Nationals MP joins push for Newstart hike

New Nationals MP Pat Conaghan has urged his coalition colleagues to back an increase in Newstart.
New Nationals MP Pat Conaghan has urged his coalition colleagues to back an increase in Newstart.

A Nationals MP has broken ranks with the government to urge the coalition to raise the dole.

First-term member Pat Conaghan said 41 per cent of children in the towns of Nambucca and Kempsey in his NSW mid-north coast electorate were living below the poverty line.

"I would urge my colleagues from both sides to have a real discussion, not to throw it up in the air and punch the ball around, but actually sit down together and have a real discussion," he told ABC News on Thursday.

The $40-a-day Newstart payment has not increased in real terms for 25 years.

Mr Conaghan joins other conservative figures including partyroom colleague Barnaby Joyce and former Liberal prime minister John Howard in calling for an increase.

"We need to have a genuine conversation about raising that because in my opinion, it does need to increase," the Nationals MP said.

"It has not increased for a very long time and the effects are being felt by my communities."

It's estimated a $75-a-week increase would cost the federal budget $3.3 billion a year.

Mr Conaghan conceded it would be a tough decision with bushfires and the coronavirus expected to sink the government's promise of a surplus.

"It is probably the worst time to raise this conversation but we have to have it," he said.

The Business Council of Australia, welfare advocates, Labor, the Greens and a handful of coalition backbenchers support lifting the rate.

The Morrison government has held firm against increasing Newstart, sticking to its manta that "the best form of welfare is a job".

Australian Associated Press