Matters of Public Urgency - Violence Against Women

Matters of Public Urgency - Violence Against Women

The issue of violence against women and their children is persistent, it's real and it's deeply troubling. It goes to the heart of how many women in our community experience life. Women must be safe at work, at home and in their community from abuse by others. It's understandably emotional. I can see why people get distressed about it. But I want to make a sincere commitment here today to women who are dealing right now with the pain of scars—physical, mental, emotional. We hear you. We value you. And we are working to make things better for you.

There's been a lot of politicking on this issue, and I think that's wrong. No party in this place has a perfect record on this most important of issues. Instead of thinking politics, we should be thinking about humanity. After all, those in glass houses shouldn't be throwing stones. But this motion talks about yesterday's march and, in a way, it shows every reservation I had about it. It draws a connection between the march and the desire, quite well held, by good people, to see an end to sexual violence and then tries to use it as an excuse to string up the Attorney-General in circumstances where he wouldn't get any of the protections we would expect—indeed demand—for any other member of our community: basic evidence, the rule of law, the presumption of innocence. These are not small things.

Senator Rice's motion calls for the Prime Minister to listen and to respect those people who marched yesterday. Well, the Prime Minister offered to meet with and listen to a delegation from the march. That invitation was refused. Minister Payne also offered to discuss the issues. That offer was refused. The Prime Minister and Minister Payne offered to sit down and engage constructively with the organisers of the march, to truly understand the issues they came to talk about and start working on solutions. Attending a march outside, with all the yelling, the cheers and the chants, wouldn't have resulted in a productive conversation. I think everyone who's serious about what we do in this place knows that's true. There is more than one way to listen, to care and to act than to go to a rally, and I have nothing but confidence in this government's sincerity to assist women dealing with this difficulty.

The motion calls for 'urgent action', so I really want to outline some of the key actions we've taken of late. Since 2013, this government has invested more than $1 billion to prevent and respond to violence against women and their children. An independent review into Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces is underway, led by Kate Jenkins, our Sex Discrimination Commissioner, and will report by November of this year. We've established 24/7 support services for staff, past or present, in any area, for any party. Stephanie Foster, the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, is working with the Prime Minister right now on making sure we can drive cultural change.

There's been a lot of talk about the [email protected] report, and I'm proud to say that's become my responsibility. Already this government has acted upon nine—some people in this place say three, but it's nine—recommendations of the [email protected] report, including, I'm proud to say, the establishment of the [email protected] Council, and it has its first meeting this Friday. It will be leading the implementation of this report. We've funded the establishment of online platforms, training and education resources to provide the materials that are needed for employers and employees to know how to get the justice, safety and respect that they should have in their workplaces. We are working through every single one of the remaining recommendations diligently, in partnership with government, in partnership with the private sector, to make sure we leave no stone unturned. And we took an active role in developing and ratifying the ILO's convention on eliminating violence and harassment.