PM defends 'shameful' lack of dole rise

Jennifer Jennings and Daniel McCulloch

Malcolm Turnbull has defended the decision not to increase unemployment benefits in this year's budget, in what has been labelled a "shameful" move.

There was no boost in the Newstart allowance on Tuesday despite calls from economists, advocacy groups and the Business Council of Australia.

"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," the prime minister told the Seven Network on Wednesday.

He later told Sky News that "the vast majority of people on Newstart" also received other government benefits.

"We believe the setting is right. It is a safety net."

Treasurer Scott Morrison said his priority was giving tax relief to people working and paying taxes.

"Getting people off welfare and in to work is the best welfare I can provide," he told BuzzFeed.

Former Prime Minister John Howard believes it is time to increase the Newstart allowance.

"Yeah, I think there is an argument about that, yeah I do," he told a 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."

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 wins the next election.

"Clearly, there is a challenge there," he told Seven.