Speech by Minister for Prevention of Family Violence

Fiona Richardson
Minister for Women
Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence
Launch of the Gender Equality Strategy
5 December 2016

Acknowledgements

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge and pay my respects to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today – the people of the Kulin Nation.

And I especially want to acknowledge the women elders – both past and present – who so generously welcome us, teach us and challenge us to remember and understand the stories of our first people.

Long before white man laws created discrimination between men, women and children, there was the aboriginal way of interconnectedness and community. Where responsibility for nurturing the next generation of young aboriginal leaders was held not just by women, but by a community of men, aunts and uncles and grandparents.

The best way of honouring the legacy of the people on whose land we meet, is to remain committed to working in sincere and lasting partnership with their children and their children’s children. And to listen AND LEARN FROM their wisdom.

Which is why I wanted to acknowledge the young people who are with us today. I put a call out to people attending today encouraging them to bring their kids along because the work we have done together over the past year creating the framework for a gender equal state has been done for you. My own kids, Marcus and Catherine, are up here too . (Addressing children) I wanted you – all of you - to listen and take part in the ritual and the proceedings of today, to know how much we want a better world for you all.

I’d like to acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues who have taken the time to join me on this important occasion. Georgie Crozier, my opposite number. Georgie, we don’t always agree on everything, but together we have remained committed to lifting family violence and the rights of women out of the usual hurly burly of political sledging and point scoring. I want to thank you for your commitment to that and for coming today.

 Minister Natalie Hutchins, Sonya Kilkenny, Mary Anne Thomas, Sharon Knight, Judith Graley, Greg Barber, Nina Springle, and Fiona Pattern, All political flavours are represented here today.

To my mum who’s here today – I ‘d like to say behind every great woman is a great mum! And while it’s very presumptuous of me to describe myself in that way, it is in no way a dubious claim for my Mum. To all the leaders in the room across so many organisations I cannot name. To the long term die hard women’s and gender equality activists. And to our feminist men who are here standing shoulder to shoulder with women to bring about lasting change. Welcome. Thank you for being here.

Today is the culmination of more than a year of hard work by our Government, and more importantly, by you.

When we announced our intention to develop a Gender Equality strategy, we knew that its success would entirely depend on the enthusiasm of Victorian women and the organisations they have created over many years to make the project a success. And of course to the men who support this important endeavour too.

Seeing so many of you here today tells me so much about your commitment.

You’ve stood by this strategy since we started developing it. If its strong that’s because of you and because of the partnerships you have formed across the community to bring about change.

The pursuit of gender equality has long been the goal of women in our state.

Firstly, by our Suffragette sisters who understood that there would never be equality without first giving women the vote.

Secondly, by a wave of feminist reformers who demanded to be taken seriously at work, at home and in the community.

It’s hard to count how many more waves we’ve had since then. I’ll leave that to Clementine Ford and Anne Summers to argue over.
What I do know is that change for gender equality has only ever happened incrementally.

It was 125 years ago when the monster petition, a spool of signatures 260 metres long was brought to Spring St. It was 40 years ago since we enacted laws to prevent discrimination and sexual harassment. Less than ten years since we decriminalised abortion. At times the pace of change has seemed frustratingly slow. There is a sense that we take two steps forward only to find ourselves taking three steps back.

Gender equality – a perpetual snakes and ladders game. Well, today we begin the end of oscillation between forward progress and the inevitable backlash. Because we have a plan. And it is a plan supported by women and men. By community and business leaders, by sporting clubs and not-for profit organisations. And by people from all walks of life.

Safe and Strong - Gender inequality and Violence

Victoria’s first Gender Equality Strategy is a long term plan for making Victoria safe and strong by lifting up women. But it’s not a one size fits all strategy. Because we recognise that gender inequality affects women differently. Whether your Aboriginal or a new arrival or living in rural and regional Victoria or have a disability, this strategy is for you.

It was made possible because of two remarkable people who couldn’t be here today – Rosie Batty and the Premier, Daniel Andrews. By talking about family violence in such a public way and calling on the whole community to take responsibility for it, both Rosie and Daniel have paved the way for us to talk seriously and intensively about gender inequality.

Violence towards women comes from the very same place that disempowerment comes from: disrespect. It begins with unequal power relations between men and women and leads to gender stereotypes and rigid views about women’s place in society.

Violence against women, is gender inequality and misogyny at its ugliest and most dangerous.

Gender inequality is at the heart of the awful statistic that 95% of all violent crime is committed by men and it is women who bear the largest burden – and usually in the one place they are supposed to be safe – in their own homes.

We all know the frightening statistics: women experience violence at some stage in their lifetimes. woman on average a week is killed by her partner or former partner.

I’m proud to be part of a Government that has made violence against women and children and its cause - gender inequality - a priority. A government who established a Royal Commission into Family Violence, and adopted every one of its recommendations. A Government that has invested an unprecedented half a billion dollars to prevent family violence. And continues those investments through housing initiatives and putting 2000 more police on the beat.

There are of course, still large parts of our community that don’t understand the connection between gender inequality and violence. Who don’t understand the gendered nature of the crime and who would prefer to blame violence in the home on alcohol, mental health and financial difficulties. While there are other factors which can contribute to violence, we know through our research that it is pervasive, historic differences between the way men and women are treated and the disrespect and discrimination this has fostered over generations that is family violence’s true cause.

We will need to do more than to talk gender and violence within schools, as we are doing through the Respectful Relationships curriculum. We will need to talk about the connection between violence and gender with everyone. That’s why one of our foundational actions in this strategy is to enact a Gender Equality Act, to once and for all set out the state’s commitment to equality between the sexes and to establish a specialist agency to focus on the prevention of family violence and other forms of violence against women.

What TAC and Worksafe have done for road accidents and workplace death and injury, the Prevention Agency will do for family violence – long term, provoking behavioural change campaigns which will help our community understand gender and violence and learn to change.

While we will follow in the footsteps of other countries who have long had gender equality embedded in their constitutions and through legislation, our Prevention Agency will be a world first, bringing together violence prevention and gender equality initiatives. I’m proud to say too that this agency will be supported through dedicated and ongoing funding, because we understand, this work will take time.

Our government has never been shy about leading. We were the first government in Australia to insist on Family Violence Leave being in our public sector industrial agreements and we are leading the charge to ensure that the Commonwealth does the same and protects the rights of everyone by putting the entitlement in the National Employment Standards.

We have connected the local to the global, being the first state in Australia to adopt the UN’s campaign and turn our landmarks orange. From the beautiful Arts Spire that we gather beneath to AAMI Park, Government House and the MCG, Victoria Against Violence is uniting our institutions in support for women and equality and a world free from gendered violence. We will be the first state to dedicate a memorial to the victims of Family Violence.

And the first in the world to create a Family Violence Index.
These leading initiatives have all come from the inspiration of women and men in this room. And we should be proud of them. Because despite women having the vote for 100 years, there are so very few lasting institutions, memorials, measures, legislation or within government helping women succeed. There is no Women’s Act; no Women’s agency, too few monuments to our sacrifice and our achievements.

This strategy will put an end to this neglect. We will together elevate gender equality and the rights of women beyond election and budget cycles.

Why is this important? You would have heard me say many times that that the political caravan moves on all too quickly. Issues, even ones as important as family violence have a short time in the sun, before fickle political minds and a restless media look elsewhere for a new story. Rosie and Daniel come along only once in a generation. While a very bright light is being shone on family violence and inequality, we need to embed long term structures and actions for progress. Because we need governments – regardless of their political persuasion – to be accountable for the long haul.

Ecomonic argument 

The other powerful argument for gender equality is of course, the economic case. Countless studies show it just makes sense, good economic sense to take the brake off 50% of the world’s population.

An analysis of Australian Stock Exchange 500 companies found that companies with female representation on their boards outperformed others by 8.7 per cent over five years.

YET…. there are more people named Peter in the ASX 200 company chairs and CEO positions than there are women! A recent large global study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics looked at 22,000 companies It found that those with at least 30 per cent women in leadership roles achieve profit margins that are 15% greater than companies with no female leaders.

Yet despite all the evidence, governments in Australia, and the private sector have been slow to embrace women’s leadership. I’m pleased to say this is now beginning to change. Last month BHP announced a 50% target across its workforce by 2025. They haven’t done this out of the goodness of their hearts! They’ve done this because it makes sound business practice and no doubt they will see the economic benefits of this commitment.

Everyday Sexism

This strategy also creates a framework for us to work together to combat Everyday Sexism. I use the word combat deliberately.

For I believe that nothing short of disciplined, strategic action will end it. Everyday Sexism is a way of life if you’re a woman. I will bet you every single woman in this room can tell you a story about harmful disrespect and gendered behaviour that has hurt, embarrassed or betrayed them.

whether it’s being harassed in public, groped by a stranger on public transport, sexually harassed in the workplace, abused online, or intimidated or threatened by someone they know…. Women and girls have been conditioned for too long to ignore or simply put up with a lot of this treatment The digital age has brought a new battlefront.

We are in a fast new age of gendered attacks where the digital revolution has enabled armies of keyboard warriors to create new victims - from schoolgirls to Presidential candidates. It’s a new and different battle that women and girls now face. And it’s a battle where the rules are largely non existent, and the social norms haven’t evolved at all. That’s why our strategy commits our government to re-examining our laws against sexist advertising and gender based hate speech. If we can do something to rid our roads of Wicked Campers, take down advertising that blurs the line between marketing and misogyny and turn the tables on the trolls, we will do it.

Cradle to grave discrimination

One of the most compelling stories during our twelve months of consultation, which took us across metropolitan Melbourne and into our regions, was an encounter with a young father of two daughters.

He told me of his fears for the future saying: “I don’t want my girls being abused or threatened online or to feel unsafe walking alone at night.” Fathers across our state our now speaking out about the damage that gender inequality is doing to their daughters and their sons. We are making progress. But we have a long way to go. Because unequal treatment is cradle to grave.

And lifetime discrimination has a compounding effect on women. What starts in early childhood as less pocket money and less attention in the classroom layers over time. Girls are bombarded with gender stereotypes driven by the media and community expectations.

The emphasis on appearance, rather than aptitude, limits confidence in their own abilities. It sets the tone for adolescence.

Women aged 25-29 now graduate in greater numbers than men, but immediately on graduation, take a hit on their pay packets compared to their male counterparts.

What happens in the summer between graduation and working life that immediately sets off the gender pay gap? In Australia today, the gender pay gap is 17.9%. It has sat at this figure stubbornly for thirty years.

It’s time to stop simply marking Equal Pay Day – as if it’s something to celebrate - and start to work together on a strategy to end discrimination in our pay packets.

It’s time to put a stop to a parenting penalty, to lost promotional opportunities because of a desire for flexible workplaces and discrimination during pregnancy, parental leave or a return to work.

It’s time we faced up to the fact that women are at a risk of poverty in later life, because of a lifetime of everyday sexism and workplace discrimination.

Addressing the economic insecurity of women worker will be a focus of our government through this strategy.

And because we don’t have all the answers, we will be establishing two expert committees to work with us to resolve complex gendered problems.

The Ministerial Council on Women’s Equality will focus on addressing the gender gap in a range of key areas, including jobs for women, the accessibility of childcare and women’s experience of poverty.

The Equal Workplaces Advisory Committee will focus on workplace discrimination, occupational segregation and inequity in pay. Together, these committees will provide a foundation for ongoing work across government to promote the economic security of women workers.

Entrepreneuralism and innovation

And because we know that Victoria is alive and well with a cottage industry of women disrupting the old economy with online businesses and transforming work from home hobbies into successful small to medium business operations we will be working with Scale Investors to support initiatives that support talented and inventive women to scale up their ideas into enterprises that can build more jobs and greater prosperity for their communities and for the state.

And we can announce for the first time in Victorian history, we will take an all-woman trade delegation to China, to enable Victorian women innovators to develop relationships in the world’s fastest growing economy.

And we will develop Victoria’s first women’s heritage museum, telling our stories for future generations to celebrate and learn from.

Sport

This weekend, AAMI Park, the Football Federation of Australia, together with Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory held its inaugural OrangeRound as part of Victoria Against Violence. I’m so proud that the world game, has joined us in supporting a world-wide campaign to end violence against women.

Not to be outdone by the commitment the MCG also turned orange for the first time. When Carlton Football Club stands up in orange socks and pledges its support for a future without violence against women, people pay attention in a way that they don’t otherwise.

When an entire culture of a club is being transformed by leadership committed to inclusivity and change – the cause cannot be ignored.

I believe in the power of sport to explain the importance and benefits of gender equality more effectively than a thousand speeches.

If you’re in any doubt about that, I commend by friend and colleague, Minister for Sport John Eren’s recent video, Change Our Game to you. When our primary school kids stop thinking of their sports heroes in gendered terms, we will know we are making real progress.

The rise of women’s sport – women’s football, soccer, rugby and cricket – can only be a good thing for gender equality. Which is why I am also announcing as part of this strategy a new program designed to work alongside sporting clubs to deliver gender equality programs.

Targets

There are a treasure trove of new and exciting initiatives in this document, I can’t go through them all in the limited time I have.

Instead, I want to focus on one of the foundational parts of this strategy – a belief in and commitment to change through targets. As time marches on, things are actually getting worse for women in Australia, not better.

The World Economic Forum’s gender equality index measures gender inequality in nations across several areas: reproductive health, education and labour market participation and political representation. This index has dropped Australia’s gender equality rating from 36 to 46. Ten places in a year.

We’re behind all of the Nordic countries, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom. We’re behind the Phillipines, Costa Rica and Rwanda. Our decline as a leader in gender equality has been rapid over the last twenty years.

We’ve taken our eye off our commitment to equality and paid a heavy price. It will take a clear and focussed strategy to address the decline. If we are to turn things around for women, we will need to set targets to improve and measure our performance over time.

It was very important to me that this is not just another glossy brochure. I wanted all the arguments to be there, along with clear and agreed targets and timeframes.

That is why it adopts an evidence based approach to actions, with an accountability framework that provides tangible targets and indicators to assess change in the short and medium term.

We have committed to a set of iconic targets, building on the Premier’s commitment to 50/50 women on all new appointments in public paid boards and in our courts.

As a consequence of that target - 52% of appointments have been women bringing the total percentage up from 39% to 49% female representation on paid Government boards.

In short, targets work! To that we will add targets in local government, the Victorian Public Service and state sporting associations.

And we pledge to set more targets with your help by 2018. These are actions only government can do. Only government can deliver gender responsive budgeting and policy development. Or gender ethical procurement. But there is also work we will do together for education and training; workforce and employment; health and safety; sport; leadership; and media and the arts.

Because I understand that to deliver on GE is going to take time.

And it’s going to take the leadership of all of us to ensure we stay accountable to this strategy. I am proud of what we have created together. 

Conclusion

And I want to take a small moment to acknowledge some people who have made a special contribution to this document.

Firstly, I want to acknowledge

Rita Butera and Adele Murdolo of Women’s Health Victoria and the women’s health associations of Victoria. Your organisations have been at the vanguard of women’s rights for decades. Thank you for being here.

To Mary, Lara and Patty and the team at OurWatch. Your intelligence and thoughtfulness and campaign skills have been incredibly important.

Thank you To Carol Schwartz, Amy Mullins and to the Women’s Leadership Institute of Australia. Thank you for your sage counsel and timely advocacy.

To Lisa Heap and the Women’s Rights at Work team at Trades Hall. You have been steadfast in your belief in this strategy but also active in pushing government to dream and act big.

I also want to acknowledge the support given to the WRAW team by secretary of Trades Hall, Luke Hilakari. Luke is one of a new generation of Labor men who recognises that he is at his best, when women lead beside him.

To the male champions of change – as one of your number put it to me recently - you are not male champions, rather males championing change. I want to especially mention Adam Fennessy, the Justin Trudeau of Departmental Secretaries who is making change every day in his sphere of influence, and bringing people with him.

To Annette Gillespie of Safe Steps, who helps women on a daily basis at the most critical moment in their lives – as they flee family violence. You have remained steadfast in your commitment to a gendered lens and your leadership in pursuit of a new council for women’s services could not be more timely.

To Mary Crooks, the Victorian Women’s Trust and the 1000 women who attended the Breakthrough conference last weekend. May our shared determination and collective shatter that glass ceiling forever.

To Corri McKenzie, Sarah Gruner, Julia Knight and Tania Farha in the Office of Prevention and Women’s Equality. Thank you for working so hard and sharing in the challenges that making a political dream into a practical reality entails.

Finally, to my office, sisters - we all have some stories to tell and some sleep to catch up on! To Tanja, Maree, Tal, Kat, Izzie, Ashlea, Emily, Laura, Ebony and Clare- some people are observers of history, others seek to make it. You my friends most definitely fall into the latter category.

This is your document. You made it happen. Thank you!

To the generations of women who have stood before us and upon whose shoulders we climb – from Henrietta Dugdale and Jane Munro to Mary Owen and Joan Kirner - This is your document, too.

But most of all to Marcus and Catherine, this is your document.

It was my pledge as Minister to do everything I could to ensure that my daughter has the same opportunities as my son.

Finally, my question to each of you here is – what will your pledge be? How will you commit to give life to this strategy in your workplace, your home and your community.

Today, we ask you to make a pledge for gender equality. To bring this strategy to life.

Starting now because we can’t do it without you.