Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has described family violence — which predominantly affects women and children — as ‘everybody’s business’ and said that the nation can go much further if everybody is earnestly trying to achieve the shared determination of women’s equality and empowerment.
The National Summit on Women’s Safety will convene over two days (6-7 September) to develop the federal government’s national plan to end violence against women and children.
Delivering an opening address for the summit on Monday, Morrison said it was important for the national plan to be connected and integrated with other national strategies.
“It’s a big goal that we share, and it is a shared goal, to end violence against women and their children. Not a single person has all the answers, and neither does any single government,” Morrison said.
“Our country must become a place where every woman feels safe, and to live free of fear. Our country must become a place where every woman feels safe, and to live free of fear. Too many Australian women do not feel safe and too often they are not safe. And that is not okay.”
In a joint statement, minister for women Marise Payne and minister for families and social services, and women’s safety Anne Ruston outlined the issues to be explored by the (now virtual) summit. Those issues generally relate to women’s safety, including economic security and financial independence, perpetrator interventions, and responding to sexual violence.
Payne listed among the stakeholders participating in the summit advocates, service providers, academics and people with a lived experience of insecurity of violence.
“The summit is an important step towards a future free from family and domestic violence and sexual assault in Australia,” Payne said.
“I encourage every Australian to take part in this important national conversation, so together we can create change.”
Criticism from observers has been reported, however, with researchers from the University of Monash noting that none of the Summit sessions focus on hearing from victim-survivor advocates.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has also pointed out that of the representatives speaking on the summit’s panels, none represent the specific interests of women in the workplace. There are also no frontline workers on the summit panel, the union points out, who deal with and witness the daily impacts of violence against women.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil suggested that, given working women numbered over 6.5million in the Australian workforce (2 in 5 of whom have reported experiencing sexual harassment), the federal government must not really care.
“The government has left out of this summit the voice and representatives of working women.
“It shows how little they care about real change, and real rights at work that could protect women,” O’Neil said.
The decision is galling according to the ACTU, because while the [email protected] report that the PM has flaunted as a new ‘battle for equal rights’ and women’s safety in the workplace, the issues it raises have been long-standing. These include issues at the centre of campaigns the union has pursued such as the battle for equal pay, maternity and parental leave, family and domestic violence leave, and systems that better support victims reporting sexual harassment.
O’Neil cited recent decisions – a vote against amendments that would have placed a positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in September, and voting down offering all women who experience family and domestic violence 10 days paid leave – as proof the federal government’s commitment were merely words.
These reforms would have had a real long term impact on the lives of all Australian women ensuring safer and more equitable workplaces. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/4DQIrm3xtw
— Brittany Higgins (@BrittHiggins_) September 2, 2021
“The voices of business are very well represented. But equality and safety at work has not been delivered by business lobbyists, but by many generations of women who have joined their unions and demanded change,” O’Neil said.
“Women at work have been insulted and ignored by this government, and this summit will not turn that around.”
In her statement, Anne Ruston named some of the experts who would participate in this week’s summit, including Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant and Our Watch ambassador Arman Abrahimzadeh among others.
The #WomensSafetySummit is officially underway.
I look forward to listening to all of your insights over the next two days as we develop the next National Plan to end violence against women and their children.
Remember to livestream the event at https://t.co/Xxfv42IzAo. pic.twitter.com/OdIaTptG1m
— Anne Ruston (@Anne_Ruston) September 6, 2021
Ahead of the National Summit, Queensland’s Labor Attorney-General and minister for women Shannon Fenitman issued a statement, supporting calls by advocates for long term solutions to national gendered violence efforts that have ‘fallen short of what is needed to address the scale of the problem’.
The statement was endorsed by four of Fentiman’s national peers including Victoria’s minister for women Gabrielle Williams, Western Australia’s minister for women’s interests Simone McGurk, ACT minister for women Yvette Berry, and Northern Territory minister for women Lauren Moss.
“It is time for the Commonwealth to step up to its responsibility, and act on the issues that are within its capacity to change,” the statement read.
The ministers listed seven short term solutions that could be addressed by the Australian government today:
- More investment in housing for women escaping violence
- More funding for legal services for victim-survivors
- Action to support women on temporary visas who are fleeing violence
- Sustained funding for frontline services
- Properly implementing all the [email protected] recommendations
- More investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-led responses
- Legislating for 10 days of paid domestic and family violence leave
“Each of our jurisdictions has taken practical steps to increase support for victim-survivors and ensure the institutions we are responsible for are reacting to the challenge of violence.
“Participants at this summit will expect that the Commonwealth government does the same,” the statement read.
Morrison underscored in his opening remarks to the summit that he wanted to hear from all women and all walks of life in the development of the National Plan.
“I want to hear from you, your perspectives, your ideas, your wisdom for how we go forward on this together. Because with your help, we can create that National Plan that sets a course for a country and a culture of Australians that does not let violence in the future,” Morrison said.
“[For a future] that honours respect,” he said.
The government will accept written submissions and feedback on the topics discussed at the summit until 15 September.