Future Women Podcast with Sally Spicer


SALLY SPICER, HOST: My name is Sally Spicer and I'm here for a very special edition of The Download podcast. Hello to those of you who are joining us live and those of you who are listening back on your podcast feeds. Joining me today is a very special guest, the Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth. Minister Rishworth thank you so much for taking time out of a phenomenally busy couple of weeks to join Future Women.

MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES, AMANDA RISHWORTH: It's so good to be with you. I admire the work you guys do, so I'm really pleased to be able to talk to you.

SALLY SPICER: Thank you so much. Now I'm coming to all of you from the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I would like to start by paying my respects to elder's past and present and welcoming any First Nations people joining us here today. I believe that you are on the lands of the Kaurna people?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That’s right the Kaurna people from the Adelaide plains are the traditional custodians of the lands in which I'm coming to you from.

SALLY SPICER: Today, we are discussing the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children in the next generation. I want to ask you about this. In the next generation, that is a big commitment. Why did you decide to frame it that way?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think the framing of saying ‘firstly, it is unacceptable the levels of violence against women and children’ and that it does need to end. When we talk about road crashes, when we talk about other forms of death or injury in our community we don't say we will tolerate a little bit. We say we are going to work to end it. And that is what this statement is about. It's saying that we don't want our children's children and the next generations to be dealing with what we are dealing with today. So I acknowledge it’s ambitious. I acknowledge that this will take a lot of effort to achieve, but I don't think we should shirk our responsibility to actually tackle what is a wicked issue.

SALLY SPICER: What does ‘once in a generation’ mean in your mind? Is that 20-years? Is it 30-years? Or is it more of a symbolic commitment given this plan is ten-years?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What it's saying is that it's going to take more than just this ten-year plan. We're going to hopefully see significant progress made within this ten-year plan and I'm very hopeful that can be done. But there will need to be action after this ten-year plan to continue momentum and work. For me, I'm not putting a specific date on it. It is about making sure that children born today or our children's children are not tackling the same issues that we're tackling now. So it is about generational change. It is about making sure that we're putting in the investments now right across the board - not just at the response area, but in prevention, early intervention. Because if we aren't going to change it in one generation, we have to have the prevention and early intervention investment as well.

SALLY SPICER: Absolutely. For anyone who hasn't checked out the plan yet as the Minister says the says it focuses on four key areas prevention, early intervention, response and recovery and healing which we have seen an incredible amount of positive feedback from you in the group about since this was released. I want to talk about first plan - this is the second national plan. Now the first national plan succeeded in that fewer Australians hold the attitudes that underpin violence against women and children, but the actual rate of violence didn’t reduce. How does this plan build on that and how does it aim to succeed where the first didn't get those results initially?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That's a really good question because we've been really upfront in this plan to recognise that while some things have changed, we didn't actually significantly reduce the violence against women and children. Certainly when it comes to sexual violence we have not made the type of progress we would like to make. This plan though does draw on a lot more knowledge and a lot more research. And well the first plan was able to set up some of the important architecture, the national bodies of evaluation, Our Watch, which was an important piece of national architecture. This plan is really trying to take what we've learned and put it into some tangible actions. And one of those big areas that this plan really seeks to tackle perpetrator accountability. Actually making sure that those who choose to use violence against women and children are held accountable. Not just in the response area, but through prevention, early intervention. By encouraging community to call out sexist, language, sexist behaviour. So there really is embedding on putting the responsibility onto those who choose to use violence and holding them accountable throughout this plan. That’s been a really different change to this plan and something very much in response to victim-survivor voices. The other thing I would say that is focused as we talked about ‘there's work to be done to build early intervention and prevention’ but the response and recovery is a really new piece, which is about ensuring that the cycle doesn't continue to happen over and over again. It's making sure that women and children are properly supported to move through their trauma and be healthy and happy, but also that that piece are holding perpetrators to account within that to try and stop the violence cycle going over and over again.

SALLY SPICER: You said that it draws in a lot more knowledge and it certainly does. The opening statement, this grabbed me as soon as I opened it. I’ll read a little bit of it, it's from victim survivors. It says ‘it's time to transform our pain into action. There can be no more excuses that is too hard, we don't know what to do, it’s too complex’. How much of what is being done in this plan is directed by victim-survivors?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: A huge amount in this plan was directed by the voice of victims-survivors. Their views, their ideas have been embedded throughout this plan. And often those views are backed up by the evidence, the research so it's been critically important. But ongoing if we're going to succeed in this plan we have to continue to be listening to the voices of victims-survivors. And one of the key parts of the architecture of that will be the setting up of the Family, Domestic and Sexual violence Commissioner and Commission. That will be a really formalised pathway in ensuring that not just the voices of victim-survivors are in this plan but they are embedded responded to listen to on an ongoing basis because that will determine for the success of the plan.

SALLY SPICER: Now, I'm not asking you to give away anything because obviously a lot of this is still being decided but the Federal Budget is next Tuesday. I know you can't tell us too much but can you give us a sense of how much money you will be putting behind this? I'm not sure whether it will be included in the Budget or not. But how much money is going to be going into this. I know Haley Foster from Full Stop said that she estimated somewhere in the ballpark of one billion dollars a year would be what was required.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What we are investing in the area is commitments we took to the election. So firstly, a commitment of the $1.3 billion over the forward estimates, over the four years. But we also made commitments around boosting frontline workers, particularly in our Housing Australia Future Fund making sure that some of those houses that we build are available to women and children fleeing domestic violence. So there's actually investment, not just the investment in the Department of Social Services, but that investment and knowledge needs to go right across the board. It's actually more than that. It is absolutely investment but what I'm hearing from victims-survivors is the investment has to be smart investment. It's actually got to all be directed in the same direction, doing the things that work and that's what's so important about this plan. But it's also not just governance responsibility, it is wider community and wider society. And that's why one of the key pieces of legislation before the Parliament at the moment is ten-days of paid domestic and family violence leave. To allow people that are attending to whether it's court or counselling, that they don't have to take time off their work and lose pay or indeed choose between a job and actually attending to some of these issues. So there are some structural things in addition to programs and investment that need to be dealt with, right across community, right across society. And that's an example of one.

SALLY SPICER: We've got a question from a Future Women community member Alex, who's asking what will the role be of that Commissioner that you mentioned before?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: They will have a really important role in elevating victim survivor-voices. There will be a formal process that's a bit like some of the discrimination commissioners have in terms of elevating the voices of those victim-survivors. I think very much that Commission will have a role in evaluating how we're going with the National Plan from a victim-survivor perspective. There'll be other indicators and measurements and other indicators that we will look at as well. But that Commissioner will have an important role. And they have an opportunity to play quite a good coordination role. This isn't just Government trying to coordinate business, for example, and about how to work with community groups. They have a bit of an informed understanding knowledge base about how they could work with non-government organisations about how to best support victim-survivors and how best to intervene to break the cycle of perpetration as well.

SALLY SPICER: I was looking for the plan. And as you mentioned, one of the things that tangibly is committed to and is prioritised is housing. Housing obviously it's a state responsibility, but given the fact that whether or not you're in this situation, housing is such a large consideration for everyone in Australia at the moment. How do you plan to work with the states and territories to ensure that that housing is provided, given the way that even in the last few years we've seen the market grow?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It is a really important part of the plan that we acknowledge some of the structural issues. It's not just the individual responsibility, there are elements such as housing that actually can make a difference. So we'll be working with our state and territory colleagues. We do have our Future Housing Australia Fund, which is about building supply. There is also money that we need to make sure gets invested in safer places. But I think the important thing with housing, it's across the continuum. We don't just want the investment in crisis housing. We need to find stable, long, medium and long-term housing for those escaping domestic and family violence. But I think there's also another challenge and this is a long-term challenge is how do we support women where they don't have to leave their home, that perpetrators actually are the ones that leave? That is the big, challenging piece as well, that needs to sit alongside the housing for those fleeing family and domestic violence. Of course that has got to be a priority, but how do we actually support women to stay in their own homes? Because that is the best outcome and actually have the perpetrator leave that home environment.

SALLY SPICER: I'm interested in targets because I imagined it must be such a delicate balance setting targets that are ambitious, but achievable, but also not wrapping the whole process in so much red tape that I suppose it defeats the purpose. There are some targets in here, namely 50 per cent violence against First Nations women to be reduced by 2032 in the standalone plant for First Nations women. What kind of targets are you going to look to set is there anywhere where you think that setting targets is not going to be helpful? How do you walk that line?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It is a really difficult issue because Minister McGurk from Western Australia said it really well. We actually want reporting to go up and incidents to go down. So how do we how do we do that? Particularly we know in the area of sexual violence there is a significant amount of underreporting. So if we set just prevalence as its own as a benchmark. In some areas, what we might see is, is reporting going up and thinking we're doing a bad job and not doing the right thing. So it is a challenging area. What I want to do is work with the states and territories about what are some of the indicators that we're on the right path? Attitude change is one example of that, service delivery or how many people are able to access a service could be a good indicator as well. So there's a range of indicators that would be good to look at and measure. But then the question is how do we measure it? And in some areas we do have data, in other areas we don't. What the plan will be underpinned by is an outcomes framework, really starting to put in what we can measure. Firstly, what would be good indicators and then can we measure it and that will be a living document. So as better data comes on, better data sharing between the states and territories or different indicators become more apparent, then that document can continue to work but be underpinned or the National Plan underpins it so that we are still all looking at the same direction. But it is a challenge that 50 per cent reduction for First Nations women and children directly comes from Closing The Gap and is a really important part. We do have to recognise that prevalence on its own is not going to tell the full story and certainly in areas that we have seen significant underreporting.

SALLY SPICER: We have a question from our member Patty who is wondering ‘do you think that this plan will get wholesale approval from the states to ensure that it's going to be implemented across the country?’ Obviously, across the pandemic, we can see the highs and lows of Federal and state governments work together? What's the response been from them so far?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I’ve had a great response from the states and territories. The states and territories we met very early on and set the tone very clearly about how we wanted to work together. And there was in that group, a sense of commitment and a sense of urgency to get this done. So I worked very closely with the states and territories around working what we could do together how we could land the plan. There were some issues they brought up and we were able to find a way forward. What will be really important is not just their buying of this National Plan, but the two Action Plans that will be sitting underneath that. There'll be an Action Plan, I guess what you call for non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And then there'll be an action plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and working with the states and territories to get those Action Plans in place will be really important. And part of some of the hard work that is still to be done. But I've got a sense that they are very engaged and they do want to work in unison with each other and with the Commonwealth because that's the best way we're going to get results.

SALLY SPICER: No I'm often glad I've got a Federal Minister but especially at the moment when you are considering meeting a number of election commitments, you are thinking about investing in this sort of forward looking policy and you are also balancing having and servicing a trillion dollar debt. Moving forward is there any feeling of openness towards something like examining the payments so that people either on JobSeeker or we talked about there's violence leave happening? What about that level? The government payments for people. Is there any plan to review those?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Firstly, I would say the very specific payment of the escaping violence payment, there's been a significant demand on that and I am looking very closely about how we can meet that demand. Because that has been something that the former government probably did not provision for. So that is a payment particularly at the point when a person is choosing to leave. So I am of course then looking at what else we can invest in in terms of payments. It is difficult, as you pointed out, there is significant deficit and we've got to balance that up in a whole range of areas. But as some of the Prime Minister has said, and certainly for me, we will be we always take on the feedback we're not trying to like pretend that it's easy to live on those sorts of payments. So we are constantly reviewing budget cycle, to budget cycle, what can be done. But I would also say the work is being done within Services Australia. So rather than the level of payment also the administration of that payment to make sure that issues around domestic and family violence that perhaps the rules are you know there's some rigid rules in there, which do need context and experience does need to be taken into account. There is a lot of work going on within Services Australia to better understand for those working there, the experience of those using domestic and family violence and how they can use things like exceptional circumstances and crisis payments, those sorts of things, to meet individuals need. So there is a piece to do about the level of payment and that is an ongoing, ongoing piece of review. But in addition there is this issue around making sure that flows. But it is difficult. We have been upfront with people that this is not something in the context that we can promise in this Budget, but on an ongoing basis as the Prime Minister said we will review that budget to budget.

SALLY SPICER: I have you for another minute or so Minister. We've got a comment that says ‘congratulations for moving on this so quickly and setting it as a priority’, which I absolutely mirror and our whole community the sentiment there has certainly been that. And the Respect@Work bill. So congratulations to you. I want to look forward and this plan is positioned as a long-term blueprint but it runs for ten years. Looking forward ten-years to 2032 – if you're reflecting on this, what does success look like to you?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think success looks like that we are seeing men and boys showing a lot more respect to women and children. I think ensuring that we have gender equality and respectful relationships goes a long way to addressing this. And I hope that what we see is if people are in a situation where they are experiencing domestic, family violence, that they're met with a service system that understands them, that puts them in the centre. And really that how we're working to end that cycle. I would also really like to see that those that choose to use violence against women and children do take responsibility early on and that their behaviour does change into the future. So for me that's what success looks like. Taking step-by-step, but that's certainly a whole lot less trauma within our community because that does ripple not just for the individual but right across our communities and societies.

SALLY SPICER: We've got more comments saying congratulations on this plan. I certainly would agree if we continue with the blueprint that this plan lays out focusing on lived experience, intersectionality and a whole of community accountability I have no doubt that we will get to that point in 2032. Minister Rishworth thank you so much for making the time to talk to the Future Women community it’s so appreciated and good luck in the Budget next week.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Thank you so much and all the best. Thank you for having me.