UnitingCare Australia welcomes the opportunity to make a submission on the development of the next National Plan to End Violence against Women and their Children (next National Plan).
We acknowledge significant inroads have been made since governments across Australia endorsed the inaugural National Plan in 2010. This includes the establishment of data collection and research infrastructure, law reform, and strengthened service responses to prevent and respond to violence against women and their children, including the creation of Our Watch, the Stop it at the Start awareness campaign, and national support services such as 1800RESPECT. Despite this, rates of family and domestic violence against women and their children have not reduced, and policy and service responses remain fragmented and variable. Since 2010, the rate of sexual violence against women and children has increased.
The stark reality is that much more needs to be done if we are to realise a future where all women and their children live free from violence – and where women are not only safe, but respected, valued and treated as equals in public and private life. With the 2010-2022 National Plan drawing to an end, this is a vital, urgent moment to create a comprehensive framework for meaningful and lasting change.
This submission is informed by input from UnitingCare Australia’s network of organisations, who deliver services and support across the whole domestic and family violence spectrum, including early intervention and prevention, individual and group counselling, financial counselling and emergency relief, crisis accommodation, men’s behavioural change programs, and systemic advocacy.
As highlighted in the recent National Safety Summit, tackling violence against women and children requires a comprehensive, whole-of-society approach that works across multiple levels. While acknowledging the importance of adopting a holistic approach, this submission does not attempt to comment on all the topic areas canvassed in the consultation for the next National Plan. Instead, it identifies some overarching considerations that should inform future policy responses, as well as elaborating on key issues and priorities in relation to economic security, primary prevention, and work with perpetrators.
Meaningful and sustained change will not be possible without significant and guaranteed long-term investment, a commitment to continuous evaluation and improvement, and a much more comprehensive and concerted effort from governments at all levels to tackle the systemic, structural factors that contribute to and compound violence against women and children. This includes reforming the policy and institutional settings that underlie gendered economic disparities and heighten the financial insecurity of victim-survivors of violence.
We need a new National Plan that:
- has a human rights focus,
- is comprehensive,
- informed by the voices of women and girls, and
- is based on an intersectional approach that recognises the multiple social, historical, and economic layers of inequality.
Not all women experience violence and its effects in the same way, and it is essential the gendered drivers, and reinforcing factors, of violence against women are considered together with other forms of social, political and economic discrimination and inequality. This intersectional approach needs to inform the design and implementation of policies and program, and the way we track population-level progress toward prevention. All proposed actions should be considered in terms of the diversity of experiences of those they seek to support: including younger and older women, LGBTIQ women, culturally and linguistically diverse women, women with disability, and women from regional and remote areas. Policies and services need to be anchored in a person-centred approach.
Critically, the next National Plan must support and affirm the self-determination of First Peoples, with a standalone and well-resourced national action plan that reflects the diverse lived realities, needs and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. All too often, First Peoples have been afterthoughts or add-ons in the development and implementation of policies to address violence against women and children. This must change.
The next National Plan should also reflect the critical importance of primary prevention, as well as providing for greater investment in properly evaluated programs that work with perpetrators.
Finally, UnitingCare Australia has welcomed the opportunity to contribute to consultations for the next National Plan, and we acknowledge the Federal Government’s efforts to engage with a wide cross-section of the community in the development of priorities. It is critical, however, that listening and engagement continues beyond the recent round of consultations and the National Summit, so that all voices are heard and continue to inform the design and evaluation of actions. The next National Plan can only succeed if it works for everyone affected by gender-based violence. Strengthening and supporting this collective effort must continue, as a national priority, if we are to significantly reduce and ultimately eliminate violence against women and their children.