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Monday, 17 June 1996
Page: 1588


Senator ELLISON —My question is to Senator Newman, the Minister for Social Security and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. Did the minister hold discussions with 49 non-government women's organisations last week and, if so, can she inform the Senate of the results of her round table discussions with that diverse range of women's groups on the issues of domestic violence, the portrayal of violence in the media, and the stand by the government on gun control?


Senator NEWMAN —Yes, I did meet with 49 national women's organisations last week. One of the things that I found fascinating was that the women at that meeting—who, I suppose it would be fair to say, would represent the broad range of the political spectrum—volunteered without my suggestion that they wanted to put out a communique endorsing the government's position on three separate matters, all relating to violence. They were: firstly, the government's position on gun control; secondly, Senator Alston's measure for setting up a ministerial committee on the portrayal of violence in the media, the internet and things like that; and, thirdly, the government's commitment to putting in place a national summit on domestic violence.


Senator Jacinta Collins —Not industrial relations.


Senator NEWMAN —Those 49 women's organisations from all over Australia endorsed the work that the government was doing in those areas, not mouthing rhetoric but really acting on the concerns of the majority of women in Australia today.


Senator West —What about health issues and industrial relations. Care of the aged. People with disabilities. Indigenous women's problems.


Senator NEWMAN —I can hear some of the sisterhood babbling in the background here. They do not like to hear that our side of politics has virtue in the eyes of Australian women. And why is that? Because, unlike the previous government, we are not getting by on rhetoric; we are getting by on action.

The other thing that Senator Ellison would be interested in, I am sure, is that I discovered, when I was chairing that meeting, that it is the first time that people there could remember that a minister responsible for the status of women was prepared to spend the entire day with the women who are members of the round table set up by the previous government—the people opposite. The round table was set up for consultation, for listening to the women of Australia, and yet my predecessors in this role—


Senator Jacinta Collins —Did you listen to them on industrial relations?


The PRESIDENT —Order!


Senator NEWMAN —My predecessors in this role were not prepared to stay and listen to those women. I chaired that meeting for the entire day. They found that quite remarkable. This government, in all its actions, is trying to demonstrate by action, not word, that it is committed to the concerns of Australian women.


Senator Mackay —What about indigenous women's problems?


Senator West —Or health? Or disabilities?


The PRESIDENT —Order!


Senator NEWMAN —I can hear more and more of this noise going on, and you, Mr President, choose not to tell them to be quiet. I will just have to keep on going above the noise. These women were concerned that, in the past, they had not been able to get their agenda items up for discussion, that people did not have a chance to be heard and that the single day—from 10 till four—went past with very little consultation that was meaningful and very little opportunity for networking between women's organisations. I proposed to these 49 organisations—


Senator West —How can they consult if they can't get here?


The PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections on my left.


Senator NEWMAN —They do not like to hear the truth. That is the problem, Mr President.

Opposition senators interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! I can understand the need for strategic interjections, which are part of the club rules here, but if interjections are going to be continuous and babbling, it is impossible for question time to go on.


Senator NEWMAN —I proposed to these women's organisations that we should increase the amount of consultation between the government and women. I proposed that they should come to Canberra—

Opposition senators interjecting


Senator NEWMAN —Oh, Mr President.


The PRESIDENT —Order!

Opposition senators interjecting


Senator NEWMAN —Don't you want to hear?


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator West!


Senator NEWMAN —I proposed that they should come to Canberra for two days, that they should have a great opportunity for networking.


The PRESIDENT —The minister's time has expired.


Senator NEWMAN —Thank you very much. Those opposite did not want to hear it, did they?