Interview with Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth


PETER STEFANOVIC:  US Ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, has just touched down in Sydney en-route to taking up her posting in Canberra. Joining us is the Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth. Minister, good morning. We’re going to talk about the women’s meeting - the conference in Adelaide today - but I just want to get your thoughts on Caroline Kennedy arriving. Not too many ambassadors we get here have the profile that she has. What do you hope comes out of her time here?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well obviously the American-Australian relationship is a critically important one, and obviously as we work towards the AUKUS Agreement and progress that, having close attention with the Americans and being able to have that dialogue with them is critically important. Having an ambassador with the standing that Caroline Kennedy has I think is a real plus for the relationship, and I- no doubt we’ll ensure that we continue our strong relationship with the United States.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, back to the conference that you've got on today. Realistically, what do you hope it achieves?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:  Well firstly, from my perspective, I'm really keen to work with my state colleagues to get a timetable to finalise the plan to end violence against women and children. One in ten– one woman dies every ten days as a result of their current or former partner, and I think that is a terrible statistic and one that absolutely needs to be dealt with. So, I want to make sure that our state and territory colleagues and the Commonwealth are all pushing in the same direction and that's what the National Plan will do. It is a ten-year plan, so it's important we get it right, but it's also important we get on with it. So I'm looking forward to working with my state and territory colleagues to actually progress that plan, have a timetable to finalise it, and get on with the job of action in this important area.

PETER STEFANOVIC:  Somewhat related to that is problems in the Northern Territory. Three lives have been lost in three days in the NT due to family violence. Social services say there's no action plan in the Territory, and one of its ministers says the Territory needs 18 times its current funding. Will it get that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:  Well look, what we're working towards at the moment is the National Plan. The deaths that you described are absolutely horrific. There's no doubt that when family violence occurs it has ripples through whole communities. I feel very sad for those deaths, but of course for all those women and children that are affected by family violence. So we need to address this. I very much want to sit down with my state and territory colleagues to make sure we're all pushing in the same direction under the National Plan, and then work with them around what action we take. So I look forward to working with all of our state and territory colleagues, including the Northern Territory, to address this.

But one point I would make is we need to recognise that First Nations women and children are 35 times more likely to be affected by family violence and domestic violence. We need to make sure that we have a standalone action plan, which is what I intend to work towards, as well as a standalone national plan for First Nations women and children.

PETER STEFANOVIC:  Well on that, Intervention-era alcohol bans in remote parts of Northern Territory - in particular Aboriginal communities – those alcohol bans have been reversed. How concerned are you about what that might lead to?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:  Well, I've had discussions with my Northern Territory counterparts about their rolling back of alcohol bans because what they have been talking about is the importance of self-determination, that communities are making decisions for themselves. That's what this process is about, is local decision making and ensuring that local communities get to have a say – not just when it comes to alcohol, but a range of other things. That's certainly the same approach that the Government, the Commonwealth Government is now taking to Income Management. We want to see voluntary Income Management, that communities themselves are able to determine how they move forward when it comes to self-determination.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Yeah. Would you prefer that ban wasn't overturned?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:  Look, I support the Northern Territory when it comes to giving self-determination to local communities, to give communities the choice of how they implement alcohol restrictions if it's alcohol restrictions; how health services work. We need to work better with our First Nations-controlled organisations to ensure that they are able to support people on the ground in their own communities.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. Just a final one here on abortion. Of course, this has become a headline issue after Roe v Wade was overturned in the US. It is legal here, but the rules are somewhat different comparing states and territories, Minister. So how are you going to streamline it? And, it's still going to be hard for women to access it in regional areas, right? So what sort of changes would need to be made to make that easier?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, firstly I would say we're in a very different context than the US. What we've seen in the US is ongoing, more and more restrictions really, in some states around the US. In Australia, we've seen in many states and territories putting the issue of abortion out of the Criminal Code into the Healthcare Act, so this has been important measures. But look, states and territories may want to discuss that at the meeting today. We're very open for a discussion around how we can work together. But ultimately, when it comes to termination and abortion law, it does sit with the states and territories.


AMANDA RISHWORTH:  But the trend here in Australia has been the opposite to that of the US.

PETER STEFANOVIC:  Amanda Rishworth, we're out of time, but thank you for your time this morning as always. We'll talk to you soon.