3.21pm | September 01, 2021




SUBJECTS: Women’s Safety Summit; Respect@Work; COVID-19.
SENATOR JENNY MCALLISTER, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNITIES AND THE PREVENTION OF FAMILY VIOLENCE: Well, Good Morning. I wanted to make a few remarks this morning about women’s policy under this government. Women's policy looks like this, when you see it as a series of communication challenges to be managed and handled, rather than an opportunity to make a real difference. We are now just days away from the much-vaunted Women’s Safety Summit. It is supposed to start next Monday. As yet, we still have no transparency about who has been invited. Stakeholders are taking to twitter to vent their frustration at being excluded. It's hard to fathom why a group of energetic, effective young women, like the women who established End Rape on Campus would be excluded from a Summit like the National Women’s Safety Summit. It's hard to understand why the Australian College of Nurses cannot be invited to this Summit. This government needs to think carefully about what it would mean to seriously engage Australian women. This is not just a PR exercise. This is not just a communications exercise. But of course, this is so frequently what we get.

Yesterday, we had a press release from Minister Ruston, indicating that a $4.2 million program would be rolled out to tackle male violence. That's terrific, except recall this. Back in 2016, we had the third Action Plan, which had as one of six headline national priorities, keeping male perpetrators accountable. That was under Prime Minister Turnbull. And under Mr. Morrison in 2019, fast forward, that priority has disappeared. It barely rates a mention in the Fourth Action Plan. In the meantime, men’s behaviour change programs have been starved of funds. If you are a man who has identified that he has a problem with violence and you are seeking help, you want to change your own behaviour, you can wait up to a year, to even be admitted to such a program. It's going to take a lot more than a pilot here and a press release there to remedy the years and years of damage that have been done to the programs that are targeted at ending violence against women and children. 

I want to conclude by making a few remarks about Respect@Work. You'll recall that it's been about 18 months since Kate Jenkins handed that landmark report to this government. Now the Attorney General at the time, Mr. Porter, we now know never even bothered, in a year, to meet with Kate Jenkins to discuss her report. He didn’t bother. It then took them months to come up with a response to that report, where they made a whole lot of mealy-mouthed responses, saying that they accepted this in principle. Weasel words. Because now the legislation has been put before the Parliament and what we’ll see today when that legislation is debated in the Senate is that response goes nowhere near fully implementing the Respect@Work report. Once again this is a triumph of spin over substance. What is the point of saying you accept all of the recommendations of the Respect@Work report, if in practice you have no intention of legislating those recommendations? It will be left, once again to the Opposition in the Senate to amend this bill, to fully implement the recommendations of Respect@Work. This is a government who is incapable of taking women’s interests seriously. We have had 8 long years, Australian women have seen how it has been approached. Enough is enough. 

JOURNALIST: There’s a survey out today which shows attitudes towards COVID-19. Australians are more concerned about job losses and mental health than are the deaths and cases. How do you think this will influence decision making about opening up when we reach those vaccination targets, especially for Premiers who are still seeking COVID zero?

MCALLISTER: I think that ALL Australians want to get out of lockdown as quickly as we possibly can. People are looking for a safe pathway to restore something like normal life. We know from the Doherty Institute modelling and the material that's been put before the National Cabinet, that a safe pathway depends on a number of things. It depends on having adequate test, trace and isolate capabilities. It depends on having adequate hospital capacity and workforce capacity. It depends, frankly, on actually rolling out the vaccine. We are a long way away from 70% threshold, or the 80% threshold. It depends on actually having a serious plan to manage the pandemic. And frankly, Scott Morrison has bungled every opportunity he has had to lead in this pandemic. He stood by while the crisis raged through nursing homes in Victoria, a sector regulated and controlled by the Commonwealth government. He failed to procure enough vaccines and a diverse range of contracts, leaving the Australian community dangerously exposed to the Delta variant. I see no sign that he's ready to roll up his sleeves and tackle this next crisis. What he would prefer, and we see this happen time and time again, is to pick fights with State Premiers. It's not a time for undergraduate student politics - for picking fights. It's a time for leadership. And that is what Australians are looking for and that they are sorely lacking from the Prime Minister we have right now.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that there might be a bit more politics at play with Labor Premiers, like in WA and Queensland, where their health systems might not actually be able to handle a rise cases that we'll see, when we start opening up and the 80% vaccinated number? 

MCALLISTER: Responsible leaders will be looking to open up safely. And that's a conversation that's going to need to take place through the National Cabinet. Of course, that is dependent on the progress of the vaccine rollout. Of course, it is dependent on health resources, and everyone from the Prime Minister down, should be looking at those issues very carefully in preparing for the next stages of the pandemic. I see very little evidence that the Prime Minister has reached a mature response to this debate. Instead, I see a very unhealthy tendency to pick off state premiers one by one to start fights instead of taking his responsibility to lead in a time of crisis. 

JOURNALIST: Senator the whole purpose of, according to the government, shutting the country down at the beginning of last year, March 2020, some very long time ago, was to prepare the state hospital systems. It was to boost capacity, it was to prepare for ventilators, it was to get enough PPE in. Do you believe there's enough now? And if not, what was the point and what we did in the first part?

MCALLISTER: The workers at the frontline of the hospital system, doctors, nurses, paramedics are telling us that they are concerned about the capacity and the supplies. And I think we should listen to those voices. When those workers raise their voice, we should listen. What has been needed all along, is a national approach to planning to prepare for the pandemic. That required a proper vaccine rollout. Of course, it requires negotiations and discussions with the states. Yes, there are unforeseen events in a pandemic. But my observation is that there has not been a serious leadership or serious thinking by the Prime Minister to the challenges that are confronting the country. We've had a long time to prepare for this moment. And I worry that the Prime Minister has missed too many chances over the last 18 months to prepare the country for the Delta strain. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think it's only on the Prime Minister to prepare the health systems I mean, the states do run their own hospitals. Should the onus be more on the states? 

MCALLISTER: This requires a national approach. It requires a Prime Minister capable of working cooperatively with State Premiers and Chief Ministers. I don't see evidence that he is focused on establishing those functional relationships. I see an attempt to publicly bicker with other premiers. I think that's a problem. I think Australians would rather that all of us rolled up our sleeves and got on with the job of supporting a robust and effective response to the pandemic, that keeps people safe and protects lives and livelihoods.