Minister Rishworth interview on ABC News Radio with Tom Oriti


Topics: International Women’s Day, Family and Domestic Violence, 1800RESPECT SMS channel, Housing, Disability Royal Commission response

TOM ORITI, HOST: First, this half hour, it's International Women's Day. This year's theme from UN Women Australia is Count her in, Invest in women, Accelerate progress. The Federal Government is trying to highlight a number of initiatives, including legislating ten days of paid family and domestic violence leave and the introduction of the 1800RESPECT SMS service channel. To discuss those and much more, we're joined now by the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth. Minister, good morning. Happy International Women's Day.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Good morning and Happy International Women's Day to you and all of your listeners.

TOM ORITI: Thank you very much. This week the Government's been discussing plans and we've been covering this closely to legislate a 12 per cent superannuation accrual on Paid Parental Leave. And we've been covering that closely, but it did come with the release of a strategy to achieve gender equality. I wanted to start there. Tell us about that. What are the main points of that strategy?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What the strategy really showed is while we have had some progress, there is still so much work to be done. There still are serious disparities that remain between men and women. For example, women do over nine hours a week more in unpaid work and care than men. And we've got 26 per cent of women who recently experienced sexual harassment at work. So, there is still work, whether it's in the economic sphere of gender, economic equality, and we've seen the lowest gender pay gap ever since it's been recorded at 12 per cent, but that's still a 12 per cent gap. So, we see these inequities and we need to make sure that we are continuing to look at how we close these targets, but also deal with gender based violence and that sexual harassment figure. Still to this day, having 26 per cent of women who have experienced sexual harassment is just not acceptable in our workplaces.

TOM ORITI: Yeah, it feels like, and it's every International Women's Day and beyond that, it feels like a broken record discussion in a way. And that in some cases things are getting worse. They're certainly not getting better. We still have that huge disparity when it comes to pay. I mean, when it comes to the workplace. Why do you think this is still an issue? Why do you think some women still experience that form of sexism?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Women still are often not in the senior leadership positions across our country. And so I think you see potentially, when women are in higher leadership positions, that sort of culture change does come from the top. But I'm really pleased that we've now legislated for a positive duty, which puts the onus on the business or the organisation to actually proactively look at how to discourage sexual harassment. So, we are taking a proactive legislative approach. But it comes also from culture and more women that are in senior leadership positions play a crucial role in attacking it. It's also the attitudes towards women. This is a big area of prevention, but also things we've got to turn around – and it has been concerning, particularly younger men and the amount of online influences that are in their lives. And so we've got really disrespectful language being circulated online by so called male influencers. And that is something we also have to tackle, because it's not happening in society, but the attitudes are happening online.

TOM ORITI: Yeah, I can't imagine social media is helping now. There's a Government commitment to end violence against women and children in one generation. When we talk about this issue, domestic abuse, we always read out the 1800RESPECT number for anyone who might need help during our stories. There's a new SMS service channel that was launched, though. Tell us about that. How does that work?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: For a lot of people, they're not able to perhaps use a phone. We've actually now ensured that people can SMS 1800RESPECT and be able to go through a messaging service. We've had a number of people use that service very successfully to be able to get advice and then be referred to safety services. So, this is actually really important. We had one example where a woman as a result of a partner abuse, she was not able to speak. So, by using the SMS line, she was able to get in touch with a counsellor via SMS and receive assistance on an ongoing basis. Through the service, someone will live SMS back to you, but also provide immediately and ongoing safety information.

TOM ORITI: And as you said, it's good for people who can't actually get access to a phone or be able to talk in such a volatile situation. I mean, just broadly speaking, Minister, in terms of that goal, to end violence against women and children in one generation, is that realistic? How do you make that happen?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It is ambitious. But it's something that I'm deeply, as is the entire Government, committed to. So, we do have to, of course, make sure there's enough response and healing and recovery. Healing and recovery is really important to stop cycles of abuse – so that is a really important part and that's providing ongoing support for a person once they've left violence. But it also goes down to prevention and early intervention and some of the focused work that we need to do as a community and as a society and as a Government is to actually look at working with perpetrators, those that choose to use violence against women, we need to hold them to account. That includes early intervention, where we see that behaviour change programs and investment to actually change the trajectory to stop the violence escalating, is critically important. And that is not something the Government's just decided on. That's something – a strong message from victim survivors. And so that's the work that we're now embarking on, is how do we intervene with perpetrators and change attitudes, but stop behaviour from escalating as well.

TOM ORITI: In terms of that support, do you mind? I just want to play you a little bit of audio here because we spoke with Kate Colvin from Homelessness Australia today about a surge in family violence fuelled homelessness. She's the CEO of that organisation and I just want to play you a bit of what she said here to get your thoughts on it. She's calling for an urgent funding package to provide pathways to safe housing. Here's the audio…

KATE COLVIN, HOMELESSNESS AUSTRALIA: So, what we want to see is an extra $450,000,000 for homelessness services a year so that everyone who comes to a homeless service can be seen. At the moment, we're turning away 236 women and children a day and then, of course, investment in the low cost rental housing that's needed so that women have a safe option and can find housing. So, we're calling for investment in 25,000 social housing properties a year. But the other thing piece that needs to be addressed in the National Plan is actually in income support. So, currently, 46 per cent of single parent households who are on Parenting Payment are still in rent stress. So, clearly that Commonwealth Rent Assistance does need to be further increased. That's a very common cause of homelessness, is just not having enough money to pay rent.

TOM ORITI: Okay, so that's Kate Colvin from Homelessness Australia. Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth is with us. Minister, what do you make of her concerns? 236 women and children being turned away every day. She wants that big funding boost there to the services. How do you feel about what she had to say this morning?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Of course housing is critical. Having somewhere to go is really important and that's why we've put $100 million on the table for our Safe Places program. I actually visited some of those this week in Perth. The ones I visited are going to be modular homes sent up to Karratha as crisis accommodation, and we're actually funding eight workers that will be going up there to support women and children. So, look, I agree that we need to focus on housing as a critical issue and it takes time to build those. These modular homes are being built quite quickly. But, of course, we’re also, through our Housing Australia Future Fund, looking at getting more stock and we've reserved some of those for women and children. In terms of other financial support, we have made the largest increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance in the last 30 years. And also we have fixed what is called the Escaping Violence Payment, and that gives someone leaving a violent situation $5000 to help re-establish themselves. It also comes along with casework and some basic safety planning that under the previous Government, people were waiting 26 days to hear back on. We now have that that down to five to seven days. So, that is real financial help to help at the point where someone's leaving a violent situation.

TOM ORITI: Thanks for the clarity on that. Just before I let you go, I just want to ask you about the Disability Royal Commission. You revealed earlier this week that there was going to be a delay in deferring your response to the Royal Commission's recommendations until the middle of the year. It was supposed to be towards the end of this month. Look, there's been mixed views and I acknowledge that. But one of the commissioners, Alastair McEwin has been highly critical of the delay. He's quoted in The Australian saying it shows a lack of respect. I just want to get your thoughts on that. Why do you need more time? And are you concerned, at least by some, that they're seeing this as a sign of disrespect? Acknowledging that, yes other peak bodies have also said that they welcome the fact you need more time.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, I think out of respect for the work done by the Disability Royal Commission, our Government is taking it seriously. There were 222 recommendations, over 80 that are joint between state and territory. And so we are working alongside our state and territory colleagues, as well as consultation with the disability community. I think it's really important to recognise that the commissioners were actually split on a number of recommendations, and so we do need to consult with the disability community about how we might implement recommendations, how I might organise it. What I've done, though, in respect for the work done by the Royal Commission, is put out a progress report. Where have we seen progress that we knew was canvassed in the Royal Commission and had already taken action to address. Because, of course, our Government was following the evidence very closely. So, there is action we've already taken. So, we've put out a progress report. But out of respect for the Royal Commission, out of respect for consulting with people with disability, we have committed to mid this year having a response.

TOM ORITI: Okay, Minister, thank you very much for joining us. Appreciate your time.