Minister Rishworth interviewed on ABC Radio Melbourne Mornings with Ali Moore


Topics: Training frontline workers, Roundtable on Domestic and Family Violence, Parliamentary staff hours and Cabinet solidarity.

ALI MOORE, HOST: The Federal Government is putting more money into training medical and other frontline workers on how to better recognise and respond to victims of sexual violence, and to that end, the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth is in Melbourne today. Amanda Rishworth Good Morning, welcome to the program.


ALI MOORE: This money is going to be used to extend training that's offered by Monash University. Who is the training aimed at? And, to date, what difference has it made?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This training is aimed at frontline medical practitioners, so whether that be GPs and maybe paramedics, maybe other allied health to better recognise and look for the signs of sexual violence and also look at preparing them with the right information to respond correctly. Another example is making sure that forensic examinations are done in a safe way and making sure that those health practitioners that are doing those examinations after a report of a sexual assault are done in a safe way and don't add to the trauma. We have a lot of evidence about the best way to approach this issue, but what we know is many health practitioners don't feel they are skilled enough. So Monash will be working towards this. Already to date they've had hundreds of training sessions and this will be very important to continue to upskill the medical profession, which sometimes is the first port of call for those who have been sexually assaulted or have experienced sexual violence.

ALI MOORE: Minister, you said some don’t feel that they are trained enough. Does that surprise you? If there is a dearth of training in this area, it’s not as if it’s a new focus and it’s not as if it’s a surprise that our medical professionals are on the front line.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: For many medical professionals, this is not an issue they come across every day, but for many they don’t necessarily feel they’ve got the skills to handle this in the best practice kind of way. So I don’t think medical professionals would feel that they don’t know how at all to handle it. But what we’re wanting is to ensure that there is best practice out there for GPs. GP offices are busy. There are many things coming through their doors, so we just want to make sure that they have all the tools that they need or the training they need to appropriately respond. Particularly when we know, and this is a good thing, more and more women are disclosing when they’ve been the victim of a sexual assault.

ALI MOORE: And when we talk about frontline staff, yesterday we saw in Victoria, Shane Patton, the Victorian Police Commissioner, essentially warn his own staff around misconduct. And one of the issues that he raised was a minority of members providing what he called inadequate family violence policing responses, which fails to recognise the role police play in helping victims. Shouldn't police also be a priority and are they included at all in this, funding?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Police absolutely are key to all of this. I think that's a really important message, because we do know that police need to respond in an appropriate way and of course are so essential to making sure that the pathway for a victim, a survivor, the evidence, all of those things are done really well.

ALI MOORE: So is this money used to train police as well?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This money is not particularly used to train police. We have made other funding allocations along the lines of training police. That is funded through the Attorney-General's Department. But I would say, more importantly, that the role that police can play was highlighted in our new National Plan and the important role that they have in being trained and having the confidence to deal with this. So yes, the Federal Government is putting funding into police. That's not this specific funding. But we do see that as a really important thing that needs to occur. But states and territories, of course, also have an important role in that as well.

ALI MOORE: You're taking part in a roundtable in Melbourne today, and part of that is to hear from First Nations communities and also people with diverse backgrounds. Are you actually planning more changes in this area?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We're working very hard on our two Action Plans that sit underneath the National Plan, and one of those is a dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan. So it is really important that we get the perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and make sure that we're responding in what should be a very culturally appropriate way. One of the things that we know is a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women can be hesitant to come forward and talk about domestic violence because they are worried about their children being removed. We've got to make sure that our services are culturally appropriate and that we are dealing with these issues. But another issue I'm really keen to talk today about with the group, which has been a key in our National Plan, is what does it mean to hold perpetrators to account? This was a strong message coming through our National Plan. And of course what I'm going to be talking about today with these organisations is that it is more than just putting perpetrators in jail. We need to be looking at holding perpetrators to account through the lens of prevention and early intervention. No To Violence is a very important organisation. We’re funding them to expand their men's referral service so that men can, if they are worried about their behaviour or someone said something to them that their behaviour is not okay, they can get in early in a non-judgmental way and get the support that they need and that is a really important discussion to have as well.

ALI MOORE: You're listening to the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, who is in Melbourne today for a roundtable around family and domestic violence. A couple of other issues Minister. You are Minister for Social Services. Obviously, minimising harm is key to your portfolio. A question around the hours that staff work in Parliament. Sally Rugg and Monique Ryan are in the Federal Court. I'm not going to ask you to comment on that case, but do you think it's reasonable that advisers for crossbench staff have gone from four to one?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I would just say that working in Parliament House, we need to make sure it's a safe environment. But obviously Parliament does sit for long hours and it can also be, you know, a challenging but very exciting job…

ALI MOORE: [Interrupts] so, so what does that mean? Yep, 70 hours, suck it up?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, no, what I'm saying is we need to always find the balance make sure our staff are safe and supported…

ALI MOORE: [Interrupts] but the question is, where is the balance? And is 70 hours appropriate? Because that is what these staff members are working.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I'm not going to get into all the details of this. What I can say about my staff is they are very dedicated…

ALI MOORE: [Interrupts] but you've got a lot more than one, haven't you?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think the crossbench have a lot more than one.

ALI MOORE: Well, they don't, They have one in Parliament and then they have their electorate staff don't they? They used to have four.

AMANDA RISHWORTH:  Well we all work very hard and I think my staff certainly support me very well. We've always got to make sure that it's a safe environment.

ALI MOORE: So there's no benchmark for a safe environment Minister? I mean, I guess that's the bottom line. If we want to provide a safe environment, where do we draw the line on it?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Obviously it is a matter for the courts in terms of this case, but as we move forward, we will continue to work towards the Setting The Standard Report and will continue to make sure that our staff are supported.

ALI MOORE: And just a final quick question, and again, I'm not going to ask you to comment on Robodebt and the Royal Commission but I am curious about your view of Cabinet solidarity. What does Cabinet solidarity mean to you as a Minister? Is it toeing the line even if you have personal misgivings?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Cabinet solidarity is about collective decision making of the Cabinet. I don't want to comment on the Royal Commission but I do think that from this Royal Commission we've got to make sure that any lessons that are to be learned need to be recognised. But I would say that there is a lot of disturbing evidence coming through where ministers regularly flagged that there were issues, regularly flagged that there were problems and it actually doesn't seem to me like they took action on that. That's what the evidence is presenting...

ALI MOORE: [Interrupts] but just to go to the question of Cabinet solidarity, does it mean to you toeing the line, even if you personally have misgivings?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Cabinet solidarity is about abiding by Cabinet confidentiality and also about working as a team. That's what Cabinet solidarity is. I don't really want to get into the details of the Royal Commission. The Commission will make their findings, but I think there is some concerning evidence coming out around ministerial responsibility by the former government.

ALI MOORE: Amanda Rishworth, thank you very much for joining us this morning.