Federal Politics

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Top MPs dodge flak on benefits

LABOR frontbenchers have dodged more questions about the adequacy of tougher benefits imposed on more than 80,000 single parents this week.

From January 1, single parents with children aged eight and older were moved from parenting payments to the Newstart allowance, losing up to $110 a week.

Amid growing calls for Newstart to be raised from the current $246 a week - about $35 a day - Labor MPs tried to hose down debate over Families Minister Jenny Macklin's claim on Tuesday that she could live on the dole. Ms Macklin earns about $850 a day.

Asked whether she believed she could live on the dole, Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said: ''Oh, look, I'm not going to get into that.''

She said: ''I think that anyone would understand that it is hard to live on an income support payment, and that's why as a government we've increased the age pension, we've increased disability pension [and] we've increased carers' support, but Newstart allowance for unemployment is designed to be a temporary payment.

''The very best thing that we can do for families that are unemployed - particularly families with kids - is make sure their parents have the skills, the training necessary, and ultimately a job.''


Ms Plibersek - speaking in Sydney - and Treasurer Wayne Swan - speaking on the Sunshine Coast - responded to questions about the adequacy of the dole with statements on Labor's job record.

Mr Swan said it would be ''tough'' to live on the dole, but refused to say whether it should be raised. He said the government provided ''generous'' extra payments to families, including the School Kids Bonus and Family Tax Benefits A and B.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert said she had been contacted by single mothers who were distressed that they had been ordered to destroy their pensioner concession cards when their parenting payments expired, meaning they no longer qualified for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and cheap medications.

''For a single parent already living on the edge, the extra assistance of the concession card is significant,'' Senator Siewert said.