Transcript by The Hon Christian Porter MP

Welfare Spending and Welfare Reform Bill

Program: Doorstop interview


Subjects: Welfare Spending and Welfare Reform Bill


Well $300, 000 every minute spent on welfare. Is that too much?


The human cost of welfare is people who aren’t in employment. So our Government has been talking for two years about these figures around the lifetime costs of welfare and how, for the Australian taxpayer, but also for all of the people inside the NewStart system, we can make life better by moving as many people from welfare to work as possible.

The way to get the lifetime cost of the welfare system down is getting people off NewStart and into a job. So everything we’re doing, in terms of every policy lever at our control – welfare reforms, cashless welfare card, drug trials – is designed to move people from welfare to employment.


What is the goal with this? What sort of numbers would you like to see?


What we know, and our Government has been the first Government to actually do the research and work out what these figures are – what we know is the lifetime costs for every single Australian who is presently in the welfare system, over their lifetime, represents just over $4 trillion.

There is only one way to decrease that amount, and ensure that people live better lives in the process, and that’s moving people from welfare and into work. And that’s why as a Government we are willing to try new things. We are willing to have cashless welfare cards, we are willing to trial drug testing of welfare recipients, and we’re absolutely willing to offer up a much better compliance system so that people are turning up to important interviews like job interviews. Without those types of policies we won’t repair this figure over time.

We have had very considerable success so far. Just keep in mind that under six years of Labor, the NewStart bill – the unemployment benefits bill – was growing at 13.5 per cent a year, and under the four years of our Government it has been growing at 3.7 per cent a year. That represents more people moving from welfare into work, creating better lives for themselves, better prospects for their children and ensuring that that lifetime welfare bill starts coming down – which is what we want to see happen.


Minister, where are you at with negotiations over the drug testing for welfare recipients, and when do you expect legislation to be debated in the Senate?


Soon it’ll be debated in the Senate. There are obviously a few things that the Senate is working on at the moment.

The negotiations are ongoing, and obviously the Nick Xenophon Team is a key to those negotiations. They’ve expressed publically, through Rebekha Sharkie, some reservations about the drug testing – without putting words in their mouth, they’re not objecting to the principle of compelling people into treatment, but they have some reservations about how you identify those people.

We are absolutely committed to drug testing welfare recipients. We met all sorts of resistance to the cashless welfare card, we met all sorts of resistance to No Jab, No Pay. But we see the ability to try new things, designed to move people from welfare into work as a critical and core component of this Government’s approach.

So we’ll keep negotiating, but we’ll also keep trying with every opportunity we have to make sure that we can try new things, like drug testing welfare recipients.


How confident are you though that you will get that legislation through? If you can’t, can you look at any mechanisms through regulations to bring this kind of trial into place if you can’t do it through legislation?


We’re talking about a 200 page piece of legislation that contains critical reforms like fixing the compliance system in the welfare space – so that we can have a simple three strike system, and not the very complicated system that is regularly enforced at the moment.

I am quietly confident, with the overwhelming majority of the Bill – that it’s going to go through without any form of substantial amendment. But we’re still negotiating around drug testing.

If we’re required to bring back drug testing and re-negotiate, then we’ll absolutely do that. We’re completely committed to that, just like we are committed to the cashless welfare card. But it will all be debated soon and we’ll see how we go on the floor.


In welfare reforms from the McLure Review the recommendation to crunch the number of payments down to less than say – ten. Where are you at with those wider reforms?


Well this 200 page Welfare Reform Bill about to be debated in the Senate takes the first critical step to make the system less complicated, because it turns seven working age payments into one – which we will call Jobseeker. It totally redefines and redrafts the mutual obligations to make them firmer and fairer, and it also totally redesigns the compliance regime from the ground up.

So in terms of the major and critical step to making the system less complicated, this is it before the Senate. And as I say, generally speaking, the Nick Xenophon Team and the people whose support we need on the cross-bench have been very much in favour of 95 per cent of what is in the Bill. So I’m very confident that the large majority of it is going to move through without any form of amendment.