Fair Agenda Blog

Uni action plan

For seven years the Fair Agenda movement has been calling for the government to intervene to hold universities to account on this issue - calling for a Taskforce or other intervention to deliver the systemic interventions so desperately needed, by providing: oversight and monitoring, transparency, an effective complaints mechanism, and actual accountability on this issue. 

This new Draft Action Plan provides a viable strategy to deliver that. It was developed over recent months in consultation with representatives of Fair Agenda, and our campaign collaborators End Rape on Campus Australia, The STOP Campaign, National Union of Students.

Yesterday, our team and campaign partners took a moment to reflect on and celebrate just how big a deal this proposed Plan could be if it’s implemented. We wanted to celebrate that with you - as the thousands of people who have helped amplify, resource and maintain the pressure on this issue over seven years. Because what we are doing together is making a difference.

Here’s what what’s contained in the Draft Action Plan:

  • New Standards: the introduction of a National Code that would create rules for universities and residences related to: evidence-based prevention, management of sexual violence reports, the provision of student support and academic adjustments.
  • Oversight of the new National Code’s implementation.

  • A new complaints avenue: The establishment of a new National Student Ombudsman who would have the power to handle student complaints about their providers’ and recommend that a Vice-Chancellor do things like refund a student’s fees.

  • Transparency: requiring annual reporting from universities and residences on things like: disclosures, reports, satisfaction with reporting pathways and processes, disciplinary processes and outcomes - to both the federal Education Minister, and parliament.

  • Accountability: The draft Plan includes a specific proposed commitment to “strengthen provider accountability for systemic issues relating to gender-based violence”. The details about specific powers and sanctions that would be available are still to be determined, but we believe this Draft Plan and other concurrent university reform processes underway puts us on track to see institutions finally held to account. 

  • Critically, the Draft Action Plan emphasises the need to continue engaging and consulting with students and victim-survivors - which is vital to making sure approaches are fit for purpose into the future. 

Yesterday Fair Agenda and our campaign partners had a chance to address Education Ministers around the country about why these changes are so important. Now the Ministers have released that draft Action Plan for ‘further consultation and detailed design work’. It’s a next step to figuring out the specifics so that the government can fund and implement these proposed actions, and actually make  university communities safer. 

As governments prepare to consult on this proposed action plan, and how it can and should be implemented - we have to keep the pressure up to make sure the promise of this Draft Action Plan is realised.

We expect that the prospect of meaningful consequences will make any universities and residences who have been failing students and survivors in this area extremely concerned. And we expect they’ll throw their extensive resources at influencing this consultation and design process, to try to minimise the financial and reputation risks to their organisations carrying on with business as usual. That’s why it’s so important we keep up the pressure and maintain momentum for the transformative reforms proposed in the Draft Action Plan today.

We know our movement’s campaigning has been making a difference. In partnership with our friends at End Rape on Campus Australia the Fair Agenda movement has helped keep this issue on the political and media agenda for years. We have ensured it was recognised as a key and priority area for reform in the University Accords process earlier this year. We have met with Ministers and parliamentarians across the country and political spectrum to convince them of the need for action, and the importance of our criteria for reform. Now we need to carry that momentum forward to ensure the promise of this Action Plan is delivered. 

The Fair Agenda team will be in touch soon about next steps, and how we can collectively realise this change. But in the meantime we wanted to reach out and celebrate this update - because it’s a really big deal, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the consistent pressure for the Fair Agenda movement; helping to back the calls of survivors, students, and our many campaign partners over the years. Thanks for all the ways you’ve been part of this campaign.

Renee, Sharna, Dani & Liz for Fair Agenda

PS - Fair Agenda has only been able to keep up the pressure on this issue over the past seven years with the generous support of members and supporters around the country. Can you chip in to help us keep up the pressure to make the proposed Action Plan a reality?

Written by Renee Carr
22 November 2023

As the Referendum date approaches, the Fair Agenda team wanted to share some resources that you might find helpful to inform how you vote, as well as the resources and support services available for First Nations people who are being impacted by the debate. 

The Fair Agenda movement exists to campaign for a fair and just future - one where we can all live with safety, security and agency over our lives, no matter our gender. To achieve that future, we must address the historical and ongoing marginalisation of First Nations people, especially First Nations women.

We know that laws and policies are more effective when those of us affected by them have a say. But all too often governments have ignored First Nations people when making important decisions about them - perpetuating systemic injustices including violence, health disparities, and other forms of inequality. 

So before you write your answer to the referendum question; we want to share these messages from First Nations advocates about why writing Yes matters: 

Larissa Baldwin-Roberts on how millions of us writing Yes makes so much more possible. 

Dr Jackie Huggins AM, Professor Marcia Langton AO and Emily Carter on why the Voice is so important for future generations.

Nova Peris OAM on the way that Australian laws since colonisation have been used to exclude and hurt Aboriginal people; and the opportunity a Voice would create.

Tanya Hosch speaking just one day after she left hospital, about listening to the voices of communities who know the problems they face and solutions they need.

Antoinette Braybrook on how the Voice creates an opportunity for First Nations people to apply a lived experience lens to government policies.

Amelia Telford on focusing on the shared vision of First Nations Communities, and seeing the Referendum as a step along the journey to realising those shared visions.

Ensuring First Nations people have a seat at the table and a greater say in their future is critical to realising a fairer and better future.

But every representative body for First Nations people in the past has been torn up by subsequent governments who didn’t like what they were saying. When the majority of us write Yes in the referendum, we can create a permanent representative body that will represent communities and can say what needs to be said.

Right across Australia there are examples where Aboriginal health, housing, education and justice are significantly improving. These programs are most successful when they are created, run and controlled by Aboriginal people who have the cultural knowledge and hands on experience of what works best. 

The Fair Agenda team holds respect and understanding for the diverse range of opinions held by First Nations advocates and communities inside and outside of our movement. We agree that change needs to be much bigger than just a Voice - that we need transformative change. 

If the overwhelming majority of people write Yes, we will have the momentum for big reforms and transformative changes including treaties, land rights, truth-telling and justice. Over the next decade, we can work together to leave future generations more united, where First Nations people are respected, listened to and treated with dignity.

We are also conscious that the public discussion around the Voice is having a significant impact on First Nations people - which is why we also want to share National Indigenous Television’s advice and resources from First Nations mental health professionals about the support services and online safety resources available to mob.

In solidarity,

The Fair Agenda team 


Remember, you have to be registered to vote to have a say in the referendum. If you’ve recently changed your name or address, you might need to update your details on the electoral roll. Go here to register or change your details: https://www.aec.gov.au/referendums/enrolling.htm  

You can find out more and get involved in the Yes23 campaign here.

Written by Renee Carr
14 September 2023
uni safety

Here's what you need to know: last year the Albanese Government commissioned a major review of how universities work.

Fair Agenda and End Rape on Campus Australia have been working hard to ensure that review (the Universities Accord process) recommended action for student safety.

Last week, the Government made the Expert Panel's Interim Report public. Alongside 70 different reforms floated for long-term consideration; student safety was explicitly mentioned amongst five immediate areas for action.

The Education Minister, in announcing the Government's response to that Report  committed to begin progressing action in all of those five areas - which is really good news, and a significant win for our campaign!

The Minister was even asked about his commitment to action on this issue during his National Press Club appearance. You can watch the question and his response here.

Since then, we've been keeping up the momentum with continued media pressure.  

You can see Fair Agenda's TV interview on ABC Afternoon Briefing talking about the need for a Taskforce on university sexual assault here.

Then the Saturday Paper released an exclusive about Universities Australia cancelling a sexual assault awareness campaign.

Then, last week during a Senate Inquiry into consent, our campaign partners End Rape on Campus Australia, and other advocates, ensured the failures and harmful actions of universities were put under the microscope again, and ensured our calls for the government to create an independent accountability mechanism were echoed.

Then last week during the Senate's Inquiry into Consent laws - this issue was raised again, and university representatives were questioned about their actions in this area. You can see some coverage of that part of the Inquiry here.

Then, when Government Minister Amanda Rishworth appeared on Insiders last weekend - she was also asked about the Government's commitment in this area. You can see her response here; and the Panel's further reflections here.

This is really important progress - thank you to all of the survivors, students and advocates who have been part of advocating for change on this issue over the recent years and decades.

The commitments the Government have made so far are really encouraging. But we still don't yet have the accountability or oversight we need to deliver meaningful change for students. So we need to keep up the pressure - to keep our campaign ask on the agenda; and resource the behind-the-scenes work needed to ensure the details of any proposed reform will actually work for students and survivors who need it.

Can you help support this campaign during the critical next months?

Add your voice to the call for change here: https://www.fairagenda.org/uni_safety

You can donate to help resource the vital next steps here.

Written by Renee Carr
03 August 2023

An open letter to the Albanese Government, 

We write as a united group of current and former students, survivors, advocates, and service providers - calling for the federal government to urgently intervene to address university failures to prevent and respond adequately to sexual violence in their communities.

Survivors, student leaders and advocacy groups have been speaking out about sexual violence in university context for decades. 

In the six years since the release of the landmark Change the Course report, university leaders have been claiming to have ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual assault. Yet the recent National Student Safety Survey shows continuing shocking rates of sexual assault and harassment in university spaces, and ongoing university failures to provide affected students with adequate avenues for support. 

If nothing changes, based on NSSS figures, at least 14,300 students will be sexually assaulted in university contexts each coming year. For many, the university’s response will compound their trauma, and adversely impact their academic outcomes, their ability to complete their degree, and their capacity to pursue their chosen career. 

Universities need to implement evidence-based prevention education programming and improve their responses to incidents of sexual harm. They need to be more transparent about the use of sexual violence in their communities, and how they are responding and holding perpetrators accountable. 

Universities have been repeatedly provided expert advice [1] on good practice and have chosen not to implement it. 

In the six years since the release of the Change the Course report, the higher education regulator, TEQSA, has failed to hold a single university accountable for not adequately addressing or responding to reports of sexual assault and/or harassment. [2]

 This has gone on long enough. The Albanese Government must intervene to protect student safety. 

We are calling on the government to establish an independent oversight and accountability mechanism with a mandate to address sexual violence at universities.

 This must: 

  • be independent of universities and residences;
  • be led by experts in sexual violence who can assesses the quality of university approaches;
  • have authority to compel institutional transparency around incidents and responses; and
  • be able to implement meaningful sanctions when basic standards are not met.

 To achieve the Government’s goals to address gender-based violence, it must intervene in the university context. 

We need urgent action, and we need it now. 

Signed: 

Abby Kennedy, 2017 National Union of Students Women’s Officer

Dr Adrianna Haro, graduate of the University of Newcastle Alev Saracoglu, Women’s Officer, University of Sydney Students' Representative Council

ANU Students' Association (ANUSA)

Australian Law Students’ Association

Australian Women's Health Network

Caleb Watts, Welfare Officer, UNSW Student Representative Council

Darcie Cliff, Vice President of Indigenous Affairs, What Were You Wearing Australia

Eli Spencer, Queer Officer, QUT Guild

End Rape on Campus Australia

Fair Agenda

Full Stop Australia

Georgette Mouawad, 2021 National Union of Students Women’s Officer

Georgia Thomas, President, University of Adelaide Student Representative Council

Heidi La Paglia Reid, 2016 National Union of Students Women’s Officer

Humaira Nasrin, 2020 National Union of Students Women’s Officer

Julia Saphia Grant, former President of University of Tasmania Women’s Collective and Student Union Disability Officer

Kush Ketan Modha, Board Member, University of South Australia Student Association

KWILS – Katherine Women’s Legal Service

Linnea Burdon-Smith, 2016 ANU Students Association Women’s Officer

Lucy Fawcett, Magill Undergraduate Representative, University of South Australia Student Association

Manisha Kulasinghe, Women’s Officer, James Cook University Student Association

MSI Australia

National Association of Services against Sexual Violence

National Union of Students

National Women’s Safety Alliance

Nguyen Khanh Tran, Disabilities Officer, University of Sydney Students' Representative Council

No Student Left Behind - Western Sydney University

Oliver Shephard-Bayly, Board Member, University of South Australia Student Association

Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy

Rhiannon Halling, She's a Crowd & Women With Disabilities Australia

Sarah Williams, University of Newcastle Survivor Advocates Advisory Chair & Founder, What Were You Wearing Australia

SASVic (Sexual Assault Services Victoria)

Siahne Hills, Women’s Officer, QUT Guild

Tegan Stettaford, Postgraduate Student Representative, University of Newcastle Students’ Association

The STOP Campaign

Top End Women's Legal Service Inc

University of Melbourne Student Union Women's Department

University of Newcastle Students Association

University of Sydney SRC Women’s Collective

University of Sydney Students' Representative Council (SRC)

UQ Union

What Were You Wearing Australia

Women's Legal Services Australia

Women's Legal Service Tasmania

Women's Legal Service WA

Zahra Bayani, Students Representative City East Campus, University of South Australia Student Association

[1] See: Andrea Durbach and Kirsten Keith, On Safe Ground: A Good Practice Guide for Australian Universities (Australian Human Rights Centre, UNSW, August 2017) https://www.humanrights.unsw.edu.au/sites/default/files/documents/AHR0002_On_Safe_Ground_Good_Practice_Guide_online.pdf, Universities Australia, Guidelines for University Responses to Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment (20 July 2018) https://www.universitiesaustralia.edu.au/Media-and-Events/media-releases/Students-at-the-centre--new-guidelines-for-university-responses-to-sexual-harassment-and-sexual-assault#.XPMUjy2B1p9, Universities Australia, Sexual Harm Response Guidelines 2023, https://www.universitiesaustralia.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/UA-2023-008-Sexual-Harm-Response-Guidelines-web-v3.pdf, and Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, Good Practice Note: Preventing and responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment in the Australian higher education sector (9 July 2020) https://www.teqsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/good-practice-note-preventing-responding-sexual-assault-sexual_harassment-v2-0-web.pdf

[2] TEQSA has revealed in Senate Estimates that it has undertaken more than 60 individual assessments of universities’ sexual assault and harassment policies and procedures, including 29 finalised complaints, 12 occasions where TEQSA engaged with seven universities in relation to media reports, and five occasions where universities had notified TEQSA of a matter of concern related to sexual assault or sexual harassment. See: Senate Standing Committees on Education and Employment, Parliament of Australia, Budget Estimates 2022–2023, Question on Notice SQ22-000390, Question on Notice SQ22-000173, and Question on Notice SQ22-00039.

__________

You can sign the petition to hold universities accountable for failures on sexual violence here.

Written by Sharna Bremner
11 July 2023

Joint media release: Fair Agenda & End Rape on Campus Australia

Major changes, and independent oversight are urgently needed to address sexual violence in universities, or another 8,800 students are expected to be sexually assaulted in Australian university contexts by the end of this academic year, say advocates.

Intervening to address university failures to meet basic standards in relation to sexual violence must be a priority for any reform agenda that cares about student wellbeing and educational outcomes, say women’s safety advocates Fair Agenda and End Rape on Campus Australia, in their submission to the national ‘Universities Accord’ reform process currently underway.

The groups say most universities are failing students at every point of responsibility:

  • Failing to provide evidence-based interventions to prevent rape on campus. 
  • Failing to ensure tutors and other staff with positions of influence and access don’t have a history of using sexual violence.
  • Failing to support students who report rape on campus with timely access to trauma-informed counselling.
  • Failing to provide timely responses to urgent requests for basic safety and academic accommodations. 
  • Failing to provide basic on-campus safety measures such as ensuring that student survivors don’t have to sit in the same classroom as the person who raped them.  
  • Failing to enable minor adjustments to ensure students don’t fail out of their course while dealing with the trauma impacts associated with sexual assault. 
  • Failing to take action to ensure staff or students known to be using violence aren’t given the opportunity to cause further harm in university contexts. 

“Students who are sexually assaulted or harassed in a university context have needs that can only be met by their university. Court processes can take years to deliver any kind of outcome - students can’t wait that long for the basic support they need, and that could make the difference between graduating or failing out. When you want to change your tutorial so you’re not in class with someone who raped you - you need the university to act. When you need an extension on your assignment because you’re dealing with PTSD from a violent sexual assault - you need the university to act.” said Sharna Bremner, Founder of End Rape on Campus Australia.

“Despite saying the right things, many universities are still actively causing harm with their response to sexual violence by their students and staff. Five years on from the landmark Human Rights Commission Inquiry into this crisis - National Student Safety Survey data shows very little has changed. Students are paying the price; and universities are not being held accountable.” said Renee Carr, Executive Director at Fair Agenda.

Ms Bremner added: “The problem is not just universities failing to prevent potential sexual violence. Although many still do. Frequently university administrations also choose not to protect students when rapists are reported at their institution. We’ve had cases where multiple young women have reported the same offending student to their university, and he’s been allowed to remain on campus, which has enabled him to harm other students. If he’d been copying an essay, instead of violently violating another student’s body - university policy would have seen him expelled.”

“While students who are recovering from the trauma of a violent crime are forced to jump through hoops to stay in uni -  often including forking out money to get multiple psychologist letters confirming their trauma is enough to get them an extension - we know of multiple students with sexual assault complaints against them getting brought onto university staff.”  added Ms Bremner.

“Most of us would think that having active sexual assault complaints against you at an institution would hurt your job chances. At many universities that doesn’t appear to be the case” she added. 

“In the five years since the Australian Human Rights Commission confirmed the scale of sexual violence and its impact at universities, many universities haven’t made the substantive changes recommended. They can’t be trusted to mark their own work in this area. We need the federal government to ensure independent oversight - and deliver accountability when universities decide to put student safety and wellbeing at risk.” Ms Carr said.

“Universities are expecting students to be back on campus full time; but many haven’t made the changes students need to actually be safe from sexual violence when we are. Violence prevention work is still laughably bad, and survivors who come forward aren’t getting the support they need to continue their studies” says university student and Fair Agenda Campaigner Dani Villafaña. 

“We know that sexual violence is hugely damaging to someone’s overall wellbeing, and the impacts on a student survivor’s education can be devastating. When you’re too scared to go to campus, that means you can’t go to class, or to the library, or to academic support services. When you can’t safely access the things you need to learn, the chances of you being able to succeed academically are almost zero. And if you don’t graduate, you can’t fulfil your dream of being a doctor, or a teacher, or an engineer.” Added Ms Villafaña. 

“While student rape survivors learn that their university will not take genuine steps to allow them to continue their education safely, perpetrators learn that their university will take more severe action against them if they cheat on an exam than if they harm one - or more - of their classmates.” Ms Bremner added.

Fair Agenda and End Rape on Campus Australia have called on the Universities Accord Expert Panel to support the creation of an independent, expert-led accountability and oversight mechanism, such as a Taskforce on University Sexual Violence, with a mandate to ensure compliance with minimum standards in prevention and response; investigate complaints; facilitate transparency; and deliver enforcement where basic standards are not met.

You can add your support to the call for action here.

Fair Agenda and End Rape on Campus Australia's joint submission to the Universities Accord process is available here.

 

Written by Renee Carr
20 April 2023
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