Australia

Where do the Coalition and Labor stand on addressing women’s safety?

Content warning: This article contains references to domestic, family and sexual violence.
Last year, some 100,000 people took to the streets across Australia .
But just over 12 months on, have these issues been discussed during the federal election campaign?
Kirstin Ferguson, an adjunct professor at the Queensland University of Technology’s Business School and a former deputy chair of the ABC, offered one analysis when she looked at how frequently certain words have been spoken by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition leader Anthony Albanese during the campaign from publicly available transcripts.
From 11 April to 11 May, she found that neither leader had once said “violence against women,” “domestic abuse,” “coercive control,” “sexual harassment,” or “consent”.

During that period, she found that Mr Albanese said “women’s safety” and “gender equality” once each, while Mr Morrison didn’t say either term at all.

Women’s safety advocates domestic, family and sexual violence “has to be on the agenda”.
“We are the invisible women,” said Sandra Creamer, CEO of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance.
At least 18 women have been killed due to violence in Australia this year, according to online feminist group Destroy the Joint.
On average, one woman is killed each week by her partner, according to statistics cited by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS). The statistic for men is around one each month.
Intimate partner violence causes more preventable illness, disability and death among women aged between 25 and 44 than any other risk factor, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) says. It is a leading cause of homelessness for women with children,

First Nations women, those with a disability, from migrant and refugee backgrounds, experiencing financial hardship, and members of the LGBTIQ+ community are disproportionately impacted by sexual, domestic, and family violence.

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The financial cost is also high, with the AIHW estimating that violence against women and children costs the economy $26 billion each year.
And the problem is only getting worse, with demand for the sector’s services increasing during the pandemic.

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data from last June, the number of police-recorded victims of family and domestic violence-related sexual assault increased by 13 per cent in 2020.

‘Voters want to know where their candidates stand’

The National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children – in place since 2010 – is set to expire mid-year. A new plan, committing to ten years of action, has only been released in a draft form and will be finalised after the federal election.
So what have the major parties said they will do about sexual, family and domestic violence?
Renee Carr, executive director of gender equity campaign group Fair Agenda, said voters “want to know where their candidates stand, and who is going to take real, meaningful action to address the issues that impact so many of our lives”.

She said Fair Agenda worked with women’s safety experts to outline key areas and specific actions that are needed to progress towards ending gender-based violence.

Fair Agenda launched a website that tracks the records of each major party on women’s safety, along with its ‘‘.
Aimed at candidates in Saturday’s federal election, the pledge outlines six commitments, including doing “what it takes to end all forms of gender-based violence within a generation” and pushing for “proper funding of specialist sexual, domestic and family violence services.”

As of 18 May, over 400 candidates had responded to the pledge, with over 230 candidates taking it in full.

How the Coalition plans to address women’s safety

In January, the Morrison government released a draft of the next national plan for public consultation and feedback.
The wide-ranging draft has four focus areas: prevention, early intervention, response, and recovery.
The Coalition is promising to invest $2.5 billion over five years in the implementation of the next national plan if re-elected, but the exact details of the plan won’t be finalised until after the election.

The government has committed to two, five-year Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action plans that will be the primary mechanism for implementing Target 13 of Closing the Gap. This target sets out reducing the rate of all forms of family violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children by at least by 50 per cent, as progress towards zero, by 2031.

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The draft plan also includes a new federal commission, announced in November last year, to advise the government on how to address the problem and assess the effectiveness of policy measures. Labor also announced a similar pledge that month.
Since it was released in March 2020, the federal government has fully implemented or funded 43 of the 55 recommendations contained in Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ landmark [email protected] Report, designed to respond to and prevent workplace sexual harassment.
The government says “work is underway” on all of the recommendations, and has committed over $70 million to support their implementation.

As part of its latest $1.3 billion women’s safety package in the 2022-23 budget, the government pledged almost $223 million in prevention, including over $100 million to increase the capacity of national primary prevention organisation Our Watch, and more than $78 million for a national consent campaign, and an extension of the ‘Stop it at the Start’ campaign targeting disrespectful behaviours and attitudes.

A table showing how the major parties compare on issues relating to women's safety.

How the major parties compare on issues relating to women’s safety. Source: SBS

When it comes to responding to online and social media abuse, the government is pledging extra support for the eSafety Commissioner, including almost $17 million towards a new phone service to provide support for women and children experiencing technology-facilitated abuse.

It says it would also ramp up online safety education and awareness, through $10 million in community grants and a $23 million package across every school in Australia.
According to Fair Agenda, only one candidate from the Coalition had made a commitment to its pledge, in five of the six areas.

“The Coalition’s party response did not provide a commitment to any of the specific actions put forward for future action; instead providing a statement focused on commitments made during the last parliament,” it said.

How Labor plans to address women’s safety

Federal Labor announced last November that if elected to government, it would appoint a Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Commissioner “as a strong voice for victim-survivors.”

It’s part of the party’s $153 million women’s safety policy, which would also fund 500 new community sector workers to help women in crisis. Half of the new workers would be in rural and regional areas.

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When it comes to prevention, a Labor government would invest $77.6 million in consent and respectful relationships education in schools. It would also work with states and territories to “strengthen and harmonise laws relating to sexual assault and consent”.
It has committed to fully implementing all 55 recommendations contained in the [email protected] report, including legislating a positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment, and investing $24 million to fund Working Women’s Centres in each state and territory.
Some $1.27 million will also go towards establishing a “one-stop-shop” within the Australian Human Rights Commission, to assist victims of workplace sexual harassment.
Where the national safety plan is concerned, Labor says it supports calls for a separate strategy for First Nations people, saying “it must be sufficient in scale and ambition and properly resourced to make a difference”.
It would make a $79 million investment in justice reinvestment to support First Nations communities to reduce incarceration rates, including early intervention to reduce family violence.
When it comes to affordable housing, Labor says it will invest $100 million in crisis accommodation and build 4,000 homes for women and children fleeing violence and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness.

A Labor government would also commit to legislating 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave.

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This week, the Fair Work Commission for the awards of millions of workers to include annual entitlements of 10 days’ leave for those experiencing violence.
In a statement to SBS News, Minister for Industrial Relations Michaelia Cash said the government welcomed the decision, but would not commit to legislating it.
“We will consult with relevant stakeholders, especially family and domestic violence advocacy groups and small business employers on its implications,” she said.
“The Morrison government is pleased that an increasing number of employers already provide leave to their employees for these circumstances whether through enterprise agreements or workplace policies.”

Fair Agenda said Labor provided a full, party-wide commitment to all but a few of the actions called for in its pledge.

What about the Greens and independents?

Like Labor, the Greens are pushing for the recommendations in the [email protected] report to be implemented in full.
As part of that, the party wants the Human Rights Commission to be given powers to investigate systemic discrimination and harassment, allow class actions for sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination, funding for Working Women’s Centres in all states and territories, and for strategies to be put in place to make parliament and the public sector more diverse and inclusive.
The Greens are also pushing for $477 million in funding to support the national rollout of Our Watch’s respectful relationships program in all public schools, including pilot programs to help tailor training to local contexts.
It says it would “properly fund” an expert-led national plan to implement preventative programs tackling the gender inequality that drives violence against women.
Fair Agenda said the Greens made a party-wide commitment to its Pledge for a Safer Future. Many of the high-profile independent candidates, including Monique Ryan, Zoe Daniel, Kylea Tink and Georgia Steele, had also taken the pledge.
If you or someone you know is impacted by family and domestic violence or sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit . In an emergency, call 000.

The Men’s Referral Service provides advice for men on domestic violence and can be contacted on 1300 766 491.

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