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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4078

(Question No. 563)

Senator Stott Despoja asked the Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, upon notice, on 30 April 1997:

(1) Was a National Rural Women's Forum held in Canberra from 24 March to 26 March 1997.

(2) What was the agenda at that meeting.

(3) Were rural women represented; if so, in what capacity.

(4) How many of the speakers were women.

(5) (a) How many delegates were at the forum; and (b) how many of the delegates were women.

(6) Are rural women setting the rural women's agendas.

(7) Are women's concerns: (a) being heard by the Government; and (b) limited by economic considerations.

(8) What economic considerations outweigh issues of domestic violence and homelessness.

(9) Is the Government acting on any of the material from the forum; if so, what action is the Government taking.

Senator Newman —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1)—(6) and (9) The National Rural Women's Forum was initiated by my colleague the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy and organised by his Department and he is best placed to provide detailed answers on the Forum.

(7) (a) Yes women's concerns are being heard by the Government and we are being proactive in seeking out the views of women through a variety of mechanisms through national women's non-government organisations (NGOs) which represent a wide range of specific and broad women's interests including those of rural women.

I recently requested national women's NGOs to provide me with their views on the policy issues which were in their view the top priorities for women. I was extremely pleased with the response which consistently placed violence against women, issues surrounding the balance of work and family responsibilities and women in decision making and leadership as the top three issues.

Several avenues through which women's concerns can be expressed have been established. These include:

(i) The Australian Women's Round Table

The Australian Women's Round Table will be an annual two day meeting hosted by the Government with around 40 representatives from national women's NGOs. The 1997 Australian Women's Round Table will be held in Parliament House, Canberra on 27 and 28 August. Round Table meetings will provide an opportunity for national women's NGOs to be informed first hand of government policies and programs and to provide direct input to Government on the concerns of women in the community.

(ii) National Women's Communication Network

The Government will be funding this network from July 1997 which will disseminate information between government and women's organisations and the broader community based on a variety of information dissemination mechanisms such as internet and fax. The network, which was put to public tender, will facilitate the exchange of information between the Government and the community on women's issues. Tender applications closed on 2 May 1997. We expect selection of the successful tenderer to be finalised shortly.

(iii) Parliamentary Advisory Group

This group, comprising a Parliamentary representative from each State and Territory, was established to provide feedback to me on Commonwealth issues affecting women in their respective constituencies. This is intended to facilitate the flow of ideas and concerns of women throughout Australia back to the Federal Government.

(iv) Getting the Message Through

In December 1996, the Government released the booklet Getting the Message Through which provides information and contact details on all women in Federal Parliament as well as information on Parliamentary Committees to assist women to gain greater access to the Parliament and the Parliamentary Committee system.

(v) Operational funding for national women's non-Government organisations (NGOs)

The National Women's Non-Government Organisations Grants Program will provide operational grants to a number of key national women's NGOs which have a demonstrated capacity, to represent the concerns of Australian women at the Federal State and community level.

(7) (b) Women's concerns are not limited by economic considerations. The Government's policy response has been determined by the expressed concerns of women themselves. The priority policy areas for the Office of the Status of Women directly reflect the issues identified in the recent survey I undertook of the priority issues for women, through national women's NGOs. These issues are violence against women, issues relating to the balance of work and family responsibilities and women in decision making and leadership.

(8) The issue of domestic violence and the associated issue of homelessness for women and children escaping domestic violence are of serious concern to the Government. Formulating and implementing constructive, effective responses to reduce the incidence of domestic violence and homelessness are priorities for this Government. The Prime Minister will be convening a national Domestic Violence Summit late in the year. Funding for the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program for refuges has been maintained in real terms by this Government.