The Morrison government is lauding its record on job creation while lambasting job-seekers for missing appointments, in a bid to change the conversation about the adequacy of dole payments.
Welfare dependency among working-age Australians is at the lowest level in 30 years, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told parliament on Wednesday.
Over the past four years, 230,000 people had dropped off being dependent on welfare payments.
"If you want to get people off welfare into work, you have got to make sure your welfare system is supporting people to get onto work," Mr Morrison said.
"Under this government, we are running a welfare system, which is a hand up ... not out."
And Employment Minister Michaelia Cash released new data showing a majority of people in the Jobactive program had payments suspended at some point over the past year.
Nearly four in five of 744,884 Jobactive participants had payments suspended at least once for breaches such as missing appointments or not applying for the agreed number of jobs per month.
One in 12 racked up 10 or more suspensions in the year, and one person had payments suspended 52 times.
Senator Cash says the figures showed the penalty and demerit system was working as intended because people re-engage after being punished.
"It's all about ensuring that, as an unemployed person, you're either actively looking for work ... or, alternatively, you're participating in an activity that will help you into employment," she told 2GB radio.
The Australian Council of Social Service labelled the figures alarming but said it had predicted similar results.
"I hope the minister understands that when you have the kind of findings that she's released today, it is the system that's the problem, and the automation has become brutal for people," chief executive Cassandra Goldie told reporters in Canberra.
New Liberal senator Matt O'Sullivan, who led mining magnate Andrew Forrest's indigenous jobs program, called for reforms to the program in his first speech to federal parliament on Tuesday.
Labor accused Senator Cash of resurrecting the "dole bludger" stereotype.
Opposition frontbencher Jason Clare said while people on Newstart should follow the rules, the government was depicting recipients are "dole bludgers", "surfies up the coast" or "pot-smoking hippies".
"The biggest group of people on Newstart are older people in their 50s, in their 60s. They are not old enough to get the pension, but they are finding it really hard to get back into the workforce."
A pair of women in their 50s underscored this point by sharing their stories with MPs and media at Parliament House.
Ellen and Shelly travelled from Lismore to show politicians there were real people with real lives behind the unemployment and welfare numbers.
Both had worked their whole lives before losing their jobs in their 50s and being forced onto Newstart.
Shelly, a teacher for more than 30 years, said the experience had been "soul-destroying".
"Even before I got on to the Jobactive program I applied for jobs, but because I was an older woman they just didn't want to know me," she said.
"Even though I've got all these skills, now I'm working in a takeaway shop and that's disheartening in itself."
The release of the Jobactive figures comes as momentum continues to build for a push to increase the $277-a-week Newstart payment.
Several coalition backbenchers, including former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, have added their voices to those from Labor, the Greens, business and welfare lobby groups, seniors, doctors, indigenous health workers, the Reserve Bank of Australia, and the Country Women's Association in saying the payment is inadequate.
© AAP 2019