Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children

Location: Indigenous forum

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I want to begin today with something I’ve heard from many Indigenous women.

‘Violence and abuse is not just women’s business, it’s everyone’s business.”

Keeping women and children safe is a universal obligation and responsibility.

To be safe and protected is the most basic of human rights.

It is more than women’s business and it is not just an issue for Indigenous Australians.

It’s an issue for all Australians.

Because the reality is that women and children at all levels of society, across all income categories, all ages, all cultural groups and all regions can be victims of violence. As we saw so tragically in Melbourne yesterday.

It’s a mainstream challenge in communities across the country.

The Government recognises that for too long violence and abuse against women and children has been hidden, ignored, hushed up.

That women, in particular, are too frightened or ashamed to talk about what is happening to them.

Sometimes with little faith that the authorities will listen and help.

Well, I think the fact that we are all here today to speak out together, is evidence indeed that Indigenous Australians – men and women – are ready to stand up and say: ‘This must stop.’

Stop the violence that results in Indigenous women being 35 times more likely than other Australian women to be hospitalised.

Eight out of ten of them assaulted by a partner.

Last year 400 Aboriginal men stood up together and said this must stop.

They gathered at the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Male Health Summit and offered a collective apology, now known as the Inteyerrkwe Statement

In a powerful and moving statement, John Liddle, chair of the summit, apologised on behalf of Aboriginal men, for the hurt, pain and suffering caused by Aboriginal men to their wives, children, mothers, grandmothers, granddaughters, aunties, nieces and sisters.

A group of men determined to show leadership to stop the violence.

Indigenous men who are willing to take a stand like this and be positive role models for other men have the Government’s full support.

Today I can announce the opening of the first of 22 safe places in the Northern Territory.

Just yesterday a men’s cooling off place and a women’s safe house began operating in the Ngukurr community.

Safe places are important circuit breakers in the cycle of violence.

They are a safe haven when violence threatens – short-term crisis accommodation for women and children and in the case of the men’s cooling off places – somewhere for tempers to subside.

The safe places will offer a range of counselling, legal and support services as well as parenting and men’s healing programs.

Local people will be employed to work in the safe places – building the local workforce and helping spread the word that there is an escape from violence.

The Australian Government is determined to show national leadership to stop the abuse and neglect of women and children.

National leadership that’s been lacking in the past.

We’re stepping in because it is our national responsibility to protect women and children.

It’s why we are working with you to develop the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children focusing on supporting victims, strengthening and streamlining the legal system and changing attitudes through education.

I want to thank the members of the National Council who are working on developing the plan and also Tanya (Plibersek) who, like so many of us, has a great personal as well as professional commitment to this issue.

We’re also working with the States, Territories and child protection agencies to establish a National Framework for Protecting Australia’s children.

A national framework using our shared resources to step in before children are hurt; to recognise and act when there are warning signs that families are struggling.

And because there isn’t one single cause of child abuse, it means acting when risk is signalled – whether it’s poverty, substance abuse, mental health issues or homelessness.

The Framework will focus on preventing abuse through early intervention and better integration of family services. As part of the Framework, Centrelink has begun sharing information with state and territory child protection authorities to better identify children and families at risk.

The Framework will drive best practice across jurisdictions and government and non-government sectors through clearer national reporting and improved accountability.

All of us here know that reducing the terrible levels of violence and abuse in Indigenous communities will take a lot of courage and determination.

The determination to change entrenched community attitudes so children realise violence isn’t just part of growing up, that it’s not part of their culture.

The courage to speak up and do something when violence occurs.

Speaking up when others are silent takes a lot of courage.

I understand there is sensitivity about perpetuating negative stereotypes.

You don’t want to be seen to be betraying your people or culture or demonising Indigenous men.

But as Bess Price says the only way to change attitudes is to direct the debate towards men and women.

“We have to talk to everybody, not just men. The problem is community-wide. Women are often in the middle of it. They will back up their men when they are being violent. But we don’t want to say that all men are violent, I know a lot of men who aren’t. Women use violence too against other women and sometimes against men. Everybody thinks that violence is normal.”

Marie Munkara describes a new culture of violence, spreading like a disease throughout the Indigenous population.

She says, “Instead of trying to stop it we are happily passing it on. We are infecting everyone that comes within reach without a thought to who we are harming or the consequences.

We live it and breathe it everyday, our babies are soaking it up while still at their mother’s breast, our children are practising on each other in the playground, our teenagers are happily putting into practice what they’ve learnt from us while we bash our old and frail for their pensions.”

So how do we change this?

So that violence is no longer considered normal.

How do we educate young people so they don’t tolerate violence in their personal relationships?

How do we make it easier for people, especially women, to speak out about violence in their communities without feeling shame or intimidation?

How do we make sure that the right of women and children to be safe isn’t overlooked in debates about Indigenous rights?

How do we increase respect for the rule of law and effective law enforcement in communities where there is a culture of lawlessness?

These are tough issues with no simple solutions.

To quote Marie again; “While there is always room for improvement in how we deliver our services and how we can work together, it’s up to us as Indigenous people to stop the violence. No-one else can do that for us.”

She’s right. Change must be grass-roots driven in local communities.

Supported by a new relationship of trust between Indigenous people and government.

And strong leadership.

The leadership of people like you, who have worked hard to bring attention to this issue for years – in some cases decades.

The leadership here in this room and beyond provides the collective wisdom, experience and hard work to plant the seeds of change.

Today’s forum is a platform which can be used to send a message.

That we will no longer tolerate violence against women and children.

That the right of women and children to be safe is integral to all human rights.

That it must be given the highest priority by government and communities, by men and women.

And that we are prepared to speak out and take action.