JobSeeker, women's safety, the National Plan for Reducing Violence against Women and their Children – ABC Breakfast

E&OE

FRAN KELLY:
About 1 million Australian workers face an uncertain future after the weekend with the end of their JobKeeper payments yesterday. Treasury estimates that up to 150,000 jobs could be lost without the wage subsidies and around 100,000 businesses are considered vulnerable to collapse. The closure of the $90 billion scheme coincides with the end of the coronavirus JobSeeker supplement on Thursday, which makes it even tougher for anyone who loses their job. Anne Ruston is the Minister for Families and Social Services. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

ANNE RUSTON:
Thanks, Fran.

FRAN KELLY:
According to Treasury, as many as 150,000 people will lose their jobs now that JobKeeper has ended, private economists put that number even higher. Isn't it cruel to choose this week to end the JobSeeker supplement as well, given the number of workers who now have to rely on unemployment benefits to survive that would perhaps never have done this before?

ANNE RUSTON:
Well, one thing is that the JobSeeker and JobKeeper changes that occurred last year were always temporary and everybody knew that they were coming to an end. But what we sought to do is as the economy is growing and we know that the economic indicators have been very, very strong, is to let the economy start doing the heavy lifting. But we're not walking away. Obviously, the social security safety net remains in place, including the increases that will occur on Thursday this week to make sure that we support all Australians. But the most important thing we can do, Fran, is to make sure that we've got a strong economy that's creating jobs so that those people that may lose their job because of the end of that corona- the JobKeeper payment, have got jobs to go to.

FRAN KELLY:
Well, two things: some people will lose their job. That's not argued about. And you talk about an increase to the JobSeeker payments, they're actually losing money. They'll go from $360 a week to $314 a week, that will be the new JobSeeker. But it means that this 150,000 people will go from living on $100 a week now, which is- $500 rather a week now, which JobKeeper to $314 a week, which is a pretty steep drop.

ANNE RUSTON:
Well, the thing about Australia's social security system is it is really comprehensive and extraordinarily targeted. So when people find themselves in need of the support of the JobSeeker payment, there are many other things that are in place that can help people, whether it be assisting them with their rent if they're renters, making sure that that they get the full amount of family tax benefit. So I think you need to- we talk about base rates of payment, but what we need to recognise that on top of base rates of payment, there are a lot of other things that people are able to get access to, which is targeted to their particular requirements in their particular circumstances.

FRAN KELLY:
Yeah but all of it keeps people below the poverty line. There's plenty of studies that show that. I mean, the base payment works out of $44 a day, which is well below the poverty line. I mean, every dollar handed out to an unemployed person is pumped back into the economy. Given the economy is still shaky, even though it's certainly looking better than was predicted, isn't it tough timing for all those people that are coming of JobKeeper going on to JobSeeker for the first time, to go onto the diminished payment, which is below the poverty line, not to mention the other one point something million people already on JobSeeker?

ANNE RUSTON:
Well, I mean, the first thing I'd say is that we need to be very careful about making a judgement in relation to poverty but ...

FRAN KELLY:
Well, no, there's a well-established poverty line. I'm not making that up. I'm not just pulling that out, there is an equation that gives us a poverty line.

ANNE RUSTON:
Well, I'm not entirely sure that I agree with you there. But one of the things that I would say is that our system is particularly unique in Australia. I mean, the amount of non-financial social transfers that occur to people who are on lower incomes are able to get access to, we estimate are around- you know, well over $500 a week. But the one thing that we can't underestimate here is that this will be a business-led recovery. And the most important thing that we can do, as a government, is to make sure those businesses are strong so that they are able to create the jobs so that people don't stay on payment. I mean, we don't want people to be on unemployment benefits, we ...

FRAN KELLY:
No, most people don't want to be on unemployment. That's fair to say. But talking of business, more than $1 billion in JobSeeker payments were given to some of our largest and most profitable businesses. More than 60 of our publicly listed companies on the ASX 300 received the wage subsidy, despite recording combined profits worth more than $8.6 billion over the past 18 months, which included the pandemic. Some have repaid that money, others haven't. Crown, Harvey Norman, Tabcorp haven't. Wouldn't you love to get your hands on that money and pay it to the people who are struggling on JobSeeker?

ANNE RUSTON:
Look, everybody who got the JobKeeper payment was eligible to receive it. I mean, back in March last year, when we put this program in place, we didn't know what the future holds ...

FRAN KELLY:
That's right. That's true.

ANNE RUSTON:
And it look, it's entirely- I mean, nobody has- well, these companies that you're referring to were entirely entitled on the basis of the eligibility criteria to get access to this payment. If they choose to repay it like some of them, well, that's fantastic ...

FRAN KELLY:
But Minister ...

ANNE RUSTON:
They have all been eligible to take the payment.

FRAN KELLY:
No one's saying they weren't eligible, but I think entitled is a good word there. I mean, a lot of people are very angry about this. I get a lot of feedback about this here on the program. Some of these people who were angry were pursued by the Government wrongly during the Robodebt scandal. I mean, why- people don't understand, they see this as a double standard, one rule for profitable businesses and another for people struggling on benefits.

ANNE RUSTON:
Well, I think you needs to go back to the point in the sense that these- the companies were completely eligible to be able to access this funding. Now you make a moral statement, and I think Australians will probably, in many instances, agree with you ...

FRAN KELLY:
Well, don't you agree? Don't you agree that if Crown or Harvey Norman have made tens of millions of dollars of profit and received JobKeeper, they should do the right thing and hand it back?

ANNE RUSTON:
Well, as I said, they got it, they were eligible to get it. I mean, it's a matter for them to decide as to whether they should want to return the money for the taxpayers and I think I'll leave it at that.

FRAN KELLY:
On another matter, your colleague - LNP colleague, Andrew Laming, he's going to leave Parliament after the next election after he was exposed over the last few days for bullying and harassing women. In the meantime, he's taken leave to undergo empathy training. What does that say about the culture in the Liberal Party? That someone who's been a member of Parliament for 17 years, needs still to be taught about empathy and respect.

ANNE RUSTON:
Well, there's no doubt, Fran, his actions have been totally unacceptable. I don't think there's anybody out there that- anybody in the Liberal party or the Liberal National Party that wouldn't agree with that. But I do think it is reasonable for Mr Laming to have an opportunity to seek help and I'm glad that that's what he's doing.

FRAN KELLY:
Is it reasonable for him to have paid, taxpayer paid sick leave to go and get counselling? Most people don't get time off to go to the counselling. They sort of fit it in, you know? He's got a month off paid. Because he's been found to be harassing, bullying and basically leering over women.

ANNE RUSTON:
Well, obviously, Mr Laming's work conditions are the same as - you know, everybody has a set of work conditions and he's entitled to have this time off to go and seek this help, and you know, I would certainly encourage him to do so. And anybody else that thinks that their actions may, in some way, be impacting on other people in the workplace should go and have a really strong look at what you're doing. Take the opportunity that this current discussion allows us - the national discussion we're having. Make sure you change your behaviour because the most important thing we can do is to get people to actually think about their behaviour and do something about it.

FRAN KELLY:
Given his track record, which we now know includes taking a photograph of a woman's underwear when she was bent over and also slandering two women, leaving one of them feeling suicidal. Are you going to be happy for Andrew Laming to return to the Coalition party room?

ANNE RUSTON:
Well, I mean, obviously, Andrew is about to take some time off to go and seek this help. And I think, you know, any decisions on his future, we should allow him the opportunity to be able to do that.

FRAN KELLY:
Sure. He can do that. But, will you be happy for him to return as a Coalition member?

ANNE RUSTON:
Well, look, let's see whether Mr Laming understands the impact of his actions, because I think he does need to understand that before he returns to the party room.

FRAN KELLY:
But you're going to be happy if he returns the party room, even with that track record?

ANNE RUSTON:
I said I really do believe that he needs to undertake this counselling. He needs to understand the impact of his actions and then it's up to him to make the decision as to what his future may hold for him. But he's clearly already said that he doesn't intend to continue on as the Member for Bowman and I mean, that's right and appropriate.

FRAN KELLY:
Should he go to the crossbench now?

ANNE RUSTON:
Well, I think we should let him have the opportunity to go and seek this counselling, and then, I think that the decision needs to be made after he's had that opportunity.

FRAN KELLY:
You're planning a national summit on violence against women. This was one of the recommendations that Angela Lynch from the Queensland Women's Legal Services was putting when she was in Parliament House lobbying two weeks ago. We spoke to her about it here on the program. Is her mode- her summit, the one you're going to be adopting?

ANNE RUSTON:
We were actually always intending to have a summit. In fact, one was organised to- hold in Alice Springs last May as part of the consultation process to inform the next national plan for the prevention of domestic and family violence against women and their children. So, our intention is to continue along with that consultation process that had to be put on hold. But I spoke to Angela a few weeks ago and she, you know, welcomes the opportunity that this provides for her particular area of interest about women's safety. So we're looking forward over the coming weeks to be talking to a whole heap of stakeholders about how we can make sure this summit informs women's safety going forward.

FRAN KELLY:
And given what's going on at the moment in this country, should there be some tangible measures out of that, beyond just the structure of the national plan?

ANNE RUSTON:
One of the most important things that we must do, and we have done it through action plans and under the previous plan, is to make sure we have tangible and measurable outcomes. And so, part of the new plan is making sure we've got data to make- to inform our programs, because unless you've got the evidence, it's very difficult to know whether your programs are working or not. So, I'm very much looking forward to the opportunity to speak to all the stakeholders at the summit and through all the other consultation so that we have got a plan that delivers real and tangible outcomes to make sure that women are safer and that we get rid of this scourge that is domestic violence, that I think actually should be ashamed of.

FRAN KELLY:
So when will that summit be?

ANNE RUSTON:
We haven't actually set a date yet, but we certainly are working over the coming weeks. I mean, next week, I've got a Women's Safety Ministers meeting, which is the state and territory ministers responsible, because the whole women's safety is a shared responsibility.

FRAN KELLY:
Just finally on the issue of quotas; last week, the Prime Minister said he's very open to quotas to get more women elected. Given the resistance over the years to quotas in the Liberal Party, should the Prime Minister be leading this push? Should he put his imprimatur on this saying, I want quotas?

ANNE RUSTON:
Well, look, I commend the Prime Minister for making the comments last week that he intends to work really hard on a transition strategy when he's no longer the Member for Cook, that he wants to see himself replaced by a female to take his place. But I've never been a strong supporter of quotas, but I'm more than happy to have a discussion about any mechanism by which we can get more women into the Parliament. But, this is a final point Fran, in South Australia, we have preselected for the next two elections, both the state election and the federal election next year, and 80 per cent of our new candidates are women. You can do it without quotas and I would really encourage the other states to look at the model South Australia has put in.

FRAN KELLY:
If the Prime Minister just put his hand down and slam his hand down and say we want quotas. Will you fight it or go with it?

ANNE RUSTON:
Well, I mean, that's obviously a matter, I think, for discussion with the branches around Australia. I mean, the Prime Minister can certainly lead the discussion and I think that's what he said. He's happy to lead the discussion, but it will be up to the branches, it'll be up to the members of the party to make decisions about how they to elect their next Members of Parliament.

FRAN KELLY:
Minister, thank you very much for joining us.

ANNE RUSTON:
My pleasure, thanks, Fran.

FRAN KELLY:
Anne Ruston is the Minister for Families and Social Services.