QUESTION WITHOUT NOTICE - NEWSTART

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (14:00): My question is to the Prime Minister: Could the Prime Minister live on the Newstart rate of $40 a day?

Mr MORRISON (Cook – Prime Minister and Minister for the Public Service) (14:00): I thank the member for her question. For all of those who are on Newstart or many of the other welfare payments that are provided to them by the taxpayer, those payments are certainly modest. Those payments are indexed every six months, along with every other welfare payment. The Australian public provides that support. But the most important support that is provided by this government is to ensure that people can get off welfare and into work. This government has set records both for youth unemployment and getting people into jobs, people right across the spectrum—older Australians, younger Australians, female Australians—getting them into work. Because the best form of welfare—

Government members: Is a job!

The SPEAKER: The Manager of Opposition Business on a point of order?

Mr Burke: On direct relevance. It ought not to be the case in a question like this that anything about Newstart is instantly in order. The Prime Minister has strayed well away. There has been no reference whatsoever from the Prime Minister as to whether or not he could live on the amount—no reference at all.

The SPEAKER: I have been listening very carefully to the Prime Minister. I have listened to the Manager of Opposition Business. Whilst I believe the Prime Minister is the being directly relevant, as the standing order provides, it doesn't surprise me that he's raised a point of order, because there have been a series of these. I have been reflecting on this matter. As I said the other day—I also said I didn't want to detain the House for too long—but I feel I now should, at the start of a sitting week.

In reviewing direct relevance, which the Leader of the Opposition well knows came in in 2010—he knows very well indeed, but I won't go to all of that—various speakers have had to navigate this. I think I'm navigating it consistently, providing the answer is on the policy topic. I did look at a ruling from former Speaker Harry Jenkins, which I think does sum it up pretty well. I will read it to the House. This is when there was a series of points of order—actually, there would have been one point of order, because the rule was changed—relating to former Prime Minister Gillard's answer. Speaker Jenkins summed this up as best he could when he said, 'I believe so far she's been directly relevant, if not giving a direct answer.' They are different things. The standing orders demand direct relevance. He then went on, as I think the Leader of the Opposition would remember, to say that if there were going to be any other changes the procedure committee needed to look at it et cetera.

But I think that's the principle I'm sticking with. If the Prime Minister strays on to another policy topic, you will be sure that I'll act very quickly to ensure he doesn't. On the point of order, the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr Albanese: To be fair, when former Speaker Jenkins was making that ruling I doubt very much whether he was giving a ruling on the basis of a 12-word question.

The SPEAKER:  Yes, I think that's—

Mr Albanese: We are asking one-line questions. That didn't happen in 2010.

The SPEAKER:  No. I think the Leader of the Opposition actually does make a reasonable point there. I have reviewed the question. The question at that time was a question about climate change, as members would appreciate. However, in relation to the standing order for direct relevance, whilst a tighter question obviously demands a tighter answer, where a question simply demands a yes-no answer, which that really does, you're entitled to ask them, but you're not entitled to demand they be answered in that way. I'm listening to the Prime Minister. He's being directly relevant.

Mr MORRISON: The best form of welfare is a job. That's what those on this side of the House believe, and I believe that's what Australians believe. I want to commend all of those Australians who are on Newstart now who are looking for a job. Our government will not rest until we get all of them into jobs, because that's the pledge we made at the last election: 1¼ million new jobs over the next five years. That comes on the back of 1.3 million jobs created since we first came to government.

I'm asked about the rate of Newstart. $555 a fortnight. But, on average, an additional $130.50 is paid per fortnight to Newstart recipients, and some 99 per cent, I am advised, actually receive payments over and above Newstart. I'll tell you what I won't do when it comes to Newstart in this place: I will not engage in the unfunded empathy of the Labor Party. I will not go out as the Labor Party did at the last election, pretending they're going to do something about Newstart but not telling Australians how much they're going to increase it by, how much that is going to cost and how they are going to pay for it. I won't do that. Our government has set priorities on investing in health, in schools, on education, on mental health, on combating the terrible curse of suicide in our country and on supporting our veterans. We have made those choices about priorities rather than increasing the size of the welfare budget.

At the last election, the Labor Party came up with $387 billion of higher taxes, and they still couldn't come up with a way to fund an increase in the Newstart allowance. I will not allow the Labor opposition to go out and make all sorts of promises to Australians about Newstart when they have no intention of funding it and no intention of backing it up with a real policy.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.