People on the dole screw the system: MP

An Abbott government MP has accused dole recipients of trying to "screw the system", saying they are too self-interested to bother attending community meetings.

The attack on welfare recipients by Queensland MP Ken O'Dowd, originally reported in the Central Queensland News, comes as the Abbott government tries to prepare the public for an overhaul of the welfare system.

Mr O'Dowd told a community meeting on Monday night in Capella, north-east Queensland: "You won't get anyone on the dole coming to these sort of meetings, because they don't care about the community, they care about themselves and how they can screw the system".

The meeting was attended by about a dozen Capella residents.

In audio of the meeting heard by Fairfax Media, Mr O'Dowd also argued that too many Australians were exploiting the social security system, and that something needed to be done to stop welfare cheats. He recalled a conversation he had had recently with billionaire Gina Rinehart.

"[Rinehart's] biggest whinge to me was, she said, 'Ken, you blokes in Canberra have got to stop the welfare system," Mr O'Dowd told the community meeting.

"There is [sic] 60 per cent of Australians on some sort of welfare payment. [Rinehart] said, 'They can't be all that badly off'."

Mr O'Dowd's comments were not welcomed by Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews, who has begun a review of Australia's welfare system and is trying to reassure Australians that despite cracking down on welfare they believe in maintaining a social safety net.

Mr Andrews said on Thursday afternoon that Mr O'Dowd's comments ''do not reflect the government's position''.

The minister said ''there will always be a minority'' of people taking social security benefits ''who do not want to do the right thing by not actively looking for work... or by not accepting suitable work when it is offered''.

But the Abbott government was ''committed to providing motivation and support for the unemployed'', Mr Andrews added.

Mr O'Dowd, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and Ms Rinehart have also been contacted to respond.

The subject of welfare reform is close to the heart of Mr Abbott. In his 2009 book, Battlelines, he wrote that one of the Howard government's most significant achievements was "slowing the rise in the number of people claiming the disability pension".

But the Prime Minister also understands the dangerous politics surrounding any changes to welfare payments.

Aware of the delicate politics of welfare reform, Mr Andrews has been trying to prepare Australians for a gradual and unthreatening review of the system. He has ruled out touching the age pension, but admits the government has Newstart unemployment benefits and the disability support pension in its cross-hairs.

Chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service, Cassandra Goldie, said she was "very pleased" to hear that "the minister has confirmed the views expressed by Mr O'Dowd do not represent the views of the government".

Ms Goldie said the minister should go further and urge that the welfare debate "is a respectful and considered one".

"Unemployment can happen to anybody," she said. "Many people have been single parents, and people with a disability are highly valued members of the community."

Maree O'Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network said Mr O'Dowd's comments were "unhelpful and untrue".

"There is no place for ignorance and demeaning stereotypes about people who are unemployed," Ms O'Halloran said.

"It's stereotypes like this that prevent people getting a fair go from employers.

"People who are unemployed are everywhere: they are our children, our neighbours, our partners and parents and grandparents".

Ken O'Dowd, federal MP for Flynn in Queensland. Picture: PETER RAE

Ken O'Dowd, federal MP for Flynn in Queensland. Picture: PETER RAE


Discuss "People on the dole screw the system: MP"

Please note: All comments made or shown here are bound by the Online Discussion Terms & Conditions.