House debates

Monday, 27 November 2023

Private Members' Business

Elimination of Violence against Women

10:36 am

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) 25 November 2023 marks the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, beginning 16 days of activism against gender-based violence;

(b) in Australia, it has been publicly reported that approximately 47 women have been killed by acts of violence as of 9 November this year;

(c) one in three Australian women have experienced physical violence perpetrated by a man since the age of 15; and

(d) violence affects women of every age, from every cultural background, with different jobs and levels of education or income, living in different areas and leading different lives;

(2) commends the work of the family, domestic and sexual violence sector, which is delivering vital services to women, children and men;

(3) further notes that the Government is taking immediate and practical steps to prevent violence against women by:

(a) investing a record $2.3 billion in this area;

(b) launching the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032;

(c) establishing a dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander action plan;

(d) establishing six ambitious targets to hold all governments to account for progress under the national plan;

(e) reducing the time it takes victim-survivors to access the Escaping Violence Payment;

(f) securing funding for states and territories to deliver frontline services;

(g) increasing support for temporary visa holders experiencing violence from $3,000 to $5,000;

(h) legislating ten paid days of family and domestic violence leave for all employees, including casuals; and

(i) making the family law system simpler and safer for people fleeing family violence; and

(4) acknowledges that there is still more work to done to end violence against women and children, but the Government is committed to ending this scourge within a generation.

It is with a heavy heart that I rise to speak to this motion moved in my name. When I drafted this motion less than two weeks ago the number of Australian women who had been killed by acts of violence this year was 47. Today, that number stands at 53. Six more women have been killed in the last two weeks alone.

We have a national crisis when it comes to violence against women in Australia. Each year I rise in this House to read the names of women who have been violently killed. Last week I read the names of 47 women. Today I rise to read six more—and, sadly, a number of these are unnamed women because their names have not been publicly released as yet. They are an unnamed woman, age 37; an unnamed woman, age 44; an unnamed woman, age 45; Julianne Egan, age 63; yet another unnamed woman, age 39; and Jodie Jewell, aged just 55. I want to acknowledge the work of Destroy The Joint, who do the job of maintaining the Counting Dead Women register in Australia, and thank them for the heartbreaking work they do.

When more than one woman a week is violently killed, usually by an intimate partner or someone close to them, it is beyond time for a national reckoning. This national crisis requires a fundamental shift in our culture, our behaviours and our attitudes towards women. The Albanese Labor government has set itself a goal of ending violence against women and children within a generation. Australia has never set itself an ambition like this before, and it's not going to be easy. We must try because the status quo is not good enough.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed 2.7 million women have experienced partner violence or abuse. The 2021-22 Personal Safety Survey also found that women living in households under financial stress were more than twice as likely to face violence or abuse and that more than 300,000 women were pregnant when they experienced violence by their partner. First Nations women experience disproportionately high rates of violence.

Women with disability in Australia are twice as likely to have experienced sexual violence over their lifetime than women without disability. And lesbian, bisexual and queer women experience higher rates of sexual violence than heterosexual women in Australia.

On Saturday 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we announced a new statistical dashboard that will provide more timely reporting on intimate partner violence. We know that to end violence we must be able to measure it. Understanding the scale of the issue with accurate, verified, closer-to-real-time data is critical. The new dashboard, with quarterly updates initially, will enable police, governments, policymakers and those who are working to end violence against women and children to better understand what is happening and when.

This comes on top of our funding for consent and respectful relationships education; sexual violence prevention pilots; support of the work of Our Watch, the national leading organisation for primary prevention of family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia; and the development of a national perpetrator risk assessment framework to identify risks posed by perpetrators and support earlier intervention.

The Albanese Labor government is taking immediate and practical steps to prevent family and domestic violence and better support victim-survivors with a $2.3 billion investment in this area. We’ve released a 10-year national plan to end violence against women and children, including a dedicated plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We’ve added 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave to the National Employment Standards, reduced time for victims-survivors to access the Escaping Violence Payment, secured funding for the delivery of frontline services and have committed to growing this workforce. We’ve increased financial support for temporary visa holders experiencing violence, and we’re making the family law system simpler and safer for people fleeing family violence.

It's going to take every level of government, business, schools, sports clubs, families and neighbourhoods—every part of our community—to work with us to make this ambition a realistic goal. Let's keep women and children safe in Australia.

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Zaneta MascarenhasZaneta Mascarenhas (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my rights.

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Swan. The motion is seconded. The question is the motion be agreed to.

10:42 am

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

A few weeks ago I was working on a joint statement with my co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of Ending Violence Against Women and Children, the member for Canberra and Senator Waters in the other place. The statement called on all levels of government to prioritise the issue of gendered violence while also calling for us as a society to drive cultural change.

The statement was driven by a surge of women being killed by men's violence—five women in just 10 days prior to the statement. At the time the total was 43 women, as reported by Counting Dead Women Australia. Today, as the member for Newcastle has said, that number is at 53, and we know that coming into the holiday season there will be an increase in family violence incidents and that number will undoubtedly rise.

As the member for Newcastle stated earlier, one-in-three women have experienced physical violence perpetrated by a man since the age of 15, and we know that violence doesn’t discriminate—it affects women of every age from every cultural background, with different jobs and levels of education or income, living in different areas and leading different lives.

This is a national emergency. The rate of femicides over recent years is horrific, and we must continue to raise our voices. I back the initiative from the member for Newcastle to read the names of the women who have been killed this year, as she has just done this morning, and I understand the member for Goldstein will also be calling on the government to establish an Australian homicide index that will generate the evidence needed to inform responses to family violence, an initiative I also support.

As I stand here today to mark the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which begins the 16 days of activism against gender based violence, I want to reiterate that we must move beyond the long-held school of thought that this is a women's issue. The continued violence against women at the hands of men is a men's issue. It is a societal and cultural issue, and women cannot keep fighting this alone.

I commend my colleagues from all sides who continue to work so hard to raise awareness and fight for funding for vital services and programs and who continue to speak up. I know so many men in here also care deeply about ending violence against women, and I acknowledge my colleagues the member for Sturt and the member for Cowper who will be speaking on this motion today. But I’m calling for men in here today to be a little louder.

Your voices matter. You are leaders of your community and have a vital role to play in having the hard conversations in your electorates. I'd like to thank the member for Bruce and Senator Birmingham, who have taken the time recently to attend briefings and events in here about this issue.

As mentioned earlier, a critical role we as elected representatives can play is to ensure funding is delivered for critical frontline services and increasingly for programs that address the systemic cultural issues which feed the continuation of gender based violence. In the northern Tasmanian region, organisations Women's Legal Service Tasmania, Yemaya, Laurel House and Engender Equality are working collaboratively to roll out pioneering programs such as mentors in violence training; partnering with Girl Guides to deliver respectful relationships workshops, including early consent training for girls; and even a partnership with Playgroup Tasmania and Happy Habits to roll out the All Come Out to Play! program, which delivers messages of gender equality and respectful relationships through song, dance and story.

All the evidence bears out that we must start educating at a very young age in order to make a breakthrough on the long-held societal norms, and I'm thrilled to see this program rolling out in Tasmania. To each of these organisations, particularly in my electorate, I thank you for your tireless work. I know you are all working towards the ultimate goal of making your own jobs obsolete.

In the meantime, while the demand for services and education is higher than ever, I implore the government, as I did request of the coalition when in government, to put an end to the short-term funding demands placed on these organisations that require funding certainty to recruit and retain qualified staff and to roll out and deliver evidence based programs across the long term. I suggest that, in a region like northern Tasmania, given the collaboration between a number of services, it would be great to fund the organisations as a hub model, which would ensure that the needs of women impacted by violence could be consistently met through a range of services.

Enough is enough is enough. I've lost count of the number of times I've spoken parliament on the topic of violence against women and children, and I live in hope that, if I am still standing here next year to mark this day, at least in this country we may have begun to see the slightest shift on the dial.

10:47 am

Photo of Zaneta MascarenhasZaneta Mascarenhas (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We know that, from the age of 15, a staggering one in three women and girls in Australia have experienced violence. We also know that too many women are killed by intimate partners. The member for Newcastle explained earlier that, just two weeks ago when she drafted this motion, there had been 47 women killed this year from this form of violence. Today it stands at 53. I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this motion put by the member for Newcastle and I know that it's s the tireless and passionate advocates for victims of gender based violence that continue to advocate for the issue. We share an ambition to eliminate gender based violence in Australia in one generation. I acknowledge the enormity of this challenge, but I also make a personal commitment to this.

What has motivated me to speak on this today is the relationship that I have developed with different people within my electorate, including a wonderful woman called Shenane. When we talk about courage and survival, I think of Shenane, and she has given me permission to talk about her story. Before I share her story, I will say that this has a trigger warning and, if people might be confronted by this, I suggest that you may want to leave. Shenane is a local community leader whom I met in Belmont last year. She's outgoing, confident, positive and incredibly professional as well. It was a short time ago, though, that Shenane was unrecognisable. She was the victim of horrific domestic violence that left her in a hospital bed, fighting for her life. When you hear her story, you'll understand how truly lucky she is to be alive.

Over a period of five years, she suffered repeated abuse that put her in hospital many times, bleeding, bruised, broken, concussed. However, it was the final attack that was the most sustained and vicious. I will say that it was so horrific that I struggled to listen to it. It's not something that any woman, child or person should have to endure. She was placed in an induced coma for nine months to let her brain heal.

It took her 18 months to learn how to walk and talk again. She now lives with a permanent traumatic brain injury.

As I said, when I met her, she was a fun, energetic, positive person. How could something like this happen to her? How could something like this happen to any woman? She says that there were signs of the controlling relationship in the first 18 months of her relationship, and it started quite insidiously. It started with money going missing, the controlling of money and the use of her money for his purposes, which made her employment unsustainable, undermined her independence and undermined her finances. By the time she realised, it was almost too late.

About two years into the relationship is when the physical abuse started. When it did, we failed her. The community failed her. The system failed her. On one occasion, after she had received stitches to the skull, the emergency doctor's only take-home advice was to see the doctor in a few weeks to get her stitches removed. She didn't make it; her stitches were torn apart by another blow to the head before she had the chance. She wants to make sure that health workers are better informed about how to help victims, and this is why I want to get behind the efforts to raise awareness of the early signs of abuse and control.

During the 2022 election, my team knocked on 45,000 doors, and we spoke to countless people. One of the conversations that stuck in my mind was with an older man. His daughter and grandchild were living with him. He explained that her partner was controlling her money, and the control was so insidious that the partner would not actually allow her to buy sanitary products. It was a calculated denial of money to inflict harm and shame on a woman to control her. This type of abuse has a name. It's called economic abuse. Often, as Shenane's story exposed, it can be an early sign of impending violence.

Shenane speaks about herself as one of the lucky ones—a survivor. She has embraced life with renewed purpose. She now has a job advocating for those with traumatic brain injury. She is an amazing Torres Strait Islander woman, and it is my privilege to know her as my friend and know her story. But what I want to make sure of is that all women have the opportunity to have and lead their best lives and to be free from violent relationships.

10:52 am

Photo of Allegra SpenderAllegra Spender (Wentworth, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Newcastle for moving a motion on such an important issue. Last Saturday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and this year it marked the launch of the UNITE campaign, 16 days of action across the world, calling on governments to invest in preventing violence against women and girls. I'm wearing orange today, as a number of my crossbench colleagues are, in support of this work.

Intimate partner violence is the greatest health risk factor for women aged 25 to 44, and that's in this country. An estimated one in six women aged 18 years or over has experienced violence by a partner in this country. But it's not in faraway places, as we often think. Right in my community of Wentworth, when I spoke to the local police commander, they told me that up to 50 per cent of their time in their local police stations was taken up with domestic violence issues. It is everywhere, in places you do not expect.

Just last month, 21-year-old Lilie James, a water polo coach at St Andrew's Cathedral School, a school that many Wentworth students go to, was brutally murdered. In her family's words, Lilie was vibrant, outgoing and very much loved by her family and friends. Her murder was a senseless act of violence and was deeply felt by people in my community.

Ninety per cent of Australians recognise this as a national issue, but many of them still think it's far away. The harsh reality is that it happens every single day, and it happens close to home. Domestic violence is not confined to any particular area, age, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. The perpetrator might be the father of her children, a well-respected community figure and a good bloke. We must confront the truth that someone we care for or even look up to might be capable of such violence. We must place the responsibility where it belongs—not on the woman's actions, but on the choices of the man who killed her.

Violence doesn't emerge in a vacuum. It thrives in environments where boys are taught to feel entitled to relationships, to sex, to decision-making and to getting what they want—an environment where men rise to leadership positions despite harmful attitudes towards women and where women's roles are still sharply defined so that they shoulder the majority of parenting, housework, and care responsibilities. And fatal violence is almost always preceded by other forms of violence. Disturbingly, data from the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research indicates that coercive control behaviours are present in over half of all domestic violence incidents. While steps have been taken to criminalise coercive control in various states, we have a long way to go. Government has taken steps, but we have much more work to do.

We have stepped forward in this parliament on steps like domestic violence leave, financial support and consent education. However, we have much further to go, including supporting grassroots organisations with consistent funding and better funding certainty so they know at the end of each financial year whether they will be able to offer services the next year; providing better data more quickly; providing more consistent definitions of violence across our different states and territories; ensuring that we actually undertake early intervention to stop violence at its source; ensuring that we make it easier to prosecute violence against women; and, finally, ensuring that we have an environment that empowers women economically. That means increasing paid parental leave and getting more men involved in caring, because we know that, if women continue to shoulder the domestic burdens in amounts disproportionate to those for men, they don't have the same economic strength, and this feeds into violence, into coercive control and, I think, into the culture of men and women that we still have in this country.

Before I wrap up, I want to pay tribute to the people in Wentworth who are making amazing strides in this area. We have Bondi Beach Cottage, which provides counselling, child care and support; With You We Can with Sarah Rosenberg, who provides a pathway and explanation for how to prosecute violence against women; ReLove with Ren Fernando and Ben Stammer, who last week held a fundraiser where they talked about providing furniture for those people escaping domestic violence; the Lokahi Foundation, which provides long-term support; and, finally, Chanel Contos, who has done so much to advance consent education amongst young people in Australia.

10:57 am

Photo of Louise Miller-FrostLouise Miller-Frost (Boothby, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Saturday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In South Australia, it marked the end of a week where four women were killed by current or former partners—four horrific deaths. In Adelaide, thousands of women and their supporters joined Rotary, Zonta and other organisations to march to the Pioneer Women's Memorial, and I want to quote some of the words spoken at the rally by Deirdre Flynn, director of client services at Catherine House. Deirdre spoke about the need to provide some practical takeaways to keep hope alive through personal and collective acts of courage and to be truthful about where we are, because it was a really tough day and a very tough week.

Women and their supporters have been on this journey for a long time, and, for all the progress that we've made, women are still being killed or subjected to controlling and violent relationships. The awful, painful truth we must confront is that violence and murder of women will continue until we have the courage and moral fortitude to dismantle every enabling system and shut down every person or structure that resists the reconstruction of a culture of respect where women can live and move freely without fear, harassment and violence.

While there are definitely things government can do to respond to this national emergency, and I welcome the South Australian government's introduction of laws to criminalise coercive control, as a community we cannot remain idle. We each have the power to make a difference. And please know this: you should light the fire within you to do more. I'm talking about using courage as a force for change in the form of both action and resistance—courage to be what you choose, with a quiet whisper or a bold, audacious act. It can be what you choose for it to be.

Courageous people can create a revolution. History has shown us this. We can each make active choices, push back on disrespect and violence, and take action to build positive cultures and models of healthy relationships.

To women everywhere I say: if you are experiencing domestic or family violence and have not confided in anyone, resist his shame that keeps this a secret. Act by finding someone safe to tell. For all of us, knowledge is power. Learn about the signs of domestic and family violence and coercive control. Learn about healthy relationships. Teach your children about healthy, respectful relationships. Resist the urge to ignore, defend or minimise bad behaviour. It takes courage to question the safety of your relationship. For men, it takes courage to resist in engaging in the harmful banter that occurs within some male groups and settings, but if you fail to act you become part of the problem rather than a leader who has the power to create change.

For us all, it takes courage to admit someone we know could be hurting a woman. We must resist the urge to do nothing because we don't want to interfere or make it awkward. We can learn how to safely support. Let us all activate our courage, be open and ready to respond if someone confides in us, and learn about resources and supports we can direct people to. Resist the urge to downplay what they are sharing due to discomfort. It takes courage to speak the truth of what we are seeing and hearing. It takes courage to act to address the indifference encountered about male violence. Resist doing nothing. Ask your workplace to run training. Provide resources for women and for men interested in positive behaviour change.

Finally, no country anywhere has figured out how to reach those men who value women so little that they are prepared to lose everything to enact a fatal revenge by ending a woman's life. We must have the courage to confront this frightening truth and use this to propel widespread surges of action and strong resistance everywhere it's called for. Until there is an end to male violence, we can all be the eyes and ears, a resource for women needing support, and be there for men who need or want help to stop their violence. I want to thank Deirdre for her inspiring and comforting words. This is a community-wide issue that requires community-wide action and a community-wide culture change, and we all need to play our part in this movement. Lives literally depend on it.

11:02 am

Photo of Kate ChaneyKate Chaney (Curtin, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to rise in support of this motion by the member for Newcastle at the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence. I recognise that, while positive steps have been taken in recent years to reduce violence against women and protect victims-survivors, much more needs to be done. Last Saturday 25 November was the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. On the Saturday before that, at a suburban home in Perth, a 63-year-old woman, a mother and grandmother, was murdered inside her home—another woman killed in the very place that should have been her sanctuary. We're repeatedly told that a woman is killed every week in Australia by someone known to them. I wonder if we're becoming immune to this fact. It's an outrageously alarming statistic. This year it's even worse than one a week. In the 47th week of the year, more than 65 women have allegedly been murdered in Australia. That's one every five days. How is it that this is still happening? Family and domestic violence don't occur in particular postcodes. In every electorate—Curtin, Cowan, O'Connor and all over the country—there are women and children for whom home is not a safe place to be.

Probably the most common response when we start talking about violence at home is: 'Why doesn't she take the kids and leave? Why doesn't she report it to the police? I'd have up and left immediately if it were me.' But if you're not in this situation it can be really hard to understand the challenges. A recent report from Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety found that in many cases of domestic violence the perpetrators are middle-class men, well respected in their communities, with a low level of contact with the criminal justice system. Their abusive behaviour can be hidden from sight. They often control and monitor their partner's activities, with the violence escalating if they think she is contemplating leaving.

Besides, where could they go?

Right now in Western Australia we're witnessing a perfect storm of escalating rates of family violence, increasing living costs and the housing crisis. The rental vacancy in WA is currently at 0.7 per cent, with more than 30,000 people waiting for social housing. This means that a growing number of vulnerable women are remaining in violent and abusive situations to avoid risking homelessness.

I was recently told about Jessica, a nurse working in one of Perth's hospitals, who was in exactly this situation. Jessica didn't head home at the end of her exhausting shift but instead took her car with all her possessions inside and went to the Safe Night Space East Perth. At the Safe Night Space she was able to access some basic amenities, such as a shower and kitchen facilities, plus support and a safe place to sleep. The alternatives for Jessica, who had no family support in Perth, were to return to her physically and psychologically abusive partner or to sleep in her car. Both options presented a high risk to her safety, and both options are unacceptable. The Safe Night Space, where Jessica had sought refuge, is an initiative of the City of Perth and Ruah Community Service. The service has been operating for 2½ years, with the city both funding the service and providing the building in East Perth. The City of Perth should be applauded for supporting such a service.

However, unless there's a last-minute reprieve, the Safe Night Space will close its doors next week when its contract with the City of Perth ends. After extensive lobbying, the state government has recently agreed to fund the service for the next two years, but the City of Perth is unwilling to extend the lease on the building where the service is operating, intending to convert it to 'community use'. Without an extension to the building lease, the Safe Night Space has no other options. There are no other premises available, and the service will close.

With more than 17,000 people signing a petition to keep the Safe Night Space open at its current East Perth site, this tells me that the community, including many of my constituents, share the view that protecting women from violence is a very good use of a community asset. The City of Perth and the state government can take action to support women who are impacted by family and domestic violence by keeping the doors to the Safe Night Space in East Perth open. I couldn't think of a better way to start this important campaign.

Debate adjourned.