JobSeeker – Sky News

E&OE…

KIERAN GILBERT:

The New South Wales Police confirm they won’t investigate the historical sexual assault claim levelled against a Cabinet Minister. They say in fact, it’s case closed. Let’s go now to Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Anne Ruston joins me from Adelaide. Minister, thank you very much for your time. The New South Wales Police say case closed but many others are saying they want the Prime Minister to intervene and to clarify this situation. What can or should he do, the Prime Minister?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Thanks Kieran. Look, firstly can I say my condolences go to the family of the woman who’s at the centre of this particular issue. I can’t imagine the trauma that they must have suffered losing their daughter under such extraordinary circumstances and I hope that their wishes are being considered as this particular issue is played out in the media. But in relation to your question around the New South Wales decision today, not to pursue their particular investigation into this matter, my understanding is that there are still investigations under way in South Australia by the relevant authorities and they’re independent investigations and I think it is appropriate that the existing investigations are allowed to take their course.

KIERAN GILBERT:

The former prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, says the minister concerned should out himself and defend himself and provide some certainty for the government, and for the other male ministers in the cabinet of which you're a part. What do you think about that suggestion?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well look, not underestimating the severity of the accusations and the disclosure that's gone on in this case but I would say that in Australia we have a rule of law that says that everybody is afforded justice and that shouldn't be any different no matter where you work or who you are. And the person who has been accused has the right to be able to be afforded that justice and I think that is appropriate. I don't think just because you're a member of government you should be treated any differently when it comes to the law and this is a very serious issue and therefore the law is the appropriate place for it to be dealt with.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Unfortunately, it is a unique situation though in the sense that this allegation hangs over the entire cabinet. So every cabinet minister essentially, male cabinet minister is affected in that sense.

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well indeed, this is a very traumatic situation for everybody that works in Canberra. I mean, it has been a particularly traumatic couple of weeks for everybody but it still doesn't move away from the fact that that everybody has the right to receive justice and everybody has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and there is a burden of proof that needs to be applied here. And the process that I understand the South Australian Police and probably the coroner are currently undertaking is the appropriate way that this needs to be dealt with.

KIERAN GILBERT:

You mentioned that you hope that the family's wishes are considered. There've been suggestions by at least one of the woman's friends that the family did not want this reported and that they- and in fact, other suggestions that they had no support for this at all in terms of the public revelation. What's your view on that, the way that this has unfolded this week?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well I made the comments that I just made just as a person who's watching on and having some, I suppose, some empathy for the situation that the family must find themselves in. You know, I’m not aware of the specifics of how the family has asked for this matter or sought for this matter to be handled. I merely made the comment that if they had wished that it not be played out in the media, I hope consideration has been given to their privacy and the impact that this must be having on them as a grieving family as it's being played out on the front page of papers and across the media. I just, I'm feeling very sympathetic to what must be the most horrific circumstance for a family to find themselves in.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Indeed, absolutely, it's a tragic situation in so many respects and hard to imagine how that family would be feeling at the moment. In a separate matter, it's relating to Nicolle Flint, a rising star in the Liberal Party. She's not going to recontest, says, basically pointing to the toxic political culture. That must be a huge frustration to you to see someone like that saying, look, I'm out because they can't- because the toxic culture is too much. What do you- what's your assessment of that? And do you understand where she is on that?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Look, I was as devastated as anybody on Friday night to hear that Nicolle had actually made the decision that she didn't believe that she could go on as the Member for Boothby after the next election because of the intimidation and the bullying that she had been subjected to as the Member, through election campaigns and outside of election campaigns. Only three weeks ago her office windows were sprayed out with spray paint by people who were purporting to be from the Extinction Rebellion while her staff were inside. And so to have a situation where somebody is so intimidated in their electorate by the unions, by GetUp! by the Extinction Rebellion and the like, to the extent that she doesn't feel safe herself or and she can, is concerned for the safety of her employees. I think is a really sad indictment on a society where people can do these sorts of things and get away with it.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Linda Reynolds under immense pressure, should she remain Defence Minister?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well Linda clearly has made public statements that she believed right the way through the process that she was providing the support to Brittany Higgins that she thought that Brittany wanted. I think Linda's absolutely devastated that she now finds out from Brittany’s comments in the media of recent weeks that Brittany didn't feel like she was supported the way she wanted to be supported. But Linda at all times believed, I understand, that she was supporting Brittany in the way that Brittany asked to be supported.

KIERAN GILBERT:

And obviously going through a difficult period, do you feel that she will, as minister, come back? She obviously felt the strain of that whole process, and Brittany Higgins didn't feel like she received the support she needed at the time. But the Minister now obviously feeling a great deal of strain. Do you think she'll be back and be able to regroup as Defence Minister?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Look, I'm sure that Linda will be back strong as ever. I mean she has had a health scare over the last couple of weeks. You know, quite a significant heart condition but look I'm sure Linda will be back as strong as ever. I mean nobody could be a more passionate Defence Minister. She works extremely hard and I'm sure once her health allows her she'll be back and supporting women in the Parliament, as she has done for the entire time I've known her to be there.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Onto the JobSeeker announcement, in any other Parliament or political time, this would have dominated for several days, this story, the fact that the JobSeeker arrangements have been changed and the largest increase for many years. Why don't you set the JobSeeker arrangement for unemployed and tie it to the, you know, link it to the minimum wage so that it- like, you know, other payments are tied to inflation or whatever else tied to the minimum wage? Therefore, you know that it's going to be a decent safety net.

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well in a sense a number of factors played into the decision in relation to the changes that we made to the base rate of JobSeeker payment and all other associated payments last week and a couple of them actually were particularly relevant to the basic minimum wage. For example, all the way through this century we've seen that the basic minimum wage, the percentage that the unemployment rate was the basic minimum wage was around the 40 to 42 per cent. Over recent years, it had slipped to about 37.5 per cent and the changes that we made last week bring it back in line at 41.2 per cent of what has traditionally been about the rate of the safety net that we put in place in relation to the minimum wage. But in addition to that, we put in a couple of other things like the increase in the income free area. So that's the amount of money that somebody can earn before they lose any part of their payment, as well as the taper rates, which are the amount, that they can lose by the amount, that they can earn and only lose a percentage of the amount that they are receiving on payment to the extent where the two intersect. On a base payment the average single person who hasn't had any children would intersect the basic minimum wage at about that level so there have been some considerations around the basic minimum wage and how it relates to the unemployment payment.

KIERAN GILBERT:

And finally, in relation to that, the OECD, a number of comparable nations, have an unemployment rate that is high in the short term when someone finds himself without a job and then it tapers down to a lower rate. Did you consider that? Because obviously people, if they've got more resources to try and regroup and get back into the workforce in the short term, that could be quite an assistance, and then it tapers off as to not be a disincentive to get back in the workforce.

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well Australia has got a really unique system of support for people who find themselves requiring working age payments and it's non-contributory and you can be on payment for as long as you need it. Many of these other countries that you refer to in the OECD have insurance-style schemes where you pay a percentage of your salary into the scheme and then you draw down on that should you find yourself unemployed and it relates to how much you were earning prior to that. In Australia, we've taken a much more utilitarian approach to it and said that anybody who finds themselves in need of the support will get it. They'll get it for as long as they need it and they won't be expected to have contributed to it along the way. So it’s very difficult to compare other schemes overseas with the Australian scheme because we actually have quite a unique unemployment scheme in Australia.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services, thanks so much. Talk to you soon.

MINISTER RUSTON:

Thanks, Kieran. Take care.

ENDS