Sky News First Edition Television Interview

E&OE…

PETER STEFANOVIC:  

Well, joining me now is Social Services Minister Anne Ruston. Minister, good morning to you. Thanks so much for joining us. Can you give us a Centrelink update, if you can, on the number of people who have asked for help since last week?

MINISTER RUSTON:    

Well at the moment we're just going through all of the people who have registered an intent to claim because we had such a high number of people wanting to get onto the system last week. Instead of making people go through the whole process we enabled them to just register an intent to claim so we'll be going through those this week so we can get back to those people and go through their full processing, including getting them that identification number that everyone was talking about last week, the CRN number. But last week, we saw hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of people register an intent to claim…

PETER STEFANOVIC:  

Right.

MINISTER RUSTON:                

… So hopefully this week we'll be able to get a better handle on how many of those were registering that intent and genuinely actually needed immediate assistance and how many of those were registering their intent because they were fearful they might lose their job.

PETER STEFANOVIC:  

Okay. So, is the system running smoothly now?

MINISTER RUSTON:    

Look, we've supercharged the system. Certainly, these are unprecedented times and I'm sure there'll be other times when we actually get huge demand onto the system. But things seem to be working much better and I'd particularly like to thank Australians who are not going into Centrelink now and who are using the telephones and the online provisions. Even though they might be a little bit slower and the wait times might be a little bit longer, it's much safer to be able to be doing it from home than lining up at Centrelink. So things are improving significantly but we certainly thank Australians for their patience under these extraordinary levels of demand.

PETER STEFANOVIC:  

Yeah. Has the Government meanwhile, Minister, decided on welfare payments paid to temporary visa holders and non-citizens?

MINISTER RUSTON:                

At the moment we're working our way through all the people that are in Australia and working out how we can support them over the coming months. But as you would probably realise, there is no sort of one application for everybody. Different visa holder types already have different access to payments. One of the things that we did do immediately on Monday night was to make payment eligibility for those people who are on their pathway to Australian citizenship in Australia at the moment. So those people that are residents, they're on residents' type visas and they're just serving out their waiting period, we have waived those waiting periods so they will immediately get access. But there are so many different visa types. But yesterday the Prime Minister made the announcements in relation to emergency relief. We will make sure we will look after all the people that are in Australia during the coming months.

PETER STEFANOVIC:  

Okay. So they will be looked after, those visa holders and non-citizens. I mean, there is some suggestion that they should be paid about $550 a fortnight, just like apprentices are. Is that an appropriate figure?

MINISTER RUSTON:                

Well we're currently monitoring all visa types, we're basically monitoring everything that's happening so that we can respond as quickly as possible and last Monday the Parliament actually gave me powers to be able to react quite quickly. At the moment we're working through a range of issues with the Cabinet so that we can respond to the situation as it unfolds over the coming days. And we saw what happened last week. It was just unprecedented, the speed with which things happened and so we will continue to monitor that and make sure that we're there to help people but it's great that we're not seeing the kinds of lines that we did see last week in front of Centrelink. That's really, really positive.

PETER STEFANOVIC:  

Were you even blind-sided by the sheer volume of people needing help, Minister?

MINISTER RUSTON:                

Look, I don't think anybody predicted the increase in demand on Monday of last week following the announcements, following the National Cabinet. We certainly we're ramping up and we've been ramping up now for months because we realised that this was a potential outcome. But I don't think it was a matter of being blindsided, I think it was just a matter of pure capacity. No one was ever going to be able to have the kind of capacity we were hit with 200,000 people in a matter of minutes. It's just eye-watering. The kind of capacity you have to have for that but we've increased capacity and we've also seemed to have flattened out the demand. So hopefully we'll be able to give people who need access our services a much less stressful experience this week than what we saw earlier last week.

PETER STEFANOVIC:  

Right. The Prime Minister had said last week that he fears that more people will die from other factors at the moment, aside from the disease. So we're talking about domestic violence. We're talking about alcoholism, suicide. All of that. And we had Julia Gillard on the show from BeyondBlue a short time ago, who kind of echoed those sentiments. What are you most concerned about in the coming weeks and months ahead when it comes to that?

MINISTER RUSTON:                

Well, we're obviously concerned that all Australians, feel comfortable and confident that there's somebody out there supporting. And that could turn that view to a range of different things and supports that we put in pace. Yesterday the Prime Minister and Minister Hunt made some announcements in relation to some extra support for mental health, which I'm sure was greatly welcomed by the community. I had a couple of packages that went through yesterday in relation to domestic violence because we do see that domestic violence is something that sadly we'll probably see a significant increase as people have to self-isolate and find themselves in confined spaces and also the emergency relief and food relief package so that we can assist people. But we are very, very aware that it is going to be a very trying time for all Australians over the coming months and whilst the Government will and is doing everything it possibly can, we also are going to have to rely on the community and society to support each other through this really tough time because you can't just rely entirely on the Government, there's not enough of us. So, if you've got a neighbour who lives alone perhaps maybe just give them a call and make sure they're okay. If you know somebody who is particularly vulnerable, pick up the phone, don't go round there. But you know, if you know that they are particularly vulnerable, when you make dinner tonight, make a little bit extra and drop it round on to their front doorstep. I think this is the kind of the thing that we'd like to see from Australians and we'll back you in as the Government, where and when we possibly can.

PETER STEFANOVIC:  

Do you think there should be limitations placed on the purchase of alcohol?

MINISTER RUSTON:    

I noticed that Western Australia did put a limitation on the purchase of alcohol as they saw a significant run on demand. I suppose it's a bit like food. In Australia, there is no shortage of food in Australia and there never will be and we produce three times as much food as we consume, in fact, it's more likely we're going to end up in an oversupply situation. And equally, you know, there should be no need for people to be stocking up on alcohol. But equally in these tough times, maybe it's time everyone should have a think about how their behaviour is going to effect the people that are around them. Particularly when you have to go home, when you have to socially isolate, think about your family members around you and how your behaviour is going to impact on them.

PETER STEFANOVIC:  

I guess my point being that, you know, people are very stressed out at the moment; they might lose their job, for whatever reason, they might turn to alcohol in quite an increasing way and in that sense, people are being told to stay at home, which should be the safest place. But for many people it's the exact opposite.

MINISTER RUSTON:    

And that's why we'll put in place a range of services including an online presence to make sure that people have got access to these kind of services and I'll encourage anybody who finds themselves in a pretty frustrating situation.

PETER STEFANOVIC:  

Minister Anne Ruston, I'm really sorry we're going to have to interrupt you there. We've got to go to the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, who is live. I do appreciate your time at the moment though.

ENDS