Six months ago, to the week, the Morrison government announced a new Women’s Cabinet Taskforce. It was not a spontaneous act of benevolence. Instead, it was a begrudging concession after months of sustained public outrage. So, six months on, what has changed?
We should start by remembering where this began. More than 100,000 men and women railed for gender equality and justice in March. Grandmothers, mothers and daughters held placards side by side in a struggle that has truly spanned generations. When I joined the rally outside parliament house, I teared up a little when I heard Helen Reddy’s “I am woman’ play. It was partly nostalgia for a song I remember my mother singing along to as a feminist anthem in the 70s, but also sadness that the same tune is so relevant today.
Australian women have waited a long time to be treated as equals. The pay gap has barely budged since women like myself graduated from university. Rates of violence remain shamefully high. And too many women struggle with poverty in retirement as consequence of these circumstances. When women marched for justice, the Prime Minister was presented with a historic chance to lead.
So, what has actually changed for Australian women since then? Sadly, not very much.
The announcements in the Federal Budget to address domestic violence did not go far enough to undo 8 years of neglect and disinterest from the Coalition. Faced with a choice between political fix and genuine reform, this prime minister chooses announcement over delivery every time.
The much-anticipated National Women’s Safety Summit could have been a moment for real change. The event instead became a two-day webinar that the Prime Minister used as an opportunity to appropriate victim survivors’ stories without their consent.
Worse, survivors of sexual, domestic, and family violence had to fight for a seat at the table at the summit.. Their experiences and expertise continue to be ignored in the design and implementation of policies that impact them directly. In a public statement from a group of victim survivors, one member Janine Rees said, “Without hearing victim survivors’ stories of past failings we cannot move forward to support victims to become free from abuse, recover and rebuild”.
Another survivor advocate, Lula Dembele said “What we’re asking for will deliver better outcomes for women, for children, for the Australian society. It’s all completely doable.” Lula and Janine are of course correct. Their voices should be heard and their insights central to our response to violence.
In his speech to the Summit, the Prime Minister said he would listen to the voices of women and their advocates. There is little evidence of any change in approach.
As recently as three weeks ago, the Government voted against paid domestic violence leave, which will help make workplaces safer and more secure for workers experiencing domestic violence. The Government talks a big game on economic empowerment but rejected this measure that would allow women to maintain their social connections, financial independence and provide a pathway for rebuilding their lives.
Just days after the Summit concluded that access to safe and affordable housing is “fundamental” for survivors of domestic violence, Mr Jason Falinski MP, who chairs the Government’s inquiry into housing affordability, dismissed calls for increased government investment in social housing in contemptuous terms. If the Summit communique can be so easily and quickly disregarded, what hope is there that women’s needs will be a priority? .
The courage and advocacy of women across Australia has sparked a national conversation. Unfortunately, that is no guarantee of change.
Eight years ago, Rosie Batty spoke out when most parents would have had nothing left to give. Her courage empowered the nation to begin a difficult and long overdue conversation about the scourge of domestic and family violence. Despite successive Prime Ministers pledging to respond, a before-and-after examination of Australian government policy on family violence would reveal few concrete changes.
Now, women like Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins, Chanel Contos and Saxon Mullins have stepped forward too. More than 100,000 Australians lent their voices in support at rallies across the country. We can’t afford for the government to fail again.
Six months ago, the Prime Minister made new appointments and new promises. Six months on, there is little evidence of delivery. It’s time to demand more. Australian women deserve to be safe in their homes, the workplace and the community.