Minister Rishworth interview with Michael Rowland


MICHAEL ROWLAND: The new Social Services Minister, Amanda Rishworth, joins us now from Sydney. Minister, good morning and congratulations on the portfolio.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Good morning. Thank you very much.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now, we had the Treasurer on the show this week as well, pointing to the October Budget, and, yes, there will be cost-of-living help provided by the Government in that Budget. That's a long way away, though. Is there anything the Government can do straight away in the next weeks, in the next month, to help these Australians finding it harder and harder to live?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, it's no secret that things are very difficult at the moment. And, certainly, there is the three issues: increasing inflation, flat lining wages, and, of course, the interest rate rises. I know that our Government is looking at carefully as we can. Cost of living is up on our agenda of how we actually tackle this. The challenge, though, is that we do have a pretty difficult budgetary circumstance left by the former government - a trillion, or more than a trillion dollars of debt, and not much to show for it. But I can tell you that myself and all the ministers are looking very, very carefully at this cost-of-living crisis, and our focus is on what we can do to help. Obviously, having an October Budget is critically important. But we are very, very much focused on what we can do to support people in Australia.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. What about supporting the most vulnerable people in Australia - those on JobSeeker? Will the Government look at the level of JobSeeker?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, there is a cost-of-living crisis right across Australia and, of course, the Department of Social Services and my ministry is about supporting those that need help the most. Look, going forward, we need to enact our commitments about reducing the cost of medicines and other cost-of-living pressures. But it is really a focus across the board of our Government of how we best support people with this cost-of-living crisis.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: JobSeeker is at $46 a day. As you know, that's below the poverty line. Is there any way the Government will look at increasing JobSeeker?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, at the moment we've got enormous budgetary pressures on us. As I said, over a trillion dollars of debt. It's something that is part of the budget process going forward, every budget. This is something, though, we've got to look at a whole cost-of-living package. When it comes to the most vulnerable people, if you can't afford medicines, then there's a problem. So, we've got to look at this whole issue and make sure that we are doing everything we can within the constraints of the Budget we inherited from the former government that had a lot of waste, had a lot of mismanagement. But we are getting on with that job right now.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. A pretty big portfolio you've inherited. A few challenges on your desk, including the Cashless Debit Card. You've moved to cancel that, but will some form of debit card be off the agenda for the duration of this Government?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, what we have been very clear is we want to see the abolition of what was really a privatisation of our welfare system and the compulsory nature of the Cashless Debit Card. The Auditor-General has put out a scathing report this week- or, sorry, late last week - that said that there was no evidence for this card actually doing the job it was intended to do, there was no KPIs, and, indeed, there was- the expansion was unjustified, really. So, we are looking at how we terminate that card. Going forward, we've said that we will, in a voluntary measure, make sure there is income management if communities want it. But we're not going to have this privatised Cashless Debit Card, which there's no evidence to support. It seems that it was really political ideology driving this card. But I'm going to visit communities and speak with communities about what supports they need to make sure that people can transition and have the supports they need to make sure that they've got the support in place. And I will be doing that very shortly as we work towards terminating this card.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: So, Minister, the cost of living is moving into- fast moving into a crisis situation. One crisis situation well and truly in place, sadly, for a long time is the scourge of domestic violence. And one of your key challenges as the Minister is to finalise the new 10-year plan to try to end domestic violence in Australia. How quickly can we see action on that front?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, we want to get on as a first order of business to deliver a national plan. The last 10-year plan has finished- or finished at the end of this month. In saying that, we need to get it right. We need to get this national plan right by making sure we actually have the plan in place, because it's in for 10 years, and saying that we need the actions, the deliverables that go along with that. So I will be working with my state and territory counterparts, as well as Katy Gallagher, the Minister for Women, in how we make sure that we get the plan in place as swiftly as we can, but, importantly, make sure those deliverables are there. The action plans are critically important to the success. So, I will be working on that. I am disappointed that work wasn't started on the national plan. We knew it was coming to an end, that more work hadn't been done to land a national plan in place for the next plan to start. In saying that, service delivery won't be affected by any gap, but it's important that we have direction and we're all pulling in the same way across states and territories. And so it is a first order of business for me to be working on that.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, Minister, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.