Commonwealth Bank Financial Abuse Leadership Summit

Thanks so much to the Commonwealth Bank for inviting me to speak here today.

I’d like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today.

Here in Sydney, we’re on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and I pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

I extend that acknowledgement and respect to all First Nations peoples joining the conference today.

I’d also like to acknowledge Micaela Cronin, the Commissioner for Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence; Matt Comyn, CEO of Commonwealth Bank, for hosting today’s Summit; and the many other distinguished family and domestic violence sector experts here today.

I want to acknowledge anyone attending who has lived experience of financial abuse and hardship. I admire your strength and resilience.

As the Assistant Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, I’m honoured to have the opportunity to talk to you today about the vital work the Albanese Government is doing, hand in hand with industry, to combat financial abuse in Australia.

I’d like to recognise the positive actions of the Commonwealth Bank in this space.

Your leadership in drawing together the industry to support the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children, especially through today’s Summit, is commendable.

The incidence of gender-based violence in Australia is unacceptably high, and we must continue to take urgent action to combat this.

16% of women in Australia and 7.8% of men have experienced economic abuse by a partner since the age of 15.

Financial abuse can be part of a pattern of coercive behaviour where a perpetrator controls a person’s finances and assets to gain power and control in a relationship.

It’s a common and pervasive form of violence, which can be difficult to recognise. The effects are damaging and can be long lasting.

As we understand this abuse more, we see just how pervasive it is. More must be done, across the sector, to tackle financial abuse.

Our Government takes a zero tolerance approach to violence in all its forms.

We have a strong agenda and are implementing a broad suite of initiatives to prevent it, in line with National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children.

But a whole of society approach is needed, to achieve our goal to end violence against women and children within a generation. It is everyone’s responsibility.

Children born today and our children’s children must not still be dealing with these same issues and rates of prevalence.

It’s through combined effort and the partnership of business and policy that will enable us to create the generational change we need, to eliminate gender-based violence.

Many of you will already be familiar with the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children - the government’s national strategy to end gender-based violence and ensure victim-survivors have access to the supports and services they need.

The National Plan recognises the need to build evidence on the different types of financial abuse experienced by women and children, groups more at risk, such as older women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women with disability and long-term health conditions.

It also identifies several streams of action required to address the financial stress of women in or leaving abusive situations.

In the 2023-24 Budget, the Albanese Government was proud to commit an additional $589.3 million to deliver women’s safety initiatives under the National Plan.

This is on top of our record investment of $1.7 billion in women’s safety through the October budget taking the total size of our investment since forming government to $2.3 billion.

A key theme of the National Plan is the need to adopt a holistic, whole of Australia approach that includes working in true, genuine partnership across all governments and sectors.

The National Plan makes it clear that tackling the complexities of financial abuse is no small task. But we have made progress on several of these fronts.

The Albanese Labor Government will continue to work with banks, credit, utility and housing providers, and welfare services to explore the most effective prevention and support strategies.

We’re undertaking reviews of child support collection and compliance to ensure the Child Support Scheme is not able to be used as a means of financial control and abuse after separaation.

We’re also working with states and territories on National Principles to Address Coercive Control.

Starting with a shared national understanding of the forms of coercive control, such as financial abuse, will help us to collectively design responses to end this type of violence.

An important factor in our approach is ensuring women experiencing violence have access to appropriate support when they need it most.

As we know, financial abuse can make it difficult for women to leave abusive relationships.

Women should never have to choose between remaining in an unsafe home, or experiencing financial instability.

The Government’s Escaping Violence Payment provides immediate financial aid to help women overcome financial barriers to leaving a violent situation.

This Payment offers a package of up to $5000 to assist women to escape violence and establish a new home.

Since coming into government, we have reduced the high wait times for access to the payment from over a month to 7 days. We have also invested a further $240 million to extend the payment program.

The Albanese Labor Government is committed to ensuring that the needs of women and children experiencing family and domestic violence are taken into account in the delivery of government services.

In addition to the Escaping Violence Payment, the Department of Social Services also provides assistance through a range of other policies to support victim-survivors, including the Crisis Payment.

Improvements have also been made in training and processes for Services Australia staff who are often the frontline contact for support and interaction with victim-survivors.

We have also updated The Social Security Guide, to clarify how the circumstances of family and domestic violence should be considered in Social Security law.

Financial counselling and financial services can help victim-survivors escape unsafe situations, but it’s important that we also provide support to help them achieve longer-term financial security and independence.

The Government is providing over $45 million each year for financial counselling services for vulnerable people, including those who have experienced violence.

These services help people in personal and financial difficulty to address their financial problems, deal with debt, and learn to manage their money and assets.

We also have a range of microfinance services that provide financially vulnerable people, including those who have experienced financial abuse, access to safe and affordable financial services and products.

Microfinance products are provided in conjunction with financial literacy education to improve the applicant’s financial capacity and independence.

These programs include the No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) and the Saver Plus Matched Savings Program.

The No Interest Loan Scheme provides access to fair and safe loans with no interest, fees or charges, for women who have experienced domestic violence in the last 10 years, with the capacity to repay the loan.

The loans help with the financial costs of establishing a new household, such as relocation expenses, rental bonds and rental payments, and the purchase of household items.

The Saver Plus Program provides an opportunity to have every dollar saved (up to $500) matched dollar for dollar for education-related expenses for items such as computers, uniforms and books.

The program aims to help families with those extra expenses, and to learn vital financial skills that they can embed in their everyday life.

Both the No Interest Loan Scheme and Saver Plus programs have funding for the capital and delivery support from banking institutions, alongside our Commonwealth funding.

I commend NAB and ANZ for their ongoing commitment for No Interest Loan Scheme and Saver Plus and recognise our partnership in these arrangements.

We know how vital these programs are, and I implore the sector to ensure that their staff are aware of these programs, so they can best assist those in need.

The Albanese Government’s support extends beyond financial assistance.

We provide funding to 1800RESPECT to provide counselling, information and referrals to anyone affected by domestic and family violence, including financial abuse.

This vital service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for those in need.

1800RESPECT also host an online Financial Abuse Toolkit, which can help people understand what financial abuse is, recognise if it’s happening to them, and find support that’s right for them.

However, as the National Plan made clear, effective prevention will rely on governments working together with industry, businesses, and the financial sector.

Banks and financial institutions are in the perfect position to be a vanguard in our push to combat financial abuse.

There are vital actions they can take to protect women from financial abuse and support victim-survivors and it’s wonderful to see the significant steps the financial services sector has already taken.

We’ve seen banks updating their terms and conditions on products to ensure that any abuse through products and payments will not be tolerated.

Some are instating policies of withholding credit-reporting information where it could lead to customer harm.

Many have implemented technology solutions to identify and block abusive transactions in internet banking.

The Australian Banking Association has committed all member banks to consider incorporating aspects of Safety by Design, and has issued a Family and Domestic Violence Industry Guideline that sets out bank policies to respond to abuse in electronic transactions.

And of course, Commonwealth Bank’s Next Chapter initiative is taking great strides in this space, working to raise awareness and bring an end to financial abuse.

They provide a suite of programs for victim-survivors of financial abuse to connect them with support and assist them to rebuild financial independence.

I commend the Commonwealth Bank, and the banking and financial entities represented here today who have taken these actions – your efforts are helping to create real change.

It will take a concerted and unified effort from all of Australia to end financial abuse, and all forms of violence.

Our Government is committed to a long-term approach, one that utilises the skills and expertise of everyone here today.

Together, we can continue to safeguard products and systems, trial new technological solutions, improve support for victim-survivors, and find strategies to prevent this insidious form of abuse.

I look forward to the discussions, ideas, and actions that will arise from this summit, which will help us to continue towards a future free of financial abuse.

Thank you.