Q&A: Rishworth’s plan for “positive impact”
2 August 2022 at 2:36 pm
The new social services minister promises to leave no Australian behind.
Almost three months on from the election, Parliament has begun sitting and we’re starting to get an idea of the new federal government’s priorities. The first sitting week saw a flurry of legislation introduced relating to key social issues, including the cashless debit card and climate change.
New Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth has been an MP since 2007, representing the electorate of Kingston. She’s held a number of appointments over the years both as part of previous Labor governments and in the Shadow ministry, spanning disability, the environment, education, health and veterans. Prior to the May election, she was the Shadow Minister for Youth.
How do you feel going into this portfolio – what does the appointment over some of Australia’s most vulnerable people mean to you?
I was honoured to be appointed as minister for social services by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Social services is a critical portfolio and impacts so many in our community. It represents a quarter of the total federal budget. Social services is central to the Albanese Labor Government’s vision to create a better future for all Australians and leave no one behind.
Your portfolio overlaps in some areas with other ministers, including on NDIS and charities. Do you anticipate this will impact how decisions are made in these important areas? Who will ultimately make decisions on those issues?
The Prime Minister has been very clear that our government will bring people together to tackle our shared challenges. I look forward to working with my ministerial colleagues to ensure we make decisions in the best interest of the Australian people.
What are your main priorities for the portfolio and what have your first steps been?
Australians voted for change and our government is working hard and delivering.
Cleaning up ten years of mess and mistakes will not happen overnight but we aren’t wasting any time.
My first order of business is to deliver on the election commitments we made, including improving women’s safety, delivering an early years strategy, providing better support for pensioners, working through challenges faced by people living with disability, abolishing the cashless debit card, tackling problem gambling and supporting playgroups, while at the same time recognising the long-term challenges we face.
There seems to be a real push from activists and some corners of Parliament for an increase in welfare payments. Can they expect to see one within this term of government?
We acknowledge the most vulnerable Australians have been hit hardest by the increasing cost of living.
The Albanese government is focused on tackling the spiralling cost of living that is making life tough for too many Australians. We must get wages rising again and make health care, child care and housing more affordable, while we grow the economy.
The previous government left us an economy a trillion dollars in debt, declining productivity, wages going backwards and the highest level of inflation in 20 years.
We have already gotten to work – already securing an increase in the minimum wage, reducing the cost of medicines, providing flood and pandemic support, and working with the energy sector to rein in prices.
Just this week I introduced legislation to make changes to the income cap for older Australians accessing the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card that will reduce cost of living pressures for older Australians.
People with disability are calling for a specific plan to be put in place to assist them to navigate a world filled with COVID where many of them are at high risk of illness and death. Is that something you’d be willing to work on implementing with them?
The Albanese Government is committed to ensuring people with disability are included at every stage of our pandemic response.
Continuing to increase the uptake of vaccination among people with disability, including the second booster dose where eligible, remains a key priority of the Government.
[Last week] I announced that we will [in August] launch a targeted text message campaign to ensure people living with disability can increase vaccination rates and have the information they need to access antivirals if they get sick.
Will you have any oversight of Labor’s plan for aged care?
I will be working with all of my ministerial colleagues on any initiatives which overlap my portfolio to ensure the best outcomes for all Australians. I will also collaborate with states and other parties to lift the standard of health care across the board.
Centrelink continues to be a source of intimidation and frustration for many people who use the system. Are you planning anything in the way of making Centrelink easier to navigate, or improving service and wait times?
I look forward to working with my colleague, Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten to ensure Services Australia is delivering the best outcomes for Australians.
We’ve seen a signal from Albanese and other ministers that they’d like to take a more collaborative approach to governing. Is that the approach you’re planning and how will you do that?
The Albanese Labor government is committed to working with all levels of government, business, unions and other stakeholders to achieve great outcomes for the benefit of all Australians.
In my portfolio, I will be focusing on a whole-of-government approach to addressing the key priorities which will improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable in our community.
We’re seeing a blowout in wait times at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, is that something you’ll be addressing or have jurisdiction over?
We are aware of the need to address the high numbers of National Disability Insurance Scheme cases going to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and we will be working with the states and territories to develop alternative dispute resolution options.
I look forward to working with my colleague, Minister for the National Disability Scheme Bill Shorten to ensure the best outcome for participants.
Do you have a message for the sector as you get to work?
As minister I will work to make a positive impact on the lives of Australians who are touched by this portfolio and ensure our government is an inclusive and compassionate one.
Our core principle as a government is to create a better future for all Australians by leaving no one behind and holding no one back. That’s what will guide me every day as I do the important work needed in this portfolio.