Liberal MP Jason Falinski said the base rate of JobSeeker should be increased but said a broader discussion about how best to get people back into work was needed. Both JobKeeper and JobSeeker should be “transitioned to something providing more opportunity”, he said, listing training and education programs as possible ways to improve employment prospects.
“There is an negative incentive for some people to move from welfare to work as it ends up costing you money to get employed at certain levels,” he said.
A growing number of economists support a permanent increase to the base rate of JobSeeker and want a review of JobKeeper before it ends in March.
Mr Falinski said early access to superannuation had “done the job it was meant to do” and should not be needed in 2021 as the economy continued to recover, but there was still merit in a discussion about how superannuation could be used to improve home ownership levels.
Senator Andrew Bragg said the early access scheme could be expanded, in particular to help first-home buyers get on the property ladder by pulling money out of superannuation.
“You could tweak the existing [First Home Super Saver] scheme or could seek to introduce a further early release program,” Senator Bragg said.
“On JobKeeper and JobSeeker [the government] has done a terrific job in setting those schemes and tapering them down,” he said. “We have to wean the country off this sort of income support.”
He was unwilling to nominate a rate for JobSeeker and if it should drop back to pre-pandemic levels, saying it was difficult for city residents out of work to cover their basic expenses.
“It has to be the rate where people can afford to buy the shirt, iron the shirt and turn up for job interviews. In Sydney that’s more expensive than Launceston,” he said.
Senator Gerard Rennick supported the tapering back of the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes.
“The reality is we can’t afford to keep it going,” Senator Rennick said. However, he said the government should consider making an exception for industries still suffering such as tourism and education and he would support a re-introduction of the measures if outbreaks worsened.
He also wanted to keep the early access super scheme permanently and a hike in the dole, provided those without children were required to move for work. “If you’re single and unemployed for longer than 12 months, in my view there’s no reason you shouldn’t be prepared to move to where the work is to get a job,” he said.
Liberal MP Dave Sharma said any changes to the three major schemes needed to be “assessed in light of the economic issues at the time”.
“We also need to be mindful of sectors still bearing the brunt of lockdown laws more than others,” he said, listing tourism and hospitality as among those affected.
Both Mr Sharma and Liberal MP Tim Wilson said the superannuation early access scheme had been “enormously successful” but any extension should be driven by economic events. Mr Wilson wants a new, permanent early access scheme to let first-time buyers use their retirement savings for a home.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the government had always maintained the early access to superannuation, JobKeeper and the JobSeeker supplement were temporary programs.
“Our economic recovery plan is designed to rebuild our economy and we’re seeing that through the creation of 734,000 jobs in the last six months, with fewer businesses and their employees in need of JobKeeper and other temporary economic support,” Mr Frydenberg said.
Jennifer Duke is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.