Thursday, 20 September 2018
Questions without Notice
Pensions and Benefits
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Fifield. Minister—through you, President—Newstart has not been increased in real terms since 1994. That was 24 years ago—in fact in the year of the birth of my colleague Senator Steele-John. Today, the base rate of Newstart will rise by an indexed amount of $2.20 a week, and the government claims this will help those on the payment keep up with the cost of living. Minister, what does the government think people can buy with an extra 30c a day?
Thank you, Senator Siewert, for the question. One thing that all of us in this chamber can be very pleased about is that our nation has a very good and strong record of having payment arrangements to support people who are in difficult circumstances, often for reasons beyond their control. As I have said before, one of the ways that you can guarantee as a nation that you can provide assistance to fellow Australians when they need it is by having a strong economy and a well-managed budget. We want and will see a continuation of a sustainable welfare system that supports the most vulnerable, that encourages those capable of work or study to do so and that reduces intergenerational welfare dependency.
Newstart is primarily a payment designed to assist people transition through the labour market—
The minister just mentioned in his answer the payment involved—just then, as you rose to your feet. There was a preamble to your question that the minister is entitled to address, though, Senator Siewert. You have reminded the minister of the conclusion of your question. He has 52 seconds remaining.
Newstart is primarily a payment designed to assist people transition through the labour market. For this reason, Newstart recipients are able to earn income from work or other sources before their payment is affected. Around two-thirds of those granted Newstart exit income support within 12 months, and over 99 per cent of Newstart recipients receive more than just the base rate of Newstart. For example, their payment may include the energy supplement, rent assistance for those in the private rental market and family tax benefit for those raising children. We do absolutely remain committed to ensuring that social security payments are well targeted and sustainable into the future.
The Deloitte Access Economics report analysis of the impact of raising the benefit rates says that there will be a significant boost to the economy from raising the Newstart rate. Has the government done any evaluation of the boost to the economy from, in fact, raising Newstart by $75 a week?
The government's approach to payments such as Newstart, is, firstly, to ensure that we have a strong economy so that Australians are in the best possible position to gain employment. Secondly, we manage our budget well to ensure that for those who are having difficulty gaining employment we do have supports, such as Newstart. Finally, we take very seriously that there needs to be a multifaceted approach when it comes to people who are facing difficulties for reasons beyond their control and, as I have mentioned, there are a number of elements to the supports that people in difficult circumstances receive from the government, not just Newstart.
As I have indicated, Newstart is primarily a payment designed to assist people transition through the labour market. As I have also mentioned, Newstart recipients often receive more than just the base rate and, again, as I have indicated, around two-thirds of those granted Newstart—
Order! Senator Siewert, I am ruling on your point of order. This particular question, without explicitly stating it, refers to a number of statements in debates in this chamber that I have witnessed. For that reason I consider it to be in order, because ministers can be asked about previous statements even in a representational capacity. Senator Fifield, Senator Siewert has reminded you of the specific nature of the question. I can't direct you how to answer the question, but you do need to be directly relevant to it.
As I was saying, one of the most important things that a government can do is to create an environment where there are jobs created so that people can leave Newstart and be employed. We are getting on with doing that. More than 240,000 jobs were created in the last financial year—the largest increase in jobs since before the global financial crisis.