Championing Change: Addressing Domestic and Family Violence as Workplace Issues


Thank you very much for that introduction, I really appreciate being here for this event which I am hopeful will spark and continue many important conversations about family domestic and sexual violence.

I would like to start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the lands on which we meet today – the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation – and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

I would also like to extend that respect to any First Nations peoples here today.

And I would like to congratulate the Property Council because this is an important issue that we must discuss.

I also wanted to particularly acknowledge victim-survivors that may be with us today. 

Your resilience, to the abuse and violence that you may have suffered is not your problem, but it reminds us all to do better. And so I would like to acknowledge you for your resilience, your bravery and we here today are committed to doing better.

Of course there are many people to acknowledge today and I won’t go through everyone but, I would like to acknowledge my colleague the Honourable Jodie Harrison MP, NSW Minister for Women and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Working with you has been an absolute pleasure and we have been able to, in a short time, work on many collaborative partnerships so I would like to acknowledge you.

I would like to acknowledge Micaela Cronin our inaugural Family and Domestic Violence Commissioner and thank her for the work that she is doing.

I acknowledge too Michael O’Brien, National President of the Property Council of Australia and Karen Bevan, CEO of Full Stop Australia.

And finally I would like to recognise and thank everyone who works on the frontline – I was able to this morning do this – for the work that they do every day in supporting those experiencing family and domestic violence.

For many in this room, you will be acutely aware that in Australia violence against women and children is a problem that is just too pervasive across our society.

The scale of this violence and the trauma it creates is worthy of acknowledging because the impact of this violence ripples out across Australian families, workplaces, communities and society as a whole.

I think we are all deeply disturbed by the ongoing news that women are dying on a frequent basis at the hands of their current or former partner.

That’s one woman.

One mother.

One sister.

One aunty.

One friend.

One in three women has experienced violence since the age of 15.

Every life is one too many.

Each of these are the experiences of real people and everyday realities.

Now, it wasn’t that long ago that it was commonplace for family and domestic violence to be thought of as only a private issue – something that should be dealt with ‘behind closed doors’.

And we have seen this change over time. Society and community’s reaction to this is changing. And that is reflected in the data we collect.

It shows that more and more people are rejecting views that suggest that violence is acceptable and even rejecting negative attitudes towards women.

But we know in some spaces that there is still a problem today around some of those issues in family and domestic violence and this is something that we are looking to change. 

Now in 2021, the National Community Attitudes Survey did find that while most Australians – 91 per cent – recognised that violence against women was a problem in Australia, and that’s a good thing,  only 47 per cent recognised that this was a problem in their suburb or town.

Also this survey found that one in five people believe that women prefer a man to be in charge of the relationship. A total of 11 per cent of people – one in ten – believe men should take control in relationships and be the head of the household.

That same number of people – one in ten – believe that men make more capable bosses than women in the workplace. I’m sure that will be disputed in this room by many capable women bosses.

But we know, these attitudes need to change and it is up to all of us to work collectively together to create that change.

Ending violence against women and children is rooted in rigid gender stereotypes and gender inequality and that is all of our responsibility to change.

It is important that, as a society, we continue to reflect on action we can take – as individuals, as leaders, as governments and organisations – to support all victim-survivors, keep people who chose to use violence to be held to account, and reduce the rates of family, domestic, and sexual violence in Australia.

We can all play a role in violence prevention, whether in the workplace, in religious institutions, community groups, and as parents, grandparents, or friends.

Ending violence requires sustained, collective action across all parts of society to prevent violence in all environments. And this doesn’t just mean through formal funding arrangements. It’s also developing new approaches together. It’s being partners in change.

I was just reflecting briefly, this morning I launched a garbage truck.

Now that might seem quite interesting, what was I doing launching a garbage truck? But Blacktown City Council decided that they had the opportunity through putting signage on their garbage trucks to affect society and change their community and so what their message was on their garbage truck today is – violence is never acceptable. It then had please contact 1800RESPECT.

That small thing, that small action will potentially save a life and is so critically important.

Through the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022-2032 that we released alongside states and territories last year, we set a very ambitious goal. That was to end violence against women and children in one generation.

But, it does acknowledge in that plan that as governments – and I’m sure our NSW Minister here, Jodie Harrison will agree – we can’t do it alone.

Everyone here in this room today are critical allies to creating the change we need to see.

The work you all do in your businesses is vital to shifting attitudes and making change.

This Saturday, the 25th of November, will mark the beginning of the United Nation’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an annual international campaign that calls for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

This year’s theme is ‘UNiTE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls’, and gives us a focussed opportunity to acknowledge that violence against women is the most pervasive breach of human rights worldwide; to consider what else needs to be done; and to take further action to prevent this violence and ensure the safety of women and their children.

It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on what it means to unite.

As I mentioned before, the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children is our overarching policy framework that will guide actions towards ending violence against women and children.

It outlines four domains in which action is needed to end gender-based violence. These are prevention, early intervention, response and healing and recovery.

While each of these will be critical to achieving our goal to end violence against women and children within a generation, ultimately the prevention of violence – stopping it from occurring – is what will see us achieve our goal.

Prevention also means addressing the underlying drivers which lead to violence.

This requires changing the social conditions that give rise to this violence. It requires institutions, governments, systems and communities that promote the safety of women and children.

It means calling out violence. It means putting systems and processes in place to not just support those experiencing violence but also empowering those to identify the many different forms of violence – including financial abuse and coercive control. These types of abuses aren’t easy to see, but if we are going to turn the tide on violence against women and children these are types of violence we must address.

It also means working with perpetrators to change behaviour, not making excuses for them or just demonising them.

This is a challenging concept. But it’s one we all need to navigate in order to truly bring us closer to our vision of ending gender-based violence in one generation.

This is because the responsibility for violence should sit with the person using it.

It is about holding people who chose to use violence to account and charting a pathway for change.

We also need to look at ways we can embed safety by design in order to keep women and children safe.

Now I did want to give one example today. It comes from one of the Champions of Change Coalition here today – the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. The CBA saw that financial abuse was occurring through their transactions.

Perpetrators were using small transactions with abuse written in the description to re-traumatise their victims. This was a system flaw that enabled abuse.

They looked at ways to change their systems to try and prevent and stop this.

By embedding safety by design this helped to make women and children safer.

It is something that I challenge all of you here today to think about. To think about how would you update your systems, provide more training for employees to identify different and subtle forms of abuse, by designing systems with consideration for the safety of victim-survivors.

This could be as simple as responding sensitively if a previously high-performing employee’s behaviour suddenly changes. How can an employer navigate this, without being intrusive?

One of the really simple resources that the Australian Government recently launched, along with COSBOA, was a podcast called ‘Small business, big impact’.

It is a 10-part series with Gretel Killeen. It really talks about ways to broach this subject, ways to have this sensitive conversation and I think it is really translatable to anyone here today. So if you are interested, I would definitely access from where all good podcasts can be accessed, download ‘Small business, big impact’ because I think there is so many translatable messages.

One of the elements in this podcast is about how to implement paid family and domestic violence leave and I did want to acknowledge all those organisations here today who united with us on the campaign to legislate paid family and domestic violence leave for those experiencing family and domestic violence.

This is something now that employees are able to access. It is critically important. Employees shouldn’t have to choose between their job or indeed escaping a violent relationship.

And I would like to acknowledge a number of businesses here in the room including Mirvac, who were leading the way before this was legislated. Providing this entitlement is a great example of how, in many ways, business is leading on this issue.

Now since coming into government close to 18-months ago, we’ve been working on this challenge of ending violence against women and children. It has been at the forefront of the work we have been doing.

Our Government has invested $2.3 billion in women’s safety, including more than $326 million in prevention initiatives across our first two Budgets.

This includes funding for initiatives like our consent and respectful relationships, sexual violence prevention pilots, and funding to support the work of ANROWS (Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety) as well as Our Watch, the national leading organisation for primary prevention of family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia, and I think we have representatives of Our Watch here today.

But our investments and policy directions are not disconnected. Everything we invest in is through the prism of our policy direction of those domains that I spoke about.

Importantly, it is also about working with men and boys in our prevention work.

That is absolutely key.

Recent research showed that 25 per cent of teenage boys in Australia look up to social media personalities who perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes and condone violence against women.

This is really concerning and a challenge that we all have to confront together.

I’m really pleased that in response to this we announced that we will trial a healthy masculinities project targeting school-aged boys, to try and counter the impacts of harmful social media messaging that reinforces narrow gender stereotypes about what it means to be a man.

Men and boys play such an important role in combatting family and domestic violence as people they are key embed prevention approaches in all settings.

Men as educators, employers and employees, frontline workers, journalists, legal professionals, sports players, parents and carers, citizens and leaders. They are champions of change and they are absolutely critical if we are going to turn the tide. This is not women’s business, this is all of our business. 

Our Government is focussed on ensuring Australian workplaces are safer places to be, accepting all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report delivered in 2020 by the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

This work is critical to ensuring safe and respectful workplaces for everyone and putting an end to sexual harassment at work.

Changing the culture in a workplace starts at the top, with the leadership demonstrating a strong commitment to gender equality and respect, taking instances of violence seriously and responding appropriately.

So I would like to thank you all for your interest in this.

I would like to acknowledge particularly the work that has been done by the Property Council of Australia in establishing the Champions of Change Property Group in 2015 and working as part of the broader Champions of Change Coalition.

This globally recognised strategy – pioneered by Liz Broderick who is with us today – aims to advance gender equality by promoting more women into leadership positions, and building respectful, inclusive workplaces.

Women’s representation in decision-making spaces helps to ensure that the needs of women and girls are front and centre in policies and services.

Effective processes and policies can also enable employees experiencing gender-based violence to seek support and receive assistance from their employers.

It was in this spirit of partnership that the Property Council of Australia began holding this event to raise awareness of the devastating impact of family, domestic, and sexual violence.

And your impact has spread beyond the importance of events such as these, which give us all the space to reflect, and recommit ourselves to the task of creating the generational change.

To mark the 16 Days of Activism in 2022, Australia’s property industry united to light up 70 buildings across the nation in purple – a powerful, visible reminder of the lives impacted by family and domestic and sexual violence – and importantly the lives we have lost.

I look forward to seeing again your efforts as you again light up buildings across Australia in 2023.

The actions you are taking and the leadership you are modelling are important contributions towards our collective goal of ending gender-based violence in one generation.

It is great to see the property industry continuing to show your support by leveraging your industry footprint and engaging your 26,000 employees.

Members of the Property Champions of Change are addressing family and domestic violence in innovative ways, like providing employees impacted by family and domestic violence, financial support to relocate or with unlimited leave.

And 95 per cent of the Property Champions of Change members also have specific approaches in place for responding to employees who have or have used violence.

Approaching violence in this way is key to ending the rhetoric of ‘why didn’t she just leave’ and shifting it to ‘why is he choosing to act in this way?’.

I’ve spoken about this before, our responses to family and domestic violence must include appropriate legal and punitive responses that help victim-survivors.

It should also incorporate other responses and approaches which support a perpetrator who has chosen to take responsibility for their behaviour and facilitate change.

But it’s not just about leading the way as employers, although this is so incredibly important. It’s about leaning and leading into your spaces not yet ventured into. We all need to look at new ways of working and where we can create change.

The footprint you have as an industry creates community. Whether it be through office spaces, shopping centres, residential or public areas or community venues, people are coming together and interacting in your spaces every day.

The concept of ‘safety by design’ that I spoke about earlier should also apply to the physical spaces in which we live, work, learn and meet.

We see the end result of not applying safety by design principles in those unsafe spots where people might even change their behaviour – for example avoiding that dark underpass or isolated workspace.

My colleague Minister Harrison is leading a great project to tackle these unsafe spaces through the Your Ground survey in NSW, but I challenge everyone listening today to consider – if we embed those principles in every aspect of our work – in designing new policies, new projects, new building and construction – what could we achieve?

I know this would not be a new concept to you and that some of your members are already leading work in this area, by partnering to build affordable housing for refuges, or working with shopping centres to creating safe places for people impacted by family and domestic violence to meet with case workers.

This is exciting work and must be celebrated.

By continuing  to work as partners in this endeavour, amplifying efforts across the whole of society, and working under the guiding principles of our National Plan, I do believe we will build a future together in which every person in Australia can live free from fear and violence.

There is much work underway by governments, by industry, and communities.

There is much more work still to do, but let’s all work together because I do believe that together we can end gender-based violence in one generation.

Thank you for having me here today and I look forward to the panel discussions.