Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Address to Forum on domestic violence in migrant and refugee communities


Can I start too by adding my acknowledgment to the traditional owners and acknowledge my friend and colleague Dr Geoff Lee, Member for Parramatta representing Minister Dominello.

Can I thank Shakti for the very kind invitation to join you here today. I am very grateful to Hira Chowdhury and Vira Venkatesh and all the members of the panel, ladies and gentlemen.

As I said I am very grateful to be here for this important forum and I thank you for extending me the opportunity to be here today. The issue of domestic violence against women is one which cannot be ignored and it is essential that we shine a light on this very serious issue.

Your objectives are truly laudable and inspirational.

Let me begin by stating in the firmest possible terms – there is no excuse whatsoever for violence against women. Sexual assault, domestic and family violence against women and their children is one of the most cowardly of acts.

In modern Australia, no one should have to fear sexual or domestic violence and there should be no stigma associated with being the victim of such a crime.

The unfortunate fact is that our society is not immune and it is an issue that we must address.

The 2012 Personal Safety Survey, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, shows that since the age of 15, around one in three women in Australia have experienced physical violence and around one in five have experienced sexual violence.

It also showed that an estimated 17 per cent of all women over the age of 18 in Australia have experienced violence by a partner since the age of 15.

A 2013 Australian Institute of Criminology report also shows that one woman is killed in Australia every week by a current or former partner.

The statistics are shocking and demand a response from us. I am pleased to say that this Government is responding.

Earlier this morning in Sydney, the Second Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 was launched by the Prime Minister, Ministers Andrews and Cash.

On 6 February, as Parliamentary Secretary to Minister Andrews, I was particularly pleased to chair one of two sessions which were part of the National Consultation process to inform the development of the Second Action Plan to reduce violence against women and their children.

In my opening statement to the gathering at Parliament House in Canberra, I wanted to underline the personal interest and passion that the Prime Minister has about stopping violence of this nature.

Indeed can I quote the Prime Minister’s words this morning, “it’s a $100 million plan to try to ensure that we do make it absolutely crystal clear that violence against women and children is never never never acceptable. It’s utterly reprehensible and this curse must be banished from our society”.

Last year, for example, he raised $140,000 for the Manly Women’s Shelter through his annual Pollie Pedal bike ride – building on fundraising efforts of previous years for the Shelter.

The Prime Minister is also a White Ribbon Day Ambassador. On White Ribbon Day in November last year, the Prime Minister announced that the Government would contribute an additional $1 million to the White Ribbon campaign to help reduce violence against women, particularly those in culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

The women’s portfolio is very important to our Government. We recognise the importance of a whole of government approach to women’s policy.

This is why, as we committed at the election, the Office for Women has been brought into the Prime Minister’s own Department – the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Like the Prime Minister, I too have a personal interest in this area, having spent 25 years before becoming a Senator involved in a range of different community and not-for-profit organisations.

I have seen the devastating effect of violence against women and children, particularly during the four years that I served on the board of Father Chris Riley’s Youth Off the Streets, two of them as Chairman of the Board.

Through this involvement, I saw first-hand some of the issues you are going to talk about today. I have seen the heartache, which often has an intergenerational impact and I want to assure you I am just as committed today as a Senator as I was as a volunteer to see an end to violence against the vulnerable in our community.

Given my responsibilities for multicultural affairs and settlement services, I am particularly interested to hear about issues facing our culturally and linguistically diverse women and children.

The earlier roundtables formed an integral part of the Commonwealth’s consultation process to develop the Second Action Plan. State and Territory governments were also consulted, with the Second Action Plan also focusing on local issues and action.

The National Plan announced by the Prime Minister today is being delivered through a series of four 3-year Action Plans.

The Action Plans are intended to support governments to work together to develop, implement and report progress within a coordinated national framework.

This second phase of the National Plan represents a crucial next step towards a significant and sustained reduction in violence against women and their children in the long-term.

The Second Action Plan enables governments and civil society to embed and build on the work of the First Action Plan.

It is an opportunity to take stock, reflect on gaps, develop new actions and strengthen implementation, with ongoing focus on critical priorities such as primary prevention.

It will be about building and introducing practical national initiatives to reduce violence against women and their children.

During the Second Action Plan, it is expected that cultural change will advance; women will feel more comfortable reporting their experiences of domestic and family violence and sexual assault; and more members of the Australian community, across sectors and at all levels, will actively reject violence.

Given my portfolio responsibility for multicultural affairs and settlement services, I am especially pleased that the Second Plan will also focus on deepening our understanding of diverse experiences of violence, including the experiences of Indigenous women, women from CALD communities and women with a disability.

We will also work with diverse communities to prevent violence and meet the needs of women who can be more vulnerable to violence, recognising that these women may require a range of targeted responses.

This recognises that women from diverse communities may face particular pressures associated with trying to build a new life in a country where the language, culture, laws and customs are all new.

There are also practices that occur overseas which are forbidden under Australian law, such as forced marriage.

This is an ongoing issue internationally, though in Australia, the incidence rate is considered to be lower than in other countries. Nevertheless, the government is responding.

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and Human Trafficking) Act 2013 criminalises forced marriage and strengthens previous provisions relating to human trafficking.

In addition, it has always been the case that any person identified as being trafficked for the purposes of forced marriage or marriage-like circumstances is entitled to access the Support for Trafficked People Program (Support Program) on referral by the Australian Federal Police.

This programme provides support to all victims of human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices, including forced marriage and forced labour, who meet the eligibility criteria.

It is a critical component of the strategy to combat human trafficking and slavery, with case management services provided by the Australian Red Cross.

The Support for Trafficked People Program assists clients in meeting their basic needs for safety, financial assistance with living expenses, accommodation, mental and physical health and well-being.

Between 2004 and May this year, 230 people have received support, with 49 people currently on the program. This is but one aspect of the government’s wide ranging response to issues which negatively affect women and children.

The national professional domestic and family violence and sexual assault helpline 1800RESPECT, will continue to provide free access to telephone and online counselling 24/7 under the Second Action Plan for people who have experienced violence, as well as those at-risk, and their families and friends.

1800RESPECT also offers support to isolated workers in domestic and family violence and sexual assault services and frontline workers in mainstream services who encounter people who have experienced domestic and family violence and sexual assault.

The Government also views it as critical that diverse groups of women and communities are able to access information about violence against women and their children, and about the National Plan.

Accessible and translated information and support will be a key feature of The National Plan communications under the Second Action Plan.

1800RESPECT is in the process of developing a range of key content into 28 community languages and development of resources for workers in CALD services.

Under the Second Action Plan, governments will collaborate with CALD communities to prevent violence and foster leadership. This will include development of targeted resources for CALD young people and collaboration with multicultural community groups.

Everyone has the right to live free of violence, and I hope that these vital tools will not only help women and their families, but will also help groups like Shakti as they support them.

I commend your organisation for proactively engaging with community stakeholders to encourage discussion on issues of violence faced by women from Asian, African, and Middle Eastern migrant and refugee backgrounds in Australia.

As the daughter of migrants myself, I am always conscious of the various cultural sensitivities and how some subjects remain taboo. I understand how difficult it would be for any woman, especially one from a CALD background, to seek help, to have the strength to seek that help.

And I want you to know that violence against women is very much an anathema to our values and will never be tolerated in Australia.

This forum is serving a critical purpose of assisting to inform and to de-stigmatise the challenges that vulnerable women from diverse communities face in relation to the issues that you will be considering today.

You are helping to heal a deep wound in society by speaking out on domestic violence and other forms of culturally-sanctioned abuse practices.

I thank you all for your commitment and efforts in this important quest and I look forward to hearing about your future work and advocacy, as you truly demonstrate Shakti strength of women. Thank you.