2 May 2019




CATHY O’TOOLE, MEMBER FOR HERBERT: It’s a very exciting day for Townsville. This is an exciting day for the Women’s Centre. I am so happy to be here with Senator Penny Wong, our Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister and Cathy Crawford, the coordinator of this great centre. This centre has been fighting since 2006 to get an improvement on this building, which is literally falling down. The work that is done in this centre is exceptional; looking after the most vulnerable women and their children. Homelessness, sexual assault – the list goes on. The reality is, without this centre, those women and those children in our communities will be left with nothing.

Labor has come to the table with this project because we value the women and children that use this facility every day. The staff who work here work incredibly hard under very difficult circumstances. It would be fair to say that parts of this building are actually held together with tape. It is so old and it needs repair and Labor has recognised that. I would like to hand over to Penny to fill out the details of what our announcement is about, but I can’t say how well earned this project is for Townsville. I congratulate Cathy Crawford the coordinator for her tireless efforts since 2006 to get this commitment on the table. Of course Labor is the party united and stable that can focus on the fact that we have women and children here, in need, and we can bring the commitment forward.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Thank you very much Cathy. It’s fantastic to be here and wonderful to be here to support Cathy O’Toole; such a strong, local candidate. Somebody who is a champion for her community. Thank you also to Cathy Crawford – I’m here with the Cathys – and to all the people with whom she works. They do a great job providing services to women and their families. Whether it’s homelessness – which has obviously been a really challenging issue particularly since the dreadful floods that your community has had to come through – sexual assault victims, women’s health and a whole range of other services. But they’ve been doing it out of a pretty challenging location. They’ve taken me around and it’s certainly a building that’s not really fit for purpose and a lot of people with a lot of commitment work out of it to help women and their families here in Townsville.

As Cathy said, the community have been fighting for a proper women’s centre, a fit-for-purpose women’s centre, since 2006. What they’ve wanted is a government that’s prepared to step up and work with them. Thanks to Cathy O’Toole, that’s what we’ll have if we elect a Labor government. We’ll provide $2 million towards a new centre, and I’ll hand over to Cathy Crawford shortly to talk about the various matching funds, including funds that these volunteers and the community supporting them have raised themselves to make sure we can put all of the funding together – federal, state and community – to make sure the people in this community, the women in this community and their families, can get the services they need.

I’ll hand over to Cathy now. I do want to say a very big thank you to her and the people with whom she works – they do wonderful work. As Cathy number one (O’Toole) was saying, there’s a lot of need in the community. We see sexual assaults, we see women in need of health advice and we see very, very difficult and sad statistics around homelessness. We need to do something about that and Labor understands. We’re serious about a fair go for all Australians, we’re serious about a fair go for Australian women and families and that means we have to have local infrastructure, the community supports that provide the services that are required. I’ll hand over now to Cathy.

CATHY CRAWFORD, COORDINATOR, THE WOMEN’S CENTRE: Thank you Penny. Thank you Cathy. It is an exciting announcement for the Women’s Centre. As you know, 2006, and many of you I’ve seen before and we have been talking about getting a new building. We’ve got a significant commitment from our state government and we have the Sky Foundation who have been working tirelessly for the last four years fundraising for the Women’s Centre. So if we pool all those resources I think we can honestly say that we’ll see a new centre in the near future.

It can’t come soon enough as our numbers this year are 25 per cent greater; numbers of women and men that have been sexually assaulted, that have reported. I don’t think we’re even starting to see all that could be reported. We’ve had a 25 per cent increase in the demand for counselling, and following the floods, we’ve had a significant spike in sexual assaults, counselling requirements requests and our homeless women and children. There are greater numbers now homeless in Townsville. Women and children are not able to pay rent. Rents have increased. They’re being evicted or they’ve lost all their belongings and have no money to cover new belongings. We’ve completed all our emergency relief funding for the year and have some more flood money, but it will not be enough money to support the women and children in need following the floods. So those combinations – we can’t get into a new building soon enough to do more work and continue the work we do. But thank you to Sky Foundation, state government’s pledges and now a Labor government is pledging they will contribute as well. Thank you.

WONG: Anything else on the announcement?

JOURNALIST: I actually had some questions for Cathy Crawford first if that’s okay?

WONG: There you go.

JOURNALIST: Practically, what will this money be used for?

CRAWFORD: Building a building.

JOURNALIST: A brand new one?

CRAWFORD: A brand new building.

JOURNALIST: What does it mean for these people, victims of sexual and family violence?

CRAWFORD: Things that we’re looking to have in our new building are a victim centre, so that victims of sexual assault, male or female, will be able to be interviewed outside the police station. I don’t know if any of you have been in our police stations, but they’re not exactly the nicest police stations to be interviewed when you’ve just experienced a significant traumatic event. That will be an enormous difference.

The Women’s Centre will be able to provide, not only the counselling, but expand it’s groups, provide things like a kitchen which we don’t have here. To work with women around cooking, around budgeting; so some personal support skills. Increase the number of social groups that allow for decreasing social isolation, for particularly our older women; enabling them to come to a place too that they might talk about what might else might be going on their lives. What we know is when women present here with something that’s less confronting or threatening, such as a cooking class or a social group, they then talk about what the issues are really going on for them. Then often we know that that’s domestic violence, elder abuse and sexual violence. Our work is layered with violence and the trauma that women experience following violence, whether they’re the age of zero through to the age of 100. There is no age gap for violence, unfortunately it’s right through the lifespan and we work with all those people.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned that there has been a spike in sexual assaults following the flooding crisis. I guess you can understand why there are so many people homeless, but why do you think there has been a spike in that space?

CRAWFORD: I can’t answer that. I don’t know if that was because maybe some of them happen in the previous months and then it didn’t get reported till the following month. I can’t answer why something happens, I just know that that’s the largest March we’ve ever had and it was the second highest month recorded in the number of sexual assaults presenting.

JOURNALIST: And Cathy I’ve been hearing that there’s been more violence against women in Townsville than other areas in Queensland, is that true?

CRAWFORD: Certainly we did some research and developed an evidence base a couple of years ago and that showed per capita that Townsville had the highest sexual assault rate in Queensland.

JOURNALIST: Cathy, assuming that Labor wins government in a couple of weeks and that $2 million is unlocked on top of the money that you’ve already raised, then that unlocks the state government money right?


JOURNALIST: What happens if that doesn’t happen?

CRAWFORD: We will keep working until it does. No matter what, it’s going to happen. We will make a new women’s centre in Townsville for the women of Townsville. I really think it’s time we stop talking about it. We’ve got thousands of women that use this service year in, year out and it’s time we addressed that and they stopped coming to this place and come to a place that meets the need.

JOURNALIST: It’s been, you mentioned since 2006. What’s been the hold up to date?

CRAWFORD: Change of governments, the lack of desire…

WONG: You’ve got a local member now who’s prepared to back it in, how about that? (Laughter)

CRAWFORD: The lack of interest. People have not taken this seriously. I don’t believe that we’ve taken, in our community, sexual violence seriously. I don’t believe we’ve been taking domestic and family violence seriously because it keeps on happening. We’ve got 17 women dead this year who died of domestic and family violence. It’s time to take it seriously, and until we do and do things that will facilitate women healing from the trauma they receive so that the next generation we have some strengths there as well as address the issue that mostly men are the violent perpetrators. We need to change the structure and the way we do things in our society and unless we start doing that, don’t expect a change – waste money

JOURNALIST: Have you broken the news of this announcement to other women in the centre? And if you have, what has their reaction been?

CRAWFORD: I’ve only broken it to my staff and that was wonderful. (Laughter)

JOURNALIST: What’s the conversation been like with the Commonwealth Government so far – are they interested in coming to the table, are they signalling that they will match this announcement?

CRAWFORD: Over the last 13 years it has just been a roller coaster. Without pinpointing persons and time periods I would just say that we’ve just travelled like this. We’ve had hope, we’ve thought maybe it’s going to happen and then it hasn’t. So I still stand here today and I’m wanting to be standing in another building this time next year talking to you about our community issues and not about a building, because really, it’s boring.

JOURNALIST: She (Crawford) wants to be standing in this building next year, is this funding going to be available straight away?

WONG: We will certainly make it available within the forward estimates and as soon as possible. We want to get on with this. Cathy’s been really clear with us in her lobbying for this funding and how important it is. As one of your colleagues pointed out, we do need to make sure the state government and the federal government, if we are elected, work together to get this done very quickly.

*Cathy Crawford departs*

I’ll take some questions now, but before I do, I’d like to talk about Clive Palmer. He’s certainly somebody all of you know. I just want to make one point about Clive Palmer. I said when news of this preference deal came out that this was a marriage of convenience between an adman and a con man. So what I would say to the people of Townsville, when you get an adman and a con man getting together, working Australians lose out. When an adman and a con man get together, working Australians lose out. We’ve seen that with Clive Palmer and his former employees who are still waiting for their full entitlements. We’ve seen that of course with Scott Morrison who’s been prepared to cut people’s penalty rates, who’s been prepared to cut schools and hospitals, and under whom we’ve seen everything go up but people’s wages.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Two days ago Clive Palmer said that Townsville locals would rather go broke than sit on the dole and today he’s launched an attack on Adelaide calling it a dump or something along those lines.

WONG: He’s an interesting character.

JOURNALIST: What’s your reaction to the latest comments that he’s made in Adelaide, referring to the people there, and South Australia and his plans to build a nuclear plant?

WONG: Clive Palmer doesn’t have the interests of working people in Queensland at heart and he certainly doesn’t have the interest of South Australians at heart. We know that, not only because of his pretty offensive comments today, but also because he’s prepared to tear up the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which to South Australians is pretty important. So we know what Clive Palmer’s like. The bigger question for people is what does this say about your Prime Minister? What does it say about Scott Morrison? That he’s prepared to hold hands with a bloke who’s been involved in a company that’s gone bust, where workers are still owed their entitlements. But as importantly, a bloke everybody knows you can’t govern with. When we’ve seen him in the last few days not just bombarding all of you with text messages, billboards and advertising, but what he says. The guy is erratic. Scott Morrison has been prepared to do a deal with him even though he knows he can’t govern with him, so what does that tell you? It tells you two things – it tells you that the LNP are desperate, at any cost, to hold onto government. And it tells you that if they’re returned, the chaos will continue.

JOURNALIST: What would your message to potential workers in his nuclear plant be?

WONG: (Laughs) This is all in Clive’s head. If you want to know how Clive treats his workers, have a look at what’s happened to the workers at QNI.

JOURNALIST: Your colleagues in the lower house dealt with him in the past when he was the Member for Fairfax. What are you expecting because there’s a real chance he’ll get in the Senate?

WONG: I tell you what, I dealt with his party in the Senate while they were there as Labor Senate Leader. They started off with one party and they ended up with three. So if you want to talk about chaos, I think he’s a pretty good track record.

JOURNALIST: Cathy, I just have one question for you. Thousands of locals have already pre-voted for this election, do you think you’ve made enough big announcements before the pre-election started to win the votes?

O’TOOLE: I think very clearly that the people of Townsville understand that I’ve had nothing but their best interest at heart. My concern has been that working people get a fair go. The biggest issue in this city is jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs; infrastructure, health and education; that’s where my attention has been focused. We have had a number of fantastic infrastructure announcements here in Townsville, with water security now locked down. The port expansion project – done. I was at the table, Labor was at the table months before the Commonwealth Government was dragged kicking and screaming to match our commitments. They still haven’t matched the $200 million for hydro on the Burdekin Falls Dam. All of these projects; plus I’ll just add the $30 million that we’ve put for Reef HQ. This government hasn’t spent one cent on that building and it is literally held together with sticky tape as well.

Labor understands that infrastructure will help this city grow good, secure, quality jobs. Every infrastructure spend that we make, one in 10 of those jobs is for an apprentice. That is fantastic news for this city. I believe the people of Townsville know that I have been serious. The people of Townsville know this is my community; I was born here, I’ve lived here for quite some time. I have nothing but their best interest in my heart and I advocate for them on a daily basis when I’m in Canberra and I will continue to do so if I am fortunate enough to be elected. I have nothing but pride to be a member of a stable, united Labor Party. We have policies, we have a vision for this nation which is very, very good for this city and I am sure that the people of Townsville recognise that.

WONG: Can I just add to that? As people are going to the pre-poll, this is what I would say to them – if you want better schools and hospitals in your local community, vote Labor. If you want pensioners and Commonwealth Seniors Health Care cardholders to get dental care, vote Labor. If you want child care to be better supported, vote Labor. If you want a local champion, vote Labor.

JOURNALIST: How crucial is this seat?

WONG: This is a crucial seat. We need to hold this seat if we’re to win government. So it’s a big decision for this community and we’re respectful of that, we understand that, and Cathy has demonstrated not only her commitment to Labor, but her commitment to the community. You’ve heard her just now talk about the local infrastructure projects which are all about jobs and I understand given the unemployment rate here how important that is.

JOURNALIST: But Cathy wouldn’t take a stance on Adani again this morning?

WONG: I think it is very clear that Cathy O’Toole has been standing up for local jobs over and over again. We have announced a range of local infrastructure projects. We’ve announced a naval maintenance program which is about jobs. Ultimately people in this community have to decide do they want a government that protects their penalty rates, that puts more money into schools and hospitals, that provides dental care for pensioners, that provides better child care services? And do they want somebody who is prepared to stand up for their community? Thanks very much.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.