Television interview with Minister Wells and Sarah Abo, Today Show News Panel - 8 March

Read the transcript of Minister Wells' television interview with Sarah Abo on International Women's Day, rate rises, Victoria safe injecting centre.

The Hon Anika Wells MP
Minister for Aged Care
Minister for Sport

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HOST SARAH ABO: Well, there's hope the rate pain could soon come to an end with the Reserve Bank signalling just one more hike. Joining us to discuss is Minister for Sport and Aged Care and Anika Wells in Canberra.

And Stella Editor Sarrah Le Marquand. Thank you both for your time. Now, Minister, I want to come to you first. The last time Philip Lowe promised something, he went back on his word.

Are homeowners right to be hopeful?

ANIKA WELLS, MINISTER FOR AGED CARE AND SPORT: I think everyone wants anything we can to ease the pressure at the moment. And if hope helps everybody get through what are some really tough monthly budgets for households, then that's a good thing.

I know people want the federal government to be doing everything that we can. That is why we made medicines cheaper on 1 January. That's why childcare will become cheaper on 1 July, which will allow more people to take up more days of work if that will help their household budgets.

That's what we're trying to get wages moving again. Aged care workers in my portfolio will get a 15% pay rise come 1 July.

ABO: I mean, the trouble is, Sarrah, hope isn't going to pay the bills. Hope isn’t going to put groceries on the table. Hope isn't going to help us with our mortgages, is it?

SARRAH LE MARQUAND, STELLAR MAGAZINE EDITOR: No, I wish it could, because we wouldn't have so much to worry about if hope and optimism would pay the bills. It is a conversation that's going around in living rooms across the country as we're speaking here this morning.

And people are unfortunately making evaluations. You know, can I afford that morning coffee? How can I stretch out my next hair appointment, which then has a big flow on effect to small businesses across the country.

So obviously, cost of living is a front burner issue for all of us. And this is just that reminder of how scary it is. But I think there's also a more long-term conversation going on, which is around housing affordability in this country.

We're looking at an entire generation that are never going to be able to buy and own their own home. So, I think we really need to redefine what is the great Australian dream.

And also, let's not forget all the people that are renting across this country because there is a real rental crisis in our capital cities. So, housing affordability, I think we've got to make sure that the short-term focus on cost of living, that we're also zooming out and taking a long-term view of what this means for people when it comes to getting into the housing market.

ABO: Yeah, it's really tough with your renter or mortgage pay, that's for sure. But I guess it's one of those things we are going to dive into throughout the show and analyse a bit further.

I want to go to another story now that some divided opinions in Melbourne residents over the safe injecting centre in North Richmond. Residents there are pretty annoyed about this.

It has now been made permanent. The Victorian Government announcing that yesterday. Do you think the Victorian Government is doing the right thing here? I mean this was supposed to be a trial and now it's permanent despite the uproar from the community on the ground.

MINISTER WELLS: I think the decision is based on independent evidence that made a decision based on an independent report coming back and saying that this has saved 63 lives.

I know that drug abuse has a horrific impact in local communities. So, I think we're all wanting to look at all initiatives that will alleviate that.

There's never going to be universal popularity. But saving 63 lives is a good thing.

ABO: It absolutely is. But I guess the problem is the location of this, it's right next to a primary school. There's an early childhood development centre not far as well.

I mean, this is a very public area. Should we be exposing our children and community to this?

MINISTER WELLS: Well, I think the story said that people were dying in the streets and little preppies were seeing that as they walked to school. The effects of drug abuse are horrific.

So, we need to do whatever we can. And this is evidence based and an independent report recommending that it continue.

ABO: Sarrah the location really does need to be right on this, doesn't it? Because you look at the model in Sydney, in Kings Cross that's been so successful since I think it was 2001 when it was first implemented.

Why do you think it works so successfully here?

LE MARQUAND: Well, I think there was a lot of resistance even back then, so I would agree with a lot of what Anika says. I think there is always a little bit of resistance and we've got to take more of a long-term view because anything we can do to bring drug abuse down, it also has a flow on effect for crime, which means actually for residents, that's great if you're in a safer neighbourhood.

But I agree, Sarah. I think that you've got to consult with the community, and I think close proximity to a school or childcare centre, it's very hard to sell that to the local community.

So, I think Kings Cross probably was a better example of taking community feedback on board. But I think with this we've got to be careful. No one wants this next door, but we've also got to make sure that we don't give in to those not in my backyard instincts and that we do take a more long-term view because we are a better community and a better country if we're finding progressive, sensible ways to combat drug abuse.

ABO: Yeah, absolutely. Well, look, today is, of course, International Women's Day, and I'm lucky to be joined by two wonderful women for this chat this morning. Anika, I want to ask you, what does this day mean to you?

It's got quite a history and the reason for it to even exist. But what do you think today, the significance of it is?

MINISTER WELLS: The significance of it endures because there are still so many women out there whose work goes unrecognised, whose efforts go unappreciated, and they're not at some corporate breakfast this morning, no one’s offering them pink cupcakes at morning tea.

Today, 85% of the aged care workforce are women and they've been systemically underpaid. And that gender pay gap is the case across so many industries.

So, I think for all of us who get the invite to the corporate breakfast or the pink cupcakes today, it's upon us to keep fighting, if we can, for all those women who we still have to lift up.

ABO: There is a great article, a commentary piece by Jacqueline Maley in the in the paper today about we don't want cupcakes, we just want the pay rise. Let's just go straight to the main course.

LE MARQUAND: I know there's something going on. I'm telling you, I feel like so many women, myself included, and Jacqueline Maley and Anika woken up today and gone enough of the cupcakes.

And you know, yes, if you're lucky enough to be at a corporate breakfast or you work for a company where they're handing out cupcakes, go for it. That's great.

I don’t want to rain on your parade. But really what today I think is about is just all of us taking a moment to realise that we can't be complacent.

We have come so far, and I think it's okay to bask in that. I'm so glad that I'm living in Australia in 2023 and not in a previous generation.

It is much easier for our generation, but there are unique issues. Obviously do a little bit of work in the domestic violence sector. So, you know, having that thought about gendered violence in this country and the repercussions for older women, there’s the super gap and the cost-of-living crisis and how it uniquely affects women 55 and upwards.

I think there are things that I'll be reflecting on today.

ABO: Yeah, we spoke about that recently about how important equality is as well. So, we do need to get there, which is one of the things this year. Sarrah, Anika, I thank you both so much for your time.


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