Speech by Senator the Hon Anne Ruston

Senate – Matter of Public Importance – Gendered Violence and Sexual Harassment


I want to assure this to all Australians that the Morrison Government absolutely respects the thousands of Australians who have attended a March 4 Justice yesterday.

We respect their right to protest and, in particular, I want to acknowledge the bravery of the survivors of family, domestic and sexual violence who have shared their personal stories.

My sincere hope is that the words spoken by the survivors of sexual violence will create real and lasting change to ensure that every woman, young and old, is not only safe but also feels safe whether that be in their home, at school or in their workplace.

My commitment to these women, survivors and all Australians is that I will put every effort into doing my job here in this place because I know that I have an incredibly privileged position to affect change.

More than 11 years ago, the first National Plan to prevent violence against women and their children commenced. It is a world leading plan and I acknowledge those members opposite who had a role in establishing it.

Today, along with the Minister for Women, I have carriage of delivering the Fourth Action Plan under the National Plan which seeks to end gendered violence.

And we are seeing a seismic change in discourse around the issues of family and domestic and sexual violence.

This is not a conversation we would have had 11 years ago.

As a society, we know our attitudes are changing. This is evidenced both by evaluations and statistics, but also by the March4Justice which occurred across the country yesterday. However, there is still much more to do.

I join with the Minister for Women in saying we are listening, we are acting and we are still looking to the future.

One woman is killed every nine days by a current or former partner.

One in six women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner since the age of 15. This figure increases to nearly one in four women when violence by boyfriends, girlfriends and dates is included.

Of concern is the fact that one in four young people are prepared to excuse violence from a partner.

Since 2013, more than $1 billion has been invested to directly respond, and prevent, violence against women and their children.

In 2019, we announced a record $340 million investment to support the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan. The Fourth Action Plan develops on the work done over the previous three plans.

$68.3 million, or 20 per cent of the total funding, was provided for primary prevention strategies to improve attitudes toward gender equality and stop violence before it begins.

I am incredibly proud to have seen the $18.8 million Stop It At The Start campaign launch over the weekend. It is a campaign which challenges disrespectful attitudes learned in childhood and that, if left unchecked, can escalate to violence.

It’s a campaign we know is having a real, tangible impact with research revealing the first two phases prompted 42 per cent of all adults to take action to challenge disrespect towards women.

Primary prevention must, be a focus in the next National Plan but we know that this cannot stand alone.

Under the Fourth Action Plan we committed:

  • $82 million is going to targeted frontline services
  • another $78 million is providing safe places and to keep victims safe in their own homes;
  • And $7.8 million to work with male victims and alleged perpetrators in family law matters.

In response to COVID19 we moved quickly to allocate $130 million in additional funding directly to states and territories to increase their funding to frontline services.

This was also supplemented by the $20 million boost to Commonwealth initiatives including 1800RESPECT, our national 24/7 hotline, MensLine, and to promote our Help is Here campaign.

The way I am choosing to stand up for women is by putting every effort into rolling out significant government investment in primary prevention, early intervention, frontline services and education.

Action on this should unite us all, not divide us and must be above political point scoring.

As a nation now is a pivotal time for all Australians as we very publicly discuss and deal with issues around sexual violence and disrespect towards women.

Only yesterday did I meet with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, to discuss the recommendations relating to our prevention activities in the Respect@Work report, and to discuss the consultation on the Next National Plan.

And we are already implementing this work. For example, in the most recent Budget we committed to permanent funding for 1800REPECT which has become vital to supporting women, their friends and families who are dealing with the impacts of violence. This is the first time this service has ever had continual, ongoing funding.

The Next National Plan will commence in mid 2022. It will focus on new and emerging issues we are facing, issues which we did not see and were not alert to over a decade ago. It will have a prevention focus, and must look towards build the fence at the top of the cliff rather than the ambulance at the bottom. It must look to what survivors are saying and to what we can do to prevent violence and disrespect at the very start.

Finally, I will put on the record here that I do not support an independent inquiry into the allegations of a criminal nature.

Politicians, like all Australians, have the right to the presumption of innocence. We cannot support a dangerous precedent to stand down an individual merely on the basis of an allegation.