Policy and law reform

Women’s Health West’s (WHW) policy and law reform snapshot outlines key policy documents and legislative reforms that relate to women’s health, safety and wellbeing. This is not a comprehensive list but draws on some of the key changes in the policy and law reform environment over the last quarter.

Download the complete policy snapshot here (PDF).

International context

National context

State context

International context

Jacinda Ardern becomes Prime Minister for New Zealand (October 2017)

After two and a half months as Labour Leader, Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s 40th Prime Minister and third female Prime Minister on 19 October 2017. Ms Ardern is the youngest New Zealand Prime Minister to date at 37 years old, and in her maiden speech, referred to herself as a ‘social democrat’ who ‘believes strongly’ in the ‘values of human rights, social justice, equality, and democracy, and the role of communities’.

Among other policy considerations, the Prime Minister wants to decriminalise abortion, reduce poverty and homelessness and give young New Zealanders free tertiary education. During Ms Ardern’s campaign she also captivated international audiences by strongly defending women’s right to privacy in the workplace in relation to choosing to have children. In January 2018 Ardern announced that she will be expecting her first child while in office with partner, Clarke Gayford.

International #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns (October 2017)

In October 2017 the hashtag #MeToo spread across social media platforms internationally to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace, in response to the public allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein. The phrase was popularised by actor Alyssa Milano who encouraged victims/survivors to tweet ‘me too’ to ‘give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem’.

Since then, hundreds of Hollywood actors, agents, writers, directors, producers and entertainment executives have launched the Time’s Up campaign to fight systemic sexual harassment in the entertainment business and US workplaces. The campaign includes legal defence funds of $13 million for women in less privileged professions to protect themselves against sexual misconduct and the consequences that may arise from reporting.

National Context

Gender Equality Scorecard (November 2017)

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has released the Gender Equality Scorecard for 2016-2017. This scorecard highlights that while the overall gender pay gap is trending down in Australia, men still out-earn women by more than $26,000 on average per year with pay gaps in every industry and occupation.

Flexible working practices are now promoted by 68 per cent of employers, an increase of 5.3 per cent on the previous year. Women make up just 38.4 per cent of all managers. However, with 43.4 per cent of manager appointments in 2016-2017 going to women, gender balance in leadership is set to continue improving. The Gender Equality Scorecard for 2016-2017 can be found here: https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/2016-17-gender-equality-scorecard.pdf

Marriage equality bill passes House of Representatives (December 2017)

On 8 December 2017, the Australian Parliament recognised in law the equal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people to marry the person they love. Amendments to the Marriage Act 1961 were made to redefine marriage as ‘a union of two people’ using non-gendered language so that the requirements of the Act apply equally to all marriages. These amendments also enable same-sex marriages that have been, or will be, solemnised under the law of a foreign country to be recognised in Australia.

The changes were made following the results of the national postal survey and the Australian public’s majority support for marriage equality – 80 per cent of eligible Australians voted, of whom 61.6 per cent were in favour of marriage reform. WHW wrote an open letter in support of Australia Marriage Equality that is available here: http://whwest.org.au/open-letter-support-marriage-equality/

Youth detention population in Australia (2017)

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has released a bulletin that explores the numbers and rates of young people aged 10 and over who were in youth detention due to their involvement, or alleged involvement, in crime. The bulletin focuses on trends over the four year period from June 2013 to June 2017. Alarmingly, just over half (53 per cent) of all young people in detention on an average night in June 2017 were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.

Aboriginal young people aged 10–17 were 24 times as likely as non-Indigenous young people to be in detention on an average night, and this fluctuated between 23 and 27 times the non-Aboriginal rate over the 4-year period. The full bulletin is available at: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/youth-justice/youth-detention-population-in-australia-2017/contents/table-of-contents

Organisational strategy to strengthen Our Watch’s intersectional approach (2017)

Our Watch has released an internal strategy to build the capacity of their staff and ensure their work considers the complex intersections between various forms of inequality, discrimination and disadvantage. The strategy demonstrates the role colonisation, racism, ableism and homophobia can play in driving or contributing to violence against various groups of women. The internal strategy is publicly available here: https://www.ourwatch.org.au/What-We-Do/%E2%80%8B%E2%80%8BOur-Watch-s-intersectional-approach-to-primary-p

A ten-year review: the Closing the Gap strategy and recommendations for reset (February 2018)

Ten years after its commencement, this report critically reflects on the most significant achievements of the Close the Gap strategy to reduce disadvantage among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The review found that progress has been severely affected by funding cuts with just three of the seven targets met in the past year. A key target – to close the 10-year gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians by 2031 – is lagging.

Three of the remaining six targets – to halve the gaps in employment, reading and numeracy, and in school attendance for Aboriginal students – are also not on track to be realised. National leadership, outcome-oriented funding agreements and greater listening and engagement by government with Aboriginal communities are just some of the recommendations for moving forward. Key findings from this report and more information can be found at: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-social-justice/publications/close-gap-10-year-review

PrEP to be included on Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) (February 2018)

In February 2018, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) has announced that PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) will be subsidised by the Australian government through the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS). PrEP is an effective antiretroviral treatment to be taken by HIV negative people who are at high risk of acquiring HIV. Until now, PrEP has been very expensive and including these drugs on the PBS will enable greater access for affected communities.

Women’s Health West welcomes this announcement and the movement towards a more inclusive sexual and reproductive healthcare system. More information is available at: https://www.afao.org.au/our-work/policy-and-submissions/prep/

Literature review on preventing violence against LGBTI people (2018)

Our Watch has undertaken a literature review exploring family violence against people from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse and intersex (LGBTI) communities.

The review critically analysed national and international evidence pertaining to LGBTI people’s experiences of violence. It also identified a number of prevention initiatives designed to either prevent violence against LGBTI people or to improve their health and wellbeing.

The report found that challenging and transforming both heterosexism and binary gender structures, including societal understandings of the relationship between sex, gender identity and sexuality is key to preventing violence against LGBTI people. The full report and more of the key findings are available here: https://www.ourwatch.org.au/News-media/Latest-news/Lit-review-on-preventing-family-violence-against-L

State context

New Fines Scheme to Support Family Violence Victim Survivors (September 2017)

The Andrews Labor Government has introduced a new scheme into parliament to stop survivors of family violence being liable for fines incurred by perpetrators. The Fines Reform Amendment Bill 2017 will support victims/survivors to have a fine withdrawn when the fine is incurred by a perpetrator using their vehicle.

It will also be available to victims/survivors who incur fines directly as a result of family violence – such as fleeing unsafe circumstances. This scheme responds to recommendations 112 and 113 of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. More information is available here: https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/new-fines-scheme-to-support-family-violence-victim-survivors/

New Minister for Women and Minister for Prevention of Family Violence (2017)

On 13 September 2017 Natalie Hutchins was appointed Minister for Women and Minister for Prevention of Family Violence, in addition to retaining her role as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Minister for Industrial Relations. WHW congratulates Natalie Hutchins on her new appointment.

National Domestic Violence Order Scheme (NDVOS) (November 2017)

In November 2017 the National Domestic Violence Order Scheme (NDVOS) was introduced by the Council of Australian Government (COAG). The NDVOS allows a Family Violence Intervention Order (which will now be referred to as a Domestic Violence Order) made in one state or territory to be recognised and enforced across Australia. More information can be found at: https://familyviolence.courts.vic.gov.au/applicant/national-domestic-violence-order-scheme-ndvos

First action plan under Free from Violence strategy (January 2018)

On 30 January 2018, the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Natalie Hutchins, released the first of three action plans of Free from violence: Victoria’s strategy to prevent family violence and all forms of violence against women. This first phase responds to recommendation 187 from the Royal Commission into Family Violence, and focuses on building the infrastructure, systems and support for a much larger primary prevention platform in Victoria.

An initial action includes supporting women’s health services to build the workforce capacity of regional partners in prevention (see below for more detail). The Free from violence: First action plan 2018-2021 is available here.

New primary prevention funding for women’s health sector (January 2018)

On 30 January 2018, the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Natalie Hutchins, announced $3.8 million over four years for the women’s health sector to work with regional partners in the primary prevention of men’s violence against women.

This includes an initial grant in the first year of $100,000 to each of the 12 Victorian women’s health services, including WHW, to build the workforce capacity of regional partners to prevent violence against women. In addition, Women with Disabilities Victoria received $1.48 million over four years to prevent family violence against women with disabilities and better understanding what drives this violence.

Building from strength: 10-Year Industry Plan for Family Violence Prevention and Response (January 2018)

In January 2018, Special Minister of State, Gavin Jennings, launched Building from Strength: 10-Year Industry Plan for Family Violence Prevention and Response.

The plan outlines the Victorian government’s long-term vision and plan to equip and support workers to prevent and respond to family violence. This plan was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and was developed in collaboration with victims/survivors, Aboriginal and diverse communities, the community sector and government agencies.

Importantly, the plan is informed by census data about family violence from more than 11,000 workers across a broad range of workforces. The plan is available here: https://www.vic.gov.au/system/user_files/Documents/fv/FSV_Download.pdf

New ideas to stop family violence before it starts (February 2018)

On 22 February 2018, the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Natalie Hutchins, announced details about the Free from Violence Fund – a fund established to support innovative and creative community-led family violence prevention activities.

The $1.75 million fund will support community groups to trial and evaluate new approaches to family violence prevention, with the aim to gain a greater understanding of what works across different settings and contexts.

Successful applicants will receive grants of up to $100,000 with applications opening in March 2018. In addition, the Government has also announced renewed funding for OurWatch of $3.3 million and $1.75 million for ANROWS to continue their work to inform and drive nationwide change to prevent violence against women. More information is available at: https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/new-ideas-to-stop-family-violence-before-it-starts/

Aboriginal holistic healing project between Family Safety Victoria, VACCA and ThinkPlace (2018)

Family Safety Victoria, the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) and ThinkPlace (co-design specialists) are developing a holistic healing approach to family violence. The approach will ensure that Aboriginal people experiencing, or at risk of, family violence have access to community-led and culturally appropriate holistic healing responses.

The project is currently in the research phase with the project team meeting with Aboriginal communities and other services to discuss experiences and impacts of family violence, cultural healing and holistic healing practices, and what services are working well. More information is available at: https://www.vic.gov.au/familyviolence/newsletter/edition-10/aboriginal-holistic-healing.html

Sexually Transmissible Infections Work Plan 2017-2018 (June 2017)

To demonstrate the Victorian Government’s commitment to reducing rates of sexually transmitted infections, the Department Advisory Committee on Blood Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmitted Infections has developed a work plan to monitor STI trends across key populations that include: young people; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities; sex workers; culturally and linguistically diverse people; travellers and mobile workers, and people in custodial settings.