Minister Rishworth doorstop interview at Red Cross Melbourne


Topics: Modern slavery, forced marriage, women and children's safety.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: It’s wonderful to be here at Red Cross Australia where I've just met with some dedicated frontline caseworkers as part of the Support for Trafficked People Program. This program is really about supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society and community. Many people think slavery is not something we see in commonplace Australia. Forced marriages, it's not something we should see in Australia. But of course, what we know is that this does happen. And so our program is about supporting those get back on their feet, and as I heard from the caseworkers this morning, to recover, and heal from what is often a very disastrous and damaging experience. This program also supports people leaving situations where they might have a marriage forced upon them, or indeed, be exploited in the workplace. The changes that we've announced in the Budget improve this program significantly. What we will be doing is increasing the amount of time that a person entering this program can get support and care. We'll also be extending that support to dependents, I heard from the caseworkers that often individuals aren't prepared to really get the support they need because they're too worried about their children. So by being able to provide support for those children and dependents, will allow extra healing and support to occur. And of course, we've also announced a separate referral pathway so that you don't have to go through the Australian Federal Police to get support. Obviously, many people when they're leaving such difficult circumstances, their first port of call is not always the police. So by being able to enter this program they can get the support they need to stabilise and start healing and then look at their options in terms of criminal prosecution or reporting to police. So this is a really, really important expansion of the program. It also complements the extra investment we've made to women and children's safety, particularly when it comes to family and domestic violence as well as sexual violence. What I heard from the caseworkers as well, this modern slavery and exploitation can happen to both men and women. It is particularly women and girls that are caught in these very difficult circumstances. So investment in this program, aligns with our National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children in this country, and is backed up by more than half a billion dollars investment for our National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children. We are committed as a Government to continuing to listen to those working on the frontline, and to do our best to stamp out things like modern slavery and forced marriage in this country. There is no place in this country for this type of behaviour. But those that do experience it, do need support and care.

VICKI MAU, DIRECTOR OF AUSTRALIAN PROGRAMS, RED CROSS: Thank you, Minister. Many people, as the Minister referred to, think that modern slavery doesn’t happened in Australia today. Red cross has been delivering the support for trafficked people programs since 2009, and know that anyone, anywhere, at any time could be a victim of modern day slavery. At the moment estimates say that approximately one for every one person that's identified as a victim of modern day slavery, there are another four that we don't know about and that's just an estimate. The creation in particular, that additional referral pathway for this route will mean that instead of being fearful of engaging with authorities, instead of being worried about what might happen with their visa or their safety or their family or their work, they're able to actually go and talk to someone that they trust and be referred through to the Support for Trafficked People Program. And that's a really important step in making sure that we make the humanitarian needs of some of the most vulnerable people in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Just reading that there's a 36 per cent increase in referrals this financial year. Do you know what would be driving that increase?

VICKI MAU: It can be a range of factors. So public awareness is always affected. So you'll see as there might be particular awareness with frontline responders like doctors or workers in particular industries that can result in that, but also post-COVID in a similar way, In a similar way we saw referrals on a whole lot of other programs increase after COVID lockdown finished. For example, and people had more access to support and information. We had more referrals onto the program. So, access to information for this group is really important. And I would just add that if there is anyone out there worried about someone in the situation of potential exploitation or modern day slavery, that we have information on our website where people can contact us and we can refer them on to the appropriate supports and knowing that once we managed to work with a whole of government approach around getting the pilot around the additional referral pathway, even more people would be able to.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you’ve just been speaking with the caseworkers and I guess on the back of this increase, was there a sense they're overwhelmed or they have more work or how did they respond to this?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What I actually heard from the caseworkers is that they were really pleased that the government had listened to their feedback on the ground. The caseworkers and the frontline workers take so much pride in the work they do and are motivated by making a difference and I'm really pleased we've been able to back up their good work by listening to them and implementing policy changes. I would reinforce the message I heard is just how important it is that we've extended the program to allow our caseworkers to work with the children and dependents of an individual that may have been exploited because we know that if they're able to get the right support, then the individual will feel more stable and more confident to get support. So, I was really touched I have to say by the commitment and the energy of the case workers and certainly very pleased that they have welcomed our changes and felt listened to importantly about the work they do.

JOURNALIST: And, just on that 18 month pilot that has been announced, what are the advantages of you know, having community referrals rather than them being done by the AFP?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Many people may not be trying to access support and stay in a very dangerous situation, because they are scared whether that be their visa status, or indeed, they're worried about disciplinary action or criminal conviction. So we want to be very clear with people if they are in a situation where they've been exploited, or been part of a situation where modern slavery or forced marriages is being foist upon them, that there is help available. And I would really encourage people to reach out and this pilot will allow people to reach out, and as I heard from the frontline workers, able to stabilise their lives and get them in a position where they can make some strong decisions about the next step forward. So, it doesn't mean that they won't be choosing to engage with law enforcement, but they'll be in a position where it's their choice, and they feel in control about when and how they actually engage with law enforcement. So, it is a really important ability to be able to get access to the support they need, and importantly, exit a situation that is often dangerous, exploitive and incredibly damaging.

JOURNALIST: And, is there any indication as to when that Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be established?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, we will be working with appointing the Anti-Slavery Commissioner in consultation of course with the wider community. This is a really important position to bring attention and focus as well as coordination on the issue of things like modern slavery in this country. So, we'll be working with - obviously made money available in this budget - and we'll continue that work to make sure we get someone in that position.

JOURNALIST: Just one more question from over here if that’s all right. Just, you know, this funding is to support survivors and I'm curious to know if there's anything that you're calling on that, you know, is any additional funds that you're calling on from the, from the Federal Government?

VICKI MAU: I think partly this is an issue of funding, but it's also around policy reform. So, some of the changes that have been announced as part of the Budget announcement last week will make a critical difference. So, I think we'll digest that first, especially around looking at the work that we do with dependents and then how we support the Government in looking at an additional referral pathway. We'll start to program around that extended amount of support that people can also receive on the program. And, I know one of the thorniest issues that we need to work through as a whole community, but also with Government is around for example, available accommodation for some of the younger people that are referred on to our program. We know it's an issue across the country, but in particular, some of the younger people who may be experiencing forced marriage for example, need very specialised support in an accommodation setting.