Families Minister Jenny Macklin has come under fire for claiming she could live on the dole of about $35 a day - with the Greens challenging her to try it for a week.
Under changes that came into effect on New Year's Day, thousands of single parents lost their parenting payments and were moved onto the Newstart allowance - leaving some of them more than $100 per week worse off.
When asked yesterday if she would be able to survive on the dole, Ms Macklin replied: "I could."
But acting Greens leader Adam Bandt believes Ms Macklin - who is currently paid more than a $6,000 per week, or around $850 per day - would find it a challenge.
This morning Mr Bandt said he would spend a week living on the dole "next month" - and urged the minister to take up the challenge.
"Once you take into account your rent, your bills, your food, there's not much change left over from $35 a day," he said.
"How someone is meant to improve their lives and get themselves ready to go and find a job just beggars belief.
"That's why the Greens, for some time, joined by welfare groups and business groups and community groups, have been calling for a $50 increase a week to Newstart, because at the moment people on the dole are living below the poverty line.
"It is not living. It is just barely surviving. It is tough to do and the Greens understand it is tough to do. Next month I'll spend a week living on the dole, on $35 a day, and I invite the minister to come and join me."
But Labor frontbencher Brendan O'Connor has defended Ms Macklin, telling Sky News that his colleague understands how difficult it would be to live on the payment.
He dismissed the Greens' challenge for Ms Macklin to spend a week on the dole.
"In relation to the stunt that's been announced by the Greens party Member for Melbourne, I think it's quite patronising to pretend that you can actually live the experience by living on the unemployment benefit for one week," he said.
Meanwhile Ms Macklin's office has been forced to explain the omission of the minister's "I could" comment from its transcript of the press conference.
While Ms Macklin's response to the question is clearly audible in TV footage, the reporter's question and Ms Macklin's answer were described as ''inaudible'' in the transcript issued by her office.
ABC reporter Ashlynne McGhee, who was the journalist who asked Ms Macklin if she could live on the dole, said she could not understand why her question was not heard.
"I'm surprised my question to Jenny Macklin and her answer were 'inaudible' in the transcript - the press sec's iPhone was right next to me," she said on Twitter.
Ms Macklin's office says at the time there was background noise and the comment was not intentionally excluded.
"The transcript did not intentionally exclude comments from the minister," a spokeswoman said.
"It was transcribed from a recording done on an iphone of an outdoor press conference.
"The minister's comments are a matter of public record. We provide the best quality transcripts available to us to help inform the media.
"Of course the media also attend and record on high quality professional devices."
West Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert spent a week to highlight cost of living pressures put on job seekers.
Senator Siewert said she was left with $11 a week after paying for food and rent, and she could not survive without going into debt.
"It's just ridiculous. [Ms Macklin's] clearly out of touch with the cost of living," she said.
"You end up going into debt. There's absolutely no doubt about it. You end up in a spiral of poverty.
"She's so out of touch with reality. If that's what she truly believes it's an embarrassment."
Single mother Belinda Love, from Melbourne, received the single parent's payment until yesterday. She is now on Newstart and worried about becoming homeless.
"I don't know what Jenny Macklin is thinking because I don't know how she would survive," she said.
"She's unrealistic. She needs to come and have a go at it, have a go and see how she survives."
Ms Love told ABC radio's AM program she has been struggling to make ends meet.
"We'll be lucky to even just pay the rent and pay bills and stuff. I'm already struggling with bills now," she said.
"I've had to go to a local community centre just before Christmas for $800 worth of school fees and I've a $400 cheque written out for me because I had to have $800 just before Christmas.
"There's just no way. You can't do it."
Perth woman Sonia O'Dea has had a lot longer to adapt to the Newstart allowance, after being shifted off the single parent's payment several years ago.
She said she survives on the $540 a fortnight by taking out short-term loans and taking in boarders.
"I have used the pay day loan systems and the interest rates are at like 97 per cent, but they're the only people that will lend to me," she said.
"So when I get caught out and have no money I go and borrow from them, I pay back at exorbitant rates, but it's just sometimes the only way to get through to pay your rent one week or to pay for bills or whatever might have come up."
She also believes Ms Macklin would struggle to live on $35 a day.
"Sorry, I don't mean to laugh... but she doesn't have a clue. Let her see that, let her try and actually put her money where her mouth is," she said.
Salvos spokesman Major Bruce Harmer says even if Ms Macklin did live on the dole for a week, she would be able to go back to her highly-paid job.
"It's a great challenge for Jenny to do that, but Jenny will always have in the back of her mind that in a short space of time she'll be able to go back to normal," he said.
"It's not the same, and I'm sure she would meet the challenge, because she knows she can pay her bills later."
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