Topics: Modern slavery, JobSeeker, workforce participation and cost of living support
VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: The Social Services Minister joins you now. Amanda Rishworth, good to talk to you. Good morning.
AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Good morning. Great to be with you.
IRGINIA TRIOLI: How does this package break down?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: This package has a number of elements. We know that there are unfortunately a number of people that are living in what's called modern slavery conditions here in Australia. Obviously often on temporary visas. And so what our package will do is firstly double the support that is offered to people who are trying to get out of that situation and that includes counselling, financial support as well as support for their dependence if they have children, obviously support with schooling, things like that. We know that this is really important to make sure that an individual doesn't fall back into some sort of depraved situation. But in addition it is also about allowing a new referral pathway to get into this programme. We know that a lot of people in this situation are very scared by the first contact being with law enforcement. So, this will be trialling a different pathway to get the support to get out of some of these situations.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Where do most of these people end up? I know in the years that I've spoken to Victoria Police, a lot of them do end up in those cheap looking massage places that pop up like Whack-a-Mole from time to time. One is shut down and then another one pops up. Is that largely where these people end up? And are we talking about women or about women and men?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: We're talking both about women and men. However, the majority are women and girls. It is often in sex work, can be in hospitality and farm work as well. So, it is in a range of different places that they end up and often come out on valid visas, come out lured with the opportunity to work. In some of the cases, their passports are taken away, they're told that they owe not real debts and have to work these debts off. And so it is in a range of different places they find themselves and really feel trapped. And it is pretty horrific in this day and age that we have people against their will being forced to work for nothing.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But is it the real issue trying to crack down on the criminal syndicates that get these people into the country? Because I can imagine, notwithstanding the usefulness of this money, Amanda Rishworth actually identifying these people as having been trafficked would be the real requirement and require a great deal of money to be poured into investigation in order to find them in the first place.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Absolutely, I know the Attorney-General is particularly passionate about cracking down on this and indeed we have also committed to a Commissioner to actually look into this area as well to shine a light. So, it's not just about the support. It is about having a Commissioner and raising this issue and ensuring that there is adequate law enforcement and it is about legislation change. One of the cases that occurred was previous to the law change was that if a child under the age of 16 said they consented to a marriage then that was not deemed as a forced marriage. And the law changed and which made irrespective of whether consent is given that forced marriages can't happen under the age of 16. So, there's law changes that are needed and we'll continue to work on those. There's law enforcement, of course, and I know the Attorney-General is incredibly passionate about this. We are appointing a Commissioner on Modern Slavery to ensure that we're getting the right coordination. But this support package, in addition, is about ensuring people can get the support they want. And it actually also builds on some changes we've made to the visa system led by Andrew Giles, our Immigration Minister, that will actually allow people that have found themselves, perhaps on a temporary visa, but in a domestic violence situation, to be able to get the support and visa status that they need to get out of that situation.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Amanda Rishworth is with you, Social Services Minister at nine minutes to nine on ABC Radio Melbourne. On other matters, why is Peter Dutton's proposal, which would double the amount that people can earn before affecting their JobSeeker payment, why is that not worthy of more consideration by you described it as a thought bubble?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Firstly, I would say that the Opposition Leader is actually saying no to Labor's proposal to increase the base rate of JobSeeker. He said he hasn't come out and supported that and when we've put together a cost of living package, we've been very thoughtful about the extra support that people need. And that includes people on income support, that includes people renting that receive Commonwealth Rent Assistance.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Apologies for jumping in here, Minister, but I actually was short of time and I want to return you directly to my question. Why have you dismissed it as a thought bubble when Jim Chalmers, your Treasurer, does seem to be indicating that he would consider that as a raft of changes?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: At the moment, our first priority is supporting people with cost of living and the Opposition Leader has not said whether or not he will support a $40 increase to the base rate of…
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: [interrupts] I think it's pretty clear that the opposition has made clear that that whole lot will go through the Upper House. But again, I have to ask you, why have you dismissed it as a thought bubble when your Treasurer seems to be indicating on Insiders that he would consider it? You're at odds here.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: We are not at odds. That is absolutely not true.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Do you want me to play you what Jim Chalmers said?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: No, this is an example of the Opposition Leader scratching around. What I've been very clear about is, as has the Prime Minister, as has the Treasurer have both said, workforce participation and ensuring people can get into the workforce is a complex issue. There are a lot of barriers people face for example…
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But Minister if someone can earn more, why would you not want them to earn more?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Let's be really clear. The Opposition Leader had the opportunity to do this in 2021. He decided not to do it. The Second point…
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: [interrupts] Okay, well, you’ve got the opportunity to listen to the idea.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: The second point is we need to understand how we best ensure people get back into the workforce, 75 per cent of people do not use the income free threshold that's currently available because they face a range of different barriers age discrimination, disability discrimination and indeed, many don't have, for example, the foundation skills that are required to be able to get a job. We need to support people to get the skills they need and support them, actually move off JobSeeker to get a meaningful job in the workplace. That's what our focus is on, to strengthen the safety net that is there for them when they need support and to actually move into work when we provide them, when we help support remove the barriers. That's what we're focussed on. That's what the White Paper on employment is to do. And we will work through all of these challenges. We have currently got a committee into the employment services provision in this country which many people have recognised need to improve. We also invested in this budget investment for foundation skills for people that may have missed the opportunity to read and write. And of course, what we're also doing is investing in cost of living support right now through our energy, through our increase in JobSeeker and also Commonwealth Rent Assistance. We believe this is the right package.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: All right, we'll see if, when it's considered by Jim Chalmers, that the Government comes up with a different tune. But good to talk to you this morning and I appreciate your time. Thank you, Minister.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Thank you.