Minister Rishworth interview with Andy Park


ANDY PARK: The Federal Government has promised to deliver a cost of living package in its October budget, but will there be targeted relief for low income earners and those on support payments before then. Amanda Rishworth is the Social Services Minister. Congratulations on the new role, Minister.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, thank you very much.

ANDY PARK: It seems like your role is only becoming more and more important every day as we watch these inflationary and economic pressures. It seems like if your role is to not allow anyone to be left behind, you can only blame the previous government for so long before people are going to want some relief. So are you considering additional assistance for Australians on support payments given these higher than expected inflationary pressures?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, as Minister for Social Services, I'm- as the new Minister, I'm really looking at the many ways that our department supports those on low income, vulnerable people. We have a particularly important role, I believe, in tackling inequality. We made election commitments about freezing the deeming rate for pensioners and supporting pensioners with the increased access, or older people with an increased access to the concession card. So they are election commitments that we've made and we will certainly be pursuing those. These are critically important things to support people with the cost of living.

ANDY PARK: But people listening to this and who are opening up power bills that are, you know, 10, 20, 40 per cent higher than they normally are. They've got grocery bills higher than they normally are, too. More and more of them are being pushed towards the breaking point. At some point, your government's going to have to look to some sort of assistance or support payments well before the October budget your Government has promised.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Obviously, Jim Chalmers is working through all those issues with our team, and we will continue to work as a government to support people. My first order of business is to deliver on the election commitments we made, and we will do that as long as- as well as I think it's important to recognise that there are long term challenges as well, whether it is implementing our plan to reduce violence against women, or indeed inclusive society of those living with the disability…

ANDY PARK: Don't you think though, that the immediate household cost issues are more pressing for people rather than these longer term structural things you're talking about?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, we can chew gum and walk at the same time. The problem that the previous government did was they had no long term plan. So Labor already has a plan to reduce the cost of childcare, to tackle the costs- long term plan to tackle the costs of energy prices. We've got to be looking both in the short term and the long term.

ANDY PARK: Today's interest rate rise was above expectations. Surely, it was not clear during your campaign that this would happen: 3.4 million mortgage holders are under mortgage stress already. I think it's half a million who are under extreme stress. Are you asking those mortgage holders to wait until October for relief in your budget?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, this is something the Government is obviously working through, looking at how we best support people. But there is no doubt that this will put strain on people's budgets. There is no doubt about that. And we will have to just meet these challenges as a government, and we will continue, though, of course, to deliver on our election commitments.

ANDY PARK: Okay. So if not any kind of interim support payments as, you know, before the budget, where can people turn right now in terms of a little help from their Government?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We obviously have financial support, financial counselling that the Commonwealth funds, and certainly advise people to get support there. And we also- and I've just been seeking a briefing today on food relief. There's certainly food relief that we do need to support people with. We'll be working through all these issues as a government.

ANDY PARK: Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor says the most important thing a government can do to contain rates and inflation is to restrain spending. Is now the time to rein in that spending?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Our finance team has already been going through the budget line item by line item. I think it's a bit rich of Angus Taylor to be talking about this because he did nothing when it comes to energy prices, when it comes to support for families, when it comes to reckless spending in the Budget. We had sports rorts, car park rorts. I mean, it is very- it's quite rich of this government to be talking about wasteful spending. We've talked about making sure that we have smart spending and that we are going to eliminate wasteful spending from this budget.

ANDY PARK: On RN Drive, Amanda Rishworth is here. She's the new Social Service Minister. We're discussing the impact of the cost of living pressures on Australians in the wake of today's half a percent interest rate rise.

Let's talk about your specific promises. Your Government promised to end the use of the Cashless Debit Card, which quarantines 80% of welfare payments, so they can't be used on things like gambling and alcohol. Where's that up to? How far have you progressed on that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I've been in the role for less than a week and one of my first briefings I received as a minister was to ask the department to prepare for the termination of the Cashless Debit Card. So we are taking steps to do that. I will be talking with local communities that are affected by this card to talk about what is the support we need to put in place going forward as we terminate the use of this card. This was a clear election commitment that Labor made and we intend to deliver on it.

ANDY PARK: The National Audit Office last week found the department couldn't prove the card was having a positive impact. The scheme, I think, has cost in excess of $170 million. What's Labor going to do differently to still provide frontline funding to these sorts of Australians without those sorts of caveats, which has been criticised heavily for restricting their freedoms?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, the National Audit report said that the Government did nothing to actually collect any evidence, actually had no KPIs, no ongoing evaluation. This was just bad policy. We will and we've committed to work with local communities. If they want to voluntarily have income management arrangements, then we will talk with them about it. But the way the card was rolled out, a private company holding people's money and all the negative stigma and discrimination that came along with that. And also, as the National Audit Office said, there was no evidence whatsoever that it worked. We need to unpick this. This was a clear election commitment that Labor will deliver on.

ANDY PARK: With increased household stress on household budgets, there is a correlation, if you like, that may result in increased rates of domestic violence. You've come into the role with just weeks to go until the current 10-year National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children expires. When will a new strategy be in place?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, the Government unfortunately left it quite late when it came to the national plan and developing our national plan. I see this as really a first order of business for me to develop our national plan and ensure that we have the action to go along with it. So I see this as a critical part of my role in making sure we get the plan working, the plan delivered, but importantly, implementation. We've got to make sure that the plan can be implemented and that action is actually taken, and so that has been something I've already been briefed on and already started working on.

ANDY PARK: Minister, appreciate your time tonight. Thanks for joining me.


ANDY PARK: Amanda Rishworth is the Social Services Minister here on RN Drive.