Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is for the Minister for Families and Social Services, Minister Ruston. There are a quarter of a million people on Newstart who have been stuck on the payment for a year and are looking for a job. I've heard from some of them. They're the ones going to job interviews on foot because they can't afford the bus ticket. They turn up to every interview in the same shirt because they can't afford a new one. They're doing the right thing. They're having a go. They're trying to find work, and Newstart's payment rate is making it harder, not easier. How is that fair? Is that deliberate? Will the government consider raising the rate of Newstart to help people get off welfare and into a job?
I thank Senator Lambie for her question. Quite clearly, the responsibility of the government when it comes to people who do not have a job is not just to provide them with the safety net payment to assist them during that time; it's much more important that we also create jobs. This government has a very strong track record of job creation. Over 1.4 million jobs have been created in the time since we have been in government and we have a plan to create more.
More importantly, Senator Lambie, we also believe in the creation of pathways, so that people who haven't got work can be connected to the jobs that are available, while also understanding that there are significant and different barriers to employment. Many people face different types of barriers. Some people face barriers because they're younger and don't have experience. Some people face barriers because of their mental health condition. Some people face barriers as older Australians, and they find themselves with some particularly unique barriers to employment. This government is absolutely committed to working on programs to break down those barriers so that we can assist people in getting into jobs.
There are a couple of examples that this chamber may be interested in. A couple of weeks ago, I attended headspace in northern Adelaide, a fantastic group of people working with young people who present with mental health issues that are barriers to them being able to get work. I spoke to three fantastic young people, all of whom had presented to headspace because they had either depression or anxiety issues. Of the three young people I spoke to, I'm very pleased to announce to the chamber that the first one is in full-time work; the second one is in part-time work and studying; and the third one, who had had significant anxiety issues, said that he was really excited because the following week he was actually feeling prepared and strong enough to attend his first job interview.
It sounds like I shouldn't hold my breath waiting for you guys to raise the rate of Newstart, then. But why not raise the threshold of income that a Newstart recipient can earn before their payments start being cut? At the moment, someone on Newstart can earn only around $50 a week before their payments are reduced. If the best form of welfare is a job, why punish people on welfare who work anything more than three hours a week?
I thank Senator Lambie for her follow-up question. One of the things that the research has shown is that people who work for a few hours a week are much more likely to be able to go on and get a job. So we would certainly be encouraging people to work. But, through the initiatives and the programs that we're putting in place, we are also providing funding for assistance to break down those barriers. Some of those things may be as simple as providing people with assistance to write their CV, possibly providing assistance with how to dress to go to an interview, providing assistance with how to present at an interview and, in cases where they haven't got the resources, also funding them to be able to buy the appropriate clothes to attend an interview. One of the things that we are absolutely focused on is making sure that there are a series of protections and programs that are wrapped around people who genuinely want to get a job who find themselves in the difficult situation where they don't have a job.
Your government argued for lower taxes because a 37 per cent tax rate was discouraging people from work. Over 100,000 recipients lose part of their payment because they're working a few hours a week. And they're not losing 30c in the dollar, are they? No, they're losing between 50c and 60c. How is it fair that Newstart recipients pay a higher effective tax rate than anyone else in the country? Doesn't that discourage work too? It's quite simple. What is it going to cost you people to let them work another few hours a week before it hits their payments? Absolutely nothing. (Time expired)
I thank Senator Lambie for her follow-up question. Obviously this government doesn't see that the reduction in payment is a tax in the same way as you would determine that somebody who is on an actual wage or salary would pay tax. However, I would say that I can give you an absolute commitment that this government is entirely focused on making sure that anybody who hasn't got a job and wants a job will be assisted in getting into work. It is the responsibility of—
Whilst I'm not in a position to respond directly to the question that has been asked by Senator Lambie, the one thing I can assure this chamber is that this government is open to all suggestions of how we can assist people in getting out of the state of unemployment into employment. So I'm more than happy to talk to Senator Lambie or anybody opposite or anybody else in this place— (Time expired)