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Budget backflip on support for Newstart recipients

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Unemployed Australians have belatedly been offered one-off payments of at least $75 to help pay for their power bills, after a spectacular government backflip.

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People on Newstart were initially excluded from the “energy assistance” budget sweetener for other welfare recipients, which is worth $75 to singles and $125 for couples.

But the Morrison government has bowed to pressure and agreed to extend the one-off payment to the unemployed.

“There will be other people who will also receive that payment – that is something new,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told ABC Radio National this morning.

The bill passed the lower house today, with Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher telling the chamber the payment will help about five million welfare recipients and veterans.

The plan is now expected to cost $365 million, an overnight blowout of $80 million.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the backdown proved the budget had completed unravelled.

“The ink is not even dry,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“We said repeatedly that the energy supplement is a small compensation, but it should apply to those people, and the government shouldn’t have to be shamed into it by a resolution from the parliament to do so.”

Labor planned to test the government’s numbers in parliament by proposing to include Newstart and other welfare recipients in the payments.

“It wouldn’t be the first time the government has tried to head off a bushfire,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told Sky News.

“Perhaps when they designed it, they should think about people.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison denied extending the energy supplement to Newstart recipients was a backflip or afterthought.

“I want to see it passed through the parliament and that’s what’s going to happen,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“We’re just getting it done.”

Shorten said the electricity payments pointed to a deeper problem plaguing the Morrison government, arguing the one-off “con” was designed to conceal a lack of climate policy.

Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie said the government had promised to reduce power bills for years, telling the lower house it was a “great shame” they had not delivered an energy policy to do so.

Announcing the pre-election enticement at the weekend, the government argued the unemployed would not benefit because it was limited to those “who don’t have the opportunity to work or earn additional income”.

People on Youth Allowance payments were also excluded.

Instead, it was targeted at aged and disability pensioners, carers, veterans and single parents – a position confirmed in Tuesday night’s budget papers.

The government copped fierce criticism for excluding the unemployed from the energy rebate, with seniors’ advocates arguing older Australians had been left out in the cold.

Ian Yates, from the Council on the Ageing, said there were 350,000 job seekers over the age of 45.

“Surviving on Newstart and looking for work after a lifetime of employment is soul destroying enough,” Yates said.

“Being told you aren’t eligible for the same help with bills as others receiving income support is outrageous and must be remedied immediately.”

Subject to legislation now passing the Senate, the one-off payments will be exempt from income tax and paid automatically by the end of June.

– AAP

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