In the lead up to the election, whilst attention focuses on marginal seats, those who are disadvantaged in the Australian community should not be marginalised.
The Report, How Australia is faring: Multiple Disadvantage 2012 which measured multiple disadvantage for people aged 18 to 64 years indicated that around 5% of the working age population, or 640,000 people, have multiple disadvantages. Between 2006 and 2010 there was a worsening in those disadvantaged by employment and education, and in the number of people experiencing poor health and little change in the income, safety and support indicators. Disadvantage was found to be difficult to get out of as around 40% of the people aged 18 to 64 years who experienced multiple disadvantage in 2006, experienced multiple disadvantage two years later.
Women are more likely than men to experience multiple disadvantage, and persistent disadvantage, according to the Report, which also stated that the gap between men and women is wider, the longer the disadvantage persists.
In the lead up to the election, ACLW has brought together women community leaders who work on the frontlines with women who experience disadvantage in Australian communities to contribute to an analysis of Key issues that concern and impact on women in disadvantaged communities and make recommendations to address these issues in the upcoming election.
A 14-women Panel of leading women with a record of achievement, experience and knowledge of particular social justice issues experienced by women in Australian communities, commenced their analysis in March 2013. The Panel closes on 11 September 2013.
Below is a summary of the Panellist’s recommendations, so far.
To address domestic and family violence
- set national benchmarks for good practice
- ensure that the infrastructure is there at the regional and state level to support national initiatives
- support discrimination protections in law for people experiencing domestic violence
- support the two Bills: Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination and Fair Work Amendment Bills
Ludo McFerran, National Project Manager, Centre for Gender Related Violence Studies at the University of New South Wales
To improve the status of women
- consider the gender implications of insecure employment in relation to workplace gender equality objectives, paying particular attention to caring as it impacts on women as primary paid and unpaid care workers.
- offer a significant increase in the JET childcare and training assistance.
- apply a gender lens to relevant public policies including education and income support.
- ensure that national Vocational Education and Training (VET) policies focus on gender equity while recognising the complexity and challenges associated with gender when it intersects with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background, with disabilities, with culturally and or linguistically diverse backgrounds, with low socio economic backgrounds and with geographical disadvantage.
- task the Productivity Commission with examining both the supply of quality, affordable child care, as well the effect of the taxation and welfare transfer systems interacting with the cost of child care.
- support efforts to reduce the gender pay gap and its attendant causes across all employment sectors
Sandra Cook, National Director of Policy, BPW Australia
To address the multi-generational criminalisation of women and children brought about through social inequities
- Reinstate the Centrelink Parenting Payment for parents with children under 18 years old and increase Newstart Allowance payments.
- Decriminalise Centrelink fraud. The vast majority of Centrelink fraud is driven by need, rather than greed. Criminalising and imprisoning women who commit offences in this area is counterproductive. A federal criminal record only serves to make women's situation completely hopeless, with little hope of ever escaping the poverty trap. And, almost always, their children are further traumatised and disadvantaged, placing them at disproportionate risk of criminalisation.
- Fund community organisations to work with criminalised women - particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
- Resource the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to investigate Australia's compliance with the Bangkok Rules (the United Nations Rules on the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders). The AHRC should be resourced to play a leading role in ensuring that all Australian states and territories meet their human rights obligations under the Bangkok Rules.
Debbie Kilroy, CEO Sisters Inside, Brisbane
For women and men experiencing disadvantage in Australian communities
- women and men must be enabled to move between periods of caring and work, and more easily combine care and work
- policy changes to enable women to better balance their paid work and caring responsibilities
- flexible working conditions
- policies that value women’s unpaid work
- addressing current tax, welfare and childcare arrangements so that they are not regressive thus creating disincentives to workforce participation and reducing opportunities later in life
- recognising women’s strengths
- recognising that women accessing services can face direct and indirect discrimination and that the underestimation of women’s abilities may lead to a narrowing of options, loss of confidence and despair
- ensuring participation and voice are fundamental to inclusive empowering services
Eve Bodsworth, Research & Policy Manager, Brotherhood of St Lawrence
For women experiencing sexual violence and trafficking in the Sex Industry
- criminalise the intentional use and abuse of a trafficked woman in the sex industry
- conduct research into the demand for trafficked women in the sex industry
- conduct research into the institutional violence of the sex industry, and how other countries have addressed this form of VAW
- adequately resource specialized programs such as Project Respect that support women who experience all forms of violence perpetrated in the sex industry (including trafficking)
- develop a system of accredited NGOs assessing trafficked persons and referring for visa’s and support, not police
- include trafficking and violence in the sex industry as part of the coverage of the national hotline 1800 RESPECT
- provide visas and support for women who are trafficked, in recognition of the human rights abuse that has been allowed to occur in our country, regardless of their willingness to engage with the criminal justice process
Kelly Hinton, Executive Director, Project Respect
For Refugee women, in particular those who come under the Women at Risk visa category
- targeted support in areas such as housing, employment and education
- developing a more consistent national approach to the settlement needs of refugee women
- intensive assessment for all women entering the settlement support system to more accurately gauge the vulnerabilities and risks of their life circumstances
- a more targeted case management approach to the needs and strengths of these vulnerable women, linking them earlier to the pathways and services they need
- understanding that women experiencing multiple disadvantage encounter multiple barriers when accessing support as they often struggle to meet existing referral criteria for the services that they need
- need more flexibility in the key mainstream services that support vulnerable refugee women to ensure a more consistent and client-centred approach
- supported in their choices to relocate if their initial settlement location is not suitable or further compounds their social exclusion
Violet Roumeliotis, CEO of Settlement Services International
For Single Parents
- Increase Newstart. The National Council of Single Mothers & their Children has called for an increase of $60 per week (the same level as the Parenting Payment). Newstart is woefully inadequate at $279 per week and is stuck at 77% below the poverty line.
- Increase the $ that parents can earn and retain to the equivalent of the PPS. The Government`s announced increase (subject to legislation) will be welcomed, but it is inadequate. $50 per week has it languishing well behind the Parenting Payment.
- Implement fair indexation for Newstart by using the same formula as used for pensions so any gain made wont be eroded over time.
- Support a National Focus and strategy to eliminate Child Poverty in Australia. Let's put this back on the National Agenda.
Terese Edwards, CEO, National Council for Single Mothers and their Children
For Older Women
- Recognition that many older women have no benefits, or very limited benefits, from superannuation because of caring responsibilities that have occurred throughout their lifetimes
- Increased flexibility in the workplace assists carers to remain in and re-enter employment
- Secure work to allow for the re-entry of older women into the workforce after caring responsibilities have ceased
- Work of a casual nature needs to accrue the same advantages as permanent work
- Need secure affordable housing
- Increase in refuges and emergency accommodation for older women experiencing violence, specifically in the form of clustered accommodation, specifically for older women, where older women can feel safe and secure, whilst avoiding social isolation
- Access to community transport, health centres and hospitals
Rita Tratt, Secretary, Older Women's Network NSW
For Aboriginal People:
- need jobs for our young people, in particular
- need a life trajectory for our kids that includes opportunities and self-respect
- walk forward with our heads held high as Aboriginal people – without having to sacrifice anything of ourselves or our cultural pride
- need a spirit of cooperation, openness, encouragement and respect
- our people must be given the space to do our healing first
- given opportunities to move forward and to take control of our own destiny
Janelle Brown, Aboriginal Community Engagement
For overseas-born women without permanent residency in Australia:
- The Australian government should amend Migration Relations 1994 (Cth) to grant holders of the prospective marriage visa and secondary applicants of permanent visas protections through the domestic/family violence provision.
- Alongside the domestic/family violence provision, the government should provide holders of the prospective marriage visa and secondary applicants of permanent visas access to healthcare, accommodation and crisis services such as legal assistance, translators / interpreters, counselling and shelter at refuges. These services should be made available to visa holders who experience or report cases of violence to relevant authorities. The government should also consider granting work rights to all individuals during this interim period.
- Relative service providers should undertake cross cultural training so that they are equipped to effectively manage cases involving culturally and linguistically diverse individuals.
- Short term remedy - Create an additional temporary visa for temporary visa holders who have experienced domestic/family violence. This visa aims to ease the burden placed on temporary migrants by giving them additional time to either make arrangements to leave Australia, apply for another visa (this may include a Protection Visa) and grant them access to basic crisis services and work rights as stipulated above (recommendation (ii)).
- The government should foster an integrated, whole of government approach to protect overseas born women without permanent residency. Recognition of the increased barriers experienced by these individuals in accessing available services and exercising their rights should be reflected in future policy frameworks. Implement guidelines to assist decision makers in applying the Refugee Convention to cases concerning gender and domestic violence.
- Expel the general risk exception from the Complementary Protection Regulations and clarify grounds for protection. In accordance with international human rights principles, this should include any situation in which the applicant faces a real risk of proscribed forms of harm, irrespective of whether that risk is personal.
Melba Marginson, Executive Director, Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition
For women experiencing sexual harassment in workplaces:
- need for a stronger legislative mechanism in preventing and responding to sexual harassment in workplaces.
- allow random (or given sufficient cause, planned) audits of workplaces to demonstrate that they comply with minimum standards of education about sexual harassment and discrimination and have processes in place for handling concerns while demonstrating that when complaints have arisen they have acted in a fair and appropriate way
- conduct independent investigations into individual claims of sex discrimination if respondents refuse to participate in good faith or where there is suspicion of systemic sexual harassment
- supporting complainants financially with legal representation if considered warranted for complaints that are not conciliated satisfactorily
- a single act, such as the proposed Human Rights and Anti Discrimination Bill, would serve to improve and simplify access for complainants.
- an opportunity to modernise aspects of Commonwealth human rights laws seems to have been concerningly delayed but hopefully it has not been missed.
Kerriann Dear, Director of the Queensland Working Women’s Service Inc. (QWWS)
For Migrant workers and Partner-Marriage Migrants:
There are many conditions on 457 visa that have to be reviewed:
- IELTS (English test) expiration must be removed for those 457 visa holders who have been working for one year
- change the tuition fee for dependents from international student’s fee to local student’s fee
- put the 457 visa in permanent residency framework. It should be a permanent residency and not temporary residency. This will lift all bonded-like work situation that are woven in the 457 visa regulations.
For Partner visa holders:
- The two-year waiting period of this visa must be cancelled. The successful partner visa applicants must be granted permanent residency.
Jane Corpuz-Brock, Executive Officer, Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association
For women impacted by childhood trauma:
- the Terms of Reference of the Royal Commission into institutional child sexual abuse mean that abuses, other than those which are sexual in nature, as well as abuses perpetrated in the home and family are not being examined. The Royal Commission and the conversations … need to be supported by action in the pursuit of justice as well as by services which are informed about complex trauma and its impacts, services which are accessible and affordable to the large numbers of victims/survivors of all ages needing them
- for all parties, in government as well as opposition to take a bi-partisan approach to issues of trauma, violence and abuse
- support survivors as they come forward and speak to the Royal Commission and other inquiries, and ensure that as a society we take whatever steps we can to protect the most vulnerable amongst us and provide child and adult victims with the ‘trauma-informed’ support they need to reclaim their lives and overcome the repercussions of the often gendered assaults of power.
Dr Cathy Kezelman, President Adults Surviving Child Abuse
For women in disadvantaged communities:
- invest resources and energy into up-skilling the nation around financial management issues
- ensure that families do not take on too much debt is crucial in regard to educating the population (particularly to those populations vulnerable to debt) around financial management issues and that the public is better educated around the debilitating impact of these issues for individuals and families
- educate young people whilst they are still at school around financial management issues, as this is such an essential life skill in today’s environment. Subjects which could be covered include the importance of savings, the management of debt, and the importance of avoiding unmanageable debt.
Carol Berry, CEO, Illawarra Women’s Health Centre
(Photo source: Women have higher rates of persistent low economic resources reported in How Australia is faring: Multiple Disadvantage 2012)