Good morning to you all.
I’m very pleased to be here to launch Women and Money: An Introduction to Financial Abuse and I would like to thank Adam Mooney and Good Shepherd Microfinance for inviting me to address you today.
From banks to not-for-profits, and from business to the public sector, everyone in this room is committed to making financial system more inclusive.
And we all know certain groups in our society are most at risk of being left behind financially.
Women – of all ages - are one of these groups.
Women face a number of challenges to their economic security, including the fact they get paid almost 19 per cent less than their male colleagues, work more part-time hours than men and as a consequence retire with almost half the superannuation.
The financial abuse of women by their partners is a less visible issue but it is far more common than we think.
Financial abuse is about seeking power and control through economic means.
It can include controlling a partner’s access to cash and bank accounts, or excluding her from major financial decisions.
It could be pressuring her into staying in a casual or part-time job or taking out loans in her name.
And before long, she’s locked into a relationship of financial dependence and control and it is incredibly difficult to leave.
She’s lost her confidence with money and she’s lost her sense of self-worth.
Around 2 million women in Australia have experienced some form of financial abuse akin to what I’ve just described.
That’s equivalent to almost the entire female population of Sydney.
And I’m sure some of you here have encountered it in your work.
Yet, the broader community’s understanding of the issue is limited and women who are experiencing financial abuse often suffer in silence – or don’t even realise that their reality is a form of abuse and that help is out there.
This is why the launch of this online learning module is so timely.
It will help train Good Shepherd Microfinance counsellors to identify ‘red flags’ of financial abuse, so they can discuss it with their client, and help them access support.
It includes a range of helpful slides and teachings that set out what financial abuse is; some of the most common abusive behaviours and tactics used by perpetrators through the Economic Abuse Wheel; profilers of abusers and referral pathways and crisis support details.
Importantly, counsellors will also hear the stories of a number of financial abuse victims, including a woman named Sallie, who would have never thought of her husband as an abusive man.
Yet whenever she brought up the topic of money he'd get angry and wouldn’t allow her to be involved in the family finances.
Later, Sallie found out her husband never paid the utility bills.
And because the account was in her name, she took on the debt for fear of a bad credit rating.
After they separated, her husband refused to pay Child Support.
Becoming familiar with these stories is the key to recognising when a client is experiencing financial abuse.
Financial Counsellors are the ones working on the front line – so it makes sense that you should become the experts in recognising financial abuse and helping women to regain their financial independence.
Financial abuse is a recognised form of violence against women – it also often occurs in conjunction with other forms of family violence and controlling behaviours.
Importantly, financial security and financial literacy are important factors for women who have experienced violence to have the confidence to leave violent relationships and rebuild their lives.
This programme is a practical measure which contributes to the Government’s agenda on reducing violence towards women and their children.
As many of you may know, there is unprecedented momentum in relation to combatting the scourge of violence against women in the community and the Government has taken a number of steps to lead this national effort.
In June last year, the Prime Minister and I launched the Second Action Plan under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.
The Second Action Plan and the 12 year National Plan has a strong focus on stopping violence before it happens in the first place, and on changing community attitudes on both gender equality and violence against women.
The Government has provided $100m over four years to support the implementation of projects under the Second Action Plan, including the ongoing funding of key organisations such as ANROWS, Our Watch and 1800RESPECT.
In January of this year, the Prime Minister appointed Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year and elevated the issue of violence against women onto the COAG Agenda.
In April this year, COAG agreed to look at how all governments can practically work together on improving our response to violence against women, with practical actions to be taken by the end of 2015 in relation to perpetrator standards and a nationally enforceable domestic violence order scheme.
The Prime Minister and I also announced membership of the COAG Advisory Panel, which will bring crucial expertise to assist COAG in this momentous task and help it focus the national effort on the areas where it will make the best difference to people’s lives.
I recently attended the Panel’s first meeting and can assure you all that the fact that we are at a turning point in Australia was reiterated by the Panellists – a turning point in relation to the way that all Australian governments and the community more broadly understand and respond to the complex web of issues that constitute violence against women.
One element of this complex web is the issue of financial abuse.
And one of the ways to deal with this complex issue is to create a whole-of-community response to combat violence against women, including through community partnerships with organisations such as Good Shepherd Microfinance and the Women and Money Learning Module.
Women and Money is also a wonderful example of how Government and the non-government sector are working in partnership to strengthen the economic future of Australian women and their families.
The Government funds a suite of microfinance initiatives under the Social Services portfolio to support individual and families on low incomes to access safe and affordable funds and build their financial capability.
In the 2015 Budget, the Government made an additional investment of more than $63 million towards microfinance initiatives which will help strengthen women’s financial resilience.
- Funding the No Interest Loans Scheme (known as ‘NILS’), StepUP and Saver Plus programmes for an additional five years to 2020;
- Funding the Community Development Financial Institutions organisations for an additional 3 years.
What I love about these initiatives is that corporates such as NAB, ANZ and Westpac also understand their intrinsic value, and have provided more than $60 million in corporate investment and loan capital.
The Government has also partnered with Good Shepherd Microfinance to support organisations to develop Financial Inclusion Action Plans, to address the financial exclusion of their employees and customers.
These new approaches will improve financial resilience in Australia – as organisations will commit to tangible actions to address financial inclusion within their sphere of influence – and, importantly, will target women in particular.
And finally just last month I was proud to launch the Women’s Money Toolkit in partnership with ASIC.
The toolkit is a free online resource that provides women with the confidence to manage their finances and achieve their financial goals.
It’s been designed to equip women with the knowledge to manage their money and make informed financial decisions at different times in their life when they’re having a baby, buying a home or planning for retirement, or facing the unexpected challenges of disability or family breakdown.
These programmes are perfect examples of the community-business partnerships this Government wants to foster.
I want to commend Good Shepherd Microfinance, the National Australia Bank, Brotherhood of St Laurence, ANZ and of course ASIC for all of the work that you do and all the work that I know you will continue to do to assist women to regain their financial independence and to realise their own economic wellbeing.
These initiatives are central to the Government’s commitment to strengthening the economic resilience of Australian women.
In closing I’d like to give you the reason behind why we are committed to reducing financial abuse –because it is important for individuals, their families and for our communities more broadly.
The safety and economic resilience of women not only allows individual women to participate more fully in our economy - it will contribute to the productivity and positive economic growth of our nation.
And as experts in the microfinance industry, you are in a unique position to not only identify financial abuse when you see it, but also to raise awareness about how we can lessen its prevalence and impact.
Ultimately, if we invest in women - if we empower them to achieve their financial independence and to make smart financial decisions - we are quite literally investing in a more prosperous future for every single Australian.