How John Howard and clinical psychology made Amanda Rishworth get into politics

How John Howard and clinical psychology made Amanda Rishworth get into politics

“When people told me their stories, there were a lot of things that only the government could change – whether that was isolation, whether that was a secure job. And that’s what really got me into politics,” she says.

One of Amanda Rishworth’s first acts as minister was to move to ax the cashless welfare card, which sparked anger in remote communities, including the South Australian town of Ceduna where residents protested in 2016. Credit:alex ellinghausen

“What really struck me working as a psychologist, even though it was a brief time, was that every time there’s one person coming through your door, you’re able to help one person, but there’s someone else to help.

“And with politics, you actually can change a whole lot of people’s lives at once. You can make them better at once, or you can make them worse depending on where you are.”

She then set about getting elected for the Labor Party, winning the seat of Kingston in 2007 at the age of 29.

A member of Labor’s Right faction, Rishworth says she has learned a few things over the course of the Rudd and Gillard governments and then nine years in opposition, including to never lose touch with the electorate.


“Knowing that you’ve got to listen, not just to the things people raise, but the things people are not telling you as well,” she says.

“You can’t turn off to constructive criticism. In parliament, which is a very combative environment… you do have to, while not taking on too much negative criticism that’s very personal, stay open to listening to constructive criticism and keep listening.”

In her first two weeks of parliament as minister, Rishworth has introduced legislation to abolish the cashless debit card and create paid domestic violence leave.

The first move led Opposition Leader Peter Dutton to accuse Labor of appeasing an “inner city woke audience”, but Rishworth is not taking a backwards step.

“There’s been a lot of rhetoric and a lot of ideology. But I think I’d start with the premise that the evidence just isn’t there to show that the cashless debit card actually did what it was intended to do,” she says.

Next on her agenda are more measures to tackle domestic violence and online gambling, supporting more women to be able to go back to work and more support for early childhood learning.

Raising two young children with husband Timothy – a computer programmer – while in parliament, Rishworth says she understands the importance of helping families strike a work-life balance. She says her two sons of her, three-year-old Oscar and seven-year-old Percy, have also shown her the importance of early childhood development.

For this cabinet minister, politics is a helping profession.