Minister Ruston interview – ABC RN on 1 June 2020

E&OE…

FRAN KELLY:            

Back home, and the impact of this pandemic, COVID-19 pandemic on rates of domestic abuse will be the focus of a new parliamentary inquiry into family and sexual violence. 23 women have so far been killed this year at the hands of a violent partner, and there are fears that that number could spike during the COVID-19 advice to stay at home. The new inquiry comes as the Federal Government resumes the mutual obligation rules for JobSeeker assistance and it so far refused to apologise over the Robodebt fiasco.  Anne Ruston is the Minister for Families and Social Services. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast. 

MINISTER RUSTON: 

Thanks Fran.

FRAN KELLY:            

Minister, last month a Senate inquiry into family violence that was launched in the wake of the horrific murder of Brisbane woman Hannah Clarke and her three children wound up three months early. It didn't invite any submissions, it didn't hold any public hearings. It seems like a complete waste of resources and opportunity on the face of it. I mean, do people have a right to be cynical now about yet another parliamentary inquiry? We had one and they didn't bother doing much?

MINISTER RUSTON: 

Well look I think Fran the fact that there was such a response to the inquiry and the fact that it didn't take submissions and it didn't hold hearings I think clearly indicated that there is a desire amongst the broader community for a proper inquiry so that their voices can be heard. So that's exactly what we're doing here, is we're responding to the response…

FRAN KELLY:            

What does it say, though, that the Senate inquiry didn't bother holding a proper inquiry into this? Into this issue of all issues?

MINISTER RUSTON: 

Yeah look I think as I said to you the last time we spoke I was just as surprised like anybody that they didn't hold inquiries, or particularly they didn't take submissions, particularly given the horrible tragedy that befell Hannah Clarke and her beautiful children. But I think what we did see was it was an inquiry that handed down a report that generated a huge amount of interest because it hadn't investigated the things that I think the public wanted and so we are responding to that desire by the public to shine a light on this terrible issue.

FRAN KELLY:            

Okay, so what will your inquiry be focusing on? And what it is that you think the public wants you to inquire into? We've had five parliamentary inquiries already, I think. What's this one going to focus on?

MINISTER RUSTON: 

Well with the terms of reference that we've recommended to the Standing Committee are very broad and obviously it's up to that committee to make the decision about what their actual terms are. We just make the suggestions. But there are a couple of things that I'd particularly like to get out of it. As we come into having to prepare a new national plan, because the Fourth Action Plan finishes in 2022, so I'd like to start getting information around what we need to do going forward, you know, what's working, what's not working and making sure we get much better data collection so that we can clearly have evidence-based about what we do. And the other thing is right now, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, it's really important that we get an understanding. It’s the biggest crisis we've ever faced as a nation and often crises are a time when we see increased incidence of domestic violence and so I'd like to make sure that we gather a body of evidence around what's happening in the community at the moment.

FRAN KELLY:            

In terms of what's working and what's not working, it doesn't seem as if anything is changing very much. We've had the Fourth National Action Plan, as you mentioned, it's worth about $340 million over three years. There's been no real reduction in the number of women dying at the hands of a current or former partner since 2010 when the plan was first launched. In fact you gave the national action plan an extra $150 million at the start of this pandemic. We heard earlier this morning that there's been 12 women killed by their domestic partners during this pandemic. Is more money and attention going to be needed? Or is the money just not going in the right way? Are we still missing?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Look I think that whilst you do need to provide money, particularly to frontline services so that they're able to respond when women and children or men for that matter find themselves in this situation, but the key thing here is we've got to do something about prevention and sadly it won't really matter how much money we put into prevention, it's going to actually have to be cultural change. Everybody in our society has to take responsibility for changing people's attitudes and calling it out and saying it's actually just not acceptable. So we'd be calling on the whole community to join us because if we don't change the dial here and we're actually going to stop people from actually being assaulted in the first place we actually have to change community's views.

FRAN KELLY:            

If we're going to change the dial we have to change some of the offences. Are you supportive of coercive behaviour being looked at more closely as a defence? As an offence?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Absolutely, look absolutely and I think the opportunity for this inquiry to look at some of the things that we actually haven't looked at before, like coercive behaviour, online digital technologies as another means of abuse etc, I think is a really good opportunity because these are new ways that people are actually finding themselves in a position of abuse. So the inquiry does have very broad scope and it also has identified a number of new areas that we'd like to have a look at.

FRAN KELLY:            

You're listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is Anne Ruston, she's the Minister for Families and Social Service. Minister, with another hat on, can I ask you about the phased return of mutual obligation requirements for all those people who are on JobSeeker Allowance? Previously many of them would have been on Newstart, they're now going to have to undertake at least one appointment with their employment services provider. They will eventually have to start applying for jobs. Is this useful or necessary at the moment given there are no jobs around? I mean we're heading towards 10 per cent unemployment. It's asking people to apply for jobs that don't exist.

MINISTER RUSTON:

What we're seeking to do by the resumption of a very limited amount of mutual obligation next week is particularly focused at people who are newly unemployed  because we have many people who are unemployed at the moment who would have never ever had any interface with this system before. What we want to do is to say to them, it would be a really good idea for you to get in touch with your service provider because then they can find out what that service provider can do to assist them to make sure that they’re job ready for maybe a job that's not the same as the one that they previously had. So it's a very light touch return to initial obligations, we just want to start getting people used to the idea of engaging with the workforce because  as jobs become available we want to make sure that we've got the best possible chance of matching up people into those jobs as soon as they're created.

FRAN KELLY:            

And Minister, just finally, on Friday, late on Friday in fact there was a major breakthrough in the Robodebt fiasco. The Federal Government has agreed to refund $720 million to 470,000 welfare recipients who had paid debts based on income averaging. Now, these people have all received letters, all being threatened, some of them had paid a lot of money back. As the Minister of Social Services will you apologise to all those people for this stuff up?

MINISTER RUSTON: 

Well Fran as you'd be aware the matter is subject to legal proceedings and obviously I need to be very careful about what I say in this area with this. Obviously anything I say…

FRAN KELLY:            

Don't people deserve an apology? People have been terrified.

ANNE RUSTON:

What I would say though is that one of the things that I have been doing since being the Minister for Social Services is actually focusing on what we can do in terms of making life easy for people who are reporting income, as well as receiving payments, and you know changes to things like single touch payroll and change of assessment. Hopefully we'll be able to put some things in place so that people don't incur the debts in the first place. So I'm very much focused on making life easier for people going into the future.

FRAN KELLY:            

Alright Minister, thank you very much for joining us. 

MINISTER RUSTON:

Thanks very much Fran.

FRAN KELLY:            

Anne Ruston is the Minister for Families and Social Services.

ENDS