A Turnbull government minister has fuelled a fiery Senate stoush after refusing to say whether she could survive on the Newstart allowance.
Concetta Fierravanti-Wells attempted to duck and weave through a barrage of questions about the unemployment benefits during Question Time on Thursday.
Greens senator Rachel Siewert wanted to know whether the minister, who handles social services issues in the upper house, could get by on the payments.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells maintained "the best form of welfare was a job" during the testy exchange.
But persistently pressed on whether she could manage on the Newstart for six months or a year, the minister caused a ruckus by responding: "I'm actually in a job, so therefore I do not need Newstart."
Senator Siewert said refusing to answer the question signalled there was a problem.
"To duck and weave on whether you can live off less than $40 a day shows how the Turnbull government is avoiding the reality that the payment is clearly too low," Senator Siewert said.
"Newstart needs to be increased, desperately."
Earlier, the Greens unsuccessfully moved a motion in the Senate calling on the government to boost Newstart and Youth Allowance by $75 a week, wedging the opposition.
Despite supporting a rise in the payment, Labor opposed the motion because the party wants a "root and branch" review of the dole.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended his decision not to increase unemployment benefits in this year's budget, arguing the safety net's settings are sound.
However, former prime minister John Howard joined economists, advocates and business groups calling for the rate to be raised.
Tuesday's budget was silent on Newstart payments and there have been no legislated lifts to real rates since 1994.
The single rate of Newstart is $278 per week.