Barnaby Joyce told nearly 100 business owners and operators it was time for them to get off government welfare and "stand on their own two feet".
The Member for New England gave a somewhat pessimistic speech to Wednesday's State of the Nation event. He told the business owners and operators programs like JobKeeper were running up the nation's "overdraft" and would one day "dry up".
"If you're relying on those government payments that's a very bad spot to be in," he said.
"You've got to be able to stand on your own two feet and be resilient.
It was the third opportunity organised by Tamworth's Business Chamber for local businesses to hear from, and interrogate, political leaders. The State of the City and State of the State were held earlier this year.
Business Chamber President Jye Segboer said the comments showed Mr Joyce was out of touch.
"Until we actually see borders open and the economy get back into a full swing, we really are going to see businesses still struggling," he said.
Minister for Small Business Senator Michaelia Cash spoke at the lunchtime event from her home state of WA.
Asked what government was doing to help resolve skills shortages in the Tamworth region, Senator Cash said they had slashed the dole to encourage nearly a million unemployed people back to work.
She revealed government would soon announce additional measures to encourage unemployed people to undertake seasonal work, like fruit picking.
"There will be announcements - hopefully in the next week or so - as to the further measures the government is going to put in place to encourage [that]," she said.