Minister Rishworth interviewed on ABC Central West Breakfast with Alex James


Topics: Additional support for flood impacted communities 

ALEX JAMES, HOST: Hundreds of people across the Central West have been facing very difficult times since devastating flooding occurred late last year. For many residents and business owners, finances and insurance have been an ongoing issue, with some people not able to insure their properties at all. This morning, the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth is announcing further assistance for financial counsellors in the areas, flood affected, to help with recovery efforts. And the Minister joins us right now. Minister Rishworth, thank you for joining us this morning.


ALEX JAMES: So this particular assistance for financial counselling, when will that become available?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This extra money will start flowing from this year as well as next year. What we know is that in the recovery from a disaster such as this, that over the months and indeed the years afterwards, there needs to be that support to recover, to get your finances in order. And so we think this is a really important investment to support people with this extra funding for more financial counselling.

ALEX JAMES: Why does the Government think that this is where the money should go rather than direct grants for residents, for example?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We've had very clear advice from what's called the National Coordination Group. That's a group that has a number of not-for-profit organisations on, that have people on the ground and they really have identified that there is an extra need here for more support. Some of the work that financial counsellors do is help individuals access the grants that are available. So often you can have grants, but if you can't actually access them or know how to access them then that's a problem. They also support people suspending mortgages, credit cards debt payments and help them with insurance claims as well. So financial councillors are a very important conduit to help people navigate what can be really overwhelming and really difficult times. This is a definite need that's been identified for the region and we're responding with an extra investment.

ALEX JAMES: Let's talk a little bit about insurance. It's been a massive concern for residents and business owners. There's a number of different issues that's come out of it. For example, people trying to now take out insurance claims and it being way too expensive. Some people have previously had insurance and it's not covering enough of what has actually happened. Some people, you know, having to wait for extended periods. Is the Federal Government going to do anything to address people's insurance concerns?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This natural disaster has really highlighted some of the issues and gaps with insurance. And so the Federal Government is taking this very seriously. Both Minister Watt, who's the Minister for Emergency Services and also our Assistant Treasurer, Stephen Jones, has actually set up a working group - a partnership, to work with the insurance industries to address some of these issues. They had their first meeting recently and this is really to address some of those issues that you spoke about. Whether it be cost, whether it be coverage or whether it be just refusal of insurance at all for a town. So there is some serious work going on because of course, people need to have the comfort that their insurance will cover them when they need it. 

ALEX JAMES: You're listening at the moment to ABC Central West and New England North West. You're hearing from the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth. Some additional funding has come out today for further assistance for financial counselling in flood affected areas. Speaking of, Minister, who can actually access these resources that are being available in terms of financial counselling?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: People can just contact their local organisation or Financial Counselling Australia to get a referral to a local community. People can access it if they are in financial hardship. There's no clear criteria for that, but if they were in financial hardship, they are able to access these financial counsellors. There's already financial counselling on the ground. What this is, is a boost to the resources and the people on the ground that are able to provide support.

ALEX JAMES: What help is currently available from the Federal Government to help people if they're struggling to pay their bills? Because I mean that's something we've seen even over in the Northern Rivers district where one business in particular was still thinking that they'd have to pay their gas bill after it not being used for however many months.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, there's a partnership between State Government and Federal Government about support that's available. The Federal Government provides individuals and children with support. There's one-off payments there, along with support, if people find themselves unemployed as a result or require extra payments. My understanding is the business payments and business support is available through the state governments and so people are able to-and should - avail themselves of the information and try and access that. But that is something, for example, the financial counsellors on the ground can help with.

ALEX JAMES: And Minister, I mean, we've heard a few commitments from the State Government in particular that, you know, they've said they'll be here from time of disaster along the way to make sure that the mental health of residents who've been affected by this flooding will be supported. What about the Federal Government? Is there a commitment there to make sure that they'll be mental health support in the coming months and possibly years after a disaster like this?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What we're doing is working with the State Government really hand in hand about what the gaps are and what are needed. And so we will continue to work with the state government around how we can best support communities recover. These financial counsellors are clearly a gap, they're clearly a need, and that's an example of the Federal Government responding to what has been identified as a need and the requirement for extra support.

ALEX JAMES: Right. Minister, thank you for joining us this morning.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: No worries, thank you.