Minister unapologetic on welfare hotspots

Dan McCulloch
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Minister unapologetic on welfare hotspots

The minister responsible for Centrelink is unapologetic for releasing a list of Australia's worst suburbs for welfare bludgers.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge insists he was not "naming and shaming" or embarrassing suburbs but simply pointing out where the numbers lie.

Queensland's Caboolture, Blacktown in Sydney's west, and Mildura in Victoria top the list of concentrations of people consistently missing appointments and job interviews.

"There are pockets unfortunately where some people just aren't doing the right thing," Mr Tudge said in Canberra on Tuesday.

"And to date, they haven't really been facing many consequences for doing that."

Labor frontbencher Ed Husic, who describes himself as "Blacktown, through and through", crashed the minister's press conference to voice his anger at the hit list.

"Instead of bagging out Blacktown why don't you actually get jobs for us and fix up your failing job programs and don't make Blacktown and western Sydney a target," Mr Husic heckled.

"Do your job!"

Blacktown Mayor Stephen Bali is also furious and demanding the Turnbull government apologise.

Blacktown is a $15.6 billion economy which produces enough goods and services to outrank 85 countries, he said.

"So why attack us on the basis of 333 people when they should be looking at the bigger story of Blacktown and giving the people of this city the opportunity to go for their dreams and goals and not be attacked," he said.

But Mr Tudge refused to apologise, saying "the data lies where it lies".

"Unfortunately we believe that in some locations a culture might develop where people deliberately flout the welfare system," he said.

The minister says the results show why the government's proposal for a demerit point system is needed.

Roughly 100,000 people "consistently and repeatedly" flouted their job seeking obligations, half of whom may have a reasonable excuse.

"But the other half, we believe, are people that are frankly taking the taxpayer for a ride and to date they haven't been facing penalties for doing so," he said.

The demerit point system would see job seekers hauled in for a meeting after tripping up the first time, before losing a week's worth of dole for their second offence.

The third time would cost them a fortnight's worth of welfare and a fourth offence a full month, while refusal to accept a reasonable job offer would result in welfare payments being stripped away automatically.

Nationals MP Andrew Broad, whose Victorian electorate includes Mildura - which has the state's highest rate of welfare non-compliance - says there are job opportunities in his region.

"If you are receiving an unemployment benefit in Mildura we expect you to have a mutual obligation to be giving back and to go from being an unemployed person to being a job seeker," Mr Broad told reporters in Canberra.

"We do have a job for you."