10 March 2015




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Thanks very much for coming.  Well it’s great to be here in Darwin, we’ve all been participating in a very important inquiry into domestic violence, into family violence so my colleagues Kate, Claire and of course, Nova who you’d all know as your Senator from the Northern Territory, have been talking to witnesses about family violence, about what can be done by government programs and policies to lessen the scourge of violence in our communities – a particular issue for people in the Northern Territory but of course for families across Australia.

I want to make one comment about the evidence we’ve heard today: Nigel Scullion told the Senate that the cuts to Indigenous services wouldn’t result in any frontline services being cut, he told people there’d be no cut to frontline services.  Well the evidence today makes it very clear that he was wrong, because we’ve heard evidence today from people on the frontline and what we know is that the cuts – the Abbott cuts are going to mean fewer services, fewer jobs and less services in important areas like youth services and drug and alcohol services which are so needed by communities.  So I say this to Nigel Scullion: if you’re so confident your cuts haven’t impacted on frontline services why don’t you be up front with your community; be upfront with the people who elected you and tell everybody exactly what you’ve cut and defend why. Explain why those services to young people, for people battling with drug and alcohol problems – explain why those services aren’t important and why they’re not frontline services.  I challenge Nigel Scullion to be that transparent with the people who elected him. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Senator, what have you been hearing from the witnesses this morning about the solution, or ways to address family violence?

WONG: Well look I might throw to my colleagues on that but I think there were a couple of things that were a real take out from the witnesses today.  The first is, we all need to make clear this is unacceptable. We know over the decades that violence in the home, violence within families, there’s been too much of a culture of silence and I think what has been really important about this Committee’s work is that it really seeks to open the dialogue, open the debate, we have to make sure that people are able to talk about it and are able to address it.

The second thing I think is very clear, is that governments need to do more than talk.  We need to have real services on the ground, frontline services for people who have been beaten by others.  My colleagues, Senator Nova Peris might wish to add.

SENATOR NOVA PERIS: If I could just say that what we know is there are a significant amount of frontline services that have been cut. We know that there have been youth programs that have been cut in remote communities and they’re absolutely instrumental in providing services for our youth and to get them on track. We know that you’re not tackling family or domestic violence if you’re not tackling alcohol. You know, we know that the family prevention strategy that was announced last year by Minister Price and Senator Michaelia Cash didn’t mention alcohol.  We know that there are cuts to drug and alcohol programs from a federal level that are going to have a huge impact on the ground. We know that cuts to legal services means less lawyers and less representation, you know, for people entering into the justice systems.  We know that people who are in the justice systems with between three and six months don’t get given rehabilitation programs. So the fantastic part of this program is that we are going to put this on the table. And, constantly, every single witness has said it’s epidemic. You know, we are at crisis point.  It’s a national embarrassment and if we can’t take the evidence given by people who have dedicated their lives to making a difference, then seriously, then what can we do?

JOURNALIST: You mentioned in the hearings this morning that Rosie Batty had managed to draw an immense amount of attention to family violence in the last few months, and that she did it as a non-Indigenous woman, do you believe that Indigenous family violence has been swept under the carpet, or ignored because the solutions have seemed too difficult?

PERIS: I think quite often Aboriginal affairs are put in the too difficult basket and, you know, it takes a courageous woman like Rosie Batty – a non-Indigenous woman – to put it on the national agenda, and you know I’ve written to Rosie Batty and she’s taken up my invitation to come to the Northern Territory – so I’m very grateful. But it shouldn’t have to have reached a crisis point like that to have a non-Indigenous woman highlight the plight of Aboriginal women here in the Northern Territory.

JOURNALIST: Ms Lundy we might just ask you as someone from outside the Northern Territory, hearing the evidence this morning, what are the unique challenges that face people up here, particularly Indigenous men and women?

SENATOR KATE LLUNDY: One of the things that strikes me is – and this is our sixth hearing now into this important inquiry – is that many of the geographic challenges and social challenges in the Northern Territory make it, the solutions here incredibly cross-sectoral. We heard evidence this morning that in some remote communities it’s employment programs that are being cut, it’s health programs that have been cut, and this all contributes to that sense of well-being and self-esteem in the absence of – domestic violence increases. So it is a particular challenge here by the nature of the characteristics of communities in the Territory and that’s why we wanted to come here at Senator Peris’ invitation, to take specific evidence about Northern Territory circumstances.

JOURNALIST: Were there any trends that were similar across the country?

LUNDY: There are so many trends, disturbing trends in the area of family violence that we know it has been increasing, we know here in the Territory it has been increasing, and you can correlate that increase in family violence with cuts to funding for programs that were designed to prevent violence happening, and we’ve seen those cuts come in over the last couple of years under the Abbott Government and unfortunately we’re seeing the affects.  So, we’re glad to be here conducting this inquiry but we need to see results from the Abbott Government to reverse those cuts and then to start working with all forms of government – local, Territory, Federal, to build substantial solutions that will actually tackle this problem at its very heart.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you that the Government will take the Committee’s findings seriously and move to enact change swiftly?

LUNDY: Well I believe that there is a great deal of intent at the moment – what we’ve heard is many words from the Abbott Government that they are taking this seriously, but the proof will be, I guess, in the Budget. We’d like to see those cuts restored, we’d like to see certainty for the organisations who gave evidence this morning saying they don’t know what’s going to happen to their budgets come July – they’re laying people off, people are walking away without any job security in the very community services sector designed to help prevent family violence from occurring in the first place, and to support those who are victims of it.

WONG: Sorry I just want to add to that if I may – I think, the community judges politicians by what we do, not what we say and I welcome the Prime Minister’s focus on family violence but you have got to match it with deeds, and it is not what is being done now in terms of cuts to frontline services which are important, which affects critical need – really needs to be reversed. And what I would say to Mr Abbott, Tony Abbott and I would say to Nigel Scullion is, you’ve got to reverse these cuts which are taking services away from the very people who need it.

JOURNALIST: And is Labor calling on those cuts to be reversed in the upcoming Budget before the Committee’s findings are made in this inquiry?

WONG: Well Labor has never supported the reduction in funding to these services – we don’t now, and I note there’s been a few backflips, a few captain’s calls by Tony Abbott – I think there another one today in relation to car funding. What I’d say is that people do judge you by what you do and what we know is that this government has cut funding to important frontline services into communities who need it.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned the reversal of the decision around funding in the car industry – that’s come from sustained pressure from media, the community, that sort of thing – do you think there’s not enough pressure coming around from Aboriginal services or are people just not listening to it?

WONG: Well on the reversal of the decision on the auto sector I’d say a couple of things: first I think this government, Tony Abbott has never supported the auto sector – never has, never will. And the second is, the reversal today is entirely about his own job, it’s not about a change in his values or a change in his priorities. And I do think, when it comes to the current round of cuts to services I hope that Nigel Scullion gets the message from the community – that people don’t support what is happening, that people do support the services that are needed being provided to the communities who need it.

JOURNALIST: In the hearings today a peak Aboriginal organisation called for the policies and programs around health to be taken off the Prime Minister & Cabinet and put back in the health portfolio – what sort of a message does that send to build their confidence in PM&C?

WONG: Oh well, I don’t know if my colleagues will want to respond – there’s certainly been a lot of chopping and changing with programs, and I don’t think anyone watching the machinery of government changes would think that it has been a good move to put these programs into Prime Minister and Cabinet – I think it’s led to chaos, I think people have not been told what their funding arrangements are, people don’t understand what their funding arrangements are into the future and we’ve seen a massive round of cuts – so I think there are machinery of government problems but the fundamental problem is that the Government has taken resources that are needed, off the table.