Opinion editorial: Amplifying the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls
One Friday night earlier this month emergency services attended a fire at a residence in the Hidden Valley Town Camp in the Northern Territory.
Most of the fire had been extinguished by the time crews arrived but the alleged victim, a 34-year-old woman, has suffered “extensive” burns and sadly died from her injuries two days later.
A police officer from Alice Springs Criminal Investigation Unit told journalists the woman, a mother, was known to be at risk of domestic violence.
He said “we believe there was fuel used in the fire” and “we believe the fire was started as a result of a fight”.
The alleged offender, a 36-year-old man who was the woman’s partner, died about a week after the fire from serious burns.
Last week I visited the Northern Territory in my role as Women’s Safety Minister and just about every person I met with said the same thing: “Where is the national outrage?!”
What occurred in the NT on that Friday night was an utter tragedy and should be something that shocks all Australians to their core.
There absolutely should be national outrage.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are over-represented in the statistics on family, domestic and sexual violence.
About 1 in 7 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women had experienced physical violence in the past 12 months according to the most recent Personal Safety Survey.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of that violence than non-indigenous women.
At the National Summit on Women’s Safety the message from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women could not have be clearer that policies to address this crisis are not working.
Professor Marcia Langton said: “Nobody listens to us. They talk over the top of us, they tell us what we are going to have in our communities, and no one listens to the women in the communities, the women in the towns, the women in the suburbs who have to deal with all those young women and older women and children fleeing from violence.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO echoed this message in a video she launched yesterday.
“We are not heard, not recognised and not included which means the structures they design do not meet our basic rights or help us realise our dreams,” the video expressed.
Earlier this year the Morrison Government held the National Summit on Women’s Safety. The Statement handed down at the end of the Summit on behalf of all delegates stated: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must have their own First Nations specific Action Plan to address family safety under the National Plan (to end violence against women and children) and be empowered to lead all actions and responses in their communities.”
I want to assure all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women that the Morrison Government is listening.
There will be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific Action Plan.
This will be the primary mechanism for implementing Closing the Gap Target 13 to reduce the rate of all forms of family violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children by at least by 50 per cent by 2031.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have the greatest knowledge about the issues that affect them so to meet this target and we must listen and work together in a genuine partnership.
As a starting point the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council on family, domestic and sexual violence has been established through the Morrison Government’s historic $1.1 billion commitment to women’s safety.
Its membership reflects the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait language, social and nation groups, has a strong focus on on-the-ground experience and represents the voices of Elders and youth.
In addition to the 13 strong membership, Ms Oscar and Professor Marcia Langton have been appointed as Special Advisors to the Advisory Council.
The Council is meeting next month over two days to discuss its approach to developing the Action Plan.
Today, to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we are announcing that the Morrison Government will invest $2.8 million over three years to deliver the final stage of the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) Project.
This will include a national summit for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women chaired by June Oscar AO.
It will provide a national platform to empower women’s leadership at the local level and be an opportunity for healing intergenerational trauma and taking action to eradicate racism.
Having had the privilege of sitting down with extraordinary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women across Australia – in Kununurra, Ali Currung, Arukun to name a few – the absolute strength, diversity and knowledge of these women is undeniable.
As policy makers we must ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council women are empowered to develop and deliver programs for their communities.
Our way doesn’t work, only their way will.