Minister Rishworth interview on ABC News Breakfast with Catherine Murphy


Topics: 1800RESPECT text service, South Australian Royal Commission, Supermarket pricing

CATHERINE MURPHY, HOST: Well, let's get more on one of the main stories we're following this morning. An SMS service is being launched today to help those experiencing family, domestic or sexual violence. Anyone who feels like they're in an unsafe situation will be able to text 1800RESPECT and receive specialist counselling and support services. Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth joins us now from Canberra. Good morning, Minister. How does this new service work?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: This service adds already to what 1800RESPECT offers which is phone counselling, phone support, along with web based support. But what this service will allow people to do is actually text in, ask some questions, request information. What will happen is immediately, once you text this service, you'll get some automated safety information. Really important that you get that immediately, and then you'll be connected with a counsellor and with that counsellor you'll be able to SMS back and forth, potentially asking questions, asking for support or just some counselling, and that will be available to people in an ongoing basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So, another important avenue for women to get support and advice when it comes to family, domestic and sexual violence.

CATHERINE MURPHY: Minister, I understand part of this process is emergency accommodation can be provided for those who need it. How quick from a text needing help to being in that emergency accommodation?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Of course, what 1800RESPECT does is connects you up with local services on the ground so they will be able to connect you up as quickly as possible. Obviously, that will rely on the demand of a particular service, depending on where you live. But what 1800RESPECT and this tech service will do will provide you a connection point to local services in your area. But it's not just about emergency accommodation. It is also about advice, information, what to do and where to go. One of the key areas we know is that women often are finding it hard to identify if they're in a family, domestic or sexual violence situation. And so this service will help women with the confidence to identify. Of course, if your life is in danger imminently, you do need to call triple zero, I must stress that. But this, of course, connects you up with the services and support that you might need.

CATHERINE MURPHY: Is there a safety net for women sending these text messages? Or anyone, should I say, who wants to send these text messages? Because I imagine if an abusive partner was to find this text chain on their phone, it could cause even bigger issues. Is there technology to deal with that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The SMS service has been designed with safety in mind. So, there are simple ways that you can stop the SMSs. For example, just by sending the word “stop” or an X, the SMSs will stop. But also there is an automatic function. If a person hasn't replied to this text message chain within six minutes, they will also stop. So, we know that there is obviously difficulty with coercive control and other forms of abuse. And that is one of the actual reasons we've decided to launch this SMS service, because some women aren't able to use the phone or they're not able to access a computer. But there is safety designed into this service which is so important.

CATHERINE MURPHY: Minister, you say the texts stop if you don't respond for six minutes. What if someone isn't responding because they can't, because they're in grave danger? Is there a police safety net there where authorities are alerted?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That is not the automatic feature of this as of yet. We will continue to monitor what improvements need to be made to the safety arrangements, but that is not something there now. There could be a variety of reasons that people stop SMSing, but we will continue to work to refine to make sure that this offering is as safe as possible.

CATHERINE MURPHY: What about those who don't have English as a first language? Can they use it?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: At the moment, the SMS service is not available in other languages. However, the phone service is. Translation is available over the phone. So, people using another language should always call 1800RESPECT. But this is one of the areas we'll continue to look at demand and see how we make this service offering as good as possible

CATHERINE MURPHY: It's been a horrendous year. We've seen so much awful news. For example, in just one week in South Australia, four women killed allegedly by men they know. We've had another woman in South Australia since then. Do you think there should be a Royal Commission?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It's been an absolutely tragic time. I would make the point that one death as a result of family and domestic violence is one too many. But the spate of frequency we've seen has been just devastating and appalling. And this violence does have to stop. Of course, when it comes to a Royal Commission in South Australia, that is a matter for the South Australian government and I know they'll be consulting about that. But what I would say is we have a National Plan in place that was widely consulted with victim survivors, frontline services. We now have action plans in place. There's resources available. We need to get on with the job of delivering those programs and support in place. And that National Plan provides us a really important roadmap. We all need to be pulling in the same direction. The National Plan has been signed up to by all state and territories, as well as the Commonwealth, and we'll keep working towards that because, unfortunately, disrespect to women and the attitudes towards violence against women take time to change. But we are determined to change them.

CATHERINE MURPHY: Minister, in a word, would you recommend the South Australian government have a Royal Commission?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It is a matter for them

CATHERINE MURPHY: So, you don't have an opinion on it?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I have a National Plan which I've worked with all state and territories on. We've got a roadmap. We need to take action now. South Australia's choice about whether to have a Royal Commission is a matter for them. But I will continue, no matter what the outcome, to work towards enacting our National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children in one generation.

CATHERINE MURPHY: Just quickly, before I let you go, there's a Senate inquiry into the supermarkets, the big chains, about whether they've price gouged or not. Cost of living is a huge issue. What will happen if they're found guilty of price gouging?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The ACCC has strong powers to intervene in anti-competitive behaviour and so I certainly don't want to pre-empt anything, but I think Australians rightly want some transparency and concern around the costs they're paying at the checkout. Of course, we welcome this Senate inquiry, so we will look at the evidence presented and have an important debate. But I would expect if there's any evidence, the ACCC will act, and – importantly – they should act.