Today’s decision to permanently increase the Jobseeker base rate by $50 per fortnight is a fair approach to a notoriously difficult issue.
Jobseeker was temporarily set at emergency levels to support people through the pandemic but the increase was not sustainable and was acting as a disincentive to people getting a job. The increased coronavirus supplement will be phased out at the end of March, and replaced by the new base rate of approximately $620 per fortnight.
Importantly, people can earn $150 per fortnight without any impact on that base rate.
In making these decisions, the Federal Government has carefully considered the balance between trying to encourage people to take jobs as they become available, while at the same time supporting Australians who find themselves out of work.
It is the biggest permanent increase in unemployment benefits since 1986 and sets the base rate at 41% of the minimum wage.
Keep in mind, many people who receive Jobseeker, also receive other payments such as rental assistance and family payments, to support their household incomes.
I’m not suggesting it’s easy to live on welfare payments and I understand that many Gippslanders find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own. Our welfare safety net is intended to help people get back on their feet and find a new job.
On that point, I am constantly contacted by small business owners and farmers who report they have jobs available in our region but some people are unwilling to work. This is where the Federal Government needs to get the balance right with ‘mutual obligation’ requirements intended to make sure people are genuinely seeking employment as they receive taxpayer-funded benefits.
We will have an ‘employer reporting line’ established to allow for business owners to report people who reject suitable jobs they are qualified to undertake, to overcome persistent concerns about some people refusing to take jobs.
The changes announced today are intended to make sure the mutual obligation rules are followed and we actually help unemployed people get back to work as soon as possible. It’s not intended as a punishment – the best form of welfare is helping people get a job.
I appreciate this will be a controversial issue with many different views but as I said at the outset, I believe the increase to the Jobseeker base rate is fair, and gets the balance right between providing much-needed support and still providing incentives for Australians to take jobs as they become available.