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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1547


Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (20:29): I spent the last week in central Australia, and I had the opportunity to speak with women from the Tangentyere Council, the women's council. These women represent 16 town camps. I had the opportunity to listen to them talk to me about family violence and the concerns that they face day in, day out, in terms of their families around the town camps of Alice Springs and the process of getting their children to school. In particular, I listened to the stories of two women. One was Shirleen Campbell, who spoke about the impact of her aunt's death on her and her family, and also on the courage that it has taken for her to go along in life and say, 'No more violence. This has to stop.' It has to stop amongst the families and the different clan groups that she lives amongst in central Australia.

There was also Helen Gillen, who is a proud, lifelong town camper. Helen has raised her family there. Her extended family lives on the camps and in communities around central Australia and are often assumed to not have a voice. But Helen does have a voice, and she is not afraid to use it. Here is what she had to say, if you have not seen my social media page:

Hello, I'm from Alice Springs. I'm in the domestic violence group, family safety group, and we'd like the Prime Minister to come and see what's happening here. With his own eyes he can see what's going on with the women's group

Helen said this after the head of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council, Warren Mundine, was in the national media saying that Indigenous people and leaders were silent on family violence. This was incredibly hurtful for these women in particular, because they had been working consistently in the program in the last year or two. This should not be about who cares the most in family violence. This should be about how we can harness the hearts of all Australians and, indeed, the leaders at the highest levels to acknowledge the scourge of something that impacts on many families across Australia, not just Indigenous families. Yes, of course, Indigenous women are unfortunately at the forefront of this horrible, abusive behaviour, but we know many stories across the country, and it has to stop.

The Tangentyere Women's Family Safety Group that Helen talked about is one of the strong grassroots programs that are making a real difference in Indigenous communities. I have mentioned only one, although I know that there are many others. I would like to concentrate on Tangentyere for now. I am certainly going to be visiting other women's services around the Northern Territory over the coming months. The family safety group, all of whom are women from town camps in Alice Springs, runs programs that train women to identify family violence and its associated risks. They have developed all the support materials. More than 50 women have now been trained in a program that is less than two years old and receives minimal funding. First funded in late 2014, the program started in February 2015.

Helen Gillen was one of the original group, and she and other women now form the governance body for the program. They mentor the younger women and have set up other programs that cater to them, teaching young women that they do not have to live lives marred by violence. The family safety program also oversees the Men's Behaviour Change Program, and, in fact, men are now asking to do similar training in combatting and identifying family violence that the women do. There is also the Domestic Violence Children Specialist Service, which provides support to young people living with family violence. And there are many programs out there on the ground developed and run by Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women.

I would like to make a special mention in here of programs run by the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Women's Council, whose CEO, Andrea Mason, has just been awarded the Telstra Northern Territory Business Woman of the Year award in recognition of the council's achievements. I say a huge congratulations to Andrea Mason and to all at NPY—that recognition is a real credit to you, and I look forward to spending some time with you coming up soon.

I would also like to say that I spent time with the CEO of the women's shelter in Alice Springs, Di Gippy. I commend Di and her staff for the work that they are trying to do. Di took me through the woman's shelter and told me the rough statistics that speak for themselves, as she was expressing the many stories of women there: around 400 women and around 500 children go through the shelter in Alice Springs over 12 months. Those women and children are not all from Alice Springs or central Australia—they do come from many other states and communities—but it is clearly a strong insight into a major tragedy that is continuing to unfold.

These programs are funded by the Northern Territory government. The experience of the new minister for families and children, Dale Wakefield, at the women's shelter in Alice Springs will be an absolutely pivotal and important part of the Northern Territory cabinet's dealing with that scourge.

The police commissioner has said that there have been 75,000 victims of domestic violence over the past three years and that a child a day is a victim of domestic violence in the Northern Territory. It is not on. Programs like Charlie King's NO MORE—programs that work with men—are important programs that need to be supported continually and funded appropriately so that the men of the Northern Territory and, indeed, of Australia, are also supported in this family violence situation, so that we can lessen the issue of family violence for our children.

I would like to finish by saying that I am aware that the royal commission into youth detention had a hearing in Darwin today. I have certainly been questioned in relation to my previous time as a minister in the Northern Territory government. I would like to commend the royal commission, because I do believe this is an important step to identify past issues and present issues and to improve the lives of children and their families going forward. I look forward to being able to address any of these issues before the royal commission and the royal commissioners if and when I am called to do so. I think it is incredibly appropriate to do that in that form. I would also like to add here that I always have and always will stand up for women and children against family violence, and I urge the royal commission to really look at the kind of future we want to create for future generations in the Northern Territory.