Published: 25 August 2015

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I move - 

That this House notes - 

(1)     The value and importance of the ongoing work of the Pacific Women's Parliamentary Partnerships Project - PWPPP.

 (2)     That the PWPPP supports and promotes gender equality in parliaments across the Pacific nations, Australia and New Zealand.

 (3)     That the 2015 PWPPP forum was recently held in Fiji and focused on the theme of family violence and provided opportunity to explore the reality of this issue which confronts all nations; and

 (4)     The forum is coordinated by the Australian Parliament, with the financial support of Australian Aid, under the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development initiative and the invaluable and ongoing support of the Australian Government.

In moving this motion, I acknowledge the value and importance of such forums in supporting members of parliament both male and female across the Pacific region, and the valuable work done by Australian and New Zealand parliaments in supportive and mentoring roles.  In reality, the benefits are mutual as we also have much to learn from our Pacific neighbours and shared experiences will always be valuable learning opportunities.

I was fortunate to attend the third Pacific Women's Parliamentary Partnerships Forum in Fiji at the end of April this year.  It was particularly beneficial to reconnect with many of the female MPs from around the Pacific who had attended the previous forum and learn more about their progress as well as the ongoing challenges within their jurisdictions.

The amount of work to organise these forums by Fiona Way, the PWPP project manager from theParliamentary Skills Centre of the Parliament of Australia, and her team is significant.  I acknowledge the work undertaken in the planning, implementation and operations that resulted in the very successful forum.  This could not have been achieved without the ongoing funding support provided by the Australian Government through AusAID and the assistance and support of the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji.

This program continues to support and promote gender equality in parliaments across the Pacific region, and much great work is going on to progress this work.  It was very interesting to speak to many of the delegates about their experiences through the promotion of gender equality in their countries and the measures that have been taken to seek and achieve this.  Some have commented on the use of quotas, others have targets, and others just keep chipping away in what is, in many cases, a strong patriarchal society, making small but important gains.


I have come to the belief over time and after much deliberation, discussion and research, that quotas really are the best way to achieve gender equality, including in Australia.  Tasmania is a bit of a shining example as we have two new female MPs in the lower House, which puts us up to quite a high percentage comparatively across Australia.  That has happened since I moved to speak on this motion previously.


Mr PRESIDENT - In fact our Parliament has more female members in percentage terms than any other parliament in Australia.


Ms FORREST - Yes.  We are gradually chipping away but I believe in terms of long‑term sustainability of this approach quotas are the way to go.  Other people have different views and we have debated the issue quite strongly in different forums and different places.  It is interesting that the parliament that has the most female members in the world - as I understand it is still the case, and I challenge members to try to guess it and I am sure you would not unless you know - is Uganda.  Uganda has 80 per cent or thereabouts, a bit over 80 per cent, female MPs - and it is not because all the men were killed during wars.


Mrs Taylor - That is not gender equality either.


Ms FORREST - No, it is not but it is interesting that they have actually gone that far that way.  I am talking about the number of women in parliaments, and Uganda is the one with the most. 


I know many will not agree with the quota system, saying that we do not want women elected on the basis of gender alone.  This really is a nonsense as women constitute 50 per cent of our population and this must also mean that 50 per cent of the population are just as capable and competent to represent the state and country at this level.  Gender equality means gender equality but it can work both ways and should be considered.


The barriers to achieving gender equality in representative roles such as we have, are often ingrainedand covert, concealed for the convenience of others' benefit.  I believe that once a quota system has achieved its purpose, within a short time it will become unnecessary and can then be removed, but only time will tell.  The same applies to all positions of leadership in the corporate world and it is time action was taken. 


There is a growing evidence base that supports the appointment of women to senior positions, with publicly listed companies doing better financially and functionally with female CEOs overall.  It is time to take note of this evidence at a government level as we all know of government businesses and departments that need to do better in these areas.  Our government businesses within Tasmania are a very poor example of gender equality with only one female CEO.  We are starting to see more females being put onto board positions but we are still a long way behind.


I will now speak more specifically to points 3 and 4 of the motion.  Members would be aware that the theme and focus of this year's forum was family violence.  This is an area of increased attention this year, partly as a result of Rosie Batty being named the Australian of the Year.  This has resulted in much needed and a more timely focus on the scourge that is not only in our society but worldwide, and this is often a hidden and taboo topic in many male-dominated patriarchal societies. 


This important topic was discussed at length.  It was very pleasing to hear some of the programs that have been introduced in many countries, including Fiji.  On the last day of the forum we were fortunate to visit a nearby village to meet with some of the men and women of the village to discuss the zero tolerance to violence program in their village.  We were very warmly welcomed and had a very informative discussion with the men and the women of the village.  We talked about a range of strategies they were using to deal with anger and to avoid violence.  It was a very close community.  The children were on school holidays at the time so many children were around.


It was interesting being in the village and hearing from the men and women their perspectives of how this was working.  This zero tolerance to violence program has been rolled out around a number of the villages in Fiji.  They have a sign on the road leading into their village identifying the village has taken this initiative.  The other thing I found interesting in this particularly village was the decision taken to have the zero tolerance to violence and they had also decided everyone would give up smoking for three months.  They were very heavy smokers, the men predominantly.  They were doing it cold turkey.  They assured us they had not had a cigarette in that time.  Three months was almost up. 


They were also going to have no kava for three months.  So, another huge cultural change was being undertaken as part of this process.  When we asked about this the women said they felt very positive about the impacts it was having.  It is interesting giving up smoking because it can often make people quite tense and anxious.  Trying to avoid using violence as a remedy and then no kava either which also tends to calm them down a bit.  It was an interesting combination but it seemed to be working.  No-one had smoked or drunk kava over that time. 


We asked them how they were measuring the success of the implementation of this program.  Another measure was that no women had been taken to hospital as a result of violence during this time.  It is a serious measure.  That is the measure, that women have ended up in hospital as a result of violence.  It does not mean that violence was not occurring at a lower level but no women had been taken to hospital.  If that is the measure it makes you think about how you impact at a lower level and take it down to the less harmful acts of violence that do not leave physical injuries to the same degree.  How do you manage that?


The program was supported by the Fiji Government with health workers involved.  It has been adopted in several villages.  They had a health worker dedicated to the village to help educate and support the village through that.  All the men and women were very positive about the outcomes and early success of the program.


The outcomes statement from the forum covers very well all the aspects of the forum -


Women members of Pacific parliaments met in Suva, Fiji from 29 April to 1 May 2015 to renew friendships and discuss their work as parliamentarians.  The forum's focus in 2015 was on the theme of family violence in the region.  The forum included 63 parliamentarians and participants from 15 jurisdictions including the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, Australia and New Zealand.


The forum was coordinated by the Australian Parliament with the financial support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development initiative.  The forum took place with the invaluable support and gracious hosting of the Honourable Dr Jiko Luveni, Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji, and administrative support from the parliament's secretariat.  On behalf of the Speaker, Ms Viniana Namosimalua, the Secretary-General to the parliament, welcomed participants to the forum and introduced the Honourable Rear Admiral J.V. Bainimarama, Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji, who presented the opening address.  The prime minister said that family violence is a vitally important issue and a test of values.  It is not acceptable and perpetrators should be subject to the full force of the law.


The prime minister encouraged the forum to send a strong message to the world that family violence is a matter for public discussion in Pacific society.


[11.15 a.m.]

Mr President, deviating from the outcomes statement, the president's speech was very encouraging and very inspiring, particularly when you know the history of Fiji.  It was great to have Prime Minister Bainimarama speaking with such conviction and strength addressing the really big challenge of domestic violence in Fiji, but also acknowledging that it happens all around the region, including in our own country.


Back to the outcomes statement - 


The Honourable Maere Tekanene from the Parliament of Kiribati thanked the prime minister and the Speaker for their welcome.  Ms Natasha Stott Despoja AM, Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls, responded.  She thanked the prime minister and Speaker for their welcome, noting that the World Health Organisation has called family violence an epidemic, and it remains a global and regional challenge.  Ms Stott Despoja congratulated Pacific Island parliaments which had legislated to criminalise family violence.  She noted, however, that impunity persists despite the range of legislative and program initiatives around the region in recent years.


A former Tongan diplomat and Deputy Director of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community spoke about family violence in a Pacific context noting that it is one of the 'pervasive indications of gender inequality' and has a direct impact on productivity and a serious indirect impact as fear of violence may mean people do not seek access to education.  She was appalled the economic cost of family violence is considered to be approximately 3 per cent of GDP and that childhood experience of family violence may be repeated from generation to generation, growing exponentially; that legislative measures are often piecemeal and progress was hampered by the absence of data and monitoring systems to assess measures taken.  She added that legislators need to be sensitised to the issues so they can support change.  Discussion followed, considering rape in marriage, the role of the church in addressing violence against women, how media deals with the issue, and the inclusion of family values and life skills as part of the school curriculum.


A plenary session involving Ms Maha Muna from the United Nations Population Fund and Ms Melissa Alvarado from the UN Women addressed the issue of data on family violence and the importance of reliable research, including what constitutes violence against women and why data is collected.


Ms Muna noted the different types of violence against women and the issues associated with societies with high rates of family violence; that prevalence data needs to be collected to understand the magnitude of the problem and address it effectively.  Ms Muna outlined the methodology used for prevalence studies and the need for research protocols and guidelines because of the sensitive nature of the collection.  The variation of  family violence across countries implies that violence against women is not inevitable.


Ms Alvarado addressed the need for more coherent and coordinated responses to family violence across agencies, to reduce duplication, reduce costs and maintain synergies.  She reported on the findings of a large study across Asia and Pacific considering why rape occurs.  The data revealed the risk factors and how services and systems need to be modified  to improve responses.


Prevalence studies have shown that women are afraid of shame and blame, few report violence and few seek help from service providers.  Lack of confidentiality discourages reporting.  There is no template response but violence is preventable.  The silence needs to be broken and survivors need a supportive community.


Mr President, leaving the outcomes statement, that is what we are hearing now, particularly with the focus of the Tasmanian Government on addressing family violence.  Rosie Batty, being the Australian of the Year, has really shone a spotlight on this right around Australia and the Pacific region.


To quote the outcomes statement again:


A panel session on 'Family violence - legislation and regulation in the region', chaired by Gatoloaifa'na Amataga Alesana Gidlow from Samoa, involved an outline of international standards and best practice, with parliamentarians outlining the range of legislation and regulation and practices across jurisdictions.  Challenges include the content and interpretation of legislation, context, and the resources and will to implement legislation.  Gender equality law reform is a long process:  it must be sustainable.  The impact of drugs and alcohol on family violence was noted.


The role of legislators was considered in the second panel session chaired by Hilda Heine from the Marshall Islands.  Six parliamentarians outlined the legislative approach in their jurisdictions, noting the challenges when resources were inadequate to enforce legislation and that the problem of family violence is growing, even in the face of enforcement measures including support for survivors and rehabilitation measures for perpetrators.  The focus should be on what is best for the survivors of family violence.


The next panel session chaired by Dr Luveni considered engagement with stakeholders, civil society, churches, NGOs, government, and other parliamentarians, as well as lobbying for resources.  The session began with a film demonstrating a Fijian initiative on family violence - a zero violence tolerance program that villages could register for and which required them to undergo lengthy training.


This is one of the villages that we visited at the end of the forum.


To quote again -


Once declared a zero tolerance village, a gatekeeping committee of residents monitored violence in the village.


By the way, in these villages, any raised voices will be heard throughout the community.  The houses there are all very close together, only made of thin timber and that sort of thing.  If there was to be a dispute, you could not have a shouting match and not be noticed.  It would not be too hard to monitor aspects of violence as they may occur for a gatekeeping committee.


To quote again -


Panel members referred to experiences in their jurisdictions including the importance of:


•           Considering the welfare of children before they are born


•           Acknowledging that alliances with 'different' stakeholders can be highly valuable 


•           The employment of women


•           Bilateral relationships with donors


•           Developing platforms for election that include addressing family violence


•           The use of parliamentary committees and groups


•           Being specific in allocating budgets to address family violence


•           Questioning budget allocations in parliament


•           Promoting gender-sensitive training in parliaments.


In panel session four, chaired by Hon. Dr Sharman Stone MP from Australia, parliamentarians considered what happens at the implementation stages of legislation that passes and recognised that although bills addressing family violence are gaining support, implementation of support services and solutions to the underlying problems are falling short.  Dr. Stone highlighted the need to seek support from the private sector as well as government.


The final panel session considered how parliamentarians can hold governments accountable.  Mr Harry Jenkins AO -


Yes, a male, we did have male members of parliament in the final session -


chaired the session and emphasised that it was important for parliamentarians to know more about UN conventions on human rights and the obligations that governments have in upholding these.  There was discussion of the difficulty that some countries faced in accessing reports regarding measures towards UN treaties and what incentives might help communities to strive toward improvements.  Discussion turned to work that cross-party parliamentary committees can do in holding government to account as well as the complexity of the issue and how more work should be done on prevention of the problem rather than just services for the victims.


This is an important area that the Premier and the Government are considering at the moment, in that not just providing services to the victims is important, but it is looking at the cause of the problem and preventing the cause.  It is a huge problem and will require a lot of thinking about and probably more funding over time.  A lot of money has been committed but I am sure that will not meet every need.


The draft priorities that were agreed at the forum were, and I quote:


The agreed priorities for the Pacific parliaments are:




1.   Facing the issue and ending the silence.  The forum agreed on the need for research and data that equip legislators to understand the nature and extent of the problem in each jurisdiction, why victims do not seek help or report family violence, and why existing legislative and policy responses are not achieving the targeted outcomes.  Adequate collection and analysis of prevalence data provides the basis and authority for allocating resources to address family violence and the practice of shaming and blaming its victims.




2.   Recognising that family violence is a human rights issue and has significant direct and indirect economic, social and cultural impacts on Pacific nations, the forum agreed on the need to prioritise legislative approaches by auditing the diversity and coherence of legislation and regulations that address family violence, and monitoring their implementation, in order to ensure that it is adequate, comprehensive and effectively resourced (including through the application of gender budgeting mechanisms).  The forum noted that the application forms for donor assistance be simplified and more user friendly, and the criteria more flexible and less complex.




3.   Acknowledging that legislators must work with stakeholders to coordinate services dealing with family violence, the forum agreed that legislators need to identify all relevant stakeholders including church and traditional leaders, NGOs, government agencies and the police, health, education and justice systems.  This builds on the agreed PWPP priority in 2014 to develop robust mechanisms and partnerships, and will enable separate and often fragmented resources to be integrated and harnessed to bring about more streamlined services that protect survivors and bring perpetrators to account.




4.   Building on the PWPP Forum's agreed priority in 2014:  'developing and implementing a strategy for ongoing gender equality and equity training for all parliamentarians and parliamentary staff', the forum recognised the need for legislators to receive training to sensitise them to the scope, causes and effects of family violence, and encourage men and women legislators to work together to pursue legislative reform, work effectively with key stakeholders, challenge gender stereotyping in society, especially that of the media, and hold governments to account in complying with international and regional commitments to gender equality.




5.   Building on the PWPP Forum's agreed priority in 2014 to create gender‑sensitive cross-party parliamentary groups responsible for ensuring that the parliament raises gender equality issues and legislation, the forum agreed that in each parliament such a body could ensure that awareness of family violence in the Pacific region is raised as a matter of urgency, that the scope of the issue is understood by legislators, and that parliaments encourage sharing of lessons learnt.




6.   Remembering that childhood experience of family violence is a risk factor for intergenerational violence, and that children are profoundly affected by family violence, the forum agreed that participants would urge their education ministers to ensure that the school curricula support girls and boys by teaching them life skills that build emotional resilience and healthy and respectful family relationships.


7.   The forum urges all Pacific parliaments to engage in actions and work towards the above priorities.


Mr President, I believe we all have an obligation to consider these matters in our own states, but also to be aware of some of the challenges facing our Pacific neighbours, some of whom have very small jurisdictions.  Some of them are quite patriarchal in their approach.  In many cases we need to learn from each other.  Being there as a participant, I learned a significant amount from the Pacific women who do some amazing things and have some great programs in place.  They could also learn from some of the things we do.  They were quite interested in our Safe at Home legislation and how that worked.  We can all learn from each other.  We need to share our learning and not think we all need to reinvent the wheel.  When we find something that might work or does work, then we should share it and not think we have to reinvent everything to fit our own needs.  Of course there are cultural differences that need to be recognised, and that can never be overlooked.  When it comes down to it, violence is violence regardless of your culture and it is not acceptable.


I believe the outcomes statement provided a very comprehensive summary of the proceedings of the forum.  It was a very full few days.  The trip to the village was not actually planned as part of the forum, but because we had about an hour to spare at the end of the day, one day, because the flight was not leaving until the next morning, they were able to arrange that.  We really appreciated that opportunity to visit a neighbouring village.  I believe this clearly illustrates the benefits of such forums and I hope to be able to attend future forums to follow up with our Pacific sisters as we tackle this major challenge together and continue to learn from each other. 


The forum was very timely, appropriate and beneficial.  I note again the work of Ms Fiona Way and her team and the ongoing financial support provided through the AusAID program and the support of the Australian and New Zealand Governments. 


[11.30 a.m.]

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