This is part five of #MeTooWhere? Crikey’s exploration of the past, present and future of the Me Too movement. Read the full series here.
This series has focused on how simply being aware and calling out harassment will never lead to change. Getting in the ear of politicians — local MPs, policymakers and the government — with specific demands is crucial to overhaul our pervasive culture of sexual violence and Australia’s worsening inequality.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of things you can demand.
Action, action, action
Decades of reports with hundreds of targeted recommendations to address inequality and sexual violence currently sit on Scott Morrison’s desk — from improving social responses to sexual assault and developing new measures of success when coordinating domestic violence funding, to recommendations to close the gender pay gap, to Kate Jenkin’s Respect@Work report.
These recommendations must be reconsidered, actioned and funded. The government must put its money where its mouth is rather than funding more inquiries. An inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence is also currently underway.
Give the Office for Women more funding and wide-ranging, structural powers. It currently has half the staff it did a decade ago, with staff denied access to information. While we’re on it, we should also replace Marise Payne with a minister for woman who is capable of commenting on issues and is not also shouldering another major portfolio, and replace Amanda Stoker as assistant minister with… well, anyone who doesn’t accuse women speaking out against bullying of “playing the gender card”.
The government could also enact a bill of rights, as many other liberal democracies have, to ensure all new legislation protects human rights.
Identify family and sexual violence
Australia’s family law and criminal justice system need reform. The government’s move to merge the Family Court with the Federal Circuit Court means it is even more poorly placed to deal with domestic violence, with limited specialists available to recognise the signs of violence.
Processes need to be streamlined to improve efficiency and increase the likelihood women will have their cases heard, while doctors, nurses, police and judges — along with juries hearing cases involving sexual violence — need to be better prepared to better recognise signs of sexual violence and coercive control. Apprehended violence order standards need to be improved so there is consistent accountability for those who breach them.
State incident-based laws addressing domestic violence also need to be amended to better acknowledge or criminalise coercive control, while laws should also be amended so that consent is defined as affirmative and enthusiastic. Specific, measurable goals must also be added to Australia’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (rather than the vague ones currently in place).
The government should also support an amendment to the Fair Work Act allowing 10 days’ paid leave for those fleeing domestic violence. Those on temporary visas experiencing family violence should qualify for social security rights, including legal, welfare and medical services.
A national council on violence against Indigenous women must be established immediately, and one of the few inquires we do need is one into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
Improve sexual assault and consent literacy
The National Community Attitudes Survey on Violence Against Women shows us many Australians blame victims, minimise abuse, and excuse the actions of perpetrators.
Formal consent education needs to start at a young age and continue throughout high school, discussing healthy sexual relationships and the role power plays. Members of Morrison’s cabinet should also be briefed on sexual violence.
Work to end inequality and discrimination
Recommendations have been made time and time again, and the government has yet to respond. It must implement all of the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women recommendations. Australia signed the convention back in 1983 but has implemented just 25% of the recommendations, falling behind nations including Afghanistan and the Philippines. The government must also action all 55 recommendations from last year’s workplace sexual harassment Respect@Work report.
The age of criminal responsibility, which disproportionately affects Indigenous children, should be increased to 14, as recommended by the United Nations. More also needs to be done to address Australia’s poverty rate (which disproportionally affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people), including increasing JobSeeker and investing in social housing and affordable homes.
Fully fund specialist support services
Tens of thousands are turned away from crisis support, housing assistance and legal services every year thanks to underfunding. Since early 2020 there has been a surge in calls to crisis support services such as 1800RESPECT, though these are funded through fee-per-call meaning they cannot quickly respond to surges in demand. Access to culturally or linguistically diverse and Indigenous-specific support services must also be improved with increased funding, particularly for legal aid services in remote communities.
Close the gender-pay and superannuation gap
The government should oblige companies to disclose gender pay gaps in their businesses and restore funding to the Fair Work Commission’s Pay Equity Unit. It should strengthen legislation to recognise discrimination based on family responsibilities.
To address the fact that women retire with 36% less super than men, the rules around superannuation need to change so that its paid on Commonwealth parental leave and to those earning less than $450 a month to allow women working multiple part-time jobs to bolster their funds. Women should also be allowed to put more cash into their super to address career breaks.
Workplaces and political parties need to address gender bias in recruitment and promotion — which can be done through quotas when necessary (looking at you, LNP).
More support for parents
This would help address both the superannuation and pay gaps and enhance equality over the division of labour. This can be done by investing in universal early learning: spending $5 billion on universal early learning would also deliver $11 billion by helping women back into the workforce.
Gender-neutral workplace flexibility and parental leave should also be implemented so men take up entitlements too.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.
Next: Where to from here?