10 March 2015




KATE O’TOOLE: Penny Wong, what is this inquiry going to achieve?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENTATE: Well first, good to be with you Kate and good to be here in the NT. Family violence really is a scourge on our society and unfortunately over the years it’s been far too hidden. I think it is really welcome that both sides of politics are working hard to make it something that is out in the open and are talking about what are the things that we need to do. So I hope that this inquiry that Nova Peris and others are on will come up with some sensible, practical solutions or programs that government can implement where we can really make a difference. There are just far too many people in this society throughout Australia who live with the scourge of violence and we can’t allow it to continue.

O’TOOLE: What have you heard elsewhere have been the main barriers to dealing with domestic violence, that people are still trying to overcome at the moment?

WONG: Well there are so many aren’t there? But I think people like Rosie Batty, being Australian of the Year and having her speak out about it has been very important in terms of ending the silence. We really need to do that. I think we all know that over many years too many of us have turned a blind eye to it and we need to stop that, we need to make clear that it is unacceptable. The levels of violence in our community, particularly towards women are just unacceptable and the more we can move to bring it out into the open and put in place strategies to ensure people are safe – I think your previous caller mentioned also the funding of legal services. We have announced additional funding, were we to be elected, for frontline legal services so that women can get access to the things they need to stay safe and to navigate the legal system.

O’TOOLE: Access happens on all sorts of levels too, doesn’t it? When you are thinking about a remote community where there might be one police officer, for example, that same police officer is the person who might be the one who is locking up teenagers who are doing the wrong thing, or charging people for drink driving and seen as the enforcer, it can be difficult for that one person to also be seen as the protector.

WONG: A whole range of different challenges in remote communities.

O’TOOLE: And we heard the Law Society talking about the problem with having people told they can’t go back to the house because a domestic violence protection order, that breaks down at the very first step because there are not enough shelters for people to go to and other accommodation.

WONG: Well one of the things Bill Shorten announced in the lead up to International Women’s Day when he said, look we really need a national summit on family violence, this is a national crisis and we need all of us to respond, not just politicians but community leaders, police and community services, and we need to come together and not only make a statement but how do we work through these practical problems. But one of the things he announced was a program which is called Safe at Home which looks at ways of ensuring victims can return to their homes. We do need to deal with that. I support a service in Adelaide which provides assistance to women who are homeless and there are a lot of women who don’t have somewhere to go when they are the victim of violence. We have to deal aspect of the problem as well as with some of the legal aspects.

O’TOOLE: Here in the Northern Territory the Country Liberal Government introduced a change to bail laws where there would be a presumption against bail for repeat domestic violence offences. Do you support that sort of change?

WONG: Look I’m not aware of the details of what they announced. These are matters dealt with at State and Territory level. But I do think we need our legal system to respond much more effectively to prevent violence against women. I don’t think that the Federal Government’s removal of legal aid funding and funding to community legal service centres is sensible. Nor do I think their cuts to Indigenous programs which have recently been announced are going to be helpful more generally. So I don’t think in these sorts of areas that reducing assistance to people who need support is sensible.

O’TOOLE: And just on this issue of sexual assault more broadly, I was wondering what you thought of the comments that we heard at the end of last week from surgeon Dr Gabrielle McMullin who said: ‘What I tell my trainees is that if you are approached for sex, possibly the safest thing to do in terms of your career is to comply with that request.’ She said after launching her book.

WONG: Well obviously they’re not comments that I would make nor is that advice that I would ever give. But rather than pointing the finger only at her and criticising her we should be criticising a system where she feels it is necessary to give such, make such a comment. I mean what sort of training ground are we making where someone who has made it says that this is the sort of way of navigating the system that you have to take. So I don’t agree with the comments, but I think also we should be pointing the finger at the systems and the training processes which make someone, an intelligent woman come to that conclusion.

O’TOOLE: Are you heading out to a community with Nova Peris while you’re here?

WONG: I’m here at the invitation of Nova and Warren Snowdon and also Luke Gosling who is Labor’s candidate for Solomon. So today I am doing a lot of industry meetings. We’ve just met with the Cattlemen’s Association of the NT and the Northern Australia Development Office and we are getting out to the Centre for Oil and Gas. Then tomorrow I am going to the community of Belyeun to look at a range of really interesting programs.

O’TOOLE: Thanks so much for speaking with us today.

WONG: Good to speak with you.