form of Australian disaster recovery payments. This is a one off, non-means-tested payment of $1,000 for eligible adults and $400 for eligible children, including an additional $400 for those children returning to school who have been adversely affected by a major disaster either in Australia or overseas. Then there is the disaster recovery allowance, a short-term income-support payment to help those with income that's been affected by disaster. There's support for employees, small-business persons and farmers suffering a loss of income.

So any suggestion that the Morrison government is anything other than extremely sensitive to the pressing needs of Australians doing it tough is pure mischief, if not scandalous. You can call it white noise. The US President might call it something of a darker colour, but you can be sure it has the same smell. You can be sure it's time to expose these falsehoods for the nonsense that they are.

Correcting the public record of commitments includes removing the rubbish that's passed off as debate around Newstart. Instead let's focus on the facts: the reality of how this allowance works. The Prime Minister has quite rightly pointed out to those demanding Newstart increases that the rate does increase every six months. Newstart is boosted in accordance with the CPI, and 99 per cent of recipients receive additional payments. Newstart will always be increased by indexation, and that's not going to change.

It must be remembered that recipients are not just receiving Newstart. Rental assistance and other measures are also supporting people in challenging circumstances as they seek employment. For example, Newstart and youth allowance are often supplemented by fortnightly energy payments and rent assistance payment. Nineteen per cent of unemployed people receive family payments. Rent assistance is up to $183.12 a fortnight for families with three or more children. FTB part A is up to $242.20 a fortnight per child for children aged 13 to 19 years. FTB part B is up to $158.34 a fortnight per family for children under five years. Pharmaceutical allowance is up to $6.20 a fortnight. Telephone allowance has risen to $178.40 a year.

While the amount of Newstart benefits is always increasing with the CPI, the core of its meaning will never change. The Morrison government remains committed to focusing on the key issue of securing employment. We only have to look at the falling unemployment rate to know Newstart is working in achieving its ultimate objective.

At the end of 2019, Australia's unemployment rate fell for the second consecutive month, to 5.1 per cent. That's the lowest level since March last year. It's a heartening indication of solid jobs growth in part-time work, with the ranks of the unemployed falling by 13,000 to just below 700,000. In December alone we celebrated the creation of 29,000 jobs. The government will continue to support the economy by providing tax relief to millions of Australians and adjusting the deeming rate for pensioners and other welfare recipients with shares and savings.

The Morrison government recognises the skills, insight and on-the-job experience of mature-age Australians. They have a valuable contribution to make to the workplace, and we're committed to ensuring that older jobseekers are able to modernise their existing skill set to re-enter the work force. No-one has ever pretended it's easy to live without a job. But the fact is Newstart was never meant to be a salary or a wage replacement. It's a safety net for people while they're looking for work. We owe to the taxpayers who fund it to make Newstart targeted, and recipients need to know it's sustainable—and it is.

Once again, the facts make for much easier reading than the fiction. The fact is the government is delivering the job opportunities. The fact is the government is providing pathways and breaking down barriers for people on welfare. The fact is we also provide a range of programs to encourage people into work, like try, test and learn and individual placement support.

The fact is Newstart allowance is the main income support payment for working-age unemployed people as they seek employment. It's a safety net payment, not a wage replacement. The fact is Newstart is not the only payment or support that jobseekers receive; it is part of a broader welfare system comprising payments, services, concessions, child care, housing and employment services and associated programs. That's why the Morrison government is so strongly focused on delivering job opportunities, providing pathways and breaking down barriers for people on welfare.

We recognise there are times when people need a safety net to help them when they're down and hard of luck. We'll never waver from the belief expressed by the Prime Minister time and time again that the best form of welfare is a job. The Morrison government is delivering job opportunities in abundance, creating more than 1.5 million jobs since we were elected. Thanks to our vision for a robust and expanding workforce and stronger labour market conditions, the participation rate is at 66 per cent, compared to a 10-year average of 65.2.

The fact is our 5.1 per cent unemployment rate is below the 10-year average of 5.5 per cent. As at June 2019, the proportion of Australians receiving working-age income supports had fallen to its lowest level in 30 years at 13.5 per cent, and the investment will continue in jobactive and Disability Employment Services to help people secure and keep a job.

About one-third of the Commonwealth's budget is spent on welfare. Social Services touch almost all Australians at some stage in their lives. The safety net provided for the most vulnerable is critical, and that's why the sustainability of the system is paramount. We promise all Australians that, if they have particular needs and meet the relevant residency income and asset tests, they will be supported with a particular benefit, be it the aged pension for those at that age, Newstart for those of working age who are unemployed or the disability support pension for those with a permanent disability that stops them from working. If we make that promise, it is crucial that we keep it. We never want to run the risk of not having the money to pay the benefit we have vowed to deliver.

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