Minister Rishworth interview on ABC Radio National Drive with Andy Park


Topics: Be Connected program to boost digital skills for older Australians; Dental services for people with disability; Carers Inclusive Workplace Initiative

ANDY PARK, HOST: Amanda Rishworth is the Federal Minister for Social Services. Welcome to you, Minister.


ANDY PARK: Before we start, I do want to ask you about the online skills of people aged over 50. What is the data telling us about how perhaps isolating that can be?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: One in four Australians are actually in some way digitally excluded, which means they don't have the digital skills that can allow them to fully participate in community and in accessing services. That's a range of people who experience that. But older Australians are one of the larger groups that, as a result of not necessarily always having the most up to date digital skills, they actually are excluded from accessing services, accessing support, but indeed also social connections. But they're also a group that is quite vulnerable to scams. And we know that scams online are getting more and more sophisticated and that's why giving older people the confidence to get online, but also to do that safely, is so important.

ANDY PARK: Yeah, some people in my family at the older end of the scale have fallen foul of these kinds of scams. It's alarming how common it actually is. You've announced a $42 million extension to this Be Connected program. What does it actually do, this program?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Be Connected is a program that actually is a partnership model. So, it partners with over 3800 community centres, libraries, places where older people are already going and it supports them to gain confidence and just learn online skills. So, today, for example, I visited a community centre in Canberra that actually was learning about Google Lens, something that is a new technology and a lot of people don't know about. But I've also seen this program in action, where it meets the needs of particularly older people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, where they actually use it to connect with family and friends overseas and they didn't know how to use FaceTime and things like that. So, really, this program meets the needs of older Australians where they are in their technological literacy. It builds confidence, but equally, it focuses on that safety online, how to be safe. And actually, one of the interesting things we heard today was some older Australians are so scared about the scams, they don't actually go online. So, this program has that dual focus of getting the confidence to go online, knowing how to stay safe online.

ANDY PARK: When you consider the amount of misinformation and disinformation that circulated in the lead up to the Voice referendum and around the orbit of the current conflicts globally. The timing of this announcement seems interesting to me. Will this program also help to make people, particularly older Australians, a bit more discerning online?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What this program has done is meet the needs of older Australians in what they want to get better at and what they want to know about. So, it's different in every community, but particularly, checking your information and where that information is coming from is part of what some older people are actually asking for. But it is right across a range of areas. So, for some people, it is even as basic as how to turn a computer on. For others, it is more sophisticated in that information literacy. So, it really does meet the needs of the groups of older people it's supporting. The funding of this program was due to run out, actually in June next year and we wanted to give people some certainty that this program would continue. That is why we've now announced the funding. It's also Get Online Week. It's the national week to encourage people to get online. So, that was a key part of this announcement as well.

ANDY PARK: Yeah, it's funny, we're telling older people to get online and younger people to get off being online. If you've just joined me, the Federal Minister for Social Services is with me, Amanda Rishworth, on RN Drive. Minister, a Senate inquiry has been told Australia currently has 24 dentists to treat people with special needs. When you consider four-and-a-half million Australians are living with a disability, why are there so few specialist dentists on offer?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: There is no doubt that people with disability do face barriers in accessing a lot of services, including dental services and healthcare. And so one of these areas – dental health – is a really big issue. One of the areas in Australia's Disability Strategy that we are working on is how we can help people with disability get access to a dentist. Now, that might be through specialist services, but it also might be making sure that mainstream services are better meeting the needs of people with disability.

ANDY PARK: Does it need more funding, though, Minister? Because when you've got that many Australians in that category, it seems like there's a glaring need for more funding.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The government recently announced $22 million over four years for a National Centre for Disability Health. But what it needs, I think, is an attention to ensure that dentists and dental services can meet the needs of people with disability. That is a crucial area that we've been working on, because one of the key elements of the Disability Royal Commission in terms of its focus was ensuring that services are more inclusive. And we're not just talking about specialist services, we are talking about broader services that are more inclusive for people with disability. So one of the challenges here is, of course, we've got to make sure that the services meet people's needs. But we've also got to make sure that mainstream health services, including dental services, can meet the needs of people with disability as well.

ANDY PARK: As you know, Minister, it's National Carers Week. There's currently a Senate inquiry into the recognition of the 2.65 million unpaid carers in Australia. Carers Australia fronted this inquiry this week. In its submission, it said that the Government had to replace the estimated 2.2 billion hours of unpaid care with paid care workers within Aged Care and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It would have the cost the Australian economy about $77.9 billion in 2020, according to the submission. That's not something to take for granted. So, how can Australia better support carers, particularly the unpaid variety?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Yeah, the unpaid carers really are some of our unsung heroes. And I think what Carers Australia has done is really highlight the financial benefit to the country of what they do. But of course, they don't just bring financial benefit, they are caring for a loved one. And often perhaps it's a parent, an aged parent. It might be a parent with a disability. We have a lot of young carers in this country that are teenagers and they're caring for a parent.

ANDY PARK: Actually, Minister, those numbers are quite alarming. 235,000 people aged between twelve and 25 care for someone in their community. That's a lot of hours taken away from education and employment opportunities, future productivity.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Absolutely. It is a significant area where I've actually put a focus on. And just recently we have what's called a young carer's bursary and we've doubled the amount of funding that is to support those young carers with extra money to help them with their needs. So, it is a really big area. What we've been doing is really focused on how we can better support carers. And indeed, just this week I launched the Carer Inclusive Workplace Initiative because some of those young people might be working as well. And what this initiative does is it gives practical resources to employers about how their workplace can be more inclusive of unpaid carers so that they can balance their caring and working responsibilities. But it also gives support to carers about how they can approach the conversation with their workplaces, perhaps if they're getting a job or if they're already in a job, about how they can speak to their employer about their needs. Of course, if employers are, and we know a lot are looking for employees, if they meet the needs or the national standard, they can actually use this Carers Inclusive Workplace Initiative logo to show that they're carer inclusive. So, this is just one of the ways we are trying to break down some of the barriers for unpaid carers. But this week on National Carers Week, we've also announced that the Government will begin its official planning for a National Carers Strategy. This will complement the work being done by the House of Representatives standing committee on the Carers Recognition Act to look at where we can better support carers.

ANDY PARK: Indeed. We're out of time here. Amanda Rishworth is the Federal Minister for Social Services. Good afternoon to you.