Minister Rishworth interviewed on ABC News Radio with Tom Oriti


Topics: Doubling Disability Reform Organisation funding, Superannuation, National Autism Guideline, NDIS

TOM ORITI, HOST: The Federal Government has announced $11.2 million in new funding for a number of organisations supporting Australians living with a disability. The money will be split between 17 bodies. Some of them include the First People's Disability Network Australia, Children and Young People with Disability Australia, Women with Disabilities Australia, as well. Lots of organisations you might have heard on this program over time. They make up the Disability Representative Organisation program – an initiative that aims to give the 4.4 million Australians living with a disability a voice to influence decisions that impact their lives. The Federal Minister for Social Services is Amanda Rishworth, who joins us now in the studio. Minister, thank you very much for coming in.


TOM ORITI, HOST: Well, I must admit I didn't know what the Disability Representative Organisation program was, so I went to the Government's Department of Social Services website to find out more. And it says it's a program to provide systemic advocacy and representation for Australians with disability. But I want to break down a bit of the bureaucratic language for a minute. Tell us what is this all about and how will this money give Australians with a disability a say?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: So this money is fulfilling an election commitment that we said we would double the amount of money for these organisations. They give very important advice to government about how we make our community more inclusive. So for example, we're going through a Royal Commission into disability, many of these organisations were able to connect with their members and make sure that the issues that their members faced, whether it's children, whether it's First Nations peoples, were able to elevate their concerns in the Royal Commission and actually get change to happen. One of the things about this Government, we are not scared of people with different views. We're not scared of organisations telling us that these things need to be improved. So we're actually funding these organisations to provide more advice to government, more views of the people they represent so that we can actually get our policy right.

TOM ORITI, HOST: Yet reading what we've received from your government overnight, you make the point, and I think rightly so, that people living with a disability have a right to participate in policy development that impacts their lives and you want to break down barriers and improve participation. I imagine some Australians living with a disability listening to this – and there are 4.4 million of them, some of them not listening to the program – but I think in Australia they would say, well yeah, that's obvious. I mean, are you concerned that hasn't been happening, that people with a disability in recent years haven't had that crucial voice?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I absolutely do think there's many people with a disability that haven't had their voice heard. Obviously these organisations have been doing a great job, but we think that with more resources they can lift the voices even more. I'll give you just one example. The Disability Employment Service gets a rating from government and that rates them on whether they are good performers or not. One thing I was amazed to learn is in that rating there is no incorporation of the views of people living with disabilities. So people with disability using that service don't actually contribute to how those services are rated. I think there are a lot of examples where people with disabilities haven't necessarily had a say in the services or in areas that they deserve or enough of a say, so that is what this funding is all about.

TOM ORITI: I just want to break down the numbers, if you don't mind for a minute. Mathematics was never my forte, but when we look at this money, $11.2 million seems a lot and I'm sure many welcome it, don't get me wrong, but split between 17 organisations and spread over several years, four years, when you break that down and do all the divisions it doesn't seem like a lot when you share it between 17 organisations over four years? It doesn't seem like a tonne of money. I mean, how are you confident it will make a difference?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I am confident it will make a difference. At the moment, we already fund these organisations so this is doubling the amount that was already there. So that is significant. Of course many of these organisations also receive other sources of funding from government to do specific work on specific issues, but this money is more flexible and will allow them to advocate in the areas that their members and their the people they represent are telling them there is a problem.

TOM ORITI: I just want to play you a tiny bit of audio, Minister, if you don't mind. On Monday, we spoke with a disability support pension recipient Christine O'Connell, ahead of her appearance before a Senate inquiry which was looking at poverty in Australia and she spoke about frustrations within the community when it comes to waiting lists for suitable, accessible housing. I just want to play you a bit of that…

CHRISTINE O’CONNELL [EXCERPT]: …well, we're seeing political cowardice at all levels of government and an utter lack of interest in making the kinds of investments in that we need to create a more equitable and inclusive society. So we hear from politicians at the federal and state level a lot of empty rhetoric with nothing being to show for it.

TOM ORITI: So strong words there, political cowardice, empty rhetoric. I mean, what do you say to people like Christine who are sceptical not just about your government, but she said governments at all levels, Federal and state and territory governments and their motivation to actually listen to them and address their problems?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: In terms of people living with disability, I've been very clear that I want to hear from people with disability. We have Australia's Disability Strategy that is about delivering a more inclusive society. We've got our Housing Future Fund. If we want to talk about housing – we'll be looking at how we best support Australians, including those living with disability. And our safe places initiative, which is for women and children fleeing domestic violence. We've invested another $100 million into that. One of the focuses will be ensuring that this housing is appropriate for women with disability. So we have had a disability lens across all of my portfolio and across the Government and we are continuing to actually make a difference. I think we're putting our money on the table and saying we are not scared of advocacy organisations telling Government what we need. That's indeed why we are doubling the funding for these organisations.

TOM ORITI: Will there be money on the table in May in the Federal Budget? What should we be looking forward to in the upcoming budget for Australians living with disability? I'm sure Jim Chalmers is saying ‘no, not yet’.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: [Laughs] I can't. Obviously the Budget is going through the process, but we've already delivered a real significant investment in areas not just around the NDIS. I think it's a really important reminder that there are many people living with disability that don't access the NDIS.

TOM ORITI: … the majority, I think there's about 500,000 on the NDIS out of 4.4 million Australians living with disability.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It is the far majority and we've got to make sure that we are continuing to work on a more inclusive society, that our services are fit for purpose, including access to employment. And we've already started a number of different programs to look at how we do better when it comes to employment for people with disability, and we'll keep working on that.

TOM ORITI: I mean, we do keep hearing about how unsustainable the NDIS is. I acknowledge this is Bill Shorten, this is not your portfolio, I acknowledge that. But in saying that there are, as you say, a lot of Australians with disabilities who are not on the NDIS. This was originally a Labor initiative though. How should it be reformed? I mean it does sound like there are challenges ahead in terms of the sustainability of that program and providing support to Australians living with a disability, whether they're on the NDIS or not.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Already Minister Shorten has looked at fraud within the NDIS system and has taken a pretty serious approach to cutting back on fraud within the NDIS. But I think really we have to make sure that we're focusing on a more accessible society. You know, the when it comes to the NDIS, if for example, employment is a goal within your plan, if you don't have a system that supports that employment, if employers aren't willing to take you on, if the buildings aren't fit for purpose to allow you to work in that particular workplace because of perhaps physical needs, then we're not going to really realise and get value for money out of the NDIS. So part of the answer is about how we do make our society broadly more accessible. That's not just a job for the Commonwealth, that is a job for states and territories as well. And we need to be working with states and territories about how we do make our society more inclusive so people potentially are less dependent on the services through the NDIS because they are getting their needs met through the wider society and wider community.

TOM ORITI: Minister, when we talk about value for money in equity, I just want to ask you about superannuation for a minute. The Treasurer announced he'll be doubling the tax rates paid by Australians with those super account balances worth more than $3 million – not till 2025. So not imminently. I just want to ask, he said the changes weren't considered before the election or before the October budget last year. Do you think some Australians listening to this, and he is acknowledging there are a small number of them, will believe that these tweaks were really just decided in the last week. You went to an election and you weren't thinking about it? You had a budget in October and they weren't on the table either?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think what we've seen and Australians know this around their kitchen table, there are really some difficult things happening in our economy now and we need to take a responsible approach to budgeting. We've seen a trillion dollars of debt left by the previous government with not much to show for it. So Australians would expect us to take responsible decisions to improve the Budget. But I must focus and must emphasise a couple of things. First, this is a modest change. For 99.5 per cent of Australians, they don't have $3 million sitting in their super. In fact, the vast majority of Australians would have a lot less than that. And I would also point out that while the tax rate is on earnings on $3 million and over increasing from 15 to 30 per cent, it's still a concessional tax rate. So this is a modest change. It does not change the fundamentals of our superannuation system and I think there's a real question about how we actually make our super system sustainable. And this modest change is part of that. It is not coming in until after the next election and I think this gives us time to really ensure people understand that this is a modest change.

TOM ORITI: While I've got you there – and we'll have more on Super throughout the morning – and we could talk to you all day, on these issues. But I just want to ask, because you have also unveiled some new national guidelines to better support autistic children. I didn't want to let you leave before asking about 84 recommendations. Just tell us a bit about that. What sort of things did this include and how have they been received?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This has been a really important piece of work done by the Co-operative Research Centre into autism that the Commonwealth funds. It is really trying to look at best practice with an evidence base. And one of the things that really came out for practitioners is that approaching children with autism and the diagnosis of autism, they shouldn't be approached in the way that children need to be changed, they need to be fixed. This is not the right approach for children with autism. It's about supporting them with their neurodiversity. And the report goes into a whole lot of recommendations about how GPs and other medical staff might approach this. But I think the fundamental take out of that is this is not often something that needs to be fixed or come from that perspective, but one where how do we support and adapt to children with this diagnosis.

TOM ORITI: Minister, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.