Minister Ruston Interview – ABC Radio National Breakfast

E&OE…

FRAN KELLY:
Well, from tomorrow women escaping a violent relationship will be able to access a new payment of up to $5000 to help them escape violence and set up a safer life. The Escaping Violence Payment was announced in the May budget, part of a $1.1 billion women's safety package. And it comes as many states and territories are reporting a rise in the number of domestic violence cases during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Senator Anne Ruston is the Minister for Families and Social Services and Minister for Women's Safety. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

MINISTER RUSTON:
Thanks, Fran.

FRAN KELLY:
This payment is available from tomorrow. How will a woman who needs to flee a violent situation be able to access it?

MINISTER RUSTON:
There are a number of ways that the person can access it Fran. Obviously through a referral from a family and domestic violence service. It could be in relation to an AVO or coming into contact with Services Australia but people can also self-refer by going into UnitingCare Australia and seeking that assistance. UnitingCare will be prepared as of tomorrow morning to assist women to get access to this payment when they need it.

FRAN KELLY:
So when you say self-refer, because I imagine there will be people listening who will be interested in and needing this. Does that mean if a woman is in a violent situation, she's making the decision to go, she can go herself to UnitingCare and just say this is what's happening, and she'll be believed? Or what's the process, what documentation is required to prove this?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Absolutely Fran. So the two things that we are assuming the person will be experiencing - one obviously is experiencing family and domestic violence and that's in all its forms. It could be coercive control; it could be financial abuse as well as actual physical abuse. And the person will need to have a change in their living circumstances and be under financial stress. So that's all that's required for you to be eligible to access the payment.

FRAN KELLY:
Sorry to interrupt Minister but just to be clear there when you say change in their living experience, a woman will already have had to have left a violent situation? This can't be the ticket out, so to speak?

MINISTER RUSTON:
It’s either that they have left or they are intending to leave a violent relationship. And then we would seek through the very, very good services of UnitingCare, they would assess that the need is urgent.

FRAN KELLY:
The payment's not means tested. But to be eligible a woman must be facing financial stress, so how would they have to prove that? And what's the definition of financial stress?

MINISTER RUSTON:
One thing that we do know is that it doesn't matter how affluent the person is. Often when they are escaping domestic violence, they escape with nothing.

FRAN KELLY:
Exactly.

MINISTER RUSTON:
Sometimes you'll see bank accounts will be cut off, credit cards and lines of credit will be cut off. So all the woman will need to be able to demonstrate is that she doesn't have access to money and that could just be because a violent partner has chosen to prevent her from being able to get access. And this goes to the very point of financial abuse.

FRAN KELLY:
And the support package itself, it's a $5000 package but that's $1500 in cash, the rest available for goods and services or payment of bonds or school fees, or whatever it is. How is that determined? When someone comes to UnitingCare and they're assessed as being eligible, they can get a $1500 cash payment. And then who assesses how the rest of the money is spent?

MINISTER RUSTON:
That's why have gone into partnership with UnitingCare. They're a very experienced provider of emergency relief and other kinds of support for vulnerable Australians, so we will rely on them to make those sorts of assessments. But we do know already from experience in talking to our providers and particularly our domestic violence providers that the first thing people need is the cash. it might be to just buy the kids a lunch box to go to school tomorrow or buy them a toothbrush. But the additional funding is making sure that we can set them up in a safe place to get on with their lives. And as you say it could be a bond on a rental accommodation; it might be some white goods, it could be paying the kids school fees. But we want to make sure that we provide a pathway so that women break down those financial barriers that they often find when leaving violent relationships because it alleviates one reason why women may stay in a violent relationship.

FRAN KELLY:
This is a two-year trial. With one in six women experiencing partner violence in Australia and with reports that it's on the rise during COVID, why not just make it a permanent feature of our response to domestic violence? I mean, what more evidence do you need that something like this is required?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Obviously whenever you put a new program in place, you do need to test it to make sure that we've got all the settings right.

FRAN KELLY:
But not everything comes as a trial, not every government policy is a trial.

MINISTER RUSTON
No, but certainly in the case of this we want to make sure that the evaluation understands things like demand, eligibility criteria, specific needs of different cohorts, because we know different women need different things when they are escaping violence. And making sure that we understand how it interrelates with other payments that are available to people who are escaping violence. This is very much a commitment to say, if this works, we're very keen to continue it but we want to make sure that we've got all the settings right and that it is absolutely as targeted to the needs of women escaping violence as it possibly can be.

FRAN KELLY:
Is it capped? If there's a surge of demand for this, is this capped?

MINISTER RUSTON:
We put in a number to say that the program would support 12,000 women each year but it is a demand driven scheme and so we would make sure that any woman that needs this payment will be receiving it.

FRAN KELLY:
We know that counselling services and refuges have been struggling to meet demand as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Women have been trapped in dangerous situations and are reaching out. Services have been warning that they expect a surge in demand once lockdown's lifted. Has the Government reinforced funding to provide those services when that need emerges?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Yes. We've certainly been working with the states and territories. Last year we immediately provided states and territories with a $130 million so that they would have additional funding to support their frontline service providers. And we have subsequently announced in the Budget another $260 million over the next two years to make sure that they can continue to have the additional funding to meet the demand that we sadly have seen through COVID, as part of a down payment on the next National Plan which we are currently in the final stages of drafting.

FRAN KELLY:
Okay. The federal government is working on this fifth National Plan as you say. You've agreed to a separate national plan specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children. But in an open letter today, a group of First Nations women are calling for that to be a truly self-determined planned, developed for and by First Nations women themselves. They say this is not an add-on to the mainstream plan. Is that how you see it? Are you listening to their concerns, and is that how you see it?

MINISTER RUSTON:
We're certainly listening to the concerns of Indigenous Australians and we've been working with our Indigenous Advisory Group, headed up by Dr Sandra Creamer to make sure that we understand clearly the specific needs of Indigenous women who are facing domestic violence. So we absolutely support a dedicated, self-determined action plan that has real and practical outcomes and measures in it to make sure that the issues that are facing Indigenous women are specifically addressed in a way that suits the way they would like them to be addressed. But equally, the national framework cannot be silent on Indigenous women. So what we are seeking to do is to make sure that we have a dedicated action plan designed by Indigenous women moving towards self-determination, making sure there's capacity and capability within the Indigenous sector through ACCOs, so that they are actually delivering the solutions by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people.

FRAN KELLY:
Okay. This payment for women fleeing violence comes into effect during Anti-Poverty Week. There's a new report from ACOSS today that shows that from June 2020 to 2021 discrepancies in Australia's support system, for instance, the payments for sole parents with a child under eight have risen by 27.2 per cent, while the payments for those with children over eight have risen by just 7.9 per cent. Is that fair? Why would that be?

MINISTER RUSTON:
What we seek to do with our payments is to make sure that they reflect the ability for people to be able to work and to encourage people to go to work. We know, for instance, that the pensions are paid at a completely different rate than working age payments, because we need to make sure we've got that balance right between obviously supporting people, particularly on working age payments while they're looking for work, but at the same time we want to encourage them to be able to go out to work.

FRAN KELLY:
Okay. On another issue altogether, the Liberal Party meets today to discuss the climate deal on offer to the Nationals, to get them to sign up to net zero by 2050 - this Government's plan. The deal for regional Australia is reportedly worth tens of billions of dollars. Some say tens of billions, some say 20 billion. The Nats are still holding out. Are you getting tired of the junior Coalition partner dictating climate policy to the Liberals?

MINISTER RUSTON:
What I'd say Fran is that we need to listen to all views. And the National Party obviously reflects and some views of people who are still very concerned about some of the decisions in relation to climate policy and we need to address those concerns. But the most important thing is we have to take all Australians along on this journey. And that's why we are very focused on continuing to have respectful and meaningful conversations with everybody, taking into account everybody's views, to make sure that the plan that we deliver to make sure that Australia is the strongest nation in the future is one that all Australians sign on to.

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

MINISTER RUSTON:
Thanks, Fran.

FRAN KELLY:
Anne Ruston is the Minister for Families and Social Services and Women's Safety. And the Escaping Violence Payment, which was announced in the May budget, it's a $5000 payment that will be available for women who need it, who are escaping a violent situation from tomorrow. Head to a UnitingCare office, it's being distributed by UnitingCare. So if you're listening to this, you or anyone else you know needs help to escape a violent situation, that payment is a new payment available from UnitingCare. And if you or someone you know needs help, you can contact 1800RESPECT, that's 1800-737-732.