Taking Note - International Day for the Prevention of Violence Against Women

25 November 2021


I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Women's Safety (Minister Ruston) to a question without notice asked by Senator McAllister relating to domestic and family violence.

Before I begin, I want to recognise victims-survivors both in this place and across Australia, far too many of whom were taken from their friends and families by this violence or were impacted by this violence. I especially want to acknowledge it today on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

We in this chamber know that violence—family violence, domestic violence and sexual violence—is rife in our community, and we know that the pandemic has, in many ways, for many women, made it worse. The minister said in her answers to questions today that the impact of violence didn't end during the pandemic, and that is absolutely correct. But what she didn't acknowledge is that, for too many women, it has worsened, and it has worsened at a time when there are other enormous pressures on women and on their families, as well. It has worsened at a time when we need support and action on this issue from the government more than ever before. One woman is killed every week by a current or former partner. We know that police are called to domestic violence incidents every two minutes. Violence is the leading preventable cause of death, illness and disability for women aged 15 to 44, and a 2017 report by White Ribbon found that women in First Nations communities are twice as likely to be victims of violence.

As I said, the pandemic has caused significant spikes in family violence, with two-thirds of providers reporting an increase in abuse and, especially, in controlling behaviours. In October 2020, the Women's Legal Service in Adelaide reported having to turn away 450 calls from women earlier that year, during the first wave of lockdowns and quarantine in South Australia. Yet, in this context and in the context of all that we know, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has, for too long, failed to take seriously the task of delivering leadership on women's safety. Following the March 4 Justice, the Prime Minister announced his women's cabinet and the women's budget with great fanfare, but six months later we're still waiting for the draft national plan, and organisations are yet to receive the funding promised by this government. In February last year, it was reported that dozens of trials in the Family Court were directly impacted by funding shortfalls in legal aid. Refuges have reported having to turn away women, and only one in 10 women who want to stay at home have the necessary support to safely do so.

The lack of leadership, though, isn't just from the federal government here in Canberra. It exists in my home state of South Australia as well, where we have seen Catherine House, the only domestic violence shelter in Adelaide—a dedicated refuge for women without children—being subject to a $1.2 million funding cut. Senators in this place, including, I know, Senator Wong and Senator Farrell, have a close relationship with Catherine House. Senator Grogan and I have visited this service many times. We've seen firsthand the incredible and important work that they do for some of the most courageous women in our state. That service has had $1.2 million worth of funding cut.

At the federal level and the state level we hear platitude after platitude, but we have failed to see not just this year but over years and years—indeed, for decades and decades—the meaningful commitment of resources with the right level of urgency required to support women and families experiencing violence. Victims-survivors need so much more support. I am so proud of Senator McAllister and our leader, Anthony Albanese, who have just announced that a Labor government will fund 500 new community sector workers to support women and families fleeing family violence and establish a Commonwealth Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Commissioner to give victims-survivors a strong voice at the highest levels.

Domestic, family and sexual violence is an epidemic in our community. For many women and families it remains an unseen burden that endangers their lives and livelihoods. To make Australia a fairer and safer place we must drag this horror into the light and deliver real and meaningful action to protect women and families from abuse and violence. Labor are committed to this. In government we will deliver this because we heed the calls for urgency. Women and families cannot wait any longer.