We don't need another 'women's summit', we need a government that actually cares about the crisis at hand

We don’t need another ‘women’s summit’, we need a government that actually cares about the crisis at hand

Anne Ruston on women's budget

Yesterday afternoon Minister Anne Ruston announced a national women’s safety summit for July, as well as a national survey for members of the public to have their say on the national crisis impacting women with the pretext that it would help “develop a strategy for reducing and preventing family, domestic and sexual violence.”

It was a bizarre response to the issues that have been festering in government for weeks now: a flood of sexual misconduct allegations against LNP members alongside a growing societal crisis of soaring domestic and family violence rates.

This week, family violence services and experts issued an urgent plea to the government to commit more funds to the sector, with all states reporting a swift uprise in violence cases since the start of the pandemic. Services are stretched to breaking point and thousands of women are more vulnerable than they’ve ever been.

The right response to this, would be direct action. The government knows the facts, they understand what’s at stake, and yet they refuse to do anything meaningful. Requesting feedback from all Australians to rate what they believe victim survivors need is dangerous. Particularly when such feedback would inevitably include input from perpetrators themselves.

“The government is asking everyone to rate the most important things needed by a victim-survivor who is likely dealing with patterns of abuse and complex trauma- including whether or not it’s relevant they have safe housing, a response from authorities which is compassionate, informed and does not cause additional trauma’, and/or specialist trauma informed counselling. It’s staggering,” says Renee Carr Executive Director of Fair Agenda.

We need to also ask the question of who this survey is truly designed for. Will young people engage in a medium like this? Will those whose primary language is something other than English?

Ultimately, implementing such a survey paints the picture of a government uninterested in the advice of experts and wholly influenced by the voters who hold the power to usher their next election victory.

When the Prime Minister announced a fortnight ago that he was finally “listening to women”, we were hopeful even in spite of his dismal response to that point: his gaslighting of Brittany Higgins, his silence and inertia on several ministers in his ranks accused of sexual misconduct, his failure to show his face at the Women’s March 4 Justice. The benefit of the doubt was still given.

But what has unfolded since the Prime Minister choked back tears at a press conference in which he declared that “women who have put up with this rubbish and this crap for their entire lives, as their mothers did, as their grandmothers did,” deserved better; something he was committed to changing, has been nothing short of smoke and mirrors.

If Morrison was truly “shocked”, and “disgusted” and “ashamed” of women’s status quo, we’d have more to show for it.

We’d have more than a very tenuous Women’s Task Force; a herding of the scarce number of women in the government’s ministry alongside Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Simon Birmingham and the PM himself to create the illusion of action.

We’d have more significant promises. Not bungled publicity announcements such as the one that Marise Payne would be the new “Prime Minister for Women” (Hooray!) before a reporter aptly noted that perhaps our “PM for Women” should be our regular PM.

We’d have more than a “Women’s Safety Summit” that promises next to zilch in the way of true policy of reform. $10 million dollars allocated to temporary visa holders struggling to leave domestically violent households? How far do we really expect that to go?

The government has known for years what is required to fix these problems. Experts have lobbied for years to get more than a smattering of funding. But the sad reality is our government hasn’t cared.

And by going through the motions of yet another investigation into the problem, they’re effectively telling women that they still don’t give a damn. The only difference? They’re hoping against hope that we don’t notice.

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