By Tanya Plibersek

22 February 2022


SUBJECTS: Women’s services in Mackay; Labor’s plans to help women and children fleeing violence; Job security; Federal Election; Changes to reporting in the media on sexual assault; RCOE.
SHANE HAMILTON, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR DAWSON: It's great to be here today at Mackay Women's Services. I'm here with two of our panellists from last night's women’s forum – Linda-Ann and Tanya Plibersek, our Shadow Minister for Women and Education. We discussed many topics last night around the needs for women in our local community. It really raised the awareness that this service is such an essential part of our community. The work that Linda-Ann does here with her team at Mackay Services is second to none. We're so proud to have them in our community. It's great to have Tanya here as well to have a look into the services that we need in our community, and when we get elected to government will be back here looking to improve it even further. I'll handover to Linda now to provide an update about what she is doing.
LINDA-ANN NORTHEY, MACKAY WOMEN'S SERVICES: Thank you. I was very honoured to have the opportunity to speak for the women in our community last night at the event. And it's so, so important that we have our service supports open and that we have people available every day to provide much-needed crisis response. Sadly we see a lot of domestic violence in this community. We see many women and their children who have nowhere to go. We're really looking at how can they leave this situation? How can they get that safe support? But where do they go in this community? So we're really looking at the children and what supports we can we do for the future to make a change for children of the next generation to make sure they're not experiencing violence in the first place. But in the meantime, we really need to support their mums to be safe. So there's lots of high risk team responses, there's domestic violence responses separately, but also sexual assault support services. As well as that our service offers a lot of support to just women in general in the community in terms of social connections, making sure that there's a women's health and wellbeing support, and that there is that general sense that there is a pathway out of this trauma and violence and there is a sense of recovery. So our services offer a lot of support to everyone. We also make sure that we provide supports to men and that includes our behaviour change programs that go across to Isaac and the Whitsunday region. And we also have some mums and dads support in terms of parenting including PPP. So, you know, the service is always really busy even if it doesn't look like it as much at the moment because people are online or on the phone, but the phones are always running hot. So we're happy to support people and please always feel safe and welcome to come.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRAINING: Thanks so much Linda-Ann and it's such a pleasure to be here to visit your wonderful service in Mackay. And it's wonderful that Shane Hamilton, Labor's candidate for Dawson, has invited me to come and see the great work that you do here. We know that Australian women don't want special treatment. They just want equality. They want to be safe in their homes and on the streets in our communities, and they want a decent job with decent pay and conditions. That's what we heard last night at the women's forum. We talked a lot about domestic violence, family violence, and sexual assault last night and it's so impressive to see the marvellous service that's offered here by Mackay Women Services. We're talking about counselling, health advice, group work - and not just for women but also for children, children who've been highly traumatised at times by witnessing violence, or being the subjects of violence themselves. I think what Linda-Ann and the team are doing to support men's programs as well is so important because we know that until violent men change their behaviour, they'll go on to be violent in their relationship or the next relationship, or the next relationship. So we need to be looking after the victims of violence but we also need to be changing the behaviour of perpetrators of violence. And working with kids to prevent violence in family relationships, prevent kids growing up to be violent themselves. Labor has a plan to ensure that we hire 500 extra Community Workers, who would be working in services just like this to support women and their children leaving violent relationships. We've got a plan to build 4,000 additional public housing dwellings for women and children leaving violence out of our 10,000 extra public housing homes. A community like Mackay, I heard again and again, even if you have money in pocket it's hard to find a rental property. But if you’re fleeing violence, if you don't have money pocket, we heard too many examples of women and their kids sleeping in cars for days or even weeks at a time. It's not acceptable in Australia today to have families sleeping in cars because it's the only place they can be safe. We've got a plan to introduce 10 days paid domestic violence leave. We know that if a woman is working, but she's leaving a violent relationship, she has to report to the police station, she has turn up to court, she has to settle kids at new schools, sometimes they'll move houses - being able to keep your job, keep your connection to the workforce, keep an income of your own, is really critical to a woman's safety when she is leaving a violent relationship. So that 10 days paid leave makes all the difference. And we also heard last night from so many women who are worried about the world of work today for themselves, for their partners, for their kids. We heard from so many who are worried about insecure work, casualisation. We heard from one woman who had been a casual in the same job for ten years. Now, that's not casual work. That is permanent work with an employer who doesn't want to offer holidays and other things that would make the job more secure. So it is really important that we focus on these issues of violence against women and their children. It's also really important that we focus on economic security and independence. We've got a government right now that has been up front with the fact, their Finance Minister said that low wages are a deliberate feature of their economic management. We've got a government right now that wants to keep wages low, and they've been successful at that. We haven't seen pay increases for eight years. The average income is supposed to go down. It's predicted to go down by seven hundred dollars in the coming year. That's at a time when childcare costs are going up, healthcare bills are going up, education costs are going up, petrol's through the roof. Rent, if you can find a place, again through the roof. So we talked last night about Labor’s plan to make sure we've got same job, same pay. Two people working in the same job, in the same business, shouldn't be paying the labour hire person thousands of dollars less a year. Same job, same pay. We want to properly define casual jobs so that people can't be called casual for years at a time when they're working at the same job. We want to make sure the Fair Work Commission considers job security as one of the deciding factors when they're making decisions in the Fair Work Commission. We want to make sure that if someone is working hard in a business that's profitable, they see their pay go up along with the cost of living. And so that's Labor's plan for women. That's Labor's plan for our economy. And I'm delighted to take any questions I'm sure Linda-Ann and Shane will be. 
JOURNALIST: You just mentioned some extra workers and extra public housing homes. How would they be distributed? How can you ensure that Mackay would see some of that? 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Absolutely, regional communities like Mackay have to be at the top of the list when it comes to extra housing and extra support workers because we know the need is huge. We will be making announcements in the coming weeks about where those extra workers will be and where those extra homes will be. We know that the need here is great and I can't tell you Shane has been in my ear for two days now telling me that despite the wonderful work that Linda-Ann and her service do, the need here continues to be great. 
JOURNALIST: You also mentioned that for women who can afford it, or families who can afford it, rentals are so hard to find, what's the solution there? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think we need to be working with local government and state and territory governments to make sure that we're able to build more homes. Labor's 10,000 extra homes through public housing is a really important start to that. But we need to make sure that we're working with State and territory and local government to make it possible to build more in the private rental and private homeownership area as well. Honestly, when you look at the price of housing for young people today, it's a miracle that any young person can afford a home of their own. We need to make sure that we're getting young people into homeownership in a way that's affordable and sustainable for them. Instead what we've seen is home affordability and rental vacancies in places like Mackay continue to go backwards under the Liberals and Nationals at the federal level. And what's worse about it is they just don't care. When we left government, for example, we had a target to halve the rate of homelessness by 2020 - Tony Abbott came in and wiped that out. If you have a government that is public about the fact they don't care about homelessness and housing affordability then you see results like this.
JOURNALIST: Talking about housing affordability, at the last election, you're obviously had that negative gearing plan. That was a bit of a controversial topic in some parts of the country. How can you address housing affordability now without those structural reforms?
PLIBERSEK: We need to work to build more homes, and right now building and renovating has never been more expensive. And if you don't know, if you tried doing that recently you would see the prices. It's just another failure of the federal government. We need to make sure that we are investing public money in building more social housing, but we also need to make sure the conditions are right in the private rental market and in private home ownership so that people can afford to get in at the entry level.
JOURNALIST: Just another question about insecure work, apart from the issue of classification and misclassification of workers, are there any other specific work arrangements which the Labor party would want legalised if elected? 
PLIBERSEK: Well we've said that we want the Fair Work Commission to consider job security in the objects of the Industrial Relations Act. So the simple way of saying that is we want the Fair Work Commission, the independent umpire, to consider job security when it's making decisions about workplaces. And we have absolutely said that "Same Job, Same Pay" is the centre of our industrial relations framework. We know that in places like Mackay you will quite often have an employer who brings in outside labour hire, be working for thousands of dollars less than the person that they're working side by side with. Now, how long do you think that that person that's on the higher wage is going to last? As soon as the employer has the opportunity of getting rid of them, they'll get rid of them for the cheaper worker. That's been driving down prices, driving down wages in Australia, keeping wages low. We've got a government that has gone into the Fair Work Commission to argue against pay increases. Right now they’re arguing against pay increases for aged care workers. Now one in four aged care shifts around Australia is unfilled. We know we've got a shortage in the aged care workforce. The Royal Commission into aged care that had a report called 'Neglect' said that workforce is a critical issue, and instead of a government that's got a plan to help those workers on, you know, 22, 24 bucks an hour doing some of the hardest and most responsible work in our community, instead of helping those workers and arguing for a pay increase they're actually arguing against it. So having a government that is on the side of low paid workers to see a pay increase, particularly as their businesses are profitable and doing well, that makes all the difference.
JOURNALIST: It’s been obviously three years between the 2019 election, where you were the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party and you obviously were trying to form government, but didn't succeed. Some of that was due to, I guess, the massive swings to the LNP in seats like Flynn, in seats like Capricornia, and here in Dawson, and up in Herbert as well. So, that whole central Queensland area coastline kind of seats - what's changed between then and now in these seats? Do you think you can win them? 
PLIBERSEK: I hope what has changed is that people don't believe the rubbish scare campaigns of the LNP anymore. And I hope what's changed is the LNP doesn't have the Greens helping them in seats like this, pretending that Labor doesn't support jobs. We are all about jobs. We all about jobs with decent pay and conditions. Jobs that have existed in these communities for years and decades and the new jobs that will be created in years to come. We are all about jobs with decent pay and conditions. And I think, well I hope, the other thing that's changed is that people are seeing through Scott Morrison, they're seeing a Prime Minister that is allergic to taking responsibility. When the going gets tough, Scott Morrison gets going and I think people have cottoned on to that. 
JOURNALIST: In your experience do you see a push factor between, or put it this way - some of the women, or a lot of the women who come in here in times of crisis, is it also true to say that many of those women have insecure employment? Do you see a connection between insecure employment and women presenting here at this service? 
NORTHEY: Absolutely. And we become advocates for them in that circumstance, but it's very hard if they're trying to leave a domestic violence relationship that is really unsafe for them and they don't have secure employment. They can't get a place to go to, they can't get rent, they don't have enough savings, they don't have something stable and secure to help them to form a foundation. And unfortunately, there's way too many women in that situation. So we would advocate for them but we're not always successful.
JOURNALIST: If you could wave your wand and just get anything you want, how would you rearrange Queensland work practices to make women more secure in their employment? Are there specific things that you hear about all the time that you think need to change? Need to be legalized for example? 
NORTHEY: Yes. Well I think that, you know, we actually have a big push for it within our service and our team. We make sure that anything that was previously just a contract based employment, wherever we can, we're actually solidifying it to make sure that those contract roles become permanent unless the funding is lost in the future. So subject to that, but that instead of saying we think the funding might be lost in a year so we will only keep you for a year, it’s actually changing to that permanent employment. So I'd like to see that happening for people. Let's not say, in case we lose the funding we’ll just keep you short-term forever, let’s take it the other way. 
JOURNALIST: So when you say funding can you clarify what you mean by that?
NORTHEY: So we might be given a short-term funding of two years - 
JOURNALIST: Are talking about this service? 
JOURNALIST: Sorry I was just talking about women who present here and their employment situation. When you're talking with them, what about their employment or their insecure employment, do you could be a changed, I suppose a specific change, which would help them and put them in a more secure position? Can you think of anything in your experience that comes to mind? 
NORTHEY: Well, I think that if they've been on that long-term casual they need to be given that opportunity to go to permanent part-time. I feel that they might need maybe some union support or some other professional friend who can help to advocate for them, because unfortunately they may not be feeling strong enough or they may have some other demands that are making it hard for them to speak up for themselves. We'd like to maybe have some kind of ramifications for employers. If the women are penalised or get some retribution against them if they actually speak out and say look I would like my personal work circumstances to change and if they say that they're not happy with it that they don't then lose their job next week.
JOURNALIST: Tanya was mentioning that there’s a need for extra support workers and extra public housing homes. Just from your experience and what you've witnessed, how many would be sufficient in Mackay because there is quite a backlog for those kinds of services.  
NORTHEY: Look, I think that the demand is going to be at the moment bigger than we've got - that could be improved immediately with some extra support workers. We actually find that the sooner you can put another couple of people in there, the sooner that someone will get seen sort of this week, next week, rather than four weeks’ time. And I think that's the biggest difference, how long the wait period is. Obviously if someone is in crisis, we see them straight away, but then there's those who then wait for that longer term therapeutic support and change and we would like to see them be able to see someone immediately. 
JOURNALIST:  And what do you think would change that? Is there a number that you could give me like maybe 10 extra support workers here or is it more that's needed? 
NORTHEY: Well, how long is a piece of string? I think that more people would access our service if they knew that they would get the immediate response straight away. So if you could put more workers in, immediately I think we would need five to start and that would cutting across children's counselling as well and keeping that longer term support for children. There would be, I would say there is way more children and young people who are not getting the service in Mackay at the moment. And unfortunately mums will give away their place and position to make sure that their children get seen, as opposed to the mum also getting that ongoing support. So often they will then take a back seat and say "Oh it's okay. You can just see me, once every four weeks or two months" as opposed to every week. So it's more the quality of the ongoing regular support that would make a difference.
JOURNALIST: Today there has been some reports in some news outlets about the potential review to how sexual assault is reported in Queensland, in that people can't publicly, you can't publicly name someone who is accused of sexual assault until it gets to a certain process in the courts. This is unlike any other crime that exists and some people are concerned that at the moment, the way the law is currently run, that this discourages people from speaking up about what's happened to them and is another way of saying that the survivor is wrong and the perpetrator is, you can't go ruining the alleged perpetrator’s name. I guess I just want to know what your thoughts on that was?
NORTHEY: Well, it's interesting because I heard a young man say to me recently that the worst thing that can happen for young men these days is they get falsely accused of rape and I thought "Yeah, actually, you know, the worst thing that can happen for young women is to be raped". And let's look at what's actually happening for the victims, and I don't know what the new circumstances are on those laws, but unfortunately the sexual assault arena – it’s probably one of the last bastions of us needing to improve and make a difference about how we actually respond to people who report sexual assault, whether it's sexual harassment in the workplace, whether it's sexual abuse that's happened longer term, or whether it's something that is an immediate crisis sexual assault. You know, people just don't get the responses they need, they get the judgement and criticism. I mean, it's something like, it's a very low percent of cases that are ever taken to trial and unfortunately, I've seen a particular case in this organisation where the victim's evidence, DNA materials, things that she'd actually had from the day after the assault went missing and that just happens all the time. That was just last year and I'm like how could you actually lose this information? And it just makes me wonder where the priority goes for the victims of sexual assault. And so if there's any way that we can support them, at the same time not actually imposing on someone else's rights but recognising that sexual assault is as rife as it is and we can't stay silent about it anymore. 
JOURNALIST: I guess there's also the issue everywhere that when things are taken to court, when it goes to a jury, it sometimes can end up most of the time, when I've sat through jury trials of that nature here in Mackay, most of the time it comes back not guilty. 
NORTHEY: Yeah, it's the evidentiary process and what's the difference between - the difference between balance of probabilities and beyond reasonable doubt, looking at what's actually happening is often a "he said she said" type situation which makes it even worse. So we would like to see some changes in that, recognising this is a really different kind of area of private intimate abuse. We even had a young woman who had been drugged and they actually had proof of that, it was in her system, but then they said there was more than one person at the party so we can't prove who did that. So, we know you were drugged, we know that you had this situation - so it didn't even go beyond that place. So it's not even that it gets to trial and then people are acquitted or not guilty, it's that it doesn't get to trial, so it gets stopped way in way more many steps along the way and I'd like to see that change, whatever we can do.
JOURNALIST: One more question if I may about the Resources Centre of Excellence but either Shane or Tanya?
PLIBERSEK: Go on Shane.
JOURNALIST: So the RCOE have made it one of their election priorities, I suppose, is to push for $10 million in funding for an extra facility, adding onto the existing facility. Is this on your radar and can you commit to that funding today? 
HAMILTON: Yeah, I've had many discussions with Steve about this from the RCOE. It's a commitment that I'm fully behind and am advocating for within the Party. I think that stage two there is what we need to do. We need to diversify. In short, we've got more industries here in Mackay and that second stage is exactly that. We're looking at rare-earth development. We're looking at different minerals being processed out of that facility and then commercialise from there. So in my eyes that's more jobs for our regions, it's a whole new process, it's a whole new industry. So it's something that I'm fully behind and definitely advocating for in our party. I'm sure by the time the election comes around, there will be some sort of announcement at some stage, yeah.
HAMILTON: Yeah. It's definitely something that I've promoted to my Party and we're hopeful that it’ll get the nod.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Chalmers, Mr Albanese, they've all heard about it?
HAMILTON: Yes that's right, and Murray Watt, so we're definitely making noise where we need to there and it's something that's in our aim and creates more jobs. So, more jobs and more industries is exactly what Labor Party is about and that's where we want to go. 
JOURNALIST: Great. Thank you.