The minister responsible for emergency payments, Bridget McKenzie, has been called out over a suggestion she would rather be on welfare in Australia than anywhere else in the world.
It comes after the federal government ramped up support for individuals affected by Greater Sydney’s extended lockdown, including extending support to some welfare recipients.
People who usually work 20 hours or more will get $750 per week and those who work less will get $450.
Welfare recipients who have lost eight hours of work a week or more will get a $200 top-up on their regular payments.
But there are 350,000 people on welfare supports in Greater Sydney lockdown areas who won’t get any extra help.
They can’t look for work because they’re in lockdown and will not be offered coronavirus supplements that were given out last year.
Senator McKenzie defended the exclusion of unemployed welfare recipients from disaster payments.
She said the scheme was designed to supplement the incomes of working people and argued everyone left out could access to a “strong and supportive” welfare system instead.
“When you look globally at the economic impacts on individuals we can be very, very glad we actually live in a country like Australia where we have such a strong social network of welfare payments,” she told ABC radio.
“I would rather be on welfare here in Australia than anywhere else in the world going through this global pandemic.”
In response to the minister’s claim, an economist for think tank the Australian Institute said Australia had the one of least generous unemployment payments in the developed world.
“Australia has a terrible unemployment benefit when it is compared to unemployment benefits in other countries – we rank last in the developed world out of about 37 different countries,” Matt Grudnoff told SBS News.
“In almost any developed country in the world, you would be better off being on unemployment benefits than Australia.”
Mr Grudnoff said he was concerned that there had been a lack of additional support provided for people on welfare during the lockdown in Sydney.
“The way that our unemployment benefits are structured at the moment – there are people in Sydney who are in poverty,” he said.
“They can’t get out of it – they can’t go and work – they can’t go and look for work and that’s just wrong.”
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said Senator McKenzie had “missed the point completely” and her comments were misleading.
“The fact is people are condemned to poverty when they are living on the JobSeeker payment,” she told SBS News.
“She is trying to misdirect people by making her comments.”
Senator Siewert welcomed the extension of support for some people on welfare, but said too many gaps remained in the provision of additional financial assistance.
“I’m deeply concerned about it,” she said.
“It means there are a group of people that haven’t been able to find work through no fault of there own – living below the poverty line – making their lives even harder.”
The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) has also raised concerns around the failure to extend additional support to all people on welfare payments.
A single person on JobSeeker payments is eligible for a base rate payment of $620.80 a fortnight or around $44 a day, but may be eligible for additional welfare supplements like rent assistance.
The federal government earlier this year announced a permanent $50-a-fortnight rise to the JobSeeker payment after the coronavirus supplement ended in March.