Minister Rishworth interviewed on ABC NewsRadio


Topics: Economic abuse, National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022-2032, NDIS and Australia’s Disability Strategy, Aged care worker’s pay

TOM ORITI, HOST:     Let’s take a closer look first this half hour at this new report from the Centre for Women's Economic Safety. Women's safety advocates are warning that banks are at risk themselves of becoming active participants in economic abuse if changes aren't made to their products. The report reveals 3000 customers have been warned, had their online banking suspended or have been exited from their bank since 2020 over allegations of financial abuse and women's rights groups say banks have a moral duty to act. The Federal Minister for Social Services is Amanda Rishworth, who joins us now. Minister, good morning and thank you for your time.


TOM ORITI:     This report contains some alarming numbers just pointing to the scale of economic abuse. Tell us more about it. What forms can this abuse take?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:      It is a really important area to focus on because often when we think about family domestic violence, we think about the physical abuse. But financial abuse is really critical. That might be someone using money to coercively control someone else. It might be someone coercively controlling a bank account and where the money actually goes. But this report highlights some other really disturbing trends, and that is that a partner may make a small transaction with an abusive message in the description. So with threatening words in that description or indeed a partner might use a dual login on a bank account to track someone's movements. So there is a lot of areas here that do need to be looked at because financial abuse can feel and be just as traumatic as other types of abuse.

TOM ORITI:     And multi-faceted, right? You've named all these different ways it can manifest itself there. Hard, I imagine, in some cases to track all of this. What are the banks doing about it? Is there enough being done at the moment?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:      It is hard to sometimes identify these issues, but it was pleasing to see that the banks have intercepted some of these messages that I spoke about, where a small transaction was made with a very threatening message. It is really pleasing that banks have been able to stop that. But I think that what we need to have is, up front, our banking institutions having a clear message to their customers that they will not tolerate being a vehicle for that type of abuse. But also, of course, awareness for our banking institutions about how they might identify some of these behaviours and what to do about them as well. What we've learnt over time in some cases the first place a woman that might be experiencing abuse will go to is their financial institution. It might be the first place they disclose, because they need the money, because money is the most important part of their survival. And so it's really important that our banks are properly equipped to not only intervene, but look at how any further abuse can be prevented.

TOM ORITI:     Is it as simple as changing the rules, though, or does this go much broader than that? Does there need to be a change in attitude, a change in behaviour until something actually happens?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:      Well, I think it's a range of having this issue front and centre of, for example, the terms and conditions of, using a banking product. That's certainly been one of the recommendations made in this very important report. But it also does need some thorough thought into some of the unintended consequences; when to issue different passwords, what are some of the indicators that might mean that someone has been treated in an abusive way. Some of those flags might be, for example, it might come up in mortgage repayments and the trend of mortgage repayments. So it's more than just the rules. It is about starting to understand what some of those trends look like and how we might actually address them.

TOM ORITI:     And I do know this comes ahead of International Economic Abuse Awareness Day. That's over the weekend, but the Government's also released its National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children. A ten year plan 2022 to 2032. Are you getting sufficient support from all sectors of the community to achieve the goals in that plan?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:      We have been really heartened by the huge amount of support that has been outlined in this plan. Of course, financial abuse is one of the areas that is targeted, along with a focus on businesses not just supporting their employees, but actually supporting their customers. I think there has been a wide ranging welcome for that. But really where the rubber hits the road is how we implement it. And I think the work that the Centre for Women's Economic Safety has done around some of these recommendations and the engagement with the financial sector will be a starting point in how we make sure that banking and banking products are not used as a vehicle for further coercive control.

TOM ORITI:     Minister could I just ask you, given your, portfolio of Social Services, the NDIS. Now I know it's not your specific responsibility, it's Bill Shorten, the Minister – he’s responsible, but he made an interesting comment yesterday. He said, ‘hang on, the NDIS can't be the only lifeboat here’. And I took that as meaning he's saying every time there's an issue involving Australians living with a disability, it's thrown at the NDIS and he says it shouldn't be the only option available to people with a disability. What's your view on that? Do you think the states and territories need to be doing more in this space at the moment?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:     I absolutely agree with Minister Shorten that tackling and making our society more inclusive, giving opportunities for people with disability is a whole of government and different levels of government's responsibility. And I think the NDIS was set up to provide those living with permanent disability the extra support. But we know that there's many people in our community that need other type of support, or indeed need design of our infrastructure and our services to be inclusive. There is a much broader piece of work to be done…

TOM ORITI:     [Interrupts] Does the Federal Government have a role to play in that though? Sorry to interrupt there, but he seemed to be suggesting this is not all down to me. Basically this is not all down to the NDIS considering that as we've heard, the NDIS is going to become increasingly almost unsustainable financially in the next ten years. What else can the Federal Government do in that space to support Australians with a disability?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:      There is Australia’s Disability Strategy that not only the Commonwealth designed, but was designed with states and territories, and that looks at how to support people with disability in a range of settings. For example in education settings that is within schools, within our, tertiary education system, how do we best support people and in our early childhood system as well. The states and territories and the Commonwealth have jointly signed up to Australia’s Disability Strategy and that is an area that we do need to push along, and see change and see reform and of course that includes effort from the states and territories in addition to the Commonwealth.

TOM ORITI:     Minister, just, finally we had the Health Services Union on about half an hour ago, the aged care sector, Gerard Hayes warning it's on the brink of collapse The union says almost 75 per cent of workers are thinking of quitting unless they get better money. Do you support their case for a 25 per cent pay rise across the sector?

AMANDA RISHWORTH:      We’ve been very clear as a Government that we will fund, in full, the Fair Work decision case in the aged care sector. I do recognise that the Fair Work case has made a decision around that case and we certainly support it.

TOM ORITI:    That 15 per cent is not for every worker though. 

AMANDA RISHWORTH:      We were the first, government to back in and the only government, to back in that wage increase and to recognise that aged care workers deserve a wage increase. I'm not going to interfere with the Fair Work Commission and it's not my area of responsibility, but as a government we were very clear that we've backed a pay increase for aged care workers, something that really the former government did not do. And we've now seen progress on that.

TOM ORITI:    Minister, thank you for joining us. I appreciate your time. 

AMANDA RISHWORTH:      Thank you. 

TOM ORITI:    That’s the Federal Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth.