Minister Rishworth interviewed on ABC Breakfast


Topic: Censure motion, National Anti-Corruption Commission, the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, Closing the Gap Report, Paid Parental Leave and Work Bonus 

LISA MILLAR, HOST: One of Labor's key election promises, a National Anti-Corruption Commission will likely become law today after the legislation passed the Senate overnight. The Bill to establish the Commission passed the Upper House with some amendments but a last ditch effort by Greens and other crossbenchers to lower the threshold for public hearings fell short. The legislation will return to the House of Representatives on what will be a massive day in Federal Parliament.

MADELINE MORRIS: The Lower House is also set to censure former Prime Minister Scott Morrison over his secret multiple ministries, with at least one Liberal signalling that she will cross the floor to support it. To discuss this big day in Federal Parliament we're joined now by Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth. Thanks very much for joining us Minister.


MADELINE MORRIS: Let's go first of all, to this censure motion for Scott Morrison. Now the Liberals say it's a stunt, it's not serving a purpose, despite so many of them being still furious with him over the secret five ministries. You are already changing rules so that this can't happen again. What is the point of a censure motion?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: If you have a look at Virginia Bell's report, not only does she make six very important recommendations, which the Government is adopting, but she also talks about things like the actions were corrosive to democracy. I mean, these are really serious allegations and the Parliament of Australia has the right to debate them, to discuss them and to vote on these actions.  And I think it is entirely appropriate that the Parliament has a say. It is the heart of democracy in Australia. It is very disappointing that despite the huge public concern over this issue the Liberal Party and the National Party have decided not to back this up with sending a strong message from our Parliament that this type of action, this type of sort of power grab is not appropriate in Australian democracy.

MADELINE MORRIS: Onto another big thing that's going to be happening today, the National Anti-Corruption Commission likely to pass the Lower House. How soon are we actually going to see movement on that in terms of practicalities, in terms of it being established in hearings?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: There's a lot of elements that need to be put in place. The legislation is just the first tranche of that. I know the Attorney-General will be working very closely. There'll be an oversight committee and a range of other pieces of architecture put in place. But this is a really big achievement. I think our ambition as a Government was to have introduced the legislation before Christmas. What we'll actually see is the legislation passed before Christmas. This is a really important step and I think hopefully goes to keeping faith not just with our election promises, but building faith in our institutions going forward, in our public service, in our Parliament, in our Government.

MADELINE MORRIS: Well, of course, this is the first time we’ve had a chance to speak to a frontbencher since the Nationals made that quite surprise move, announcing that they weren't going to be supporting the Voice to Parliament. How concerned are you that without that bipartisan support that it's actually just going to derail the progress and potentially seriously damage the prospects of this getting through a referendum?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I'm really disappointed that the National Party has chosen to take this path. But quite frankly, I would reiterate what our Minister, Linda Burney, said yesterday: “this is not about a politicians’ plaything”. The Voice is not something for politicians to decide. This will be a decision for the Australian people. We have had, for some time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders saying that this is something that they want; to have a say in the decisions that affect them. So long-term it will not be up for politicians to decide. We will be putting the architecture in place but it will be up to the Australian people and I believe that the Australian people will listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and we will see a Voice to the Parliament.

MADELINE MORRIS: And the Nationals argument for this, of course, was that they say that they're more focused on, Closing the Gap. And we do have the Closing the Gap report out today with again some very disappointing findings. Only two of the 17 targets being met. The rest are actually going backwards. Do they have some merit in that?  That this is what the Parliament should actually be laser focused on – closing the gap?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This is the whole misinformation and mistruth about the Voice being only about symbolic action and not practical action. Of course, the Closing the Gap report has mixed results. Some targets were going forward. Some were going back. The only way we're going to actually make a change on these targets is if we partner and work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and that's what the Voice is all about. The policies, the programs that are delivered need to actually listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – what is working, what is not, and that's exactly what the Voice is there to do. That's exactly what it is there for, to provide advice on policies and programs. For the National Party to sort of be using that – I think it is a misleading excuse when it comes to the Voice, that without the Voice we won't be able to continue to drive better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

MADELINE MORRIS: Just in your own portfolio, Amanda Rishworth, it's a big day for your portfolio too. You're going to be introducing the legislation to expand Paid Parental Leave. What is actually going to change for new parents?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, this is our first tranche of legislation to improve our Paid Parental Leave system. Many people have called to get rid of the gendered nature of claiming. We’re making claiming for Paid Parental Leave gender neutral. It will start with a 20-week entitlement for families. We're improving the means testing so that it will be either an individual means test on the person that's taking the leave or a family income test, whichever best suits your family, as well as more flexibility to be taken over a two-year period. Then, as we move forward, we will continue to build on that basis to get to 26-weeks of paid parental leave by 2026. These are big reforms. This is the first tranche of the legislative reform, but really important as part of our progress moving forward to improve Paid Parental Leave in this country.

MADELINE MORRIS: And just finally, something again, which is in your own portfolio, which lots of our audience will be interested in from tomorrow, or possibly it is even today, people who are on a pension will be able to earn an extra $4000 without having any of that pension taken away. Now, you've actually extended the time period of that from July next year to December. What that is actually going to mean is that it's really only $70 a week that those pensioners will be able to earn extra. Why so little?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The pensioner income bank has been topped up under our legislation. What we know is pensioners do want some flexibility. A lot of pensioners don't want to work all year or they don't want to work at all. But for some that do want to work or they want to work in seasonal jobs, perhaps that the prime example is right now potentially to help Father Christmas with his listening to children and get presents. It's just one example of some seasonal work that some pensioners might want to take up and not lose their pension. This is a bonus that gets automatically credited, it spread over the whole year. So you can use it at any point over the whole year, but it allows pensioners to earn more without losing their pension. We think this is a sensible move, especially when many businesses are experiencing workforce shortages.

MADELINE MORRIS: Okay. We'll have to leave it there. Thanks very much for making time for us today on what is a very busy day for all of Parliament. Thanks, Amanda Rishworth.