Minister Rishworth interview on ABC NewsRadio with Tom Oriti


Topics: Disability Royal Commission; Autism Cooperative Research Centre, South Australian teaching degrees, Voice to Parliament

TOM ORITI, HOST: We are joined now by the Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth. Minister, good morning, thanks for your time.


TOM ORITI: So, this Taskforce, your Department will be leading it? I mean, why do you think a Taskforce is needed when you do already have this comprehensive report from the Royal Commission?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The Royal Commission, of course, has done a huge body of work detailing some shocking allegations of abuse and neglect and so that's one element we need to tackle. But there's another much, I think, broader message here about the best way for people with disability to have their human rights respected and fulfilled and for a more inclusive community and society. And that actually takes whole of government. That's not just about disability services, it's about education, it is about health, it's about infrastructure. It is across the whole of the Commonwealth, as well as some areas that have a crossover between states and territories and the Commonwealth, as well as some recommendations that just go to states themselves. So, it is pretty comprehensive and needs a lot of coordination across government. But of course, implementation is also critical as well. How do you implement some of these things? And that is part of what the Taskforce will also be looking.

TOM ORITI: And no question, challenges ahead, of course. Who's going to be on the Taskforce, though? How's it going to be structured?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: There'll be representatives from across all Commonwealth agencies. In the Disability Royal Commission, there was a significant section on First Nations people, for example. So, we need the NIAA National Indigenous Australians Agency there at the table, so it will be set up across Government. We'll have Health, Education, Attorney Generals, but in addition, of course, it must closely consult with disability advocates.

TOM ORITI: Yeah, because I wanted to ask, are we going to have people with lived experience of disability on this Taskforce?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This is an intergovernmental Taskforce and of course there are people in the public service with disability, but we also need to be closely consulting with disability advocates, the disability representative organisations, and other people with lived experience as we work through these. So, there is certainly an intention, as we did with Australia's Disability Strategy on an ongoing basis, to make sure that we are co designing, consulting, discussing these issues and these recommendations with Australia's disability community, as well as families and carers.

TOM ORITI: Sure. The consultation, the discussions, I'm sure is welcome. But would you not think the expectation from the disability community would be that this Taskforce would be disability-led?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This is being led within the public service. If the Government cannot implement these recommendations or work out a pathway of how to implement these recommendations across Government, then that is not going to work. Of course, there are people in the public service and there is work being done to encourage more people with disability into the public service. But your question is, how do people with disability get a voice and how do they and their representative organisations get to have a say? What we're saying is we will certainly be working with people and consulting with people with disability, but also their organisations in the Government's response to these recommendations.

TOM ORITI: And 222 of them Minister. It’s been a week now since this report was handed down. I think it's fair to say many in the disability community eagerly awaiting a response. When are we expecting that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This is a huge body of work. There's 5000 pages, there's twelve volumes of information. We are not going to be able to respond quickly to this. This is going to take much methodical work to work through the evidence and the recommendations and we will do that with our state and territory counterparts as well. There are many areas that do cross over with states and territories. We immediately stood up the Taskforce. It'll be on the agenda at the next Disability Reform Minister's meeting. But this is a huge body of work.

TOM ORITI: No question, but any timeframe at all? When will this Taskforce be finalised? When is that meeting happening?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I'm not able to provide you that timeframe. These are really significant recommendations. We will be reporting on progress next year, but I'm not able to give you a timeframe of when we'll have the final Government response.

TOM ORITI: Okay. One of the themes that's emerged, Minister, is this idea of segregation in schools. And the Commissioners themselves are very divided on that, as we've been reporting. South Australian universities, they're going to boost disability and inclusion studies in teaching degrees. And it's part of a plan to better prepare teachers for diverse classrooms developed with the Autism Cooperative Research Centre, with the Federal Government's support. I do note that in the material we've received from the Government, it says it's a sign the Government is in favour of a more inclusive model, I think was the wording. Does that signal that the Government's in favour of phasing out segregation in schools? Do you have a position on that issue?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think firstly, everyone recognises that we can do better in terms of inclusion across community and that includes in education settings. And so I do very much welcome the announcement from South Australia in which the South Australian universities will have inclusion as a core part of their curriculum, that is, of their teaching curriculum, which is really important if we're going to teach students about how to promote more inclusive education. So, absolutely, we need to look at how we can be more inclusive in our schooling system. There's been progress on that, investment on that, but we can always look at how we can do better. But we also have to, of course, recognise that this issue is complex.

TOM ORITI: No thoughts on whether segregation should come to an end in school?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That is a complex issue and we need to work it through. Of course, for some families, that is an issue about choice. For others, it is about how we promote more inclusion in schools. The question is, can we do better to include students in schools? And I think the Royal Commission clearly demonstrates that we do need to do better when it comes to inclusion in schools

TOM ORITI: Before I let you go, I just want to have a chat about a couple of other issues. Minister, the Voice less than two weeks now before the referendum, early polling open across the country. I mean, it's suggesting the no vote is leading, but I imagine it's going to be very close. What message do you have for Australians who are perhaps undecided or have decided to vote no?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: My message is that this is an opportunity for everyone in Australia, every Australian citizen, to have their say about what type of future and vision they have for our country. And the question really, before the Australian people is pretty simple. It is about, do you want to recognise First Nations people in the Constitution in a way that they've asked for through listening to them with a Voice to the Parliament and to the Government? And so it's a very clear question. I would encourage people to vote yes. I think it is a really important referendum, but of course it is a referendum and that is it needs to be dealt with respectfully. People have differing views and they will get to have their say at the ballot box. That's the beauty of democracy.

TOM ORITI: I mean, let's say the vote is No. Are you confident that your Government will still be able to carry out its work and its commitments to Close the Gap, for example, and assist Indigenous Australians in all of the issues that we discuss regularly on this program?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: As the Prime Minister has said, we want to do things in a way that meets the needs of First Nations people. We're absolutely, as a Government, committed to the Closing the Gap targets, committed to making a difference for First Nations people. But this referendum is an opportunity to look at how we do things differently, to actually acknowledge that the way we're doing things in the past hasn't necessarily worked, and that we do need to start listening to our First Nations people, and a way to do that is through recognition in a Voice to the Parliament.

TOM ORITI: And the clock is ticking down to the vote. Minister, thanks for joining us. Appreciate your time.