Minister Rishworth interview on Sunday Agenda


ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Joining me live now from Adelaide is the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth. Amanda Rishworth on this Mother’s Day, thanks so much for joining us.


ANDREW CLENNELL: We won’t detain you long, but look what doesn’t the Government like about this proposal of Peter Dutton’s to allow those on the dole to earn another $150 a fortnight before they get the JobSeeker payment taken off them?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Firstly I would say that this is a thought bubble by Peter Dutton and what we don't know is how this will actually encourage workforce participation. He's provided no evidence to suggest that this would alleviate barriers that many people on JobSeeker have in gaining employment. He quoted 75 per cent of job seekers don't report any earnings, but of course, that means they're already not taking up the income free threshold of $150. So, I think that's the first question. Second question is what is the cost to the taxpayer of this? I don't think he's outlined or done any costings about the fiscal implications of this, so there's a question for him there as well. But in addition, when it comes to JobSeeker, we don't want to see people staying on the safety net, we want to see people move into employment. I think one of the questions is how much longer would his proposal have people staying on JobSeeker as a result of these changes. So, there are a lot of questions and potential unintended consequences of the Leader of the Opposition's proposal. We are working through, very methodically, both a review of the employment services, as you mentioned, there's a committee looking into them at the moment to make sure they are fit for purpose in supporting people into employment. But equally, we also have a white paper process now on workforce participation and how we boost that. And from the Leader of the Opposition, this is unfortunately just a thought bubble with no substantive analysis behind it.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Just on that Minister, he says it's $700 million. Do you dispute that figure?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I do dispute that over the forward estimates. I think it would be a lot more than $700,000,000.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Is this policy not worth a thought though, when so many businesses are struggling for workers?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I absolutely want to see more people into employment, but keeping them on JobSeeker is unlikely to be the answer. It's ensuring that our people have the skills they need, and that's backed up with our increase in university places, our increase in TAFE places. It's encouraging employees to take a chance on people living with disability, people over the age of 55. When I talk with people, older workers, they're applying for jobs and they're not getting a chance. So, I think it's much more complex and what the Opposition Leader hasn't done is actually demonstrate how this will lead people to get off the safety net and into a full time job. He hasn't explained that and seems to not have the analysis behind it. Now, of course, we're going through a whole range of scenarios and analysis through our White Paper on labour and full employment, and so we will continue to work through that process in a rigorous way.

ANDREW CLENNELL: What thinking went behind making the increase to JobSeeker $40 a fortnight as opposed to a higher increase or a lower increase?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We had to strike the right balance recognising that there were cost of living challenges, particularly for those on the lowest income. Of course, there is indexation to the JobSeeker payment, but we know that there is other pressures as well that exceed indexation. So, finding the right balance between what is affordable, what we can responsibly deliver, and I have to say, it needs to be seen also in the context of the energy supplement or the energy rebate that's coming through people's bills. The increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance as well. So, all of those things were taken into account when we settled on an increase to the base rate of JobSeeker. All those things are considered. But of course, one of the challenges does exist for people over the age of 55. And that's why we've extended the higher rate of JobSeeker to those aged over 55, because we know they face extra barriers to gaining employment, including discrimination and poor health.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Did you receive advice from Treasury as to how inflationary the $40 would be? And if so, what was that advice?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The advice across the board was that our Budget measures, our cost of living package, would not add to inflation. Indeed, attacking some of those really acute price pressures, including rents through our Commonwealth Rent Assistance and our energy bill relief, actually put downward pressure on inflation. But across the board, our cost of living relief package did not add to inflation.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Is it a concern politically for the Government that what is being called middle Australia does appear to be a bit left out in this Budget? You could have a nurse on $80,000, married to a police officer on $80,000 - let's just pick out two professions - with three kids who don't get the electricity bill relief, for example.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: One of the key points about this Budget is it does build on our October Budget. And in that October Budget, we have significant relief for childcare fees, for example. Now, it wasn't long ago that the Opposition was crying that we were giving too much to middle Australia with our cheaper childcare policy. Indeed, that policy is means tested, but we increased the top end of that, where it's means tested significantly. Now, those opposite in the Opposition were saying that this was too much for middle Australia, so the Opposition has to work out what it's saying. We have had a significant investment into cheaper childcare that starts on 1 July that many families across this country will benefit from. We’ve obviously got fee free training for people that have older children, fee free TAFE places, more university places. A real investment in small business, for example, such as increasing the instant asset write off to $20,000. So, I think you've got to look at the package and the Budget as a whole, we had to do a careful balance.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Minister, just quickly. The asset write off was uncapped before, so you've actually reduced that.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This has been an increase because many measures were coming to an end. So, we have taken action in a number of these areas to deal with measures that were coming to an end.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Can I ask, the Government seems to be part of a concerted wages push in terms of its submissions to the Fair Work Commission. Isn't there a concern that this push is inflationary?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I don't think that people getting decent wages, particularly those on the minimum wage, have demonstrated at all that this would add to inflation. I think what we know is there's price pressures in the economy and we have to work alongside the Reserve Bank in not adding to inflation. But I don't think anyone's demonstrated that an increase to the minimum wage, to ensure that those on the lowest incomes keep up with the cost of living have indeed demonstrated to be adding to inflation. We do have an inflation challenge and that is why the Government's Budget has been responsible. Across our two budgets, October and now, we have banked 87 per cent of the upgrade of revenue. That's really significant. Compare that to the previous government, where they banked about 40 per cent in their last budget. So, we have shown spending restraint when it comes to wages. Though I think most people would recognise those on the lowest incomes do deserve to have their wages keep up with the cost of living.

ANDREW CLENNELL: What did you make of Peter Dutton's suggestions in the Budget reply around changes on gambling advertising?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I was, I guess, surprised that Peter Dutton and his whole team had nine years to take action on online gambling reform and what we saw from them was to sit on a report and actually not actually tackle this really important problem to minimise online gambling harm. I am interested to see what the opposition will do when the House of Representatives Committee report comes out. We're certainly looking forward to it. We've already taken action, for example, our recent announcement on banning the use of credit cards for online gambling. We don't think people should be going into debt to gamble. That's the nub of it. So, we've already taken action. We've introduced new effective gambling advertising taglines. We've also announced classification changes when it comes to exposure of children to enticements to gamble. There's a lot of work to be done. And what I would say is, as we will work through what can be done and the response to the House of Representatives Standing Committee. I look forward to the Opposition's cooperation on that.

ANDREW CLENNELL: All right. Your South Australian colleague Don Farrell's just been to China. He's just announced this morning that the Chinese Foreign Minister will be coming here. Are you confident trade sanctions will be lifted?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think from all reports, the visit by Minister Farrell has made significant progress in stabilising the relationship. Of course, what he has said is that there is now a pathway towards working with the Chinese Government around the issues on trade and I think that is very positive. I think this has been very much welcomed across the board as a first step and I look forward to seeing further progress on that.

ANDREW CLENNELL: And just finally looks like we're about to see the Voice legislation before the Parliament, getting closer to that referendum. What do you think of the prospects of the referendum succeeding? And would something like the JobSeeker rise be something the Voice would be consulted on?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Is the Voice referendum something that I think will succeed? In my conversations with people right around the country, a lot of people are saying this is long overdue. And so I think there is a really positive mood in the country to give First Nations people a voice and allow them to be consulted on the issues that do affect them. In terms of something like JobSeeker, The Voice will make representations on behalf of the issues that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That's very clear. And the Government will take that advice and listen to that advice, not unlike, I think, a number of other advisory committees that we’ve got.

ANDREW CLENNELL: [interrupts] on JobSeeker?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, that is a matter for the Voice. That is a matter for the priorities that the Voice set. Do they make legislation? No. Do they have a veto power of what Government does? No.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Minister, let's just look at that for a second. You're about to introduce a Budget, not telling anyone well, unless I reveal it, or another journalist reveals it, that you are increasing JobSeeker. Do you go to the Voice for advice on that? Because you just said, well, that would be up to them, but isn't it up to you?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We can seek advice from the Voice and that will be a matter…

ANDREW CLENNELL: [interrupts] would you in that instance?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, at this point, we haven't got a legislated Voice. And I think what you're doing is dealing in a whole lot of hypotheticals. There's obviously going to be consultation on the Voice on a range of issues that disproportionately affect First Nations people. And once that Voice is set up, there'll be a clear process of when Government consults with them. I'm not going to jump into hypothetical questions of an advisory body that the Constitution doesn't even have in yet and we haven't legislated. But I very much look forward, and I'm not afraid as a Minister, to be able to have a group of First Nations people that I can go and speak with and get advice about different issues that affect them. Indeed, I think that would make government decisions very legitimate and make sure that we're actually consulting First Nations people. So, I'm not scared of consulting the Voice on matters that affect them, but we're a long way from that. At the moment we haven't even got it set up. But I have a lot of faith in the Australian people that once we see this referendum and this referendum goes ahead, that we will see a Voice to ensure that recognition of First Nations people is in the Constitution.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth, thanks so much for your time this morning.