GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES PLAN TO STOP FORCED MARRIAGES AND FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION
Authorities will crack down on forced marriages, female genital mutilation and the abuse of migrant spouses under a new national plan to stop violence against women. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has launched the $100 million Second Action Plan to stop domestic violence, which will also see state and territory governments commit to work on implementing a national scheme for domestic violence orders. The scheme means perpetrators of domestic abuse would no longer be able to flee across state borders to escape court sanctions, and women who move interstate would still be protected from violent partners.
The plan is the second phase of a 12-year strategy to curb violence against women and their children. Currently one in three Australian women experience physical violence, and domestic abuse will cost the national economy more than $15.5 billion a year by 2021 unless stronger action is taken. “As a husband, a father and as a brother, I believe it is the responsibility for all of us to stand against domestic and family violence,” Mr Abbott said. “The Second Action Plan is about improving what we already do in terms of prevention, action and support. It contains practical actions that are critical to improve women’s safety.”
The plan will specifically target abuse perpetrated against women with a disability and from culturally diverse backgrounds, and Indigenous women who are 31 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence assaults. Assistant Minister for Women Michaelia Cash said migrant women are often not aware of their rights in Australia in relation to forced or underage marriage and female genital mutilation. Senator Cash said “Forced and underage marriages and the abhorrent practice of Female Genital Mutilation are not tolerated in Australia” she said. “Australians were shocked earlier this year with the news that right in our backyard, a 12 year old girl was allegedly married off to a 26 year old man” Senator Cash said.
The plan will mean foreign-born spouses who come to Australia on marriage visas will receive additional support. Their husbands or fiancés will have to provide authorities with additional information, and new material will be developed to inform these women about essential services and emergency contacts in Australia. “We must be aware that sadly, some women coming to our country are not afforded the same rights at home and we must as a Government ensure they are equipped with the knowledge they need to prevent being subjected to violence and abuse,” Senator Cash said.
The long-awaited plan will also commit states and territories to work with the Commonwealth to streamline information sharing and establish national standards for perpetrator intervention. It says it is “highly desirable” that state-based domestic violence orders be nationalised. Northern Territory Minister Bess Price says she is pleased the Second Action Plan has specific initiatives to deal with violence against Indigenous women. “I have been a victim as well, and I know how it is, and I want to make sure the future is better for women and their families and that help is provided so women can feel safe.”
SIMPLE LOVE PROJECT HELPS DESTITUTE ASYLUM SEEKERS
When university student Coco Knight read a story about yet more asylum-seekers drowning at sea, her first response was to weep. Her second was to move beyond empathy to action. But like others who’ve been feeling impotent in the face of the influx of refugees, she wasn’t sure what to do. She rang the Asylum Seekers Centre in Sydney offering to work as a volunteer, but was told what was most needed was food. Every week asylum seekers on highly restricted bridging visas were turning up destitute on the Centre’s doorstep, trying to make ends meet while they waited in legal limbo for their status to be resolved. Depending on when and how they arrived in the country, at least half have no right to work.
Ms Knight took the issue to her local pastor, 33-year old Gavin Mork, who’d just set up a non-denominational congregation in Balmain. They decided to raise it with their small but growing congregation. Ms Knight was ”blown away” by the response. ”We did a grocery list, based on advice from the Centre ” she says. ”We asked people to look at the list, which included toiletry and grocery items, fill a green shopping bag each and bring it back to the church the following week. That first week we had 110 bags”. Before Christmas last year they ran three more collections from a dozen churches. This reaped another 1400 bags of food, worth some $35,000, delivered to the Newtown Centre.
Her project, which she’s branded Simple Love, has now expanded to 35 churches around Sydney, and Ms Knight and a friend, Lucy Sharp, have set up a website and dropped from full-time to part-time university studies to manage it. A small number of schools are also signing up. ”It’s incredible the way it’s grown,” Ms Knight says. ”It shows that other people, particularly younger people, really want to do something but they don’t know how. It was exactly the same feeling I had. This is not political – it’s simple, and practical.” Simple Love splits the food they raise between the centre in Newtown and the House of Welcome, another support centre for asylum-seekers in Sydney’s outer west.
The Asylum Seekers Centre food bank co-ordinator, Maura Corkery, said the Simple Love project had come at a critical time, with the number of people seeking help more than doubling in the past year. Around 70% have been denied government support. ”It means consistent food and toiletry deliveries, which means every client gets a weekly parcel of groceries and household items,” Ms Corkery said. ”I think what Coco’s doing is inspirational. It’s amazing what these young people have shown, that all it takes is the desire to do something and by encouraging others to do the same, they are making a huge difference.” Across Australia more than 24,000 asylum-seekers are subsisting on heavily restricted bridging visas.
Religious leaders have condemned the Australian Football Leagues (AFL) decision to go ahead with Good Friday football as a greedy cash-grab taking precedence over important cultural traditions. Bishop Philip Huggins, of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, said the recent announcement that Good Friday games will begin as early as next year had caught him by surprise. He said a run of meetings between the church and the AFL had left it believing they would stay committed to keeping the religious holiday footy-free. “It is particularly disappointing in light of discussions I had with the AFL’s chief executive Gillon McLachlan, in which I thought he understood these sensitivities,” Bishop Huggins said.
He said the decision was regrettable and would trash a significant day that was the “turning point of all human history”. “The AFL has chosen to preference another money-making opportunity over respect for cultural traditions and sensitivities, continuing the grinding banality of product marketing,” Bishop Huggins said. Mr McLachlan said the AFL’s general manager of scheduling, Simon Lethlean, had consulted with religious leaders and other stakeholders about turning Good Friday into a game day. “He’s met with a lot of stakeholders, and I think that’s important to recognise, including, broadcasters and representatives of church groups,” Mr McLachlan said.
The Victorian Council of Churches also objected but asked that if it went ahead that a proportion of the gate be given to charity. AFL Commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick said there had been a “growing appetite” to hold a game on Good Friday, and “on balance, we believe the time is right”. Atheist Foundation of Australia’s Tracy Burgess said it was surprising it had taken the AFL so long. “I thought the AFL was the religion in Victoria,” she said. The question of whether to play AFL games on the religious holiday has long been a controversial topic. Former AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou opposed the idea but admitted he believed it was inevitable.