Address, Women's Safety Summit

06 Sep 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: I am glad to be with you - as we continue the Women’s Safety Summit following on from the constructive roundtable discussions held last week.

I also acknowledge the presence today of so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women - and honour the role they play in nurturing culture, country and community right across Australia.

I also acknowledge any women and men here who have served our nation in the defence forces and I thank you for your service on behalf of a grateful nation.

And I particularly acknowledge the survivors of domestic and sexual violence who are present with us at this summit.

Your lived experience is foundational to informing the development of the next National Plan to end violence against women and their children.

I want to thank you for participating. I want to thank you for your bravery.

This is an extraordinary and important gathering.

Like you, I wish it was in person, but we adapt to our times, responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This summit is a gathering of Australians from many different backgrounds and experiences lived.

It is a place for sharing; it is a forum for listening; it is a platform for change.

Your stories, your expertise, your experiences are critical to the next National Plan.

A national plan that seeks to end violence against women and their children, a national plan that builds on the outstanding work of my predecessor Prime Minister Gillard who set us on this course more than a decade ago. A bipartisan cause, I'd go further, an a-partisan cause that has taken us through the last 10 years and establishes the platform for us to go further.

It is a big goal that we share, and it is a shared goal: to end violence against women and their children.

No single person has all of the answers.

And, neither does any single government.

But, together, well that’s a different story. Together, we can listen, we can learn and we can make change.

We can identify barriers, behaviours, practices and gaps - so that Australia is a safer place for every Australian woman and girl.

We can draw on lived experience and research findings through this summit.

And turn them into meaningful action.

And the only way we end violence is to focus our efforts to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Primary prevention is a key plank of the current National Plan and will continue to be fundamental to our long-term strategy.

We need to change behaviours and attitudes, so that we stop violence before it starts.

Our country must become a place where every woman feels safe, and can live free of fear.

That’s what freedom is.

That’s every woman’s right.

But it’s far from every woman’s reality, as we know.

Right now, too many Australian women do not feel safe. And too often, they are not safe.

And that is not okay.

There is no excuse. And, sorry doesn’t cut it.

They are not safe at home. They are not safe at work. In broad daylight, you are not safe. In public space, you are not safe. You are not safe here in this place, even this place where I speak to you from today, are not always safe

And what started as a conversation about long-standing and serious failings in this very workplace - in this Parliament House - turned into a conversation about women’s experiences everywhere.

It is not a new problem and it is not a simple problem.

But, Australia does have a problem.

While much has changed over the years, too much has stayed the same.

There is still an attitude, a culture that excuses, justifies, ignores or condones gender inequality that drives, ultimately, violence against women.

And that is on all of us. Every Australian has a responsibility. I as Prime Minister have a responsibility. I, as an Australian, have a responsibility.

Parents, schools, sports clubs, the media. Every person, every company, every government has a responsibility.

And we have to do better and strive to be better.

I don’t believe we can talk about women’s safety without talking about men.

About the way some men think they own women.

About the way women are subjected to disrespect, coercion and violence.

This must continue to change. 

Because if not now, when?

This is a call to action and a call for change. Every Australian has a part to play in making Australia safe for every woman.

Because while governments, together with all of you here today, will continue to develop and deliver programs and policies, and indeed a National Plan for the next decade, there will be many, many moments in between.

And it is in these moments that every Australian can be making their change.

Because every day counts.

Because every nine days a woman is murdered by her current or former partner in Australia.

One in four women experience physical or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner.

One in four.

That is a national shame.

And this year, we’ve seen the national conversation focus again on women’s safety and addressing all forms of violence against women, including sexual violence and harassment.

I’ve received hundreds of letters and emails from women sharing with me their stories about the violence, including sexual assaults that they have personally suffered, or sharing the stories of family and friends.

Letters from women sharing some of the most anguished and personal experiences of their lives.

Sometimes sharing things they had scarcely shared with anyone ever before.

I want to thank them all for sharing their stories bravely with me. And I want to thank them for trusting me with their stories.

And at this point, as Minister Ruston has said, I want to emphasise that some of the material I am about to share, and will be shared at this summit, is very confronting. Minister Ruston mentioned the support services available throughout the summit and I urge you to use them if you need to.

There was a handwritten letter from Queensland - it came in a small envelope, and it was written on lined A4 paper, in cursive script, running writing, finishing with this shocking reflection –

“I was raped at 14, I’m now 74, and still suffering.”

Sixty years. Sixty years - and not enough has changed.

Another woman wrote - this time from NSW - about the harassment and assault she suffered from a work colleague.

“It may sound shocking but at the time in 1989 I never ever thought to report this event to the police.”

Another woman described going to court many years ago - a case where a number of her attackers were eventually found guilty - and she said this of the process:

“I was put on trial, not the guys who raped me.”

And describing the visceral nature of the case and its re-traumatisation, she added: “If you really want to protect women like you say, make it so that women don’t have to sit in a witness stand two feet away from their attackers and give evidence.”

The letters and emails reflected on the anguish and life-long burden of assaults at work, at school, at uni, on a sports team.

And at home, where they should have been safer than anywhere else in the world.

Assaults that happened at any and every age.

Trauma compounded by silence.

Through all the letters and emails, I felt that rage, the dread, and the frustration that our culture was not changing.

And there was something more.

It was quieter. There was fatigue.

One letter explained,

“I’m exhausted just thinking about these things. I’m exhausted making, what is now automatic adjustments to my behaviour, I’m exhausted having to try to explain why I am exhausted. I am so sick and tired of being scared.”

Something I have been pondering even more after reading these letters is this:

In various ways, we have become a more tolerant and enlightened society over recent decades. That’s true.

And yet … Australian women still don’t feel safe, and indeed they’re not safe. 

Every day, they are forced to change their own behaviours, because men won’t.

Holding their keys like a weapon… going for their run before it gets dark…having to say to their friends ‘message me when you get home’ … ignoring innuendo and putting up with the boys’ clubs.

The foundation of respect for women in Australian society is not what it should be.  All of us - but Australian men in particular - carry both private obligations and public duties to build those foundations, every day.

And so to all who wrote to me - again I say thank you.

The torrent of stories and experiences… the collective anger and frustration of women… the outrage in the wider community…

All of this is pushing us forward.

Compelling us to examine what’s happening.

And is driving change.

Change will continue to require action on all fronts – prevention, early intervention, support and recovery.

And at this Summit, you’ll be joined by members of the government, Ministers, senators and MPs. And you’ll be joined by State and Territory Governments.

Governments of all different political persuasions, coming together, as they should, in an a-partisan way, to develop what I hope will be another bipartisan National Plan.

Listening. Learning. And informing our actions, so that we can continue to build on the existing National Plan. And build on the many commitments that were made in our Budgets.

Meaningful initiatives, backed by funding to make a difference in homes, schools, workplaces, communities, across our nation.

In March, Senator Marise Payne and I launched the Cabinet Women’s Taskforce which we co-chair, and which has women’s safety and economic security at its very heart.

In April, we responded to the Respect@Work Report and last week, we passed legislation to implement our response to that Report.

More than $64 million was committed in the 2021-22 Budget to support the implementation of the Roadmap, including additional legal assistance for specialist lawyers with workplace and discrimination law expertise.

And on 6 August, National Cabinet considered States and Territory responses to the Report, that I called for.

Our response to the Respect@Work Inquiry, led by Sex Discimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, is about creating a new culture of respectful behaviour in Australian workplaces. It’s based on values we all believe in, that unite us: respect, dignity, choice, equality of opportunity and justice.

Preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace is central to boosting women’s economic participation.

The May Budget delivered a $3.4 billion Women’s Budget Statement.

With initiatives supporting women’s economic security, workforce participation, health and safety.

It contained $1.1 billion in a Women’s Safety Package, which is the single largest announcement of funding for women’s safety of any federal Government at any time and I commend Minister Ruston for her work on that.

Now, this includes:

A two year trial to provide immediate financial assistance of up to $5,000 to help women leave violent relationships and rebuild their lives;
To continuing phase three of the ‘Stop it at the Start’ advertising campaign to change behaviours and delivering a fourth phase of the campaign; and          
Up to $260 million for a new National Partnership Agreement with the states and territories to expand the funding of frontline family, domestic and sexual violence support services, contingent on co-funding from the states. Now, this builds on the $130 million already provided to state and territory governments in 2020 to help support crisis accommodation, frontline services and perpetrator intervention programs as they respond to the pandemic.

And as Minister Ruston, our Minister for Women’s Safety, and Minister Payne, our Minister for Women, my co-chair of the Taskforce, have said, this is a “down-payment” only on the next National Plan.

It is also important that this Plan is connected and integrated with other national strategies so that the sum of our collective efforts is greater than the parts.

For example, in August this year I launched the Commonwealth Closing the Gap Implementation plan. And I thank again Pat Turner for her great leadership and partnership. This plan is a direct result of the National Partnership Agreement I signed with the Coalition of Peaks.

The CTG Agreement sees us working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, not only to reduce family and domestic violence by 50 per cent by 2031 as we progress towards zero, but on all the priorities identified in the National Agreement, identified by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should rightfully determine the best way to Close the Gap in our work together on this key issue. And that is what we are doing.

What comes next?  That’s in all our hands.

All of us here today will be among the architects of the next National Plan.

And I agree with those of you who said in the roundtables last week that ‘we can’t arrest our way out’ of the problem of violence against women.

I agree that we absolutely must re-double our efforts to prevent violence against women.

As Our Watch reminds us – violence against women is preventable. And we can and must change the story.

But we must also address the fact that too many find it too difficult to seek justice. This is frustrating.

As mentioned, one of the critical issues that I saw in reading and replying to all of those letters and emails that I referred to earlier was the intolerable interactions women have been having with the justice system.

And that’s why, in this year’s Women’s Budget Statement, we very deliberately set aside funding to strengthen criminal justice responses to sexual assault, sexual harassment and coercive control. And I thank the Attorney, Minister Cash, for her great work in pulling that together with Minister Ruston.

With funding of $4.7 million, the Attorney General has already commenced a work program in partnership with States and Territories to achieve this.

This will focus not simply on increasing the rates of conviction, but supporting the needs of traumatised victim survivors and increasing consistency of criminal justice responses to sexual assault.

It will examine ways to make perpetrators accountable, while at the same time supporting victim survivors through this very difficult process.

This work will also look at improving definitions around coercive control and ways to ensure the justice system is less traumatic for women when they seek justice.

This must include building capability in the criminal justice system to better support victim survivors of sexual assault, as well as striving for consistent outcomes in the prosecution of sexual assault offences.

Women should not feel like they are on trial, when in fact, it's someone else facing the courts.

I am determined that we work together to improve outcomes and protections for victim survivors of violence, including sexual assault, in the justice system.

The combined effort of the existing National Plan to reduce violence against women and children is a testament to all governments’ long-term, a-partisan commitment to working together.

And it is one we seek to emulate in an even more ambitious way as we develop the next National Plan to end violence against women and children.

This recognises that while we have a massive challenge ahead, there is no acceptable level of violence.

As I said earlier, there is no excuse … And sorry doesn’t cut it.

The work on coercive control reminds us that violence against women takes so many forms, it manifests in many ways and that our understanding of it evolves and grows so we can respond more effectively.

We are also working across governments to develop a common national understanding of coercive control and its impacts in order to build awareness, which helps inform that prevention and early intervention activity.

Coercive control has, all too sadly, become very prominent in our minds in recent years.  Our understanding of violence – the physical and non-physical tactics – is better than when the existing National Plan was developed.

So I look forward to hearing the outcomes of the “Alter the course” panel discussion this afternoon around “perpetrator interventions, coercive control and early intervention”. There’s much work to be done.

While the next National Plan will maintain a focus on prevention, early intervention and on vital crisis support, it must also address the anguish and burden of undisclosed and unresolved trauma.

As the stories I recounted to you remind us, trauma stays with us. The next National Plan must go a step further. To not only prevent, intervene, and provide support in times of crisis - but go well beyond that.

It must look to recovery. Over years, decades, sixty years as we heard, and more.

Through this summit, we can help to identify ways to better support victim survivors as they rebuild their lives. As they physically, mentally and emotionally address the trauma.

As they build new lives by, for example, developing new skills for future employment and steps to achieve financial security and independence. Recovery is so important as women reimagine their future, and the future for their children of which they’re so passionate.

Seeking justice must not add to the trauma. And victim survivors must be supported to work through their trauma sooner, guided by their own goals.

So in closing …

We come to this Summit with an open mind, an ambitious spirit, encapsulated by the target to end - not reduce, but end - violence against women and children. That’s our goal.

Our country must continue to change.

And there is much we must continue to do.

This is everybody’s business – men have a large part to play, as do families, friends, businesses, sporting organisations, media, education providers, community organisations, prime ministers. 

I want all women, every girl, in this nation to live without fear. That’s liberty.

I want their humanity, their dignity, their innate worth as a human being and the freedoms to which they’re entitled, to be respected.

I want all women and girls to walk in this world, our nation, confident that they are safe to live the life they want to live. That they choose to live.

I know everyone joining us for this Summit wants the same thing.

We will go much further, you know, when we can all appreciate that we are all, from whatever place we are coming from to this Summit, earnestly trying to achieve that same goal. This is what we share.

This Summit recognises that we have all come here together for the same purpose, a shared purpose, with a shared determination.

So many have come to this Summit with their own experiences. Whether that be the brutality they have suffered, or the selfless service they have been engaged in for so long to help and protect and restore those who have suffered, and their frustration and their disappointment that they have endured in offering that selfless service. We respect and acknowledge that perspective. It is so important. It helps us understand the way forward.

And then there are others of us who have come here with open ears and open hearts. To learn from your experiences and make the changes we need to make for the better.

So let us gather together in that sense of unity. In that sense of shared respect for eachother for what has brought us all to the table. Acknowledging that’s why we’re each here.

Let us use this good faith as the basis for our discussions, and recognise and allow that good faith that has brought us together to provide the opportunity we are all seeking to move this forward through our participation in this Summit.

And enable us to focus on what we need to do.

So, over these two days, and indeed the round tables before, we want to hear from you: your perspectives.

I want to hear from you, your perspectives, your ideas, your wisdom, for how we go forward on this together because with your help we can create the national plan that sets a course for a country and a culture of Australians that knows not violence in the future, one that honours respect - that is our task. I look forward to the days ahead.

I want to thank everyone for their patient listening today.