National Press Club of Australia Q&A


Topics: Family, domestic and sexual violence, First Nations violence, National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032, NDIS, new gambling taglines, Paid Parental Leave.

JANE NORMAN, HOST: I wanted to ask you for a bit more detail about this stand-alone plan being developed for First Nations communities. I guess, given what we've seen in the past fortnight, the tragic death of Cassius Trevor, the National Day of mourning, we've had the Four Corners investigation into the disappearance and murder of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Is there a sense of urgency within the Government to get this plan, I suppose formed and released? And what is the timeframe for the Government to release this important piece of work?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Thank you for that question, Jane. It is absolutely the case, as I mentioned in those statistics, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children are facing much higher rates of domestic, family and sexual violence. So it is with a sense of urgency that we are working with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee to actually deliver in partnership tangible actions that we can take. In saying that though, we're not just waiting for that action plan. I've already visited Alice Springs where I've talked with local community groups about what investment needs to be made and we have announced money for family and domestic violence services in that community. In addition, in the budget. I'm really pleased to announce today, that in the most recent budget we have committed to establishing a Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And that is really important. It will be co-designed though with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The message I get clearly is that action does need to be taken, but it actually needs to be taken in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. So that is what I'm critically committed to doing and the Government is committed to doing. So I think this is a sense of urgency we have. We are not just waiting for the action plan. We've already announced some measures, but we do need to do this in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people because the message from them is some of the unique experiences they have, which does go to systemic discrimination, it does go to racism that we need to address those issues as well.

JANE NORMAN: Would it be something that you'd be hoping might be ready in time for the May budget next year, considering these plans do obviously come with funding attached? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We will be working very hard. We will be getting agreement between states and territories. And one of the good aspects of this plan is working with states and territories to make sure our investment is coordinated. But I can tell you we are working with a sense of urgency to get this work done. And we all know it needs to be done. But I did want to reiterate, while this work needs to be led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is not just an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander problem. We all need to work together and I look forward to working with my state and territory colleagues on that. 

JANE NORMAN: And our first question today is Julie Hare from the Australian Financial Review. 

JULIE HARE, AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW: Thank you so much for your speech. Domestic violence is obviously a huge issue, but I'd like to take you to the NDIS. The NDIS has a target to lift employment among participants to 30 per cent by June next year. What is the figure now and do you concede that the target will be missed?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, 37 per cent of participants have a work goal in their plan. There's two elements to your question. There's one about getting a work goal in the plan of the NDIS and then there is a goal about ensuring people with a disability feel like employment is something that they can aspire to. And right now at the same time we're having this speech in Canberra, we've got a forum on the Australia’s Disability Strategy where people with disability are talking about some of the solutions that need to be put in place to ensure that employment and the option of employment if people with a disability choose to do that, is achieved. There are actions we are taking within the NDIS to look at how we support people to achieve that goal. But I don't want to forget the 4.4 million Australians living with disability. Many of whom are not on the NDIS. Many of those people tell me that they have also faced discrimination and barriers to gaining employment. And that's why I've already, as Minister, announced a number of programs to help break some of those attitudinal issues, because 88 per cent of people of working age with disability don't need any workforce modifications to actually do a job. It is attitudinal, and community attitudes that are the barrier. So we've announced money to boost employer confidence, we've announced money to partner with the BCA about an employment pilot initiative. We've also announced a visitor economy pilot in which we are looking to work with small and medium sized businesses to have employment navigators to help connect people with disability up with work. So these are programs that will be available, whether or not you are on the NDIS, to get a connection to the workforce. Because my message to employers is ‘there's never been a better time to look at employing someone with disability when there's so many workforce shortages’. So I'll be working with Minister Shorten who is responsible for the NDIS in achieving better outcomes for people living with disability. But we are not sitting on our hands when it comes to this issue.

SARAH ISON, THE AUSTRALIAN: Thanks for your speech.  Just to clarify on the national research plan for perpetrators, you say that's something that we need. But to be clear, is that something the Government's going to do? Can we expect any announcements in the May budget? And secondly, if I may, sorry, just on Paid Parental Leave. Obviously, it's been really, welcomed the expansion. But there are also calls for it to be lifted to a replacement wage and further expanded after we get to 2026. And when we get to 2026 do you think there could be room to further expand PPL?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Excellent. I'll deal with your last question first. Paid Parental Leave has been a significant reform that we have introduced. And this is a really important reform for two reasons. One, it not only extends the weeks that people will be able to access Paid Parental Leave, but it removes the gender stereotypes that have existed in our system for so long. So what we are looking at promoting is shared care. We're looking at when it comes to the income testing to be based on an individual income test, whoever's taking the leave. Previously it had been on the birth parent and of course a family income test as well. Whichever is better, it is also increasing flexibility. So instead of having to take it over a 12 month period, it will be available over a two year period and be taken in smaller blocks. So one of the things that we've been very conscious of with the paid parental leave has been making sure that it can work with employer paid leave as well. One of the challenges with the Dad and Partner Pay, as one example, was that it couldn't be taken with employer paid leave. And so there was a disincentive there to not bother taking it. So we're looking at all these different issues. We are making some reforms now but we've also got the Women's Economic Equality Task Force looking at how we break up that shared care and what are some of the legislative requirements going forward. But this is a big reform. It's a significant reform. And I'm really proud that this was one of the first things we did in our budget. Now, the second question? 

SARAH ISON: It was just on clarification over the national perpetrator research project… 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We have, in this Budget, put significant funding in for the architecture that I spoke about. That has been important in the first National Plan and that includes funding for Our Watch and ANROWS. These are important research institutes that have been funded and have been given in this Budget the stability of funding over a five-year period. So this is really important to continue to do our work. There's been a lot of discussion about what that work will be and I will continue to have those discussions. But, I think, consensus building that perpetrator behaviour is something that we do need to do better understand and better research.

SARAH ISON: Do you think Parental Leave could be over 26 weeks at some point beyond 2026? I know that's the goal… 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, I’ve got the Finance Minister here and she’d hate for me to make any commitments past 2026. But this is a big investment. I don’t think we can underestimate the role that this will play in supporting new mums and dads. It is a really significant investment, but one that is more than just an investment for families. It is about gender equality. It is about ensuring that women and mums and dads get the opportunity to spend time with their children and share the care, which is really important when we're about breaking down rigid stereotypes.

JANE NORMAN: The next question is Lisa Visentin from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

LISA VISENTIN : Minister, thank you for your speech. Can I take you to another issue in your portfolio and that is gambling regulation. There is, of course, a link between gambling and domestic violence, but there's also intense community concern about the normalisation of gambling and sports, particularly around the sheer barrage of betting ads that we see during sports broadcasts. You announced this week new taglines to replace ‘Gamble Responsibly’. But as Minister do you want to see tougher regulations for the online wagering industry when it comes to advertising, but also the promotion of their products? And could you foresee a future or would you personally like to see Australia go down the path of regulating advertising the way – for the gambling industry the way that we have done so for the tobacco industry?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Thanks for that question, because coming into this portfolio one of the first issues that I was briefed on, was actually the role that our Government has and that I have in enforcing the consumer framework to minimise harm on online wagering. This was a framework that was signed up with the states and territories because they have a lot of the regulation and role here. So since coming to this portfolio, we've introduced the Activity Statements, which is an email that people get monthly and a record people get monthly, highlighting their wins and losses. The second thing we've done is work towards the exclusion register BetStop, which will hopefully be in place at the end of November. This is about an exclusion register for online wagering and indeed the new taglines that I must say has been deeply embedded in research and deeply embedded in consultation with those affected to minimise gambling harms. So in terms of where we go next, after we've implemented the consumer framework, which I think goes to your question, where do we go next? Well, once the last steps of the consumer framework are established I am keen to meet with my state and territory colleagues to talk about what are the next steps to minimise harm. What I want to be done is grounded in good evidence and good research. My background I was a psychologist before I was in Parliament. So evidence-based research, behavioural-based research is really important to me. I want to work with my state and territory colleagues and also work with the House of Representatives Standing Committee that has started an inquiry into advertising and other areas of problem online wagering. It's an area I am particularly interested in addressing in terms of my specific responses. I'm going to work with my state and territory colleagues on that, but it is an area that I think we cannot lose sight of. This area of online wagering has changed very quickly. Australia has one of the highest per capita losses in the OECD. So it's an area that we can't not put our attention on.

LISA VISENTIN: Are you personally concerned though. About the quantity of ads, the gambling ads that we see on TV and radio?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well like I said, in terms of the policy response, I'll work with my state and territory colleagues.  But I think I probably join many Australians that are finding it pretty annoying when you're watching it on the TV.

NOUR HAYDAR, ABC NEWS: Minister, thank you for your speech. During your speech, you said that success under the new plan includes an increase in the proportion of perpetrators who are held accountable for their actions through the justice system. We know that only a small number of sexual assaults in Australia result in a conviction. Survivors have long expressed frustration and anger with how police and courts handle their cases. And there are calls for changes. Some suggestions include judge-only trials and changes to the way that evidence law operates, particularly when it comes to past perpetrator behaviour. I was interested to hear your thoughts and would you be encouraging states to consider such reforms?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Thank you so much for that question, because I think one of the issues that we are grappling with is that family, domestic, and in some cases sexual violence, is not a one-off incident. It is an ongoing systematic perpetration, and so trying to get police and legal experts and indeed the courts to understand that systematic ongoing pattern is really important, along with some of the challenges that those that have experienced sexual violence have experienced. So I know that the Attorney-General is working with his state and territory colleagues on, for example, coercive control which is a really important element of ending violence against both domestic, family and sexual violence. And that is something they are working together on to get a shared understanding. There’s also money in this Budget to actually work with law enforcement as well as legal experts to recognise some of those patterns. So I do think there is more work to be done. I think state and territories are working in many ways very closely on this, but we’ve seen in a number of state and territory’s laws’ change. We need to make sure, as you’ve suggested, the training is there for law enforcement and courts. And so I know that the Attorney-General is working with state and territory colleagues, and I’ll also be working with my women’s safety ministers as well.

NOUR HAYDAR: Just on the issue of funding, you've described this as a problem of epidemic proportions and yet less than $300 million has been allocated for women's safety each year over the next six years. Frontline services are already stretched and operate on short term funding cycles. At what point will we see funding to match the size of a problem?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Thank you for that question because funding is a really important part of addressing this. Of course, this plan is signed up with states and territories who also have a funding responsibility along with the Commonwealth. But when it comes to the most recent investments, we do understand that frontline services are finding it difficult and that's why we've put an extra $169 billion into frontline services to boost the capacity of frontline services. And we've actually elevated that issue in the plan. We are aware of the stretching of frontline services that need to be addressed. We also need to allocate our funds in a targeted way that complement state and territory investments. We can't ignore the fact that we do need to invest in prevention and early intervention. If we're going to turn this issue around, we must invest across all four domains. In terms of funding cycles, it is an issue across the community sector area that we are very much looking at how we provide longer term funding, and that's what we've done when it has come to the architecture of ANROWS and OurWatch providing some funding certainty there. In addition to that, when it comes to the community sector as a result of the Budget that we put forward, we recognise particularly the boost in indexation that community services needed to get to in order to keep providing services. We are responding. We obviously know that there is a call for more but we do need to work with our states and territories. What wouldn't work in this plan is just trying to duplicate what the states and territories are doing and not have our resources all pulling in the same direction. 

MAEVE BANNISTER, AAP: Thanks Minister for your speech. You talked about the need for a total societal shift. Can you explain a bit more about what that looks like to you in terms of how that can be measured? And also, you mentioned the role of the media. What do you suggest that the media needs to do to contribute to this?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Absolutely. I think they are some really important questions and when it comes to the societal shift and community attitudes, it goes to the small things. Just little sayings like ‘boys will be boys’. That's just one example of something that we need to stop and think about. That is reinforcing some of the rigid gendered stereotypes that are contributing to the power imbalance and differentiation. I think some of the conversations around consent are really important. So much of the conversations that all adults have with children and all role models that they display. We all need to think twice about the type of role models that we display, but also the conversations that we have with our children. The campaign that the Commonwealth has been running for some time Stop It At The Start, provides some really important conversation starters. And this isn't just the obligation on parents and teachers. It's something that we can all participate in and have conversations with young people about.  What respectful relationships look like, what does consent look like? These are all small parts of the puzzle about how we change attitudes. We can measure it. We do already - there is a community attitudes survey that's been out there. We should continue measuring that and making sure that we do make a difference. I think that these conversations are critically important, all the way from early intervention. There is also the role that media can play. How often do we hear the question - perhaps on talkback radio – ‘why didn't she just leave?’. The victim blaming, victim-survivor blaming element or perhaps the excuse about why someone perpetrated violence against a woman. We really need to be careful about our language, because when victim-survivors talk about seeing, perhaps their case in the media, it can re-traumatise them. I'm all for free speech and the media but it also comes with a platform of responsibility. And it starts with that first question – are we blaming or questioning the victim-survivor? And are we, in the language we use in the media and in our conversation, holding the perpetrator to account?

AMY REMEIKIS, THE GUARDIAN: Thank you. Given the very well-documented role poverty plays in violence, what moral justification is there for not raising the JobSeeker rate or the associated social services payments in this last budget?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Thanks for that question. We've been really clear in this plan that women's economic security is an important part of the healing and recovery process. This has been something that we have recognised and haven't shied away from. It's something we've put in the plan. Of course, we can't fix everything immediately. And so what we have been doing is taking steps through the Women's Economic Equality Task Force to look at the whole broad range of issues that affect women's economic security. So this plan cannot be seen in isolation to the work that is being done there, but we have a significant budget problem. And so this is something that we do have to look at budget to budget when it comes to raising the rate of JobSeeker. But we are not ignoring this issue. One of the other steps that I have taken is to invest more money in this budget to fix the Escaping Violence Payment. That payment was rushed in by the previous government. The organisation delivering it has not been properly resourced and demand has exceeded what is needed. So I've been working very closely to make sure that is addressed and that we have a system that is working properly. The other point I would make, that is recognised in the plan, is in addition to the levels of social security payments, we are also talking about the interaction that people have with the social security system. And so where crisis payments are applied when exceptional circumstances, when there is an issue around perpetrators, perhaps using debt as a way of coercive control. We are working through some of those issues about how the actual system itself can be more responsive to victim-survivors. So we are working through these issues. We are addressing women's economic equality, and it's something we will continue to work through.

AMY REMEIKIS: Given your portfolio crossover, do you believe the rate needs to increase?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I will be working across the board with my state...

AMY REMEIKIS: [Interrupts] Pretty simple yes or no… 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We working with a whole of government approach about what women's economic security looks like. We will keep working on that. Throughout my whole portfolio, I work around how we can prevent poverty as well as how we lift people out of poverty. That is something that I am very aware of and will continue to work across government.

DAVID CROWE, THE AGE AND SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: Thank you, Jane. Thanks Minister for your speech There are so many terrible stories that we all know that we read about with family and domestic violence. One that's always resonated with me was four-years ago, the death of Olga Edwards and her two children, Jack and Jennifer. When the inquest released its findings on that awful, event, it found that there were problems with the local police not acting on warnings, problems with the firearms register, problems with the criminal courts and with the Family Court process that Olga Edwards was involved in. She'd separated. She had tried to get distance. And the system did not help her adequately. In your policy work at the moment, what what's being done on, say, some of these issues are state issues, clearly. But there's a level of coordination, surely, that's required on things like the firearms registers, on things like making sure that somebody who's raised a red flag in Queensland - that information is shared in New South Wales. That some of this coordination work is done. Are you satisfied with the level of coordination on that front at the moment? And has the Family Court changed since 2018 to try and make sure that this doesn’t happen again?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Thank you for that question, because what it really goes to is the systems that do impact someone trying to escape family and domestic violence. Whether that is the Family Court, whether that is the law enforcement across the board. These are issues. What we've done in this plan is elevate some of those system issues and recognise and acknowledge that there is still more work to be done on a number of these issues, and states and territories have acknowledged that and want to work with us. This isn't just, though, as has been identified, a role for the women's safety ministers. It is also a role for the Attorney-Generals and other ministers - police ministers, etc. I know that the Attorney Generals have been working on a more coordinated approach, for example, to coercive control, to get a better understanding that coercive control is not just the one-off incidents of violence. This is one of the challenges in this space. Often law enforcement courts say that they are a one-off incident and don't look at the systematic pattern of behaviour. And some of it is hard sometimes to identify. It is about financial abuse and psychological abuse, in addition to physical abuse. So it is challenging, but it needs to be dealt with. And I know that the Attorney Generals are working on eight principles when it comes to coercive control to have some unified definition across the states, to do some work on training law enforcement about what that looks like and how best to gather evidence. The Family Court has been acknowledged and that will be work once again. I know that the Attorney-General is doing is looking at systems and as I mentioned, the interaction with Services Australia and the social security system. All these systems have a role. We've acknowledged the role that they can have in barriers to seeking help, but also how we can reform them to make them a much smoother path for people. So I believe all of this work across states and territories is ongoing. But I must admit I've been really heartened as I know the Attorney-General has, and many other Commonwealth Ministers, have a level of cooperation and the desire to actually affect change. And it is recognised in the plan. So I'm very heartened that we'll see a much more unified and coordinated responses going forward. There's always challenges in a federation around these issues, but I think there is a real desire for a unified coordinated approach. 

SARAH TOMEVSKA, SBS NEWS: Thank you for your speech. I note you spoke about the importance of First Nations voices in informing this plan – quite rightly so. My question relates to women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. We saw a study by Monash University earlier this year, which found up to a third of migrant and refugee women experience domestic violence. I'm just curious about what specific measures there are in this plan to reach those women who also face quite challenging and specific barriers to accessing support?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That is a really important question because the plan does recognise some of the unique and circumstances that act as barriers for those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. And there is discussion in the plan about how we can overcome some of those barriers. With the Safe Places announcement that I've just made, as I said, there will be a focus on
those groups or people, individuals that have a greater risk. Whether it is racism and ableism or some of the other discrimination that they do face. This is a challenge. We need to be culturally aware. We need to make sure our services are fit for purpose to respond to some of the issues that people who are culturally and linguistically diverse face. And it is something that does run in the plan and we will continue to be focusing on.

SARAH TOMEVSKA: Will that include community outreach in languages, specific languages?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, absolutely ensuring that language isn't a barrier is recognised in this plan. So certainly as we move forward on this plan, looking at how we ensure having English as a second language is not a barrier to accessing help is absolutely something that is recognised and will be addressed as we roll out the plan.

NICK STEWART, CANBERRA TIMES: You've talked about the linkage between gambling and domestic violence. Can I give you odds of 2 to 1, that you're not going to change the advertising regulations in the in this period of Parliament?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: As I said, I'm working with my state and territory colleagues about how to minimise gambling and the House of Representatives Standing Committee is looking at these issues. I have to say, there are a lot of people who enjoy the odd punt from time to time, but of course, where it becomes a problem is when it interferes with people's financial security and indeed the quality of their life. And that is something that I'm very much focused on addressing. The House of Representatives is doing an inquiry that is very broad ranging – more than just advertising. It goes across a whole range of ways that look at how children might be enticed and how we might address those issues. I'm going to wait for that inquiry and see the outcomes. 

NICK STEWART: So that's a no?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, look, as I said, I will be working with my state and territory colleagues about what comes next. We are finishing off and I’ve seen it as a priority to finish off the last steps in the consumer framework to minimise gambling harm. I’m very committed, and I know many state and territory colleagues are committed, to start having a discussion about what comes next.

JANE NORMAN: All right. And with that, Minister, thank you for your address today.