Minister Rishworth interview on ABC Radio Adelaide with David Bevan


Topics: Jobseeker payment, Housing package, Double dissolution

DAVID BEVAN, HOST: Amanda Rishworth joins us now. Minister for Social Services. Good morning, Amanda Rishworth.


DAVID BEVAN: Amanda Rishworth, Peter Dutton is marking out welfare as a key distinction between your Government and the coalition. He says rather than give the unemployed on JobSeeker an extra $40 a fortnight, he would allow them to earn $300 more without losing their welfare. What's wrong with that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I would say that this proposal by Peter Dutton has not been thought through. It is a thought bubble. We haven't seen, until just recently, any costings provided by the Coalition, but it would cost $1.6 billion according to our costings, and actually leave behind 77 per cent of jobseekers who already don't use the income free area for earnings that they already have and that's because they face different barriers to work. It might be language barriers, it might be foundation skills, it might be discrimination, it might be sickness. Our priority is about helping those people as well as those that rely on rent assistance, parenting payment. That's what our Bill is about. But I would point out the Coalition had the opportunity to set this rate back in April 2021, and they chose the $150 a fortnight level. And so I'd like to know from the Opposition what's changed. The other point that the Opposition hasn't been talking about is that this change could overnight make around 50,000 immediately eligible to go back onto JobSeeker. These are people that have exited off JobSeeker. And so really, the Opposition has not explained the unintended consequences that could happen with this.

DAVID BEVAN: Why would his measure force people back onto JobSeeker?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Because there's already people that are earning over the income threshold and earn more than the taper rates. When you increase the income free threshold, what it does is allow people that were on JobSeeker or are connected to the system that are earning above that now they have exited off JobSeeker, and so they are no longer on it. By increasing the amount you can earn, this would encourage people potentially to reapply for JobSeeker because they would suddenly become eligible overnight.

DAVID BEVAN: Okay, well, they would think this was a Crackerjack idea because they would be able to keep the money that they're currently earning, and they would suddenly be eligible for the JobSeeker payment. They'd be a lot better off.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: They would be probably very pleased. But there are over 600,000 people that have barriers to work that are living on the lowest incomes, who wouldn't get any extra support from this measure. We've got to understand, when it comes to long term unemployment, there are significant barriers that people need to address and support. Our Government is making sure that, for example, our employment services are improved, that we're dealing with people that may be on JobSeeker for sickness or mental health or don't have the foundation skills or indeed older people that get discriminated against when they apply for jobs. There are a lot of barriers to people working, and it does cost the Budget. And that's one thing that Peter Dutton hasn't been able to explain. We've had Peter Dutton saying, you need to spend more. Angus Taylor saying you need to spend less. Quite frankly, there's a lot of confusion around this policy. It has not really been a thorough policy where all the unintended consequences are examined.

DAVID BEVAN: Okay, now you're very busy, and we appreciate the time you've given us this morning. What about this other issue? That is the housing package? The Government put up a housing package. It involved setting aside billions of dollars and the interest from that would be used to fund social housing around the country. The Greens have, as I basically understand their position, they've said, well, rather than putting money into a fund which would play the stock market to provide funding for social housing, how about you just give money to social housing and a lot more than you are planning? Now, they have got together with the Coalition and they've blocked your package. Anthony Albanese, the Prime Minister, your leader, has said, I'm going to reintroduce this measure. That gives me a double dissolution election trigger. How serious are you about that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, this isn't about a double dissolution election trigger. This is about bringing back and giving the Coalition and the Greens the opportunity to vote for this measure. This measure is the measure we took to the election. It's a measure that is really important and complements our many other housing initiatives. As your listeners might recall, we have recently announced an extra $2 billion to the states and territories to help immediately fix up some social housing and bring more social housing online. But this is an important long term measure because what it does is it provides an investment fund that allows for investment in housing on an ongoing basis. This is a really important fund because it's not just about social housing, it is also about affordable housing. Quite frankly, it seems like the Greens and the Coalition, for different reasons, are playing politics with this. It really is time for them to reconsider their position and look at this measure in a serious way. And we did take it to the election, David, and it was endorsed by the Australian people.

DAVID BEVAN: Whether it's good policy or bad policy, other people can make that decision. I'm not advocating it one way or the other. But is it smart politics by the Greens?  Because they know that their most fertile ground for votes is inner city young people. They're the ones paying rents and the Green’s measures to put in rent caps, and then after those caps expire, severe restrictions on rent increases that will go down very well there. Do you see this as a political threat?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: In terms of playing politics with it, there's no doubt that the Greens are doing that. It has been well canvassed, things like rent caps are really an issue for states and territory governments and I think people understand that, and people can see through that. What I see is community housing providers working with me saying we need this money to flow to us so that we can start building more homes. There are many community housing organisations which have traditionally looked to the Greens at times, I'm sure, because of the Green's position on community and social housing. They are certainly getting frustrated with the fact that this practical measure, one that can get houses starting to be built on the ground over the next few years, is being blocked by the Greens and the Coalition.

DAVID BEVAN: Amanda Rishworth, Member for Kingston and Minister for Social Services. Thank you for your time on this very busy day.