Minister Rishworth interview on FiveAA with Matthew Pantelis


Topics: Operation Flinders, mental health report, NDIS, Australia Day

MATTHEW PANTELIS, HOST: You may have heard of Operation Flinders. They've been running for many years now. A program in the Flinders Ranges, generally for challenged youth here in South Australia, run years ago by the excellent John Shepard, these days by a chap called David Wark. Step Out program is one that's just started – an intake of teenagers a couple of years ago at least anyway – and has grown since. It has now had a funding boost from the Federal Government of $326,000. The Federal Minister for Social Services will be visiting Operation Flinders Edwardstown today and is now on the line. Amanda Rishworth, good morning.


MATTHEW PANTELIS: Tell me about what you've done here. Obviously helping young people get their lives centred and together.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This is particularly focused on those that have been disengaged from education, because we know that if you disengage with education then actually you will more likely have poorer life outcomes. We want to ensure that we've got the right supports in place and Operation Flinders has such a great reputation. What this funding will allow, though, is some of the children and young people they are supporting, they do get the mentoring support, but they don't get to go on the core program, the eight day trek, which involves so many life skills that you learn on that – teamwork, resilience etcetera. This funding will allow particularly those young people that have been identified as disengaged. There'll be also a look at children in out of home care, allowing them to participate in the really good stuff, I'd say, which is the trek and the team building aspect of Operation Flinders.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: It's such a vital service, I reckon, Operation Flinders, what I've known about it in the past. I haven't caught up with their operations more recently, but just what it does in helping kids, teenagers, essentially find their way in life and really give them options to move forward in a positive way in the future is just second to none.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Oh, absolutely. The confidence it builds. A lot of these young people often feel they've failed, often feel they can't do anything and when they can see what they can achieve out there with the support of the youth workers, it’s great. But to be able to really get outside their comfort zone, to get outside to build as a team – do things abseiling, for example, something that would scare most of us to have that sense of achievement after that and that support for young people obviously helps build their self-esteem, it builds their confidence that they can achieve. And really important, I think, in hopefully setting them up to move forward in life.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Yeah, indeed. All right, while I've got you, we spoke with Chris Picton, the South Australian Health Minister, on Tuesday. He had just released a report into mental health services in South Australia. The Mental Health Coalition, as I'm sure you're aware, here in SA, has been advertising, campaigning for that report to be released and is now running ads demanding action on that report. Mr Picton has said he has written to you, to Mark Butler as Health Minister and Bill Shorten as National Disability Insurance Service Minister to look at taking that report forward and finding the funding necessary. I think it talked of $125,000 a year necessary to help 19,000 South Australians who suffer mental illness who could get better service and better help early on. Have you had a chance to look at the report to respond to Mr Picton?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I've had a brief look at the report and it is a very important report. What it does indicate is actually something that is a broader challenge across the disability space. And that is if you are in the NDIS, then you get a very high level of support. But over the last ten years, as the NDIS has rolled out, there have been issues around what is called Tier Two funding or Tier Two services, and that includes the psychosocial supports that are being discussed here. There's obviously clinical mental health services as well. But what this report talked about, in addition, is the psychosocial support. That is ongoing support. One of the key issues that the NDIS review is actually looking at is those that don't get into the NDIS. Often it's been described as there's not much else out there for them. So, this is something from a federal level that we're looking at from an NDIS review perspective, and something that does involve the states and territories working together about how we make sure that the NDIS isn't the only option for people that need extra support. It's happening in the mental health space, but it's also happening in other areas of disability as well. For example, autism early intervention, as just one example, and we are working with the states and territories on that. Autism early intervention, especially if you don't qualify for the NDIS. So, it is a big challenge across the board and we've certainly through the NDIS review and through National Cabinet committed to working through that difficulty of if you're not in the NDIS, you don't get the support that you need.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Yeah, true, no doubt about that. But Minister Picton did highlight that NDIS receives eight times the funding that people get otherwise on these mental health services that are offered here in South Australia. Does that concern you? And this is part of the review, obviously, into the NDIS. That's a large amount?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The key to it is that the original view of the NDIS is that you wouldn't not get any service or very little service if you didn't go into the NDIS. And so the statistic you've just described absolutely shows the concern that people are not necessarily getting the support if they don't qualify for the NDIS, whether that be with mental health psychosocial, whether that be early intervention in autism. So, there's actually a range of areas in which if you're not in the NDIS, then you do get a lot less status. And that has been concerning us, because that, of course, then encourages and drives people to say, the only option for me is the NDIS, and for many people it's the right option. But that is exactly what the review is looking at. How do we make sure that people get the support? But this is a joint effort of how the NDIS interacts with the other service systems and we've certainly committed with the states and territories to work on that.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: All right, and how long before that review is complete?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That is in Minister Shorten's area. The panel has been working very hard. Lisa Paul and Bruce Bonyhady have been doing a lot of conversations around the country and it will include efforts from state governments as well as the Commonwealth about how we get the NDIS to interact better with the broader service system and make sure there is other services for people when they need it.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: And as a South Australian Federal Minister, you would have seen the front page of the paper today, The Advertiser, on councils and Australia Day, and speaking with Michael Hewitt's and the Unley Mayor a bit earlier, he's basically thrown the Federal Government under a bus, saying that it's the Federal Government that's opened the door for councils to decide what they do with Australia Day. I've got to say, the text line here at FIVEaa has exploded in anger, with many people venting their frustration at councils deciding to essentially ditch Australia Day ceremonies and swearing in ceremonies and celebrations and everything else. Do you have a point of view on that as a federal Minister?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, I would say if Councils can't take responsibility for the decisions they make, then that's pretty concerning. I mean, we've been very clear as a Federal Government, we have no plans to change Australia Day. But councils are also elected bodies and are able to make decisions on behalf of their ratepayers. And if people are not happy with the decisions they make, they can vote. On any council issue, they can vote, but I'm not sure here whether blaming the Federal Government for council decisions is probably appropriate. We've been very clear about Australia Day. We have no plans to change Australia Day and encourage people to mark in it in whatever that way they wish to do.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: All right, Amanda Rishworth, thank you for your time this morning.