Kevin Rudd Bats for More Sensitive Initiative from Gillard, Colleagues

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By Erik Pineda | January 11, 2013 5:26 PM EST

"We are a Labor Party, a Labor government, we have got responsibility for people who are doing it tough, for people who need a bit of a hand up and therefore I think we could be doing more," Mr Rudd told ABC in an interview on Friday.

"I think people need to show a bit more of a heart," the former Labor leader said.

He was reacting to reported plans by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to implement adjustments on Newstart Allowance to realise savings of around $728 million over the next four years. These tweaks will result to downgraded dole payments, which in the case of single parents will see their fortnight benefits being shaved off by as much as $223, according to The Australian.

Mr Rudd reminded cabinet ministers that living on dole is not exactly an easy proposition. "If you put yourself in the position of people who have to make ends meet on Newstart, this is very, very hard," the Australian Associated Press quoted him as saying.

He remains hopeful that with the recent indication that the federal government has effectively jettisoned its pledge of delivering a surplus this year, "that decision provided a greater opportunity to attend to some pretty basic social needs."

Mr Rudd clarified too that he was not imposing on the government and his thoughts should not be misconstrued as unsolicited proposals. Introducing ideas, he conceded, is the job of cabinet members.

And one member, Families Minister Jenny Macklin, found herself in hot water following her remarks last week that suggested living off on a $34 per day is possible. Ms Macklin told reporters last week that she actually can subsist on that measly amount.

Today, however, the cabinet official backtracked and admitted that what she had let out was insensitive.

"I acknowledge my remarks were insensitive, that I could've been clearer in the way that I expressed myself ... I do understand that it is very hard to live on a very low income, including unemployment benefits," Ms Macklin was reported by Fairfax Media as saying on Friday.

Her co-cabinet member, Bill Shorten, told The Australian that Ms Macklin was actually supportive of proposals to bump the weekly Newstart payment, now pegged at $245.

To further support that, "the government is so determined to do everything we possibly can to support families and also to help people get work," Ms Macklin said today.

For her part, Ms Gillard stressed in an interview with Fairfax that apart from fine-tuning federal assistance to financially-challenged Aussie, she is focused on uplifting their plight by rolling out programs to generate more jobs.

The Coalition appears supportive too of increasing the Newstart payment but it insisted that the program must be governed by a specific time-frame to encourage people to return to the labour force soon after a given period.

Too long of exposure to dole benefits prove unproductive for many in the program, prompting them to depend too long on federal assistance, the opposition party told The Australian.

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