Fair Agenda Blog

The Attorney-General announced new “religious freedom” laws last week, and we should all be sitting up and taking notice, because they could have major consequences for women around the country.

As a woman of faith who has experienced the impacts of Islamaphobia, I know the importance of protecting people from discrimination on the basis of their religion.

But that’s not the extent of this proposed legislation. This legislation goes much further.

After weeks of closed door meetings with faith leaders, the Morrison Government has released draft legislation that would provide new privileges to people of faith, and override existing protections from discrimination for others.

While the detailed analysis that will be needed to understand the full implications of this legislation is still being undertaken, it’s already pretty clear that in its current form this bill could allow a person to use their religious beliefs as a cover for sexism and prejudice.

And complicated clauses look like they could provide new avenues for religious anti-choice conservatives to attack access to abortion care, with likely impacts on some state based laws that provide a woman with a right to referral for unbiased advice if her doctor’s personal religious views interfere with her access to reproductive healthcare.

For example, experts from the Human Rights Law Centre have indicated that in jurisdictions like South Australia and Western Australia, the proposed provisions could allow doctors to abandon their patients. And in New South Wales this bill would likely override a current policy directive issued by NSW Health requiring doctors with a conscientious objection to take every reasonable step to help a woman access the healthcare she needs. Yet another reason why it’s so important that NSW parliament passes abortion reform next month.

The Morrison Government’s proposed “religious discrimination” bill would also override existing state-based protections from intimidation, humiliation and ridicule on the basis of sex, marital status, breastfeeding, parenting or family responsibilites that currently operate in Tasmania.

If it’s approved by parliament in its current form, this legislation could put women, members of the LGBTIQ+ community, and people from minority faith communities in the firing line.

But this isn’t a debate about people of faith versus women or the LGBTIQ+ community. Because women and LGBTIQ+ people are also part of faith communities. And (unfortunately) women of faith, particularly women of colour, often do need protection from prejudice and discrimination based on their religion. Especially with the rise of white supremacy and Islamophobia.

This debate is about working towards a fairer and more inclusive society, where everyone is equally protected from harm. And if parliament passes this legislation in its current form it would be a big step in the wrong direction.

The good news is that there’s still time to stop that happening – and to influence this bill before it becomes law. Now that the draft legislation is finally public, the Government has declared that they will conduct a public consultation period – so it’s time for us all to speak up and demand that this bill protect people of faith, women and members of the LGBTIQ+ community equally.

Because our anti-discrimination laws should function as a shield to protect people from harm, not a sword to be wielded against others.

Get involved in the campaign here.

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This piece was originally published as an opinion piece in Women's Agenda.

Written by Diana Sayed
02 September 2019

Dear Minister Payne,

Congratulations on your appointment as our new Minister for Women. As our collective champion, you have been given a mandate to advance the safety and financial security of all Australian women.

As a movement of more than 35,000 Australians working for a fair and equal future for women, Fair Agenda considers your new role one of the most vital in the country.

The first 100 days is a critical opportunity for your Government to set a roadmap for achieving a safer and more equal future for all women.

The Fair Agenda community urges you to use those critical first 100 days to act on these four urgent issues:

  1. All women should have the ability to live free from violence and fear.

    Right now women in Australia are being murdered on a weekly basis, often by an intimate partner.

    We need a system that supports every woman who needs to flee a violent abuser, and that recognises that men’s use of violence against women is a national crisis, and resources the necessary interventions accordingly.

    Before the election your Government made some good progress with new funding for crisis response, accommodation and long-term prevention. But across the country thousands of women are still unable to access the services they desperately need; and men that are at risk of using violence are having to wait months for access to behaviour change programs.

    We urge you to increase funding for these crucial services that prevent and address family violence so that no woman is left without the help she needs to be safe.

  2. All students should all be able to study and learn in safety.

    Right now university students are being sexually assaulted every week. Many student survivors are having to wait months for their university to respond to urgent safety concerns, are unable to access counselling, and are being targeted if they speak out about their assault.

    We urge you to work with the Education Minister to immediately establish an independent and expert-led Taskforce on campus sexual violence, to ensure universities and residential colleges are held to account for providing safe learning environments.

  3. We all deserve to go to work each day knowing we’ll be safe.

    However in the past five years more than 1 in 3 women have been sexual harassed when they’re just trying to do their job. And right now there’s no real way for those who are affected to ensure their workplace makes any kind of systemic change for their future safety.

    Your Government’s action in establishing the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces is a positive first step; but we are concerned that the Government is yet to commit to implementing the Inquiry recommendations.

    We urge you to follow the expert’s advice and commit to implementing and resourcing the full recommendations of the National Inquiry.

  4. We know that young children require care as they grow, and this unpaid work is disproportionately provided by women.

    Right now under ParentsNext, parents are forced to comply with demeaning conditions or risk having their parenting payments cancelled. The program disproportionately harms single mums and First Nations families; and one in five parents on the program have already had their payments suspended. Mums on the program say they’re being humiliated, and face financial insecurity on a fortnight-to-fortnight basis.

    We urge you to work with colleagues to bring an immediate end to ParentsNext.

As you shape your vision for your new role, we hope you’ll use your position to act as a champion for women’s safety, security and autonomy in Australia.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these issues. And our movement will be here to show that the community support these changes.

Yours sincerely,

Renee Carr

Executive Director | Fair Agenda

on behalf of Fair Agenda

Written by Stacey Batterham
27 May 2019
Election scorecard questions

The questions

Section 1) Funding to address family violence

These questions are being asked in partnership with a number of domestic and family violence peak bodies, including: Domestic Violence NSW, Domestic Violence Victoria, National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum, National Association of Community Legal Centres and No To Violence. 

Q1. Inadequate and unpredictable funding for family and domestic violence services limits the capacity of organisations to respond to the urgent and ongoing needs of people experiencing family violence.

1A. Would your party support the implementation of guaranteed, long-term funding and a ten year plan for workforce capability and development framework for services that work to prevent gender-based violence, support women and children, and intervene with perpetrators? 

1B. Do you commit to ensuring funding for domestic and family violence related services is allocated to service providers with specialist expertise in the gendered nature and dynamics of domestic and family violence and its impact on victim survivors?

Q2. Inadequate and unpredictable funding for family and domestic violence services limits the capacity of specialist agencies to respond to the urgent and ongoing needs of those affected. How much extra funding will your Party provide to specialist agencies to meet unmet demand?

Q3. Family Violence Prevention Legal Services provide specialist and culturally safe services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but are currently limited to just 14 locations.

3A. These services have not received the standard CPI level increase on their direct funding since 2013, the equivalent of a $9 million real loss of funding. Would you reinstate this funding?

3B. Would your Party commit to providing long term increased funding to properly resource the capacity of the current Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, and to increase geographic coverage of FVPLS including to urban, rural and remote areas - estimated at an additional $28 million annually? 

3C. Will your party commit to long-term, ongoing funding for the National FVPLS Forum?

Q4. Community Legal Centres provide vital free legal advice to hundreds of thousands of people across Australia every year, including people experiencing family violence.

4A. Community legal centres continue to face funding uncertainty and are insufficiently funded to meet rising demand for services. In 2014 the Productivity Commission recommended that an immediate injection of at least $120 million per year of additional federal funding was required by the legal assistance sector to meet demand. This would mean at least $14.4 million additional federal government funding per year for Community Legal Centres alone. Will your party commit to at least $14.4 million additional core funding per year for community legal centres?

4B. A number of community legal centres have specialist family violence units and health justice partnerships. A recent evaluation of these units and partnerships highlighted the significant difference they make in the lives of women experiencing family violence. Would your Party support and provide funding for national roll-out of these units and partnerships?

Q5. Would your Party provide additional federal funding to expand perpetrator responses and interventions, including men’s behaviour change programs, case management, fathering programs and other specialist interventions, estimated by No To Violence to require an additional $88.2 million of federal funding annually?

Q6. Our Watch is the National Foundation for the Prevention of Violence Against Women and their Children. It oversees and leads the implementation of the national strategy to prevent violence against women. Does your Party support the provision of long term, core funding of Our Watch of $5 million annually?

Q7. Does your party commit to develop a new National Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women and their Children after 2022 based on consultation with the specialist sexual, domestic and family violence sector and incorporating learnings from the evaluation of the current plan?

Q8. Would your Party support investment to build the capacity of practitioners in community groups, government, organisations and key sectors to ensure they have expertise in the prevention of violence, and are able to expand the reach of current primary prevention activities?  

Q9. Would your Party commit to reviewing the domestic and family violence system to identify the funding gaps that are within the Commonwealth’s area of responsibility?

9A. Does your Party commit to develop a national strategy for ensuring all people affected by domestic and family violence can access emergency, transitional, long-term and affordable housing, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, culturally and linguistically diverse and LGBTIQ people and people with a disability?

9B. How much additional funding would your Party commit to ensuring children and young people who are experiencing, or at risk of, domestic and family violence receive early and ongoing specialist support that is tailored to their unique and complex needs?

 

Section 2) ParentsNext

The Australian Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Law Centre have criticised the ParentsNext program as inconsistent with Australia's human rights obligations, saying it unjustifiably discriminates against women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Q1. Will your party abandon the current ParentsNext program?

Q2. Will your party end the application of compliance frameworks that threaten parenting payments based on the completion of activities?

Q3. Will your party make the receipt of parenting payments unconditional for parents with children under six years (i.e. not impose activity requirements as a pre-condition to receiving the parenting payment)?

Q4. Will your party commit to work in genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to co-create voluntary programs that support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to achieve their goals and promote self-determination?

Section 3) University sexual violence

This question is asked in partnership with End Rape on Campus Australia and the National Union of Students.

Q1. Sexual violence is the most significant safety issue on university campuses right now. Too many universities and residences are still failing to appropriately respond to, and prevent, sexual violence.

Will your party commit to establish an independent and expert-led Taskforce to track, assess and publicly report on university and residences’ measures to prevent and improve responses to sexual violence?

 

Section 4) Workplace sexual harassment

More than 100 groups recently launched the “Power to Prevent” roadmap to address workplace sexual harassment in Australia. These questions relate to your party’s commitment to the five areas of reforms called for by those organisations.

Q1. What are your party’s policies to ensure dedicated prevention efforts to address the underlying gendered drivers of sexual harassment?

1.A Will you invest in integrated strategies for primary prevention, aligned with the national framework, Change the Story – both within workplaces and across the broader community?, and build capacity of employers to prevent sexual harassment?

Q2. What are your party’s policies on providing stronger and clearer legal duties on employers to prevent sexual harassment at work, and to ensure regulators are more effectively able to tackle sexual harassment?

2.A Will you amend work health and safety regulations and Codes of Practice to create an enforceable framework to prevent and address sexual harassment?

2.B. Will you ensure Commonwealth work health and safety agencies are resourced and trained to effectively address sexual harassment?

2.C. Will you updated Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws to impose an enforceable positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment, supplemented by guidelines for compliance?

2.D. Will you grant the Commonwealth human rights commissions greater investigation powers, the power to enter into enforceable undertakings, and the power to issue compliance notices, to more effectively address sexual harassment?

Q3. What are your party’s policies to ensure access to fair, effective and efficient complaints processes?

3.A Will you amend the Fair Work Act to protect workers from sexual harassment with a stand-alone civil remedy provision to enable the Fair Work Commission to receive complaints and the Fair Work Ombudsman to tackle sexual harassment?

3.B Will you amend Commonwealth anti-discrimination legislation to extend the time limit for bringing a complaint to 6 years?

3.C Will you resource the Commonwealth human rights commission to reduce the current wait times for conciliation?

Q4. What are your parties’ policies to ensure access to appropriate advocacy and support for workers who experience sexual harassment, including access to information, counseling and legal services?

4.A Will you fund specialist support services to assist people who have experienced sexual harassment?

Q5. What are your party’s policies to ensure accessible reporting tools?

5.A Will you pilot an online reporting tool that assists people to report and address problem behaviour and seek support, and identify trends to assist with prevention and enforcement efforts?



Written by Renee Carr
25 April 2019

Last week, both the Coalition Government and the Labor Opposition announced new funding commitments on family violence - a signal that this is an issue they both know is on the radar for voters this election.

We can’t let those announcements be the end of the parties' commitments to change. It’s absolutely critical that we show them that voters like us are watching this issue closely; that we know more is needed; and that we're going to keep speaking up until they commit what’s needed to address the family violence crisis.

On Monday last week - the Labor party announced $60 million for tailored support for people to rebuild their lives after fleeing abusive relationships. That commitment is positive. But given the scale of the problem, we hope and expect it is not the entirety of the ALP’s commitments in this important area.

Then on Tuesday The Morrison Government announced an additional $382 million of federal funding over three years to improve prevention and response under the final phase of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. That commitment included crucial additional funding for crisis response, accommodation and long-term prevention. It was  really positive progress.

But it was nowhere near the level of funding that experts have been calling for, and there appear to be troubling gaps in their commitments.

The Labor Party will be considering how they respond to the Government’s announcement. We need to hammer home that this issue matters to Australian voters and that they want them to not only match the Government’s commitment, but to fill the gaps it leaves.

Specifically, under the Morrison Government's announcement: Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, community legal services and perpetrator interventions haven’t received the level of funding that experts have been calling for, and that are needed to meet demand for their services.

These services do important work: for the safety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women; to ensure that women know their rights and options under family law; and working with men who are using violent behaviour to prevent their future violence.

To address this national crisis all of these services all need to be adequately funded.

With the federal budget due in just a few weeks, we can assume that last week’s announcement is the entirety of the Coalition’s platform on domestic violence. But there’s still a chance to influence Labor's further commitments in this area.

You can bet that the ALP will be looking at this commitment from the Government, and measuring community response, while they finalise the shape and size their commitments on this issue. It may only be a matter of days before they finalise their policy.

That means that right now there is an opportunity to make sure they commit to not only match; but also address the gaps in the Government commitment.

This afternoon is our best chance to do that, but for the Opposition Leader to sit up and take notice, hundreds of us will need to make the call within a few hours of each other. Will you pick up the phone and let Bill Shorten’s office know that we want him to invest in the services needed to ensure a safer future for women?

It only takes a minute to make a call - we’ve even provided a draft script and Bill Shorten’s office phone number below. When you make the call, a staffer will answer the phone. Just tell them why you’re calling, why you care about this issue, and ask them to pass along your message to the opposition leader: 

Phone Now: (03) 9326 1300

Hi, my name is [insert name].

[Mention if you are a constituent of Maribyrnong, or another Labor MP’s electorate. And if you voted for the Labor party at the next election].

I’m calling because I am very concerned about the family violence crisis. I know that right now the full range of services needed to enable a woman to safely escape an abuser aren’t funded to meet demand.

I’m aware that last week the government announced an additional $382 of federal funding for family violence response and prevention. While I was excited to see the additional investment in areas like crisis response, accommodation and long-term prevention, I was concerned to see some critical gaps in the funding commitment.

I’m calling to urge the Labor Party to not only match the Government commitment, but to exceed it - and address the gaps by committing to providing the necessary funding to community legal centres, the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, and perpetrator services.

[Mention if this issue will affect how you vote at the next election].

Will you please pass along my message to the Opposition Leader?

Thank you for your time.

 

Click here to let us know when you’ve made your call.

 

Written by Stacey Batterham
14 March 2019
Last month the Morrison Government announced that they will commit an additional $328 million of funding (over the next three years) to improving domestic violence prevention and response under the final phase of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.
 
This is the biggest commitment that the federal government has made to date - and it's really positive progress. But it’s important to remember it’s still nowhere near the level of funding that experts have been calling for from the federal government. (For context, in response to the Royal Commission, the Victorian Government announced $1.9 billion of funding to address the problem in one state.)
 
Domestic Violence Victoria and Domestic Violence NSW have praised their commitments for being “directed to the areas where it is most needed - crisis response, accommodation and long-term prevention.”
 
This funding commitment is a good step forward. But it's nowhere near everything that's needed. And there appear to be gaps in at least three important areas:
 
1. Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS)
 
These specialist services work mainly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women; who are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence than non-Aboriginal women.
 
They provide critical specialist services including casework, counseling and court support to First Nations people affected by family violence.
 
But right now they only funded to service approximately half of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. Some of the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services report that up to 30-40% of women contacting their service have to be turned away because they don’t have the resources to assist everyone reaching out to them for help.
 
These services didn’t receive any of the additional core funding they desperately need in last month's announcement. In fact, they have even been denied the standard CPI level increase on their existing direct funding since 2013, which means they’ve essentially been dealing with reduced capacity for 6 years, during a crisis of violence against First Nations women.
 
While FVPLSs are expected to be eligible to apply for new grants as a result of last month's funding commitments; the entire pool announced for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander focused services ($35 million over three years) is smaller than the additional funding FVPLS alone need to meet national demand ($28 million each year).
 
 
2. Community Legal Centres
 
For those trying to escape a violent abuser, access to free legal advice and assistance is critical. In order to escape her abuser, a woman will often need legal help to find out what her rights and options are under family law; how she'll be able to access shared funds or property; and untangle debts and loans that might have been put in her name by her abuser.
 
Community Legal Centres provide critical support in all these areas - but they don’t have the funding they need to provide that support to everyone who needs it. In fact, according to the National Association of Community Legal Centres, centres are forced to turn away over 170,000 people each year, including people experiencing family violence.
In 2014 the Productivity Commission recommended that an immediate injection of at least $120 million per year of additional federal funding was required by the legal assistance sector to meet demand. This would mean at least $14.4 million additional federal government funding per year for Community Legal Centres alone. Yet it’s not clear if last month's announcement will provide centres with any of the new funding they need to address turn aways and help all the women reaching out to them for assistance with family violence.
These centres need funding certainty, and a significant increase in Commonwealth funding to meet rising demand. Without it, people experiencing family violence across Australia will continue to miss out on the legal help they so desperately need.
 
 
3. Perpetrator interventions
 
Working with men who use violent and controlling behaviour is critical to minimise and prevent family violence. Men’s specialist family violence practitioners engage violent men to work toward the safety and wellbeing of their partner and children, and toward real, meaningful change.
 
Right now these services aren’t being resourced at the scale needed to work with the number of men using violence across the country. At some services there are waiting lists of up to 6 months, where men who are using or at a risk of using violence are having to wait to get access to programs to address their behaviour. In NSW there are just 9 accredited providers for the whole state.
 
Australia’s largest peak body representing organisations and individuals working to end men’s use of family violence, No To Violence, has been calling for more Federal funding investment in: men’s intake referral services, community-based Men’s Behaviour Change Programs, perpetrator case management, workforce development, crisis accommodation for perpetrators and programs working with young men. As well as investment in national Minimum Standards, and accreditation to ensure all agencies engaging with men are delivering programs in line with best practice.
 
Yet the Government’s announcement on last month appeared to include no new funding for these important areas. Experts say we need a sophisticated service response for intervening with men that fills in the gaps between prevention and prison in order to keep perpetrators in view, promote behaviour change, and ultimately reduce risk for women, children and families. Unfortunately, this week’s announcement doesn’t provide that.
 
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To address women’s and children’s safety from men’s violence in the home we need to ensure everyone who needs it can: access crisis support; access a safe and affordable place to sleep; and access the legal support they need to navigate any court processes about their (and their children’s) safety, via services that understand their needs. We also need long-term cultural change to reduce violence in the future; and to ensure those who are using or likely to use violence against their partners can access programs to change their behaviour.
In summary, the Morrison Government's announcement last month was an important, positive step forward. But there’s so much more work to be done.
Written by Renee Carr
07 March 2019
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