Minister Rishworth interview on Radio National Breakfast with Patricia Karvelas



PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Unemployment is the lowest it's been since the 1970s. So in theory it's never been easier to get a job right? Unless you're a person living with a disability. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than twice the national figure. And while a quarter of those want to work 93 per cent have trouble getting a job. Barriers to employment will be a key focus of the Jobs and Skills Summit, which gets underway in Canberra later this week. The Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth is leading those discussions. She joins us, Minister welcome.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is about 10 per cent - not all those people want to work but many do. What do you want to get that number down to?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I want to see that number drive down to the rate across the board… 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] You want to close the gap?  

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I absolutely do want to close the gap. I think that people with a disability deserve the same opportunities as those living without a disability and so I've recently last week had a roundtable to flesh out some of these issues and it's really, really clear that there are some attitudinal barriers that we definitely need to break down.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay on this roundtable meeting, it was with business. Tech companies in particular say they're eager to hire people with disabilities but they don't know where to start. What are they telling you about the barriers and how can perhaps Government step in to sort of deal with that dilemma that they're talking about?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: One of the common thoughts that businesses have is that they'll have to make really expensive modifications in the workplace. I guess one of the challenges is to get the information out there that firstly, about 88 per cent of people living with a disability of working age don't need any modifications in the workplace whatsoever. So I think that firstly is a really important message. Secondly, that there are supports out there that that Government provide to help with that, but the message coming through really was businesses want to know how and there's no better time to do that, with unemployment so low and businesses crying out for workers. It's now about us all working together to think a bit outside the box. One of the strong messages that came through is that giving opportunities for people with a disability into the workplace is not just good for the person with a disability but it's good for business because it breaks down some of those stereotypes and some of those imagined barriers that there actually are.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Last week, just over half of the national disability employment service providers had their services reduced because they failed to meet benchmarks. Eight have been shut down. So what's going wrong?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The truth of it is that those services were not delivering job outcomes to people with a disability and I make no apologies whatsoever for saying that people with a disability deserve the best possible services and that includes employment services. So we need to make sure that we're vigilant and if employment services for those living with a disability are just not delivering then we're not going to continue funding them. I mean, we need to be really clear that these services had been worked with to try and drive improvement and they hadn't seen improvement. I need to be really clear, it's not all Disability Employment Services. There are some great services out there. But what I'm not going to stand for is poor service and poor commitment to people living with disability employment.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Employment rates for people with disabilities haven't shifted much since 2003. Doesn't that demonstrate that the entire system, not just some bad eggs, but the entire system actually isn't working and are you prepared to overhaul it?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We do need to look at this system very carefully. The employment systems that Government provide what business are willing to do in terms of training and support for people living with a disability. And of course, I know that Minister Shorten has also been talking a lot about how we embed employment as a goal within NDIS plans. That's another really important component. So I think we need to look across the board completely. I think the employment services for example, the DES system is what we're talking about, has a very low number of people participating with NDIS plans. So there's a problem there immediately. You've got people needing support on the NDIS but they're not interacting with the Disability Employment Services. So yes, do we need things need to be done? Absolutely. And I'm really looking forward to the conversation during the Jobs and Skills Summit to flesh these issues out to back in some of the things discussed at my roundtable last week.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: If you're just tuning in, you're listening to ABC RN Breakfast, my guest is the Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth. Minister, you're also looking at how family violence is a barrier to employment for people experiencing it and for survivors later in life. What's the role for bosses here for employers here? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think for a long time we've assumed family and domestic violence is something that just affects the home life and something that happens outside of the workplace. But we know that it has a huge interface with work and it has a big impact if someone is being affected by family and domestic violence, it doesn't just affect their productivity, but of course it affects the productivity of those around them. So employers I think do have an increasingly important role. One of the steps Government has taken of course is by the introduction of that 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave. But I think employers themselves also can play a really significant role. Because of course, the connection with work the payment of wages, is really important in keeping stability in a woman's life as they might be leaving at domestic violence. But I think businesses even have a broader role. Whether it is not just work, but businesses that provide loans that provide other services and products to women escaping domestic violence, there's a role for them as well in this space.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Former Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, has revealed she's gone to the police over threatening messages she's getting online from the man who was convicted of abusing her as a child. She's gone to police but says our reactive justice system is too slow and nothing's changed. This is a really disturbing story. Are you concerned?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I don't want to talk on the specifics of that case. Obviously - a police matter, but more broadly there is a challenge in the domestic and family violence base about evolving technologies and different ways that abusive partners can exert coercive control, for example. Not just in the online space, but in products and tracking products. So there is a challenge to make sure that our systems, our prevention, our early intervention, does actually keep up with technology. This is actually something I recently had a discussion with eSafety Commissioner about and I know that Minister Rowland is looking at these areas as well. But it is a challenge to keep up with technology as it evolves and we do need to be very vigilant that new technologies don't actually exacerbate the problem and that we're working through that.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, of course she has gone to police and then one hopes that the police will be looking at this very, very closely as a matter of urgency. But this is a former Australian of the Year saying that she's being harassed by the man who went to prison for abusing her. This is unacceptable in our country isn’t it?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I find the levels of harassment, stalking abuse against women and children really disturbing in this country and that is why I'm absolutely focused on getting the National Plan in place so that we can walk work towards actually ending this. But look, I am going to leave it as a police matter because I don't want to interfere. I am sure that the police will take it very seriously. But it is a challenge that we've got to deal with and I find the rates of whether it's psychological control, coercive control, whether it is physical violence, we have a problem in this country that does need to be dealt with.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just on the JobSeeker rate, you are the Minister for Social Services ACOSS has called for a big increase, given the constant message from welfare groups like a course that people need to be able to afford the basics and costs associated with looking for a job. Is that something that you are looking at?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We've been really clear about the rate of JobSeeker. We've been really clear that at the moment, in the October budget, this is not something that we're going to proceed with. Of course, as we've said, we'll assess it budget by budget. And if there is room in the budget, of course, that that's how we have to deal with a whole lot of competing measures. So that's the challenge of being given out or inheriting a trillion dollars worth of debt. But I will continue to work with ACOSS and other organisations to really about what those barriers are and what we can do to shift the dial.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, you say it's expensive and look at it budget by budget. There's a very obvious place you could walk and that's the stage three tax cuts are costing billions of dollars. Liberal MP Russell Broadbent is the latest to call for the stage three tax cuts to be dumped. He says times have changed. Do you agree? Times have changed?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well look let's be clear. We're talking about tax cuts that are not true to actually come in for two years.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] That actually makes the point even more acute Minister - that means that you can actually make changes because they haven't started… 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: They've been legislated and we've said we intend to proceed with those. But what I'm dealing with and what the government dealing is, is the challenges that present us right now. And when it comes to tax, our multinational tax regime is something we're focused on right now. Looking at barriers around employment are things we're looking at right now. Looking at how we can boost women's workforce participation are things that we're looking at right now. So right now, right now...

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] I don't want to be disrespectful minister, but within two years, this is going to start you have some really big issues in your own portfolio. Essentially your portfolio is dealing with some of the poorest people in our country. Don't they deserve assistance now, not the richest people in Australia?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Now is not when the tax cuts come in… 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] ... in two years. Do you think that's a discussion we should be having.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We've said we will we are committed to those and we will continue with those and that's what our Government will do. But right now, I'm really focused on the issues that are affecting my portfolio and looking at ways forward and I'm really looking forward to the discussion at the Jobs Summit about how we can progress some of those ideas. And then of course, the white paper that we'll be exploring a lot of these barriers in a longer term fashion.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, thanks for joining us.