The proposal is to redirect $180 million from the government’s two assistance packages for travel agents, which gave them one-off payments in proportion to their turnover.
Mr Conaghan said the money would be better spent as a top-up payment to the JobSeeker unemployment benefit because 80 per cent of the workers were women and 60 per cent of them were in the regions.
The proposal aims to use $50 million yet to be spent in the first round of the government scheme as well as the $130 million in the second round, spreading this across some of the industry’s 40,000 workers.
Travel agency staff who lose their jobs from March 31 would go onto the JobSeeker payment of $620.80 a fortnight and receive a supplement of $400 a fortnight. It would run for six months.
The proposal assumes the government would have to pay millions of dollars in JobSeeker benefits to the travel staff but could gain a better policy result by adding the supplement.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg warned the party room last week to be prepared for a “rough couple of months” after JobKeeper ended on March 31, but he told ABC TV on Friday that jobs would recover.
“I’ve said it will be bumpy because you have got around one million Australians who will remain on JobKeeper in the March quarter,” he said.
“But this has always been a temporary program. This was always an emergency payment. At $90 billion, it’s the single-largest economic support program that any Australian government has ever undertaken.”
The government has rejected calls for an extension of JobKeeper and is wary of anything that looks like a continued wage subsidy, preferring the flight subsidies instead.
Australian Federation of Travel Agents chief executive Darren Rudd praised Liberal and Nationals MPs for wanting to help the industry but said the government should consider Mr Conaghan’s proposal.
“The innovation in Pat’s proposed model is that it helps keep staff employed for critical skill retention and gets money flowing fast,” Mr Rudd said.
“These goals are the same as ours – a model for distribution of the $130 million that keeps the skills in the sector, is fast and efficient and does not burn cash.”
Nationals MPs are pushing for the travel agent changes at the same time they voice concern that regional Australia is missing out from the government’s plan to subsidise half-price tickets to 13 destinations.
Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack signalled he was open to changes to the $1.2 billion package.
“This is a package designed to help communities which are not, as they would normally be at this time, filled with international tourists. The locations chosen reflect that,” a spokesman for Mr McCormack said.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s office did not respond to a question about the party room’s desire for changes to keep more travel agents in work.
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.