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March 31, 2010

Taking a tougher approach to unemployment benefits will benefit welfare recipients in the longer term, according to the Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester.

The Nationals MP has welcomed today’s announcement by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that people on unemployment benefits who are fit and able to work, should be required to participate in ‘work for the dole’ projects if they can’t find a job.

“In my view, this is not about punishing job seekers, it is about making sure that people continue to develop skills and develop a work ethic, even when they are receiving unemployment benefits,” Mr Chester said.

“The Gillard Labor Government has progressively wound back the ‘work for the dole’ program which gave unemployed people an opportunity to do something productive while they searched for work.

“There have been many outstanding projects in Gippsland completed by people under the ‘work for the dole’ scheme. I’ve met program participants at the completion of these jobs and many of them have told me about the pride and respect they have gained from doing something practical for their community.

“The self-esteem and confidence which comes from undertaking practical work is important for people who find themselves unemployed for whatever reason.”

Mr Abbott said “sometimes governments have to be firm to be fair”.

“Reasonably fit working age people should be working, preferably for a wage, if not, for the dole,” Mr Abbott said.

“A further measure that the government should consider is to suspend unemployment benefits for people under 30 in areas where there are shortages of unskilled labour. This is perhaps the strongest signal that government could give that people must take opportunities to work seriously.”

Mr Chester said such a scheme would benefit employers in the horticultural sector and other industries in Gippsland.

“At the moment, there are ongoing problems for major employers when they have a crop to be picked, and despite the availability of unemployed people in the region, they struggle to secure a local workforce and crews are often brought in from other areas,” Mr Chester said.

“The longer a person is unemployed and inactive, the harder it is for them to return to the workforce in any capacity. Welfare reform is long overdue and I urge the government to consider these measures as a matter of urgency.”

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