Minister Rishworth interview on Sky News Politics Now with Tom Connell


TOM CONNELL, HOST: The Government also under a lot of pressure on housing. They did increase Commonwealth Rental Assistance, but there's been criticism of that, given it only goes to about 20 per cent of renters and it amounts to about a maximum of $1.30 extra per day. I sat down with the Social Services Minister, Amanda Rishworth, a short time ago and asked her about the rental assistance.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: The rent increase that we've announced in this Budget comes off the back of an increase in the maximum rates in the last Budget. And as a result of indexation, we've actually increased the maximum rates by 42 per cent. This is the largest increase to rent assistance. But what we also saw in the figures, the ABS figures and the information released, is that this measure actually had a role on moderating rents right across the system. So, while there have been rent increases, our changes, our investment here, actually moderated rent. So, this is a positive thing.

TOM  CONNELL: In dollar terms, it won’t feel that significant to people. A lot of them will go, well, I'm still getting rent increases way above my pay increases.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This is now two Budgets where we've invested and increased the maximum rate of rent assistance, with indexation that maximum rate has increased by 42 per cent.

TOM CONNELL: What's that in dollar terms? Because 42 per cent sounds high but does it actually make a difference?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It depends on the composition of your family. This most recent increase will mean between $18.80 and $25 for a family per fortnight. But it has also increased in the last Budget and it has been indexed.

TOM CONNELL: It’s all we can afford. Is that the reality?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This is the investment which we believe is necessary. Of course, we know people are doing it tough, but it's not the only cost of living relief in the Budget.

TOM CONNELL: Let's go through some others. The deeming rate freeze. Pensioners, job seekers, this means they can keep more of what they earn, in particular, money in the bank or investments. They'll welcome this, but is it time for a permanent change to the way this happens? Because at the moment they sort of, they get a year or two freeze, they have to wait for each generosity of the Budget. What about some permanent change to the way this happens?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Firstly, I would say we are going to, of course, look at this deeming rate at every Budget. Historically, the deeming rate has been set above the cash rate and a few percentages, on average, above the cash rate. What we've done now, considering the movement of the cash rate, is set it at significantly below the cash rate. So, this is a significant cost of living measure.

TOM CONNELL: You could lock that in, though?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The deeming rate has a role to play in estimating the income from assets, rather than making pensioners and others have to report this income, you know, as it fluctuates from time. So, it has a role. This is a specific cost of living measure we are taking now to recognise the current cost of living pressures. Of course we'll continue to look at it, but I would say that historically, while there hasn't been a set amount it has been, since 2012, set above the cash rate and we are currently freezing it below the cash rate.

TOM CONNELL: Now, the $5000 leaving violent partner payment, which was announced before the Budget, but it's in there. I'm just curious as to how the change works. There's already a trial. Are more people allowed now? Is it uncapped? Is it permanent? What's actually changing here?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: A couple of things. Firstly, over the trial, we've learned, and over successive Budgets, that people are not just needing the payment, they actually need some support, whether that is risk assessment, whether that's some basic safety planning. So, making the trial permanent, we've adequately resourced whichever organisation delivers this payment to do that extra casework that was not provisioned in the beginning of the trial. Second thing, there were a number of trials underway. There was one for temporary visa holders, one for citizens. We have merged that and made it one program. So, that is another change. The other part of it is we've indexed – we've committed to indexing the payment over time each year. An annual indexation that hadn't happened. So, there's a range of different things.

TOM CONNELL: All of this kicks in the middle of next year, though?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Yes, it kicks in, but what we've also done is increase the number of packages because they were running out until the permanent program comes in.

TOM CONNELL: But the permanent one in the middle of next year. Did you fight for it to be earlier? Because on the one hand, we hear from the Government there's a crisis and then we'll do something about it in 13 months.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, to be clear, the current program underway, we have increased not just the resources to help with case management, but we've increased in this Budget the number of packages there right now.

TOM CONNELL: But it's capped right now.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It's capped, but we have recognised the increase in demand and we've increased the packages. So, what we've done is allocated more money now, as well as putting this program in permanently.

TOM CONNELL: Given it's capped right now, there could be women missing out and having to wait until that July date.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We are making sure that we are responsive and the extra money in the Budget tries to ensure that it is meeting the predicted increase in demand that we will see.

TOM CONNELL: But if it goes beyond that, there is a number it's capped at. Is that…

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Let's be really clear. It is capped, but of course we're assessing that in a pretty..

TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] So if it goes over in the next financial year, starting July, there's an opportunity to go, you might assess it on the run and go, look, we need another…

AMANDA RISHWORTH: [Interrupts] Well, that is what we've done in this Budget. We have responded to the demand that's there.

TOM CONNELL: Now, energy rebate, $300 going to everyone. The Oprah policy, as some are calling it. The Government's actually said the bonus about this is it brings inflation down more, but by doing so, it actually brings down payments of people who rely on CPI, on indexation there. So, an example, a couple living together receive welfare, they get the $300 energy rebate, but they're worse off because over the next 18 months, they lose $334 in those payments. Is that something you're aware of?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I would have to say that the indexation of the social security payments are all about keeping up with the cost of living. Under that rationale, there would be an argument to try and keep inflation higher.

TOM CONNELL: I mean, this is just one part. I'm not saying this is a part that you've been able to mechanically lower. And they get $300 for that…

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well if you are suggesting that we shouldn't be putting downward pressure on inflation and the consumer index. If you're suggesting we shouldn't be doing that as a Government, that flies in the face of what people across the country and what our Government has set out to do.

TOM CONNELL: What it actually means is by, by not making it targeted, it brings inflation down artificially. But in this situation, this couple, they get $300 off their power bill, they end up with $334 less in terms of payments.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, to be honest, their payments will be then indexed. And that is…

TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] By CPI, which is coming down…

AMANDA RISHWORTH: [Interrupts] But under your logic, we shouldn't be fighting inflation so that the CPI stays higher. And therefore, people are getting…

TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] Was that part of the design? Was it considered?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It was about giving support across the board. Now, of course, in our first Budget, we gave energy relief to those, particularly on concession cards and income support. We recognise, though, that there are some people doing it tough that aren't necessarily on income support, and they should get some support with their energy bills as well. That's what we've designed this to do. Obviously, it's delivered through the retailer, but I'm not going to make any apologies for our Government being clear about fighting inflation.

TOM CONNELL: Minister, we’ve got to leave it there. Appreciate your time on a busy week.