Newstart increase would not help people addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling

Senator Anne Ruston reacts to being asked about remarks reported by The Murray Valley Standard one more time. Image: Parliament of Australia.
Senator Anne Ruston reacts to being asked about remarks reported by The Murray Valley Standard one more time. Image: Parliament of Australia.

The federal government is committed to helping people overcome addictions which stop them from finding a job, Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston says.

Senator Ruston made the remarks in parliament as a national debate about the adequacy of Newstart payments to jobseekers, fuelled by a report in The Standard last month, rolled on.

She had suggested at a forum in Murray Bridge that - for people addicted to drugs, alcohol or gambling - any increase to the payment would simply go to pubs and drug dealers.

On Thursday, she told the Senate the government was "absolutely committed" to making sure that any Australian who wanted a job would get the help they needed to become ready to work.

"Some people actually face significant barriers to getting into employment on the basis of addiction," she said.

"This government does not trivialise that.

"We will continue to work with people who find themselves with barriers as a result of addiction ... we will keep helping them."

She argued that she had been "misquoted and misrepresented" in The Standard, and by other media since; and referred MPs to a transcript of her remarks which The Standard published online on October 3.

Labor Senator Alex Gallagher had asked about the remarks, and also asked why Senator Ruston did not support an increase to the rate of Newstart.

On Tuesday, the Senate had formally called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government to raise the rate.

Labor Senator Marielle Smith said the government needed to stop demonising Newstart recipients and recognise the economic and social benefits a higher rate of Newstart would have.

"In rural and regional South Australia there are 19,633 people on Newstart, and 6400 in the electorate of Barker," she said.

"Just imagine the immediate and impactful economic stimulus that an increase would have in regional South Australia.

"This isn't just a social policy issue."