Thursday, 17 October 2019
Questions without Notice
Pensions and Benefits
My question is to the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Ruston. At a forum held in Murray Bridge on 2 October, the minister argued against the need for an increase to Newstart, saying:
… all it would do is give drug dealers more money and give pubs more money.
The minister claims the reporting is misleading, but the chief executive officer of the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Terese Edwards, who attended the forum, labelled the comments as 'deplorable'. Who is telling the truth, Minister—you, or Ms Edwards?
Thank you, Senator Gallacher, for your question. Can I categorically state in this place that the comments that were reported in The Murray Valley Standard that were attributed to me were misquoted and misrepresented. But what I would say is that one of the issues we were talking about at that particular forum was in relation to how we help people who find themselves with significant barriers to employment to deal with those barriers. One of the things that was specifically being discussed at that time was how we can, for people who find themselves in a situation where they have addictions—whether they be drug addictions, alcohol addictions or gambling addictions—put programs in place to assist those people to deal with those addictions.
Those opposite may seek to verbal me, but I can absolutely assure you that it doesn't matter what they say; it will not change the resolve of this government to help people who find themselves without a job and find themselves with significant barriers to employment to get past those barriers. We are absolutely committed to making sure that any Australian who wants a job will be put into a position where we can assist them in getting a job, and there are myriad different ways we are doing that. Those opposite who come in here and seek to trivialise this really important issue by making these sorts of statements—shame on you. We will remain absolutely focused on making sure that when we identify that people have barriers to getting into work we will work with them to address those barriers. The only thing that is disgusting in here is the misrepresentation that you seek to perpetuate.
One quarter of Newstart recipients are over the age of 55, and the number of over-55s on Newstart has surged by 45 per cent under this government. What portion of payments to this cohort does this government allege is going to drug dealers and pubs?
I'm very disappointed that you continue to trivialise the fact that some people actually face significant barriers, on the basis of addiction, to getting into employment. I can assure you that this government does not trivialise that and will continue to work with people who find themselves with barriers as a result of addiction. We will keep helping them to overcome those barriers. But thank you very much for the question in relation to older Australians. This government recognises that there are a number of older Australians who find themselves with additional barriers to being able to get into work. That is why this government is actually focusing and specifically targeting measures so that we can assist older Australians to get back into the workforce. In fact in the 2018-19 budget we introduced a measure called the More Choice for a Longer Life Package, which actually addresses providing skills and job-access-ready initiatives to help older Australians who find themselves without a job to be skilled-up to get a job so that they can get back into the workforce.
Opposition senators interjecting—
I categorically state that I am not correcting my first answer. My first answer was absolutely accurate. What I am saying to you is there was a subsequent story in the Murray Valley Standard that provided greater clarification around what the journalist actually thought I said. Be a little bit careful, because you're on pretty shaky ground here if you want to start talking about what I said and what I didn't say.
Point of order on direct relevance: Senator Gallacher has asked whether or not the minister will release the recording or transcript her office claims to have. I ask you to remind the minister of that question.
I'm more than happy to direct you to the Murray Valley Standard's subsequent article, which has a transcript in it. I'm also more than happy to direct those opposite to the comments that I made on Sky TV a couple of weeks ago. Once again I'd say that we are focused on fixing the issue— (Time expired)