Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: National Summit on Women’s Safety; technology-facilitated abuse; sex discrimination legislation; Flight MH17 trial.
07 September 2021

Deborah Knight: Well, the PM did open yesterday the first National Summit on Women’s Safety with a commitment to be open-mined and ambitious. And as I told you yesterday at the start of that, it’s aiming to set up the next national plan to end violence against women and children. And there’s no doubt we have a problem here in Australia, a problem that’s not going away. In fact, domestic violence, the number of people dying, the number of victims, if anything, it’s getting worse. But the Prime Minister’s speech and the whole summit has copped criticism with many concerned that it is just window dressing. Some critics have also described the PM’s speech as empty promises and, of course, the criticism of him getting to have an exemption to visit his family for Father’s Day. Marise Payne is the Minister for Women, and she’s on the line for us now. Minister, thanks for joining us.

Marise Payne: Good afternoon, Deb.

Deborah Knight: What’s your response to the Prime Minister? He’s defended him being able to see his family, get an exemption. He says it’s just cheap politics, but it seems like another case of the haves and have nots?

Marise Payne: I think he’s spoken about that today, Deb, and indicated, of course, government does need to function. He has been able to use an exemption for parliamentarians that ministers have also used as well as opposition politicians. And it does enable us to do our job. When he’s under the level 3 stay-at-home order from the ACT Chief Health Officer there’s obviously frequent testing required, restricted movement. But there is actually no exemption requirement for him to go to Sydney. That is not in place between the ACT and Sydney. I understand he was then required to be in Canberra on Monday for a secure meeting that couldn’t take place in Sydney, and that is very much part of the work that we do all the time. And I think the politics of this are what they are, but it is important that government is able to get on with the job.

Deborah Knight: Do you think, though, it’s a good look that prime ministers or politicians of any side – I don’t care which side of politics they’re on – are able to get these exemptions when the average person can’t?

Marise Payne: We have to stay within the guidelines that operate in the different states and territories. And that is what has happened in this case. And we have to be able to make sure that government is able to function. And we’ve all been subject to it in different ways throughout the year. I acknowledge that.

Deborah Knight: And you can’t function remotely? I mean, we’ve seen parliament sit with Zoom people. I mean, you can’t do things remotely?

Marise Payne: Well, Deb, as you would appreciate, I think, particularly in relation to Prime Minister and other ministers who engage in national security matters, they need to be done in facilities of certain levels of classification. They are all different levels of classification, and they don’t exist in every single capital city. They certainly don’t. So occasionally there are requirements for us to be in particular places. But we do work within the exemptions. We do work according to the requirements of the states and territories. I do that, the Prime Minister does that –

Deborah Knight: So you’re okay with it? You don’t think it’s a bad look?

Marise Payne: I think we have to be able to get on with the functioning of government, Deb.

Deborah Knight: Okay.

Marise Payne: And I know nothing in Covid is perfect. I certainly know that.

Deborah Knight: All right. Now, the Prime Minister has also copped criticism for his opening address at the summit yesterday. I thought it was actually really promising, and he laid bare the fact that he personally has it to learn quite a few things about the treatment of women and the fact that he has heard directly from victims of domestic violence. But some are saying his actions don’t match his words. What’s your response to that criticism?

Marise Payne: Well, I thought the Prime Minister’s speech was a very important one yesterday. And I must say, Deb, I’m struck by perhaps some of the perverse commentary on these issues. I can only imagine if the Prime Minister had not chosen to engage personally and directly in the national summit this week what the criticisms might have been in relation to that. So, some of these things are, frankly, in the eye of the beholder I suspect. But I do think it’s important for our Prime Minister to be engaged and for him to have given the summit not just his endorsement by that participation but to provide his thoughtful comments that were clearly very, very personal and go to the experiences that we have dealt with through the processes in the parliament this year, through the processes in our own communities this year. They are very, very challenging.

But the national summit is a very important opportunity for whole-of-community engagement. We have over 200 organisations represented, over 390 people invited and registered to attend. And I think the summit, building on the similar experience of 10 years ago when the first national plan was brought together by the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her government with the support of the then opposition, of which I was a member, these are very important consultative steps, and I strongly support them.

Deborah Knight: And why do you think that that plan 10 years ago hasn’t had any impact on the problem of domestic violence? Because if anything, it has gotten worse.

Marise Payne: I think I would not necessarily agree that it hasn’t had any impact. And I say that for this particular reason: 10 years ago if you and I think back to where we were 10 years ago and what the conversation around gender-based violence in Australia looked like, what the conversation around violence against women and their children looked like, we were at the beginnings of our ability to be more open, to be more prepared to discuss what had been for many, many years intensely personal, private matters that were kept inside homes, inside communities and not discussed publicly. And so that change has been important. It has helped us to focus on issues like early intervention and prevention, and I know that the next national plan will have a strong focus on that.

We will also be able to use the consultation processes, whether they are this process or the consultation processes that, for example, are being carried out by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner, June Oscar, for Indigenous communities, to really target in on response measures. We have to have the right programs in place to support women who do, sadly, experience violence. We also have to make sure – and why this conversation is so important – is that every Australian has a role to play. This is not just a matter for government; it is a matter for our entire community.

Deborah Knight: Agreed. We all do need to take responsibility. There’s been a massive increase, though, in technology being used to control women and coercive control is something that I know a lot of states and territories are moving to try and legislate against. But many police and support groups have raised concerns that they don’t have the proper resources or expertise to deal with a lot of situations also to counter the rising technologies to counter the things like drones being used to control women, all sorts of things, and tracking devices. Why aren’t we investing more in this space?

Marise Payne: So there have been two exceptional presentations at the summit this morning – one by Julie Inman Grant, who is Australia’s eSafety Commissioner. I strongly recommend anyone to go online and have a look at Julie’s presentation this morning about technology-facilitated abuse and about online abuse. It was extremely powerful. And our commission is a world leader, a world first, in terms of the support that comes from government to the commission to address these issues. But also the message that Julie sends about reporting and supporting when others know about that sort of abuse, that’s vital.

The second session which I was looking at just before our conversation today was the police and justice session in which the AFP Commissioner, Reece Kershaw, was participating, William Alstergren from the federal and family courts as well. And I do think we’ve come a long way. But the reason we are doing this and that we’re involved in the process of this summit is because we do know there is more to do. We know we’re dealing with a very different environment, and it is sad to say some of the stories that Julie Inman-Grant told are about technology-facilitated abuse and the manipulation of women and their children, things that belong to them, their possessions, you know, the wheelchair of a disabled women being used as a monitoring tool by a perpetrator. Those sorts of things are, frankly, terrifying, and that is one of the reasons why we are so focused on it and why we have invested strongly in the eSafety Commissioner in particular.

Deborah Knight: Yeah, it’s an important space. I hope you invest more in social housing, too, because that’s another area that does need some work. But I think it was a bit of a wasted opportunity, the fact that on the eve of this summit, just as the Prime Minister in his opening remarks spoke about gendered bias and violence, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, her report that made 55 recommendations, including 12 for legislative reform, the bill addresses just six of them. And a lot of women feel very let down about this, because the Prime Minister did say he would adopt all of the 55 recommendations, but, instead, there’s just the 12.

Marise Payne: And we are adopting and have responded to all 55 of the recommendations. This is the first iteration of the legislative response. And, you’re right, it did address recommendations across six areas – number 16, 20 to 22, 29 to 30 – from the report: a number of important clarifications, including applying – the applicability of Sex Discrimination Act to members of parliament and judges; amending the existing entitlement to compassionate leave for –

Deborah Knight: So there’ll be more commitments to come?

Marise Payne: That is exactly right.

Deborah Knight: Okay.

Marise Payne: So not all of the commitments apply to the commonwealth government; many apply to the workplace, to state governments as well. This is the first step. These were the ones that we could – we were able to proceed and were prioritised in this instance. And there are more to come. And I do think it is important that we consult broadly and widely. This needs – as well as the issue we just spoke about in terms of the summit – this also needs a whole community, unified national response.

Deborah Knight: Well, I hope there is more to come in that space, because that is to get that clarity.

Marise Payne: Absolutely.

Deborah Knight: Time’s against us. I just wanted to ask you before we go, of course, about the trial of the MH17 plane crash, which is underway at the moment. We’ve heard from relatives of victims, including Australians. What’s Australia going to do to give these families some justice? Because a lot of international investigators say the plane was shot down with the missile fired by pro-Russian rebels, but Russia denies any links here.

Marise Payne: Well, Deb, we very strongly support the Dutch prosecution of these four individuals for their roles in the downing of Flight MH17. We believe that the trials are a very important step. Without them we would not be making any progress towards justice and accountability. And I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it was for the families yesterday who began to deliver their victim impact statements. And it is very important that they have been able to do that.

We have been providing through my agency and through AFP family liaison officers support for those next of kin with the preparations of their victim impact statements. And then we will look to see how the prosecution, the Dutch national prosecution, presents its arguments and its proposed sentence. But we must support these trials. I really think the work of the joint investigation team, which has been critical in gathering evidence for those, has been extremely important. And I want to commend that cooperation and work.

There has been a call for new information, and I hope more information comes forward.

Deborah Knight: Well, let’s hope for the sake of those families justice is served. Minister, we thank you for your time.

Marise Payne: Thank you very much, Deb.

Deborah Knight: Foreign Minister and Minister for Women, Marise Payne here on Afternoons.

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