Minister Rishworth interview on ABC Breakfast with Chris Mitchell

CHRIS MITCHELL: The government's Jobs Summit is scheduled for next week and will bring together people from various industries to address the country's economic challenges, such as migration, skills, and industrial relations. This week the Social Services Minister, Amanda Rishworth, hosted a disability employment roundtable in Canberra. The Australian of the Year, Dylan Alcott, attended the event, which brought together disability employment specialists, employers and people with lived experience to discuss how better to support people with disability to find and maintain employment. The unemployment rate for people living with a disability is more than double that of working age Australians. For more then, we're joined by the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth. Good morning to you, Amanda.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Good morning. Great to be with you.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Yeah, thanks for sparing us the time. Tell us more about this roundtable, then, that you had on Monday. Why did you hold it this week ahead of the government's Skills Summit next week?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We wanted to do was bring together people to have a discussion in the lead up to the Jobs and Skills Summit. One of the key areas that will be focused on the Jobs and Skills Summit is barriers to people entering the workforce. When we've got an unemployment rate of 3.4 per cent, but still many people who want to work here but can't get a job, it was really important to tease out the issues, particularly for those living with a disability that want to work but haven't been able to get work.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Okay, and what are the issues that they told you about that they're facing, these people who have disabilities and can't get a job?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: One of the key areas they talked about was feeling like they were being discriminated against or there was unconscious bias. So actually feeling like they couldn't even get their foot in the door. So that was one issue that was raised. The other was feeling like they had to battle a lot in their workplace to get some reasonable adjustments to allow them to do their job in the best possible way. Another area that was focused on is not feeling they were always getting the best individualised support from some employment services, so they wanted to make sure that there was individual support. One of the clear messages that came through is that people living with a disability are not a homogenous group. They have different needs, just as other members of the community, and really wanted employers to look past their, I guess, their disability, and look at their strengths and ability.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Right, okay. So there's a lot to get through here. How do you change the mindset of employers who may think wrongly that there are too many barriers when it comes to hiring somebody with a disability?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: There's a really big piece of work to do to break down some of those attitudes and understandings. But the other issue, I think that's really important that, you know, government and the disability sector and also, of course, business need to work together, is not just why it's worth doing, but how to. And I think one of the interesting things was, is there are services that are out there that help you put modifications in the workplace to allow businesses to employ someone with a disability. But not many businesses knew about this. So there's a really big piece of awareness building that needs to be done. But one of the other really strong messages that came through is experience matters in this. So mentoring, business mentoring programs, supporting people with a disability in the workforce – it’s not just good for the person with the disability, but it's good for the business because they start to see- whether it's HR, whether it's management, start to see that this is actually a benefit for their workplace.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Okay, what about those who don't have a job that are living with a disability? As I said, the unemployment rate, it's well known, this, for people living with a disability is more than double that of working age Australians. Recently you've said half of the country's disability employment services aren't up to scratch when it comes to connecting people with a disability to jobs. You want to shut some of them down. Why has it come to this?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We've been very focused on making sure that when it comes to the government employment services that are funded by government, we think people with a disability deserve the best possible service. So we have a range of providers right across the country. And what we've said is there's about six per cent of services that are just not up to scratch after regular assessment that they've shown to be providing poor quality service. We don't think people with a disability deserve that. Now I will make the point that there is a lot of good providers that are doing a great job with people with a disability, but it's not good enough for their reputation to be damaged by poor quality services. So we've said that we will discontinue those services, we don't want to fund those services, but we do want to make sure that those people in those services get a good service. And that's why we're committed to transitioning about 15,500 people living with a disability to better performing services. There's a clear message here from our government that we're not going to put up with poor service when it comes to people living with a disability.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Who are providing these poor services? Are they private companies making profits?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Some are for profit companies, some are not for profit. It's a range of different services, and actually, both the services and the individuals have been notified. But in full transparency, later this week we will publish the full list of those services, but they are a mix of services. I must say, my department was working with them to try and improve their quality of service, but they have not been able to improve the outcomes for people with a disability. And that's why we're taking this action.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Should companies that are seeking to make profits really be involved in providing these services? Do the two go together?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Obviously what I'm interested in is quality, so good quality services delivering for people with a disability. My focus is on that because I'm focused on outcomes. So for me, I see outcomes as really important, and that's what I'll be focusing on on the disability support services, because the clear message that came from our disability roundtable from those with a lived experience is that they want a disability employment service that isn't just about tick and flick and just seeing them as a number on a page, but want individualised service that really works with them to understand their strengths and where best they can find employment.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Okay, I just want to drill down into this a bit deeper because your election slogan – or one of them – was: No one held back, no one left behind. It was a kind of promise of kindness to those in need. I wonder whether the profit motive really can live cheek by jowl with that promise and whether what you really need to do is take all these services under the wing of Federal Government.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Our employment service system has always had a mix of for profit, for not for profit, whether that is in mainstream services or whether that is in the disability support services. I mean, I think there’s a key- a few key things that I want to see when it comes to outcomes. And that is firstly, I want to see people with a disability getting a job. I want them to have a good experience and through that employment service, and I want there to be access right across the country. So our, disability support services and our disability employment services, as with our mainstream job services, have always had a mix. But for my focus, as I said, is those outcomes for people living with a disability.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Okay, I want to move on because I've got you here and I want to ask you about the Solicitor-General's advice on the former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. We all know that he appointed himself to several ministries. But we've heard that there was nothing illegal about what happened, but there's talk of this inquiry. Do you think that Australians are interested in having an inquiry?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think a lot of Australians are really, really shocked by the revelations that have come out. And I still think for a lot of Australians they’re scratching their head to know while, yes, it was- the Solicitor-General has said it was legal, the Solicitor-General's advice was also very damning. I think that the Solicitor-General said that this really broke with a lot of conventions of our democracy, and really some concerns about how and why this happened. So I think there are a lot of questions to be answered. The information the Solicitor-General had was only the information in the public domain. So I think there is a lot of questions about how these events took place, why they took place and how they interacted. Is their information we don't know yet that needs to be looked at, and how have some of these conventions being broken? How do we restore faith in our democracy? So I think there is a lot of questions to be answered still, and that's what an inquiry will do.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Okay, just one other thing as well. Tanya Plibersek gave the go ahead for the Burrup mine to go ahead on land where there is significant rock art. Are you happy about that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I know that Minister Plibersek will have looked at all the elements very carefully of any project going ahead. That's the duty of the Minister and duty of the government, and I absolutely have faith in Minister Plibersek’s decision making.

CHRIS MITCHELL: You have faith in it, but is it the right decision? She says she's consulted with traditional landowners there, but they tell me that she hasn't talked to all of them. This is about making money, isn't it? Billions are going to be made.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I absolutely have confidence in Minister Plibersek. I have no doubt that the legislation and the role that she plays, she would uphold that to the highest standard.

CHRIS MITCHELL: You're confident that the rock art will be protected?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I'm confident that Minister Plibersek has done everything within her responsibilities to discharge those responsibilities in her decision making.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Many people are disappointed with her backing this urea project in the Pilbara.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: There's no secret that different projects, mining projects, other projects can always have people with different perspectives, different points of view. That is the nature of these things. But ultimately a minister has to work through these issues and make the decision with the best possible evidence in front of them, and I have no doubt that that is exactly what Tanya has done.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Thank you very much for your time, Amanda, and much appreciated.


CHRIS MITCHELL: That is Amanda Rishworth, Minister for Social Services.