Treasurer defends modest JobSeeker boost

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has defended the modest increase to the JobSeeker unemployment benefit.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has defended the modest increase to the JobSeeker unemployment benefit.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has been forced to defend a modest increase to the dole after welfare groups and economists slammed the miserly boost.

The permanent base rate of JobSeeker payments is being lifted by $50 a fortnight, or just $3.57 a day.

Unemployed Australians and their allies have described the offering as a heartless betrayal.

Mr Frydenberg insisted the increase was "very substantial" and shut down the prospect of negotiating a more meaningful ongoing boost.

"The government is providing the safety net with JobSeeker, it's not expected to be a payment that somebody is on indefinitely," he told Nine on Wednesday.

"The vast majority of people are receiving other supplementary payments."

Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie described the raise as dreadful news, having called for an increase of about $150 a fortnight.

"Fifty dollars a fortnight is laughable. That's $3.57 a day. That's not even a cup of coffee," he told the ABC.

"This is a continuation of the government's policy of poverty by design."

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher described the JobSeeker increase as "an appropriate response to the circumstances we face".

But Nationals senator Matt Canavan is concerned about the impact on the federal budget.

"We're borrowing too much money," he told the ABC.

"And when you get into those kinds of debt levels, there's only so much you can continue to spend money on."

The increase is expected to cost $9 billion over four years.

"I've got sympathy for an increase in the dole but I do think we need to start a conversation about where our debt is, where it's going, and how we're going to manage this," Senator Canavan said.

The government argues the dole must be affordable and not provide a disincentive to taking low-paid work.

It has tied the increase to much stronger mutual obligations on JobSeeker recipients.

Bosses are being given a new hotline to dob in job seekers who turn down work.

Individuals without a valid reason could have their welfare payments docked.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said the hotline was designed to ensure people who are able to work accept a suitable job.

"We receive so many reports from employers of people turning up to interviews, they can do the job, there's no reason they can't do the job, but they are just there to tick a box," she told Nine.

"This is just to enable those employers to report to the department, so that we can actively monitor those people who could've said yes but chose not to.

"My department will, of course, investigate all of this."

Welfare recipients will also have to attend face-to-face meetings with employment agencies and apply for at least 15 jobs a month.

People on JobSeeker for more than six months will have to work for the dole or engage in an "intensive training" program of short courses.

There are more than 1.3 million people on JobSeeker payments and even before the coronavirus recession hit, there were eight people competing for each available job.

Australian Associated Press