House debates

Wednesday, 3 July 2024

Statements on Significant Matters

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

10:00 am

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

One of the popular nightclubs in Fremantle, back in the day, when I was a young adult, was called Zanzibar. It's no longer there, but it was where Little Creatures is now. It was a really great nightclub where the music would be from the eighties and nineties and you'd dance your heart out until, I think, one o'clock in the morning. At midnight, every time, the song 'Love Shack' would come on. I remember one particular night when I was there with a close girlfriend and, as everyone was getting ready to leave and we were going down the stairs, this guy came up to her and basically held himself close against her. It was really gross, and she felt quite violated.

I remember working in country Victoria, in Hamilton—I was there commissioning a mineral sands plant—and there was a great pub there. I remember standing around with a group of my colleagues, including a flocculant provider. We were standing around, and then this random man came up to us and—it was as if it was happening in slow motion—he came up to me, and it was like he was going to grab my breast. I didn't think that that was going to happen. It felt like it was happening in slow motion. I didn't think that he'd actually do it. And he did it. At that moment, Mr Pink, who was the flocculant provider, was kind of like, 'That is not on!' and arranged for him to get chucked out of the pub. Mr Pink broke his glasses.

I'll also share another story, of Shanene, a woman who I met in my electorate of Swan. She's a Torres Strait Islander woman. She had this amazing, high-powered job, working for a local council. She fell in love and had this amazing relationship. They had this 12-month honeymoon period. Then I'd say that what started to happen was financial abuse, where he'd take her company credit card, or take her work car, and then he'd just continue taking. That was the first part of it. Then it started to escalate into physical violence. And sometimes he would come up to her workplace. Shanene ended up in a nine-month coma. She had to learn how to walk and talk again.

So, when we talk about the elimination of violence against women, there is so much that we need to do. It's about speaking to our children. It's also about speaking to our peers and other adults. It's about challenging what happens in our workplaces as well. It's also about what we are doing as institutions and governments.

My kids and I have a routine in the morning. I always say to my kids: 'What time is it? Can you guess what I want?' and I stand there with arms open wide, waiting for a cuddle—and they don't have to give me a cuddle if they don't want to. One of the things I also do is, when my son wakes up, I ask him, 'Can I give you a kiss?' And this morning he was like, 'No.' I actually want to teach him the ability to say yes and no and to ask for consent. Consent is something that we can do time and time again. The behaviours that we teach our children are the foundations of how they will be when they become adults.

I remember listening to a radio interview where we heard about the release of doctored pornographic images of students. Most of the parents whose children were victims of this did not come out and speak to the media, and I understand. That would have been really challenging. There was one mother who came out, and the conversation that she had with her son was, 'Little girls don't grow up imagining being strangled during sexual intercourse.'

It is fascinating that strangulation is taking place more often in these intimate relationships. I don't think that it's something that people imagine doing. The statistics show that girls are more likely to be strangled compared to boys, and it's fascinating that this is what's happening to some of our teenagers and young adults. I think that we need to make sure that we have our eyes open and that we know some of the things that are happening in this community. We really need to give our teenagers the tools to know about consent and also know what good sexual relationships look like.

In one of my previous workplaces, we had an ex-CEO that would come and travel from interstate from time to time. One of the things he would do with the colleagues that had been around longer is give them a kiss. He would say, 'Hello! How are you going?' and you'd get a big kiss. One of my colleagues shared with me that she felt uncomfortable about that. After it happened a second time at a dinner, she made a point to say, 'I'd prefer not to kiss you.' And then another senior member of the management team was like, 'What? You don't want to kiss this guy? I'll kiss him instead,' and basically belittled her. It was interesting because later on I had a conversation with both of these blokes. I explained to the one who did the kissing that all that he needs to do in the first instance is ask for consent. The other one who trivialised what happened found it really challenging to understand what had happened and that he had not done the right thing. The thing that I'd say about workplaces is that I want people to challenge themselves to make sure that they are calling out these instances when they happen. Workplaces have a really important role to play.

I'll talk about institutions and governments. I'm really proud that the 47th parliament is the most diverse parliament that we've ever had. I'm also proud that the Albanese Labor government has a majority-women caucus. What this means is that women's issues are on the forefront of our agenda. We are making sure that we are being really intentional with the way that we think about women and help women, particularly when it comes to domestic violence. For me, as a new member of parliament, I felt a real sense of privilege when we introduced the 10 days of domestic violence leave into the House.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 10:08 to 10:21

I was explaining the opportunity for us as a community to act on violence against women, and it starts with talking with our children and our peers, looking at this in our workplaces and looking at what we can do on an institutional level. This year, 39 women have died due to violence against women. A staggering one in three women and girls have experienced violence since the age of 15. It's clear that this is a systemic issue. This is something that we'll continue to work on day after day.

This has come out of a national conversation that has been amplified this year. We saw the Me Too movement. There was quite a lot of conversation. We also saw what happened during the previous parliament as well. We are continuing to make sure the parliament has safer workplaces. It's great to see that the Albanese Labor government has made a record investment into this area, with an extra 500 frontline workers being funded. We're also ensuring that we have 4,000 homes for women and children fleeing domestic violence, and of course we have the 10 days of domestic violence leave which I spoke about earlier. Earlier this year, we talked about investing $2.3 billion into this area, and we've made further commitments since then.

One of the things that I have been working on in a committee that I sit on—the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services—has been a look into financial abuse, because financial abuse is a form of coercive control and it is a window into an escalation of violence which can include physical or mental violence. Everybody has a role to play when we talk about the elimination of violence against women and girls, and I challenge everyone to play their part, because we should be the country that eliminates it first.

10:23 am

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

I rise to support the statement made by the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Assistant Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, the Hon. Justine Elliot. Like, I would hope, every member of parliament, I share the very serious concerns that she has raised along with many others in government about the safety of women in our nation. This statement was made last year and, sadly, everything the assistant minister had to say at the time still rings tragically true today.

It's been an especially tragic year for Australian women. We have seen it on the news. The grassroots group Counting Dead Women Australia have recorded that 39 women have been killed by acts of male violence just this year alone. These are women who have been killed by intimate partners—people who purported to have loved them. They have been found dead in their own homes, in places where they should have been safe. Tragically, for many women, we know that home is one of the deadliest places they can be. They have also been found dead in shopping centres, while going outside to take a run and get some exercise. Some have been found dead in their neighbour's house while they have sought help.

This is a deeply disturbing matter for our nation and I reflect on the last woman who was killed, only four days ago, Sarah Miles. She is aged in her 40s, up in the Northern Rivers area, and she died of critical head injuries that were allegedly inflicted by her intimate partner, a person who had been in her life for a matter of only a few months. She was alive—unconscious but breathing—when the police arrived, but died before she could even get the help she needed. I actually don't have words to describe this anymore. 'Tragic' seems far too kind a word, almost. It is a catastrophic set of incidents that lead intimate partners in particular to end up violently killing the people that they purport to care about and love. It's unfathomable to many of us, but it is not something we can turn away from, as uncomfortable and devastating as it is for families. I know very few people that are actually untouched by the scourge of domestic, family and sexual violence. Many people in this House, if they have not had direct experience, have some lived experience via their families, friends, work colleagues or neighbours. It's not something any of us can or should turn away from, as uncomfortable as those truths are.

If women are not safe, then that is not something that a nation can sweep under the carpet. Gone are the days when we didn't talk about domestic, family and sexual violence and that's a very good thing, but we know that it is still a big shame for lots of families. We have to do what we can in this place to ensure that we are elevating the issue, that we are doing everything we can as a government, and that we seek to bring all levels of government in all jurisdictions with us in making absolutely every effort, because we know violence can happen to women of any age, from every cultural and religious background—people of different jobs, different levels of education, different kinds of income-earning capacity, living in different areas and leading different lives. There are no discriminatory boundaries that domestic, family and sexual violence will ignore. It's prevalent everywhere, and it impacts us all. We know the stories, I shared the horrific one of Sarah Miles from just four days ago, but she is one of 39 women who have been killed by their intimate partners this year alone, and we have only just started July.

This is not the type of world that we want for our girls to grow up in. We don't want them fearing for their lives or safety, and we don't want our boys to think that this is normal. We need this violence to stop and we need our culture, our behaviour and our attitudes towards women to change. Indeed, the way we think about masculinity and the growth and development of our boys in Australia needs to change.

Each year in parliament, for the last 10 years, I have stood in this House to read the names of all those women who are killed by acts of violence in Australia. It is one of the toughest speeches I give in this House, and it is always shockingly too long. Last year there were 64 women killed by acts of violence in Australia. According to the numbers now, in the early days of July—as I said, 39—we are set to, tragically, exceed that number in 2024. It's not a speech I look forward to delivering at all. The ABS data says that one in four women have experienced violence from an intimate partner since the age of 15. The same source tells us that that violence is seldom isolated.

The Albanese Labor government have set ourselves a goal of ending violence against women and children within a generation. A lot of people told us we were crazy, setting ourselves up for failure, and I don't dispute for one moment that this is an ambitious target, but I tell you what: it's not one that any of us can afford not to achieve. I don't want this government, or any government after us, to lower their ambition, to somehow think that we don't need to act with a great sense of urgency, commitment and determination to end violence against women and children within a generation.

We recognise that gender inequality is one of the driving forces of violence against women. That is why we've released our Working for women, a 10-year national strategy to achieve gender equality. Addressing gender based violence is priority area No. 1. Those actions have been well mapped out by our respective ministers. Indeed, I've made speeches in this parliament as well. There is a big number—$3.4 billion—attached to supporting women's safety. That may be an eye-watering amount when you just talk about money, but we should talk about what that means on the ground, because that is a little bit more useful for people. It will mean improved justice responses, for example, to sexual violence. We're funding that ALRC inquiry to examine what more we can do. We're improving our reporting and data collection so that we've got a better understanding of domestic and family violence, and boosting response times and victim-survivor experiences. We've made the family law system safer and simpler for families and children, and we're the first government ever to legislate 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave. The budget also provided a lot of other measures, including the Leaving Violence Program, delivering $5,000 of upfront support for women when they need it most. And there are many more programs that will be rolled out over the coming year.

My greatest wish is that one year I won't have to stand in this parliament to recite the names of women killed by acts of male violence in Australia. That would be when we could say in this place that we've done what we need to do as governments. We should all recommit ourselves to ending violence against women and children now and forever.

10:33 am

Photo of Melissa McIntoshMelissa McIntosh (Lindsay, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Energy Affordability) Share this | | Hansard source

As the member for Lindsay, I have a set of statistics I'm not proud of. The Nepean Police Area Command has stations in Penrith and St Marys in my electorate, and they have some of the highest rates of domestic and family violence in New South Wales. We need to do better as a community. This is a multipartisan effort. Every conversation and intervention will help break these terrible statistics that relate to real-life circumstances.

Penrith Women's Health Centre is an incredible local organisation that assists hundreds and hundreds of local families each year. But a few weeks ago their CEO wrote to me about a nonrenewal of funding by the Albanese Labor government. This meant that last Friday, the last business day of the financial year, a part-time caseworker was going to be let go from the centre. Further, we learnt last week that this could mean a reduction of casework been taken on by the centre by 30 per cent—30 per cent less casework for women escaping domestic violence. This is not good enough.

I wrote to the Minister for Social Services and the Assistant Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, pushing them to put money back on the table for the Penrith Women's Health Centre. There are so many vulnerable women across the Western Sydney community that the centre supports. They operate across the Penrith, Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains areas and need to be adequately funded to do their vital work. The centre provides food support and programs to assist young women as well. The caseworkers are constantly helping those experiencing the pain of partner trauma, whether that be a young mum in a difficult situation with a new partner, a family that has endured years of abuse or an elderly woman who is scared to leave, because she just doesn't have the finances to support herself. These are the stories that we keep hearing time and time again. It is what the Penrith Women's Health Centre helps to combat every day.

I thank our opposition spokesperson for countering family and domestic violence, Senator Kerrynne Liddle, for her enormous work in this space and for meeting with the Penrith Women's Health Centre as well. I know Senator Liddle made representations to the minister. I also made a contribution in the House last week, highlighting the need for funding to be restored. Funding for the MUSTER program that I campaigned for at the 2019 election and secured for the Penrith Women's Health Centre was the funding that was going to be taken away. But, finally, at the eleventh hour, with a lot of pushing and advocacy, the centre had good news. It was confirmed with state government officials that they had been successful for further funding by the Commonwealth. This funding included one full-time qualified worker and one trainee position until 20 June 2026.

The thing is, we shouldn't have to fight down to the wire for funding for domestic violence services or have the threat of losing a staff member before finally being listened to. We have an announcement by the Labor government of these 500 new, frontline domestic violence workers, but it's only slow in its delivery. We need to act quicker. The government needs to act quicker. And I wonder if the positions allocated to the Penrith Women's Health Centre will be ticked off as new positions for the government or if the data will reflect that it's actually a partial increase in casework support, given they were going to cut a position. I really hope politics isn't played with this very valuable organisation.

By 30 June 2023, 200 new workers were meant to be helping across Australian neighbourhoods and regional areas. However, none had been delivered by that time. The target number by 30 June 2024 to have begun work in the community was 352 positions. Unfortunately, the data reflects that, by this time, only 94 had been contracted. From the numbers released just a few days ago, there has been no advancement in employing those 500 frontline workers in Victoria, Tasmania or the ACT since the last reporting period. Local organisations that do their utmost to support women in crisis should not have to wait. They should not have to be on tenterhooks to know what their future is. There is a serious problem with this program if the government thinks it's okay for such vital services to be told the day before letting someone go that that person can keep their job. In my time as the shadow assistant minister for mental health and suicide prevention, I remember speaking to many organisations about the struggles they faced with government funding lapsing periods and not knowing if programs were going to receive the needed money. This needs to stop for vital support services across the country. They need certainty, and I encourage and urge the Labor government to deliver this.

In this discussion on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Woman, we need a stronger, overarching approach to combating family and domestic violence in every single suburb and town across the country. As I said, my particular electorate has higher statistics than most, and it is something that I work very hard every day to eliminate. But, as we all say in this place, more needs to be done. One of the things that we have control over is the allocation of funding for these grassroots organisations that mean so much to women in need.

I hope that the Albanese Labor government revises the model to ensure greater take-up of the program for the 500 frontline services, that they make sure that these are new positions and not simply positions given back to organisations after taking away support, and that they really put a focus on prioritising these positions because these positions are actual people on the ground supporting those most in need. The Australian families facing domestic violence expect no less.

Photo of Marion ScrymgourMarion Scrymgour (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further statements, the discussion is now concluded.