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Source: Prime Minister of Australia

PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you very much and it’s good to join you this morning, and I am speaking to you from ISO here at the Lodge, which is a bit extraordinary but we have all been getting used to that this year. As some of you may well be as you are joining us today.

Can I also acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, on whose land we meet where I am, and to pay my respect to their elders, past and present. And I also, given the nature of this event – can I specifically acknowledge all of our indigenous women leaders around the country who do such an amazing job, you know when I talk to those who are involved in programmes on the ground, they talk about how important it is to engage with female leaders in communities, and to sit and to listen.

And it doesn’t matter whether I’m talking to people working out of the Federal Police, people who are working in homelessness, people who are working in health, and I’ve got to say when I used to work in New Zealand many years ago, it was the same there. In engaging with Indigenous health, Maori there and other Pacific cultures. [Inaudible] to engage and understand the challenges [inaudible]. Have an amazing bravery and an amazing [inaudible] and a protective character which is truly inspiring.

Can I also acknowledge, as I always like to, all the serving men and women who serve in our Defence Force and particularly at this time dealing as a country with some very difficult, hard news and I want to thank all veterans and all Defence Force personnel for their service [inaudible].

I also acknowledge our parliamentary colleagues who are joining us here and fellow leaders with us today – and particularly acknowledge the Co-convenors of the Friendship Group – Senator Waters, Dr Aly and Dr Martin. Thank you.

We come together on this day [inaudible]. There are some issues which we will [inaudible] with hammer and tong, but on this issue, and I’ve been around this place for a while now. There is agreement across the divide. There is a sense of frustration and anguish across the divide. There is no dispute and no lesser level of conviction across any area of policy in this country when it comes to dealing with this issue.

Natasha, I want to thank you once again, we’ve been working with each other for a while on this, back from when I was Social Services Minister in particular many years ago. And I thank you for your introduction today and the issues that you’ve raised. And I particularly want to congratulate you on your appointment to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. So congratulations [inaudible]. 

You know, we all come to this with different perspectives. I grew up as the son of a police officer, and you know, when you grow up as the son of a police officer, you don’t grow up with any illusions about true nature of the society in which you live. They know. My father was a good cop, and he was a good man and he saw the worst of society and he would see it every day, particularly when he was a younger officer. He worked the beat like anyone else when he was a young officer. And that was back in the 60s, not today. And we all know that while there are terrible, awful, atrocious things that continue to happen today, spare a thought for 30, 40 years ago when it was even more silent than it is today. And they would see this, and they would live with this. Good men and women who were aware of what was happening. 

So I grew up in an environment where I was not disabused with any sort of fairy tale view  about the absence of violence in our society, the absence of the things that we know that we are still dealing with today. I thank him for not, and sparing me the grisly detail a young boy, but I could see how he carried these things over the course of his working life and his mates who dealt with similar things. 

So I come to this with no illusions about the reality and the honesty of the situation and how we have to confront it. But I also come to it with the legacy of so many others who have served in my role and served in so many other roles, including the brave women who have entered our parliament. And are here joining with us today from all sides of politics. 

But this year we had the passing of two amazing women who did so much. And I’m talking about of course Senator Susan Ryan and Dame Margaret Guilfoyle. Dame Margaret was the first woman to hold a Cabinet portfolio and she said this of her ethos, equal participation of women in the parliament and the whole community of life can only lead us to a better understanding of humanity and the fulfilment of aspirations that we would have for a civilised society. Dame Margaret’s point was clear, we can’t separate how our country treats women from what our country actually is. And I share that view. Susan Ryan expressed the same sentiments, she she demonstrated the same passion. She also fought to claim ground, on behalf of my daughters I thank them both. 

That they will inherit a world and a country that is better than the one that my mother, when she started work and the idea that someone would be working, wasn’t necessary, at a time when one mother, she had my brother and I, they couldn’t understand why she would then go back to work. And when we lost my father earlier this year, a lot of these stories came back and we discussed them as family. And I could see quite a bit of the change that is taking place, but so much of the change that is still to be achieved, which is why we come together today. 

This year has been a hard year for all Australians. With COVID-19 and the stresses and strains and anxiety that it has placed on people. And we, of course, and this was one of our greatest concerns at the outset of the pandemic, the Premiers and chief ministers myself alike, all through the federation that we knew that the virus, and shutting down communities and keeping people in homes where we know home is not always safe for a lot of women in this country. 

That was one of the hardest decisions we had to make because we knew that there would be circumstances that potentially would potentially put women at great risk. And when you talk about hard decisions about containing the virus, that can pretty much destroy your country. And also at the same time, trying to protect women and children in vulnerable situations. This was one of the toughest decisions. And then we, and we agonised over them, and the only response was to do what we did, but at the same time ensure we doubled down as much as we possibly could on the services that would be necessary to support vulnerable people in these situations.

And this was a joint effort, it was no one single issue. It was a shared commitment and concern that we were acting on and state and federal governments working together to do whatever we can.  There were no lines when it came to how we were going to protect women and children in vulnerable areas during the pandemic. There were no spats between the feds and the states. It was ‘We’ve just got to get this done.’ And I want to thank all the premiers and chief ministers and the health ministers. I know Greg Hunt will join me on that and Marise Payne in thanking them for the work we’ve done together. 

But all too often, and that has continued to be the case over the course of this year, we have seen these behaviours that persist and seek to silence, control women in so many cases. In this country, we know that one woman is murdered by her current or former partner every nine days and that one in four women experience physical or sexual violence. One in four. You know these figures, we all know this because we say these figures and they cause us to shrink when we hear them. But this year, when Hannah Clarke was murdered and her three young children, I think for so many Australians, these weren’t numbers. A beautiful, young, strong woman, a mother and her three children killed in the most violent way I can imagine. You just can’t get it out of your head. And when I attended the funeral and I looked at those beautiful faces of Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey and I looked at Hannah putting her arms around her children, well, it was hard to cope. And I hope this stays with me, and I’m absolutely certain it will. And others as we seek to deal with this issue. Because we do focus rightly on the prevalence of this issue and the statistics and that’s an all important part of the evidence-based policy, as you rightly say, Natasha, that needs to drive our decision making. Of course, it has to drive our decision making and how we apply funds, where we do it and where we understand the problem will be the greatest and the contributing factors to be most prevalent. We need to understand all of that. But we also can never lose sight of just the sheer emotional scarring, torment, torture. And that also has to drive us. That’s also what has to sustain us, and I can assure you, it sustains my commitment to this and the members of my government and I believe every single member of parliament and opposition and wherever you sit. 

How many times have we all heard the news report and said to ourselves, not again. And we know that has to change. It’s violence caused by a twisted view of masculinity that thinks masculinity means control. It’s about control, it’s about power. We know that to be the case. Healthy masculinity is not threatened by equality in the workplace, at home or anywhere else. Healthy humanity is not threatened by these. Whether it’s people of different backgrounds or sexuality or colour or views, healthy humanity is not affected by these things and healthy masculinity is not either when it comes to issues of women. And to the credit of all sides of politics in the states and territories as well, the journey on this for Australia is well and truly on. We’ve been tackling the systemic challenge since 2013. We have committed more than a billion dollars to programmes and activities that seek to tackle violence against women and their children. We pick up from the work that was done by the Rudd-Gillard governments and the packages that were put in place and those responses. This is a continuation of that work with equal passion. 

And this here, in the early days of the pandemic, we did put in place, as Fiona said, $150 million for the COVID-19 domestic and family violence support package, providing needed support for crisis accommodation, frontline services and intervention programmes. We did put additional funding for the 1800RESPECT counselling services. When I was a social services minister, I visited those places and the calls were made and the calls were taken. In September, we announced our Safe Places Emergency Accommodation Programme, which provides 58 safe emergency accommodation in remote regional and metropolitan areas, and the government is still considering a number of those proposals now having dealt with the others. We’re proud to fund Our Watch to the tune of $21 million from 2019-2022 to support vital preventative activities. 

But alongside the vital programmes must come a fundamental change in attitudes to Australian lives. There has, of course, been progress, but not nearly enough and the evidence tells us that attitudes which justified or condone gender inequality are a driver of violence against women. To prevent violence and inequality, we have to challenge those beliefs, to call it out, and behaviours that excuse justify or condone it. And this year, as part of this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Our Watch is focusing on sexism and disrespect towards women that happens online. Because more and more, we live our lives in this space, and particularly over the course of this past year during the pandemic. Australia has led the world with an e-safety commissioner, Julie Inman-Grant, who does an amazing job. She’s awesome. To help protect us all women, kids in particular as well. She is a champion. I’m glad Julie Inman-Grant is out there protecting my kids online and I’m glad she’s protecting Jenny, I’m glad she’s protecting all the women on this call today and elsewhere in the country. And she’s there to stop the trolling, the abuse, the vile attacks on dating apps, the unwanted sharing of private images, and, yes, the everyday sniping on Twitter that all seeks to silence women politicians, women journalists, women academics and commentators, just like those who tried to silence Dame Margaret and Susan Ryan long ago as well. 

So there is, friends, still so much to do. Attitude change, behavioural change, continue to renew support services that support women. I want to assure you that my Government is committed to that work and all the members of the House. Now, as many of you know, the current national plan will end in 2022. We’ve already begun work on the next one, just like we did last time, picking up on the work done by previous governments. The preeminent human yearning in all of us, men and women alike, is to be safe. And for too many women we know that fundamentally is not being met. That’s why keeping Australian’s safe is the first priority of our Government, because it’s the foundation of a civilised society. 

So on this International Day of Eliminating Violence Against Women, I recommit and rededicate my and our efforts to keep women and their children safe. I really want to thank Our Watch for all your efforts and I look forward to seeing the outcomes of today’s meeting. I thank you very much for your kind attention.