Fair Agenda Blog

Kelly O'Dwyer

A couple of months ago Kelly O’Dwyer made history as the first woman to have a baby while serving in Cabinet. And this fortnight she’s back in Parliament for the first time since taking time to care for her newborn.

As someone who had a baby the week before the Minister; who has stood with other Fair Agenda members to stop cuts to working parents’ time to care; and who knows that it’s estimated around half of working mothers face pregnancy discrimination - I think this is an important milestone to celebrate.

That’s why I’ll be dropping in to Ms O’Dwyer’s office next week to pass on my thanks for breaking through this critical glass ceiling. Can you add a message of support and congratulations to my card to Minister O'Dwyer?

I was horrified to see reports last month that Ms O’Dwyer had faced attempts to oust her while she was taking time to care for her newborn. Whatever you think of her politics, I think we can all agree that no one should be targeted while they’re on parental leave.

I have been lucky enough to spend the weeks since the birth of my daughter: physically recovering, caring for and feeding my daughter, and getting to know her. These early months are precious - and critical for the health and welfare of both babies and new parents.

We need more employers and parents in positions of leadership to recognise and normalise taking time to care for family. It’s something Ms O’Dwyer and I agree on -- in fact before the attacks occurred, Ms O’Dwyer had spoken out about the importance of examples of women who have combined both a family and a high profile career in politics.

That’s why I believe it’s extra important to celebrate this historic first.

We need to celebrate acts that lead us closer to the flexible work practices that benefit us all -- and show those who tried to attack Ms O’Dwyer during her parental leave that the public won’t stand for it. 

Cultural shifts towards more flexible, family friendly work arrangements are dependent on woman like Ms O'Dwyer leading the way. By being the first woman in cabinet to go on maternity leave, Kelly O'Dwyer has made it easier for the next woman. And whatever your political views I think this is something to be celebrated and supported.

I hope you will  add your message of support to my card here: http://www.fairagenda.org/kellyodwyer_card

Thanks for all you do as a Fair Agenda member, 

Nat,

New mum and Fair Agenda member

Written by Renee Carr
19 June 2017

Right now many students who have been raped or sexually assaulted while studying at Australian universities are being told they have to wait up to four weeks for a university counselling appointment. Others who have dropped out of their degrees because of the impact of the assault are being refused access to university counselling services altogether.

Student advocates say university counselling facilitates are “already stretched beyond capacity”. And that demand is set to increase further, with a pending report into the issue expected to trigger further disclosures from victim-survivors when it is delivered in August.

That's why more than one thousands Fair Agenda members have signed onto the call for Universities to make sure they provide timely, adequate, and trauma informed counselling services for students and former students affected by violence on campus. (You can add your support here)

Here is a copy of the letter Fair Agenda has sent to Universities Australia and all Vice Chancellors to alert them to this growing call for action:

 

29 May 2017

Dear Ms Robinson, on behalf of Universities Australia,

I am writing on behalf of Fair Agenda – a community campaigning organisation made up of 37,000 Australians concerned about equality and fairness for women.

One of the biggest issues of concern for our members is violence against women. In light of the escalation in recent reports about sexual violence being perpetrated against young women at universities, Fair Agenda members are increasingly concerned about risks to the safety of students.

We are particularly concerned about recent reports that many students affected by this violence and trauma aren’t able to access adequate and timely service support.

We are aware that End Rape on Campus has launched a call for universities to address this problem by funding a dedicated specialist counselling hotline for affected students.

I am writing on behalf of Fair Agenda members to share the messages of the 1,012 people who have signed the petition backing that call so far.

Specifically, to share their message to Universities Australia, and all Australian universities that,

We are extremely concerned that victim-survivors affected by sexual violence at university aren’t able to access timely and appropriate service support.  

We urge you to ensure that all students and former students affected by sexual violence at university have access to adequate, timely and trauma informed counselling services.  

We particularly note our support for the call to establish a specialist and trauma informed 24/7 counselling hotline to be run by sexual assault experts like Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia ahead of the Australian Human Rights Commission report in August.

Of those who have signed the petition so far, more than 472 are people who have attended or are currently attending an Australian university.

On behalf of Fair Agenda members, we write to call on all Australian Universities to make sure they have timely, adequate, and trauma informed counselling services for students and former students affected by violence during their university studies.

We further note that several parents, students, alumni, academics and student and alumni victim-survivors have shared their personal reasons for supporting this call. We have included a selection of these messages as an addendum for your information.

We urge you to treat this issue as a priority; particularly given there is anticipation that disclosures from victim-survivors and demand for counselling services will increase further when the pending report from the Australian Human Rights Commission is released in coming months.

Yours sincerely,

Renee Carr
Executive Director
On Behalf of Fair Agenda 

--

Some of the messages shared by those who urge you to ensure that all students and former students affected by sexual violence at university have access to adequate, timely and trauma informed counselling services. And who back the call for a specialist and trauma informed 24/7 counselling hotline to be run by sexual assault experts like those at Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia: 

“I was sexually assaulted by a fellow student at the [Uni name redacted]. Despite reporting the incident I was not given adequate support or protection by the university. I do not want any other student to suffer through the hell I went through ever”.

“This hotline would have changed my life and saved me years of suffering if it had existed years ago. Let's make things better for future.”

“I was raped and would want anyone else in that situation to be provided with sufficient support and care, either on their campus or in their surrounding community.” 

“Research has shown that victims of sexual assault and domestic violence benefit from specialist rather than general trauma counselling. Undoing the impact of significant trauma is neither easy nor simple. Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia have been supporting those affected by sexual violence for over forty years with specialist sexual assault and domestic violence counselling services nationally, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” 

“I am deeply concerned that graduated students like myself and students that drop out due to the trauma of campus sexual assault are not able to access ongoing support, something that will be desperately needed in August when the AHRC report is released. I have experienced the process of receiving counselling on campus, so I am also concerned about the overburdening of campus counselling services, especially with regard to wait times for an appointment and staff without specific training in counselling someone traumatised by sexual assault.”

“I have a grand daughter at Uni and I worry for her safety!”

“I have a daughter at University. A campus should be a safe haven for students not a place of violence and menace, where she needs to always be looking over her shoulder. Students should not have to worry about being attacked whilst trying to get an education. Counselling should be on hand at all times and all students should attend a compulsory unit about sexism, appropriate behaviour and respect of others.” 

“Through a traumatised friend I know that the effects of sexual assault are both immediate and ongoing. Through research, I know that the effects can be reduced with counselling and more efficiently reduced when counselling comes early. It is important both to deter sexual assault and also to address it effectively when it happens.” 

“I am a retired senior medical academic. These tales of sexual violence are horrific and early counselling is essential.” 

 --

Can you help build the pressure on universities to take action? Add your support and share your message here: http://fairagenda.org/uni_counselling

Written by Renee Carr
08 June 2017

Amongst all the big headline announcements in last week's budget, there were also some important announcements on issues the Fair Agenda community has been campaigning on.

We wanted to make sure you'd seen the changes Fair Agenda members have helped make possible, so here's a quick wrap: 

1. Some progress on funding domestic violence response

On Fair Agenda’s early analysis this budget includes about $50 million of funding to step up and improve efforts to address domestic and family violence.

It’s not the scale of funding needed to address the significant number of women who are being left without adequate access to the services they need to be safe. But this funding will make a big difference to some.

Fair Agenda members like you have helped keep this funding issue on the political agenda over the past two years. So thank you to all those who took part in the campaign - you helped make this possible.

There’s still a lot more that needs to be done -- Victoria has shown the kind of leadership we need on this issue, with its announcement of $1.9 billion of funding to address domestic violence just last week. So we will still need to keep working together to keep the pressure up on the federal and other state governments until no woman is left without the services she needs to be safe.

Thank you to the 42 Fair Agenda members who have already chipped into help spread Rebeca and Liana’s video message. Thanks to you we’re getting their message - calling on the Federal Government to step up in this area - in front of thousands of people in eight key electorates around the country this week.

2. Cuts to working parents’ time to care dropped from budget

Fair Agenda members have been campaigning to stop the cuts to paid parental leave since for the past two years. Last week we had another victory, with the Treasurer announcing that these cuts have been removed from the budget.

This is a really important reprieve for tens of thousands of working women who are expecting a baby in the coming months, for whom these cuts have been looming as a constant threat.

The proposed cuts would have hit workers like nurses, ambos, retail workers and teachers hard. They would have overwhelming hurt women, and essentially punished anyone who has ever negotiated for decent parental leave provisions in their employment agreements (even if they’d done so in place of increased pay).[1]

This change is great news.

But if the Government have shown us anything over the past two years, it’s that they don’t give up these cuts easily. And the Government have notably failed to confirmed they’re abandoning the policy. In fact, when asked directly about this issue last week Minister Christian Porter said that "For the present, it doesn't seem like anyone is willing to [negotiate on these cuts], so that leaves us with not a whole lot of room to manoeuvre.... It evidently won't be an immediate priority."[2]

So – this fight may not be over.

The sustained attacks from the Government show how important Fair Agenda's campaigning over the past two years has been. Right now, Fair Agenda's work to secure an election commitment from the Nick Xenophon Team - and to hold them to account for that promise - are the key ingredient stopping these cuts going ahead.

So thank you to all those Fair Agenda members who have made calls, sent emails, met with their Senators, helped secure election commitments, and funded research to help stop these cuts from hurting 79,000 families so far.

3. Good news on cross-examination reform!

Last week there was also a very positive announcement around our campaign to reform the Family Court rule that means survivors of domestic violence can be forced to endure direct cross-examination by their abusers in court.

The Attorney-General has announced that the Government will soon release amendments to the Family Law Act to address this issue. These amendments will be subject to public consultation, and we may need to do further campaigning to ensure they’re adopted – but this is a really big, and positive step forward.

Thanks to all the Fair Agenda members and survivor advocates who have helped speak out on this issue over the past year. In partnership with our friends at the Women’s Legal Services and Never Alone we have helped build the pressure needed to make this announcement possible.

--

Thank you to all the Fair Agenda members who took action in each of these campaigns -- you helped make this change happen.

When we come together, Fair Agenda members have the ability to shape national policy. And there's so much more we need to do for women's physical, economic and social security in our country. This change wouldn't have been possible without your support. So if you'd like to see more change on issues like these, we hope you'll consider chipping in here.

Thanks for all you do as a Fair Agenda member,

Renee and Tash for Fair Agenda

PS – You can see a more detailed breakdown of what’s in this budget for domestic violence here, and read a longer analysis of ways the budget will impact on women here.

PPS - You can watch and share Liana and Rebeca's message about the importance of funding family violence services here.

 

-References-

  1. Analysis of the impact of the Government’s MYEFO Cuts to Paid Parental Leave, Women and Work Group: University of Sydney, October 2016.

  2. Federal budget 2017: Changes to Paid Parental Leave scheme off the table, ABC News, 12 May 2017.
Written by Renee Carr
15 May 2017

Funding for the services women rely on to get safe

Prime Minister Turnbull has recognised domestic violence as a national disgrace. But tonight’s budget suggests it’s still not being treated as a national priority. Women will continue to be left without the services they need to get safe.

It's good news that the Federal Government have extended existing funding for vital homelessness services and reversed planned cuts to legal assistance. But the Turnbull Government still isn’t providing the scale of additional service funding needed to address the fact that thousands of women being left without access to services they need to be safe.

Victoria just announced $1.9 billion of additional funding to address this issue in just one state. That’s the kind of commitment we need on this issue. But Fair Agenda's early analysis suggests that the Federal Budget provides only around $50 million for additional capacity in domestic violence related services.

Fair Agenda notes that a number of family violence services remain unable to meet demand:

  • Family Violence Prevention Legal Services report that up to 30% of women contacting the service have to be turned away because they don’t have the capacity to support them.
  • In South Australia, the Crisis Service estimates the increase in demand for their service over the last year could be as high as 30%. What’s more, the services the they rely on to assist women in crisis are also consistently at capacity – making it extremely rare that a woman in crisis can be placed into a specialist service directly. Women deserve better from our Governments.
  • Community Legal Centres are no longer facing cuts – but still don’t have the funding they need to address the fact that they’ve been having to turn away more than 160,000 people a year including women affected by family violence.

Victoria has shown the scale of commitment needed to address domestic violence. A woman’s ability to escape domestic violence shouldn’t depend on the state she lives in.

Fair Agenda’s early analysis of the domestic violence related budget measures is below.

Funding for additional capacity:

  • $3.4 million over two years to expand the trial of Domestic Violence Units in legal centres, and 
  • $10.7 million over four years to employ additional family violence consultants at Family Law Courts.
  • $12.7 million to establish Parenting Management Hearings - a new forum for resolving family law disputes between self-represented litigants.
  • $5 million of additional investment in Community Legal Centres (There is also $34 million in cuts reversed)
  • $18.2 million to establish Family Advocacy and Support Services by Legal Aid Commissions, which will provide integrated duty lawyer and family violence support services.

Relevant by not additional funding:

  • $375 million to extend homelessness service funding – is a vital extension of funding for critical frontline DV services that will allow them to continue assisting people at the same level. This is a positive announcement, but won’t enable additional capacity.
  • The previously announced $55.7 million of funding for legal assistance services is also a positive announcement – but is almost entirely a reversal of cuts to services. Only about $5 million of this can be considered to going towards additional capacity, and that is spread over three years and the 100+ Community Legal Centres operating in Australia.

Existing funding commitments (i.e. not new money) mentioned in the budget:

  • $7.5 million to support a series of trials to test technology to improve the safety of women and children affected by domestic violence

 

Other announcements

There have been two other positive announcements made by the Attorney-General overnight.

1. Cross examination reform

Last night there was also a very positive announcement around our campaign to reform the Family Court rule that means survivors of domestic violence can be forced to endure direct cross-examination by their abusers in court. 

The Attorney-General has announced that the Government will soon release amendments to the Family Law Act to address this issue. These amendments will be subject to public consultation, and we may need to do further campaigning to ensure they’re adopted – but this is a really big, and positive step forward.

Thanks to all the Fair Agenda members and survivor advocates who have helped speak out on this issue over the past year. In partnership with our friends at the Women’s Legal Services and Never Alone we have helped build the pressure needed to make this announcement possible.

2. Family Law Act reform

The Turnbull Government have also announced a comprehensive review into the family law system. The first since the Act was first introduced in 1976. 

This will pave the way for long term fundamental reform of the system, and is a promising development to help deal with the risks around family violence in the family law system.

Importantly, the issue has been referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission who will conduct the review with a view to making recommendations around reforms.

This is an important area to keep an eye on - as we know there are a number of powerful groups who oppose recommendations from the Women's Legal Service and other domestic violence experts. But this announcement by the Attorney-General is a very positive and promising one.

 

Written by Renee Carr
10 May 2017
2017 budget guide

Here’s a quick brief on the top items of Fair Agenda’s “watch list” for tonight’s Federal Budget:

1. Increased funding to ensure women in need can access domestic violence services

Thousands of women are being put in danger by the Federal Government's decisions to keep denying adequate funding to domestic and family violence related services. 

Many family violence services rely on both federal and state funding to operate. And this is an area that all Governments, including the Turnbull Government, should be making a top priority, and stepping up funding of required services.

Here’s a snapshot of the problem:

  • Family Violence Prevention Legal services, which provide a specialist and culturally safe service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, report that they are forced to turn away more than 30% of people who come to them for help because of inadequate funding. This is in a context where approximately 90% of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is already believed to go unreported to services.
  • In South Australia, the Crisis Service estimates the increase in demand for their service over the last year could be as high as 30%. They believe that tight funding leaves them increasingly less able to provide the early intervention work they know is necessary to increase women’s safety. Instead, limited funding forces them to constrict their service focus to the most high risk cases when a woman is already in immediate, imminent risk.
    What’s more, the services the crisis line refers women on to are also consistently already at capacity – making it extremely rare that women in crisis can be placed into a specialist service directly.
  • Community Legal Centres – where family violence and family law related work are some of the biggest areas where people seek assistance, have to turn away more than 160,000 people a year (including but not limited to women affected by domestic violence) because of inadequate funding.
  • Men’s Behaviour Change programs have, on average, upwards of a 6 month waiting list for men to get into a behaviour change program, even when it’s court mandated.

Last week the Victorian Government set the benchmark for the kind of response we should be expecting from Governments – with an announcement of $1.9 *billion* of additional funding for family violence response in the state.

We need to see an equivalent scale of investment by the Federal Government. That’s the message Fair Agenda members and survivor advocates have been sending:

Rebeca and Liana's video

You can join the campaign for full funding here: http://www.fairagenda.org/domesticviolence

Budget analysis tip: Up until last month, the Federal Government were preparing to cut the funding of Community Legal Centres by almost $34 million over three years. They recently announced $39 million of funding for the service -- reversing those cuts, and providing ~$5 million extra for Community Legal Centres over the next three years. 

This was a really positive announcement. The Attorney-General has been touting this commitment as "record levels of funding" and we anticipate this message will feature again tonight. But it's important we don't let the Government move the goal posts on this issue. At its heart, this announcement was essentially just a reversal of funding cuts. Service providers say the ~$5 million of new funding (spread across three years and the country's more than 100 centres) will do little, if anything, to address the 160,000 people a year they're forced to turn away (including women seeking their assistance to escape family violence).

In 2014 the Productivity Commission recommended to the Federal Government that they needed to inject $120 million extra per year to the legal assistance sector to address unmet legal need across Australia. That's the scale of funding we need to be seeing in the legal sector. 

 

2. Cuts to working parents’ time to care for their newborns

It’s expected that the Turnbull Government will use this budget to resurrect many of its so called “zombie measures” from the 2014 budget. It’s expected that this will include cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from our paid parental leave system.

This is a system that is overwhelmingly utilised by women, in a context where the full time gender pay gap is 16% and almost 50% of mothers report they have experienced discrimination in the workplace at some stage during their pregnancy or parental leave. 

The Government have been trying to introduce a system cut that would change the system from the current "combined" system to a system capped at 20 weeks -- well short of the 26-week minimum recommended for health and welfare reasons.

These are cuts punish that will punish women who have secured parental leave from their employers – often at the expense of increased pay. And it will hit workers like nurses, ambulance service workers, retail workers and teachers hard -- across tens of thousands of families a year. 

For the past two years Fair Agenda members have helped stop these cuts. We have to keep up the efforts, and maintain the pressure on the Nick Xenophon Team to keep using their deciding votes to reject these cruel cuts.

Join the campaign here: http://www.fairagenda.org/ppl

 

3. Homelessness and housing funding

Fair Agenda will be keeping an eye out for any changes to the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) or the National Partnership Agreement on Homeless (NPAH). 

These are both vital sources of funding for family and domestic violence services and also for public housing. Both of which need increased resourcing.

Right now there’s a 200,000 person waiting list for public housing. And older women are the fastest growing group of Australians being pushed into homelessness.

According to the most recent census, there are close to 100,000 women over 60 are living in public housing. And women and girls make up a majority of those who rely on public housing.

We need increased investment in both family violence services, and public housing.

But there’s a chance that the Government may use this budget to redirect funding from the NAHA funding stream to other housing measures. So keep an eye out for any changes that would direct money away from public housing.

 

4. Cuts to programs for the world’s poorest

There have been leaks this week suggesting the Government plans to tear funding out of programs for the safety and wellbeing of the world’s poorest people.

The majority of the world’s poorest people are women – so any cuts in this area will have a dangerous impact on our vulnerable neighbours.

One key area to keep an eye on is funding for family planning and reproductive health. You may recall US President Donald Trump has imposed a “global gag rule” on the US aid program – preventing any investment in programs that even talk about full reproductive healthcare options. 

The Australian Christian Lobby has been pushing a similar agenda here – calling on the Government to re-introduce an equivalent rule that had been in place to restrict the use of Australia's global aid under John Howard. We need to make sure there aren't moves to reintroduce this horrifying rule in Australia.

 

5. Women's representation

The Turnbull Government took a $13 million STEM focused funding package to the last election - with a pledge to support women to pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics industries. Keep an eye out for any other positive funding announcements in this or other women's representation areas.

 

6. The women’s budget statement

The Women’s Budget Statement was introduced in Australia in 1984. It served to provide a comprehensive overview of where budget allocations were being made to ensure women’s rights were being upheld.

But it was dropped by Tony Abbott in his capacity as Minister for Women in 2014. Without it the Australian public has no access to information on what is being spent to advance gender equality and women’s rights – or how proposed budget members would set women’s equality back.

As the Minister who was responsible for introducing the statement back in 1984 says: "The Budget had been designed by men, for men and before the Statement was introduced, everyone assumed that would work for women as well. It didn't, obviously."

Fair Agenda, ActionAid Australia and the Women’s Electoral Lobby are partnering on a campaign calling on the Turnbull Government to reinstate the Women’s Budget Statement. Can you join the campaign?

 

Fair Agenda will be posting budget analysis live tonight as the Budget is delivered. You can get all the analysis as it's released by following Fair Agenda on facebook or twitter.

Written by Renee Carr
09 May 2017
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