The federal government may consider introducing a universal welfare payment with top-ups for different need levels, to replace multiple types of benefits.
A 10-year report by the Department of Human Services shows more than five million Australians received an income support payment in June 2012, with Disability Support Pension recipients hitting 827,000 and the Newstart Allowance going to 550,000 people.
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews is concerned about growing numbers of people receiving the disability pension and Newstart, the general unemployment benefit.
“We must have … a safety net for people who can’t care for themselves … but at the same time we have to ensure that the welfare system remains sustainable,” he told ABC Radio.
“The best form of welfare is work.”
Mr Andrews has appointed former Mission Australia head Patrick McClure to head a review of the welfare system.
The government is reviewing all welfare rules to see what can be done to decrease the number of people on the dole, including the possibility of eliminating the ability of those on welfare to refuse to take a job if it is more than 90 minutes from their home.
He says another proposal is for one universal welfare payment with top-ups for different levels of need, but that this is a long-term option.
“We have no immediate plans for that,” he said.
Mr Andrews pointed out that the Newstart Allowance was indexed at a different rate compared to pensions.
“That provides in some instances at least a perverse incentive for people to want to get onto the disability support pension,” he said.
“It’s something which any government which is prudent about these things would have a look at.”
He defended the Abbott government’s generous paid parental leave scheme proposal, describing it as a work-related payment in the context of an ageing population and shrinking workforce.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he was alarmed by Mr Andrews’ comments, warning aged pensioners could be on the government’s hit list.
“If this government wants to save money, scrap your gold-plated billionaires’, millionaires’ parental leave scheme,” he told Sky News.
He said the government should look at multimillionaires receiving tax-free income from superannuation.
Welfare Rights Centre director Maree O’Halloran said the idea of a universal welfare payment with top-ups sounded fair, but it could be complex to administer.