Minister Rishworth interview on Triple J Hack


DAVE MARCHESE, HOST: We do have Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth with us now. Minister, welcome to Hack.


DAVE MARCHESE: Let's start with some of those changes to welfare payments. JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, Austudy payments are going to be lifted by 40 bucks per fortnight across the board. Minister, young Australians who are already skipping meals, couch surfing, scraping by - realistically, do you reckon less than $3 a day more is actually going to make a significant difference?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Obviously it is tough to live on income support. And what our Budget has done is lifted the rates for eligible income support payments to support those on them, whether they're student payments or JobSeeker. But it's not all we've done in the Budget. We've obviously increased rent assistance – Commonwealth Rent Assistance – along with support for energy bills, more access to a GP for bulk billing and, of course, cheaper medicine. So, there's a range of different measures here that, put together, do support young Australians and Australians across the board with cost of living issues.

DAVE MARCHESE: Okay, I understand that it is a package of measures and there are different payments that people might be receiving. We've actually been speaking with a student, Sam, who has been looking at all the additional payments that they would be getting, and Sam said the increases to welfare payments are so modest that they would take Sam back to where they were three months ago. They don't do anything to protect Sam against inflation. Sam says the increase in rent assistance “barely covers the rent increase I received this year. If I lose my room, I'm not going to be able to find another one and will be homeless”. What do you say to Sam, Minister?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, this payment on the base rate is in addition to the inflation adjustments that have already happened. This Budget measure will – if we get the legislation through the Parliament – start on the 20 September. That day is also the day where the twice a year inflation adjustment is made. So, that's an increase as well. So in addition to the $40, there will also be an adjustment for inflation, as there was in March.

DAVE MARCHESE: People are saying it's not enough. That they're still going to be living below the poverty line.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Obviously we've got to do targeted, responsible measures. There hasn't been an increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance for 30 years, more than the inflation adjustment. So, this base rate adjustment is more than just the inflation. It is an adjustment to the maximum rate when it comes to Commonwealth Rent Assistance, the base rate when it comes to student payments. But the indexation will continue to apply as well. So, this is above and beyond that.

DAVE MARCHESE: But do you see how young Australians might be a little confused or even annoyed seeing the Government spruik a Budget surplus when the most vulnerable Australians are being offered so little?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The Budget surplus is there to also pay down debt. We have significant debt in this country and what we've tried to do with this Budget is carefully calibrate it so that we're not leaving future generations with debt that they've got to pay back. But at the same time providing support to those most vulnerable and those in need.

DAVE MARCHESE:  But they've got so much of their own debt at the moment. That's the issue, Minister.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Inflation hurts people on the lowest income and so what we've tried to calibrate here is relief for those that need it the most. At the same time not adding to inflation and not adding significantly to long-term debt. So, paying down debt has been an important part of this, providing cost of living relief to those that need it the most, but also looking to the future. Investments in fee-free TAFE places – where we know already there's been a big take-up of under 25s – taking advantage of fee-free TAFE, more university placements.

DAVE MARCHESE: But if we're talking about getting by on a day to day basis, I do understand you're talking about inflation and not wanting to add to that. But then what about the stage three tax cuts which economists say are inflationary? You're pushing ahead with those. Why is that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: They haven't come in yet. This is what’s now in front of us and we are dealing with the inflation challenge we have right now. It is about finding a carefully calibrated balance. It is about investments for the future because people do want to know that we're investing in things like hydrogen, green hydrogen production, which provides jobs, but also provides us an opportunity to deal with climate change. So, this Budget is about calibrating today, tomorrow, but of course also into the future. So, it is a lot of balls to juggle, but we feel we've got the balance right.

DAVE MARCHESE: Okay, if you feel you've got the balance right, because there are other young Australians who are not receiving any Commonwealth support and they are really concerned that they feel like they're not getting anything. Like we've got someone here who says, I'm not rich enough to own a house, I'm not poor enough to get rental assistance, but I'm stuck in an endless paycheck to paycheck for the rest of my life. What is that person supposed to do? And how are we going to address this generation potentially being the first generation to be worse off than their parents?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That’s something that really does focus my mind as well as the Government about how do we ensure there's better living standards? And part of that is about better training, better job creation, higher paid jobs and better wages. And so you saw our Government support a decent increase to the minimum wage, you've seen our changes to industrial relations, which allows low paid workers to have better bargaining rights and better opportunity for women's pay equity. So, it is about wages because, of course, what we ultimately want, we want to support people that rely on the safety net, but ultimately we want to train people and support people and create high paying jobs. And that is what the future is all about.

DAVE MARCHESE: Okay. You're listening to Hack. I'm Dave Marchese. I'm speaking with Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth about the Budget. And we've got a lot of messages coming through on this one. Someone says, I'm a middle income earner. I do think it is a good Budget. I'm not going to get anything, but I don't think I need anything. Low income earners do. Somebody else says, the rent assistance doesn't solve the root cause of the issue. It basically just ensures high rents continue. Another person says, it's not about living off supports. It's the young families that are working full time, get slogged by your government in taxes and little to nothing in return. Minister, it does sound like the message to young Australians from the Government right now is, you're just going to have to get by, you're just going to have to deal with it. And I'm wondering, is there ever going to be targeted support specifically for young Australians?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, I guess it depends what you're talking about. Support. You're talking about someone that is not on Commonwealth benefits, but may be able to be receiving the bulk billing, but more bulk billing now as a result of our changes, might be getting cheaper medicines as a result of our changes.

DAVE MARCHESE:    Or they may not be receiving, they may not.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: They may not, but what we are doing is investing in support now and investing in a growing economy for the future that is inclusive and supports people. That is the type of economy that we are working towards. It's not just about Government support. It is about our industrial relations system, it is about our education system. It's about all of these things, I guess.

DAVE MARCHESE: Minister, the hard thing here is that the government seems to be asking young people to be the tools to curb inflation. But they're young people at the heart of it. They're just trying to get by. They're trying to start their lives. They're often working multiple jobs and they cannot get ahead. Like, we've got students, for instance, with indexation, they now owe more than they did when they finished studying. Like, how is that not leaving anyone behind, as Labour promised?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, of course, you don't have to pay back your HECS until you reach a certain threshold. And I'm one of the MPs that did pay HECS and did pay for my education. I acknowledge that it's not as much as it is today.

DAVE MARCHESE: But people don’t want to be seeing it climbing and it does affect other things. If they want to apply for a loan, if they want to get support elsewhere, banks are looking at this debt that they owe. It's still a debt.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I do reject your assumption that there isn't anything in this Budget for young people – fee-free TAFE places, particularly, we've seen quite a significant take-up already of those under 25. They do benefit from that. They benefit from not having to pay fees for their TAFE and they benefit from the jobs that they can get. And if we can get wages moving and get real wages moving, then that has an impact too.

DAVE MARCHESE: Going to have to leave it there. Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth. Very much appreciate you coming on Hack.