A Liberal backbencher has urged his party to increase the dole, backing calls from former prime minister John Howard and the Reserve Bank to raise the Newstart rate.
West Australian Senator Dean Smith on Monday broke ranks with the Morrison government, which is refusing to heed growing calls to lift welfare payments for the unemployed.
“I am someone who believes the Newstart allowance amount must be more than reviewed – which was Labor’s lame position – it should be increased,” Senator Smith told the upper house.
He said Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe and Liberal ‘legend’ Mr Howard had provided a “very powerful starting point” in the Newstart debate, which should weigh heavily on the coalition.
“I do think that these matters should be top of mind. They do deserve careful consideration,” Senator Smith said.
The central bank governor has said raising Newstart would help stimulate the economy, while Mr Howard has stated the payment should no longer be frozen.
But Senator Smith described a Greens’ push to legislate a $75 a week increase to the payment as a political stunt.
Greens senator Rachel Siewert’s doomed private bill was debated for about an hour on Monday.
“Every vote for this bill is a vote for the unemployed, for those living in poverty, for members of our community doing it tough,” she said.
Even if Labor had supported the legislation, it would not become law because “money bills” have to originate in the lower house.
Greens co-deputy leader Larissa Waters choked up while speaking about Labor dismissing the Newstart boost.
“This is real people we’re talking about and it’s very disappointing … that hope is given up too early,” she told parliament.
Liberal senator Wendy Askew led the government’s rebuttal of raising the dole, repeating its mantra that “the best form of welfare is a job”.
“You can’t just wave a magic wand and give welfare recipients a few more dollars and say you’ve fixed the so-called poverty trap,” she said.
Labor senator Pat Dodson said the situation would not change without the government supporting a Newstart increase.
“The rate of Newstart is obviously too low and the government needs to raise it. It’s just not possible to live with dignity on $40 a day,” he said.
Earlier, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson became the latest in a long line of influential MPs demanding a boost to the rate.
“Yes, I do,” Senator Hanson told reporters in Canberra on Monday, when asked if she wanted the Newstart allowance raised.
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce last week called for Newstart, which hasn’t increased beyond inflation since the mid-1990s, to be boosted in regional areas.
The payment is $555.70 a fortnight for a single person without children, leaving job-seekers with about $40 a day.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has stressed the payment is “transitional”.
“Most Australians who are on Newstart allowance are on that payment for a very short period,” he told ABC radio.
But data from the department of social services shows the average time people receive Newstart is 156 weeks, or three years.