Twenty-four years after backing a freeze to unemployment benefits, former prime minister John Howard believes it is time to boost Newstart.
Malcolm Turnbull was forced to defend his decision not to increase jobless payments in this year's budget.
But Mr Howard joined economists, advocacy groups and the Business Council of Australia in calling for the rate to be raised.
"Yeah, I think there is an argument about that, yeah I do," he told a post-budget breakfast in Melbourne on Wednesday.
"I was in favour of freezing it when it happened, but I think the freeze has probably gone on too long."
Tuesday's budget was silent on Newstart payments, and there have been no legislated lifts to real rates since 1994.
"They are increased every year with inflation and you have to remember that it is a safety net to support people while they are looking for jobs," Mr Turnbull said on Wednesday.
"We believe the setting is right. It is a safety net."
Treasurer Scott Morrison said 95 per cent of people on Newstart received other forms of assistance or payments.
"Newstart is not intended to be a payment you live on, it supports you while you get yourself back into work," Mr Morrison told the National Press Club in Canberra.
"Our priority is to provide tax relief for working Australians and ensure we create a stronger economy so we can provide those people not in work with the best from welfare which can be provided, which is a job."
The Australian Council of Social Service is angry the budget didn't offer help for those below the poverty line.
"It is shameful that this budget does not include that desperately-needed lift to the unemployment payment," chief executive Cassandra Goldie told reporters in Canberra.
She said people across the community in line for personal income tax cuts have contacted the organisation saying they'd rather their $10 of tax relief a week went to boosting Newstart.
Key crossbench senator Tim Storer said the government should have listened to the calls for an increase in the $39-a-day Newstart.
"What is also disappointing to me is the lack of focus on the very disadvantaged, in this case, the unemployed," he told ABC TV.
He said it should be a focus of politicians to help people get back into work.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would review the Newstart payment if it won the next election.
"Clearly, there is a challenge there," he said.