Senate debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Domestic and Family Violence

3:05 pm

Photo of Marielle SmithMarielle Smith (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Women's Safety (Minister Ruston) to a question without notice asked by Senator McAllister relating to domestic and family violence.

Before I begin, I want to recognise victims-survivors both in this place and across Australia, far too many of whom were taken from their friends and families by this violence or were impacted by this violence. I especially want to acknowledge it today on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

We in this chamber know that violence—family violence, domestic violence and sexual violence—is rife in our community, and we know that the pandemic has, in many ways, for many women, made it worse. The minister said in her answers to questions today that the impact of violence didn't end during the pandemic, and that is absolutely correct. But what she didn't acknowledge is that, for too many women, it has worsened, and it has worsened at a time when there are other enormous pressures on women and on their families, as well. It has worsened at a time when we need support and action on this issue from the government more than ever before. One woman is killed every week by a current or former partner. We know that police are called to domestic violence incidents every two minutes. Violence is the leading preventable cause of death, illness and disability for women aged 15 to 44, and a 2017 report by White Ribbon found that women in First Nations communities are twice as likely to be victims of violence.

As I said, the pandemic has caused significant spikes in family violence, with two-thirds of providers reporting an increase in abuse and, especially, in controlling behaviours. In October 2020, the Women's Legal Service in Adelaide reported having to turn away 450 calls from women earlier that year, during the first wave of lockdowns and quarantine in South Australia. Yet, in this context and in the context of all that we know, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has, for too long, failed to take seriously the task of delivering leadership on women's safety. Following the March 4 Justice, the Prime Minister announced his women's cabinet and the women's budget with great fanfare, but six months later we're still waiting for the draft national plan, and organisations are yet to receive the funding promised by this government. In February last year, it was reported that dozens of trials in the Family Court were directly impacted by funding shortfalls in legal aid. Refuges have reported having to turn away women, and only one in 10 women who want to stay at home have the necessary support to safely do so.

The lack of leadership, though, isn't just from the federal government here in Canberra. It exists in my home state of South Australia as well, where we have seen Catherine House, the only domestic violence shelter in Adelaide—a dedicated refuge for women without children—being subject to a $1.2 million funding cut. Senators in this place, including, I know, Senator Wong and Senator Farrell, have a close relationship with Catherine House. Senator Grogan and I have visited this service many times. We've seen firsthand the incredible and important work that they do for some of the most courageous women in our state. That service has had $1.2 million worth of funding cut.

At the federal level and the state level we hear platitude after platitude, but we have failed to see not just this year but over years and years—indeed, for decades and decades—the meaningful commitment of resources with the right level of urgency required to support women and families experiencing violence. Victims-survivors need so much more support. I am so proud of Senator McAllister and our leader, Anthony Albanese, who have just announced that a Labor government will fund 500 new community sector workers to support women and families fleeing family violence and establish a Commonwealth Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Commissioner to give victims-survivors a strong voice at the highest levels.

Domestic, family and sexual violence is an epidemic in our community. For many women and families it remains an unseen burden that endangers their lives and livelihoods. To make Australia a fairer and safer place we must drag this horror into the light and deliver real and meaningful action to protect women and families from abuse and violence. Labor are committed to this. In government we will deliver this because we heed the calls for urgency. Women and families cannot wait any longer. (Time expired)

3:11 pm

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Marielle Smith for raising this very important issue, particularly on this day, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Family, sexual and domestic violence cannot be condoned or tolerated. Our government is absolutely committed to doing all it can to try to eliminate family and domestic violence from our nation; however, it is everyone's business. We must remember that we need to educate our young people so that they understand what coercive control and domestic violence are so that from a very young age they know how to see it, call it out and stop it.

Our government has provided funding. Contrary to what Senator Smith was saying, our government delivered the landmark $3.4 billion Women's Budget Statement in the 2021-22 budget. This has had a record $2 billion investment for women's security initiatives since 2013, which includes $1.1 billion in the latest Women's Budget Statement. We held the National Summit on Women's Safety and we're currently developing the next National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Children. That includes investing $22.4 million over five years to establish the Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Commission. As I've said before, this commission does not absolve anyone else of responsibility in this issue, but it does establish a single point, the commission, that can work with all governments and all community groups to provide a crucial accountability mechanism to make sure that our collective efforts are focused on ending violence.

Senator Smith referred to the Labor Party's commitment for 500 new frontline workers. While that sounds commendable on the surface, you have to be concerned about where the funding for that is coming from. Will they be withdrawing the funding from the existing $1 million investment that the Morrison government has made to work with the states and territories for domestic and family violence responses? We are working with them. We are funding through a national partnership agreement because that way ensures that our response is targeted, fit for purpose and meets local needs, which differ across the country. People here have quite rightly highlighted that the response in our remote, regional and Indigenous communities is going to be different to the response that is rolled out in Sydney or Canberra. Our government's approach, rather than Canberra dictating how money must be spent—like the Labor Party will: 'Here's 500 new workers and we'll employ them and we'll put them in our offices'—will be to provide flexibility to those with the knowledge on the ground to allow additional support to expand frontline services; to provide safe accommodation where needed; to provide perpetrator interventions; and to provide helplines, counselling services and training. That is how we will help eliminate violence against women in this country. We'll provide the support services that are needed, the training and the early education for all of our community, so we that can all work together to end the scourge of domestic violence.

Across Australia I would say that every single Australian knows someone who has been a victim of some form of family and domestic violence, but it is still not spoken about and there are still many victims of domestic violence who do not speak about it, who do not come forward. We need to support those people. We need to wrap our arms around them and say that we are here for them, that we are listening to them and that our government is committed to providing that support.

3:16 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I rise to take note of the government's response to questions by Senator McAllister relating to the government's commitment to combating family, domestic and sexual violence. As Senator McAllister told the place this morning, domestic and family violence is a national crisis and a national shame. We know this, and the government knows this. Survivors and their advocates have been bravely speaking about this for years, calling for action from political leaders—advocates like the Tangentyere women's safety group from Alice Springs, who I brought to Canberra in 2018. They travelled the thousands of kilometres, from Alice Springs, to meet with government ministers and urge the government to listen to them. They spoke about the work they do on the front line of family violence. They showed other First Nations women and survivors of family violence that we can stand up and be heard. That was three years ago. We're now eight years into this coalition government and they still don't seem to be taking this issue seriously.

They seem to be seen to be doing things—making announcements and promises, without ever actually delivering. We saw that in May when the government hastily cobbled together a woman's budget, a reaction to the nationwide marches for justice which were taking place right across the country. The government had to be seen to be doing something, so they promised $260 million in the budget to combat family, domestic and sexual violence—money that would be paid to states and territories to distribute to frontline services. Six months on, how much of that has been paid? Nothing. Not a cent.

I would say to those opposite in government: it is not good enough. Securing women's safety requires more than a media release on budget night. Instead, we've seen delayed announcements and indifference to this policy area. Even now we're still waiting for a revised draft national plan which was promised by November. The minister did say today that it is in the final stages of its draft. Well, we certainly hope so. There are only five days left in November.

How can Australians trust the government to deliver on its promises on domestic violence? It certainly can't. This government has failed to take action, clearly. Nowhere is this more apparent than here in the Northern Territory, which experiences the highest rates of domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia. On average there are 61 domestic and family violence incidents per day in the Territory and four domestic and family violence related homicides per 100,000 people per year. First Nations women account for 89 per cent of all victims in the Territory. Nationally Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience violence at roughly twice the rate of non-Indigenous women.

It's past time to stop just talking about it and to elevate women's safety to a national priority. I'm proud to say that Labor does have a plan. As announced this week, an Albanese Labor government will implement a new family, domestic and sexual violence commissioner. This was a recommendation of a recent House of Representatives inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence. Labor also supports calls for a separate national action plan for First Nations people to end violence against women and family violence. Labor will allocate an additional 4,000 units of social housing to women and children experiencing family violence and to older women on lower incomes as part of our housing Australia future fund. We will also provide $100 million for crisis and transitional housing for women. And Labor will establish 10 days paid domestic violence leave, because no woman should have to choose between her job and leaving an abusive situation.

We have seen, time and time again, the Morrison government saying all sorts of things in this area. But one of the most disappointing things, this year in particular, was on budget night, when it made the tremendous announcement of a significant amount of money to go to women's places right across Australia to combat family violence—$260 million. And here we are, six months on, and not one cent of the $260 million has been spent.

3:21 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to begin by acknowledging what is taking place today in the Senate. Often, with the politicians, the Senate and the House of Representatives are seen as places of ya boo politics. But what we've seen over the course of today, and not just in response to this particular debate but also to the debate earlier today, is that serious issues are dealt with in a manner that is appropriate and that politics are taken out as much as possible because there's a common cause amongst politicians from across the political spectrum. And while there may indeed sometimes be different approaches in how to deal with such a pervasive issue as that of family and domestic violence, those who may be listening can be assured that this chamber is one of understanding that there is a pandemic—a perverse scourge—in Australia at the moment which has been going on for some time in relation to family and domestic violence. It should be reassuring to Australians that this Senate and senators in this chamber do take that seriously. People should be assured by that.

Today, as has been noted, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. As speakers prior to me have pointed out, a woman—and when we say 'woman' it depersonalises it in a way; it's someone's daughter, mother or sister—is killed by their partner every 11 days, and one in five women over the age of 15 has experienced sexual violence. For many of us in this chamber that would mean we do know people who have experienced such violence. Over the course of the COVID pandemic, violence against women and girls has increased, with physical distancing and lockdowns making it harder for those women, girls and families to seek and receive help.

This government is delivering unprecedented levels of resources toward Australian women's safety, their economic security and their health and wellbeing, and to support women to achieve their full potential. The 2021-22 Women's Budget Statement invested a record $1.1 billion in women's safety, which included $260 million for new national partnership agreements with the states and territories to increase the capacity of frontline support and crisis services. We are now developing the next national plan to end violence against women and children as a blueprint to end violence in all forms. When we talk about family and domestic violence, we should not just make the mistake of assuming that it is a women's problem or a men's problem. It should not just be put in a box and ticked as such. It is a problem that belongs to society, and all of us have a role to play. That is why it is so reassuring that this government is spending so much money to try to end this scourge. That is why there is widespread agreement across the chamber on the need to end this.

We announced that the Morrison government would invest $2.8 million over three years to deliver the final stage of the Women's Voices project. As Minister Ruston said in her answer, this will include a national summit for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, chaired by June Oscar AO. We are listening to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. The summit will tell of the development of a First Nations action plan to end violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children. This action plan will be the primary mechanism for implementing Closing the Gap target 13— (Time expired)

3:26 pm

Karen Grogan (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We've heard a lot today about violence against women, and a lot of statistics. In addition to the unacceptable number of women killed in Australia by a violent partner or ex-partner, many, many more are regularly subjected to sexual violence, physical violence, humiliation and other forms of abuse. We know from domestic violence services around the country that COVID-19 has exacerbated this for many women, who've been forced to isolate with their abusers, trying to keep themselves and their families safe.

Last night, in my home state of South Australia, police officers from our Special Tasks and Rescue group, STAR Force, responded to an alleged assault on a woman that resulted in a four-hour siege. Let's just think about that for a moment—a woman, all alone, living with and allegedly abused by a man who was willing to hold a paramilitary force at bay for four hours with no anxiety and fear about doing that. It's simply unimaginable what terror she must have experienced over what you could only imagine was quite a lengthy period of time. This was in her own home, a place she should be able to rely on to be safe.

Violence against women knows no barriers socially, culturally or socioeconomically. Since the start of COVID-19, we've seen the number of reported offences against women rise considerably in South Australia and across the rest of the country. While our community awareness of this issue is growing, which is a good thing, far too many women continue to live their lives in fear. Across Australia, refuges report turning away 50 per cent of the women who seek support and help. Currently, those at risk of experiencing domestic violence often cannot access any form of early intervention or support services while they try to avoid ending up as one of the horrendous statistics that we've heard today.

Women's organisations say that, while they advise women to contact a crisis service at the point of crisis—because those are the only services they can access—they have nowhere to refer people in the earlier stages. There is no form of early intervention that is sufficient in Australia at this time. How can we leave so many women languishing in these hideous circumstances when awareness of the issue is so widespread now? We must look at this issue holistically. We must elevate its status well above the standing that it currently has under the Liberal-National government. We see them talking a big game in here while cutting critical funding to services on the ground. Labor will elevate this issue of violence against women—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time for this debate has concluded. The question is that the motion moved by Senator Marielle Smith to take note of answers be agreed to.

Question agreed to.