PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA: Why are we debating this motion today and this year? Why are business leaders calling for Newstart to go up today? Why are some welfare agencies calling for Newstart to go up today? Why given that Newstart has not changed that much over the last few years but has been indexed according to CPI across all of those years? The reason is because the cost of living has been going up so dramatically over the last five years under the Labor government, particularly many of the essential costs which lower income people bear as a greater proportion of their income than other people do. We know that, for example, electricity costs have gone up 66 per cent; water, 59 per cent; gas, 39 per cent; and child care, 21 per cent. Many of these costs have been due to government policy.
Given these essentials have been going up so rapidly, I can understand the call from the member for Melbourne and calls from others for an increase in the dole because its value may have diminished over time—and it will, of course, diminish further once the carbon tax is in play come 1 July. But I do not support this motion as it stands Firstly, because our priority should be addressing the cost-of-living pressures for everyone, particularly by ditching the carbon tax and the mining tax, lowering general taxes and making our economy more efficient so that cost-of-living pressures are downwards for everybody. That should be the most important priority.
The second priority should be to make it easier for those people who are unemployed to get access to work. That means looking at our industrial relations framework and making it easier for employers to employ people who are on the dole, to give them a chance and yet have the flexibility, if it is not working, to reasonably lay them off under a fair framework. We know that the current regime does not provide that incentive, so that should be our second priority rather than increasing Newstart.
Thirdly, I do not believe that there should be any increase in the dole without some broader reforms to the welfare system, particularly an increase of the magnitude which the member for Melbourne is talking about. These reforms should be governed by the guiding principle that Newstart should be an adequate safety net but it should not become a disincentive to work. This is critical. Newstart is a safety net for people who are facing tough times, but it should not be a destination of choice. So I believe that if we are to move unemployment benefits in any way upwards, then that must be accompanied by some tougher actions to ensure that all able-bodied people are encouraged to work.
I am from the school of tough love. People of course must be supported to get work, but if they do not take a reasonable job offer then we must be clear about cutting off their welfare payments. I do not believe that we do anybody a service by allowing them to stay on welfare when there is a viable choice for that person to take. Ultimately, the longer a person sits on unemployment benefits, the more incapacitated they will become over time. That leads to welfare dependence and incapacitation. I think it is also the proper right of a taxpayer to say, ‘We’re happy to support unemployment benefits, but people have to take responsibility to take a job if one is available there.’
In a similar vein, we need to create greater incentives for longer term unemployed people to move to take work. We know that there are many jobs in some parts of Australia which are going begging and there are other parts of Australia where there are many people who are unemployed. Critically, I think we need to create the incentives and the culture for people who are unencumbered to move to where the jobs are.
Finally, we need to introduce greater reciprocity into welfare payments for able-bodied people. There is a social contract with the dole: we will make payments to unemployed people to support them during tough times but we expect responsibility in return—responsibility to give back through a work for the dole program and responsibility to be a good citizen if the taxpayer is supporting their existence.