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Kristine Ziwica on the shortcomings of the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children and what it means for women over the next decade.

The empty plan to end violence against women

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Over the past year, there’s been pressure on the Morrison government to step up and take significant action on women’s safety, as rates of sexual violence have increased.

And in the wake of Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame’s campaigning - the federal government has released a draft plan that seeks to end violence against women and children. 

However, survivors and experts are disappointed with the draft and the lack of transparency that went into its formulation - and have demanded it be withdrawn and amended. 

Today, journalist and contributor to The Saturday Paper Kristine Ziwica on the shortcomings of the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children and what it means for women over the next decade. 

Guest: Contributor to The Saturday Paper Kristine Ziwica.

Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

 

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

 

Over the past year, there’s been pressure on the Morrison government to step up and take significant action on women’s safety…. as rates of sexual violence have increased.

 

And in the wake of Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame’s campaigning - the federal government has released a draft plan that seeks to end violence against women and children. 

 

However, survivors and experts are disappointed with the draft and the lack of transparency that went into its formulation - and have demanded it be withdrawn and amended. 

 

Today, journalist and contributor to The Saturday Paper Kristine Ziwica on the shortcomings of the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children and what it means for women over the next decade. 

 

It’s Tuesday, March 15. 

 

[Theme Music Ends]

 

RUBY:
Kristine, the past year has been significant in terms of the focus that we’ve seen on the issue of violence against women. We’ve had repeated calls for action, there have been marches, and this sustained pressure on the government. What’s your assessment of the last year - and whether or not things are changing as a result of all this? 

 

KRISTINE:
Well, things are changing and they're changing fast.

 

In January of last year, child sexual abuse survivor Grace Tame was named Australian of the Year. 

 

Archival Tape -- Grace Tame:
“I was 15, he was 58.”

 

KRISTINE:
In February, Brittany Higgins came forward with her allegation that she was raped in Parliament House by a colleague. 

 

Archival Tape -- Brittany Higgins:
“And for so long it felt like the people around me only cared because of where it happened and what it might mean for them.” 

 

KRISTINE:
Scott Morrison's initial response was profoundly disappointing. 

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“Jenny and I spoke last night. And Jenny has a way of clarifying things - always has.” 

 

KRISTINE:
There were calls to dust off the respect at work sexual harassment enquiry and implement its recommendations. 

 

And by March, tens of thousands of women took to the streets in numbers not seen in a generation calling for justice. 

 

Archival Tape -- Protests:
“What do we want justice, when do we want it, now.” 

 

KRISTINE:
And it is in this context or against this backdrop that the Morrison government released the draft of a new national plan to end violence against women, which will go into effect in the middle of this year, when the previous now more than a decade old national plan runs out. 

 

RUBY:
OK, so there is a new national plan that is going to come into effect in an attempt to try and address this issue. I want to ask questions about that. But before I do, can you tell me about what it is that it's replacing? 

 

KRISTINE:
The very first national plan to reduce violence against women and their children was a carefully designed programme.

 

It was launched by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

 

Archival Tape -- Julia Gillard:
“One billion women will be raped or beaten in their lifetimes. Let that sink in.” 

 

KRISTINE:
The goal was to develop a long term strategy to address domestic violence and sexual violence that coordinated the efforts of all governments, at all levels and the non-government sector. 

 

Archival Tape -- Julia Gillard:
“The violence has to stop. There is a better way and it starts with us.” 

 

KRISTINE:
To achieve a significant and sustained reduction in violence against women and children during the next 12 years from 2010 to 2022. But despite this bold and very ambitious start, things started to go off track relatively quickly. 

 

RUBY:
OK, and so what happened, then? What went wrong?  

 

KRISTINE:
What went wrong? The fact that the plan was overseen until recently by five male ministers and five and a half years were certainly not conducive to focus or effectiveness. 

 

And we haven't really seen targets evaluation and accountability, and a 2019 Auditor General report into the Department of Social Services implementation of this first national plan was absolutely scathing about that. 

 

So by last year, we were in a situation where the total federal government investment into the plan was tens of millions of dollars, a billion dollars, but it was unclear what this vast sum of money had actually achieved in terms of results. 

 

And here we are more than a decade later and rates of domestic violence have remained stable. And rates of sexual violence have actually increased. 

 

RUBY:
Mm-Hmm. Okay. Well, let's talk about what it is that the current federal government is doing then to to address what's happening. Talk me through it. 

 

KRISTINE:
So the original national plan runs out in the middle of this year, and for the past 18 months, the Morrison government has been consulting on a new follow up national plan. The draught of this new plan, then, which was hotly anticipated, desperately needed, was dropped in the middle of January of this year in the middle of a deadly wave of Omicron in the middle of the school holidays. Initially with a pitiful two week consultation period.

 

So I contacted a few others and luckily we were able to get a petition up and running to extend the consultation period. 

 

And in that petition, we also demanded that the Morrison government release the two consultation reports that had been produced by Monash University that we knew informed that draft plan.

 

That same group of individuals and I then decided to push through and to develop a collective response. 

 

And that collective response we released in the form of an open letter - the morning of Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins’ now historic speeches at the National Press Club.

 

Archival Tape -- Brittany Higgins:
“That is unfortunately where the draught plan has lost its way. This plan won't be worth the glossy paper it will eventually be printed on.” 

 

KRISTINE:
So there were a lot of issues that we recognised in the new plan, and survivors in particular were furious about the lack of transparency, care in that plan, which they now felt was emblematic of the bad faith with which the Morrison government had approached this whole process. 

 

Archival Tape -- Brittany Higgins:
“And Australian women and children will suffer through another decade of violence and abuse. While politicians and policymakers wring their hands about the fact that we need to turn things around in 2040.”

 

KRISTINE:
So in light of that, we called for the plan to be withdrawn and amended. 

 

RUBY:
We’ll be back after this. 

 

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RUBY:
Kristine, more than a decade ago, a national plan was formed to address the issue of violence against women - it’s now expired wihout really managing to achieve much at all. We’re now in the process though of getting a new plan. But it doesn’t really sound like it is set up to succeed. Is the problem here a lack of political will? 

 

KRISTINE:
There are a number of issues. Lack of political will is certainly one of them, a lack of a desire to show real leadership at the federal level. 

 

There are a few things going on here and a few issues. Disturbingly, the draught plan only indirectly acknowledges the fact that the first national plan failed and in response, the draught plan laments more needs to be done. 

 

But I think a key question is without that more robust analysis of how and why the first national plan failed to meet its aspiration, how could the next plan claim to have learnt the lessons of the last decade, which it does? That is a quote from it, that it has learnt the lessons of the last decade. I really fail to see how that could be the case. 

 

The draught plan is also largely a collection of statistics that describe the issue and has lots of noble sentiments and platitudes, but how? There's really scant detail and how this will actually be achieved. And most importantly, where are the targets and the clear steps for achieving them? 

 

The Morrison government spent 18 months consulting, presumably seeking to address those shortcomings. 

 

So I think with that in mind, you can kind of appreciate how profoundly disappointed they were when these consultation reports were not made public. 

 

RUBY:
Ok so the government actually spent the last 18 months consulting before making this new draft plan - but it's not actually releasing the result of those consultations? So what do the women who contributed actually think of that - what are they saying to you Kristine? 

 

KRISTINE:
So quite a lot of people who in good faith over an extensive period of time generously gave up their time, their often painful, lived experience. 

 

And I think the important part of that is that they offer that in good faith because they believed that that would contribute to a substantive new, desperately needed national plan. 

 

Archival Tape -- Nicole Lee:
“It's disappointing. It's not what we were led to believe, you know, and for some people, that might be the first time or one of the few times that they've got to use their lived experience to try and agitate for change. And it can't just sit there on a shelf.” 

 

KRISTINE:

Nicole Lee, a survivor and a disability activist, one of the signatories to the open letter, also took part in the consultation. 

 

Archival Tape -- Nicole Lee:
“Yeah so I was invited to be part of some of the roundtable consultations. They were sort of really quite in-depth and complex discussions around the different forms of violence, the severity and over the course of their lifetimes and in the different areas and places in which we encounter violence and abuse and discrimination.” 

 

KRISTINE:
And she was very upset. And said that it replicates the power imbalances and the behaviours that victims live with, much like abusers gaslight their victims. So they second guess their perception of reality. 

 

Archival Tape -- Nicole Lee:
“And I guess I don't want to release that because I don't want to be seen in a bad light. But the issue is when we're talking about 60 murders a year on average year one woman a week being murdered, there is no possible way any report could not be critical of government.” 

 

KRISTINE:
I think she speaks for many when she said that there is a really profound feeling that they're turning people's trauma into a political game. 

 

Archival Tape -- Nicole Lee:
“But if you're genuine about ending violence against women, then you would take that criticism on board and you would say you needed to do better and you would release that report so that there's transparency. Victims don't feel silenced. That their voice mattered for something rather than purelyr sitting on a shelf, when it could be creating so much change it could be influencing so many things…” 

 

KRISTINE:
I feel like a lot of good people, a lot of very smart people. And Lee, who took part in that consultation process, alluded to this when we spoke that it was in that process that the thorny, complex and most importantly, nuance issues issues about intersectionality. It's unfortunately not reflected, in the view of many, in this draught. 

 

RUBY:
Yeah. And I suppose that goes to the reason that you would like to see those consultation reports released. 

 

KRISTINE:
Yes, and we do need strong leadership from the federal government, and we also need funding funding that matches the ambition that is set in changing the very name of the plan from reducing violence to ending violence, we will need to see funding and a willingness in the next decade to have real accountability. 

 

RUBY:
Kristine, thank you so much for your time. Thank you. 

 

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RUBY:
Also in the news today… 

 

According to reports in American publications, US officials believe Russia has sought military and financial assistance from China as part of its war in Ukraine. 

 

The officials did not say whether this support had been given. 

 

One report said Russia was seeking drones and other equipment from the Chinese government. 

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has continued to call for NATO to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine, and has warned that it is only a matter of time before Russia strikes a NATO country.

 

And Prime Minister Scott Morrison is facing pressure to cut the fuel excise as the war in Ukraine drives up global prices. 

 

Fuel prices have increased to $2.20 a litre and are expected to reach $2.50 a litre. 

The excise is about 44c a litre. 

 

The pressure on Morrison comes after South Australian Premier Steven Marshall pushed for a temporary cut in National Cabinet on Friday. 

 

Morrison has not committed to a reduction although indicated it would be considered before the budget is delivered at the end of this month.

 

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am. See you tomorrow.

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am.

Guest

Kristine Ziwica is a Melbourne-based journalist.