National

Newstart suspensions fire Greens’ anger

By AAP Newswire

The Greens have accused the Morrison government of persistently demonising jobless Australians in a bid to derail public support for a boost to dole payments.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash released new figures on Friday showing jobseekers' Newstart payments were suspended more than two million times in one year for missing appointments.

Another 750,000 suspensions were handed out because of "mediocre job searches" in 2018/19.

There are about 710,000 people receiving Newstart.

The Greens say the compliance framework, which operates on a demerit points system, is punitive and makes people's lives harder.

"The penalties, demerits and suspensions are not a reflection of people not wanting to meet their obligations and participate, they are reflective of the flawed system," community services spokeswoman Rachel Siewert said.

"There's basically no flexibility in the system and we know from the Senate inquiry and also from complaints we receive that people are getting penalised because of mistakes by providers. The system also does not account for the complexity of people's lives."

Australia's welfare scheme has previously come under fire in Senate hearings for punishing people who miss appointments because they're actually working, or because their bus was late.

Social welfare advocate Ella Buckland on Friday tweeted a letter she received from Centrelink assigning her an appointment to discuss her job plan on a day she says she will actually be at a paid job.

"Rang. Was told it's compulsory and if I don't go my payments stop," she said.

A further 540,000 suspensions were the result of people not showing up to a Jobactive-related activity, while 3,436 job seekers were suspended due to misconduct at a meeting, activity or interview.

Senator Cash said the figures showed the targeted compliance scheme was working, with more of the suspensions occurring only once or twice.

"What these figures show is a large cohort of Jobactive participants not taking their mutual obligations seriously," she said.

Senator Seiwert said that was rubbish.

"It's outrageous that once again this government is using a flawed system to demonise people on income support and drip feeding statistics rather than putting all of the evidence on the table," she said, pointing out the statistics were not available online for scrutiny.

"Trying to demonise people is a distraction from increasing Newstart."

Jobactive is the government's employment program and requires job seekers to attend regular meetings with providers and apply for 20 jobs a month in order to keep their welfare payments.

Most Newstart recipients are required to be on it.

The program has been criticised for wasting job seekers' time, with a Senate committee in February slamming it as "not fit for purpose".

A March survey of people looking for work found two-thirds said Jobactive hadn't been helpful in their situation.