Minister Rishworth interview on The Crux Podcast with Tarla Lambert


TARLA LAMBERT, HOST: Minister Rishworth, it's excellent to have you on The Crux. Thanks so much for joining.


TARLA LAMBERT: As Social Services Minister, you've really got your work cut out for you in the present climate. And there are so many critical issues facing us at the moment. One of these areas is, of course, the unpaid care economy and putting in place infrastructure and policies that will better support the 2.65 million people in Australia currently balancing work and care responsibilities. During Carers Week, at the end of October, you announced a new important framework and initiative to do this. The Carer Inclusive Workplace Initiative – can you share a bit more about this policy?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Thanks for that. We know that there are so many unpaid carers, one in nine Australians actually do unpaid care. And that's in addition, often to family caring responsibilities, but then someone might be also caring for an elderly parent or an adult child, for example, someone with a disability. So there's actually a large portion of the Australian community that has those caring responsibilities, and it does predominantly fall on women. So what we want to do is encourage workplaces and employers to have a look at their policies and procedures, about how inclusive they are as an employer to accommodate someone's caring responsibilities as well as work responsibilities. We know through a small number of changes – just even a small number of flexibilities – that can actually make a huge difference for that carer. But it also means that employer gets a really valuable employee. And when we know there's workforce shortages right across the country, we are seeing this initiative as a win for carers, but also potentially a win for employers as well.

TARLA LAMBERT: One hundred per cent. I think that's often the missing part of the whole equation, and something that people don't factor into. Can you provide some more details about the specific initiatives and programs outlined in the policy? And how they'll support these carers in their caregiving roles, but also ease the pressure for them at work?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Absolutely. This tool, or there's a number of tools that actually can be taken up by employers. There are 11 questions that are kind of a self-assessment tool. So an employer can go on and answer these 11 questions and that will determine what policies and practices may exist already in the workplace, and where there could be some room for improvement. And then there's going to be e-learning resources to actually support that employer to get more confident, and to make those changes that really can make them a carer inclusive, friendly workplace. So we think it is really a key part to make sure that employers have that confidence to do that. And when you hear about the stories when an employer has made those adjustments, people are really, you know, there's just some wonderful stories that come out. As I said, employers gain a really useful and productive employee. So these will actually help educate employers. But importantly, there is also going to be resources released later this year that will actually support carers have those conversations with their employers, how to ask for more flexible hours. So it's very useful. Another tool that is also available is for employers to start those conversations. What type of questions should they be asking, what should be in their staff surveys, to get a better understanding about the needs of their employees? So overall, I think this is a really missing piece of the puzzle, and I think it will have really good benefits for employers that might want to do better and employees who want to get the opportunity, or prospective employees, who want to get the opportunity to get some employment. What's really interesting is there is a logo, once an employer has been able to show they're proficient in those 11 areas, they'll actually be able to display a carers inclusive logo, and be a bit of an employer of choice. So there's lots of benefits in here from the employers as well as obviously carers to get that foot in the workplace and make sure they're able to get a job, but also develop a career.

TARLA LAMBERT: You mentioned just earlier around the topic of flexibility and how this would be part of it. And we know that workplace flexibility, or at least the conversation around workplace flexibility has certainly kind of grown in recent years. But 57 per cent of our readers noted this year that they've been discriminated against by their employer for requesting flexible leave or taking it. And many of these women would be seeking flexibility to juggle competing priorities and care responsibilities. Why do you feel employers need to overcome this prejudice? And I guess, how do they?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It is often when I speak with carers about their experience, often employers imagine the whole thing is too hard. But what this Carer Inclusive Workplace Initiative will do, will actually demonstrate that just some small adjustments can actually make a big difference. And look, sometimes it's flexibility but the other area I often hear from carers is actually about predictability. So you know, in a place where rosters are changing all the time, you can never pick a day that you can take your loved one to a medical appointment, for example. So it's about taking the carer’s perspective and just being a little bit more responsive to their needs. But equally, our Government has changed the Fair Work Act to give more rights to carers and allow for them to appeal those decisions in the Fair Work Commission if their employer has not been responsive enough. But we want to get the understanding that it shouldn't get to that, there's actually a whole lot of benefits to employing a carer. And as unpaid carers often tell me, they are good at juggling a lot of things all at once, multitasking, all of those sorts of things. And so that's actually a really valuable skill that many, many employers could benefit from. So if there is an attitude change, there needs to be an attitude that it's not as hard as people think it is. But also giving carers the confidence to be direct and assertive about what they need. Those resources for carers are going to be launched later next year, knowing what your rights are, but also importantly, how to have those conversations.

TARLA LAMBERT: You've talked a bit about the benefits, but from a purely economic standpoint, what are the benefits of protecting and supporting carers at work? What are the expected outcomes and performance indicators for this policy?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: One of the key areas, of course, is the economic security for unpaid carers. We know that many unpaid carers are 1.6 times more likely to be considered poor or very poor, compared to the average Australian. So we know, unpaid carers are often earning less money. And that's often because they can't find employment that lets them juggle those two things. So, there'll be economic security. But we've also found that when an employer meets the needs of a carer, their well-being, of course, is so much better. And measures of well-being are really important. So you get a healthier workforce, and you get a more economic, secure, workforce. But there's also so many benefits for the employer. And, as we said, you get reliable, skilled workers and particularly in a time where there's workforce shortages. You know, we hear employers complain quite a lot that they can't find people to do the work yet there is this workforce ready to come on board. So there are huge benefits in terms of workforce participation that can help the economy, as well as employers finding really loyal employees. And at the Jobs and Skills Summit, we heard the experience of one of these unpaid carers and she talked about how the first workplace was not flexible at all and she just up and left. Her second workplace was, and she has been a loyal, loyal employee for a long period of time because they've met their needs and employers I know, are desperately looking for those employees that really, you know, are loyal to the business. So that's a huge benefit as well.

TARLA LAMBERT: How has the policy and the framework been developed exactly? Have you brought in a diversity of carers across spaces as well as industry leaders?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Yeah, look, we've handed this over to experts. So Carers Australia has led this work and has had a number of really important steering committees. They've had lived experience in forming this work of carers that have actually had lived experience. But if we don't get industry on board then we're not going to get this to work. So industry has been involved as well. And then we've had experts in ‘carers’ programs. So we’ve bought those three groups together under Carers Australia – or Carers Australia has brought them together – to develop this. So it's been very thought through, very informed, and the resources are very accessible. We'd very much hope that there is a big take-up of these. And if I could just spruik that website to encourage anyone to go to it’s So I’d encourage people listening to go to that site.

TARLA LAMBERT: Get on it. Minister, just one last question. This is obviously an amazing first step. But where does a policy like that ultimately go? And how would you like to see the playing field levelled for carers in general?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Yeah, look, this is not the silver bullet. We need to make sure that we have lots of initiatives in place to support unpaid carers and carers in general. I mean, that balance of family and other responsibilities and work is so important. And I mentioned changes to the industrial relations laws to provide more rights for people to request flexibility. So that's certainly part of it. But our Government is looking at how we bring in a National Carers Strategy. So really bringing all the elements together at a national level to look at what pathway we can take to make that balance of caring responsibilities easier. There is the Carer Gateway at the moment, which is kind of a one stop shop for unpaid carers to look at peer support, perhaps respite if they need it and counselling if they need it. So there's some resources there but we need a holistic pathway for our unpaid carers, which includes workplaces but also for those carers that employment just isn't an option. What are the supports that we can put in place for those carers as well. So we are taking a much more holistic look and need to consider how we pursue that.

TARLA LAMBERT: Well, it's excellent to see this issue being addressed in government. So thank you very much for that. Minister Rishworth, thank you for joining me again.