FAMILIES Minister Jenny Macklin has apologised for saying she could survive on the $35-a-day Newstart, admitting her comment was “insensitive” and that the dole payment would be very hard to live on.
Some senior ministers have conceded it would hard to survive on Newstart so when Ms Macklin said on New Year’s Day she “could” live on the payment, the Greens and welfare groups reacted with outrage.
“I do acknowledge that my remarks were insensitive and I’m certainly very sorry for that,” she told reporters in Sydney today.
“I do understand that it is very hard to live on a very low income, including unemployment benefits.”
Ms Macklin said she could have been clearer in the way she expressed herself.
Julia Gillard also said today it was “very tough for people on low and fixed incomes to make ends meet”.
But she said a job was the best form of relief for those people on unemployment benefits.
“We keep our focus on creating jobs because the best thing we can do for anybody experiencing unemployment is to make sure there is a job available for them.”
But Mr Rudd said the government also had a responsibility to do more for the less well-off.
“This is a country with a bit of a heart… I think this is the sort of area where we should be showing a bit of a heart as well,” Mr Rudd told the ABC.
“These are folk who are doing it tough, but I’m not going to get in the business of supporting one option or another.
“I think we could be doing more”.
Many prominent Labor MPs have suggested the government’s decision to drop its promise of a budget surplus means a dole increase should be on the agenda now.
“That decision provided a greater opportunity to attend to some pretty basic social needs,” Mr Rudd said.
Mr Rudd said he had no specific proposal for change as that was the responsibility of government ministers.
“The truth is, if you put yourself in the position of people who have to make ends meet on Newstart, this is very, very hard.”
Mr Rudd said he had not spoken about the matter to caucus members “for some weeks”.
Employment Minister Bill Shorten has previously told The Australian he is in favour of action on Newstart, and, despite her controversial comments, Ms Macklin is also understood to be sympathetic to the push to lift the dole.
Mr Shorten last year conceded he would find it difficult to manage on such a small amount of money.
The Coalition has opened the door to a rise in the Newstart allowance, indicating it is under active consideration, but warned it must be made a short-term payment because too many people stay on the dole for too long.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has also lent qualified support for calls for an increase in the dole.
Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie has urged bipartisan support to lift the Newstart allowance by $50.
The government has come under fire, including from some Labor backbenchers, for laws that came into effect on January 1 moving single parents on to Newstart when their youngest child turns eight. The changes will save $728 million over four years and will cost single parents up to $223 a fortnight.Source: The Australian “Jenny Macklin sorry for ‘insensitive’ dole claim”