Senate debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021


International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

9:33 am

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate:

(a) notes that—

(1) today, 25 November 2021, marks the UN's International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, beginning the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, and

(2) in Australia, on average, a woman is killed by a partner every 11 days, and one in five women has experienced sexual violence since the age of 15;

(b) commends the joint efforts made by governments, stakeholders and providers under the current National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children;

(c) acknowledges that the next national plan must be an ambitious blueprint to end family, domestic and sexual violence in all forms; and

(d) recognises that ending violence against women requires a national effort by all governments, workplaces, schools, communities and individuals.

As we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, I would like to take a moment to remember and to pay our respects to the women and children who are victims and survivors of violence. There are the names and the faces that we do know; however, there are many, many more who have endured, over many years, great pain in the shadows and in the silence iolence against women and children is never acceptable. It is a global issue that affects everyone, everywhere. Too many women and children are not safe at home, in the workplace, at school or online. We know gender inequality is the root cause of violence against women and we must work across our society, including with men and boys, to change social norms, attitudes and behaviours to eliminate gender inequality. Globally, the statistics tell us that one in three women aged 15 or older have experienced sexual or physical violence, and we know the figures in Australia that are recorded in the motion. The statistics, though, can't tell us the true stories of the pain, the fear, the anguish and the suffering that led to the derivation of such numbers, and it must stop.

We know the COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted progress on gender equality here and around the world, both in women's economic empowerment and in women's safety. Over the course of the pandemic violence against women and girls has increased. Physical distancing and lockdowns have made it harder for many to seek and to receive help. The government has during the course of this pandemic delivered very significant levels of resources towards Australian women's safety and then further delivered resources on economic security, on health and wellbeing and to support women to realise their full potential. In our 2021-2022 Women's Budget Statement we invested a record $1.1 billion in women's safety, in part in partnership with the states and territories because it included $260 million for new national partnership agreements with state and territory jurisdictions to increase the capacity of frontline support in 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. Minister Ruston and I continue to work with the state and territory governments to drive that change in women's safety through the National Federation Reform Council's Taskforce on Women's Safety. A key focus of that work is the next national plan. The first national plan was formed in a non-partisan way through this parliament and the work of governments and oppositions in the states and territories. Shifting the dial on violence requires a national effort by all governments—indeed, I would say all parliaments—workplaces, schools, communities and individuals. The government is committed to ensuring that Australian workplaces are safe and free from sexual harassment. We commissioned the Respect@Work report, and the government's Roadmap for Respect responds to the recommendations in the Respect@Work report. We've committed over $66 million in the last two budgets for the implementation of the road map.

As I've said in this place and elsewhere, a number of the events of this year have been disturbing and distressing not just to me or the people in this place but to many Australians, and most particularly to those who have suffered. Stories of violence against women and children are always hard to hear. But we have to listen particularly to victims-survivors to inform our way forward. In our jobs as elected representatives in particular very few of us after a period of time would be in a position where we had not heard from someone, somewhere their own disturbing experience or the experience of their family member or friend—too many stories. On this day I invite us to consider the significant challenges in our region, which has some of the highest rates of intimate partner violence in the world and some of the most horrific stories I have ever heard in my life. Sixty-eight per cent of women in the Pacific and 40 per cent of women in South-East Asia had experienced violence by an intimate partner before the pandemic. Addressing gender based violence is a key priority for Australia's aid and humanitarian programs.

We've provided UN Women with $10 million in funding to support essential services for survivors and to deliver prevention activities. We're contributing to the UN Population Fund to conduct studies on tackling violence against women as well. We're working alongside, for example, the government of Timor-Leste, through the Nabilan program, on prevention activities to stop violence before it starts. This is an area in which I have had some association since the ballot for Timor-Leste's independence in 1999, where these issues were prevalent, disturbing and a significant challenge for those communities.

In the Pacific, Australia supports 15 crisis centres across eight countries, providing safe accommodation, counselling, and medical and legal support. Last week Australia joined the United Kingdom—and I acknowledge the work of my friend and colleague the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Liz Truss—in condemning the use of sexual violence and rape as weapons of war, and we strongly support the important work of the UN representative for sexual violence in conflict.

Now, more than ever, we need to stand together to address and to prevent gender based violence in Australia and worldwide. This year, and every year, we remember those we have lost—victim-survivors and those working to end violence against women and girls, particularly those on the front line.

9:41 am

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak today on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This day comes in the context of a profound shift in this country but also distressing setbacks abroad. We watched, the world watched, in disbelief and in distress the fall of Kabul and the return to Taliban rule of Afghanistan. It was distressing for us all. But for women everywhere there was an additional poignancy, and for women from and of Afghanistan there was great anguish.

For 20 years, since the fall of the Taliban, gains were made, and the women of Afghanistan who had been brutally repressed fought for their agency and autonomy. They could access education. They became politicians, judges, policewomen, teachers. They could work outside the home, and many could provide for themselves and their families rather than simply being controlled by male guardians. They were starting to have a chance to shape their own lives and shape the future of their country.

With the return of the Taliban, it's likely that little if any of this progress can endure, and already we've seen restrictions on media and education for women and girls and a return to limits on the free movement of women. I've spoken with many Afghan women in Australia—trailblazers, community leaders and patriots—all deeply proud of their heritage and often lost for words as they witness the return of a regime whose brutal repression of women the world knows too well.

This is a story that through our history has been repeated too often, and it is why Australia must always not only take the world as it is but work to shape it for the better, including to work in every way we are able for the equality of women and for the elimination of violence against women and girls.

Here in Australia violence against women remains pervasive. We've said these statistics so many times—one in five have been sexually assaulted or threatened, one in four experience emotional abuse by a current or previous partner, on average a woman is killed by a current or former partner every week. These facts haven't changed for years. What is hard is we keep saying them. Of course, behind every one of those numbers is a tragic story, a tragic loss. One of the most moving events I have ever been to was outside of the state Parliament House, where we read through the list of women who had been killed in these circumstances. We said their names and we held up a corflute for each of them. It is a reminder of what there is behind the statistics.

Of course, the numbers also don't capture the trauma that many survivors endure. How is it that today in this country we still have women and children fleeing violence turned away from shelters? How is it that today in this country we still have women resorting to sleeping in their cars, on their friends' sofas or, worst of all, returning to danger? It used to take an average of three weeks to find someone in crisis a secure home. It takes two years now. For these and so many other reasons, it would be easy to be despondent, but let's choose to be determined. Let's choose to be determined not because of those who, frankly, have offered too many platitudes and too much cynical political management in response to a profound moment of reckoning in this country; let's choose hope because of the many extraordinary women who are driving this reckoning, and their allies. I choose hope because of young women like Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins, Chanel Contos and so many others who chart a path and offer hope to other victims-survivors—women who understand change doesn't mean telling people you absolutely are committed to something; it means doing it. I wish that more leaders showed just a fraction of the courage, determination and principle these young women have shown.

A Labor government led by Anthony Albanese will ensure women's safety is a national priority. We will appoint a Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Commissioner. We will fund—and Senator McAllister, I'm sure, will speak to this more—500 new community sector workers to support women in crisis. Surely it is beyond any partisanship that women and children fleeing violence should always have access to safe refuge, advice and guidance. When the ground disappears from under them, it is our responsibility to actually give them something to hold onto. Surely that's not beyond a country of our means. And we will build 4,000 homes for women and children fleeing violence and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness, as part of our Housing Australia Future Fund.

I just want to pause here and say that we get the privilege, in the jobs that we have, of meeting extraordinary people, and some of the most extraordinary people I've met are women who have gone through Catherine House, which is a service in Adelaide that I started engaging with many years ago because my partner explained to me that it was the only service at that time for women without children fleeing violence. They are extraordinary women. I regret deeply that the Liberal government in South Australia has cut their funding. They are extraordinary women, women with stories of courage, perseverance and what they have overcome—more courage than I see ever in this place. We need to back them with more than words—with funding and people to support them, because so many of them find their own path.

Labor have already said we'll legislate for 10 days domestic violence leave, we'll work with the states and territories for a national definition of domestic violence that includes coercive control and we'll support early intervention to reduce family violence in First Nations communities.

Colleagues and Mr President, I've been in politics for 20 years nearly, and I've given this speech or a version of it for a couple of decades now. It would just be a wonderful thing for this nation if we could actually make a difference on this. We need to remember always that it is resources, it is political commitment to deliver resources, but it is also the recognition that gender inequality is an essential prerequisite for this violence. That means all of us, and how we behave here towards each other, how we speak here about women—that matters too, and that's a responsibility too. Australian women have said, 'Enough is enough,' and they deserve a government, a parliament, political leaders, who say that too and who summon the courage and the will to turn their call into action.

9:50 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The theme for this year's International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is simple: End Violence Against Women Now! The key facts and figures on the UN's website say that, globally, nearly one in three women have experienced physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime, and only one in 10 of those go to the police for help.

Shockingly, these statistics are not that different in Australia. In Australia, one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence since they were 15. On average, one woman is killed by a current or former partner once a week, and 38 women have been killed this year. We know that because a volunteer organisation tracks those figures, not because we have a national toll of women killed, which the Greens have been pushing for, for many years. Again, we suggest it would be a very wise thing to keep this issue on the national agenda to act as a deterrent and a prevention mechanism, as part of a pool of other prevention programs.

I also want to note that First Nations women experience significantly higher rates of violence throughout their lives, and my fabulous new colleague Senator Dorinda Cox will also be making a contribution on this part of the program.

This year in particular has really laid bare the pervasive nature of gendered violence across Australia, whether it's in our homes, on the streets or in workplaces, including ours. Brave young women have come forward and forced this conversation onto the national agenda, building on the fabulous work of strong women like Rosie Batty in years gone by. Those brave young women are Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins, Nina Funnell, Chanel Contos, Saxon Mullins, Amani Haydar and so many others. So many, often survivors themselves, work behind the scenes to support survivors to get justice, or just peace and safety to rebuild their lives. We owe it to these women to do everything we can to end violence against women now.

Stopping this violence starts with believing and listening to survivors, learning from their experience so others don't have to suffer the same harm. However, it is also recognising how long, hard and disjointed the road to recovery is, and supporting survivors and their children to heal. Stopping the violence takes systemic action to tackle root causes, transform harmful social norms and empower women and girls.

We know that gender inequality and gender stereotypes foster disrespect. We know there's a correlation between the rigidity of gender stereotypes and the rates of violence. We know that you can't be what you can't see, and that workplaces like ours should be showing leadership in the representation of women in decision-making roles. We need survivor-centred essential services that understand and respect survivor experiences and don't compound the trauma when they seek help. This requires specialist services that understand the specific needs of First Nations women, young women, older women, disabled women, LGBTIQ+ women and women from culturally diverse backgrounds. We need funding to make sure that no woman is turned away, no person is turned away, from services when they need help. It boils down to this. We need some actual funding to invest in those prevention programs that start early, start in schools. We need a proper investment in housing in this nation, because not only is there no crisis housing or transitional housing—it is all full—but there is no affordable long-term accommodation either. No woman should have to choose between violence and homelessness, and that is what the services are telling me on a daily basis when I speak with them. We need funding to make sure that those services have enough people and enough beds to accommodate everyone who reaches out for help. We need to tackle the gender inequality that is driving this wave, this epidemic of violence, that got worse during COVID.

I want to note that the second edition of Our Watch's toolkit 'Change the story' was released yesterday. They are our premier experts on prevention in this country, and it confirms that we must go beyond a focus on individual behaviours to consider the broader social, political and economic factors that drive violence against women. This means promoting the equal distribution of power, resources and opportunities between men and women. It confirms the connection between harmful forms of masculinity, gender inequality and violence against women, and it points to the importance of effectively engaging men and boys in prevention work. The framework outlines the essential actions that are needed at all levels of society—from schools and workplaces to governments—to address those underlying drivers and stop this violence before it starts. It calls for schools and universities to support children and young people with the knowledge they need to develop respectful and equal relationships. Yet what we got was a milkshake video.

We need a strong investment in evidence based, age-appropriate, respectful relationships education, from early childhood education and care onwards. Our Watch calls for Australian employers to take the necessary actions to ensure that women feel and are safe, valued and respected when they go to work. Yet this government has so far refused to impose a positive duty on workplaces to protect workers against sexual harassment and sex based discrimination. Our Watch calls for the media to responsibly report on violence against women and help frame the issue in the context of structural gender equality. We need to get rid of the 'he said, she said' narrative—the slut-shaming and the victim blaming coming from the mouths of people in this place, from some in the media and, still, sadly, from all corners of society.

It's critical that the new national plan is informed by victims-survivors, and I would like to thank the amazing group of victim-survivor advocates who have been working to ensure the government establishes and supports a victim-survivor advisory group. This is essential if the national plan is going to properly reflect, respect and learn from their experience. In addition to ending violence against women, the national plan needs a particular focus on recovery. Victims-survivors and their families often carry the burden of abuse long after escaping. It continues to affect their mental health, economic security, confidence, sense of worth and ability to engage in work and society. Broken confidence can then lead them into other abusive relationships and perpetuate a cycle of violence. An investment in trauma recovery is essential to help victims-survivors rebuild.

We recently had the Women's Safety Summit. This was a showpiece of the government's response to women's safety. It was criticised by many groups as a talkfest that spoke more about what we already knew then what the government was going to do about it. The summit statement made clear that there needs to be more funding, more trauma-informed and survivor-centred approaches, more preventative actions and more homes—the very things that I outlined at the start of this speech. It's not the first time the sector has called for these things, and I fear it will not be the last. The government needs to start listening to those calls and build upon its often-encouraging words with some meaningful actions of the quantum that is required.

On housing, the Women's Safety Summit was particularly clear: affordable and accessible short- and long-term housing is fundamental so that women aren't choosing between abusive relationships and homelessness. We need a serious investment in this nation to put roofs over people's heads and to ensure victims-survivors have somewhere to go when they escape. We know that older women are the fastest-growing group of people who are homeless in this nation, and we know that women escaping violence often have nowhere to go. In some cases they're being put up in hotels with no wraparound supports. We desperately need genuine investment, not just a small amount but the real amount that the sector says is requires. The sector is calling for $12 billion over the 12 years of the life of the next national plan. That's what it has long called for. That is the amount that is needed, and anything less will see people turned away from those services when they seek help. That is reprehensible and utterly avoidable.

On First Nations women, I want to note that Change the Record has today released a report, Pathways to safety. It is a strong, passionate and sensible call for a self-determined First Nations national women's safety plan. First Nations women know how to keep their children and communities safe. We need a national plan that listens to them, that is co-written by them and that provides the tools that they need to end violence against First Nations women and their children.

I want to finish my contribution by paying tribute to the workers in this sector. Of course, our hearts break for the innumerable women who have been killed, and I thank the individuals who bear that trauma in supporting those women and children on a daily basis, often on a tiny wage, working far more hours than an ordinary worker because they care so deeply. In particular, I'd like to acknowledge Angela Lynch, who has been the CEO of the Women's Legal Service, who has announced her retirement after 20 years in the field. Thank you, Angela, for your amazing contribution. You've saved so many lives. Go well in the future.

10:00 am

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Minister for Emergency Management and National Recovery and Resilience) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to associate the National Party with the contributions made today on this important topic.

A few weeks ago, grieving parents Lloyd and Sue Clarke were nominated for Queensland Australians of the Year. They were nominated in recognition of their efforts to halt the cycle of domestic and family violence so that all Australians can feel respected and safe. The story behind their nomination is tragic, but, sadly, as we know, too common. After the shocking loss of their daughter, Hannah Clarke, and grandchildren Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey in February last year, Sue and Lloyd founded Small Steps 4 Hannah in a bid to educate Australia about coercive control and domestic violence. The murder of Hannah Clarke and her children was a line-in-the-sand moment in Australia, where members of the community came together and said that, where domestic and family violence is concerned, enough is enough. Anti-family-violence campaigner and 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty rose above her tragedy, the great loss of her 11-year-old son, Luke, to domestic violence, and was able to put domestic violence on the national agenda.

On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, it is crucial that as a government we provide education and support services, in partnership with states and territories, to protect women who are at risk of violence. No matter where you live, you deserve to have equal access to these services. The National Party knows that women in regional and rural Australia face unique circumstances due to their geographical location. Sadly, our women in the regions are more likely to experience domestic and family violence than women in urban areas.

Our government, the Liberal and the National parties, are committed to ensuring these services are readily available. We've taken this matter incredibly seriously and delivered more than $1 billion of initiatives around women's safety, including $164 million in financial assistance to individuals, through escaping violence payments; $260 million for new partnership agreements; and a raft of other initiatives. We provide ongoing funding to specialist domestic violence units. We know that there are many barriers that victims of domestic violence face and we know that there is no simple answer. That is why we'll continue to listen to the voices of those who know. We're now developing the next National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Children, and today we announced an investment of $2.8 million over three years for the women's voices project. That will include a national summit for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, chaired by June Oscar. The next national plan is currently in development, and I'm sure Senator Ruston will have more to say about that.

We can as men and women in this place and as leaders in our own communities—and many of us as parents can raise our sons and our daughters to respect others—stand up and call out bad behaviour as we go about our business as senators, and be respectful to each other and demonstrate and live those values not just at home but in our workplace. We can always do more and we are committed. Behind every statistic in a tragic story. We'll continue to listen to those stories to provide any necessary support to these victims and help them to recover.

10:03 am

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It marks the beginning of 16 days of activism against violence. But, for a brave group of victim-survivors who have been leading our public conversation, every day has been a day of activism. Some of them have had a public platform and others have had quiet conversations with friends, but all of them are incredible. I would like to start my remarks by thanking them for their advocacy and their insight. You have had the strength and the generosity to take your own experiences of abuse and trauma and to use them to drive change and to improve the lives of other women and children, and we are so lucky and so grateful to hear from you. We are so lucky and so grateful to hear from you. But the responsibility for change cannot lie solely with the victims of violence. As a community, we have a responsibility to come together and play our part in stopping family, domestic and sexual violence.

It is a national crisis and a national shame that one in four women have experienced family violence, and one in five women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. Australian police deal with a domestic violence matter every two minutes, with an estimated 657 domestic violence matters, on average, every single day of the year. They are sad statistics. These women are our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, friends, neighbours and colleagues. They all have the right to live their lives safely and free from violence. Violence of this nature does not just have a single victim. We also know how the threat of violence and witnessing violence affects children. It causes trauma that may profoundly affect that child's development. If we want a better, safer future for our daughters and our sons, we need to press for action and take action ourselves.

Yesterday, I was proud to stand with our leader, Anthony Albanese, and announce our plan to fund 500 new community sector workers to support women in crisis, with half of those placed in rural and regional communities. Leaving a violent relationship is the hardest and most dangerous thing that many people will ever do. We know that having a community sector worker standing beside you helps make all the difference. But, right now, women fleeing violence are turned away from services because there are not enough workers to help them. The services I speak to across the country at the front line when it comes to supporting women at this time of great peril tell me how much more they could do with an extra pair of hands.

Last week, I visited the Women's Cottage in Richmond with my colleague from the other place the member for Macquarie, Ms Susan Templeman. Currently, the Women's Cottage has only one part-time domestic violence caseworker. Despite her best efforts, she really cannot meet demand, and the waiting list continues to grow. Based on demand for their services, they say they could easily benefit from two full-time workers. The manager, Maria Losurdo, tells us that ongoing casework resources would mean that their advocacy and support would no longer be limited or short term. They could walk closely with women through the hardest part of their journey after escaping violence and provide them with the support they need to find safety and re-establish their lives. These concrete announcements and commitments matter.

In 2007, Labor came into government determined to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and children. We created the first national plan to reduce violence against women and their children. The first few years of that plan, Julia Gillard, Jenny Macklin, Julie Collins, Kate Ellis, Tanya Plibersek and other Labor women made the most of this opportunity. We saw the creation of a national hotline, 1800RESPECT; a violence prevention body, Our Watch; and the Australian National Research Organisation for Women's Safety, ANROWS. These years represented the most productive and progressive for women's safety. This is the kindest way that I can say this—that enthusiasm and progress did not survive the 2013 change of government. The first minister for women under the coalition government in 2013 was Mr Abbott. That action set the tone for the eight years to follow. It should go without saying that a commitment to end violence is nonpartisan. I appreciate the remarks from colleagues across the chamber today. But, as an opposition, we owe it to our communities to be honest when worthy objectives are not supported by meaningful action.

Yesterday, Labor again committed to national leadership on this issue. We announced that an Albanese Labor government would implement a new family domestic and sexual violence commissioner. This was a recommendation from the House of Representatives inquiry into family domestic and sexual violence to deal with some of the issues of coordination and delivery that we have observed in relation to the national plan. It's part of our ongoing commitment to tackling the scourge of violence. Our focus is on providing women with the housing and the economic support that they need to establish a safe life. On any given day, women's crisis accommodation services across Australia will have to tell women fleeing violence that they have no room to house them or their children. Those women will sleep in a car or will go back to a dangerous situation, because they have no other choice. How is this acceptable? Labor recognise the extent of this problem. It's why we will allocate an additional 4,000 units of social housing to women and children experiencing family violence and to women on lower incomes at risk of homelessness as part of our Housing Australia Future Fund. We will also provide $100 million for crisis and transitional housing for these women. This gives survivors of violence a chance to rebuild their lives.

No woman should have to choose between keeping her job and leaving an abusive situation. We will establish 10 days paid domestic violence leave. We know that employment is enormously protective. A job means social connections with colleagues. It means financial security. It means independence and self-worth.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have made it abundantly clear that services will be most successful when they are designed and delivered by First Nations people. They are also calling for a separate national action plan for First Nations people to end violence against women and family violence. Labor supports this call.

These are practical solutions advocated by people who work every day to support women and children at their time of greatest need. Labor is committed to action and to bringing down the rates of violence in our communities. Over the years there have been too many words and too little action, especially from our national leaders. Acting with urgency and ambition is essential if we are to make an impact and decrease the rates of family and domestic violence.

I began my contribution today by reflecting on the impact of the advocacy and insights of victim-survivors of domestic and family violence. The Australian community owes a great deal to these people, who have experienced the most horrible of situations but are relentless in their efforts to improve the lives of other women and other children. We should do everything in our power to avoid adding to their numbers.

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.

10:21 am

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The greatest and most direct impact of family violence is on our women, trans women and sistergirls. Violence against women, particularly First Nations women, is not inevitable. It can and must be prevented. We must work together to do this—all of us, not just across this parliament but every single one of us.

Violence against women is not a woman's problem; it is a social problem. That is why every single one of us has to play a part in the solutions. To be effective, solutions to ending violence against women, particularly our women—our matriarchs—must be both culturally safe and holistic, because the solutions must be careful and safe. They must be self-determined by our women, for our women. We need self-determined solutions at every stage, from prevention to early intervention, response, recovery and healing. Every single response must take a holistic approach that addresses not only the immediate problems we face but also the underlying socio-economic factors which we did not cause but which contribute to this violence.

There can be nothing about us without us. That is why, if any solution is to work, it must be culturally safe and self-determined. Mainstream approaches to ending violence do not engage with the issues surrounding cultural trauma caused by dispossession, land theft, the forced separation from our families and the attempts to destroy our cultures. These are all legacies of colonisation, and they must be reckoned with. First Nations women want a standalone national plan and a standalone national summit where we can inform that plan—self-determined and ensuring that we include community controlled family violence prevention legal services, health services and other Aboriginal community controlled health organisations.

Finally, all violence prevention responses must take a human rights approach, centred on our right to self-determination, and facilitate the necessary cultural healing needed to be successful. Cultural healing that is based on the strength and resilience of our peoples and cultures must be at the heart of any violence prevention measures.

The Australian Greens, through my colleague Senator Cox and I, acknowledge and hear the cries of our women and children. We hear the cries for systemic change, to prevent any more black women or black children being murdered. Today we are proposing a motion, which the minister spoke about. I might add that our conversations over the last 24 hours have been—it's incredible how we can get stuff done in this place when people take the time to listen. To have the support of the government for an inquiry on missing and murdered Aboriginal women and children in this country is historic, I believe, and I want to thank the government, particularly the minister, for listening and for acting on such an important issue that our women have been fighting for for so long.

Our women have the right to live their lives in safety, with full human dignity and free from all forms of violence, including family violence. I pay my respects and I honour our women and the struggles and the trauma that they face every day, and I particularly honour those who have lost their lives. After Senator Cox and I spoke to the minister last night, we talked about women in our families who had been murdered who've had no justice because they weren't important enough for investigations to happen around those murders.

The woman that was murdered in my family was carried by the perpetrator and dumped on the front lawn of her mother's house in Morwell, Gippsland, Victoria. Because there was substance abuse involved in that family, the police response was that they were drunks. No-one was held accountable, and that woman, my cousin, was left dead on the front lawn of her mother's house in Morwell.

I'm going to use a minute to sit in silence and reflect on all of those women and children who died at the hands of not only the system that didn't protect them but by the perpetrators who did the wrong thing and were not held accountable. I respect the chamber and ask the chamber to have a moment of silence.

Honourable senators observed a moment of silence—

10:29 am

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a funny feeling that the two of us might have been about to rise and say something similar.

We have heard some incredibly thoughtful, heartfelt contributions across this chamber. They are important contributions and reflections on a very important issue of relevance to our society in Australia and right around the world, particularly in some nations that I know Senator Payne and Senator Wong, in particular, reflected upon. It's right that we have heard those contributions and it is also right that we have listened to those contributions. By 'we' I reflect particularly upon the men of this chamber. To date in this debate, we have heard from the many thoughtful, powerful leading women who lead our nation. We are fortunate, across all of our parties, to have these voices here with us. It is something this chamber should be so proud of in terms of the changed reflection that has occurred here with the composition of this chamber even in my time here and over an even longer period of time.

While it is right that we listen as men and that we hear the voices of women, it is also right that we take responsibility, that we show leadership and that we not be silent on these matters. As men we too should be clear that change is needed. Change to culture is needed, and that change comes from leadership, from our own behaviours, by setting an example, by calling out what is unacceptable, by making sure—as current campaigns indicate—that we stop it at the start. We need to stop it at the start in terms of domestic violence, gender based violence and violence that does afflict the lives of far too many families. We need to stop it at the start because we know from the research there are intergenerational aspects in relation to gender based and family based violence. In doing so, we take a stand as men alongside women, alongside all, in ensuring that we heed the messages in this motion and that we don't just listen but act.

I thank the women of this chamber and the many women advocates across Australia, particularly the victim-survivors and their families across Australia, for their advocacy, persistence, the dedication that they have shown and for the manner in which, over a long period of time, so many women have helped to change attitudes, change awareness and make sure that we all understand the need to take a greater sense of responsibility.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

To give assent to the motion, I ask that senators rise for a moment of silence to acknowledge those who have lost their lives and those who are survivors of domestic violence.

Honourable senators having stood in their places—

Question agreed to.

I thank the chamber. We will now return to the order of business.