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THE federal government is “open” to negotiating the most controversial element of its budget welfare measures, making young people wait six months for the dole, in a concession that Labor branded an “unravelling”.

Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews told ABC radio yesterday he first wanted to test the strict welfare measure, which would save the budget $1.2 billion if completed in full, in a hostile Senate.

“We’ll see then what the other parties and the independents in the Senate have to say about it,” Andrews said.

“We will see what they say … in NZ everybody faces a one-month delay before they can go on benefits, but that’s a different system to what happens in Australia.

“But my door is open … if the independents or the minor parties want to talk about it, then obviously we will talk about it.”

Labor, the Greens and Clive Palmer have all registered their opposition to the policy, which would prevent people aged under 30 from accessing the dole for six months.

In that time they will have to look for jobs. They are exempted, according to the government, if they can’t work for more than 30 hours a week, if they are principal carers or parents with more than 35 per cent care of a child, part-time apprentices, Disability Employment Services clients or jobseekers in the two most disadvantaged employment streams, including people who are homeless.

Once young people get the dole, they must participate in a revived Work for the Dole program for another six months before repeating the cycle, if they have not found a job.

Labor’s spokeswoman for families and payments, Jenny Macklin, said the admission by Mr Andrews was proof “Tony Abbott’s budget strategy is fast unravelling”.

“Labor will fight tooth and nail to stop Tony Abbott’s plans to force young people to live without income support, whether it’s for six months or one month,” she said.

“The only way to improve this cruel cut is to scrap it entirely. Labor will move to have this measure removed when it is introduced into the Senate.”

Brotherhood of St Laurence executive director Tony Nicholson told The Australian any move to water down the measure would be welcomed by welfare groups.

“For some young people the lessening of the duration will mitigate the risk of harm but for the 40,000 young people who get youth allowance and don’t have the support of family … will still be left at the risk of destitution.

“Their landlord won’t provide them with a rent-free month.”

Mr Abbott’s chief indigenous adviser told a conference last week he did not support the tough program and instead wanted a focus on jobs.

Ms Macklin last week said she supported the concept of mutual obligation, but only where the government upheld its end of the bargain.

Mr Nicholson said the federal government needed to fund a national youth transition service — which would provide vocational education and work experience — or else its desire for “mutual obligation would become lopsided”.

The dole measures are not due to begin until next July.

Originally published as Andrews open to talks on budget changes

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