THE Families Minister, Jenny Macklin, has angered welfare groups by claiming she could live on the $35-a-day Newstart allowance.
Ms Macklin made the comments on the day that more than 80,000 single parents were shifted from the parenting payment to the lower Newstart allowance, leaving some up to $110 a week worse off.
Visiting a Melbourne hospital to promote the government's Dad and Partner pay scheme, which also began yesterday, Ms Macklin was asked whether she could survive on the $246 a week payment. She said: ''I could'' but the question and Ms Macklin's answer were recorded as ''inaudible'' in a transcript of the news conference later issued by her office.
A spokeswoman for Ms Macklin said the exchange had not been deliberately omitted but the transcript had been produced from a smartphone recording of an outdoor news conference. ''We provide the best quality transcripts available to us to help inform the media,'' the spokeswoman said.
''Of course the media also attend and record on high-quality professional devices.''
As a cabinet minister, Ms Macklin earns $6321 a week, 25 times the rate of Newstart.
The cost of renting alone in her Melbourne suburb of Ivanhoe is greater than the Newstart allowance, with the median rent for a one-bedroom flat $270 a week.
The chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service, Cassandra Goldie, said evidence to three parliamentary inquiries had shown the allowance had not increased in real terms in two decades and, as a result, some recipients were forced to live in ''extreme poverty''.
''The minister should look at the evidence of people who are trying to do that,'' she said.
The vice-president of the National Welfare Rights Network, Kate Beaumont, said Ms Macklin's comments were ''surprising''. They seemed at odds with those of Labor senators who, in a committee report in November, had called for the allowance to be increased, she said.
Calls by welfare groups for Newstart to be lifted have been echoed by others including the Business Council of Australia, which has warned it may be entrenching poverty, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which, in 2010, said the payment was so low it might not be enough to enable a person to look for a job.
The government has also faced strong criticism for the changes which shift thousands of single parents from the parenting payment to the Newstart allowance when their youngest child turns eight.
While parents who started receiving the payment after July 2006 already face these conditions, until now those who were receiving the parenting payment before July 2006 were able to keep it until their youngest turned 16.
Ms Macklin said the parenting payment changes were about ensuring all parenting payment recipients were treated the same.
''What's important for people who are unemployed is that we do everything possible … to help people get into work and that's what we'll be doing with these single parents as well,'' she said.
''The more people going back to work the better. It's better for the family. It's great to see mum and/or dad going … to work. Unfortunately, we have far too many children growing up in families where nobody is working.''
The change will have the greatest impact on parents who work part-time because parenting payment recipients are allowed to earn more than Newstart recipients before their payments are affected. As a result of the change, a single parent who gets no income from work will be $115 worse off a fortnight, while those who earn $400 a week from work will see their income drop by $223 a fortnight.