House debates

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Grievance Debate

Women's Safety

4:40 pm

Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

With the national conversation on women's safety in the home and the workplace finally at the forefront, we mustn't allow this momentum to slowly fade away, with the challenges faced by women and children across the country, no matter their backgrounds, still a continuing stain on our society. There has been some movement in this area, but the pace of change is slow. I constantly ask myself, as a member of government with the privilege and responsibility of this position, what role can I play beyond working with my colleagues on all sides to find tangible solutions, continuing conversations with members on all sides to ensure there's a bipartisan approach to this issue, or meeting with stakeholders in the community who are fighting for change? What I can do is use my voice and make another speech on this issue. I'll continue to be a voice for those who can't speak for as long as I am fortunate enough to represent my community in this place.

Just yesterday I was again reminded how prevalent the issue of women's safety is. Shortly after 9 am on Monday morning, my office received a distress call from a young mother of two children fleeing an abusive relationship and seeking emergency accommodation. Magnolia Place, the only shelter that can accommodate a mother of this age, is currently booked out, and with a very long waiting list. They unfortunately had to turn this woman away, recommending that she call my office. After some calls, I believe that we were able to find some temporary accommodation, but this phone call was another reminder of how dire the situation is for women trying to escape a violent relationship. This is true not just in Northern Tasmania but reflective of every rural town, regional city suburb and metropolitan area across the country.

On top of working to find some accommodation, my office quickly looked at what other support this young woman might need. Across Tasmania and in the Northern Tasmania region, a number of organisations exist with the sole focus of helping women and children who are looking to escape a violent relationship, or helping them stay safe after leaving; and providing support towards building a new life and hopefully a brighter future. There are services like Women's Legal Service Tasmania, who I've spoken about many times in this place, as I'm a firm supporter of the critical work that they do. Women's Legal Service Tasmania is a community legal centre committed to empowering women in the Tasmanian community to take control over their own lives by providing holistic, client centred, trauma informed legal services. Their specific approach is centred around the undeniable fact that women experience specific barriers and structural inequality.

With the formidable Yvette Cehtel at the helm as their CEO, the organisation provides essential services, including telephone advice and an information and referral line, which is accessed by women all across the state. Their legal staff are able to provide advice and referral on all legal matters, including specialist legal services in the areas of family violence, family law, child safety and discrimination law. At times, they take on casework for clients in unjust situations who need representation and guidance through the legal system, women who would not otherwise have access to the support they need. It is this need where future funding is essential, which I'll discuss in further detail shortly. It's important to note that, beyond providing community legal education through schools, migrant groups, neighbourhood houses and community groups, their Launceston office, in my electorate; and their Burnie office, in Braddon, are part of the national Domestic Violence Unit program, funded by both federal and state government responses to rising family violence in these communities. Through the DVU program, women's legal have been able to provide an holistic response to women and their children experiencing family violence, providing specialist legal services in addition to being able to provide support through financial counselling and social work services.

As a specialist service for women in the Launceston area since 1992, Yemaya Women's Support Service is centred on providing specialist trauma informed counselling, group work, information, advocacy and referral for women who experience abuse and violence within intimate partner relationships. Like other service workers, Yemaya staff have also stated that many of their clients have not reported to police the majority of family violence inflicted upon them. Other organisations, such as Engender Equality, Karinya Young Women's Service, Laurel House and Sexual Assault Support Service, or SASS, also provide important services, often working collaboratively to fill service gaps. I'd like to take the opportunity to discuss their work in our community a little bit further.

Formerly known as SHE, Engender Equality has worked across our state with and on behalf of individuals, families and communities affected by family and domestic violence for more than 30 years, recognising that gender inequality is both the cause and the context of family violence. Engender Equality believes that only by actively challenging gender based oppression can we begin to achieve positive and respectful relationships within healthy, inclusive structures and institutions. As I've said before, I believe that all violence against women starts with a fundamental disrespect and that it is by actions that address this that we'll begin to see real change.

We're very fortunate to have Karinya Young Women's Service operating in Launceston as an independent not-for-profit organisation providing crisis accommodation in a purpose-built facility for young women aged 13 to 20. Additionally, the organisation runs a separate program for young pregnant women and young parents aged 15 to 19, as well as a community tenancy management program. Many of Karinya's clients have high and complex needs and have difficulty accessing or maintaining affordable accommodation and support.

Across Tasmania, there are services offering counselling and guidance for survivors of sexual assault. Formed in 1986, Laurel House is a not-for-profit sexual assault support service for survivors across the north and north-west of Tasmania. It provides a range of different services, including face-to-face and phone counselling, a 24-hour support hotline and outreach to rural areas. Its therapeutic counselling services support all ages, and it provides support through forensic, medical and legal processes, as well as referrals and information. Along with SASS, which provides counselling, advocacy and support for southern-Tasmanian survivors of sexual violence, it also provides a statewide 24-hour crisis support service directing anyone in need to their nearest support service.

These organisations all exist and function separately. I'd like to point out that the list doesn't cover every single organisation in Tasmania, but they have worked together and continue to work together to ensure women can be supported in their time of need. Every single one of these services provides extremely valuable and much-needed on-the-ground assistance, but they can't continue to provide this without funding—and, importantly, without targeted funding. The government's $1.1 billion investment in women's safety is absolutely a positive step in the right direction. After the recent House inquiry into domestic, family and sexual violence, which heard hours of submissions, it's incredibly important to me that those who were courageous enough to share their stories don't feel that this was done in vain. I am hopeful that the recommendations of the report and additional funding can create meaningful change.

One challenge raised with the committee, and which has been directly raised with me, is the high cost of legal support and the barrier it creates for many victims-survivors in the justice system. The $129 million funding injection into specialised women's legal services will support thousands of women and children to safely escape violent relationships, and the funding has been welcomed by many service providers, including Women's Legal Services Australia. But, as mentioned in Launceston at a recent breakfast meeting with Minister Ruston and the aforementioned service providers, there is a need to ensure that the funding flows quickly and to the service providers best positioned to assist women in need at a traumatic and frightening time. I'll continue to work with the minister to progress this aim.

I'd like to take the time to thank Minister Ruston for her commitment to eliminating violence against women. It is worth noting that the next national plan speaks to 'eliminating violence', rather than the previous wording of 'reducing violence'. It is just one word, but the impact is strong. What is the point of all the money, the plans and the policies if we don't send a strong message that the end goal is that violence must end and that no level of violence is acceptable?

As mentioned, I recently welcomed the minister to Launceston, where a range of stakeholders, including those mentioned here, had the opportunity for a frank and wide-ranging discussion on the funding announced in this year's budget, the reality of working on the ground and in the community to address these issues, and how this funding should work to create effective change, particularly for investment in evidence based, trauma informed programs. I know that those in attendance felt they were heard, and both the minister and I have come away with some further work to do. I am committed to holding further roundtables with this group to ensure further progress.

I would like to finish by encouraging anyone who is interested in this area to pick up a copy of Whose Life is it Anyway?, a memoir from brave northern Tasmanian woman Deborah Thomson, who shares, through diary entries, the 17 years spent married to a violent and controlling man. It's an extremely difficult read but one that starkly highlights the reality of women living in this situation. As Deb says in the introduction of her book, 'I hope that readers who may currently find themselves in situations similar to mine will recognise the importance of keeping a clear mind and the ability to see the abuse as others see it—reprehensible and extremely difficult to fix in isolation.'