Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Address to the COAG 2016 National Summit 'Reducing Violence against Women and their Children'

28 October 2016

Brisbane, Queensland

Prime Minister


Good morning and thank you, Premier.

It is wonderful to hear you talk so passionately about the journey you have been on in Queensland.

I’m delighted to be here surrounded by First Ministers, Women’s Safety Ministers, passionate advocates and experts from around the country to open the 2016 COAG National Summit, the first of its kind.

A special thank you to Songwoman Maroochy for your moving Welcome to Country.

I particularly acknowledge the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders we have in the room today. It is so critical that Indigenous voices inform our policy responses, as we grapple with the shocking reality that Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be impacted by family violence.

I want to thank the Queensland Government for the enormous amount of work that has gone into making this Summit happen. Premier, who spoke to eloquently a moment ago, The Honourable Shannon Fentiman, Queensland Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence; and of course the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce, Chair of the Domestic and Family Violence Implementation Council in Queensland.

I acknowledge and thank my Minister for Women, Senator Michaelia Cash and the Office for Women and all those who have had such a critical role in bringing us together today.

Now to all those here today who have suffered domestic violence, as well as those beyond these walls listening to us around Australia - we are gathered here today for you.

Last year, more than 100 women in Australia were killed in family violence related homicides. And around 132,500 women experienced violence by a partner - that we know about.

For you and your families, family violence, domestic violence is so much more than a policy problem that needs to be solved. It is real, it is raw, it is intensely personal.

Whether you have spoken up, or suffered in silence, we honour you today.

Your stories make up those shocking statistics that we are determined to change, but it is your suffering that is the clarion call that has awoken our nation.

Australia has undergone a cultural shift and the momentum cannot be denied. 

We now recognise that domestic violence is not a private drama to be played out behind closed doors. It is a crime and we are treating it as a crime.

And we know that violence against women is a product of the society that each of us has a role in shaping through our words and actions.

We all have both the responsibility and the power to change it for the better.

What we do here today is critical.

Yes, there are challenges in addressing problems that cut across jurisdictions.

But this is where our nation is at its strongest and that’s why I am confident that this Summit will succeed in achieving real change.

When we pull together in a common cause, Australians can overcome any hurdle.

We are united by a common purpose and we have come in good faith, here to Brisbane, to work together.

Now like all of you, I have long argued that disrespect of women is at the heart of violence against women.

If we want to avoid creating a new generation that suffers, as this one has, we must stop domestic violence where it begins in our hearts and minds and in the home.

My wife Lucy has always said that the most important thing we can do as parents and grandparents, is make sure our sons respect the women in their lives - beginning with their mothers and sisters, with their family. And we must also raise our girls to know that their place as women is alongside men – not a step behind or a step below.

We are all striving for a society in which women are respected and are on that equal footing with men, sharing equally the corridors of power in politics and business as well as in every room in the home.

Disrespect of women does not always lead to violence against women, but believe me, that is where all violence against women begins.

Now later this morning Michaelia Cash will talk about how the national Stop it at the Start campaign is helping change hearts and minds.

The campaign is a great example of the importance of collaboration and the vision that the Commonwealth and state and territory governments share.

It is clear that the language we use and the behaviours we exhibit are more influential than we know.

Our jokes; sexism, disrespectful attitudes towards women are a big contributor to the problem.

Too often we blame women, we excuse men and we minimise the severity of violence.

If violence against women is trivialised with phrases like ‘boys will be boys’ or the question is asked; ‘what did she do to deserve it?’ we are complicit.

We all make a difference by being better role models for our boys and our girls.

Now the statistics of violence against women are stark. As a man, they are confronting.

While men can be victims of domestic violence, overwhelmingly the numbers show that women are the victims and the violence they experience is predominantly from a current or a former partner.

Does this mean that all men are perpetrators? Of course not. But as men, as men, we must stand as one against those who are. 

Of course, practical immediate actions must go hand in hand with the efforts for long term cultural change. This is the great strength of COAG. And we should harness our diversity as an opportunity to test what works in different contexts and learn from what doesn’t.

Programmes, approaches that work – we should do more of. Those that are less successful, we should abandon. We have to follow best practice, and as it emerges we have to enhance it.

The Third Action Plan, which will be launched later today reflects how COAG can be this overwhelmingly positive force.

And our social policy challenges are not the remit of government alone. Some of the most innovative policy solutions emerge from opening ourselves up to new perspectives.

This idea was at the heart of the first major policy announcement I made as Prime Minister—the $100 million Women’s Safety Package.

I am proud that we are now starting to see the results of the innovative policy solutions from that package, which was informed by expert advice from many in this room - for which I thank you.

I’ll just highlight the impact of one recent measure - the 12 specialist domestic violence units and five health justice partnerships, funded by the Commonwealth.

These services are being delivered by community legal centres and legal aid commissions at locations across Australia.

Since January this year, 1400 services have been provided to 535 women experiencing family violence, 82 per cent of whom have one or more children.

The integrated, case-management approach used by these services is already showing positive results for women experiencing domestic violence.

Here in Queensland, through the Commonwealth package, the North Queensland Women’s Legal Service, Townsville, Queensland has set up a new Specialist Domestic Violence Unit. And the Women’s Legal Service Queensland, in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, has set up a health justice service.

There is overwhelming evidence that domestic violence victims initially seek the advice of a trusted health professional in relation to a legal problem. In the case of family violence, attending medical appointments may be the only time victims are allowed to leave the house or attend appointments on their own.

These services have created partnerships between lawyers and health professionals, including through co-location of a lawyer at a hospital or clinic.  

We have delivered a number of other practical actions on the ground, including a comprehensive ESafety for Women education resource, run through the Children’s ESafety Commissioner.  Women and children must stay safe online and offline.

We have expanded the 1800RESPECT online counselling service and current data shows a significant drop in call wait times and abandonment rates.

I’m pleased to announce today that since our new approach was introduced, over 80 per cent of calls are answered in 20 seconds. This is a significant improvement.

In 2015/16 only 47 per cent were being answered in 30 seconds. Callers no longer have to endure long wait times.

We funded a cross border intelligence desk and additional police to ensure strong community engagement and to share information on victims and perpetrators who move between Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Such practical actions and innovative policy solutions must be at the core of today’s Summit.

So today, we will break new ground, bringing together the corporate and business sector, academia, non-Government organisations - each play such an important role in addressing this scourge of violence against women and children.

We will work together to find different and better ways to solve this problem. Just because the answers have eluded policymakers for too long, does not mean they can’t be found.

What we are doing here today will add force to the momentum to address violence against women and stop it.

What we do here today gives hope to those who have suffered and are still suffering.

It gives a voice to victims and it sends the message out loud and clear that Australians will not tolerate, accept or ignore violence against women and children.

Thank you.