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Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Page: 2395

Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (13:45): Nearly 12 months ago, in Alice Springs, more than 300 people marched in solidarity with local Aboriginal women who are striving to make their communities safer places for children and families. The action was initiated by a group of Aboriginal women from town camps in Alice Springs—the Tangentyere Women's Family Safety Group. In Arrernte, 'tangentyere' means 'coming together'.

The Tangentyere Women's Family Safety Group formally began only a few years ago, in 2015, to train Aboriginal women living in the town camps of Alice Springs to identify family violence and its risks and triggers. Since that time, the women have gone from strength to strength. To date, they have trained 165 women in Alice Springs, including 25 women in one town camp where there are only five houses. Think about that: 25 women in one town camp where there are only five houses. Do the maths on that. It goes to show that the issue of housing and overcrowding is very real and a very real challenge for the Tangentyere women.

The women have developed a range of culturally appropriate resources to educate and inform women and organisations, they've advocated and lobbied about family and domestic violence issues in the Northern Territory, and they have taken a stand against violence in their communities. They have stood up and said: 'Enough. This is not good enough.' Most importantly, they have developed their own solutions for their own communities, and they are making an enormous difference.

The women from the Tangentyere Women's Family Safety Group were tired of being overlooked and not being heard, especially by the wider community, on issues such as family and domestic violence. They have been doing something about it, and they are continuing to do something about it. Since the success and support they received from that march in Alice Springs last year, they have been planning to bring their message directly to Canberra, to make sure that we, the political leaders in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, listen to their stories and, most importantly, their solutions, and that we learn from them and also support their work. After a year of fundraising, specifically for this journey to Canberra, that's what they've done: 11 women from the town camps of Alice Springs travelled to Canberra so that Canberra could take notice of them.

To all those who asked how these women got to Canberra, and to all those who could only criticise and ask where this money was coming from to get these women to Canberra, let me repeat for you: the women funded themselves. They believed in themselves and their families, and, over the last 12 months, they raised their own funds for the trip to Canberra. They came here together and travelled together, to ask us to listen to a wide range of Aboriginal voices, regarding family safety and domestic violence. They asked us to commit to genuine collaboration and partnerships when governments are developing policies around domestic violence. They told us clearly that Aboriginal, community based organisations need long-term, secure investment in grassroots programs. They told us Aboriginal people have family and domestic violence solutions. They have the solutions, and they must be a part of the decision-making process.

I say to this Senate and to the members of the House of Representatives: I hope we heard them and I hope we continue to hear them. I hope Australia hears them. I hope we have seen the heartache that family violence has caused these women and their families. Why do I hope that? Because it may touch your heart when you sit down to make decisions on policies that impact First Nations people. I hope we have understood these mothers, grandmothers, sisters and aunties and how they care deeply and are so totally committed to the safety of their families. In the words of group member Marlene Hayes:

I'm doing it for my daughter, and I'm doing it for my grandmothers, my mothers, my aunties, and I also will be reflecting on two of my aunties who are not here today, and I'm in doing it in honour of those two ladies.

All us women, we've been victims. The violence always goes into the homes and it starts off with racism and arguing and then a fight starts and it's got to stop.

She also said:

It put a tear in my eyes that we're talking to the Government, and teaching them that we've got feelings too, us women.

These women were empowered by this visit. They laid their flowers in the courtyard. I take a moment to digress and thank very much our gardeners at Parliament House for their leniency as the women held sorry camp on the lawns here at Parliament House in memory of the many women they have lost through domestic violence. As the coordinator of the program, Shirleen Campbell, said, these women are not just statistics; they are real people, and they're tired of being held accountable for the criminal actions of individual members of their wider community. These women said clearly that they were here representing the women and girls in the town camps of Alice Springs. There are 16 town camps around Alice Springs, and these women would not presume to speak for other people or any other community. But they are the leaders and voices of their communities in these town camps in Alice Springs, and they are speaking to all Australians. Their voice matters, and so do their stories.

We should be listening, as they said, to a wide range of Aboriginal voices regarding family and domestic violence issues. Every community should have a voice and has a right to be heard. We have First Nations women who are always talking to one another about the impacts of violence. I only need to reflect on my own family situation, with my families in the gulf region—the Yanyuwa, the Garrwa, the Mara and the Kudanji peoples. We talk a lot about the violence that impacts our families. My aunties, my sisters, my grandmothers—we talk. Sometimes our voices can be loud and strong, and other times our voices still need encouragement.

As the Tangentyere women told us, 'Listen to us, stand with us and support us.' I say to the Senate and the House of Representatives, to parliamentarians, to the media, to all listening to this: we have to listen to these women if we want to believe in building a better Australia. We must do it while strengthening culture and family connections. If we are to change anything, power and decision making must be returned to Aboriginal people at the grassroots. There are so many critics and there are so many arguments against the reasons for empowering First Nations people. A lot of that centres around confusion—the myth, the mistake, of believing that culture is a problem. Culture is not the problem. It's the systemic issues of the Westminster system, which still fails to grapple with the enormity of respecting First Nations people, fails to include First Nations people, fails to empower First Nations people to rise above the poverty and the endless cycle of disadvantage. No-one wants to see this breakthrough more than the First Nations people. Tangentyere is an example of this—an organisation that is controlled and run by the town campers of Alice Springs. I urge you, senators, if you're visiting Alice Springs: take the time, pick up the phone and visit the women of Tangentyere.