House debates

Monday, 2 December 2019

Private Members' Business

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

12:10 pm

Photo of Anika WellsAnika Wells (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that:

(a) 25 November 2019 was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women; and

(b) this year's focus was 'Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands Against Rape';

(2) acknowledges that:

(a) sexual violence against women and girls is a widespread and persistent human rights issue;

(b) 1 in 5 Australian women report having experienced sexual violence;

(c) 1 in 6 Australian women report having experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner; and

(d) according to the United Nations, violence against women remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it; and

(3) asks all Members to recognise that violence against women continues to be an obstacle to achieving gender equality in Australia and across the globe.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was marked on 25 November 2019. Every year 25 November marks the beginning of 16 days of activism against gender based violence, ending on 10 December—Human Rights Day. The United Nations General Assembly designated 25 November as the date for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women to commemorate the date in 1960 that the three Mirabal sisters, who were political activists, were assassinated. The premise of the day is to call to attention the urgent need to end violence against women and girls and to mobilise meaningful action.

Before tabling this motion I considered what the effect of the motion would be and whether it would fulfil any great purpose. I hesitated as to whether my motion would have any meaningful effect on the call to action that the day represents. Since the Mirabal sisters were assassinated in 1960 we have had countless campaigns, motions, treaties and media stories about ending violence against women. Almost 60 years on women and girls are still being violently abused, raped and murdered every week, both in Australia and across the globe. But I am angry. I am angry that, between the date I drafted this motion, roughly three weeks ago, and speaking in this chamber now, four women have been violently murdered in our country. I am angry that there is a dialogue in Australia around no-one being pro-violence against women but that, so far this year, 51 women have been violently murdered in Australia across only 48 weeks. I am angry that those 51 women haven't covered the front pages and been in the headlines of every news outlet and haven't featured at the top of every news bulletin; they've received brief mentions, if any at all. I am angry that, on the fourth day of the 16 days of activism against gender based violence, police found the body of a woman in her late 30s in a freezer in a unit in Pymble, New South Wales, and that, instead of reporting about the person who murdered her, an Australian media outlet reported that the murdered woman had a strong and aggressive personality and often nagged her quietly-spoken husband. Whatever her personality was, I would note that she doesn't have the privilege of it anymore.

I am angry that one in six Australian women have experienced violence from a partner, one in five Australian women have experienced sexual violence and one in three Australian women have experienced physical violence. I am angry that women and girls with disability are twice as likely as women and girls without disability to experience violence throughout their lifetime. I am angry that hospitalisation rates for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander women due to family violence are 30 times higher than for non-Indigenous women and girls. I am angry that Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander women and girls are 11 times more likely to die due to assault. I am angry that in 2019 there is still rhetoric about disgruntled women using false complaints of violence as a tool for revenge, and I am angry that the same people use this as justification for not acting with appropriate urgency and backing it with money.

Violence against women remains largely unreported due to the impunity, the silence, the stigma and the shame surrounding it. Australian women need to know that their elected representatives can hear them, that they care and that they are angry too. So I table this motion today for them, because Australian women and girls need more voices and need stronger voices here in this place, where we have the power to fund programs and make policy that can end violence against women and girls in Australia.

I would like to recognise some of the groups in my electorate that are actively working in the community to assist women who have experienced or who are experiencing violence and abuse. The Nundah neighbourhood centre runs journey programs for women who have experienced abuse in their intimate relationships, and encourages women to look after their physical and emotional wellbeing and rebuild their confidence. The Nundah community legal service acts as a first point of contact for women who need legal advice relating to domestic violence or family law issues, and I give a shout-out to all of the volunteers who continue to work there, as I did before my election.

Wayne and his team of workers and volunteers at Connected Inc. in Geebung run a not-for-profit charity that helps women and children fleeing domestic violence with clothes, furniture and manchester. The Youth Housing Project provides supported medium-term accommodation to young people, including young women who find themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness due to domestic violence. From the bottom of my heart, I thank these people and organisations who are working to provide a helping hand to women and girls experiencing violence in our country.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

12:15 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Lilley for this important motion. Today I will not be citing statistics. I'll leave it to others to count the dead women, the prevalence of abuse and the scale of economic and social damage that violence against women does to our nation. Today I want to talk about stopping this scourge at the start. Violence against women isn't inevitable; it's preventable. There are thousands of hardworking police, lawyers, case workers, family violence workers and medical staff dealing with the consequences of this epidemic. Not one of them would be sorry to see us consign this to history.

Prevention means taking action to prevent the problem before it occurs. This is done by addressing the underlying cause, and research shows us that violence against women correlates with beliefs and behaviours reflecting disrespect for women, low support for gender equality and adherence to rigid or stereotypical gender roles. These causes are often replicated and reinforced in our homes, schools and workplaces. Emergency services, including those in my electorate of Indi, have been doing significant work to build positive attitudes and norms around women in their ranks. Women have always been an important part of emergency services, but they've historically been under-represented in operational roles and delegated instead to making cakes and cups of tea. In some parts, the belief persists that firefighting is inherently a man's job. Even though gender is irrelevant to the ability to be a firefighter, this stereotype is pervasive. Just last month, journalist Bettina Arndt posted a photograph of a female firefighter captioned:

… brave men fighting the ferocious fires. As always, it's usually men who do the really dangerous, difficult work.

Women can be invisible even if they are in front of the cameras on the front line.

But this is changing. The CFA has made recruitment of female firefighters a priority and regularly holds female-specific recruitment information sessions. The District 24 Women's Reference Group hosts workshops for its female members and now sits at the table to make decisions. In the neighbouring electorate of McEwen, the Rural Challenge partnership supports brigades to develop welcoming and family-friendly environments. We are celebrating the successes of our female firefighters. One example is the groundbreaking Bec Noye, who last year became third lieutenant of the Euroa CFA, the first female leader in that brigade's history. Another is Marelle Whitaker, Chiltern captain and chair of the reference group, a strong voice for female leadership in our brigades. We are in the midst of a cultural change. During this fire season, I give thanks for the hundreds of brave female firefighters rostered on to protect the lives and homes of friends, neighbours and strangers, including those on their way to fight the New South Wales fires right now.

I also acknowledge the councils in my electorate responding to our community's calls for leadership on family violence. During these 16 days of activism, Mansfield Shire Council will continue its long-running commitment by hosting events on the theme of bringing men into the conversation. Indigo Shire Council, Strathbogie Shire Council and Wodonga City Council, among others, will be hosting events. My favourite is Conversations in the Chair, which aims at equipping hairdressers, beauty therapists and tattooists to pick up cues and make referrals to appropriate services. This event was hosted by Rachael Mackay of Women's Health Goulburn North East, in partnership with Wangaratta council and Northeast Health Wangaratta. I recognise their collaboration in addressing the drivers of violence against women.

Over the last 40 years, family violence has been wrenched out from behind closed doors to be recognised for what it is: a public health crisis, criminal offending and our national shame. We have come so far, but I was alarmed to read that, while awareness of family violence has risen, awareness that men are more likely than women to commit acts of domestic violence has actually decreased. One in five Australians believe domestic violence is a normal reaction to stress. Given these figures, if we are to meet government's key measure of success, being an increase in the community's intolerance of violence against women, then we cannot rest. I urge the government to keep working for an Australia where, in the words of Our Watch. 'women are not only safe but also respected, valued and treated as equals in their work, private and public life'.

12:20 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this motion on the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, marked this year on 25 November. In the lead-up to this day, a number of organisations in my community held various events to raise awareness about the dire situation with regard to domestic violence. On 20 November, I had the privilege of joining the annual Cabramatta Walk Against Domestic and Family Violence. The event was attended by over a thousand people and was hosted by the Fairfield local police together with Fairfield City Council and sponsored by one of our major clubs, Mounties. I'd like to give special thanks to Detective Chief Inspector Darren Newman for his initiative in starting this annual walk six years ago. This has become a worthwhile legacy in our community—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 12 : 21 to 12 : 41

I'd also like to acknowledge Mr Lachlan Erskine, Deputy Principal of Cabramatta High School, for his efforts in leading the domestic violence organising committee. It was particularly moving to see the students from Lansvale Public School, Canley Vale Public School, Cabramatta Public School and Cabramatta High School get on board and show their support through art, poetry and songs, reflecting on the effect of domestic violence on our communities. The performances were certainly heartfelt and reinforced that the issue of domestic violence requires a holistic community effort.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank Sydney Trains, particularly the Liverpool railway station and the indomitable Ragina Naidu, for the instrumental work they do each year in drawing attention to domestic violence. They certainly take a lot on in calling on members of our community to stand up, speak out and take steps to break the cycle of violence. Likewise, I'd like to thank Mr Sorn Yin, President of the Khmer Community of New South Wales, and his team for their efforts in uniting the Vietnamese, Lao, Thai and Burmese communities in my electorate on this important issue. They put together a very impressive showcase of cultural diversity as a means of drawing attention to domestic violence. It's always inspirational to see the community come together and stand in a public display against domestic violence and raise awareness about this longstanding complex issue facing our community. It is events such as these that help transform public awareness about domestic violence and give victims the courage and the support to report these crimes.

By now we should all be very familiar with the statistics. One in three women will have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from someone that they know and, regrettably, each week on average one woman is murdered by a current or former partner. I know from my police that more than 50 per cent of all the assaults reported in my area are domestic violence related. These statistics make it pretty clear that domestic violence is not just a matter that we can say is for the authorities. This is a matter that we must address in our communities. We must all work together to develop an integrated and coordinated multiagency response. However, for me, the issue of domestic violence becomes personal. As a grandfather of 10—six of which are granddaughters—I am petrified that, on that current statistic of one in three, my family is represented twofold to become affected by domestic violence.

Violence against women is real and it is happening in our communities and neighbourhoods. It involves women no matter how successful, resilient and strong and no matter their ethnic or religious beliefs. If we are to work towards eradicating domestic violence, we must give women the confidence to report these crimes and engage with our police. We need more men to stand up and say that this is not acceptable. We need more men promoting and educating the community about domestic violence. I think the simple truth is that we actually do need more real men.

It is not enough to just give speeches at this time each year; it is imperative that we as a community take responsibility and look out for our families, our friends, our workmates and our neighbours. We must be prepared to stand up and speak out when it comes to domestic violence. We must do all that we can and use all of our endeavours to help break this cycle; otherwise, we will see it perpetuate into the future—and that's not the legacy we want to bequeath to all those who follow us.

12:45 pm

Photo of Gladys LiuGladys Liu (Chisholm, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support this Chamber recognising 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and I would like to support recognising this year's focus of Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands Against Rape. As a society we must stand firm to say no to violence against women and girls. This violence is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993, defined violence against women as 'any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life'. Gender based violence can happen to anyone, anywhere; however, some women and girls are particularly vulnerable. For example, migrants and refugees face unique challenges when speaking out against the violence that women face.

Before entering parliament I saw the need to help women from these communities, I set up SHERO to address this need. SHERO stands for 'she is a hero'. Women from migrant communities can find it hard to reach traditional support structures for a variety of reasons, including language barriers or cultural norms that might be different to our own, or they do not know who to speak to. I am so proud to be part of the Morrison government, which is standing up for these women. This government has zero tolerance for violence against women and their children. Women have the right to be safe in their homes, communities and workplaces. I am especially proud that this government has made the single-largest Commonwealth investment to support the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. This government has committed $340 million in support.

The Commonwealth's contribution to the fourth action plan will see the funding of vital services, including $82.2 million to improve and build on frontline services to keep women and children safe; $68.3 million for prevention strategies to help stop domestic and family violence in our homes, workplaces, communities and clubs; $35 million in support and prevention measures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities funded under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy; $78.4 million to provide safe places for people impacted by domestic and family violence; $64 million for 1800RESPECT, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service;    $7.8 million for dedicated men's support workers in Family Advocacy and Support Service locations, to work with male victims and alleged perpetrators of family violence involved in family law matters; and $4.9 million to better support former partners of veterans who are impacted by domestic violence. I hope to see this support make a tangible difference to the lives of women in my electorate of Chisholm.

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the organisations in my electorate that are doing vital work in this field, and would like to offer them my full support. I commend this motion.

12:49 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm glad to speak to this motion. I thank the member for Lilley for bringing it forward, and all members for contributing to what is a very important debate. International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women reminds us that the struggle for women's basic rights is acute and desperate, and that women everywhere exist in circumstances where the threat of physical and sexual violence is never far away. No-one should kid themselves that it isn't the case in Australia too. We should remember, talk about and do something about the fact that eliminating violence against women is an effort that needs all of us and should be happening everywhere—in our families, in our schools and workplaces, at sporting and cultural events, in conversations and on our streets.

The motion sets out the hard and confronting facts of domestic violence here in Australia. It should shock us to acknowledge that intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44 than any other preventable risk factor in this country. On average, one woman is murdered by her partner each week, and across Australia one in five women will have experienced sexual violence, and one in six women has experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner.

For First Nations women in Western Australia, as many as one in two women have experienced violence and abuse. Indeed, WA police responded to a complaint of family or domestic violence every 10 minutes. While we know the rate of reporting in WA has increased by 50 per cent since 2009, data indicates that still only 20 per cent of victims make a police report. In terms of all homicide offences committed in the calendar year 2018, WA recorded the highest number of any state relating to family and domestic violence.

The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22, established by the former Labor government, is both an action plan and an ongoing survey of attitudes towards gender equality and violence. We should all be concerned about the fact that the 2017-18 progress report notes a decline in the number of people who recognise that a significant majority of perpetrators are men. It's even more concerning to note the proportion of people who believe that gender inequality is no longer an issue in this country. On the subject of workplace gender equality it's welcome that in the past year there's been a 13 per cent jump in employers who are implementing policies for domestic and family violence, and an 8.9 per cent increase in offers of paid domestic violence leave.

I want to recognise the work of the McGowan Labor government in addressing the unacceptable levels of family and domestic violence in my state of Western Australia and pay tribute to my friend and colleague, Simone McGurk, the state member for Fremantle and the first minister appointed in Western Australia with explicit responsibility for the prevention of family and domestic violence. Through the leadership of Minister McGurk, the WA government has delivered two additional women's refuges, expanded culturally appropriate services for First Nations people and for people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and has ensured that all public servants have access to 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave entitlement. That was a policy that federal Labor took to the last election in respect of Commonwealth public servants, and I urge the government to take up the reform.

I recognise that this is a debate in which there is strong bipartisan support for the motion, but it is not an area in which we can be coy about the realities, and the reality is that this government cut $44 million in funding to support safe houses. It also tried in the last parliament to cut funds to community legal centres, which provide crucial support to women and children escaping violence. I know that just last week Minister McGurk drew attention to the Safer Venues WA Survey, which found that 67.5 per cent of Western Australians have experienced harassment at a live music or entertainment venue, with four out of five of those cases being experienced by women. She was joined in highlighting this issue by local musician Stella Donnelly, whose song 'Boys will be boys' calls out the prevalence of abuse against women and the tendency to excuse that behaviour in men, often by finding ways to question the conduct of victims. It has to stop.

When there is a problem that is so harmful and so deeply entrenched, we have to be prepared to assume that we have all been conditioned to some degree into a kind of blindness as to what is going on; we don't see it, we look past it and we stay silent when we should speak up. I'm sure that I have been guilty of that. I reckon we all have. This occasion that we mark through the motion is an opportunity to reflect on how we all need to look harder at ourselves and the world around us to see what's going on, to say something and to do something about it.

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.