Senate debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021


International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

10:12 am

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | Hansard source

I too rise to speak about a very important issue that every Australian needs to take responsibility for, on this, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Before I start, I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunawal and Ngambri people. I also acknowledge Indigenous people in this place and Indigenous people who may be listening. I acknowledge those who have lost their lives at the hands of an intimate partner, and I acknowledge those that have survived but bear the scars of what has happened to them.

Family, domestic and sexual violence is everybody's business. We cannot go forward as a nation and end violence against all Australian women and children—against all Australians—unless every single Australian takes responsibility for ending violence. We must change the attitudes of Australians so that they understand the damage that is done when violence is perpetrated in its very many forms.

To do so, we have to understand respect. We have to respect each other, and we have to understand the impact that our words and actions have on other Australians. As we know, not all disrespect ends in violence, but you can be absolutely assured that all violence starts with disrespect. That is why we, collectively, are committed to the delivery of the next national plan to end violence against women and their children. We have embarked on a significant consultation process, because everybody's voice needs to be heard, and everybody's voice needs to be listened to.

It is exceptionally important that we listen to the voices of First Nations women and girls. That is why today we made an announcement, in conjunction with June Oscar, Marcia Langton, Sandra Creamer and a number of other very strong Indigenous women, to say that the voices of women and girls need to be heard and that we must make sure we have a dedicated action plan for First Nations women and girls which is informed by the voices of their people and which is delivered by their people for their people.

I would now like to tell a story. One Friday night earlier this month, emergency services were called to a fire at a residence in the Hidden Valley town camp in the Northern Territory. Most of the fire had been extinguished by the time the emergency services arrived, and the alleged victim, a 34-year-old woman, had suffered extensive burns and, sadly, died two days later. A police officer in the Alice Springs criminal investigation unit told journalists: 'The woman, a mother, was known to be at risk of domestic violence. We believe there was fuel used in the fire and we believe the fire was started as a result of a fight.' The alleged offender, a 36-year-old man, was the woman's partner and he too died several days later as a result of burns.

Last week when I visited the Northern Territory in my role as women's safety minister, just about every single person said to me, 'Where was the national outrage?' What occurred in the Northern Territory on that Friday night was an utter tragedy, and something that shocked—and should shock—every Australian to their very core. There absolutely should be national outrage, but there wasn't. We know the statistics in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women when it comes to family, domestic and sexual violence are so disproportionately overrepresented in comparison to non-Indigenous women. That is why we must listen to the voices of Indigenous women and girls, to make sure that their solutions to this problem are delivered.

I acknowledge today Senator Cox and Senator Thorpe. I have been in discussions with them in relation to making sure that we inquire into these missing and murdered women. These women have the right for the rest of Australia to understand what has happened to them. We support you, Senators.

Across the whole of the landscape of Australia, we need to continue to invest. We need to invest in leadership. We need to make sure that we have a coordinated approach to domestic violence, because we need to make sure that every single cent, every single resource, every single activity that we deliver in this space is targeted to the outcome—that is, supporting women and children in this country who are either at risk of domestic violence or victims of domestic violence. That is why the single largest commitment, the $1.1 billion that was made in the 2021-22 budget, is a down payment on the next national plan to end violence against women and their children is so important.

The Commonwealth needs to take a leadership role. That was why yesterday, as a result of the recommendations that came out of the consultation process, the House inquiry into domestic violence as well as the national summit, we acted on the recommendation for a domestic violence commission and commissioner. To make sure we take a coordinated approach, we need to improve coordination, we need to have transparency, we need to have accountability. This problem is a shared responsibility, and the best way to make sure that we make best use of all resources is if we coordinate that approach. We will make sure we have a properly funded commission with the horsepower, the resources and the staff to make sure we can truly deliver on that commitment to make sure that we deliver on everything that we say.

We also need to make sure that we stop violence before it happens in the first place. That's why we must focus on respect and consent. We need our young Australians, we need our children to understand that they must grow up being respectful of each other, because only then will we embed respect and consent into the national psyche so that we can actually start reducing the number of people and eventually end up with a future Australia free of gender-based violence. This is the Australia that I think every single person sitting in this chamber aspires to achieve.

So we have to deal with prevention, but we also have to deal with early intervention. We must meet this crisis early on, so we need to focus on making sure we are addressing perpetrators. We cannot only deal with response, no matter how important response is. We must deal with early interventions. Of course we must deal with the response—that's why we put $260 million into an ENPA over the next two years, to make sure frontline services are able to respond, and why 450 organisations have benefited from the $130 million that was provided last year. We continue to invest in things like safe places so that women and children have a safe place to go when they make that brave decision to escape a violent relationship.

But we also need to make sure that, where we can, we are keeping women and children in their homes so they have the support mechanisms of their families, their friends and their schools. The perpetrators are the ones who should be punished for what happens here. We must, wherever it's safe to do so, make sure that the woman does not become the person who's punished. We must make sure that it is the perpetrators who are held to account for their actions, so we should focus on keeping women safe in their homes, where it is possible and safe to do so, and we will.

We also need to make sure that, when women do make that brave decision to escape violence and it isn't safe for them to stay home, we provide them with the resources to set up a safe place. That's why our escaping violence payment program, which was announced during the budget, provides women escaping violence with $5,000. They can put that towards a start to make sure that they can create a safe place for themselves and their children. But we also need to make sure that we stay with women who are victims of domestic violence through the entire recovery phase. We need to make sure that we support them to get well and that we support them back into work. We need to understand that recovery is also tremendously important.

To the chamber, I say: this government is absolutely committed to driving towards an Australia that is free of all gender based violence. We are absolutely committed to it, and I believe that our track record of investment suggests that we are. We are very close to the finalisation of the next National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, and the most important thing that I believe that we need to do is to make sure that it is the voices of victims and survivors that inform what we do going forward. The voices of the brave, brave women and children of Australia who have come forward and told their stories must inform the next national plan. What I would like to say today to the women and girls of Australia is: this government is listening to you.


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