Speech by The Hon Kate Ellis MP

Launch of Parity Magazine’s response to The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children

Location: Melbourne

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I would like to thank the Council to Homeless Persons and Domestic Violence Victoria, for inviting me to speak this morning.

I would also like to thank a number of other organisations who are co-hosting this event today: the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, the NSW Women’s Refuge Movement, and WESNET.

Today, it is my pleasure to be here to launch the September 2011 edition of Parity – which discusses and responds to the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010-2022.

This Edition includes some moving and insightful examples of why this Plan is so important and why it will work.

As you know, this time tomorrow, the wonderful Julie Collins from Tasmania will be sworn in as the Minister for the Status of Women. I will be expanding my focus in the childcare space and early childhood more broadly, as well as focussing on employment participation.

It was important for me to come here today – for my last event before moving on from this portfolio – because I wanted to say a few very important things.

Firstly, you are going to have a fantastic incoming Minister, and Julie Collins will do an absolutely wonderful job.

Secondly, I wanted to reaffirm that I am firmly of the view that when we look at the levels of domestic and family violence in this country, when we look at the levels of sexual violence: this is not just a women’s issue.

This is a human rights issue.

It is an issue that all Governments need to address, and we need to address it across portfolios.

So, one of my messages to you here today is: I may be moving portfolios, but I can assure you that all members of this Government are very focussed on the success of this National Plan.

We are focussed on this National Plan because we know that we have a responsibility to dramatically change these shocking statistics – these statistics that we have seen for decades.

Finally, the other reason that I was very keen to keep this appointment was that, through you, I wanted to thank the wonderful people working in this sector, the strong women and men who work so hard to bring about change. The people who work so hard to support survivors, prevent violence and who have worked with us for so long to get this right.

I want to pass on my personal thanks for the work that has been done in this field.

In her article in the magazine, Heather Nancarrow gives some idea of the enormous amount of work and energy that some very dedicated people put into helping us develop the National Plan – months and months of juggling work, volunteering and family life with your work on the Plan.

I will treasure the day when we launch this Plan and I looked around I saw a room filled with people who had fought, not just for year, but for decades.

I saw some very strong women who had tears in their eyes because they had worked to so hard to get the Plan to this point.

I am tremendously proud of this National Plan – and I know that you are too.

It is significant when we see the Australian Government join with every State, every Territory government – of all political persuasions – signing up and saying: we must end violence against women. Ending this shocking statistics is going to be a priority.

It is significant when all of these Governments say that we are not just going to make sure that we have services and support in place, but we’re going to focus on actually turning around these statistics – and focus on prevention, on early intervention. That is significant.

So, there are some very big steps that have been taken in this Plan.

So I am pleased that we are reminded, in this publication, why this National Plan is so important, and why we all need to make sure that it succeeds.

The high rates of domestic, family and sexual violence experienced by Australian women and their children in Australia never cease to shock and anger me.

Jill McCabe quotes recent Victorian Police Crime Statistics in her article in this edition of Parity.

The figures show that more than 40,800 incidents of family violence were reported over the twelve months to the end of June this year.

Sadly, these figures are up by 14.6 per cent from the previous year.

That is just in one year, in one State.

Moreover, one in four children is estimated to have witnessed family violence against their mother or step-mother.

Tragically, this phenomenon is not new.

Over a century ago a courageous English woman – Frances Cobbe – coined the phrase “Wife Torture” as part of a successful campaign to enable abused women to obtain restraining orders against their partners.

Frances Cobbe argued that the prevailing notion of the times – that a man’s wife was his property – was at the root of these assaults on their wives.

All of us here today know that gender inequality remains the fundamental cause of violence against women and children.

As several contributors to Parity recognise, the fundamental premise in Australia’s National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children is that we must build greater equality and respect between men and women if we are to reduce the development of attitudes that support or justify violence.

As Governments and a community, we need to take action to prevent the crime of violence against women and children in this country.

Not only because it is a hideous crime in itself.

But also because of the terrible ongoing repercussions it has on the lives of the women and children affected.

While there is no one pathway to homelessness – but, data indicates that domestic and family violence is one of the main causes of homelessness for women in Australia.

Graphic statistic in the September Parity is that 48 per cent of women with children said that the main reason for seeking accommodation from a homelessness agency was because they were leaving violent family situations.

We know that women, often with children in their care, become homeless due to safety concerns.

Even when they are away from the perpetrator, women and children feel unsafe.

There is a very moving interview in this issue of Parity with a woman named “Julie”. When asked what safety meant to her, she said:

“Safety means not having to run around seeing if the doors are locked every night, being able to live freely and with the children not asking me to check the house every night, in the cupboards, behind doors, under the beds to see if anyone’s in the house….”

Women faced with these circumstances may also experience a lack of belonging, control and self-worth.

These factors can lead to reduced social inclusion and social connectedness to friends, family and community.

These experiences, these statistics, these stories tell us something important: business as usual doesn’t work. That we need to act – and that we need to act together.

I am delighted that the contributions to Parity about the Plan are overwhelmingly positive – and provide us with some important matters to keep at the front of our minds while we are implementing the Plan over the next 11 years.

But of course, we know that this is a good plan.

It is a good plan because it is your Plan.

This is a Plan that came from the community and the community will be at the heart of its success.

For many years, the community sector lobbied Governments at every level and of every political persuasion to take concerted action on violence against women.

I am proud to say that governments from across Australia heard that call, and in February, we launched the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children.

This Plan is the first of its kind in a number of ways, including its sustained, 12 year, approach and its strong focus on prevention – both to a level that we have not previously seen in this country.

But the important feature of the Plan that I wanted to discuss today is its focus on partnering with civil society to deliver its outcomes.

Under the Plan, our focus is very much on building respectful relationships so we can prevent violence before it occurs.

A major feature of the implementation of our $86 million National Plan includes partnering with community organisations across the country, especially in primary prevention.

The aim of this work is to strengthen the ability of communities to discuss the problem of violence against women and to take responsibility for the solutions.

Community engagement will of course be essential to getting this message out.

That is why we are supporting the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA) to engage with communities on the National Plan.

As you can see from Julie Oberin’s article in this edition of Parity, AWAVA have a fantastic attitude – and they are up to the challenge of engaging with communities about what the National Plan means to them, and they have been very busy.

AWAVA have been delivering a series of events in regional and remote locations to promote the National Plan and discuss how organisations can take action at a local level.

AWAVA has delivered five community engagement events in Katherine, Bendigo, Broome, Launceston and Wilcannia.

The communities in each of these locations have identified ways they can engage with the National Plan and work together to reduce violence against women.

In Katherine, members of the community acknowledged they had been working in silos on prevention activities and they have committed to forming a network and building links to progress work in their community.

In Bendigo, members of the community were able to hear about the Award winning “Solving the Jigsaw” schools program, which works with children in primary and secondary schools to teach them about respectful relationships and how to manage conflict, bullying and abuse.

Community groups in Bendigo are working with the White Ribbon Day Foundation to progress existing activities, while other community groups have committed to developing information for newly arrived migrant women on their legal rights in Australia if they experience violence and abuse.

In Broome, community workers travelled from as far away as Tom Price – 1000 kilometres – and South Hedland – 600 kilometres away- to participate in the discussion.

Participants at the Broome event decided to increase their focus on primary prevention initiatives and attend the local weekend market to spread awareness on reducing violence against women.

Despite the vast distances between them, participants worked together in regional groups to develop community education plans.

I am especially pleased to be able to report that feedback from the community engagement events has been very positive.

Participants have welcomed the renewed space to develop primary prevention initiatives to reduce violence against women through focusing on gender inequality and community education strategies.

Encouraging communities to implement these strategies with localised responses is at the heart of the National Plan and I commend these communities for their efforts.

As you know, the only way that we have a hope of changing attitudes is for the community members themselves take the initiative in denouncing violent behaviour within their own communities.

And I am pleased to say that communities are doing just that – developing local solutions and putting them into action.

Because this is what civil society does best.

And our approach to the National Plan has been to embrace this and support and partner with the community sector to deliver better outcomes for women.

As I said earlier: the community is why this Plan came about.

And partnership with the community is why this Plan will be a success.

This Plan must be a success.

It has to be – so that we can keep faith with people like “Julie”.

“Julie” says in this issue of Parity,
“If this [Plan] had been in place during my experience I probably would have exited homelessness within a year because there would have been collaboration between services and there would have been more support programs. If programs for the perpetrators had been in place and were compulsory for all perpetrators, I don’t believe domestic violence would have been such an issue.

We need to make sure that we meet Julie’s vision. This is our challenge.

We also need to make sure that every other woman who wrote to me, who sent emails, who had heard about the Plan and who wanted me to know that this is their story.

These brave women said to me that was their story, but they did not want it to be their daughter’s story.

They did not want it to be the story that we heard for generations to come.

So, that’s the responsibility that we have now.

I’m so excited that we have a Plan in place now that will bring about meaningful change.

And whatever portfolio I hold, whatever position, I look forward to working in partnership with you.

I assure you that our Government will absolutely retain our commitment to making sure that this Plan is a success.

Thank you for having me here – and it is my pleasure to declare this issue of Parity officially launched.