Minister Shorten doorstop interview in Sydney


SUBJECTS: Community Partnership Pilot, Payday lending, raising JobSeeker rate and flood disaster.

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Good morning, everybody. It's fantastic to be here with my great friend, the Reverend Bill Crews at the Reverend Bill Crews Foundation and our great Services Australia representative, Giuseppe. 

We're here today to draw attention to the Albanese Government's initiative to make sure that people who are the most vulnerable, who've fallen off the safety net of Australian life, get brought back into it. What the Albanese Government is doing is embedding, really trained, senior social workers who have worked for the government but actually embedding them in frontline organisations who help people on the streets like the Reverend Bill. We believe that with 1 in 200 Australians being homeless each night, that there are some people who are just missing out on the very basics. 

Australia has a generous welfare safety net, but that means nothing if you're nowhere near the safety net, if you can't find it. So what we've been doing is just as we're trying to improve our digital systems for the millions of Australians who use Services Australia, Centrelink online, there's a proportion of our people in Australia our fellow citizens who can't even access a computer or a Centrelink, but for some of these people, going to a government office is the last thing in the world they're up for doing.

So under the Albanese Government we're going to reach out and make sure that every Australian, no matter their circumstances, can access the safety net. In the last few weeks since we started this initiative here and with Father Bob in Melbourne and with the Salvos at their project 614 and the Vinnies in Darwin, we are literally finding hundreds of Australians who have been effectively social outcasts, unable to get the basics and through the work of fantastic staff like Giuseppe embedded with the Amazing Reverend Bill. 

What we're able to do is just give people a fighting chance to get on their two feet. The other thing, of course, is this saves tremendous time for the remarkable case workers who work in frontline organisations. The caseworkers have enough work to do without having to go to the local Officeworks to fax a form because there's no computer access. So what we're doing here is for a very simple allocation of skilled government staff for getting them out from their offices, out with the people, hopefully out on the buses, out at night time, talking to people in the parks. We are making sure that every Australian, regardless of their circumstance, gets a fair go. I might invite the Reverend Bill to say a few words too.

REVEREND BILL CREWS: I just want to say it. It's just fantastic. And not only is it time saving, it's money saving for the government as well, because in 5 minutes Giuseppe with his computer can do what would take hours in an office or at a Centrelink office or relating to people or or getting translators, or that it's just done in 5 minutes. So that so many more people get help. We get people coming here who don't trust authority, don't trust anybody, like they flat out trusting us. But they come and they get a meal here and they get clothing and all of that. And then they find Giuseppe and they find he's just like us. He's just Giuseppe with his computer. And they sit down and boom, in 5 minutes, hours of work is done. And it's just so exciting to be part of this project, and I cannot see why it cannot be in organisations like ours all around Australia.

SHORTEN: Great. Do you want to say anything Giuseppe?

GIUSEPPE, SOCIAL WORKER: Thank you. It's a privilege to be part of this project. And it's very it's very useful to be here in this organisation and being able to help the most vulnerable and reach out to organisations like this and thanks to the organisation and to Father Bill for being so welcoming and all the staff they've been fundamental in the success so far.

REVEREND BILL: We're not just welcoming, we need you.

SHORTEN: Thanks, Giuseppe. Are there any questions? Yes.

JOURNALIST: Your government is hoping the new laws to crack down on the payday lending sector will be in place by the end of the year. Now, the Australian Council of Social Services argue people can be better protected if welfare support is increased. Is there merit in that in that suggestion?

SHORTEN: I certainly would expect the welfare lobby to argue for greater welfare. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be doing something about payday lenders. Some financial services of lenders of last resort perform useful functions, but there's others who charge excessive interest rates who I think have predatory practices. And when vulnerable people are desperate because they need to replace the tyres on the car and the washing machine breaks down, all of a sudden it doesn't take much to push an Australian who perhaps is doing it tough on the margins, right over the edge. But that can never excuse predatory lending practices by payday lenders. So I think it's all of the above. 

I do say that we've seen the tensions increase significantly in their most recent indexation. In fact, that's what we're trying to do here too. It's not just about increasing welfare, it's not just about payday lenders. There is a hidden minority in Australia who through no fault of their own life, hasn't gone the way they thought. And they're right on the margins. 

But for them, it's not a question of how much the welfare is, is they're not even getting it. And what we want to do is join people back up to the system, extend a helping hand to those who are down on their luck. I mean, there's an old saying that some people say if you're doing it hard, you should lift yourself up by your own bootstraps. But if you don't own a pair of boots, then that's impossible. And what we want to do is get people back into the system, not be forgotten.

JOURNALIST: So that same council, they released a report today which shows one in eight people were living below the poverty line before COVID hit. And it also calls for an increase to the Jobseeker rate. Why won't the government lift support?

SHORTEN: We've got no plans to lift it in this budget. I don't think the topics closed after the first budget. We're doing a series of measures to help people doing it tough. This is one of them.

JOURNALIST: So what more needs to be done to lift people out of poverty if the government won't increase welfare support?

SHORTEN: That's a pretty long discussion. We've got to make sure that people have got access to affordable health care, housing, and we're reducing the price of medicines and providing affordable house care. We've said that we want to build more social housing. Of course, access to employment assists people, but also making sure that people can even access the system at all just because our welfare system shouldn't be something which only people with a computer get to use.

JOURNALIST: So in saying that, then what advice can you offer to people who are on welfare support struggling to get by?

SHORTEN: Well, I'm not about to start giving people advice about their lives. What I am prepared to do is try and do whatever we can to help them. The best thing I can do is empower people so they take control of their own lives. They don't need paternalistic advice from a minister.

JOURNALIST: And just on the flooding, residents in Victoria, as well as in parts of Maribyrnong. Maribyrnong, have been asked to evacuate. What is your message to them at this time?

SHORTEN: Oh, it's really upsetting for residents in my local community. I drove around the areas which were to be inundated last night and I'm going back to see what we can do to help them now that perhaps 500 or 600 people have been evacuated. It's expected maybe that 60 plus houses would have water come across the floorboards. These are areas where I've lived for the last 30 years. And, you know, there's the Saturday part run with the parks with. It's the last big flood were 1974. So for a lot of people, this will be a new and devastating scary.

JOURNALIST: Channel Seven just got here. Can you just go through that flood stuff again?

SHORTEN: All around Victoria and Tasmania, there is significant flooding. These are major flooding events. Sadly, records are being broken, which haven't been seen since the 70’s in the case of my home area of Maribyrnong River. The latest information I have from the Emergency Coordination Centre in Victoria is that it's expected that maybe 60 plus houses will go under water. The Maribyrnong River hasn't flooded like this since 1974 and it may pass that record. I'm informed, but this is only from one source that the peak hasn't happened yet, but it will be around midday today. 

I drove around the areas which were to be flooded last night and it's quite shocking that where I was driving last night, is now all under water and floods happen throughout Australia. So this is not a new story for people in parts of New South Wales and Queensland, but certainly in the case of the Maribyrnong River, which flows right past Flemington Racecourse and some iconic Melbourne features. 

For people in the middle of the city to be flooded, it's it's devastating for them. I know that there'll be plenty of resources to support them, but people in my local community are very resilient. But I also would just caution residents and sightseers not to get too close to that water. It's moving quite quickly. If there's water across the road, don't assume you know what's underneath it. So these are dangerous and hazardous conditions. They've even stopped running the 82 and 57 tram to make sure that our safety is paramount.


SHORTEN: Thanks everyone.