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

Ireland’s historic abortion referendum (May 2018)

In a historic referendum, more than two-thirds of Irish voters have voted to repeal the 8th amendment to the country’s constitution. This amendment has enshrined in the constitution the right of life of the unborn foetus equal to the right of the mother, effectively banning almost all abortions since 1983. As a result of this referendum the government now plans to legislate terminations on request up to 12 weeks into pregnancy, and beyond that in cases of rape, incest, fatal defect or where the physical or mental health of the mother is at risk, up until the 24th week of pregnancy. The vote illustrates a monumental shift in attitudes towards women’s rights in Ireland. It has also been described as ‘a testament to the power of a grassroots mobilised campaign which enabled women to share 35 years-worth of experiences of pregnancy under the 8th amendment’.

Equal pay between women and men legally enforced in Iceland (January 2018)

Iceland is the first country to establish laws requiring businesses to prove they are paying women and men equally. While it is illegal in most OECD countries to pay women and men unequally, Iceland has made it a criminal offence for employers not to take action on unequal pay. The legislation applies to employers with 25 or more staff and requires businesses to obtain equal pay certification from accredited auditors. All affected workplaces have to have obtained the certification by the end of 2021, and this will then have to be renewed every three years. Businesses that do not meet the requirements may be fined by the government. Iceland is consistently ranked number one in the World Economic Forum’s gender equality ranking.

National Context.

ANROWS release Women, disability and violence: Creating access to justice: Final report (April 2018)

This report draws on the findings from 36 women with a disability living in Victoria and New South Wales and specifically their experiences of seeking justice and security in the context of violence. The project was commissioned by ANROWS and led by researchers from Monash University and People with Disability Australia (representing Disabled People’s Organisations Australia). The qualitative research examines how these women worked to seek redress or support and the pathways and obstacles they encountered in the justice system. While there are limits to the generalisability of this research, the aim was to analyse the experiences these specific women have shared and identify patterns that emerged. More information and the report is available here.

2018-2019 federal budget overview (May 2018)

This year’s federal budget has been described as ‘almost wholly and solely about tax — or more accurately, tax cuts’.[1]

Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) has been highly critical of the budget, with CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie stating, ‘it is shameful that the government has ignored the most pressing needs for people in the community on low incomes’. Specifically, the government has provided no new investments into Newstart, youth allowance or housing affordability. There are some welcomed measures, including additional funding for home aged care packages and mental health.

The funding allocated to family violence is minimal; $7.4 million is committed to 1800 RESPECT, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and information referral service and $6.7 million will go towards Domestic Violence Response Training for community and frontline workers. Fair Agenda’s Renee Carr has labelled the lack of further investment into family violence services as ‘disappointing and dangerous’, especially in the context of growing demand.[2]

A recent study of the major budget initiatives by the National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) has said the proposed tax offsets for 2018 will help a large number of low to middle income Australians in the short-term, many of whom are women. The median taxable income in 2015-16 for women was $48 690 compared to $63 430 for men.[3]

However the Low and Medium Income Tax Offset will increase the effective marginal tax rate, which analysis shows will become a disincentive for people on low to middle incomes to work fulltime. NFAW has said this will particularly affect women, whose decisions about paid work are far more sensitive, largely because of caring responsibilities.  NFAW’s detailed gender analysis of the federal budget and the impact of these proposed tax offsets on women is available here. An analysis from social services perspective by ACOSS is available here.

Increase in female recipients of Companion of the Order of Australia (May 2018)

This year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List showed an encouraging 15 per cent increase in female recipients compared to January’s Australia Day Honours List. The highest honour (Companion of the Order of Australia) saw women outnumbering men by 10 per cent; sixty per cent of recipients were female. Acknowledging and celebrating the achievements of Australian women and girls is a key step to achieve gender equality.

Federal government response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (June 2018)

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced that he will deliver a national apology to victims of institutional child sexual abuse on 22 October 2018. The announcement comes after the release of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Prime Minister has also said 104 of the commission’s 122 recommendations relating to the Commonwealth will be adopted, including the establishment of a National Office for Child Safety. This office will be set up within the Department of Social Services from July 2018 and will work across government and sectors to develop and implement policies and strategies to enhance children’s safety and prevent future harm when in the care of an institution. More information is available here.

Australian Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Network (June 2018)

A report by Australian Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Network and published by the Domestic Violence Death Review Team has been released providing data on 152 intimate partner homicides that have occurred across Australia between 2010 and 2014. Information was collected from the Coroner’s Courts, police investigations, court proceedings and inquest findings.

The results again prove that family violence, in its most dangerous form, is overwhelmingly committed by men against women. Specifically, the data showed that men commit more than 80 per cent of murders between couples who have a history of family violence. The overwhelming majority of those men had a history of abusing the women they ultimately killed. More information is available here.

The Luke Batty Foundation closes its door (June 2018)

After years of campaigning and advocacy on behalf of victims, Rosie Batty has decided to close the Luke Batty Foundation and is distributing the nearly $900,000 raised. Funds will be used to support domestic and family violence prevention and response initiatives across Australia to honour the memory of her son, Luke Batty.

ANROWS will receive $515,000 and Our Watch will receive $350,000. The focus of these funds will be on prevention and on the need to ensure that victim’s voices, especially children, are put at the heart of policy, practice and research. There is also a strong focus on children and young people, victim-survivor voices, respectful relationships education and a substantial contribution to programs in, and led by, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

[1] ABC 2018, Budget 2018 reflects the transformation of Australian politics since the election, accessed on 9 May 2018 at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-09/2018-federal-budget-tax-cuts-laura-tingle-australian-politics/9739828

[2] Carr 2018, Media Release, accessed on 14 May 2018 at: https://www.fairagenda.org/

[3] National Foundation for Australian Women 2018, Gender Lens on the Budget 2018-2019, accessed on 19 June 2018 at: https://nfaw.cdn.prismic.io/nfaw%2F798074eb-8dcb-424b-8a2f-d21d89e05d25_gender+lens+on+the+2018-19+budget.pdf

State context

Respect Victoria (March 2018)

On 29 March Respect Victoria was launched to coincide with the second anniversary of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

The statutory authority will be enshrined in legislation (see paragraph below) with the purpose of working to change the attitudes, social norms and culture that lead to family violence and violence against women. The organisation will provide expert advice on best practice, hold quality assurance and accreditation functions, undertake research and will engage in whole-of-community campaigns and activities. Responsibility for the state government’s primary prevention strategy, Free from violence, will also sit with Respect Victoria.

The agency is designed to prevent all forms of family violence – violence against women, elder abuse, violence against men, violence towards gay, bisexual and transgender family members and intimate partners, and violence used by young people in the home – taking an intersectional approach to working with diverse communities including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, people with disabilities, multicultural communities, and families in rural and regional Victoria. Their focus will be on primary prevention of violence in education and care settings, workplaces, sport, the arts and media.

On 20 June the Prevention of Family Violence Bill 2018 (the Bill) was introduced to the Victorian Parliament. The Bill establishes Respect Victoria, or the Family Violence Prevention Agency as a statutory authority; it defines the functions, powers and duties of the Agency; establishes the Board of the Agency; and the appointment of the CEO. Second reading speeches are due to commence in the Legislative Assembly some time from the 24 July onward.

Two Years on from the Royal Commission into Family Violence report (March 2018)

Two years on from the Royal Commission into Family Violence this report has been released, guided by the voices of victim/survivors of family violence and the expertise of the sector. This report provides an overview of the progress made over the last 12 months and is available here.

Launch of Gen Vic (April 2018)

Minister for Women Natalie Hutchins officially launched Gender Equity Victoria (Gen Vic), the peak body for gender equity, women’s health and the prevention of violence against women on 24 April. More information is available at Gen Vic’s website at www.genvic.org.au.

Safe and Strong: Gender Equality Strategy Achievements Report Year One (April 2018)

The Safe and Strong: Gender Equality Strategy Achievements Summary Report for Year One has been released and includes highlights of progress in implementing Victoria’s first Gender Equality Strategy.

Specific highlights include the launch of Free from Violence, increasing the representation of women on paid public board positions (now at 53 per cent) and establishing a Ministerial Council on Women’s Equality to provide advice on the future of gender equality in Victoria. The summary report is available here.

This Girl Can (April 2018)

In partnership with the Victorian government, VicHealth has launched This Girl Can, an initiative that aims to empower women throughout Victoria to get active and overcome any feelings of judgement, fear, or embarrassment that are stopping them from getting active. Further information on the campaign, is available at https://thisgirlcan.com.au.

Respect Women: Call it out (April 2018)

The Victorian government’s behaviour change campaign Respect Women: Call it out has been launched and encourages Victorian men to call out sexism and gender inequality, with a particular focus on sexist jokes and disrespectful comments about women and girls. The short videos and more information about the campaign are available here.

Roadmap for Reform: Children and families, progress and directions (May 2018)

On 11 May the Victorian government brought together more than 160 leaders from the child and family sector at the fourth Roadmap Symposium to launch the second iteration of Roadmap for Reform: children and families, progress and directions. Minister for Families, Children and Youth Affairs Jenny Mikakos MP reflected on the last three years of activity and outlined future directions to shift the child and family system from crisis response to early intervention and prevention. The next steps include a commitment to Aboriginal self-determination and self-management. Specifically, there is a commitment to Aboriginal children in the statutory child protection system receiving services and support from Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to improve outcomes. The report is available here.

2018-2019 state budget overview (May 2018)

This year’s Victorian state budget allocates $13.7 billion over the next financial year and has a significant focus on education, getting young people ‘job ready’ and helping people retrain for new and emerging professions.

The response from the social sector has largely been positive, with the Victorian Council of Social Services (VCOSS) CEO Emma King stating, ‘growing our state means growing opportunity for our children, through stronger schools, better job pathways and genuine employment opportunities… this budget does that’.[1] Some highlights include:

  • $3.3 million to continue and build on the implementation of Safe and Strong: Victoria’s Gender Equality Strategy
  • $5 million for behavioural change campaigns and $1 million for a range of initiatives to support the implementation of Free from Violence.
  • $22.9 million to support the continued roll out of respectful relationships education in schools.
  • $22.6 million to continue providing therapeutic and flexible support for victims/survivors of family violence. These funds will also go to making sure survivors of sexual abuse will receive additional support, and the state wide sexual assault crisis line will employ additional social workers to reduce demand pressures
  • $6.4 million for after-hours refuge responses for victims of family violence to continue to provide secure, after hours crisis accommodation for women and children seeking immediate support
  • $9.1 million for implementation of the Aboriginal 10-Year Family Violence Plan to build a strong, integrated Aboriginal workforce and family violence prevention and response sector, which will create better access, equity and choice of culturally appropriate family violence services for Aboriginal people
  • $2 million for the continuation of the Out of the Dark family violence recovery program and family violence specialist trauma counselling in women’s prisons.
  • $9 million for a treaty and specifically for Aboriginal people to elect an independent Aboriginal Representative Body to be their voice in designing the treaty process

$3.8 million to fund Absolutely Everyone: State disability plan 2017-2020; the Victorian government’s commitment to increase opportunities and inclusion for people with disability. The budget provides funding to increase the employment of people with disability in the public sector and continue to expand disability advocacy services to reach 2,000 clients per year, up from 1,700

[1] VCOSS 2018, Giant strides towards a better Victoria, accessed on 3 May 2018 at https://vcoss.org.au/news/vicbudget2018

Local government and community context

Action for Equity (April 2018)

The second iteration of Action for Equity: A sexual and reproductive health strategy for Melbourne’s west 2018–2022 was launched by the Minister for Health, Jill Hennessy MP on 26 April. This strategy is designed to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes for communities in the west in a coordinated way, to increase impact throughout the region. It was developed by the Action for Equity partnership, led by Women’s Health West, and other key experts and is available here and the Minister’s media release of the launch is available here.

This resource, developed by Women’s Health West on behalf of the Community Champions for Primary Prevention Action in the West project, is a guide for community members or groups who are planning to undertake actions to prevent men’s violence against women.

The resource details practical things everyone can do every day to prevent men’s violence against women. It also includes important information to consider before taking action, as well as links to further resources. The resource and more information is available here.

Implementation of NDIS in the western region (June 2018)

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is the new way of providing support for people with a disability, their families and carers. The NDIS is being introduced by region in Victoria and will become available in the western region of Melbourne from 1 October 2018.

For people wanting to access support and services relating to NDIS the main point of contact will be a nominated community partner, also known as a Local Area Coordinator, or LAC. Brotherhood of St Laurence is the LAC for the western region of Melbourne. For more information about the services and support available from Brotherhood of St Laurence go to: https://ndis.bsl.org.au/ and for more general information about the NDIS and dates for upcoming regional information sessions, visit this page.