Jul 28, 2016

Transcript of Media Conference – Sydney

SUBJECTS: Domestic violence; Royal Commission into Northern Territory juvenile detention system; Kevin Rudd’s nomination for UN Secretary-General.  

ANTHONY ALBANESE, MEMBER FOR GRANDYLER: things I said to Karen earlier that it would be great if your service didn’t exist. But there is a need for it and today has been an opportunity for myself as the local Member but Tanya as the Shadow Minister to get briefed on the needs of these services and I might ask Karen to make some remarks.

KAREN WILLS, EXECUTIVE OFFICER: Thank you very much. It’s a great honour to have both Anthony and Tanya with us today. The work that our counselling team does is often difficult and always challenging, and so it’s great to see people of the calibre of our two representatives here coming today being interested in what people are doing, talking to our counsellors and expressing their support of this service. So I thank both of you very much for that, I absolutely guarantee this will be the topic of conversation for quite a considerable while to come in our organisation.

In Australia one in four women will experience sexual assault or domestic violence at some stage in their adult life. Last year 79 women lost their lives at the hands of the person who says I love you. The most common reason for people aged – for women aged 24-45 in this country to be hospitalised is as a result of domestic violence. One in four children in our country will grow up witnessing violence, usually by their father against their mother.

We have a massive problem and we absolutely need to do a whole range of things to change that and firstly preventing the violence is absolutely critical. But when that violence occurs we also need to make sure that we have high quality, professional services to support that person and their dependants towards safety and recovery. 1800RESPECT and NSW Rape Crisis which are two of our services, that’s absolutely what we aim to achieve. Thank you to all of those people in Australia who support our service and also to those who are experiencing violence, please consider, pick up that phone, have a chat, because perhaps there are options and ways towards safety and recovery and a life of absolute marvellousness, which of course is what everybody should have a right to expect for themselves. Thank you.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING OPPOSITION LEADER: Thanks so much Karen. I want to start by thanking Anthony for hosting me today in his electorate. This part of the electorate used to be in Sydney and it’s always great to be in Balmain, and it’s really wonderful to know that this part of my electorate has gone on to be so well represented by the Member for Grayndler – as part of the seat of Grayndler.

I also want to pay particular tribute to Karen Wills, who has been a force to be reckoned with for decades when it comes to issues around violence against women, sexual assault and domestic violence. The 1800RESPECT service is one that did come out of the National Plan on Violence Against Women and their children, which I developed when I was the Minister for Women.

But the work that Karen has done precedes 1800RESPECT, it goes right back to the roots of the New South Wales rape crisis counselling service. She has been absolutely instrumental in legal changes here in New South Wales, in changes to community attitudes, changes to policing practice and legal practice, and this most recent service that she’s been involved with the 1800 Respect and online counselling has benefited enormously from her experience, her leadership, her advocacy.

This is a service that exists for people who are experiencing violence, or friends or family members of someone who’s experienced domestic violence or sexual assault. To be able to call to get trauma counselling, to get advice about how to proceed to the next stage of rebuilding their lives or how to help someone in their family or a friend who’s experienced sexual assault or domestic violence. We could not survive as a community without this service and I am so proud of the work that’s being done.

This is one of three services, three foundational services that were funded out of the National Plan on Violence Against Women and their Children – ANROWS and Our WATCH are two other services and before the last election Labor committed to funding these services to the end of the period of the national plan which is 2021-22 because the services have worked and the idea that they should be forced to re-tender for work that their they’re doing so well just doesn’t make sense.

I don’t doubt for one second that the whole of the Federal Parliament is absolutely united in our wish as members of Parliament to see a community that is safe for women and children. Where domestic violence and sexual assault are a thing of the past. I sincerely believe that all members of Parliament remain united in this aim. But it takes more that goodwill to deliver this in the Australian community, it will always take better resourcing.  

So resourcing for 1800 Respect, Our WATCH, ANROWS, that’s critical.

Resourcing for legal services that help women who’ve experienced violence bring their perpetrators to justice. Emergency accommodation, making sure that people have a safe place to go if there’s violence in the home. All of these are critical and they are areas where the current Government has let down the Australian community.

I don’t doubt that the will is there but the will has to be backed up with the resourcing to make sure that we have great services like this and front line emergency response, that we have homelessness services that can provide safe shelter for people fleeing violence, we have legal services that ensure that victims have true access to justice. So thank you to Karen and everyone working at 1800 Respect. I am very happy now to answer questions about this service or about issues of the day.  

JOURNALIST: Ms Plibersek you’ve worked very closely with Kevin Rudd. Just on his bid to become Secretary General, do you think that he has the right temperament for that job?

PLIBERSEK: I don’t think I could imagine anyone who is better qualified for this job than Kevin Rudd. He was a distinguished former Prime Minister of Australia. A very successful Foreign Minister. A diplomat, a very successful diplomat with decades worth of diplomatic experience. He’s acknowledged in the United States as an expert on China and Asia more generally. His skill is acknowledged around the world. I don’t doubt that he should receive the full support of the Australian Government and frankly I am mystified that there would even be a proposition that the Australian Government is not backing the Australian candidate for such a distinguished position.

If the Cabinet today decides not to offer its endorsement to Kevin Rudd, it will show that the petty, small-minded right-wing of the Liberal Party have Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop on a short leash. Julie Bishop as the Foreign Minister absolutely has the ability to make an important decision like this in her own portfolio, and her Cabinet should back her in this position. Malcolm Turnbull should have the courage to stare down the extremists in his own party and put the national interest first instead of putting his factional fears above the national interest.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe they’re playing politics if they didn’t do that?

I think it would be small-minded, I think it should be short term, I think it would be embarrassing for the nation, I think it would be misguided and I think it would be wrong.

JOURNALIST: On the Royal Commission into juvenile justice centres in the Northern Territory, have you seen any of the terms of reference?

PLIBERSEK: No. I haven’t seen the terms of reference. Let’s go back to the beginning on this. The footage that Australia saw on Monday night was deeply disturbing. There is something very wrong with the juvenile justice system in the Northern Territory. And our first responsibility is to absolutely ensure that those young men whose abuse was documented on Monday night are safe, that they are protected wherever they are at the moment and that proper consideration is being given to how they can be helped to rebuild their lives after the abuse that they’ve suffered.

Labor has been absolutely unequivocal in our support for the Government in its proposal for a Royal Commission. We believe that it is critical that we don’t just look at the juvenile justice system in the Northern Territory. Of course that must be a large part of this investigation – what went wrong in the Don Dale facility for the sort of levels of violence we saw on Monday night to be occurring, it seems quite regularly. But we do need to look deeper than that as well.

We need to look at what is going wrong that children as young as ten or eleven are ending up in the juvenile justice system. What is going wrong in our communities and in our families that these kids are ending up in the juvenile justice system? And I think it is extraordinary that the Prime Minster has already ruled out looking more broadly at other States, looking at juvenile justice in other States.

My experience is that when you have a story like this, that is so shocking, it often encourages other victims to come forward. We certainly saw that with the institutional – the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, that the more people came forward, the more people who had kept secret their experiences were encouraged to trust that perhaps their complaints would now be taken seriously.

It is very possible that in coming days, and weeks, and months we will hear more than once of similar experiences in other places, things that have happened to other children in the juvenile justice system. And we have to be open to investigating those as well – to making sure that if there are systemic failings in other States that we are able to examine that. We have been told that these issues are going to the Cabinet today.

We have been told that – told by the media I don’t mean contacted directly – told by the media that both the terms of reference and possibly even the selection of the Royal Commissioner will happen today at Cabinet. I am deeply disappointed that, given how bipartisan Labor has been in supporting this Royal Commission, the Attorney-General has not consulted properly with us about possible terms of reference, about possible commissioners – a commissioner or commissioners – for this Royal Commission because we want it to work. We want it to get to the bottom of the systemic failings in juvenile justice.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that the Northern Territory Government should be excluded from any other role than as a witness?

PLIBERSEK: I think any Royal Commission should not be influenced in any way by any government. The Government’s role is to set up the Royal Commission, to choose the commissioner, to set the terms of reference and then any Royal Commission should be completely independent of any interference by any government – Federal or State or Territory.

JOURNALIST: Colin Barnett obviously had some interesting words for his counterpart in the Northern Territory there. Do you mirror that? Do you agree with his statements?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I haven’t seen the details of the statement, so I can’t comment.

JOURNALIST: Are there any current or former Labor representatives who knew about the abuse?

PLIBERSEK: Again, I can’t comment but that is exactly the sort of thing that a Royal Commission should look at. And I have been very clear that Labor is not running away from taking our share of the responsibility of systemic failings. The reason we support a Royal Commission is because we have to get to the bottom of what has gone wrong here. I think it is absolutely critical that we don’t engage in a blame game. What is important here is protecting children from physical abuse, from emotional abuse, from isolation, from what seems from the evidence we saw on Monday night, to torture.

JOURNALIST: Just lastly back on Kevin Rudd, given his rather colourful way of describing the Chinese in relation to rats, do you think that would have damaged his ability to get this job?

PLIBERSEK: I know that Kevin Rudd is very well regarded by the Chinese leadership. He’s got excellent connections that he has built up over very many decades and I don’t doubt for a moment that he could be a very successful UN Secretary-General. I am sure that the connections that he’s made in China, in the United States, across Europe, right through Asia, right around the world would serve him very well. Thanks everyone.