Minister Rishworth on ABC News Breakfast with Tom Oriti


TOM ORITI, HOST: Let's head to Canberra now. The Government will be claiming a big win today in its fight to kerb rising costs of living. It's set to get its energy relief package through the Parliament with the Greens signalling that they will now support the legislation. Australians have grappled with skyrocketing energy and living costs this year as inflation has soared. Tough times for so many people. The plan caps wholesale gas prices at $12 a gigajoule for a year with a mandatory code of conduct for suppliers to provide ‘reasonable prices after that’. But will the package help households with their bills or is more needed to be done? We're joined now by the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth. Good morning. Thank you very, very much for your time again on the program.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Good morning, great to be with you.

TOM ORITI: Minister, a lot of the Government's political reputation rests with the sort of easing the costs of living. What's your feeling? Is this package going to do that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This package is really important. We've seen things like the war in Ukraine drive up the cost of energy right around the world. And so there's no doubt – and we've said for some time – that households are feeling it. The agreement that the Prime Minister has struck with state and territory leaders will provide relief directly off their power bills. And this is something that is really important to provide that direct relief to those families that perhaps are income support pensioners, senior health care card holders or indeed those on Family Tax Benefit A or B. So this is a really important measure. That support is targeted, but it does support many households with that cost, along with the other measures that the Government has taken, that is aimed at really containing some of those costs that have been escalating.

TOM ORITI: Yeah, but I mean, tough times ahead, though, right? Even with this intervention we're hearing that power prices are going to rise by 40 per cent over the next two years. That's according to the Treasury. Even before this plan has passed, there are those calls for further Government intervention next year to offset the biggest increase to power prices really seen in living memory. Given your portfolio of social services is this something that you'll be arguing for in Cabinet?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The Government has been really clear from day dot that we inherited an energy mess – not only a policy vacuum area from the previous government but also obviously some of it due to the war in Ukraine, some particular issues. If we weren't taking this action right now, families would be $230 worse off next year. So this is really important action. And obviously, we'll continue to work with our state and territory colleagues, but we are taking urgent action now to support families when they need it.

TOM ORITI: It's urgent action, but the Opposition and the gas industry argue, and we had Angus Taylor on a short time ago, that those caps will drive the cost of gas up further in the long term because companies will withdraw supply from the domestic market. I mean, if that happens, not only is it bad for households, it would be very bad politically for the Government potentially?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We are in an unprecedented situation and so we are having to take this urgent action. States and territory leaders have signed up, along with the Commonwealth Government to taking action on this. If Angus Taylor wants to play politics with this, if Angus Taylor does not want to support relief for families right now doing it tough, he's a brave man.

TOM ORITI: But you're saying it is a situation where it's short term gain for potentially long term pain?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What we're doing is taking urgent action right now. We will continue, of course, to work with governments across the board. I know Chris Bowen, Jim Chalmers – many of our Ministers have been working very hard, and Madeleine King, on this issue. But we have been left with a really difficult situation, partly by the policy inaction of the previous government as well as the issues around the Ukraine war. So this is action we need to take to provide some certainty and some support for householders.

TOM ORITI: You've been in power for over six months now. Higher cost of living that is making life tough and you're referring to the previous government and what you've described is the mess. But this is now on your watch. How do you feel about the road ahead? I'm not sure voters will keep blaming the previous government…

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I'm not blaming the previous government for the action we're taking. What I'm saying is we were left with a mess and we are now taking action. And that's what our Government's done in consultation with state and territory leaders. Getting to a situation where we have agreement across all state and territory leaders is not an easy thing, but it is important to provide relief and support for householders. As I said, it seems to be only Angus Taylor out there not supporting what is important relief for householders.

TOM ORITI: Well, he's saying he actually hasn't had enough time to really look at it. He said he got the legislation last night. I mean, does this feel rushed?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This is taking urgent action. We have needed to take action. If the Opposition wants to play politics with this – that's up to them. Angus Taylor was the Minister for Energy and has presided over many failed energy policies previously. We're getting on with the job of supporting families and householders.

TOM ORITI: Just while we've got you there, another one of your priorities is ending domestic violence. You've recently said we should stop shying away from highlighting that fact that 95 per cent of perpetrators are men and holding them to account. Do we need changes to the legal system for that to happen?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: One of the big areas of work that the Attorney-General is doing is looking at national consistency around coercive control, for example, and how we make sure that we are having a national, consistent definition. Also some investment in training for police to understand coercive control. And we're also looking at a number of other ways we can invest in perpetrator interventions. So I think it's a combination of looking at our legal system and looking at the way perpetrators are held to account but also about investing in prevention and early intervention to stop significant behaviour escalating. And so that's investing in programs as well…

TOM ORITI: [Interrupts] so we've seen that investment, though. Sorry to interrupt. The Greens say the Government's very big on words but small in actions and money on this issue. Are you getting enough support to achieve that goal? Are you getting enough money out of Cabinet for that investment?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The budget provided a record $1.7 billion for women's safety, including prevention programs, early intervention programs as well as crisis accommodation. So there has been significant investment by this Government. Record investment will continue. We're not pretending this is an easy issue to solve and we'll continue to push for investment in this area. We're currently working on the action plans. We're working on delivering our investment in frontline workforce with the states and territories. So in terms of our investment and our commitment, we are putting money behind the plan and we will continue to do so.

TOM ORITI: Just finally, an issue close to your heart, close to mine as well. You're releasing some new research this week aimed at delivering better results for Australians living with disabilities. What's happening there?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Using evidence to build our policies on disability and how we better support people with disability is critically important. So what we've done is release some research that really is aimed at determining whether or not we're meeting our objectives in Australia's Disability Strategy. So there's been some good data that shows in the first six months of the strategy there's been better employment outcomes where people with disability were in work for at least 52 weeks after the placement in work. So that's a good outcome. But we also want to make sure that we're driving research into the future. And so what we also announced is our priorities of where we want to see research done so that we can shine a light, make sure that what we're doing is working. And so the areas of priority which have been consulted and designed with people with disability have been looking at the education system and how we best prepare students living with disability for employment. So we will continue to put effort into that research to understand how we can provide the best policy and how we are tracking against Australia's Disability Strategy.

TOM ORITI: Minister, thank you very much for your time.