Minister Rishworth interviewed on The Daily Aus Podcast


Topics: Paid parental leave, family and domestic violence, gender equity, JobSeeker, Stage 3 tax cuts, online wagering, youth

ZARA SEIDLER, HOST: Today I'm speaking to Amanda Rishworth, who is the Minister for Social Services, about what her Government is doing about paid parental leave, violence against women, JobSeeker and gambling. I might just start at the top with parental leave. Now, one of the big ideas to come out of your Government's job summit was to expand paid parental leave. Will the Government actually implement this idea?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES:  Paid parental leave is really important in helping people to have time off work and have a baby. One of the things I'm looking at, at the moment, is how we get that to be really flexible, and importantly, promote shared care, so both partners can take some time off to care for the baby. I would say it's really important the Government scheme does complement employer schemes and I think what we're seeing now is more and more employers schemes extend their amount of time and support shared care as well. 

ZARA SEIDLER: And what are some of those initiatives to promote flexibility? What do those actually look like? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: At the moment the current paid parental leave scheme, makes you take the first 12 weeks off as a block. It's an 18 week entitlement, but it makes you take 12 weeks off in a block. Does that meet families requirements, when they might be using employer leave as well? How do we get that to be as flexible as possible so you can match up your employer leave with the government leave?  At the moment there's two payments; there's dad and partner pay, and then there is parental leave. Do we actually look at having that as one payment and encouraging people to share it?

ZARA SEIDLER: So do you support the Coalition's proposal then, in their last form of government, to actually amalgamate that to promote that flexibility? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: They definitely supported flexibility. But what they didn't do, which was a bit of a criticism, was encourage shared care. So a lot of women's organisations and those that have been promoting shared care, were concerned that while it became one payment, there wasn't any encouragement to share the caring. For example, there was a lot of concern around predominantly the mother taking 20 weeks off and not encouraging that involvement. We're looking at that really closely. And we're looking at how that might interact with leaves that your employer might give you, because I think if we are going to start getting true gender equality, then we do need to look at that real shared care.

ZARA SEIDLER: I just want to pick up on a point you said before around the Budget restraints that might limit expanding paid parental leave. Isn't the argument that it would essentially pay for itself with women then re-entering the workforce? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Unfortunately, the budgetary rules involve spending going in and spending going out. It doesn't always take into consideration the broader economic benefit. And of course, that's a challenge. But we do have to worry about the debt that the previous government left us. It's a trillion dollars. Someone's got to pay it back. And the question is, how many generations want to be paying that debt back? I don't want to get though into good debt, bad debt. The level of debt is important, but it's also investment as you rightly put and there are a lot of things that look at how we expand economic growth inclusively. Things like training, things like childcare and supporting people with childcare investment. There’s a lot of different tools that deliver economic growth and we do have to prioritise them though in the budget. 

ZARA SEIDLER: You mentioned gender equality before and I want to move to another part of your portfolio and talk about women's safety. One woman dies in Australia every 10 days at the hands of their current or former partner. What's one thing this Government wants to do that hasn't been done before to end violence against women? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, one of the first things we've already done is bring in domestic violence leave in employment. So that means that doesn't matter if you're a casual, full time or part time - every year you will get up to 10 days of paid leave to go and deal with situations around violence. It is about gender equality, and promoting that in all its forms to ensure that there's respect and respectful relationships, and that women and men are treated equally. That is what breeds, long term, this reduction in violence against women and children.  

ZARA SEIDLER: I think it can often feel like this insurmountable task to try fix gender inequity in this country. How will you and your Government go about measuring success in this area? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH:  Ultimately, there are a number of indicators that we need to look at and measure. I think we need to look at successive programs and intervention programs that can be hard to measure. We do need to look and evaluate those programs, but I do also think we need to hear the voice of victim survivors. I think it's not just about measuring. It's about the experience of victim survivors. We’re in the process of establishing a Family, Domestic, and Sexual Violence Commissioner. That is about amplifying the voices of victim survivors, because sometimes when we measure what we're doing, we're not getting to the crux of how we can make things better. The voice of victim survivors is so critical in this. In shifting the dial, and in terms of gender equity, we do need to have indicators. We do need to be looking at how we deal with this. It is not without its problems, but we do need to shift the dial and, and Katie Gallagher, my colleague, has put together a gender equity strategy that will outline some of those measures.

ZARA SEIDLER: Moving on now to another issue that falls into your portfolio which is JobSeeker. The rate of JobSeeker is below the poverty line and you've spoken before about how ideally you'd like it to be higher but, that much the same as paid parental leave, the Budget right now can't afford it. How would you respond to someone on that payment who says that they simply can't afford to wait given especially the cost of living crisis we're facing currently?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:  It is difficult. I'm not going to say it's easy to live on JobSeeker. The JobSeeker payment is adjusted with the CPI and that just happened on the 20th of September. I understand that when it comes to lifting the rate for JobSeeker, speaking in the context of the budget, we've been very clear that we’ll have to look at our priorities budget by budget. I think JobSeeker is a challenge. Part of the job is also about removing those barriers so people can enter into employment. 

ZARA SEIDLER: Your Government can also play a role. The Government is supporting tax cuts that we know will mostly benefit high-income earners. Does that reflect the priorities of this government? That those are the people that will be benefiting from certain government policies over perhaps a rise in JobSeeker? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH:  In terms of the stage three tax cuts, those tax cuts are not due to even come into effect until July 2024. So what I'm dealing with is how can we support people? How can we remove those barriers right now? It is really important that we are looking at ways we can support people into work. One of the barriers particularly has been people living with a disability and some of the barriers they face. We've looked at what we can invest in, how we can partner with employers to remove some of those barriers.

ZARA SEIDLER: A bit of a change of pace here to gambling reform and this is interesting because on the podcast this week we were talking about Tasmania, and their kind of efforts around harm minimisation. And this is just fascinating for a number of reasons. But I'm really curious what the Federal Government can actually do in this space. What is within your power to change? Is it leading from the top? What is it? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It is a really complex web of laws and state and territory and Commonwealth relations. But, we do have the leadership particularly on online wagering. There's a range of online wagering and it's fast becoming an increasing source of gambling and an increasing source of loss for people. States and territories and the Commonwealth had previously signed up to what was called the consumer framework. That was 10 actions that states and territories and the Federal Government could commit to about reducing harm, particularly for that online wagering and so I'm very much committed to finalising that. Since I've been the Minister, we've looked at implementing an activity statement so people start to understand how much they're losing. There's a lot of loss that sometimes you don't realise. So, we're also looking at effective harm minimisation strategies. People would probably argue that the tagline “gambling responsibly” may not be doing its job and so what does do its job?

ZARA SEIDLER: So on this podcast, we speak to lots and lots of young people and I guess my final question is, what would you say your Government is doing, and specifically in your portfolio you're doing, to make the lives of young people in this country better? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look as a takeaway I think for young people they're often told that they are going to be leaders in the future or their value is in the future. I do not see it like this. Whether it's children or young people, I think their experience and their voice is really important as we develop policy. And as we put together solutions, that they have a voice and that they're contributing now.  When we look at setting up consultation, we look to really involve young people in that, but I know Minister Anne Aly is doing a significant piece about whole of government. So not just in my portfolio, but how young people engage with whole of government. That's really important. And I would like to emphasise, that for me in my portfolio, young people aren't invisible. We want to embed the experience of young carers.  Whether it is in our National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children - young people and children have a say in their own right. 

ZARA SEIDLER: Thanks so much for joining us on The Daily Aus.