Stop it at the Start - Campaign Launch Press Conference

Release Date: 
20 April 2016

The Hon. Christian Porter MP
Minister for Social Services

Senator The Hon. Michaelia Cash
Minister for Women


MINISTER PORTER: I’m not going to speak for too long – I suspect Senator Cash isn’t going to talk for too long – because we’ll play the ads for you. I think they speak for themselves. What I would say is that the campaign has been developed after very extensive consideration of the existing national and international research.

We also – the Government, the Coalition – have commissioned its own qualitative and focus group research into the ads. The point of the ads is to break habitualised behaviour and responses, particularly those that we end up teaching to young men and boys, which all of the research tells us are the foundation stone for later behaviour which results in violence being occasioned against women.

So the notion is, in essence, that if you’ve got a situation where one in six women experience physical or sexual violence, and the research also tells us that we also have a concurrent situation where one in four young people don’t think it’s serious if a guy who’s a normally quite gentle fellow hits his girlfriend or partner when he’s drunk and they’re arguing, then those two notions and outcomes must absolutely be linked.

So we are trying to hit directly at that attitudinal and habitual behaviour that exists in the mind of, particularly, young men and boys and you’ll see from these ads that that’s where they’re directed. I would say though, it’s described in the press this morning as having the “capacity to shock”. I’m not sure that’s a perfect description – I think that they’re very confronting; you’ll make your own judgements.

But they are designed to confront all of us on our attitudes and they’re kind of, in my observation, confronting in the way that we all get confronted from time to time when a trusted source tells us a home truth about some habit that we’ve engaged in perennially which is not good or appropriate behaviour. And as I say I think you’ll see what we’ve seen in these ads – and that is that they’re powerful. Michaelia.

MINISTER CASH: Thank you to Minister Porter, and ladies and gentlemen. It is a great day today that we are launching a $30 million dollar national awareness campaign in relation to tackling the attitudes that can ultimately lead to violence against women and children.

As the Prime Minister has said, “Disrespecting women does not always lead to violence against women. But certainly, all violence against women began with a fundamental lack of respect”. And that is what this campaign is all about: changing the attitudes that we’ve formed, the research has shown, in our very, very early years.

But if they’re formed again they can ultimately become part of what we do and end up in violence towards women and children. As a Government, our fundamental belief is that women and children in Australia should be safe at home, safe on the streets and safe online. And this $30 million dollar campaign that Minister Porter and I are launching today is part of the Government’s policy response towards tackling violence against women and children. Whether it’s our $100 million dollar Women’s Safety Package, the $100 million dollars that we allocated in relation to the Second Action Plan under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, we are taking a holistic approach towards targeting violence.

In terms of the campaign itself, it’s very much targeted at those people who are influencers – whether they’re parents, whether they’re teachers, whether they’re friends. The research shows that coaches, coaches are real influencers when it comes to setting an example. And what the research also confirms, as Minister Porter has said, is that we need to stop accepting or excusing disrespectful behaviour towards women and girls.

And when you see the ads you’ll see the scenarios that have been put together – so for example, when a woman or a girl has been hurt often the first response is, ‘What did she do that was wrong?’ We go straight to, ‘the woman must have done something wrong’ or ‘the girl must have done something wrong’ without questioning why the perpetrator did what he did. When a woman or girl has been hurt we’ve got to stop saying, ‘it’s just boys being boys’.

So again, it’s all about changing those attitudes at a young age that can ultimately lead towards disrespect for women which can then, of course, lead to violence against women and their children. So ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to stop the excuses, it’s time to start the conversation and as Minister Porter said, the ads do really speak for themselves. We will now show you the advertising campaign.

[Ad shown]

MINISTER PORTER: Obviously we’re happy to take questions now. I might just add some observation. Michaelia and I were involved in this from the very start so we had access to all of the focus group and qualitative testing. That image you saw of the young gents at a party, social gathering, taking a picture on their mobile phone of a young girl’s cleavage – the power in that image in all of the focus groups is that people were familiar with the scenario.

I mean, people have seen it and then recognised their own responses as being passive or excusing or indeed, as Michaelia noted, often asking what the girl had done to warrant that behaviour occurring. Now that behaviour is completely unacceptable and yet people in the focus groups saw it for the first time in the context of a piece like that, and saw how wrong and unacceptable it was and saw their own familiar responses which were not the right responses.

So I think there’s some very powerful images in that ad. Obviously we have television, free to air and paid TV, community television specific cuts for CALD communities being reached for the first time as wholly across the spectrum – online, in newspapers, print and radio. So it is a very far-reaching campaign. We’re happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister Porter you’re the father of a son. Do you have any personal experience of having this conversation with him about attitudes toward women? I’m not sure how old your son is…

MINISTER PORTER: He’s 6 months – so he’s on “da, da” – sorry I don’t mean to be facetious.

JOURNALIST: What’s your advice to parents?

MINISTER PORTER: Well, look, I mean when you become a parent for the first time obviously the world changes in a lot of ways, and you don’t sleep for a start – but you start thinking about those types of things. Look, I spent nearly a decade as a Crown Prosecutor so I had the experience of prosecuting in court a great amount of sexual offences, domestic violence – I mean more of them than I would have cared to remember to be honest.

And one of things that I did notice when I was in those scenarios is that there is a very strange masculine acceptance of violence in Australia, and poor behaviour. And nothing in this research particularly surprised me given what I have seen. But what you’ll see in those advertisements is that there is a massive role for parents to play.

So these habitualised responses of ‘boy will be boys’ or ‘he just does it because he likes you’ – these sort of familiarisms that we immediately use to explain away scenarios which we feel, at some deep level, uncomfortable with – we essentially have to stop. So I think that all mums and dads, and mums are particularly influential the research says, have to talk to their children, but their sons particularly, and explain to them that there are better and much worse responses in a whole range of familiar situations, and to adopt the better response.

And girls should stop being taught to blame themselves and seek reasons why the behaviour was brought upon them – that has to stop.

MINISTER CASH: And certainly in the focus groups, that was the feedback that we received. Once people had seen the scenario that was put to them, they literally came out and said ‘that is my behaviour I am seeing, I had not appreciated the long term effect that it could have’. In one of the focus groups we had the example of a ten year old girl who came in with her parents.

And the scenario that was presented to them was two young people who had never met before, a boy and a girl. The boy picked up a plastic bottle and threw it at the girl. The young ten year old girl was then asked, what was her first response? And the reaction was: ‘what did the little girl do wrong?’ The parents were horrified, absolutely horrified, because even they had not expected their daughter to come out with questions about what the girl had done wrong in the first instance, as opposed to asking why the little boy had picked up a bottle and thrown it at her.

JOURNALIST: When you were a girl could you relate to that attitude?

MINISTER CASH: I think, absolutely. I think, you know, growing up you’ve always been told, you know, don’t ‘chuck like a girl’, and you just laugh. You just assume, you know, that, you know when you sort of see that now, and you see in particular, you know, the look on the little girl’s face, I think that’s what really does now resonate. We need to teach our young boys and our young girls, to respect one another, but also that we are equals full stop.

But as influencers are, I don’t have children myself, but I have nieces and nephews, I’m an influencer to them, and I need to remind myself of, you know, what I say or the attitudes that I take on, how they can potentially influence them in the long term. So this is all about us questioning our own behaviour – and quite literally, as the campaign says, let’s stop it at the start.

JOURNALIST: How will you measure the success of the campaign?

MINISTER PORTER: Well, we would very much like to see this issue come under control in terms of statistical outcomes, and people who report that they have been the victim of sexual assault, or indeed official criminological statistics. But this is part of a twelve year approach, so that is going to take some time. And of course it’s multi-causal, so attitudes are a major

problem and they take a long time to shift.

So we’ll of course be looking at overall criminological statistics. Immediately, what we will be doing is measuring, as part of this expenditure, the reach of these advertisements. So the first and most important thing immediately is to try and ascertain how many people have seen, how many people have understood, the message, and whether or not that they have been individually influenced by what they’ve seen.

So, look, this is part of a much wider strategy and a hundred million dollar plus strategy on top of this thirty million, to try and bring those criminological statistics under control, and in due course reduce them, but immediately this is about reach, and we will measure in the same sort of qualitative sense of the research to develop these ads, how quickly people are responding to them.

JOURNALIST: When we talk about the one in six figure, or one woman a week, at least, being killed, is it possible in that twelve year time frame, or some time frame, to get down to zero?

MINISTER PORTER: I absolutely think so. So my experience as a prosecutor and as a state AG was to track criminal statistics, and one of the very happy parts about Australian life is that, in most categories, the statistics show that crime, as a percentage of population, is actually decreasing. And the one very notable exception to that has been crimes of violence against women, so what we would label domestic violence. And, criminologists will say it is very hard to unpack cause and effect: is there physically more of this happening?

Or is it the case that for the first time that we are properly policing, encouraging reporting, appropriately prosecuting, so that we are finding more of the phenomenon that has always existed at a relatively constant level? It’s impossible to give a perfect answer to that question. In the 1990’s, and even in the early 2000’s, the policing of domestic violence was a very different range of individual scenarios from what we see at the moment, and I can summarise those by saying taken far less seriously than it is now, so even inside police forces, the amount of resources that are now being devoted to investigation and building of briefs against domestic violence incidents is very considerable, and much larger then what it was in the 1990’s and 2000’s, and that’s a wonderful outcome.

MINISTER CASH: And we all have to remember – and that’s why these ads or this campaign is so important – violence against women, any violence, any violence, it’s a choice. You choose whether or not to commit the act of violence. So ultimately a holistic approach towards violence against women and children, and looking at how we can tackle those attitudes that can ultimately lead to violence against women and children, may ensure that we’re aware that it is a choice, and that we exercise the choice to say ‘no’.

JOURNALIST: Will any part of this campaign appear in schools? And do you think there is a good case for this kind of messaging to appear in the curriculum?

MINISTER PORTER: It’s a broader issue. In answer to the first question, so part of the overall core response for this advertising campaign is that there will be a special dedicated, part of the 1800 RESPECT lines set up, so that those influencers that we are trying to get the assistance and aid of in changing attitudes can call that line to get packs to start to run these types of attitude change processes in schools, in their sporting club. So we’ve made provision for that. Now, whether or not this could be incorporated as part of curriculums is a thing worth discussing, and that’s a matter…

JOURNALIST: What’s your personal view?

MINISTER PORTER: Well my view is that you have to do that on a region by region or place by place basis, so part of this process through COAG, which is where the programs are being developed, is in cooperation with the states. But, look, I think that there’s room for that in the future, I absolutely do. But that is something that has to be done in cooperation with the states, and I think that would have to be very specific.

MINISTER CASH: And certainly last year the Women’s Safety Ministers, we wrote to the Education Ministers, and we recommended that Respectful Relationships, that programme, be imbedded in the school curriculum. We were very pleased that then the Education Minister’s determined that it would. And this is certainly something that, obviously, in any event teachers will have access to this. So if they wanted to utilise it they could, but certainly from our perspective, Respectful Relationships itself, that particular program, is now embedded in the curriculum.

MINISTER PORTER: I just want to add, this is tiered, so all of this campaign is designed to influence the influencers who influence the children.

JOURNALIST: Ministers, do you ever see scope for politicians to modify their own behaviour? Obviously there are instances of disrespect towards women and MP’s. And Australia had a first female prime minister years ago and there were claims of misogyny around her. But that often gets put down to the rough-and-tumble of federal politics. Is there an onus on MP’s to play a role as influencers as well?

MINISTER CASH: Well certainly we are role models. We are in positions of influence, and we should always be aware of what we are portraying to other people. But it’s interesting that – I’m going to pick up on the words that you used, ‘the rough and tumble of’ – because certainly, in my and the government’s policy to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, we have seen a litany now, a litany of examples, whether it’s through Royal Commissions, or Federal Court proceedings and findings, of bullying, intimidation and thuggery on building sites.

And it was actually Brendan O’Connor’s response, he saw nothing wrong with that type of behaviour, and said, ‘it’s just part of a rough and tough industry’. I don’t accept that and I certainly don’t accept that in politics you cannot control your own behaviour. In particular, when you are presented with research like we have been presented with – it is a constant reminder that we need to be constantly checking the behaviour that we portray ourselves.

MINISTER PORTER: You guys all know that politics is adversarial. It certainly has its pointed parts. Frist an observation, it’s somewhat unhelpful, I think, in the interaction of men and women in politics when men overdo it – too loud or too aggressive. However, the flip side of this is for young women watching politics or watching question time or watching the Senate to see people like Michaelia and to see other great Members of Parliament, female Members of Parliament from both sides of politics, who are firm, who are giving as good as they get in Question Time.

I mean I think that is the type of inspirational leadership that’s offered by Members of Parliament all the time, which changes attitudes. And some of what we’re doing here is to try and change an attitude that seems to have developed amongst young girls to ask themselves ‘what have they done wrong?’ or ‘why is it their fault?’ I think that the sort of leadership that you see in Parliament, in an adversarial environment from great female Parliamentarians helps break down those prejudices.

JOURNALIST: Domestic violence experts have welcomed the idea of the campaign and attitudinal change but also are really concerned about frontline funding for women’s refuges, homelessness services – should they expect to see some good news in the Budget?

MINISTER PORTER: Well I would like to say respectfully that there’s been good news already. So this is a $30 million marketing, advertising and attitudinal awareness campaign. That sits on top of $100 million dollars which this Commonwealth Government, the Coalition, has invested. And that’s the first time really that the Commonwealth Government has gotten heavily involved in this area. Now some of that money is to do very practical things including services that are about [inaudible]. And one of the notable features, very unfortunate features of domestic violence, is that women are the overwhelming majority of the victims but are also the people who end up having to the leave their own home. And that is something that has to be reversed.

But I’d also make the point that there’s in excess of $200 million dollars’ worth of National Partnership funding on homelessness which the previous Government [inaudible] but this Government renewed and this Government placed a specific tied focus on the alleviation of the sort of problems we are now discussing on domestic violence. So people will always say that more can be done. This is part of a twelve year overarching response, but over the last nine months more has been done by quantum of a very considerable stretch than has ever been done before. So there’s already been a lot of good news, plenty to build on.