- Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Women
- Senator the Hon Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services, Manager of Government Business in the Senate
Minister Ruston: We’re here today to launch phase three of the Stop it at The Start campaign which is a campaign that the Federal Government has been operating for the last five years to reduce and hopefully prevent family and domestic violence against Australian women and their children. The third phase of the campaign is about delivering the tools and the confidence to Australians to understand what disrespectful behaviour looks like and then to be able to call it out and take action so that we can go forward with a Australia that is free of domestic and family violence. We know that when people see disrespectful behaviour that they should call it out. You must not stay silent, you must not excuse it, you must call it out. And so today we have launched our unmute campaign that says when you see disrespectful behaviour unmute yourself and speak up. Because we know that whilst all disrespectful behaviour doesn’t end in domestic violence, we know that all domestic violence starts with disrespectful behaviour. So today, with the Commonwealth Bank, we’re delighted to be here with them because this is a problem that all Australians need to be part of the solution, not just governments, we need the business community and we need every person in the Australian community to take responsibility for changing the attitudes to make sure that disrespectful behaviour stops and that Australian can go forward knowing that we will have a society that is free of domestic and family violence so every women and her children can feel safe in their community.
Minister Payne: Thank you very much Anne and thank you for your work and the work of agencies in bringing together the third stage of this campaign. It is essential that the “Stop it at the Start” message is one that we hear, but importantly that we listen to - in our families, in our workplaces, in our communities and across our country. So I think the messages that we have seen this morning in the preview of the campaign advertisements which will go to air at the end of this week, I think the messages that we have seen in those are immensely powerful and I really want to acknowledge and congratulate those who have brought these together for the third stage of the campaign.
We know that through the Fourth National Action Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children that these are core priorities for this Government and for the state and territory Governments with whom we work closely. I’m very pleased to have the opportunity, with Senator Ruston, on the Women’s Safety Ministers Council, and the representative Ministers of the states and territories around Australia to focus on these issues. We’ll conclude the Fourth Action Plan in 2022, and the work that we are doing now and the feedback that we are receiving, the input we are receiving from around Australia will enable us to move into the next action plan - its successor plan - and prioritise those key issues as they are analysed and brought through that process.
The research that underpins this, and the research indeed the scientific basis, upon which this campaign is brought together was very compellingly described this morning and it’s a very important opportunity for all of us to appreciate the importance of this campaign.
“Stop it at the Start”: it’s a clear message, it’s a simple message and it’s a message for all of us.
Question: Minister Payne, it’s International Women’s Day today. We know that there’s a gender pay gap currently in Australia. One in six women are experiencing physical, sexual violence. Have we as a country failed women?
Minister Payne: I absolutely don’t agree that we as a country have failed women. Certainly, in relation to women’s workforce participation and the gender pay gap, before the coronavirus impact hit Australia, we had narrowed the gender pay gap to the lowest number on record - more to do, but to the lowest number on record. Similarly, we had increased women’s workforce participation to the highest recorded number - I think about 61.5 per cent.
What COVID has done, not just to women in the workforce but in fact to the entire economy, is an impact of which we are all too aware and this Government has taken a series of initiatives – and most particularly in 2020, the JobKeeper initiatives, and the support provided through enhanced and increased JobSeeker – to make sure that Australians were able to stay connected with their employers and employers with their staff, were able to be supported through the most difficult times of the pandemic. In January, the statistics show us that we have again narrowed the gender pay gap, but it is currently a very volatile figure, and it is volatile because of the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, on business and employers. And the path through this is not at all a straight path.
In terms of women's workforce participation, those numbers came back to around 61.2 per cent, I think, if I remember the numbers accurately. That shows us that women are being reemployed. But I absolutely acknowledge that those jobs, like the jobs of many, many men across the economy, are not identical, are not the same as they were, as when we went into COVID. There is a still more work to do, and that is what we are determined to focus on - working with business, the creators of jobs in this country, to return us to the point, the very strong point that we found ourselves at the beginning of COVID-19.
In relation to violence and its impact on women and children in particular, we have made progress, but there is no denying – and, in fact, the reason we are here today is because - there is still more to do. As many leaders of this country have said, disrespect does not always end in violence, but violence always starts with disrespect. Our job is to stop it at the start.
Question: Minister Payne, Barnaby Joyce has now said there should be an independent inquiry into allegations against Christian Porter. Do you still believe that there shouldn’t be one?
Minister Payne: I discussed this this morning on the ABC, of course, with Sabra Lane on AM. We have very well-established judicial and legal processes in this country to deal with matters of criminal allegation. Those processes have been under way in law enforcement agencies in New South Wales and have been concluded by those agencies. Whether others take place, including in South Australia, will be a matter for officials, not a matter for politicians of any sort to engage in or to comment upon.
Importantly, we have seen the establishment of the independent review into these issues in the national Parliament - in the workplace that Minister Ruston and I share with our Parliamentary colleagues, including Mr Joyce. That review will be absolutely vital for addressing the system and the environment and the cultures that exist within Parliament House. I have complete confidence in the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, and the work that she does and look forward to supporting that in a cross party, non-partisan, and very constructive way.
Question: Minister, you expressed in your speech your hopes of working together on quote, changing and stopping the behaviour of perpetrators. The family of the deceased woman who brought forward accusations saying that Christian Porter is an alleged perpetrator has supported an independent inquiry into the issue. You have said just now that the government is not looking into that at this point in time. But will that mean that the woman’s serious accusations will simply be ignored?
Minister Payne: I don't think anyone would suggest that the issues raised by the person concerned are being ignored in any way, shape or form. In fact, those issues that she has raised, issues that have been raised within the Parliament are issues of national discourse, of national concern. They have resulted in an independent review of Parliament House as a workplace being commissioned by this government with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. They have resulted in a very broad national discussion about the treatment of women in the workplace, and more broadly, and I don't think that we can say that they are being ignored.
Question: To my understanding, the review is in relation to the accusations brought forward by Brittany Higgins. Are you suggesting that this is also related to the allegations brought forward by this deceased woman?
Minister Payne: No, I was responding on both topics, indeed. Both topics of the concerns that we have dealt with in the national parliament in recent weeks following the allegations made by Ms Higgins which are, of course, as I understand it, now the subject of a referral to the Australian Federal Police.
There is that subject, and then there is the observations I made about the fact that we are having a very broad national discussion about the treatment of women and about safety and about workplaces and about relationships. That is driven in part, in large part, by recent events and everywhere I have been in the last week or so outside Canberra, in regional New South Wales, in Sydney itself, in Western Sydney where I live and where I work, for many people these have been the subject of discussion and I think they will continue to be so.
Question: Minister Ruston, do you think given these allegations that we have seen in Canberra that Parliament is setting an example for women of Australia?
Minister Ruston: I think one of the most important things that we need to do is I do think we do need to set an example for the Australian public. I mean, we are a very privileged workplace but we’re also a very different workplace. We are a fly in fly out workplace and we also find there are 227 Members and Senators and each and every one of them is a separate employer within the Parliament House, and that is why think it is so tremendously important that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins is able to actually undertake this very specific investigation into how we can provide the kind of supports that would reflect the needs of such a unique workplace. So I think yes, we do need to set an example and I'm looking very much forward to the findings of Kate Jenkins on how she thinks that Parliament House can be changed, the processes that can be changed at Parliament House to make sure that we do that.
Question: Minister Ruston, domestic violence assaults are up more than 20 per cent in the Northern Territory’s major towns in the past year. Police have now made a link between the increases and extra COVID stimulus payments, as well as early access to superannuation. Do you concede that this has contributed to the problem?
Minister Ruston: Well we’ve certainly been working with the Northern Territory and with other communities outside of the Northern Territory around Australia about the impacts of the additional cash that has gone into some of those economies and sadly we have seen an increase in some of the behaviours that have led to social harm outcomes. So what we're doing at the moment is working with those communities to make sure that we put in place the necessary supports, but just recently we made an announcement of three specialist Indigenous family and domestic violence providers so that we actually gave them the additional resources to be able to assist the women who found themselves in this difficult situation. But we are very aware of the changes that COVID brought more generally across the economy and in this instance, unfortunately, we saw some negative impacts in these communities, but we’ve moved very quickly to address them. But in addition we also understood at the start of the pandemic that there was a possibility that we would see an increase in domestic violence across the broader Australian public and that’s why we put in place the $150 million domestic violence support program that has been administered through the states and territories as well as providing additional funding to 1800 RESPECT and MensLine to make sure that when people needed to have help and when they needed to find out what they could do that these resources were available to them.
Question: Why weren’t these issues considered before the payments were made, given warning had been made by multiple community members about the potential for this to happen?
Minister Ruston: Well, as you would be aware, almost 12 months ago to the day we were faced with a situation where the Australian economy closed down overnight and we needed to make sure that we provided support to the entire Australian public who found themselves, many people, unemployed overnight. And so in doing so we provided those additional payments, the coronavirus supplement, to make sure that we were able to build the bridge to help Australia get through a very, very dark period in our history. As a consequence of that we had to make sure that everybody was treated equally and so these payments were made available to anybody who was on working age payments as well as those who are on pensions that got the additional stimulus payment. But in recognising that there were potentially going to be some social harm impacts of that very broad brush approach to responding to the economic conditions and that conditions of the pandemic, we made sure that we had additional services and made sure that we funded the services out on the front line so that we could support women and we will continue to do so.
Question: Minister Payne, what is your response to Opposition demands for Minister Linda Reynolds to resign?
Minister Payne: Well, if a senior executive at any business finds themself dealing with a significant health challenge for a period of time, my experience and my understanding is that that individual is given the opportunity on medical advice to deal with that issue. I think that same respect and that same acknowledgement should be extended to Minister Reynolds in these circumstances. In fact, it is not the first time, it won’t be the last time that a person in public life has to deal with a health issue. It’s not a circumstance that anyone wishes for themselves or that anyone brings on themselves. But it is in my view entirely unreasonable to suggest that a person who is dealing with a health issue and is acting on the advice of medical professionals should be treated in that way and spoken of in that way.
Question: [Indistinct]… also related to the claims that she called an alleged rape victim a lying cow? Isn’t that the thrust of the calls for her to resign as well?
Minister Payne: Well I’m responding to the question as it was provided to me.
Question: Amnesty International has welcomed Government’s decision to suspend its defence cooperation program with Myanmar, but it’s called for further sanctions to be placed on individuals. What was the Government looking at doing and why did it take so long to take action?
Minister Payne: Australia’s been working very closely with our counterparts in the region, particularly with ASEAN. ASEAN is central to our Indo-Pacific region. The stability of ASEAN is central to that region as well. Myanmar is a key member of ASEAN. In the period since the coup on the 1st February, the detention of an Australian national, and the events that have flowed since then, we have been consulting and engaging closely with those partners in ASEAN. Just at the end of last week, they held their first, virtual, Foreign Minister's meeting on these issues and on others. And I think it is very important that Australia is seen to be working closely with those partners.
We’re also engaging with India, with Japan, who are very close to Myanmar as well. And so in that process we have reviewed our military engagement - and I announced yesterday that those activities would be suspended. We've also reviewed our development assistance, because one of the things that I do not want to do, and that Australia does not want to do, is to penalise the people of Myanmar - the people of Myanmar who are amongst the poorest people in ASEAN and who have been dealing with significant challenges for a long period of time, marked by the violence in Rakhine and other states in Myanmar some years ago.
So those needs of humanitarian development and support and focus are ones which we have worked very carefully to ensure we’re still able to deliver but we will not be delivering through government agency. We’ll be delivering those through non-government organisations and appropriate bodies of that nature. In relation to sanctions, we have of course previously sanctioned five senior members of the Tatmadaw. We also have an embargo on any military sales to Myanmar, and we will keep our sanctions policy under close review.
Question: As you mentioned there, it’s been a month since the coup in Myanmar. Why has it taken Australia until now to announce action in response? And just secondly, what is Australia doing at this point in time, and where is it up to in trying to secure the release of Sean Turnell?
Minister Payne: The Ambassador in Yangon and officials here in Australia working with the Ambassador in Yangon are seeking his release at the most senior levels in the regime that it is possible to do. We have been very clear that we believe Professor Turnell has been arbitrarily detained, along with a number of senior members of the Myanmar Government, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, including the President.
We have continued to seek their release. We have taken every opportunity and also worked with counterparts to ensure that the subject of his arbitrary detention is well known, and counterparts are well aware of it, to seek his release. He has had some small amount of consular access. We were provided with a call with the Ambassador some time ago now. He was provided with a call to his family in the last 10 days. But we do not accept the conditions of his detention and the reasons for his detention. We seek a return to democracy. We seek absolutely the cessation of any armed violence against unarmed, peaceful protesting civilians. And in everything we are doing, we are seeking Professor Turnell's release.
Question: Just quickly, Minister, do you think it was fair for China’s Foreign Minister to mention Australia’s treatment of Indigenous people when he was asked about their treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang?
Minister Payne: Australia has been very clear in relation to the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang. We have made our statements through the Human Rights Council and in other fora and been very clear that evidence that points to the use of forced labour, the use of forced sterilisations, the systemic, systematic abuse and torture of women, and a range of other actions are severe breaches of human rights. And we have made Australia's position on those matters consistently clear. I do not believe in any way that they can be equated in the way that the Foreign Minister did.
Question: Minister Ruston, what do you make of the Four Corners report that woman who made the allegation against Christian Porter spoke in detail about her allegation to a sexual assault counsellor eight years ago? Do you think that that’s appropriate for a counsellor to speak publicly about these conversations?
Minister Ruston: Well, I mean, obviously all the circumstances that exist around the allegations that have been made, sadly now by a person who is deceased, are a matter that needs to be dealt with by the appropriate authorities. And I think it would be absolutely inappropriate for me or anybody in government to be passing judgement on any process that could feed into any inquiry that may be undertaken by the South Australian Government or South Australian Police and authorities.
Question: Do you think there should be a coronial inquest into the death of this woman?
Minister Ruston: That’s a matter for the South Australian Coroner.
Minister Payne: Thank you.
Minister Ruston: Thanks.