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Transcript of joint press conference: Parliament House, Canberra: 7 September 2015: ending violence against women and children; Syrian humanitarian crisis

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Subjects: ending violence against women and children; Syrian humanitarian crisis



As you can see I’m here with Michaelia Cash who is the Minister Assisting the Prime Minster for

Women, and also with Rosie Batty - the Australian of the Year, and Ken Lay who is the chair of

the COAG panel on reducing domestic violence. We have just had a meeting with

representatives of all the media organisations to discuss this issue and can I say Rosie Batty has

achieved, through her advocacy and her compelling charisma on this issue, what she has

achieved is what is very rarely achieved, consensus and unanimity within the media industry, and

consensus with the politicians and the media industry. A solid commitment to ensuring that we

reduce domestic violence, reduce violence against women and children. We have had a very,

very good discussion, the initiative that Senator Cash is going to speak about, Our Watch, has

been a very big part of that. I feel this has been a galvanising meeting and we are taking some

very important steps. Michaelia?


Thank you, and it’s great to be here with Malcolm, and of course with Rosie and Ken, who are

the chair and the deputy chair of the Government’s advisory panel on domestic violence. The

Government has instituted a number of initiatives in relation to reducing violence against women

and their children, and today’s inaugural roundtable with senior representatives of the media was

another initiative that we have implemented to ensure that the issue is reported in a proper and

respectful way. Can I also thank all of the media representatives who came to our roundtable, but

in particular for the cooperative way in which they have embraced what Malcolm and I have put

forward. In terms of the role that media has to play we all have a role to play in relation to the

reduction of domestic violence. The Government of course has made this a national priority. We

have for the first time ever put this on the COAG agenda. COAG of course has three key

deliverables before the end of this year and they are in relation to the National Domestic Violence

Order scheme, the national standards for perpetrator intervention, and looking at how we can

tackle the abuse of women by way of technology. So again, fantastic to be here today, I think we

have taken another step forward in relation to the path that we all want to walk down which is of

course reducing and ultimately ending violence against women and children.


Today is fantastic, I think it is really great to be invited here by both ministers. That demonstration

of leadership I think, of bringing people together in the media industry is another example of the

intention to really change attitudes and how important, imperative, essential the media is in this.


Thanks Rosie. Certainly in my experience I’ve never seen a social policy move unless the

media’s involved. So today was a very, very big step for me and I think for the many, many

thousands of women across Australia who are victims of family violence. We need to work with

the media, the media needs to challenge government, it needs to challenge agencies, it needs to

challenge the community to get better and I think today was a very, very important aspect in that

journey. So I look forward to working very closely with the media in our future work and making

Australia a much safer place for women and children.


Thank you. Any questions?


There was a reference to technology being used in a way against women, what’s the outcome

there? What’s the problem and what’s the outcome?


Well as we know technology is a wonderful thing and it can be used to provide women with so

many resources but at the same time it is turning out to be another tool in the perpetrators,

literally, tool belt on domestic violence abuse. When someone leaves a relationship they often

leave with just their mobile phone. That can now be used to track them so that the perpetrator

will know where the victim is at all times. You will have also have heard about revenge porn.

You’re in an intimate relationship you take some photos, they’re not meant for anybody else. You

leave the relationship and suddenly those photos are being used to blackmail you. So we need to

ensure that we have adequate legal protections in relation to what really is a new type of abuse

and that is technological abuse. And that is one of the key deliverables that COAG has been

tasked with to deliver on by the end of the year and that is to look at do we have adequate legal

protections in relation to technological abuse of women.


In relation to the consensus that you mentioned first up, what are sort of the hard policies that

you are going to be putting in place to make this consensus work? Because, correct me if I’m

wrong, I think most people would agree that domestic violence needs to be reduced so what are

the ways in which the government is actually working towards that with the media.


Well let me make a couple of quick observations and then Michaelia and Rosie and Ken can

follow. A lot of this, a bigger part of this issue is awareness. Domestic violence even the term

itself tends to conceal the fact that violence against women and children in a home is violence. It

is as criminal and unacceptable conduct as violence in the street, in the open air. Awareness is

very important. Secondly, it’s very important as the media reports domestic violence, violence

against women and children, to not simply focus on the victim but to remember that there is a

perpetrator and that almost invariably that perpetrator is a man. What we need is much greater

awareness for men to accept and recognise that it is never acceptable to be violent, to act

violently towards women and children. It is never acceptable in any circumstance. And the media

plays and enormous role in changing cultural attitudes. All of us are leaders; Rosie is a leader,

Ken is a leader, Michaelia and I are leaders. You are all leaders. And it is important all the time to

remember that your advocacy and indeed the way you report these issues, and that’s why I’d

recommend you look at the Our Watch guidelines; the way you report these issues will open

people’s eyes to recognise that violence against women and children, whether it is in the street

or in the home, is a crime and it is unacceptable and it is unmanly; it is not an expression of

some sort of macho virtue, it is the absolute antithesis of this. Real men don’t hit women and

children; real men don’t bully women and children; real men don’t exert power to control women

and children, they respect them. That is why the number Michaelia has set up, 1800 RESPECT,

is a very important number to remember. When women feel and children feel they need

someone to talk to, some help, the situation may not have become physically violent yet but it

may be developing that way, that dangerous continuum of oppression, that’s a good number to

call for some help.


And also it’s providing the media with the appropriate tools, and as Malcolm has said Our Watch,

which of course is the government funded body to raise awareness in relation to domestic

violence, they themselves have prepared media guidelines for reporting; so today we were joined

by Our Watch and we presented to the media those guidelines. Again I was delighted with the

way that the media had embraced what is in those guidelines. A number of the media outlets

who are here today will know that you already had in place in your own outlets different ways of

reporting on domestic violence. What we are hoping to achieve is a consensus in the way the

media report on domestic violence because as Malcolm has said each one of you here has a

fundamental role to play going forward. Once the media gets onto an issue a tsunami starts to

occur and cultural change will eventuate, so in terms of reporting on domestic violence it is just

so important that we are all reporting in the same manner and that’s what today’s roundtable was

all about.


Rosie, you’ve previously expressed some concern about family court restrictions on what the

media can and can’t report when kids are involved in particular, was that discussed at all today?


Thank you for bringing that up because to be perfectly honest we didn’t get that opportunity but it

is a great concern to me and I really appreciate that because I think it’s really easy for the media

to step away from reporting because of clause 121 because it’s seen that we can’t use the

personal context of stories, so it’s easier to just walk away from those kinds of stories; but there

are a lot of things that you can report on without using correct names and identities, and what I

feel is a critical part is not running away from some of those stories that absolutely need victims

to be able to get their story across so that we can force change in some of the pillar institutions

because, I know that you already know this, but from a victim I have to say, when you get it right,

you get it so right it is amazing. When you get it wrong you ruin people’s lives. So when you see

things written in an informed way, an informed way you can change attitudes of society in the

most powerful way that we can ever do. But when you use victim blaming language and you

don’t even know that you’re doing it, that is what we’re all struggling with as a society because

you’re using the same tools as everyone else to condone violence without realising. So our

challenge is really for us all to improve our understanding and depth of knowledge of the myths

associated around family violence, about the victim blaming that we do. A lot of people have said

are you upset with the way that Mark Latham has spoken to you and I said no actually I haven’t

been as upset as the victim blaming I hear about why doesn’t she leave? When we have those

kind of questions still coming up in our society I shudder and think how many people have really

realised that throws you potentially into homelessness, poverty and most seriously, that could be

when you’re killed. We look at Tara Costigan was killed in that very same way earlier this year.

We now have at this point two women a week being murdered and that is when they choose to

leave their relationship. That is the highest risk. So if we don’t understand those triggers, those

deep problems you know how can we change people’s thinking. So you are that vehicle. So you

know I challenge you also how do you engage with mainstream men, with mainstream people,

who have entrenched attitudes and beliefs? Have you challenged your own attitudes and beliefs

on this topic because that’s where you have to start. Challenging your own attitudes and beliefs -

this is where our society changes where we all challenge our ingrained attitudes. And it doesn’t

matter if it’s Mr Turnbull, Ms Cash or myself we all have a hell of a lot to learn about gender



And I think with respect Rosie, Rosie makes the point about the continuum and you know the

truth is, as we know, is that not all disrespect of women ends up with violence against women but

all violence against women began with disrespecting women. So respect, respect for women,

hence 1800 RESPECT is so important. Nothing more important, nothing more important for

parents to do than to teach their sons to respect their mothers and sisters.


Senator Cash, can I please ask you what the progress is on the National Violence Order

Programme - when can we actually see that rolling out?


The National Domestic Violence Order Scheme. That is due to be reported on at the next COAG

meeting and the implementation date was the end of this year. That is what COAG has itself set,

the end of 2015.


And it’s progressing?


It is progressing that is my understanding yes.


Michaelia can I just ask if every media outlet is going to put 1800 RESPECT at the end of any

story relating to domestic violence, can we be confident that all of those calls are going to be

answered? Are there enough resources on the other end?


There is certainly enough resources at this present point in time. But obviously the minute you

start highlighting a particular number, and that number is of course 1800-RESPECT, we need to

be aware if there is an increase in calls to that. But certainly we will seek to ensure that those

who call 1800-RESPECT, their call is answered. We have to.


And I think what is really important for me as I talk to people around the country there is still the

confusion about who do I ring, where do I go to get help? It’s really important, we all know triple

zero, we all need to know 1800-RESPECT. One clean, clear call to action because if we don’t

link people up correctly from the very beginning there is the danger that the risk assessment and

safety is not considered from the very beginning and I think that it does give us an avenue if

there is calls being missed then we can advocate for further support. But at this point in time

you’ve got local numbers that potentially can’t keep up with the volume either but they would just

go unnoticed or unmissed so I think we have to acknowledge that as awareness in our

communities continues to rise we will see incredible demand for this service, incredible demand.

We can’t even, anywhere close, the number of people that have been coming forward, disclosing

and seeking safety, so we have to get this right. We have to be consistent and clear with our

messaging and then we actually clearly need to have support from government in how we handle

the volume of people coming forward.


Mr Turnbull can I ask on another topic…


Have we? Well just before you do, have we…? Ok, fire away.


Labor has described the Abbott government as chaotic and dysfunctional, celebrating its two

year birthday today. How would you describe the Abbott government?


The country’s in the very best of hands. And the government’s had a challenging - as all

government’s do - a challenging two years but we’re determined to continue governing Australia

well and ensuring our prosperity and security in the time ahead.


[Multiple questions]




How could it improve?


Well look Michelle, really you’re asking me to give a commentary on the government. Really,

that’s your job, we’ll leave that to you. I’ve already said what I’ve said. If you’ve got any

substantive questions as opposed to inviting me to run a commentary on ourselves. Michaelia

and I think we are doing a very good job.


Hear hear! Absolutely!


Right, so that’ll be a headline. “Turnbull and Cash say government doing well”! You can all take

the rest of the day off! That’s the headline for tomorrow! No more work to do!


The Prime Minister this morning when asked about the poor polling the Coalition has had said

that the Coalition has a plan and you’re sticking to the plan. Do you think that is enough, good

enough to win the next election?


Seriously, if all you want to do - and I respect you for asking - it’s kind of you to imply, in fact, it’s

touching that you care about what we think about these issues, but really there’s not much I can

add to what I’ve said. Is there any other questions?

[Multiple questions at once]

Syria? Yes, ok.


Is the situation there serious enough to warrant a response from Australia above and beyond our

existing refugee intake?


Well, clearly this is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world at present and one of the worst

ever. You have a country of over 20 million people where nearly half the population are

displaced. It’s a shocking tragedy and Australia is stepping up to that as the Prime Minister has

said and will continue to do so. Our reaction will evolve in response to the crisis, the immigration

minister, Mr Dutton has gone to Geneva for talks. Plainly this is something we have to respond

generously as we always have done. I should say that it is an obviously very dangerous situation

but it has some distinct characteristics and one which should trouble all of us here is that there

are minorities in by Syria and Iraq especially in Syria which have, including the Christian

communities, the most ancient Christian communities in the world. There are none more ancient

than them. Which have survived with the greater or lesser degree of security within what were

essentially secular tyrannies. It is very questionable whether in what is emerging as the new

paradigm in those regions whether they will be able to do so in the future. You see the answer for

refugees, the vast majority of refugees is to return to their own homeland. Which is of course

what they want to do, and the resettlement in other countries can only take a very tiny

percentage. So the aim, the goal as always is to stabilise the situation in the home country so

that people can return. I have a very grave fear and I think we all should, that some of these

minorities, the Christians perhaps some of the others, the Yazidis perhaps, will not in practical

terms be able to return. I hope that’s not the case but it is a very, what you have in Syria what

was in large part a multi denominational society. There is a real risk that that becomes in the

course of this struggle, a very mono-cultural society and at the expense of the minorities, so

there is a distinct feature to this tragedy that we need to be very, very alert to. And I can assure

you without disclosing what we discuss together, Michaelia, myself and our colleagues are very

alert to this and the government is paying very close attention to the evolving and deteriorating

situation in that part of the world.


Would you want to see a similar response as the Kosovo crisis of 1999?


Well, again, I’m a cabinet minister and we have a cabinet meeting let today and there is no doubt

we’ll be discussing this matter. So I don’t want to pre-empt what I might say in cabinet but you

raise a very good point and there are plenty of precedents that we can draw upon.


But Kosovo was ultimately a temporary safe haven visa, so you’re saying is that you wouldn’t….


Well, what I’m saying, this is really the point. I am very concerned, I am very concerned,

especially about the Christian communities there. They are a minority, they survived in Syria,

they’ve been there for thousands of years, literally since the time of Christ. But in a - an

increasingly sectarian Middle East, you have to ask whether the, the gaps, the spaces that they

were able to live and survive in will any longer be available. This is the - I don’t have the answer

to this question - but I’m just saying this is, in many respects profoundly worse than many other

refugee crises we’ve seen where people are fleeing disorder. But in this case you have a real

question - of various significant minorities - will there be a home for them when this, you know

when - if you like, at least the violence subsides, will there be a home for them. This is

something that I think that all of us, this is a time for all of us to be at our very best, to have big

hearts, to think about this issue wisely, to empathise thoughtfully, and to get a better

understanding of the situation and the implications it has for many people there.


You mentioned that it is the worst refugee crisis that we’ve seen in a long, long time. Then, has

the Prime Minister’s reaction to this crisis been good enough? He has not increased the overall -

you spoke very eloquently about it - but he hasn’t increased the overall refugee intake at all. He’s

just - so should we increase the overall humanitarian refugee intake to respond to the crisis

which you’ve highlighted?


Well the - we clearly need to review our response. But I’m not going to be pre-empting what I

might say in the Cabinet with you here today.


So a review is a responsible [inaudible]


No no look, seriously if - you’ve got to do better than just put words in to my mouth. I’m quite

good at putting words in to my own mouth, so I’ll let me do that, and if you want to run a

commentary, please feel free to do so. But Michaelia and I are Ministers in the Government, we

have our contribution to make within the Government, but I have no doubt that Australia’s

response will evolve, as it always has done, in response to the crisis. Do you want to add

something to that?


Well the government, as you know last year did increase the annual refugee intake. That will take

place in 16/17 - or 17/18 and 18/19 - and it will go to 18,750. So I refute anyone who says that

this government has not increased our overall refugee intake, because we have. In terms of the

number of refugees that we’ve been able to take in from Syria. You would also be aware that last

year we took in, in excess of 4,000. We specifically quarantine part of our humanitarian

settlement services programme to ensure that we could offer to support two refugees coming in

from Syria. But a fundamental difference of this government’s policy and the former

government’s policy is that because we have stopped the boats, because we have returned

equity to our humanitarian settlement services programme, it does mean that of the 13,750

places which we have within our programme, we are able to offer them to people in camps, not

people who are coming here illegally. And I think that the media need to report potentially on that,

that under Labor you were not going to get people coming in here from Syria, even when the

former government increased the annual refugee intake to 20,000, that was only to compensate

for the 50,000 people who had arrived on our shores illegally. So under this government our

response in relation to Syria to date, I would put to you has been fair, has been equitable, has

certainly been better than the former government could have offered. And as Minister Turnbull

has said, Minister Dutton is currently on his way to Geneva to speak with the United Nations, and

I expect that our response will evolve over time.


Ok, nothing else? Ok thanks very much.


Thank you.