Minister Rishworth interview on RN Drive


ANDY PARK: The Government has announced an increase to the permanent migration cap, offering an extra 35,000 places this financial year. Business and unions have agreed to work with the Government on changes to industrial relations laws, which could see a change in people's wages. But of course, the big announcement today was the one off increase in how much pensioners will be allowed to work before it affects their fortnightly payments. This will encourage the estimated 125,000 older Australians wanting work.

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth, welcome to RN Drive.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Great to be with you.

ANDY PARK: You've announced that those on aged pensions will be allowed to work more hours without losing their Centrelink payments. Will this make a big difference? It's only about $75 a week. How much of a difference would it really make?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What this allows firstly is for aged pensioners… [call drops out]

ANDY PARK: Looks like we might have lost Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth there. We might just play a promo and try and get her back on the line. Just, a second.

[Unrelated – advertisement]

ANDY PARK: I believe we've got the Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth back on the line. Apologies for that, Minister. I was just asking you - it is only about $75 a week in terms of these changes to pensioners and how much they can work. How much of a difference can that really make?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This is obviously in addition to what they already can earn. And so this is an extra amount. But how it's structured is it does provide for flexibility for pensioners to earn more over a whole period up until the financial year until they lose any of their pensions. So we think this is an important step to see if we can get more pensioners actually participating in the workforce, especially when we've got such a skills crisis.

ANDY PARK: Ian Yates from the Council of Ageing has said that there's still research that needs to be done on exactly what the trigger point is to getting people who've retired back into work. So how have you arrived at this figure of the $4000?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We think this is an important concrete, immediate step we can take. We are looking at a range of different information. We believe this is an important first step. But obviously, over time, what we want to do is see if this does help and if this does work. And obviously we'll be evaluating this at the end of the next financial year.

ANDY PARK: Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott called on a similar benefit for disabled people He says that, you know, they should be able to work without losing their benefits. Why not extend that benefit to this group of potential workers as well?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: People with a disability or on the DSP can work up to 15 hours a week on the DSP, but what we actually also explored in the Jobs and Skills Summit is what some of the other barriers people living with a disability actually face about gaining employment. And there were a range of barriers that can be fixed at workplaces and work that government can do with businesses to take down those barriers, to actually ensure that workplaces welcome people with a disability. What we heard really very strongly at the summit is that for many people they don't feel included, they don't feel welcomed and they feel excluded from the workplace or the workforce if they have a disability.

ANDY PARK: [Interrupts] So why not include them in this benefit, as Dylan Alcott is asking for?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Because what we were talking about is actual measures that work for people with a disability. And that's why we need business on board to open their doors and opportunities for people with a disability. The responsibility shouldn't just fall on people with a disability, it should fall on businesses. And that's why I was really pleased that we were able to announce coming out of this summit was indeed a MOU with the Business Council of Australia looking at ways we can make sure we can create real jobs for people living with a disability.

ANDY PARK: I'll come back to that in just a second. If you've tuned in, I'm speaking to Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth here on RN Drive. We're talking about today's conclusion of the jobs summit. Of course, on the sidelines of this summit, Minister, there were calls for a hefty rise in JobSeeker payments. Why is your Government still refusing to lift the rate of JobSeeker?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: One of the big things that we inherited was $1 trillion of debt. So as we go through each budget cycle, we have to work out what we can afford to invest in and what are the things that we need to fund. There's a range of different competing interests. And as a Government, we have to go through that each budget cycle. JobSeeker is one of the many demands to make of things that people want to invest in. And this is not something we could commit to at the Jobs Summit.

ANDY PARK: You've announced this funding for up to, I think, $3.3 million to be provided to partner with the Business Council of Australia for this Disability Employment Initiative pilot. We have seen a lot of privatisation, if you like, of job seeking services under the last government. Is your Government just continuing that same tradition?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: No, this is not job employment services. This partnership is about delivering real jobs in businesses for people with a disability. That's a very, very different thing. This is about ensuring that people with a disability get the opportunity to work in businesses all around Australia and that those businesses are inclusive and actually ones that employers will actually work to deliver. So we know that the disability unemployment rate is double that of the national average. We need to shift that dial. And actually having jobs and support to make sure people can enter those jobs is critically important.

ANDY PARK: Sure, but the unemployed still need to use outsourced job agencies to find work. There's been a lot of criticism of these companies and not for profits. Will you have a look at those schemes?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I've already taken action on poor disability service providers. In fact, I actually de-funded about 6 per cent of them just a couple of weeks ago that were not delivering for people with a disability. And I make no apologies for saying that people living with a disability deserve the best possible service. So I've already taken action as Minister. But what this MOU with the Business Council of Australia is, is something quite different. This is about working to get real jobs, ongoing jobs for people in businesses.

ANDY PARK: Also today, amongst the things announced after the Jobs Summit, you've announced funding for virtual work experience courses. I must admit when I first read this, I would have thought that today's school leavers would have had enough of virtual experiences. How does this work?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This is not something the Government is funding. This is something that the Tech Council has decided to fund in partnership with the support of Government - but they are funding it. And what this is about is actually ensuring that there is experience in that. We know technology and tech jobs are a growing area and a lot of people haven't had or been able to get the experience that leads to employment. What this type of work experience, and it's a real innovation will actually lead to employment in the tech sector. So that was a commitment made by the tech sector. But Government wants to do its bit as well and so we committed to 1000 trainee places or traineeships in the digital area, within the public service for people that have been disadvantaged and cut out normally from these jobs. People from First Nations background, women, and people with disabilities. These are two examples of initiatives delivered by private industry, but also complemented by work done in the public service, and quite frankly, where the Government's able to take a lead and actually take some responsibility.

ANDY PARK: Minister, we're out of time. Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth, thanks for your time tonight.