Minister Rishworth interview on ABC RN Drive with Andy Park


ANDY PARK, HOST: The National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey has found nearly half of Australians incorrectly believe that women and men equally commit domestic violence. More than a third of respondents believe that women going through custody battles make up or exaggerate claims of domestic violence, while a similar number believe it's common for sexual assault accusations to be used as a way of getting back at men. Experts say misconceptions about where violence occurs were among the most disturbing findings. Joining me is Federal Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth. Welcome to you, Minister.


ANDY PARK: You will have just heard those comments. Is there significant investment coming to tackle these issues? I mean, that's your job, right?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Yes, there is significant investment, but we have also put together the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children. And this National Plan is important because it directs investment in the areas that need to be invested in to make change. And community attitudes is one of the really important areas we need to invest in.

ANDY PARK: I'm curious about that because one of the concerns has been about the widespread misunderstanding of this issue. Why is there a misunderstanding? Where is this coming from? Why is it that policymakers and the general community seem to be out of step about the true understanding of this problem?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This survey that you're referring to actually has been the longest, in terms of a survey, it has been taken over a number of points in time. It's funded by the Federal Government, so it is important that we understand these attitudes. And we have seen some positive changes. I need to say that this survey did find that most Australians, 91%, recognised that violence against women was a problem. But then on the other side only 47% recognised that it was a problem in their suburb or town. And there's a number of different statistics that shows there has been improvement since 2000 and 2009. But in some areas, the attitudes are not shifting quickly enough, or in all areas. We do have to make sure that we're having these important conversations. Another area which people are seeing a lot of grey area in is consent, for example. And while most people would assume having sexual relations without consent is wrong, too many people are seeing grey areas and we need to shift those attitudes as well.

ANDY PARK: Full Stop Australia’s Hayley Foster is in Canberra to fight for funding, warning about the service and that it will need to shut down without sufficient funding. Full Stop provides a counselling support hotline for victims of sexual, domestic and family violence. Will you provide that funding?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Firstly, in terms of the national line to support people, that is 24 hours, seven days a week, that is 1800RESPECT. And the Federal Government funds that service. In terms of other phone counselling services, including the one that Full Stop runs, and I would like to acknowledge Full Stop's great involvement…

ANDY PARK: [interrupts] But are you saying there’s duplication in that service? I believe they're only asking for $500,000. Which, in the scheme of things…

AMANDA RISHWORTH: [Interrupts] Wait until I finish. Wait until I finish. They are funded through the National Partnerships Program through the New South Wales Government. So the Commonwealth funding that Full Stop Australia gets in terms of that frontline service, because those frontline services are delivered by states and territories, it gets $1.1 million of Commonwealth funding. I will continue to work across the board with different services about how we put in funding, but I have to say our government has put in a record $1.7 billion into services. But we've got to make sure that we're working with states and territories, with the sector, to make sure that we get the most out of this investment and that we're all pulling in the same direction. So that is what I'm committed to do. I'll work with all service providers, but it is important to recognise that we do fund states and territories. It's Commonwealth money, but we're funding states and territories to deliver services and full Stop Australia, for that enhanced phone service, does get $1.1 million of Commonwealth money.

ANDY PARK: Okay, I do get a lot of text messages on this programme saying that the child support system is unfair. Let's talk about your changes. How are they going to make this system fairer?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Our changes are all about recovering debt that is rightfully owed to parents and also making sure that we're preventing debt. At the moment, in 35 years there's been $1.69 billion of child support debt that's been accrued. And, of course, that means that there are parents not getting the money they need to support their kids, which, at the end of the day, it's the financial security for children that's so important in the child support system. So our first lot of changes that we're making is making sure that through employers that can currently actually withhold money to repay child support debts, the ability for Services Australia to do that and to start that if a child has gone over 18, even if a debt is still owed, is not available at the moment. So our changes will allow that to happen. It also will tighten departure, the ability for a parent with a large child support debt to leave the country if they have not repaid that debt. And, of course, what we also need to do is prevention. And so one of the measures is about improving the income accuracy for low income parents. So that will obviously benefit parents that are paying as well as parents that are receiving. And so we need to first prevent debts from happening, but also make sure they're paid back, because debts, of course, cause a lot of friction. Over time, we do need to look at what other things we can do to improve the system, but reducing that debt that is owed, making it smoother and preventing debt is really important.

ANDY PARK: Federal Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth, I do appreciate your time this afternoon. Thank you.