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A national summit on women’s safety will be held in July in a deal between federal and state ministers to canvass new programs to prevent violence amid calls for an urgent injection of $150 million to help families in need.
Consultation on the new programs began on Wednesday night after the women’s safety ministers agreed to take the first steps toward the summit, which is meant to shape a new national plan to prevent violence against women and children.
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston held an online meeting with her state counterparts on Wednesday to agree on July 29 and 30 as the dates for the summit.
Senator Ruston emerged from the meeting to declare the next agreement would go beyond the goals set in the last plan, which offered $328 million over three years but runs out at the end of this year.
“We need to make sure that we move from just reducing violence against women and their children to ending violence against women and their children,” Senator Ruston said.
“We must have a goal towards zero and the next plan will be an ambitious blueprint to stop the rot that is domestic violence across our national landscape.”
While the government aired plans for the summit several weeks ago, pressure for the event has intensified since former government adviser Brittany Higgins went public on February 15 with allegations she was raped in Parliament House, setting off a wave of protests about violence against women.
While federal and state leaders held a similar summit in Adelaide in October 2018, with about 100 delegates debating policy measures, this year’s event could be bigger given the calls on governments for greater action on the problem.
Domestic violence services are asking the federal government to repeat an injection of $150 million announced last year on the grounds that services cannot wait for the next national plan to start next year.
Senator Ruston said she had asked the state ministers to tell her how much of the $150 million they had spent, with the results likely to guide any negotiations over whether to spend more.
“I’m very keen to get that information so that we can make sure that programs into the future are targeted to areas of greatest need,” she said.
Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said the meeting discussed a national approach to preventing coercive control, given her state’s pledge to legislate protections against the problem.
“Coercive control is a dangerous form of behaviour used by perpetrators to instil fear against victims – it’s controlling where a woman goes, who she sees, what she wears, how much access to money she has,” Ms Fentiman told ABC News.
“It’s tracking her movements through invasive surveillance devices. It is incredibly dangerous behaviour. It is our biggest predicting factor for intimate partner homicide.”
Senator Ruston also named coercive control as an issue to address in the next national plan, as well as the use of social media and technology to compound abuse.
“I certainly think tech-facilitated abuse is a major, major issue in domestic violence. Unquestionably. And the anonymity of some of those accounts, I think, allow people a level of bravery that perhaps they wouldn’t have if they had to be identified,” Senator Ruston said.
“It is definitely an issue we should be investigating.”
The government has opened public consultation on the next plan to prevent violence against women and children via an online questionnaire.
Support is available from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.