Take Note of Answers: Sexual Harassment, March 4 Justice, Women's Safety

16 March 2021

Sexual Harassment, March
4 Justice, Women's Safety
Tuesday, 16 March 2021

That the Senate take note of the answers given by Senator Payne to the questions asked by Senators McAllister, Keneally and McCarthy today.

I rise to take note of the failure of this government to take substantive action against sexual harassment of women in the workplace and their failure to take real action against the violence and threat of violence women face every single day. They cannot even roll out a school program about respectful relationships in a reasonable time frame, not here in this country.

These are the words of the Prime Minister yesterday in response to the thousands of women who rallied around Australia in protest against violence and harassment, to say enough is enough, to call for national leadership on this issue, which should be a turning point for gendered violence issues in this country. Instead, we get told we should be lucky—grateful, even—that we aren't shot when we take to the streets to protest this, that we should be grateful our cries of protest against violence aren't met with violence. Not good enough. Not nearly good enough. We have a history of meeting pleas from women to stop the violence with violence. Women know this. First Nations women, in particular, know this. I'm not going to talk about the statistics, because I want to talk about the women, the people who, in their own words, aren't just numbers.

Some of you may remember a group of First Nations women from Central Australia who came to Canberra three years ago to bring us their message about combatting family violence and calling for support. These women were from the Tangentyere Women's Family Safety Group. They spent days here in Parliament House, meeting with senators, meeting with government ministers, telling all about the work they do on the frontline of family violence in Alice Springs. These women, in 2017, organised the largest women's march in Central Australia to protest against and draw attention to violence against First Nations women.

It was sparked by anger and frustration when one of the friends of the family was badly injured by an intimate partner, yet her near death garnered no headlines, no comment, no outrage. However, more than 300 people joined in the Alice Springs action to highlight Aboriginal women and children and families who are living with, have been injured by or are dying from violence. They made the decision to bring their message here to Canberra and to show First Nations women all over the country that we can stand up and be heard, that we do have the solutions and need to be part of the decision-making. These remarkable and strong women came to Canberra and they made an impact.

One of these women, a core member of the group, was a woman who was dedicated to changing lives and to working to combat violence against women. Well, I attended her funeral on Friday. She was killed earlier this year after being run down by a car allegedly driven by her partner. She was killed outside the Alice Springs Hospital, a place where people go to seek help and healing. She was killed, despite her work advocating that the voices of First Nations women need to be heard. When she came to Canberra and asked us to listen and stand with her and the other women who flew all that way—and for many of them it was their first time out of Alice Springs—they wanted us to hear their solutions, acknowledge their experience and recognise the important work that is being done at a community level to deal with issues of domestic and family violence. She urged the government to listen to a wide range of First Nations voices regarding family and domestic violence issues and commit to genuine collaboration and partnerships with women at the community level when making family and domestic violence policies.

So yesterday, when hundreds of thousands of men and women marched across this country, thinking and reflecting on their own experiences and those of people that they know and love, I remembered her, knowing that she came here three years ago to ask this government to act. And three years later we still have a government that won't listen, that won't act and that turns its back, just like we saw today.

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