More than 100,000 people have dropped out of the welfare system in the past year after being hit by fines for not meeting the job-search rules.
Government officials claimed on Wednesday that many of the welfare drop-outs would have found jobs, but admitted they had no evidence for the suggestion. And Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the idea was nonsense.
"It's unrealistic to think that over 100,000 people who have dropped out of the system because of the suspension issues will have got work," she said.
"It's highly likely that a number of these people are now depending on family to support them."
New data shows the system is hitting men much harder than women, with three-quarters of the fines going to men.
The government has introduced a complicated system of penalties and fines to force people on Newstart, Youth Allowance and other unemployment benefits to comply with its job-search rules.
Those rules include applying for 20 jobs a month, doing 25 hours a week work for the dole (15 hours for over-30s), signing up to an individual job plan, attending appointments punctually, and displaying "appropriate behaviour" at appointments with job agencies, work for the dole and other placements.
When someone fails one of the rules they are given up to five demerit points in what's called the "warning zone" before they enter the "penalty zone". There, they lose their payment for one week, then two weeks, then it is cancelled. After a month they can come back and try again - and if they meet all the requirements for three months they land back in the "green zone".
Figures revealed at an estimates hearing on Wednesday show 104,480 people dropped out altogether after a month of non-attendance in the 13 months to August.
Almost 70,000 of them - more than two-thirds - were men. Most (56,000) were under 30. More than 10,000 were homeless and 15,000 ex-offenders.
Assistant secretary Ty Emerson said that while they didn't know where those people were, he believed many would have jobs.
"Presumably most would have got employment, they would be sustaining themselves through employment no doubt," he said.
Senator Siewert rejected the suggestion.
"Are they seriously saying they have found work, all of them?
"I'd suggest that some of these people who are dropping out are just finding it all too hard. I'm not saying some of them won't have work, but it's just to great a leap for them to go, oh we just assume they're getting work."
The data showed that men face fines and demerits of their payments at many times the rates of women. In the 13 months to the end of August, the department slapped people with 24,100 fines for not meeting the job-search and other rules. Of those fines, 18,000 went to men, three times the number received by women.
Labor Senator Louise Pratt asked why men were being penalised so much more than women.
"We have noticed this senator," Mr Emerson said, but he was unable to offer reasons.
Deputy secretary Nathan Smyth went only a little further.
"There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest younger male job seekers are more likely to not fully engage with the system, but ... we need to understand a little bit more about this before we draw further conclusions around it," he said.
Senator Pratt asked, "I'm sorry but everyone knows that young men are hard to engage with. Why don't you have a strategy embedded in the program to start with?"
Acting assistant secretary Emma Hill said in the year to July 2018, there had been a 90 per cent reduction in financial penalties since the new "targeted compliance framework" system had started in July 2018.
In the year to July 2018, 110,900 job seekers had been hit with 394,400 financial penalties, she said. In the year since, there had been 24,900 financial penalties levied on 14,800 job seekers.
Employment Minister Michaela Cash said the new system was better because it was picking up people who needed extra help before they lost their benefit.