The (many) shortfalls of Morrison's Women's Safety Summit laid bare

‘Little Band-Aids we can put on this situation’: Shortfalls of Morrison’s Women’s Safety Summit laid bare

Morrison

As the National Summit on Women’s Safety kicks off today, frontline domestic violence and homelessness groups are urging the federal government to meaningfully address affordable, social housing.

More than 230 organisations have signed a joint statement, citing their concern that at present, housing only has a “fleeting reference” in the summit’s agenda during a session on financial freedom which includes a representative from Housing Choices Australia, Michael Lennon. The campaign says this is a big concern considering 7,690 women return to perpetrators of domestic violence each year because they have nowhere to live.

“Failing to include housing for women’s safety on the agenda at the National Summit on Women’s Safety highlights the lack of focus on this critical issue,” the joint letter reads.

The groups note that 9,120 women a year become homeless after fleeing domestic and family violence, because they are unable to secure long term housing.

Spokesperson for Everybody’s Home, Kate Colvin said affordable and safe housing was a “absolutely central” to women’s safety in Australia.

“You simply can’t talk about women’s safety without talking about safe and affordable homes. Women and children in danger need a safe haven and it is incumbent on the Commonwealth Government to address this crisis,” Colvin said.

The joint letter calls on the government to set a target to end homelessness for women and children, and survivors who are fleeing violence.

That housing is not adequately addressed in the Summit’s program, speaks to a wider point about the program being insufficiently designed. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian of the Year and advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, Grace Tame said the summit is “an extension” of the federal government’s “pattern of denial, minimisation, ultimately dismissal of women’s issues”.

Tame said the invitation-only summit has been “so poorly organised”, “incredibly secretive” and “very exclusionary”. She said the focus is on “what are the little Band-Aids we can put on this situation”.

On Monday’s program, the only two panel sessions that are scheduled to overlap are the ones on the Respect@Work report, and proactive prevention measures focusing on coercive control, perpetrator intervention and early intervention. This overlap comes after the government has chosen not to support or implement many of the Respect@Work report recommendations. Last week, it passed legislation to implement 6 of the 55 recommendations, not including the central recommendation of a “positive duty” on employers to prevent sexual harassment.

Brittany Higgins said it was “devastating to see a real opportunity for positive change be denied for all the working women in this country”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also chosen to fill the slot of the opening keynote address at the summit himself. To centre himself in this way was described by Kristine Ziwica as “an act of chutzpah not seen since the day Tony Abbott appointed himself minister for women”. Morrison used the keynote to plug his government’s “passing” of the Respect@Work’s recommendations.

In the address, Morrison told onlookers his government is “earnestly trying” to stop violence against women and children, and that it comes into the summit with an “open mind” and an “ambitious spirit” to “end violence against women”.

Last week, women’s safety experts clearly outlined 12 key actions that must be a starting point for government’s commitment at this summit. These actions, devised by people who have spent their lives fighting for, and working in the space of women’s safety, can be implemented immediately. No discussion is necessary, the solutions are there.

Posting to Twitter after Morrison’s address, Brittany Higgins said she “just can’t match this government’s actions with the platitudes and warm sentiments they are all extending today”.

Higgins also said she’d like to thank the ACT Government and the Victims of Crime Commission “who kindly stepped in at the last minute to have me invited as a delegate to listen in to today’s event”.

It seems her invitation to the summit from Morrison himself was lost in the mail.

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