16 May 2018

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We are sisters, mothers, aunties, grandmothers, daughters we are human beings and we are not statistics.

This is an important thing to remember when we are talking about family violence, particularly Indigenous family violence.

This issue is about people, not numbers, not case studies, not newspaper headlines

The statement about not being statistics was made recently by a woman from an Alice Springs Town Camp who had come to Canberra to deliver a powerful message about Indigenous family violence.

The message Shirleen Campbell and her sisters from the Tangentyere Womens Family Safety Group delivered to us in Parliament House was strong, it was clear and I know it was heard at least by some in that place.

The message from Shirleen and the Tangentyere women was Listen to Us; Support Us; Stand with Us.

Listen to us because we are the survivors of family and domestic violence, we are the leaders and voices of our communities and we are the experts and have the local solutions.

Support Us because we are serious about tackling family and domestic violence and we are committed to making change.

And Stand with Us because we want to play our part in closing the gap, we feel the heartache that family and domestic violence causes and because we work every day promoting and advocating and campaigning and saying enough is enough No more family violence

The message the Tangentyere brought from the Alice Springs Town Camps was that they have the solutions to the issues in their communities.

Local people and particularly local women need to be part of the decision making and part of the solution.

We need to listen to a wide range of voices on this issue, and commit to genuine collaborations and partnerships with people and organisations at the community level when we are making policies and designing programs.

And Im proud to say Labor is listening.

Weve just seen in Malcolm Turnbulls Budget that there is not one extra dollar for domestic and family violence services.

This is shameful. In fact, this Budget is a shameful failure for women and families full stop, particularly for Indigenous women and families.

Malcolm Turnbull is not listening.

The Government has not reversed its $44 million a year cut to capital funding that was used for safe housing options for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

These cuts have resulted in a growing unmet need for short-term and emergency accommodation, especially for women escaping family and domestic violence.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare research reveals that domestic and family violence is the number one reason Australian women come to homelessness services for help.

Of the 114,757 people that sought assistance in 2016-17 from specialist providers, 40 per cent reported that they were experiencing domestic and family violence, an increase of 38 per cent from 2015-16. More than three-quarters (77per cent) of those seeking housing assistance due to family and domestic violence were women.

While we know that these statistics dont tell the real story in terms of the personal damage. The statistics are important to the policymakers to read and reflect on.

On Thursday last week, Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten gave his budget reply and he announced

$88 million over two years for a new Safe Housing Fund to increase transitional housing options for women and children escaping domestic and family violence, young people exiting out-of-home care, and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness.

There is no clearer symbol of continuing gender inequality than the epidemic of violence and harassment against women.

One in six Australian women will experience intimate-partner violence in her lifetime. And that has been heard this morning.

We know that First Nations women who are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised because of domestic violence than non-Indigenous women.

Under current Australian family law, and I do want to touch on this because I do think it is an important aspect of the many issues in this space. An alleged perpetrator of domestic violence can directly cross-examine their victim in court. This process has been described as court-sanctioned abuse in a submission from Womens Legal Services Australia.

Following calls from Labor and the sector to end the practice of cross-examination of victims of family violence by their abusers, the Federal Government finally committed to amending the Family Law Act 1975 in July last year.

There is still no sign of when the Bill will be tabled, and when we in the Parliament will be able to debate it and when that law will finally be changed.

The Governments proposal will stop alleged perpetrators cross-examining their victims, but it is unclear about who would be able to ask questions in place of the alleged abuser.

The Government has refused to fund legal aid to allow both parties to be professionally represented.

We are concerned, in Federal Labor that it could be a layperson without ethical obligations to the court or the alleged victim as opposed to an independent representative from Legal Aid.

To better protect victims and survivors from being cross-examined by alleged perpetrators, Labor has committed funding to legal aid of $43.2 million to ensure both parties can access legal representation.

Calls to 1800RESPECT have increased almost 600 per cent, think about since the service opened but funding for specialised trauma counsellors has not kept pace.

If we are genuine in this country about dealing with the scourge of violence amongst our families these policies must be reflected at every level. That means supporting those who support our women and children and our men in these circumstances.

According to the ACTU, leaving an abusive relationship and finding a new, safe place to live, costs, on average, $18,280. And yet the Turnbull Government has granted only 40 hours leave, for which women will need to surrender their pay.

Paid domestic violence leave would allow women to attend court appearances, look for new places to live, and access the support of a counsellor, all while keeping their job and their economic independence.

Labor has committed to include 10 days paid domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards. It may not sound like much, but it is a lot better than where we were, which was nothing. We have to continue to support on every level families in these situations.

The Red Cross estimates that prison costs $292 per prisoner per day. Justice reinvestment needs to be a central part of the logic to address the over-incarceration of First Nations women and the over-incarceration of First Nations people full stop.

We know Indigenous women represent two per cent of the Australian population but makeup 34 per cent of the female prison population.

Womens imprisonment rates have soared much faster than mens in recent decades.

The overwhelming majority of First Nations women in prison are survivors of physical or sexual violence. Around 80 per cent are mothers.

Three Social Justice Commissioner reports have noted that the interests of First Nations women in the criminal justice system are not being served by programs designed for women generally or for First Nations men.

In the Federal Labor Caucus, we have what is called the First Nations and I Chair that Caucus. One of the things that we are working very closely on is our children and the First 1000 days, but also justice reinvestment.

Im proud that Labor has certainly listened to that and we have committed that the first meeting of COAG convened under a Shorten Labor Government will consider priorities for justice targets for inclusion in the Closing the Gap framework.

We are developing and committing to the policies and law reforms that you tell us will make a difference.

We will make sure the grassroots organisations that are embedded in our communities, organisations like the Tangentyere Womens Family Safety Group, one of so many across our communities, are genuinely supported in their frontline work.

What you discuss here today and what you discuss over the next few days is critical, it matters. People are listening and people want to make a difference. Not only those that are on the front line working in family and domestic violence but also families who cope with the heartache and despair can do to themselves and the people around them, but also policies. It is critical that our policies reflect the very needs to rise about the scourge of family violence.

Bauji Barra

Thank you