Transcript by The Hon Christian Porter MP

Press Conference with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Location: Parliament House, Canberra



As you know, today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It is White Ribbon Day too.

Currently, two women are killed by a current or former partner every week, 78 women have died as a result of domestic and sexual violence this year alone.

We have to break this cycle. We have to stop it.

We have to stand up against and eliminate violence against women and children and men have to take the lead. That is why we were there this morning at the breakfast with General Ken Gillespie, standing up, committing ourselves to stop violence against women and children.

Now I said upstairs that this is a big cultural issue.

All disrespect of women does not end up with violence against women, but let’s be clear, all violence against women begins with disrespecting women. We have, as parents, as fathers, as grandfathers, we have a huge responsibility to ensure that our sons grow up to respect their mothers and their sisters.

We have that responsibility as teachers. We have that responsible as leaders, whether it is in business or in the armed forces, or as members of parliament and ministers and prime ministers. This is a leadership issue. This is an issue that calls for cultural change.

Now the research that the Minister is releasing today reminds us of the need for this cultural change. Let me read you some of the quotes from some of the young people that took part in this research.

This is from a female between the age of 10 and 14 years, “It wasn’t that bad. It’s not like he punched her. If there was an injury then it would be bad.”

Or a male between 15 and 17 years talking about a perpetrator of violence against a woman, against a girl, “Oh, he’s just having a bad day.”

The research also shows that parents, as I’ve said, unknowingly perpetrate attitudes that make certain or minimise certain behaviour.

Here’s another quote from a mother, or a father I should say, “It takes two to tango,” blaming the victim, or, “You feel conflicted as a mother of boys. You don’t want them to be labelled,” from a mother.

So we have to change our attitudes. We all play a part in breaking this cycle of violence against women and children of domestic violence. This research is very important and I’d ask the Minister to elaborate on the research and its significance.


Thank you, Prime Minister.

As everyone has noted, today is White Ribbon Day 2015 and the Government is launching research which will inform a $30 million national campaign which is, and will be, designed to influence the attitudes of all Australians on domestic violence.

So the first point to note is that the research that is distributed to you today will be the foundational informer for Government in developing a very broad and expensive – and properly so – campaign designed to change attitudes.

The research paper you have received is entitled “Reducing Violence Against Women and their Children”.

I should also note that Senator Cash, the Minister for Women, was a driving force in the production of the report that you have before you and will be an ongoing part of using this research.

I’ve described the report as eye opening and even though it is intensely thought provoking research, it essentially speaks for itself so I won’t go into great details as to many of the vignettes and which are based on scenarios which are put in qualitative research. I wanted to provide, by way of a core summary – offer an opinion to you as to what the report describes in its absolute essence.

I think what it describes is that in certain situations which involve violence, and the situations raised in the report are relatively low-level violence but clear examples of violence, that there is almost an opinion-forming automatism in Australian society and certain parts of it, a sort of knee jerk instinctive attitude and response that is very, very often exhibited to violence.

And that knee jerk response to violence is prevalent, particularly amongst younger Australians, but what the report also, and the research, shows is that that knee jerk response to violence and violence against women is also prevalent in the influencers, particularly parents, and the point of the scenarios in the research is that the scenarios are both commonplace but they are also foundational.

When they’re analysed in detail, three things become very evident. Firstly, that there is a clear under-appreciation in many parts of Australian society of what actually constitutes unaccepting or violating or intimidatory conduct towards females.

Secondly, that is a persistent minimisation of violent and aggressive behaviour, particularly towards females.

Thirdly, there is a very strong passive acceptance of conduct that should simply never be accepted. Those three points, I think you will find clearly come out of the detailed research.

There is a term that I recall that you would have all heard which is ‘passive aggressive’. When I was a Crown prosecutor at the DPP I remember a prosecutor describing this odd purveyance of masculine attitudes to violence as ‘passive dismissive’. I think that’s not a bad term that sums up some of the examples and evidence-based qualitative research you see.

I put to you that this passive dismissive attitude towards violence and that type of response to violence against women, it is not a certain determinator of later serious violence but in every instance of serious violence that you see in the courts, and in and about the issue of domestic violence, there is this bedrock foundational attitude which is a passive and dismissive attitude to violence at all levels of a scale of violence.

So that is foundationally what we will be trying to change through this later campaign and obviously that’s a core summary, but we’re open to all questions that you might have.


Thank you.


Prime Minister, do you think [inaudible] the data support the theory that domestic violence has increased compared to a decade or two ago, for example, or are we just hearing more about it, is it coming out more? Secondly, do you think that one of the problems here is that violence has permeated our culture more, for example entertainment culture?


Just on the research, I’ll defer to the Minister on that.


This is not statistical research about the prevalence of domestic violence, but in answer to your question, my general understanding is that it is a little bit of both, but that during the 80s, 90s and early 2000s there was very significant under-reporting, under-investigating, under-policing and under-prosecuting.

Getting back to my time as a Crown prosecutor, in the years that I was there, starting in about 2002, the prevalence of investigation and the taking seriously of complaint and prosecutions had elevated in the six and eight years that I witnessed, over that period of time. So it is difficult to unpack that subset of data but it is most likely there is a very unfortunate and large amount of domestic violence which we are coming to, sadly, quite late and which is now being properly policed, properly reported, properly investigated and vigorously prosecuted. So I think that’s probably the answer, but that is not necessarily the point of the research.


Michelle, I think – again, it’s always difficult to know whether it’s under reporting or an increase in the incidence. Violence against women in the domestic environment, and children, has been a subject that people didn’t talk about. There’s quite a few of those in our society and openness and a conversation like we’re having about this are critically important to exposing it.

There’s been a tendency to, in the past, dismiss it. To treat it as a private concern. Even the term ‘domestic violence’ which I think we’re stuck with, it’s in the lexicon, if you like, is troubling because it suggests that it’s not as serious as violence in another context.

You’ve all heard the dismissive “it’s just a domestic” right? So I think the under-reporting is a very big part of it. I’ve not seen – I think it would be very hard to get definitive quantitative research on this because you don’t know what hasn’t been reported in the past, but the feedback I’ve had from people who work in this area and researchers who work in this area is, as Christian said, it is a bit of both.

But clearly a big part of this is that point that Christian made that passive dismissive attitude, it’s a term I’ve not heard before but I think it very acutely sums up one of the cultural problem we are grappling with.

We have got to take it seriously. I mean, if we as men know that another man, a friend, a business colleague, is treating his wife, his girlfriend in a violent manner, in an unacceptable manner – may not actually have got to physical violence – that is something we should be able to call out with him.

People are always reluctant to do that, but there’s a lot of issues, similar issues with mental illness by the way, where the stigmas associated with particular types of conduct result in them being ignored and no action being taken. We’ve all got a shared responsibility here.


Prime Minister, with 78 women dead so far this year do you accept that that’s a crisis? If so, do we spend enough time politically discussing this? Do you spend enough time talking about it in Cabinet, in the Party Room? Is there more that you can do?


Well it is certainly utterly unacceptable and if you want to describe it as a crisis you can. As you know, we’ve committed substantial additional resources, Christian’s talked about that.

You know that one of the first announcements – it was the first announcement I made as Prime Minister – was a $100 million program, set of programs I should say, or initiatives, with Michaelia Cash. So, this is a very key priority, I can assure you.

It’s something that I think is now very much right on the radar screen, on the front of the agenda of social issues that we have to grapple with.

Awareness is critical and that requires leadership from all of us. It requires leadership from the media as well. I think the initiative, working with the media that we were discussing yesterday with Ann Reilly, is very valuable too – greater awareness because so much of this is a cultural problem. It requires leadership from mums and dads with their little boys, and it requires leadership from Prime Ministers and the leaders of big corporations like Telstra that has done so much in this area too.


Mr Turnbull, in dealing with the Premiers through the COAG process on this, is there any scope for a specific set of laws for domestic violence like tougher penalties, specific penalties for this category of crime [inaudible]?


I might defer to the former prosecutor and Attorney-General of the great State of Western Australia.


I’ve been to a few of those meetings. It can be a slow process at times but I think one of the benefits of the federal system is because domestic violence in a crimical sense is very much a state legislative issue that you do have a multiplicity of regimes. But there is this experimental aspect and best practice emerges very quickly.

Violence restraining orderers and the way in which they are policed, prosecuted and sentenced is, in my observation, completely critical and yet there are different and better and not so good practices amongst the States.

I think it’s about a process of looking at what is working best in each State jurisdiction legislatively and moving as quickly as possible to harmanisation around the issue.

In Western Australia, one of the things we initiated was what we colloquially called cool-down orders. Where if there was a domestic violence report, then police were able to issue an on-the-spot notice that the perpetrator was not able to go home for a set period, 72 hours. That actually worked really well.

That is something all state Attorneys-General look at, that’s looked at through COAG. It is about adopting best practice but also allowing the States the ability to experiment, to try new things in coalface service delivery and legislative reform.


Prime Minister, there’s still some long term funding uncertainty around the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness which has led state governments and also service providers to cut back on the amount of women’s shelters and expanding other services provided.

Will you commit to funding this beyond 2017 when it expires and to increase the amount of funding it gets, currently at 2014 levels?


Can I say homelessness is a critical and complex issue and you will have heard the Treasurer speak about this in the House yesterday but, again, Christian, I’ll ask you to answer that.


I also have the benefit of being a State Treasurer who was turning up to those meetings with the former Labor Government saying, “Will you renew that partnership?” It was this Government that renewed it.

The idea that there is uncertainty attached to the point of renewal of partnerships is a difficulty that arises in every single federal-state partnership. So all Governments make their decision closer to the point in time of renewal, that is sometimes a clunky system but I think what needs to be noted is it was this Government that made that decision and yes, there is a very important link in to domestic violence issues.

But notably as well, the $100 million that we’re expending goes to some of the coalface issues around that acute point where a woman becomes, in effect, homeless for whatever period of time through absolutely no fault of their own. And one of the big issues that has to be tackled here, not merely about funding but about policing attitudes and legislative responses, is why is it that it is the woman who ends up having to move out of their home after an incident of domestic violence?

And again, one of the things that has been experimentally used is these cool-down orders which has been successful in some States.


[inaudible] you did extend it, however, you’ve extended it for a year, but what the States have all been asking for is for consistent funding that goes into forwards. Is that what you’re looking at at the moment when it comes to NPAH funding?


There’s a lot going on in terms of the Commonwealth’s involvement in housing and affordable housing and homelessness issues. There’s a national agreement on housing, there is the homelessness partnership you talked about, there is Commonwealth rent assistance and they’re all relevant to this issue.

One of the things that the Treasurer has spoken about is reassessing that global amount of funding which is at about the point of $11 billion and trying to get better value in the long-term for that spend.

What I’d put to you is what you’re raising in terms of the renewal of the Partnership on Homelessness is part of a broader consideration that I’m engaged with, with the Treasurer, about how we can actually provide better continuity and it is a real issue, and also get better results for what is a very large expenditure. It is all part of the same issue and part of a broader policy development process that we’re going through.


Prime Minister can we get your reaction to the shooting down of the Russian jet on the Syrian border and what that means for operations there, in particular what that means for Australia’s involvement in those operations.


Well this is a matter of great concern. We call on all parties to exercise restraint in respect of this incident. The facts and the circumstances are not, of course, yet known, and obviously there will be issues between Turkey and Russia as to which side of the border the plane was on. But restraint is essential.

In terms of our own forces in that theatre, there is a memorandum of understanding between the Coalition forces and the Russians in terms of air operations over Syria and we are paying very close attention to that and of course the safety of our personnel.


[inaudible] NATO power has shot down a Russian plane.


Well that will depend, frankly, on the reaction of the parties and that is why restraint is so important. But it’s a matter of significance and I think it’s of significance for all concerned and in particular for Turkey and Russia. We urge both President Putin and President Erdogan, with whom I met very recently and discussed the Syrian situation at some length with each president, we urge both leaders, both countries, to exercise restraint in respect to this.


Is there actually a greater need for Russia and the United States to co-ordinate their military effort? and to know precisely where each other’s jets are?


Well you’re right, it is essential for all of the parties in that increasingly complex conflict to have a high degree of awareness of where each other’s military assets are being deployed.

But you talked about Russia and the United States, there is a MOU between the Coalition and the Russians in terms of the operation of their military aircraft over Syria and to avoid incidents, collisions, incidents like the one we’ve just seen plainly, but this – what we’ve seen here did not involve the United States, this was an incident between Turkey and Russia.


Mr Turnbull is it frustrating that the Russians are still bombing the Syrian opposition after all Putin said at the G20 and so forth about ISIS, about focusing on ISIS. Do you see it as a sign of no progress despite the assurances that Putin may have given various people?


Phil, the various players in that theatre, a number of them have got differing agendas, differing objectives which in some cases overlap and in some cases are in conflict with each other.

The Turks have got a high level of concern about the Kurds, fears of Kurdish separatism. The Russians have as a priority the protection or the preservation of the Assad regime.

Our objective, with me speaking as the Australian Prime Minister, Australia’s objective is to operate in Syria as part of the collective self-defence of Iraq against ISIL or Daesh so our objective is limited to that.

The Americans of course are supporting what you might call the moderate Syrian groups against ISIL. So this is why, this is a very complex theatre both in terms of the various elements within Syria and then the various external players and I’ve only mentioned a few of them. It’s highly complex and it underlines the need for there to be a political settlement to resolve this.


Given the circumstances you just describe so many [indistinct] two frontiers. How can you possibly see that being coalesced into one force that fights Islamic State… well the whole world seems to be arrayed against them and it doesn’t seem to be any possibility that they will be defeated in the near future.


Well ISIL is weak relative to the powers that are arrayed against it. If you ask, and for the reasons I described in the House yesterday, and I won’t give that speech again because you heard it yesterday… But in terms of the difficulties of achieving a political settlement you’re quite right, it is very difficult. I’ve discussed the prospect of this with the President of the United States, the President of Turkey and the President of Russia and others. Quite a few others.

So it is very complicated but ultimately that is where the solution must lie and as you know at the very heart of the problem has been the oppression, alienation of the Sunni or large parts of the Sunni majority, in Syria and the Sunni minority in Iraq.

That’s just one of the problems. That is an especially difficult area but I think notwithstanding this incident with the Russian plane being shot down, I think there remains strong momentum to a political resolution or at least to seek to get there, because frankly unless you get there, there will be no resolution.

The force of arms is not enough to resolve this situation. As I described yesterday, there is a military angle to which we are making the second largest contribution after the United States among the international forces. Then there is a political angle or a political reconciliation which needs to be done between the peoples, the various groups within. I am not talking about ISIL or Daesh, I am talking about the people – the Sunni people, the Shia people, the Alawite people and others – there needs to be a new modus vivendi worked out because in the absence of that the conflict in one form or another will continue.


Can I take you to a domestic policy idea. Some Senate cross-benchers today are renewing the push to expand the pension loan scheme. Is that something you would be open to?


I defer to the Minister.


That’s the first I have heard of it so if colleagues have been talking about that I’ll have a look at what they have to say, but we’ve made a lot of changes to enhance the sustainability of the pension and they have been successful and I think that they were wise and moderate changes, but I’ll have a listen to what they had to say.


Thank you all very much and I bid you good morning.