Minister Rishworth interview on ABC Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett


Topics: Career Pathways Pilot, Violence against women, 1800RESPECT branded garbage truck.

GREG JENNETT, HOST:  Some of the country's biggest retailers are on board for a new program to promote employment of people with disabilities. There are four million people with disabilities in this country, two million of them are of working age, but only about one million have paid jobs and not many of them are at very high levels. Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth reckons that could be improved through some fairly basic changes in the workplace. She spoke to us earlier from Sydney. Amanda Rishworth, always good to have you on the program, welcome back. There's been so much talk over the years about employing more people with disabilities, but I think it's fair to say the needle never seems to really move very fast. So, you've announced a fairly modest pilot with Woolworths, the Coles Group, Kmart and the catering company, Compass Group, to try and shift that needle. How will this differ from previous attempts?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: What we announced today was actually first conceived at the Jobs and Skills Summit. It's actually an agreement with the Business Council of Australia and includes Australia's Network on Disability. What this pilot is about is getting Australia's Network with Disability - so, people with lived experience, people with expertise - to work directly with these companies to look at not just how to get more people employed, but to look at career progression within companies. Because we know that for too many people with disabilities, even if they get a job, often they don't get a meaningful job or they don't get that career progression. So, today it's about Australia's Network on Disability, working directly in these companies, looking at recruitment processes, looking at mentoring processes, looking at promotion pathways and policies. And that really is designed to make sure that these companies are willing and are able to make sure there's pathways for people with disabilities.

GREG JENNETT: Is it clear to you, talking to the employers who will be involved in this, what the impediment has been to progression? As you say entry level, well the stats aren't great, but it's what happens after that that seems to have been a bit of a ceiling for employees with disabilities. But why?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: One of the big themes coming out when I was talking with some of the employees is really making sure the managers are equipped to ask, for example, employees, what are your goals? What are your aspirations? What do we need to do to support you? And for employees to have the confidence that if they ask, they'll get a positive response. That was one of the really key elements that came out in our discussions today. But some of the other barriers, for example, is with no one getting to the more senior ranks, means that if you can't see that, there's no aspiration for new people coming through. So, this is really about making sure that there's a smooth transition through the business, that maybe workplace adjustments that might need to be made, that people aren't having to ask over and over again for those workplace adjustments. So, everything's different depending on the person, their disability and their needs. But making sure that those conversations are opening and that the companies are able to respond in a really timely manner and how we do that is critical. Training those middle managers is key.

GREG JENNETT: Right. So, on that explanation it doesn't sound, Amanda, like there's a huge role for government policy in this area beyond the initial pilot phase. Would that be a fair conclusion for me to reach? Things like traditional remedies like employment subsidies, incentives paid to these big companies, it doesn't sound like that's the answer, but it's more to do with internal processes, is it?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, absolutely. What we have heard is that we need to kick-start this investment. But what the Business Council of Australia is hoping to do is, use the learnings, as a result of working with Australia's Network on Disability, the learnings, the pilots, the innovations that come as a result will be shared across businesses. I think there's a really important message here, if you are not opening yourself up as a business to a wider talent pool, that you're not fully utilising employees’ skills and abilities because of disability, the business is losing out. In fact, research does show that there is a better economic dividend for businesses by having more inclusive policies. So, this is really starting or kick-starting, I think, the operations, but businesses themselves will realise the benefit. It's us helping and partnering with them to realise that benefit.

GREG JENNETT: Well, it is a tangible thing to have come out of the Jobs and Skills Summit, as you say there Amanda Rishworth. We'd love to see how the pilot runs after it's completed, see what it leads to. Can I just take you to something that I know you are always vitally engaged on, and that is domestic violence. Our audience would probably remember that back in August, you launched the five [ten] year plan, and part of that is to reduce the number of women killed by intimate partners by twenty-five percent each year. Now, there's been some very sad news coming from your home state of South Australia. Four women have allegedly been killed this week alone. The details of that still to be laid out, of course. But are we on track towards that target?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The rates of those both experiencing violence and of course those tragically killed by an intimate or former partner are horrific. And I think everyone stands united to condemn that. One life lost to domestic and family violence is one life too many. So, our plan very much outlines a long term plan to tackle this. There is a generational change that we need to make. It involves prevention, it involves early intervention, it involves response and it involves healing and recovery. So, we all do need to be pulling in the same direction. Just before I spoke with you, I actually spoke to close to 1000 people as part of the Property Council lunch about what are the things they can do in their workplace and the impact they can have. And so this is about a whole of society, whole of community change. Our government has put in a record $2.3 billion. But this is going to need sustained effort to turn what is too many, just too many horrific incidences, including murder of family and domestic violence.

GREG JENNETT: Yes, it's obviously multi-pronged in its approach. I note just briefly, and finally, Amanda Rishworth that you also launched today, when you're not talking to the Property Council, garbage truck advertising in the city of Blacktown that promotes 1800Respect. Just explain why that particular part of Sydney was targeted.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This was actually an initiative taken by Blacktown City Council. This isn't funded by Federal Government or state government. They saw a need in their community. They have particularly noted higher rates of family and domestic violence than some other places of New South Wales and they saw it as their responsibility and an opportunity to send a strong message on a garbage truck. Now, if you think about a garbage truck that's going up and down the streets of suburbia in Blacktown and they took the opportunity to say, let's not just waste this opportunity, let's actually seize it, so they put on their trucks - violence is never okay. A really important message and obviously directing people to that. But it's those simple things that everyone can take, opportunities to look at, how we can raise awareness, raise the avenues for support. And I'd really like to commend Blacktown City Council for this initiative in particular.

GREG JENNETT: Yes, an unusual one. And they are, as you say, Amanda Rishworth, really hard to miss aren't they, garbage trucks? Thank you very much for that update. We'll talk again soon. On a busy day we really appreciate it.