Minister Rishworth interview on Radio National Breakfast with Patricia Karvelas


Topics: Family, domestic and sexual violence, Emergency Relief, Cost of living

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Amanda Rishworth is the Minister for Social Services. She joins me in our Melbourne studio. Welcome.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: There are several stages of the ending gender violence plan and the plan for First Nations women and children. Can you tell us how it's going, how it's tracking?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Ending gender based violence is a long term goal that we must work towards and so it's really significant. There's a number of areas that we have to make sure that we're investing in and that involves prevention, it involves early intervention, it involves acute response and then healing and recovery. And when it comes to First Nations in particular, what we've heard is that we need to make sure we're addressing some of the unique drivers for gendered based violence that involves healing and recovery. That's really part of it, to stop the cycle from going around and around. So, family healing investment is something that we're very focused on. We've just announced a boost to that $23 million. But ultimately, what we want to get to is a First Nation, standalone National Plan. And so I've recently just appointed a steering group to work through how we actually put together a nationwide, standalone National Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Is that because that is where the need is most acute?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Absolutely. Aboriginal women and children are disproportionately impacted by family and domestic violence. They're more likely to go to hospital, they're more likely to get most severe injury. But it also needs to be recognised that some of the drivers are quite unique. We need to look at things like discrimination, marginalisation. Some of those key drivers that are not faced by non-Indigenous women are contributing to this and we've got to acknowledge that and address it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: A big part of the problem, of course, is housing, then women who want to escape. If you're in a remote community and there is an acute housing crisis that is incredibly hard to leave, what are you doing about that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That is a big challenge. A challenge being a driver, being overcrowding and then also, how do you get away? We are at the moment building more what are called Safe Places. This is crisis accommodation and in our most recent round, we've had a particular focus on some of those most marginalised groups of people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and in CALD communities. One of the challenges, though, is, of course, with crisis accommodation often one of the principles behind it is that other people don't know where you've relocated to. That's really challenging, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait island women who don't want to have that break and connection from their broader families.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So, what options are available, then?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, we are looking at where we build our Safe Places. Obviously, it needs to have wraparound support and it needs to have a plan around transition to other housing. So, we are looking at that through not only the Safe Places program that we've recently launched another $100 million for, but also through Minister Collins's area of the half programme. We're looking right across the board about how we solve this. But it is a difficult issue because there's also reluctance to report to police, for example, particularly for First Nations women who have not always had a good interaction with the justice system and don't want perhaps someone that they love to have that interaction with the justice system as well.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sexual violence services say they're facing big waiting lists and they do not have the resources to help those in need. Are you planning on putting more money on the table for them?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That's something we're working with the states and territories about. Sexual violence for the first time was elevated in our most recent National Plan and in our Action Plan. It's one of the areas that we need to focus very clearly on. There is a number of pieces of work being done across states and territories around sexual violence, also done by the Attorney-General. We recently held a roundtable looking at how women that have experienced sexual violence actually get more access to justice as well. So, there's some structural issues that we need to address and also funding, but it's something that has been elevated and we are focused on.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: In the last couple of minutes before the news and AM, let's go to another issue. Yesterday, you announced $114 million over five years to help people facing financial distress, either from the cost of living, energy bills, people struggling with natural disasters. The money will go to frontline services. Which ones?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Currently we already have a program where community services right across the country – there's over 140 community organisations that deliver this financial emergency relief. We've got coverage right across Australia and sometimes they're very small community centres, sometimes they're large organisations like the Salvation army. We provide funding to them, but the demand is up. I'm not going to sugar-coat that demand is up. So, we've seen fit to boost that funding, not just immediately, but also in the long term. Tony Abbott, when he was last Prime Minister, cut the funding to that program. We've seen it important to boost the funding now with the cost of living pressures. But also the increasing number of natural disasters mean that we've got to put the boost in permanently.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Amanda Rishworth, thank you for coming into the studio.