I am very pleased to be able to speak on this report and this inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence. I’m pleased to see fellow committee members and the committee chair in the chamber with me and I acknowledge the work that we all did together in this very important inquiry. It was a privilege for me to be a member of the committee for this inquiry. Its work was at times heartbreaking in its findings.
I want to acknowledge the contributions and the testimonies from individuals who shared their experiences of family, domestic and sexual violence, because their voices were so vital to this process and I do want to thank them for sharing their stories. Please know that your efforts were not in vain. I also want to thank all the service providers and the experts who shared their knowledge and their experience with the committee. The breadth and the quality of the evidence that we gathered made it clear just how much more work there is to be done in this country to address family violence.
The national conversation we are having at the moment about violence against women is incredibly important. We know that, in Australia, one woman is murdered by her current or former domestic partner every week. Since this inquiry commenced in June last year, more than 40 women will have been murdered by their current or former partner. This just should not be acceptable in our country. If it was happening in any setting other than a domestic setting, it would rightly be seen and talked about as a national emergency. And so what is needed is an ambitious and urgent response.
This inquiry went some of the way to working out what we need to do next. There were more than 350 submissions, 47 confidential submissions, 16 days of inquiries and 90 hours of evidence over many months. That culminated in the 88 recommendations which we hope will inform the development of the next national plan and which are grouped across five key themes: that the next national plan should involve a more uniform approach across jurisdictions, that the next national plan must seek to engender a culture of accountability and greater workforce support, that education is critical, that there remains a greater need for greater awareness and understanding of the many forms of family violence, that the welfare of victims-survivors and their children should be paramount and that the next national plan must continue to hold perpetrators to account for their use of violence.
Those of us who are Labor members of this committee have some additional comments that we want to make, because the evidence taken by the committee was unequivocal. The scale of this problem is greater than either the resources or the resolve that the Australian government has currently brought to the task. We added to the committee’s findings that there is the need for a proper policy process as the next national plan is developed. There must be adequate and informed consultation as part of the development of that plan. We must consider the implications of the federal government’s inaction on previous inquiries and the need for us to learn from the mass of work that has already been done in this area, including the Victorian royal commission. As a member from Victoria, I must commend the Victorian government for the way it has been leading governments’ responses in this space and for the work that is under way in my home state.
We must recognise the Commonwealth’s role and the ability of the Commonwealth to do more in areas that we have control of, including in particular the strong evidence received by the committee for the need for the introduction of 10-days paid domestic violence leave per year for victims-survivors. When you think about all of the impacts on a person’s life when they’re experiencing family violence, it makes basic sense that they would need space and time from their workplace to try and deal with some of those implications. There’s a clear role for the Commonwealth to step in here.
I actually spent last night watching the latest episode of Jess Hill’s excellent documentary, See what you made me do. I think that documentary does an excellent job of publicly conveying many of the things that were highlighted to us during this inquiry: the pervasive terror that too many women live under and the massive gaps that remain in the systems that should support and protect them; the way that First Nations women disproportionately experience this; and the entitlement and sense of control that too many men seem to believe they have the right to exercise over women. We must be prepared to confront this.
Our response to family violence must be about resetting the norms in our society that implicitly tell men they are entitled to harm women. While I welcome this report and believe its 88 recommendations must be urgently implemented, I do very much fear that this government is not up to the task, because this is a government that, for eight years, ignored and neglected women’s safety. In fact, it’s a government that, since coming to office, has spent as much on government advertising as they have helping to stop family violence. It’s a government that seems to be playing catch-up now that it has realised it has a political problem in the women’s space, with women feeling ignored, unheard and unsupported throughout its term. It is hard to feel confident that this is the government that we need to address the horrific levels of violence that Australian women are experiencing. It’s hard to imagine that this government is going to address the underlying issue of gender inequality, and we see that in this place this week, where members who have targeted women in behaviour online continue to hold important positions in this place and are not being held to account by the government. What does this say around that sense of entitlement that I’ve been talking about? What does it say to men that they’re allowed to do to women, when we in this place continue to condone this kind of behaviour?
The government has put money into some of these services in the budget this week, and that is welcome. But it’s not enough.
A government member: $1.1 billion is a lot of money.
Kate Thwaites MP: It’s a lot of money, but it’s catch-up from money that hasn’t been there in the past, and we do need more. We do need a greater commitment. We do need this understanding that funding of frontline services is absolutely essential. Funding of our courts and the systems that sit around it, and of the training that we need that helps women get out of these situations, is absolutely essential. We need funding to solve the problems that get women into this in the first place. We need funding for education, for the things that will change men’s behaviours, for the things that will change the structures in our society that creates these inequalities—that funding is essential as well. That’s what I want to see more of from this government. That’s what I know a Labor government would do, because we are committed not just to addressing family and domestic violence but to addressing so many of those things that are the driving forces of this, like the fact that women are so often unequal in financial security and the fact that most women earn less money than men.
Again in this budget what we did not see was any substantial increase in wages for the areas where women predominantly work—that is, our childcare, aged-care and disability service sectors. These services are predominantly staffed by females and yet there was nothing in this budget that will raise their wages. By perpetuating these inequalities, we’re perpetuating some of the structures that mean women are at risk of family and domestic violence at a much higher level than men.
Some of the things that I’m been proud are in Labor’s women’s budget statement, and some of the things that Labor believes we need to address in these underlying issues, are a national gender equality strategy, so that we can look at these issues across the breadth of government and across everything we do, and work on this as a holistic issue. We do need gender-responsive budgeting. We should know how everything affects women and how it is helping women to get to a more equal position in our community. And, of course, we do need equal representation in this place, because I do not think that we would be having this conversation today and I do not think that this report would have been written in the way that it has been today if there were not enough women in this place who were helping to raise it as an issue and to make sure that it was front and centre. There has been support from the many men I know who also want to champion this, and many women outside this place have also been raising their voice.
I have to pay tribute to the bravery and the courage of the women who stood out the front of this place and protested, the brave young women who came forward and told their stories and the victims-survivors who told their stories to this committee. I have to say again that, while I stand in this place, I will do everything I can to make sure your courage and your bravery does not go unnoticed, that it gets acted upon and that you get the response that you need. Our country needs to end this. Enough is enough. It is time to end the scourge of domestic and family violence. We need to do more.