Prime Minister Speech for White Ribbon Day 2009


I acknowledge the First Australians on whose land we meet, and whose cultures we celebrate as among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

I also acknowledge the excellent work of everyone involved with White Ribbon Day, particularly the White Ribbon Ambassadors here today, in raising the profile of the battle to end violence against women and children.

It’s not often that a Prime Minister is asked to swear – in public.

But when it’s for White Ribbon Day, I want to hear every man in this building swear out loud today, because we are swearing an oath; a commitment to end violence against women; to never excuse violence against women.

We must have zero tolerance when it comes to violence against women.

All Australian men must take responsibility for ending violence against women.

The statistics are horrific.

Over their lifetimes, almost one in five Australian women will be sexually assaulted.

Almost one in three will be physically assaulted.

Almost one in four children in Australia will witness violence against their mother or stepmother.

Less than one-third of victims will report it.

And the cost of this violence to the Australian economy has been estimated as $13.6 billion last financial year.

From impacts on health, on working life and other costs – in addition to the incalculable emotional and psychological harm.

That is why the Australian Government is emphatically committed to reducing violence against women.

In April, we received the Time for Action report from the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children.

And as an immediate response, the Australian Government has invested $42 million in initiatives to reduce this violence, including $26 million in measures such as Respectful Relationships programs for young people across the country.

And a social marketing campaign which is focused on changing the attitudes and behaviours that contribute to violence against women.

We have referred the Time for Action report to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

And my colleagues – the Attorney-General Robert McClelland and the Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek – have been working hard with a cross-section of State and Territory Ministers on the next step of a National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women.

A draft of the Plan will come to COAG next month.

And it will be finalised next year.

Our Violence Against Women Advisory Group has held its first meeting.

We are assessing applications to run a second round of Respectful Relationship programs for young people.

And we have gone out to tender for the establishment of a 24 hour, 7 day a week national telephone and online crisis services for victims of violence.

We have also commissioned a survey on attitudes to violence against women – the first since 1995.

And today I can release the results of that survey.

The National Community Attitudes Towards Violence against Women Survey 2009 was conducted by VicHealth, in partnership with the Australian Institute of Criminology and the Social Research Centre.

10,000 Australians were surveyed: women and men in equal numbers.

I’m pleased to report that there has been a significant shift in the attitudes and beliefs Australians hold about violence against women.

This survey confirms that respect for all people is a fundamental Australian value, that the vast majority of Australians agree that relationships must be respectful and free of violence, and that Australians want to live in a community where all women can live free of violence.

98 per cent of respondents to this survey acknowledged that domestic violence is a crime, an increase from 93 per cent in 1995.

Very few people – in fact, only one in 20 – now believe that victims of sexual assault ‘ask for it’. That’s down from one in seven people in 1995.

But disappointingly, the survey shows that some Australians still hold attitudes which excuse or trivialise violence against women.

One quarter of people surveyed disagree with the statement that ‘women rarely make false claims of being raped’.

One in five thinks that violence can be excused if the violent person later genuinely regrets what they have done.

And disturbingly, the proportion of people who think that women are as likely as men to commit domestic violence has more than doubled.

The statistics simply do not bear this out.

Data from the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey shows that for those women who had experienced physical assault in the past 12 months:

* 31 per cent were attacked by a current or former male partner;

* 28 per cent by a male family member or friend; and

* 15 per cent by a male stranger.

For those men who had been physically assaulted in the same period, only four per cent were attacked by a current or former female partner.

65 per cent were attacked by male strangers.

Men are victims of violence but the violence they experience is much more likely to be at the hands of a male stranger than a female partner.

No violence is acceptable – not domestic violence, not sexual assault, not elder abuse, child abuse or neglect.

Teaching kids from day one about respectful relationships should reduce a range of violent behaviours.

We must do more to change attitudes and, even more importantly, change behaviour.

Our next steps will include our $17 million social marketing campaign which we will launch early next year.

We’ve come a long way in changing attitudes but – for the 1,000 women each day who are still victims of violence – this is no time for complacency.

At the launch of this year’s White Ribbon Day I said I would encourage every honourable gentleman in the Australian Parliament to take this oath.

That night I swore the oath.

I applaud all the White Ribbon Day Ambassadors across Australia who swore this oath.

And I applaud the men who have come here today to swear the oath – every Aussie man should.