Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Indigenous Family Violence Forum


JENNY MACKLIN: My Ministerial colleague, Tanya Plibersek, and I are very very pleased to be here today meeting with twenty-two Indigenous people from many many different parts of Australia. Twelve women and ten men have agreed to come to Canberra today from places a very long way away to give their advice to us about what is working and what’s not working to help address the terrible level of violence against women and children in Indigenous communities. We’ve had a very productive morning so far and the meeting will continue on this afternoon. Tanya will speak in a moment about what this means for the national plan but I just thought it would be helpful to touch on a couple of the issues that the women in particular have focussed on and the other members who are here today might like to add to that.

If I can just quote from one woman who said – “If we’re to stop the violence we have to improve housing”. If we’re to stop the violence against women and children we have to improve housing. Violence is endemic in houses where there are thirty people to a house, children are not safe in houses when you’ve got so many people living in them.

Another significant issue that was raised, this was particularly by people from Western Australia, but endorsed by others, the critical importance of alcohol restrictions. But if alcohol restrictions are introduced the need for related services. There are many many Indigenous children in remote parts of Australia but also in urban areas with foetal alcohol syndrome. Those children need intensive services and support if they’re going to be able to deal with the horrific brain damage that they suffer from.

They’re just two things that came out of this morning’s discussion that I want to focus on. I also wanted to say that today is very important because we’re starting to open twenty-two safe houses in the Northern Territory. In particular, today, we’re seeing a safe house and a men’s cooling off place open in Ngukurr. These safe houses are absolutely critical for women in crisis situations, women and their children to be able to escape violence and to go to a safe place. We’re very pleased that these twenty-two safe houses are about to be opened over the next very short period. These safe houses will mean that for many women in remote parts of the Northern Territory and in Darwin and Alice Springs for example, they will have a safe place to go. It’s critical for them to be able to escape violence and to go to these safe houses.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Thank you. Today’s consultation fits in with the development of the national plan to reduce violence against women and children. In May last year I appointed the National Council on Violence Against Women and Children and since that time the Council has consulted with over 2,000 Australians in urban areas, in regional and remote communities. Some of the people who are here today have been at those consultations and while domestic violence and sexual assault are issues that affect every Australian, and every Australian has a responsibility to play their part in reducing violence against women and children. The simple truth is many indigenous people suffer at greater rates than the general Australian community. The solutions that we seek are working now in some communities right across Australia, and we’ve brought together leaders of those communities, people who have been effective in tackling violence in their own communities, to tell us what has worked in their communities and what will work in other parts of Australia, using their wisdom, their knowledge, their expertise, their years of commitment to reducing violence against women and children.

REPORTER: What are some of those examples that you think have worked and what would you consider implementing or rolling out?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well you might actually want to speak to some of the people who’ve been successful about that? Who would like to have a go?

WARREN MUNDINE: Forcibly volunteered. We want to make it quite clear that domestic violence is in all strata of our society and I mean the Australian society as a whole, and all sections of our society. So as Indigenous people we need to take up our battle as well and deal with those issues. So for indigenous men we want to step forward, take responsibility for our actions and start dealing with those issues, and working on what defines indigenous men. What makes you a man, and how can you work with indigenous women and make our societies better and make our societies stronger. How can we be better role models, and how can we build on the very good stuff that’s in our community. There’s very good stuff about our society and our culture that we need to build upon and make those communities stronger and make us a individual people stronger as well, and these are the things that we need to work across our nation.

REPORTER: What role does the Government have in making indigenous men accept or accountable for their actions?

WARREN MUNDINE: Well this has been going on for a number of years now. This meeting today, and I’ve got to congratulate both Ministers for bringing us all together to deal with this issue and have this conversation. This is the continuing conversations that’s happening in our communities and there’s a lot of good action and people out there in those communities who are working very hard to make those communities better and make those communities stronger, and dealing with those real issues of violence, not only physical violence but also the mental and sexual and that as well. So there’s a lot of good people out there doing that. We need to build upon them. We need to make it quite clear that domestic violence is unacceptable. There are no excuses for it and that we need to then work on that to make us better.

REPORTER: Is the Government investing enough in kind in violence in communities?

WARREN MUNDINE: I think they are. I think we’re heading in the right direction, and it’s not only about the physical violence and that, it’s about the infrastructure, the resourcing in those communities. We talked, the Minister just talked about housing as a good example. There’s also having jobs within those communities. It’s also about the education, it’s also dealing with criminal activity and law and order issues and that. So there are a number of issues that need to come together in this whole issue. I think for a number of programs around Australia we’re dealing with these issues and I think we are heading in a very good direction.

REPORTER: Can you talk about some of the main practical issues that you think would really help reduce violence against women and children in aboriginal communities, like really is working and what should be done (inaudible).

BESS PRICE: My name’s Bess (inaudible). I’m originally from Yuendumu and in my whole lifetime I’ve seen violence against women and hopefully from this forum that we, that’s being held today, the two Ministers will walk away with some idea as to how we as aboriginal women think about violence and hopefully we’ll be able to make women out there aware about various, there will be support, and there will be a back up for the women in the communities so that they can be, they can make themselves in their lives. I guess you know what I’m on about is just, you’ve got to make women understand that they don’t have to be silent about domestic violence and they do. They should have the voice. They should be able to talk about the violence and how bad it is in their communities and we as people should be able to be honest about it and acknowledge that we do need to do something about it.

REPORTER: Is that a big part of it just for speaking up, is that something that can help overcome this and lead to solutions?

BESS PRICE: That’s what hopefully will come out of this conference and hopefully the women out there will listen to what we have to say and to be able to be more vocal about their situation in the communities.

REPORTER: Is policing high enough in communities? Is that something that needs to be addressed?

BESS PRICE: There is police out there, but not enough, and I think police need to be out in every community to help people with these domestic disputes that happen.

REPORTER: On alcohol restrictions we talked about this morning, do you think there’s a need for tighter or more alcohol restrictions, or do you think that’s not really fair?

BESS PRICE: I think people, alcohol restrictions need to be tighter because in living in Alice Springs you know, it’s like, my people line up to go to these pubs every day as if it’s their job to go and drink themselves silly.

WARREN MUNDINE: That is a major issue, we can’t back away from that. But there’s only one issue that needs to be dealt with. We see also alcohol as a symptom, as a result of what’s happening within our communities. So we’ve got to do, yes we’ve got to acknowledge and deal with the issue of alcohol and the restrictions, we’re supporters of it, but at the same time we need to really focus on what the real issues are.

REPORTER: Bess can I just ask you again. What do you think the Government can do to help you further? What measures or what programs would you like to see in your community that you think the Government can do for you?

BESS PRICE: Well hopefully they might be able to fund more counselling and people who are professionals in that area, would be able to go out and consider that there would be cultural barriers but to be able to work with our people so they can understand and work with domestic violence and any other abuse that’s happening within their community.

REPORTER: Right, thank you.

BESS PRICE: Thank you.

REPORTER: Can we get your name first?

ADRIAN DODSON-SHAW: This being as a young person, you know, there’s got to be a lot of awareness on the subject as well. A lot of people tend to, you know, implement programs after the damage is done. I think, you know, if you start putting in structures of education and why you know I’m saying that, this is not right, you know, and our kids are our future, we need, you know, to implement this into our schools and stuff and just through our culture. Because I think it’s been a generational thing, it’s just been flowing on through the last couple of generations in our culture and so I am a big believer, ’cause being young myself I try to get amongst all our young kids and say, look you know, mate, this is not our way, and it’s never been our way, and it’s only snuck up since the last forty, no well thirty years or so. It’s just, somehow it’s just found a hole in the system, you know, a big problem now for us.

REPORTER: Do you think there are enough of people like yourself, and how do you try and find more people like that, and encourage them to be like you?

ADRIAN DODSON-SHAW: I think everyone, there’s a lot of young people, I think they just need a voice, um a bit of recognition as well. You know everyone’s got a voice, maybe you know you might have a voice the size of a, you may sound like mouse, but if you relay it on to someone who can come here and talk in front of people and get the issue because I walk on the ground and I am an aboriginal kid, I grew up in a community and I know what’s it like. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and I know what’s wrong, and I think that why amongst all my younger people, um, I want to change that attitude. So you know, like we can move forward, because you know we’ve got to heal inside and get all these issues sorted because it’s the only way to move forward, and you know, be as strong as culturally, you know, as aboriginals have been for the last forty thousand years, and I think that’s some things we need to improve on.

REPORTER: Do you think those measures, like alcohol restrictions, are working?

ADRIAN DODSON-SHAW: I think yeah, I mean everyone looks at the drastic changes. I think you’ve got to look at education, you know, I mean, people you know, alcohol is not bad, it’s just your consumption of it. You know like if you ban something for one person you may as well go straight across the board, and that’s just how I see it. So when we talk about alcohol restrictions and all this other stuff, I just see it, you know, more of, you know, all this time, everyone is gung ho in all these things, I just think that more education, you know, you promote that, you get it out in the open and slowly but surely things will start to (inaudible)

REPORTER: Can you just state your name?

KYLIE CRIPPS: Kylie, Kylie Cripps, I am a researcher at the University of Melbourne. I suppose what I would like to say is that we have over ten years worth of Government reports into this issue. Those reports clearly demonstrate what works in our communities. We need education and we need support services. We need a legal system to support reports and see those reports through, to holding people responsible so the crimes that they do to our women and children. But we also need to look at how we do that practically and that involves partnerships, and meaningful partnerships. Partnerships where we all get to say what needs to happen and how that needs to happen. A partnership where people feel respected and equal, to have something to say. It’s about listening to our elders. I think our elders don’t get the opportunity to say what they think needs to happen. I have been working with a group of elders out of Bendigo and they’re amazing in terms of their leadership and their spirit for wanting to tackle this issue. It’s those kind of people that don’t get recognised. It’s those kind of people that we need to start investing in. They’re the people that are our informal helpers, our mums, our aunts, our sisters, our uncles, our brothers, that are saying no to violence. They’re the ones that we can support to further this issue.

REPORTER: Kylie, what practical measures would you advise the Government to be rolling out to try and ease these problems?

KYLIE CRIPPS: I think it needs to be multi-faceted. It needs to be education and awareness. The education and awareness needs to be about confronting public perceptions about aboriginal people but also public perceptions about violence. It needs to be about educating our young ones not to tolerate violence, that violence isn’t normal. But also to teach our young ones about safety planning. You know, if you are in a violent situation, this is what you need to do to make yourself safe. Here’s the person that’s safe. Here’s the right person to ring and they will come and help you. So that’s one part of education, but you also need support services. We need the shelters, we need, but we have more than just shelters, we have aunts and grandmothers out there that are taking kids and women in every night and aren’t being recognised for that work, or supported in that work. Support services, education, we need to look at prevention, how do we break down our stereotypes, and I think again that comes back to education.

REPORTER: When you say education, and it’s still a very abstract idea, can you give me a more concrete or practical way, I mean are you talking about deploying education officers, welfare officers, boosting programs in schools, do have any ideas along those lines?

KYLIE CRIPPS: I think education can come at various avenues, and from various perspectives. I think it can be as simple as commercials on TV or a counsellor in the newspaper where a family actually sits down and says you know, what is this violence, and what does it mean to us, and what does it mean to you kids.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Kylie, can I just interrupt there to say from early this year, the Government will be testing twenty different education programs that work with different ages of children in different parts of Australia and looking at which ones are the most effective, which ones will work, evaluating them carefully, so that what we roll out are the things that are proven to work. We need different programs for different aged children. We want to be working with kids as young as pre-school age but looking also at primary school, high school aged kids, and also young people who have left the schooling system to make sure that we’re not missing out on that critical group as well.

REPORTER: So this national plan, when that’s due to come out and will it contain sections specifically on indigenous problems, or will it just be general.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well the national plan is being written by the National Council at the moment. We’ve got a few weeks, I expect them to hand it to me in a few weeks time. I haven’t seen a copy of it yet because it’s the National Council’s Report to me in the first instance and then the Government will make a response to their report to me. The views and needs and eAxpectations of Indigenous Australians will be a critical element of the report, but I can’t tell you as I haven’t seen it, whether it’s a separate chapter or right through the body of the work.