LIAM BARTLETT: First up, though, today, I want to talk about the never ending battle to end violence against women and children. Now, next week, the Ministers for Women's Safety from right across the country will meet to construct a new national plan to address domestic violence, and there'll be some other key policy areas that generally affect women's safety. Right now, the statistics tell a rather woeful story – some might say disgraceful. It is a fact that every nine days, somewhere in Australia, one woman dies at the hands of their current or former partner. As I say, disgraceful.
Now, one of the key players in the push next week to end the violence is the Federal Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, and she joins us on the program. Minister, good morning.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Good morning. Great to be with you.
LIAM BARTLETT: Minister, nice to have your company. Look, arguably the current National Plan to end violence has not been terribly successful. What can you change to get better results?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, what we need to put in plan is a long term proposal which is what I want to see developed with the state and territory ministers, to land not only a long term ten-year proposal, but actually make sure that there's action attached to it. As you said, there's significant impact on the community, not just for those that are affected by this, but the whole community is affected by this.
LIAM BARTLETT: Yeah.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: So what we need to do is make sure that we've put plans in place, agreements with the states and territories, and actually work towards those plans.
LIAM BARTLETT: You're right. I mean, the impacts on families, on small children, are generational aren’t they, in a very negative way? But when you say: action, I mean, what sort of action are we talking about? What can you change?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, one of the first things we’ve said we will legislate, as a Government for example, is paid domestic and family violence leave. Because what we don’t want is families and parents - particularly women - feeling they can’t leave a relationship because they might lose their job. So that’s a really practical measure, and which we can put in place so that women in particular don’t feel they have to choose between leaving a relationship and their job.
We need to better on housing; we need to make sure there’s somewhere for people to go if they’re escaping family and domestic violence. But I think the other area we need to really focus on is prevention. How do we do prevention and early intervention better? Because obviously, we don’t want to keep seeing these statistics and have people having to just leave the home constantly. So how can we actually deal with prevention in particular? And that involves respectful relationships; that involves showing young people what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. So that’s part of the solution as well.
LIAM BARTLETT: Minister, with respect, I think all those points you mention are very good ones. I don’t think too many of our listeners would argue with you, they’re all very admirable. But what about consequences? I mean, we spend a lot of time talking about what you've just mentioned - the services, the support, campaigns about respect - but what about the lowlifes who hit women and then simply walk out of court with a fine or a suspended sentence ready to go again? What do we do about them?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, you're absolutely right. There needs to be clear consequences for perpetrators’ actions. And as a community I think though, we've all got to make sure that we are- that there’s consequences in place and that the community does frown upon that terrible behaviour. So I think the consequences are a really important part of that. And we need to look at legal reform as well as, of course, making sure that - an example of this, I know a lot of states and territories are working towards this - but it's not the woman that has to leave the home, it's actually the perpetrator that is removed from the home. So there's a lot of policies that we can look at and make sure we're working towards.
But I think if we think back, it was only a few decades ago I think, that police, for example, would make the assumption that what happens in the home stays – you know, they didn't get involved in that. I think we have come some way to that, and we just need to make sure that the responses really are looked through a lens of making sure that women and children are protected.
LIAM BARTLETT: And how is that possible? I mean, how do you do that as Federal Minister? Can you talk to the, for instance, the states Attorneys General and get them to crack down? I mean, physically, how do you do it?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, what we need to do is get agreement from the states and territories. That's exactly what we need to do, which is why we are meeting, first and foremost, with the women's ministers that are responsible for pushing responses to domestic and family violence through their respective state governments. But we all need to be working towards a common goal. I think a lot of people at times get sometimes frustrated with our federated country, you know, the Commonwealth and the states and territories. But it's meetings like we're going to have next Friday which get us all focused on pushing in the same direction and putting our resources, that's money, and focus in the same direction as well to hopefully achieve a national outcome.
LIAM BARTLETT: We also have an enormous gulf, Minister, in the area generally, don't we, between white and black Australia and the domestic violence rates. I mean, it's just extraordinary, the difference. Will that be addressed properly in this new national plan?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, you're absolutely right that First Nations are people have often a very different experience with much higher rates of violence in communities, and so what we are doing is making sure there is a separate action plan for First Nations. Women, in particular, have been involved in crafting that response and actually looking at some of the causes of that. So there will be a standalone action plan for First Nations women…
LIAM BARTLETT: Good.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: …as well as working towards an Indigenous action plan sitting by itself. So we do need to put the focus attention on this to make sure the responses are right and are designed alongside First Nations women.
LIAM BARTLETT: And do you, as minister- I know- look, I know you've only had the portfolio a little while, but do you, as minister, want to talk about this publicly, bring it out publicly a little bit more? And the reason I ask you that question, Minister, I just raised this issue in a place called Wadeye, south west of Darwin. I'm sure you're aware of this. Just two months ago in May, there were there was a series of violent attacks and riots. Thirty-five homes were destroyed, 100 homes damaged, 400 people displaced, many of them women and children. Domestic violence rates through the roof, and yet it hardly registered on the national media cycle. I mean, why aren't we addressing this properly in these communities?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, you're absolutely right. I've only been in the job for six weeks, but this has been one of my absolute priorities. And in fact, I've already visited a number of communities in regional Australia where I've spoken to women directly about these issues and about what some of the challenges are and what some of the potential solutions are. So I think it is really important that the voice, particularly of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, are listened to and are amplified and are elevated because a lot of those women have a lot of the solutions at hand but need to have their voices amplified. So I'm absolutely committed to making sure that this issue right across Australia gets the attention it deserves because we just can't keep going on as we have with those shocking statistics. We just can't accept them as a country.
LIAM BARTLETT: Totally agree. And look, Minister, I know you're busy- very busy today in the lead up to this meeting, so I won't keep you. Just one more question. So just in summary, you agree, do you, that we definitely need to change the attitude for all of our state legislatures in the courtroom? We need to change the attitude. In the eyes of the law, just because it's your wife or your girlfriend, it's still criminal and you will go to jail.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: We need to make sure that there are consequences. And I think the community has come a long way and do not believe it is acceptable for there not to be consequences for people that might physically or psychologically show violence against their partner. And we need to make sure that we're working with states and territories to make it clear what the consequences are. But of course, as I said, we've got to do early intervention and prevention as well.
LIAM BARTLETT: Well, we'll stay across that meeting next week. Thanks very much for your time this morning.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: No worries. Thank you.
LIAM BARTLETT: That's the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, and she will effectively chair that meeting next week, Ministers for Women's Safety from right across the country. If you were part of that meeting next week, what would you change? What measure would you put in place to try to end the violence against women and children? I mean, people talk about education. How educated do you have to be to realise that you don't do it, that it's wrong, that it's criminal? It strikes me that we need to take more action against the consequences rather than worry about basic advertising campaigns for respect. I think that's a long way away from the problem.