In a policy backflip that has stunned seasoned political observers and the Labor Opposition, the Morrison Government has decided to increase Newstart payments by $100 a week, effective immediately.
But the hefty rise comes at a cost , albeit only a spiritual one – jobseekers will have to pray for the extra cash.
“That’s surely not a lot to ask,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in Canberra overnight while announcing the dole payment would rise from $288 to $388 a week.
The government has stubbornly refused for many months to increase Newstart, saying it has other priorities even though welfare groups have long argued the current $40 a day means recipients often go hungry or can’t afford rent. Newstart payments have not increased, other than for inflation, since 1997.
“We’ve always argued that the best form of welfare is a job and from now on, the job of jobseekers is to pray – and pray intently – for good soaking rains to come throughout the Australian continent,” Mr Morrison said.
“I think we all can agree on the power of prayer and, as I’ve mentioned recently, how that prayer can bring all Australians together as we tackle economic headwinds left over from Labor’s time in office.
“Those on Newstart will be expected to meet mutual obligation requirements and pray for a solid 30 minutes every week for widespread, heavy and prolonged rain.”
Mr Morrison said such prayers could be undertaken at home, simply by downloading and filling out a Newstart prayer app to be countersigned by a family member or housemate.
“But I would seriously recommend that recipients take the time to go to their local church and pray with others in a group. God really appreciates that sort of commitment.
“I would sincerely recommend an Assemblies of Church venue and if you live in Sydney, Hillsong in Baulkham Hills run by my good friend, the charismatic Brian Houston who I cannot confirm or deny was originally going to travel with me to Washington is the place to be.
“If you pray there, you also get to sing for that extra supper you’ll now be able to afford, so how good would that be?
“And please, we are being very generous with that extra $100 so don’t be stingy – pop some of it in Brian’s collection buckets as they’re passed around – all of that money goes directly to helping those better off in the community.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that as with every Morrison government initiative, the Newstart increase would be revenue neutral so as not to affect the Budget bottom line.
“We’ve brought the Budget back into surplus and we’re not going to threaten that as we begin the job of paying off Labor’s debt and deficit disaster.
“The cost of the extra Newstart allowance will be $2.3 billion in the first year, but that cost will be more than offset by the billions of dollars in savings from not having to build or upgrade a whole host of dams around the nation.
“In fact, we’ll be ploughing the difference into a special flood mitigation/repair fund for when the good Lord above hears all our prayers and starts to inundate the world’s driest continent.”