Minister Rishworth interviewed on ABC Afternoon Briefing


MATT DORAN, HOST: More than $190 million of Commonwealth funds will be spent over two years providing emergency relief to Australians struggling to make ends meet. The Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth joins me now in the studio. Minister, welcome to Afternoon Briefing. What specifically is this money going to be spent on?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: This money will be provided to existing emergency relief providers. Many of them are very familiar –  St Vincent de Paul, Foodbank – to provide support to people doing it tough. In particular, when I came in as Minister, I kept what was called the National Coordination Group. I extended their term. They are providers on the ground that are able to point us to areas of need. What we know, particularly during and after a natural disaster, is there is often an increase in demand for both emergency relief in terms of food, but also support to pay the bills. But in addition, as communities recover, the need for financial counselling, financial advice, those sorts of wellbeing services are needed as well. So this money will cover a range of those programmes It gives providers certainty of their funding arrangements over the next two years. But in terms of how to respond, I'll certainly be getting advice from the National Coordination Group of where that money is spent.

MATT DORAN: Is this more of a problem now, not only because we've got more communities being hit by things like natural disasters, the flooding that is still underway is front and centre of mind there. But also the cost of everything, as we know, is going through the roof?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The cost of goods and services are definitely are affecting people. This money is made available for families that may find themselves in difficult situations. But as we know, we are being hit by some pretty significant natural disasters and of course, one of the things that communities tell me when a natural disaster hits, is there is a lot of goodwill at the beginning from surrounding communities. But as time wears on and the communities are recovering, they need support during that period as well.  In terms of the National Coordination Group, they have really good eyes on the ground about where in the country extra support is needed and we'll continue to work with them to deliver that.

MATT DORAN: Aside from the natural disaster response, I'm assuming that there's been an uptick in the demand for financial counselling services as well around the country?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Financial counselling services are always in demand. Sometimes from a federal perspective, sometimes as a result of cost of living pressures, sometimes as a reason other services have withdrawn. So there's a range of different reasons, But financial counsellors will tell you that there is significant demand for their services and making sure that they're affordable and actually free as well is really important. We think this is a really important measure. I've also been very much working to, not only provide taxpayers money to invest in financial counselling, but working on a scheme in which industry contributes money to financial counselling as well. I'll have more to say about that over coming months.

MATT DORAN: I want to take you to one of the big issues really of the last month, I guess, the ongoing cyber-attacks that we're seeing, particularly the issue around Medibank. Further information posted on the dark web overnight. Some very sensitive private medical data of customers of Medibank among that group. How concerning is it that you've got people's private information not only out there but sensitive medical information looking at whether or not they've had issues with pregnancy or substance abuse or things like that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This act of publishing this information on the dark web is a despicable act. As the Minister for Home Affairs has said, we have people working on this to try and catch these criminals. But obviously we need to respond to this right now. I am aware that the National Coordination Committee has met this morning and has agreed on a one-stop shop. So really for me and I know the Government, while we are working to look at this issue, it is really important that individuals that are affected have a place to go to get information, to get reassurance. I would encourage anyone that has been affected to now call Medibank and I'll just give the number because I think that's really important. It's 13 23 31  that’s 13 23 31. Any affected customers can access a full range of supports there from both Medibank and the Government. So you don't have to worry about working with different people to get that information. But this is a despicable act. It is an increasing problem that we need to be aware of. Cyber-attacks are unfortunately going to have more frequent occurrence and we need to be equipped to deal with it. But in this case, that doesn't give reassurance to those that it has happened to now. So I would be encouraging people to, if they are affected, to get that support and help. And there has been, I think, a lot of cooperation from Medibank.

MATT DORAN: These hacks have prompted a debate around what personal information big companies are holding when it comes to the Optus hack. There was discussion why does a telco need driver's licence and things like that with a health insurer? You can understand why this sort of data was on file. How well prepared do you think Australian companies are to actually deal with this and is the Federal Government sort of hamstrung in how much it can intervene and help out?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, I think this is a big wake up call for Australian companies. I think there's been a number of incidences previously and obviously Optus is one example, but there's been a number over a relatively increasing frequency over the last number of years. I think Australian companies do need to be very clear that this isn’t an add on. Cyber security isn't an add on. This is it needs to be core business when you are dealing with people's personal information. There is a debate about how much personal information should or could be kept and the Government's working through that very carefully. But there's also a question about making sure that the systems you've got in place are fit for purpose. The Federal government is willing and ready to support companies to do that, but it does need companies to be very cognisant and realise this is really core business.

MATT DORAN: Amanda Rishworth, thank you for your time today.