Speech to COAG national summit on reducing violence against women and their children

28 October 2016

Today, representing the ACT,  I addressed the COAG National Summit on reducing violence against women and their children, here is the speech I gave as part of the Plenary National Showcase.

Thanks to everyone for coming and contributing today.

I thought I’d start with a quick reflection on the recent ACT election campaign (it may have passed a few of the non-Canberrans by...)

Obviously we in Labor are proud of the result we achieved.

I’m also very proud of the way we spoke to people during the campaign.

We had hundreds of thousands of conversations, talking and listening to people about what’s important to them and where their values lay.

Yet for all these conversations the issue of domestic violence stayed largely hidden.

We understand the statistics.

We understand how many homes on any given street have witnessed violence.

ACT crisis services have seen 2,3,4-fold increases in demand and I know this is repeated across the country.

But in the life of our community this insidious problem remains often invisible.

The experience reminded me of just how radical the cultural change we are seeking to achieve is.

We are seeking to alter the way Australians think and act in their homes.

It rates among the great struggles for gender equity and, for all the feminists out there, it will clearly take as much dedication, leadership, money and time.

So I do want to use this chance to put a rallying call out there for all of us in positions of power to keep leading change where we have influence.

My own sphere of the ACT is smaller than many of my colleagues’.

Nonetheless we have developed a far-reaching domestic violence response, shaped by the input of local sector leaders we’ve brought here to Brisbane.

We’ve called it Safer Families and through it the Canberra community is making an unprecedented investment in the way our service system prevents and responds to violence.

Like everyone we are seeking to meet the demand for crisis housing, health and legal support but also to try and swing the pendulum back through prevention and early intervention.

The Third Action Plan makes a point of encouraging these investments.

One of the things we’re doing in the ACT is a new early intervention model to re-house likely offenders and support partners and children in their homes while the relationship is worked through.

I won’t go through each component but I want to emphasise one key underlying goal of Safer Families is to take domestic and family violence and make it a mainstream issue.

For starters, each Canberra rate payer has just paid the first Safer Families Levy – a $30 annual levy which funds our program into the future.

For those who know Victoria’s Royal Commission report well you’ll know its very last recommendation (227) asked governments to look at securing revenue sources for the domestic violence response.

The ACT Government took the decision to impose a levy not just for financial reasons.

In doing so we also asked our community to take ownership of this issue and the feedback has been very positive.

Another key feature of our package was the way it brought new levels of collaboration into our budget process – among officials and among ministers.

Our domestic violence response captures five ministers – all driving cultural change through their departments and programs 

I’m sure other states are seeing the potential to grow awareness and capacity through public services and workforces and use them to keep driving cultural change:      

  • teachers
  • health professionals
  • bus drivers
  • public servants
  • city services staff

All governments have these options and we should be using them.

A final feature I’d point to is our promotion of a close working relationship with Victoria as it responds to the Royal Commission.

I think communities can become pretty cynical pretty quickly when they see big hype around government inquiries which are not properly followed through.

The Victorian Royal Commission helped build the national consciousness on domestic violence we are seeing today.

And for my part, watching a big state with big financial grunt commit so strongly to its implementation has helped us drive the message in a much smaller jurisdiction.

Our policy response has been quite similar and one of the things I’ve been happy to achieve is the formalising of information sharing, particularly around the setting up of central service hubs.

So if we look at the national context I see an ongoing commitment to this partnership approach as critical.

The ACT welcomes the many opportunities created by a summit like this – not just governments talking to each other but also many practitioners who lead the frontline response being able to work together more.

The Third Action Plan launched this morning is the product of a consensus-based approach to national policy making and we in the ACT have been pleased to be part of it.

By the same token there remain some key elements of national policy which don’t meet the aspirations of this document.

The ACT Government has again put its support behind the inclusion of domestic violence leave as a national employment standard.

Action 1.5 of the Third Action Plan points to this need.

And we again call for secure funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness – a vital funding source for homelessness services responding to people who have left violent homes and another Royal Commission recommendation.

These are two of many opportunities we collectively have to bring this document to life.

The ACT has set out to take a leadership role in pushing awareness of domestic and family violence and engaging the community in a response.

But the limits of one level of government are clear enough.

So again we’re really pleased to be part of today and a partner in the Third Action Plan.

More than that, I hope as a group we can keep up the momentum with policy commitments – big and small – over many years to keep sending a unified message to our community on the need for deep social change in Australia on this issue.

Thanks again to everyone for playing your part.