Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (11:41): When the Curtin government introduced benefits for unemployed people and sick people and other special benefits in 1943, it did so against the backdrop of the Great Depression, where hundreds of thousands of people were thrown out of jobs for many, many months—in some instances years. The poverty and social dislocation and the hardship to families that resulted from that ensured that, when proposals came before the Curtin government in 1943, they received a very favourable reception. Of course, we were not the only country in the world to be introducing such schemes. In the 1920s the United Kingdom had introduced such a scheme, and in the 1930s a scheme had been introduced in the United States as well. What tied them all together was the common view that the No. 1 priority for governments should be to try and provide meaningful work for their citizens and that the benefits should be sufficient to provide a decent standard of dignity while somebody was looking for work and looking after their family in the same instances.
That remains our priority today, and in Australia we are fortunate that there are now some 830,000 fewer people who are unemployed today than would have been had we not been elected to government in 2007—that is to say, we have created 830,000 new jobs in the Australian economy over that period. That should be our priority. In this country we have avoided the ravages of unemployment that have beset Europe, the United States and other similar economies around the world, because the government has done the right thing. We have spent where we have needed to spend to stimulate the economy, at the same time as looking after people who are in need.
We have not ignored the problems of those people on Newstart, as the member for Melbourne would like to suggest. Indeed, at one point recently a $1 billion income support bonus scheme was introduced, providing $210 extra per year for eligible singles and $350 per year for most couples to assist them to meet increasing costs of living. That said, job creation and job protection will always be our higher priority. For example, on this side of the House we do not think you do anything to aid job security by making it easier to sack someone. We believe the best form of job security is providing decent industrial relations laws and a strong economy to ensure that businesses continue to protect people.
Mr Briggs interjecting—
Mr STEPHEN JONES: Very good, thank you. However, we also know that the level of Newstart has fallen behind the level of other benefit payments. We have recently seen evidence and a report from a Senate committee which has inquired into the adequacy of government benefit payments, pensions, and the comparison rate between pensions and the Newstart allowance. We have had a number of expert witnesses provide evidence to the committee. The Salvation Army, for instance, told the Senate inquiry that the current system does not provide recipients with adequate income. Mission Australia provided similar evidence, pointing out that Newstart is less than half the Australian minimum wage. Anglicare said they believe this has become a barrier to assisting the long-term unemployed in the workforce, a sentiment echoed by organisations as diverse as ACOSS and the Business Council of Australia. What they are saying—and I think this is something that policy setters need to be very mindful of—is that it actually costs money to look for work. If you are unable to pay for your basic utilities, a new suit or a new outfit, getting yourself prepared for interviews and travelling to job interviews, then the level of Newstart can be a barrier to those seeking work.
That is why I think in the upcoming budget we should have a plan to address some of these issues. As I said, we have not been standing still, but we should have a plan to address these issues. Of course, it has to be funded, and it will not be achieved by cheap stunts like trying to live on a cheese sandwich for a couple of weeks. It will be done because we have got a positive plan to deal with the overall economy.