Minister Rishworth interview on the Mr A+ Podcast with Michael Theo


Topics: International Day of People with Disability, Announcing International Day of People with Disability Ambassadors, diversity and careers

MICHAEL THEO, HOST: Hello ladies and gentlemen. Welcome back to another episode of Mr. A+. I hope everyone is doing well. Today on the podcast, I'm kind of bending one of my own rules. I usually say that I never talk about politics on this podcast, but today I made an exception this one time, and I have a very special reason for this. Joining me today is the Federal Minister for Social Services. Not only is she a psychologist, but in her work as an MP she is passionate about improving the lives of all people to make Australia a more inclusive and equitable place, which is very impressive in my eyes. So let's all give a warm welcome to Minister Amanda Rishworth. Hello Amanda.


MICHAEL THEO: I'm doing well. Thanks. How are you?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I'm really good thank you. I'm in Adelaide today. That's where my hometown is and I’m so very honoured to join you. I feel very privileged and special to be on your program.

MICHAEL THEO: Thank you. Minister Rishworth, I’m honoured. How is your family doing?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: My family is doing well. I have two boys. I have a four year old and an eight year old and I'm a little bit tired because they pushed me out of the bed last night. There's only room for two people in the bed and both of them got in last night and pushed me out. So I'm a little tired today but they're going very well and it's really good to be in Adelaide. I don't get to spend as much time in Adelaide as I want. So it's really good to be coming to you from Adelaide. How are you going today?

MICHAEL THEO: I'm doing really well myself. I've got quite a few things going on that are going be happening in the next month or so.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That's exciting, what type of things are going on?

MICHAEL THEO: I’ll be filming a show next month, which I'll be announcing to the audience in a couple more episodes time. Because when I'm busy filming that show I won't be able to record the podcast.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, that sounds really, very exciting.

MICHAEL THEO: Yes, it is, is because I'm pursuing an acting career.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Awesome. You know they do say that sometimes, if you don't succeed in acting, you might go and become a politician.

MICHAEL THEO: I don't know about that.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: [Laughs] Good point. Good point.

MICHAEL THEO: There's also another project going on, but it's also somewhat hush-hush but, I do know this. It will be a new dating app.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Oooh, that's exciting. What will it be? A dating app to connect people in a particular place?

MICHAEL THEO: Not in a particular place, kind of for people on the spectrum.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Oh, wow. That's great! Anything that helps people find people and find love is great. I found my husband at a book club actually.

MICHAEL THEO: Ah, wonderful.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We didn’t like any of the same books though.

MICHAEL THEO: Oh, well not everyone does.


MICHAEL THEO: I actually read a book last month and it took me only a week to read it.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Wow. Wow. At the moment, it takes me months to read a book. I fall asleep right in the middle of it.

MICHAEL THEO: There was another book that I read that took me about three or four months because I was reading a few pages every night. The reason why I ordered that book and read it because I had a date with the author.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Oh, you have to read that then [laughs].

MICHAEL THEO: Yeah, Anyway, I have some questions I'd like to ask you, such as, what do you love about the work that you're doing as Federal Minister for Social Services?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, I've always loved making a difference to people's lives and particularly those that perhaps have a harder time than others. When I was working as a psychologist, I really liked to help people navigate challenges or barriers or things that might get in the way from really them achieving what they want to achieve. And so, as Minister for Social Services, I've been able to take that attitude to actually apply it to many more people. And so certainly, in my role, it's about trying to create a more inclusive community, for people with disability, but it's also about trying to support people, families and children get on really well in their relationships. So look, there's lots of really good stuff I get to do every day that supports people to live their best life and that's what I like.

MICHAEL THEO: I see. It seems like that you have always wanted to get out there and help people overcome their struggles and problems.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Absolutely. I like to also sometimes share my problems because we all can learn from each other. The other bit I really love about my job is listening to people and their experiences. I learn a lot every day from all the different people I meet, and I'm able to use that information and use that experience and incorporate it to my job. So that's the other bit I love. I love meeting so many different people because their experience and their perspective helps me do a better job as well.

MICHAEL THEO: Yes, of course. In fact, I don't really have a problem with talking about my problems with others.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, firstly, it's really brave. I think it's really brave, but also it really does actually help other people. When you can help other people it's really useful. It does make you feel good, though, doesn't it?

MICHAEL THEO: Yeah, it actually does. Another thing that I've noticed is that when people talk less about their problems, it makes the rest of the world think that that person's life is just a bed of roses when it really isn't.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That's exactly right. I think a lot of people try and push that on social media, but it's not honest or authentic.

MICHAEL THEO: No it is not. Another problem in this world is that people can’t be bothered picking up the phone anymore.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That’s a really a big problem and it's interesting the statistics are showing that people are getting a bit more lonely. So I think if we're able to connect people together on the phone, or connect people together in a meaningful way. I guess it doesn't matter what way as long as it's in a meaningful way. I think that helps us all.

MICHAEL THEO: Yeah, it certainly would. I prefer to get together in person instead of doing stuff online.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Is there any particular place you like going to connect with people?

MICHAEL THEO: Anywhere that is outdoors. Indoors or outdoors, as long as we get together in person.


MICHAEL THEO: It’s more meaningful.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I couldn’t agree more!

MICHAEL THEO: As part of your duties, you have been to New York recently. Can you tell us what was the reason behind this trip?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, it was wonderful to go to New York. Have you ever been to New York?

MICHAEL THEO: Sadly, no.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Oh, well, you have to put it on your bucket list because it is beautiful, but don't go in winter time – try and go in summer time. Because winter it can get very, very cold, but it is a beautiful place in summer time. I went there for a really serious reason. Every year, representatives from around the world come to the UN to reaffirm their commitment to the rights of people with disability. I was proud, as Minister, to lead a delegation, particularly a lot of young people living with disability, to represent Australia at that Convention; where we really restated our commitment to create a more inclusive society that welcomes people from all walks of life, from all different perspectives. To look at how we can in the future, also make sure that we have a community that is much more inclusive and supports people be part of the whole community.

MICHAEL THEO: Oh, yes. Of course, those are all very important reasons.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Absolutely. I was really proud as we had some wonderful young people in particular, and they're a bit like you, I think, leading in their field of passion. So they you know, really thriving and really standing tall and making sure that they are excelling. Whether it is in their research area, whether it's in their advocacy area, or whether it's in their communication, whether it's TV or other areas, it was really inspirational to watch them on the world stage, talk about their rights and what their hopes are for the future.

MICHAEL THEO:  That's really important because everybody has hopes for the future and everybody has goals they want to aspire to achieve. I’m certainly one of them.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What are some of the hopes and goals you have for the future?

MICHAEL THEO: Here are some things a life needs: wealth, you know peace, a house, a pet, a spouse and an acting career.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That sounds like a very good life. It sounds like you've got some very clear goals. Do you have a pet yet?

MICHAEL THEO: Unfortunately, no, because I still live at home.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: My son wants a pet as well. I think he wants an acting career. He's eight years of age. That sounds like really, really exciting - goals to be going for.

MICHAEL THEO: Yes, they are. But then again I also have another philosophy, our parents should never stand between a man and his destiny.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That's absolutely true. That's absolutely true. Do you have to negotiate a few of those things with your parents living at home?

MICHAEL THEO: No, they are proud of me for pursuing acting.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That's great. That's great. It's always good to have supportive parents to help you try and achieve your dreams.

MICHAEL THEO: Yeah, of course. Being an actor is the most remarkable thing that I am ever going to be in life. And if I don’t pursue it, I’ll just forever be known as Michael from Love on the Spectrum. When that part of my life is done.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What attracts you most to acting, do you think?

MICHAEL THEO: Just the idea of entertaining people and making them laugh and traveling to different places in the world.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It would certainly open up, acting opens up a huge amount of opportunities, doesn't it?

MICHAEL THEO: Yep and love opportunities as well.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Ah that’s great.

MICHAEL THEO: And anyway, moving on to the next question. Can you tell everyone when International Day of Persons with a Disability is and what it is all about?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The International Day of People with Disabilities on the third of December. It’s set by the United Nations and it's about showcasing the strengths of people that may have a disability or may not conform to what society thinks is normal. So it's about really elevating and showing some role models and encouraging others to focus on those role models out there, and really celebrate all the strengths that people with disability bring. Whether it is little children to schools, community groups, workplaces. It's really about promoting and understanding and accepting the differences that people have with disability. Because I think sometimes there isn't as broader acceptance as there could be in society and community. So it's about a way to shine a light on all the amazing talents and strength and resilience that people with disability have. But particularly showcasing some really wonderful role models that can really inspire everyone across our community.

MICHAEL THEO: That does sound like a very rewarding day to celebrate.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Have you ever celebrated it before?

MICHAEL THEO: It's actually pretty new to me I will admit, and also because there's a special reason why I have invited you on the podcast today and also why I have kind of bended my own rule to speak with a politician. And that is because you have an important announcement tonight, which also involves me. Would you like to tell us what that is?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I would. Well every year we are pleased to identify our Disability Ambassadors. These are people that are excelling in their chosen career or their chosen field that are great role models and it's a very hard decision because there can only be 11 people picked across the country and there's so much talent. But of course, I'm really pleased to be announcing today that Michael, you have graciously accepted to be one of our Ambassadors for the day. And we are really pleased to invite you to be one of those Ambassadors because you've been such a wonderful role model for so many people. Really showing so many people how to break down barriers and follow your goals and your dreams. I'm really pleased to announce today that you've graciously accepted being one of our Ambassadors.

MICHAEL THEO: Well, I feel honoured to be asked to take this opportunity and I will do my absolute best.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I know that you will, but what are some of the messages that you might want to say to other people that might be perhaps thinking they can't do certain things because of the barriers or what society tells them. What would you like to say to them?

MICHAEL THEO: You can't let society determine what you can and can't do. As my mother keeps telling me, the mind does everything. It's the mind power that helps us get through obstacles.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That's really inspirational.

MICHAEL THEO: There's too much crap going on in this world. A lot of people with disabilities are not being accepted for job opportunities. They get overlooked by potential love partners and they miss out on their chances to accomplish their dreams. But this is not acceptable in my eyes. They have to be given a job opportunity. They need to be given a week to prove themselves. One day is not going to cut it. Give them a week and see how it goes. Ask somebody on a date and just be yourself, don't try to be something somebody you are not. And if you're given a chance to achieve your dream, take it. Just have your friends and family by your side through every step of your journey. No matter what you do in life or where you go.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That's really good advice and I think that's not just good advice for people with disability, that’s good advice for everyone. That's why the International Day of disability so important. That's good advice for everyone. I think Michael and I really appreciate you sharing that with me and I'm going to reflect on that tonight. Thank you.

MICHAEL THEO: I also have another question. What exactly is my role as an Ambassador for International Day of People with a Disability?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, funnily enough, it's to be yourself. It's to do exactly what you've been doing on this podcast, but it's to be yourself and to inspire others not to just accept the barriers or accept sometimes the limitations society puts on you, but to demonstrate just through your actions that you can achieve what you set out to achieve. Inspiring us all to actually chase our dreams and not, as you said, the mindset of not accepting what others say that you can't do.

MICHAEL THEO: I've actually always been uncomfortable settling for things I don't really want and another reason why I am so determined to achieve my goals is because I decided a long time ago that I was done taking no for an answer.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That is very good advice. I think the other thing that you said, Michael was trying to support others like in a job and to get employers to start looking at people's strengths, not just looking at people's differences, but looking at how those differences can sometimes be really important strengths. As you said, not just making a quick decision in a day but really giving people the opportunity to really have a go.

MICHAEL THEO: Yeah, of course, because we all deserve a fair chance.


MICHAEL THEO: Regardless of our race, gender age, nationality, ethnicity, etc.


MICHAEL THEO: People with disability, I prefer to call them challenged.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We can do a lot more to include people with different diversity.

MICHAEL THEO: Yes of course because we're all meant to be different. If we're all uniform life wouldn't be interesting. It would just be dull.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: You're absolutely right.

MICHAEL THEO: Would you want life to be dull?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I would not be like to be married to myself. I can tell you that now [laughs].

MICHAEL THEO: I don't want to be married to myself either, I'd rather be married to a woman who's the opposite of me.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Exactly, exactly. And so it's lovely to have diversity and differences because it's what makes the world go round.

MICHAEL THEO: Well they say that love makes the world go around. Minister, I believe that I'm aware that I'm not the only Ambassador for International Day of People with Disability, who are the other contestants?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, you are joining some really inspirational people. So I can go through a few of them. We've got Ann-Mason Furmage and she is a disability advocate, who has worked as a financial controller in Australia and the US for over 20 years. We've got Charlie and Lewis Smith and they are twins from Sandy Creek and they are actors like you, they've taken acting classes in 2021 and they are pursuing their dreams through Bus Stop Films.


AMANDA RISHWORTH: Have you heard of Bus Stop Films?

MICHAEL THEO: Yes, I have heard of it.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: And we've got Hannah Diviney and she is also a writer and an actor, and she is she's also the editor in chief of a publication for young women, so that's really exciting. We've got another woman called Grace Edward and she's actually come over as a refugee, so she brings another really interesting perspective. She's from South Sudan. We've got Hugo Taheny, Hugo is an athlete with Down syndrome, and he is ranked number one for shotput and discus for people with a Down syndrome.


AMANDA RISHWORTH: So he's very athletic, so that's really, really good. We've got Anja Christofferson and she is an international model. I don't know if you've heard of any of these people or met any of these people, have you, Michael?

MICHAEL THEO: I haven’t met any of them.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: A couple more, we've got Greta Serov and she's a motivational speaker. She is a writer with cerebral palsy. She's got her own blog - On Our Own Tracks. There's Dr. Scott Avery who is a senior lecturer at Sydney University and also Giancarlo de Vera, he is a lawyer, so he's been rated as one of the 40 under 40 most Influential Asian Australians. So a whole lot of diverse experience but all really wonderful role models for the International Day of People with Disability.

MICHAEL THEO: Oh, yes, they all sound like very inspiring people. Well Minister, this International Day of People with Disability sounds like a very interesting and inspiring day where we can all learn from people that live with disabilities and we can understand what it's like to go travel through life in their shoes.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. It's been an absolute privilege and an honour.

MICHAEL THEO: Well, thank you are coming on today's podcast Minister Rishworth. It has been wonderful to chat with you and I thank you for all the work that you are doing to make this country a more inclusive and better place for everyone. So I salute you for it. Keep up the great work Minister.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Thank you so much. It's been so wonderful to meet you, Michael. I feel really inspired. This was the best conversation I could have to end my day. So thank you.