Four Australian feminists, all members of the f-agenda email discussion list, descended on Parliament House, Canberra, on Monday 22 March to begin three days of intensive lobbying on behalf of Australian women.  The following is a detailed report of the action sponsored by f-agenda members and carried out under the chosen name WomenAustralia.  [NOTE:  It has since been confirmed that the name ‘Women Australia’ is used by the National Foundation for Australian Women.  We will, therefore, choose another name for future actions].


History.  On 9 January 2004, discussion on the f-agenda list resulted in the following suggestion from one of our members:

What f-agenda needs to do, I think, is nominate one or two women from each State to form a delegation to go to Canberra and have a meeting with Mark Latham and Jenny Macklin.  We need to do careful planning beforehand re the issues we want to raise, put in a request for a meeting stipulating the amount of time we'd like to spend with them and, then, head off to Canberra at the appointed time.

This was immediately seized upon by several members as an idea we ought to act on.  And so began the process of exploring the feasibility of involving ourselves in such an action.  What issues would we focus on?  Who would go to Canberra as our delegates?  How would we finance the action?  What “contacts” did list-members have and how might we use them to ensure we had the best advice in developing our strategies?

Aim.  Our main aim was to meet with the Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham.  We also wanted to meet with Shadow Attorney General and Shadow Minister for Women, Nicola Roxon, and various other women and men from the ALP.  Also, we wanted to meet with Natasha Stott Despoja (Australian Democrats) and Kerry Nettle (The Greens), two women whose stand on issues for women we respect. 

The decision not to seek meetings with Prime Minister John Howard or any other Coalition MPs was made on the basis of their having presided over the systematic silencing of women and women’s groups since they came to power in 1996.  It was felt that meetings with them would simply be a waste of time.

Issues.  List-members were invited to suggest the kinds of issues we ought to consider taking to Canberra.  The choice was:  to go with a long list of women’s issues and touch briefly on each of them, or to choose a few issues and present them in more detail.  All list-members who offered an opinion chose the latter option.

From the following list:

. Domestic and family violence (including a commitment to re-fund WESNET)

. Family Court issues : abuse-free contact, joint custody inquiry, etc.

. The criminalisation of women (poverty-related crimes)

. Law reform re sexual abuse of children

. The situation of refugee and asylum seeker women and children

. Free trade agreements, globalisation and their effect on women

. Australia's International image - reinstating our commitment to UN conventions

. Health issues for women

. Meaningful reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

. Support for the work of the National Women's Justice Coalition

. The right to adequate and safe housing

. Pornography, prostitution, trafficking, sexual abuse.

we chose:

1. Domestic and family violence (including a commitment to re-fund WESNET)

2. Family Court issues : abuse-free contact, joint custody inquiry, etc.

3. The criminalisation of women (poverty-related crimes)

4. Law reform re sexual abuse of women and children

5. Health issues for women.

Choosing our Delegates.  It turned out that delegates and, therefore, the short-list of issues, chose themselves.  The following women, each of whom had demonstrated expertise in her chosen field, volunteered to be part of the team:

Betty McLellan offered to go in a kind of facilitator role and, also, to raise issues concerning the health and wellbeing of women and children;

Veronica Wensing was nominated by WESNET to raise issues of Domestic and Family Violence;

Debbie Kilroy offered to go representing Sisters Inside, Inc., to raise issues around the criminalisation of women due to poverty;

Marie Hume offered to go, in relation to her involvement with the National Abuse Free Contact campaign, to raise issues around the need for a more adequate Family Law response which would ensure the safety of women and children escaping domestic violence;

Caroline Taylor offered to go to raise issues around the need for a more adequate Criminal Law response to sexual violence against women and children.

Each of the above volunteers had demonstrated expertise in her chosen area.  Therefore, in the absence of other volunteers, f-agenda members’ task of choosing delegates was made simple.  [It must be said that members would not have endorsed any woman solely on the basis of her own offer to be a delegate.  Each delegate was to have expertise and experience in at least one of the areas f-agenda members considered to be urgent feminist/women’s issues.]  The above volunteers were endorsed and began their own discussions about how to proceed.

Financing the Action.  Many f-agenda members felt “ownership” of the action and began to make offers of $100 and $50 donations to defray expenses, with some adding:  “Let me know if you need more”.  Realising that money is tight for many of us these days, this level of generosity was overwhelming. 

Four of the delegates were successful in receiving a degree of sponsorship from Institutions they are associated with:

Betty McLellan, Queensland Women’s Health Network, Inc.  (airfare)

Debbie Kilroy, Sisters Inside, Inc. (airfare and accommodation)

Caroline Taylor, University of Ballarat (travel and accommodation)

Veronica Wensing received significant in-kind support from Toora Women Inc., to use paid time to attend the meetings and participate in the lead-up teleconferences.

The practical support of these Agencies was much appreciated as was their expressed confidence in our delegates’ ability to present the issues effectively.

Contacts and Advice.  Because our main aim was to meet with Mark Latham, some of our members agreed to discuss our pending action with contacts/friends in the Labor Party, who offered various pieces of advice:

.  Go sooner rather than later.  The closer we get to the Federal Election, the busier Party leaders (and all other politicians) will become, so “go early” or risk missing out.

.  Be very well prepared and present in a professional manner.

.  Be cautious about using the “f” word in our request for meetings.

.  Take a one-page synopsis of each presentation to leave with the politicians or their advisers.  Politicians don’t have time to read long papers.

.  Mark Latham “respects” statistics, so be sure to include research and statistics to back up your assertions and requests.  Any research papers can be left with advisers so that they are available for reference purposes.

.  Try to get appointments with key members of the Labor Party and, also, representatives of the Greens and the Australian Democrats.

....The Crucial Contact!  The most significant contact of all was that made by Debbie Kilroy at a meeting attended by Mark Latham in Brisbane at the end of January 2004.  Debbie made a point of approaching Mark, telling him that a delegation of women would be seeking a meeting with him in Canberra in the near future and asking if he would make himself available.  Without hesitation, he made a commitment to meet with us!  With that commitment secured, we were able to move ahead confidently with our preparations.  A big “thank you” to Debbie.

[NOTE:  Sadly, the pressure of work and other commitments caused Debbie Kilroy to have to abandon plans to be part of the delegation.  The team to go to Canberra was, then, reduced to four.]

Setting up meetings.  Since our primary reason for travelling to Canberra was to meet with the Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham, we knew we had to secure a date for that meeting before dates and times of meetings with other politicians could be confirmed.  Finally, after several emails and phonecalls back and forth, the time of 4pm Monday 22 March 2004 was offered by Mark Latham’s adviser, Maree Edwards, through Nicola Roxon’s adviser, Chris Black.  The offer was for a 30-minute meeting.  We accepted.

The following meetings were then scheduled:

Monday 22 March

4.00 pm      Mark Latham (and Nicola Roxon)

4.30 pm      Nicola Roxon

6.15 pm      Dinner with ALP women

8.00 pm      ALP Status of Women committee

Tuesday 23 March

11.30 am     Anthony Albanese  (ALP)

 3.30 pm     Kerry Nettle (The Greens)

Wednesday 24 March

10.20 am     Wayne Swan  (ALP)

11.00 am     Natasha Stott Despoja  (Australian Democrats)

[This was by no means the final list of appointments, but it was a good start.  See the full schedule of meetings to follow.]

Letter of Introduction.  The following letter of introduction was prepared and emailed to respective advisers and/or politicians following phone or email contact to set up meetings:


Four representatives of our group, Women Australia, will be making a visit to Canberra between 22 and 24 March for the express purpose of speaking with politicians about issues of utmost importance to women and to the wellbeing of our Nation.   I am writing, now, to confirm our meeting with you on  (date and time). 

Our delegates represent a large group of women covering every State and Territory of Australia, who keep in regular contact on social and political issues via two email discussion lists.

We have prepared brief presentations on the following issues:

.. Women's Health and Wellbeing
.. Domestic and Family Violence
.. Family Court matters and issues of Safety for women and children
.. Law Reform re sexual abuse of women and children

The following is a brief introduction to our delegates:

1. Dr. Betty McLellan, from Townsville. Psychotherapist and Human Rights activist. Chairperson of the Queensland Women's Health Network, Inc. with a longtime involvement on Management Committees of Women's Services. Consultant on women's issues to the Townsville Multicultural Support Group and the Migrant Resource Centre. Facilitator of one of the largest women's email discussion lists in Australia. Author of three books.

2. Veronica Wensing, from Canberra. Representative and former National Executive Officer of Women's Services Network (WESNET), a national women's peak advocacy body working towards prevention and elimination of domestic and family violence. Board Member of the National Women's Justice Coalition (NWJC). Founding Member of the Women's History Month Steering committee. Extended Collective member of Beryl Women's Refuge and current Management Team member of Toora Women Inc.

3. Marie Hume, from Adelaide. Representing the National Abuse Free Contact campaign, which is a national (and international) coalition of organisations who have formed to advocate on behalf of women and children going through the Family Court system with concerns about domestic violence and child abuse. Worked as a Family Court Counsellor for 12 years in the Adelaide Registry.

4. Dr. Caroline Taylor, from Melbourne. Member of the Victorian Law Reform Commission Advisory Group on Sexual Offences. Recently appointed to the Victoria Police Review Panel to review the Police Code of Practice for Investigating Sexual Offences. Also on the Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault Consultative Committee and an executive member of the Western Chapter of the Australasian Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. Currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Ballarat and has published extensively on issues associated with sexual offences against women and children.

We look forward to our meeting with you.

Yours sincerely,

Preparation of Presentations.  The four delegates, communicating by email and a series of teleconferences, discussed the aim of their individual presentations and how each would dovetail with the others.  We reminded each other of the importance of our maintaining control of the discussions rather than allowing our agenda to be overtaken by that of any politician.  A strategy was put in place to ensure that our issues were heard and that there was time, also, for responses from respective politicians.

Each delegate prepared her own presentation and emailed it to the other three for comment.  Then, each presentation was emailed to the f-agenda list. 

Introductory Presentation - by Betty McLellan
Presentation on Domestic and Family Violence - by Veronica Wensing
Presentation on Family Court issues: abuse free contact, safety, etc. - by Marie Hume
Presentation on Legal responses to Sexual Violence against women and children  - by Caroline Taylor

In addition to the presentations, each delegate prepared a 1-2 page synopsis to be left after each meeting. One example of a one-page synopsis is that prepared by Veronica.

Media Release.  A Media Release was prepared and distributed nationally in the early hours of Monday 22 March.  Special thanks to Megan Hinchley of AFHO – the Australian Federation of Homelessness Organisations – for her help in preparing the Press Release from information contained in delegates’ proposed presentations.

The Media Release, which follows, was also sent to Mark Latham’s office and physically distributed at the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Parliament House by the delegates.

Delegates representing women from across Australia have come together today to meet with the federal opposition leader, Mark Latham, to discuss the safety of women and children.

“There has been a resurgence of concern among women in recent times in regards to women’s safety.  We’ve had the Howard government’s axing of the $2.7 million advertising campaign to combat domestic violence, the trafficking of women for sex and the recent issue of ‘male bonding’ through the gang rape of women”, said Dr Betty McLellan,  “enough is enough.”

“We need to change the attitudes of government and of men in general towards women in this country.  Women make up 52% of Australia’s population and we need the community as a whole to recognise the importance of women’s issues,” Dr McLellan added.

“At least 23% of women in Australia have experienced domestic or family violence, and as the latest ABS figures point out, this accounts for 2.2 million women.  Current data also shows that 56,100 women accessed a refuge in 02-03 and 53,700 children were accommodated.  These figures don’t include the turnaways of 4,354 women with children.  Reports also show that somewhere between 80% - 95% of women who experience domestic or family violence do not access help from any service”, said Veronica Wensing.

“These figures are mind blowing, and when you see that nearly 3 in 5 of all murders of women over the age of 15 occur between domestic partners and that an average of 62 women are victims of intimate homicide each year and 33% of children who were victims of homicide between 1989 and 1993 died as a result of family violence, there is a serious crisis in this country,” continued Ms Wensing.

“Another startling statistic is that 1 in 3 girls and women have experienced some form of sexual violence so far in their lives and out of these victims, only 1 in 10 will ever report their sexual victimisation.  This shows the lack of confidence these women have in the police and judicial system”, added Dr Caroline Taylor.

"Another point to make is that the current family law system is failing to protect women and children who are attempting to escape domestic violence and child abuse. On a daily basis women and children are continuing to be abused because of the system's failure to adequately protect them following separation", stated Marie Hume a spokesperson for the National Abuse Free Contact Campaign.

“We are meeting with Mr Latham for the purpose of getting a commitment from him towards women’s issues.  We want him to recognise the importance of these issues and that we need to do something about them now.  We want him to have a better track record than John Howard” continued Ms Hume.

“We need assurance from Mr Latham that he will maintain and support existing services for women, reinstate funding to those who have lost their funding and fund new ones.  We need to tackle the issue of the safety of women and children and we need to do this now” concluded DrTaylor.

For further information please contact:

Dr Betty McLellan: 0410 218 990                                              Dr Caroline Taylor: 0416 017 066
Veronica Wensing: 0408 380 085                                              Marie Hume: 0429 404 987

Sense of Purpose.  On the phone and in emails, delegates articulated our growing excitement and sense of purpose as the time for the Canberra visit drew near.  We were women on a mission - and it was exciting!

Ready for Action: ..Veronica .. .. Betty .. ..Caroline ..Marie



The four of us descended on Canberra on Sunday 21 March.  Actually, Veronica lives in Canberra but the other three travelled (Caroline by car from Melbourne, Marie by air from Adelaide and Betty by air from Townsville) to meet each other in Canberra.  The Action proceeded as follows:

Monday 22 March

10.00 am     Met at Veronica’s office for first face-to-face meeting.  After a brief discussion, Veronica sprang into action on the phone setting up more meetings.  Betty was on the phone responding to requests for media interviews.  Marie and Caroline were doing last-minute preparations.

11.00 am     Caroline went to the ABC studios where she was interviewed about her research for the following day’s “Life Matters” programme on ABC Radio National.

12.00 noon   Arrived at Parliament House.  Caroline had arranged for her local MP, Catherine King (Ballarat), to sign us in and get us “Unaccompanied” passes so that we would have freedom of movement around Parliament House for the day.  We also had free access to, and use of, Catherine’s office for the day.  Very helpful.

3.00 pm      Media.  Betty was interviewed by Mike Welsh, Canberra Commercial Radio 2CC.

What follows is an outline of the discussions we had with various politicians together with our impressions of the tenor of each meeting.  Before moving into this section of the report, it would be helpful to show the full schedule of meetings we were able to arrange with politicians and, in some cases, their advisers.

Full Schedule

Monday 22 March

4.00 pm      Mark Latham (and Nicola Roxon) ALP
4.45 pm      Nicola Roxon (ALP)
6.15 pm      Dinner with ALP women
8.00 pm      ALP Status of Women committee
9.00 pm      Trish Crossin (ALP)

Tuesday 23 March

11.30 am     Anthony Albanese (ALP)
 3.30 pm     Kerry Nettle (The Greens)
 6.00 pm     Lindsay Tanner (ALP)

Wednesday 24 March

 9.40 am     Jenny Macklin (ALP)
10.20 am     Wayne Swan (ALP)
11.00 am     Natasha Stott Despoja (Australian Democrats)
12 noon      Anthony Byrne (ALP)
12.35 pm     Carmen Lawrence (ALP) 

The Meetings

4.00 pm      Meeting with Mark Latham and Nicola Roxon (and their advisers, Maree Edwards and Chris Black).

This meeting went exceptionally well.  We were nervous because we were very aware of the heavy responsibility we had taken on.  We were there not only as representatives of the wonderful feminist women on the f-agenda and elsa lists but also as representatives of Australian women who desperately needed the future to be better than the past eight years had been (since the Howard Government came to power).

Mark Latham was gracious and respectful toward us.  Our meeting with him was squashed in between a fairly contentious Question Time and another meeting he had scheduled but, while he was with us, he gave us his full attention.  He listened to our brief presentations, made relevant comments, wrote notes and occasionally looked at Nicola Roxon and said:  "We should be able to do that, shouldn't we, Nicola?"  So, while we're not naive about what all that means, we did finish the day feeling a fair degree of satisfaction.

We started with Betty’s introduction, followed by Veronica, then Marie, then Caroline.  At the end, Mark seemed to have a comment on something from each of our presentations.  His comments included: an exclamation about Veronica's statistic that 25% of children have witnessed violence against their mother or step-mother.  He was genuinely surprised that DV was affecting so many Australian children (which only goes to show that they're not very "up" on the literature about women’s and children's lives!).

He agreed that it is important to invest early, to change the system so that children don't have to start life in such traumatic conditions.  He also said:  “The point you make about men starting to speak out against violence against women and children is vital”.  And, then, in response to Marie's emphasis on the need to prioritise safety for children in the Family Law Act, he said:  “Sounds like a very sensible change to the Act”.

Caroline, as the last speaker, had to rush her presentation because Mark had already been reminded of his next meeting, but she made some very important points which seemed to get his attention.  For example, he expressed surprise when Caroline quoted findings of a Sexual Assault survey showing the high propensity for young males to believe that physical and sexual violence against women and girls was OK in certain circumstances.  Also, he showed surprise at the 1 in 3 statistic she quoted.

[NOTE:  The scheduled 30-minute meeting with Mark Latham turned out to be close to 45 minutes, which was very much appreciated by the four of us].

Feedback we received from Mark’s adviser a couple of days later was that he had responded very favourably to our visit and she was hopeful that our presentations would have some influence on the formulation of Labor Party policies in the areas we focused on.

4.45 pm      Meeting with Nicola Roxon, Gellibrand, Vic.
              Shadow Attorney General and Shadow Minister for Women

Nicola invited us to her office where we debriefed after the meeting with Mark, discussed the issues further, made reference to our desire to work with and be a support to the women in Parliament and looked at follow-up strategies.

When we raised the issue of mutual support between women in Parliament and women/feminist activists in the community, Nicola mentioned that they hadn’t heard from women like ourselves in a long time.  We discussed the Howard government’s silencing of women and the depression we felt when it seemed like the Labor Party was failing to offer any real alternative to the policies of the Coalition, and expressed the view that all of us were now, finally, coming to life.  The newfound courage of the ALP under Mark Latham was giving us hope. 

Nicola made it clear that she was very pleased our group had made the effort to send a delegation to speak with them and asked us to give some thought to how the Labor Party could make these issues palatable in an election campaign.

5.30 pm      Back in Catherine King’s office.  Veronica came up with the idea of our putting together a “portfolio” of our handouts - a folder to be handed to each politician after our meetings.  Lots of photocopying and preparation of folders followed.

6.15 pm      Dinner with ALP women.

We were taken to dinner in the Members’ Dining Room by about 12 of the Labor women (MPs, Senators and a couple of advisors).  Lots of talking.  Great atmosphere.

8.00 pm      ALP Status of Women committee.

When we were introducing ourselves to this committee, we “came clean” about the fact that we were feminist women and that our Canberra action was sponsored by the feminist-agenda email discussion list formed after the Townsville International Women’s Conference in 2002.  We explained that the name “Women Australia” was adopted after we received advice to be cautious about using the “f” word in our request for meetings.  They seemed to enjoy our ‘confession’.

We made our presentations to this Status of Women committee so that they knew the kinds of issues we had raised with Mark Latham and would raise with other politicians over the next couple of days.  After a brief discussion, the meeting closed at 9pm.  Trish Crossin, Chair of the committee, then asked us to meet with her in her office where we discussed the issues in more detail.

Those who attended the Status of Women committee were:

Trish Crossin, Palmerston, N.T.

Kelly Hoare, Charlton, NSW
Nicola Roxon, Gellibrand, Vic.
Catherine King, Ballarat, Vic.
Tanya Plibersek, Sydney, NSW
Maria Vamvakinou, Calwell, Vic.
Julia Irwin, Fowler, NSW
Senator Linda Kirk, SA
Senator Sue Mackay, Tas.
Senator Claire Moore, Qld.
Senator Jan McLucas, Qld.
Also, there were six staffers in attendance.

Tuesday 23 March

10.00 am     Met at Veronica’s office to preview the day.  We were pleased to see that The Canberra Times had reported on our visit, under the heading: “Women woo Latham”! 

11.00 am     Arrived Parliament House.  Met by Cora from Senator Jan McLucas’s office, as arranged, and had the use of Jan’s office for the day.

11.30 am     Meeting with Anthony Albanese, Grayndler, NSW.
              Shadow Minister for Employment Services and Training

We gave abbreviated presentations.  We had been told that Anthony was on-side with the kinds of issues we were there to discuss and he didn’t disappoint us.  He is genuinely concerned for the safety of women and children in the home and the community.  Also, he recounted examples of the negative treatment meted out to women by the court system and agreed that there is an urgent need for change.

In an attempt to relate our issues to his portfolio, we talked about women being caught in the poverty trap through casual and part-time employment, the irrelevance to women of Howard’s training schemes and the need to promote the kinds of training that took into account the special circumstances of women.

12.30 pm     Discussion with Jan McLucas.  Jan let us know that she was very pleased our group had decided to descend on Canberra.  She said she had hoped women’s groups and Indigenous groups would begin letting their voices be heard around Parliament House again.

1.30 pm      Lunch

3.30 pm      Meeting with Kerry Nettle (Greens), NSW

This was an excellent meeting.  Kerry spoke of her close connection with the Sydney Rape Crisis Service.  She was pleased to know that we had presented our issues to Mark Latham and that he gave us a good hearing.  As we outlined our issues to her, she couldn’t have been more in agreement.  Great meeting!

5.15 pm      Media. Betty did a phone interview with ABC local radio, Townsville.

6.00 pm      Meeting with Lindsay Tanner, Melbourne, Vic.
              Shadow Minister for Telecommunications and Community Relationships 

This was a difficult meeting in many ways.  Lindsay was quite defensive in some of his responses.  He clearly sees the “crisis of masculinity” as a crisis in terms of blue-collar working men being displaced and that the ALP in government will need to focus on the needs of those men and of boys.  We tried to get him to expand his thinking and see the violence of men as an issue which needed to be addressed in its own right.  We were surprised that his mind seemed to be closed to some of our issues.

In our discussion of mentoring, however, he did agree that mentoring needed to include a focus on the pervasive negative views males hold of females with a view to changing those attitudes. 

In relation to Family Court issues, Lindsay let us know that he was a non-custodial father.  When Marie talked about our concern about the attitudes of Father’s Rights groups, he expressed the opinion that there were maybe a “couple of bad apples” but that most of them were OK.  Right at the end of our time with him, we discovered that he had to rush off to a meeting in relation to the joint custody inquiry.  The discovery that he was in a prime position to influence policies in this area, spurred us on to raise issues as we followed him out the door!  One remark that worried us quite considerably went something like this:  “It’s hard to prove that a man’s been violent to his partner or children.  Sometimes they’re just accusations”.   We were quite alarmed by this attitude and made a point of conveying our concerns to subsequent Labor members with whom we met.

7.30 pm      Met Canberra f-agenda members for dinner.  Lovely women, great food, lively conversation.

Wednesday 24 March

9.15 am      Met at Marble Stairs, Parliament House.

9.40 am      Meeting with Jenny Macklin, Jaga Jaga, Vic.
              Deputy Leader of the ALP.
              Shadow Minister for Education

Jenny welcomed us warmly and, while our presentations were less formal because we knew Jenny’s views on the issues were similar to our own, we were pleased to be able to raise the issues and prompt a very satisfying discussion.  She congratulated us on our efforts and told us to keep it up!

10.20 am     Meeting with Wayne Swan, Lilley (Brisbane), Qld.
              Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services

Wayne took control of the meeting in the beginning and talked about poverty and institutional inequalities.  We were agreeing with him until he appeared to link rape, child sexual abuse and domestic violence to poverty.  Caroline put him straight!  She made the important point that the recent revelations about footballers raping and gang-raping women was not about financially poor men but about highly paid and high status men raping women.

This enabled us to get back some of the control of the discussion and inject some of our own concerns about women and poverty, the criminalisation of women due to poverty, and so on.  Because Wayne’s Shadow portfolio is Family and Community Services, we impressed on him the need for a Labor government to reinstate the level of funding necessary to enable women’s services to function effectively.

11.00 am     Meeting with Senator Natasha Stott Despoja (Australian Democrats), SA.                    

Natasha was involved in an important debate in the Senate and it looked like she was going to have to miss our appointment.  We understood, of course, but were very disappointed.  Suddenly Natasha appeared, somewhat breathless, at her office door saying she really didn’t want to miss out on seeing us because the issues we were representing were so important to her.

We began our discussions with reference to the headlines in The Adelaide Advertiser which reported:  “A man who shot his estranged wife dead after a long-running dispute over access to their daughter has been acquitted of all charges - and plans to seek custody of the child”.  This was a perfect example of the issues Marie had been raising and highlighted the need for the government to give urgent attention to ensuring the safety of women and children.

Natasha told us that she was preparing a speech to be delivered on Monday night (29 March) about the murder of women and children.  She said she would like to mention our visit in her speech and incorporate the issues we raised.  We were thrilled to bits!

Our discussion with Natasha was mutually helpful and very satisfying.  She gave the impression that she was willing to take on any issues that we, or others, wished to raise with her in the future.

12 noon      Meeting with Anthony Byrne, Holt, Vic.

After giving brief presentations of our issues to Anthony, he explained that he had only become aware of the desperate situation some women and children are in when a woman in his electorate was killed by her partner.  Since then, he has been a consistent advocate for a better deal for women.  He has written opinion-pieces in newspapers, spoken out against the “blackshirts” and other Fathers’ Rights groups and generally tried to influence societal attitudes.

Anthony was prepared to give us as much time as we wanted and, when we had to move on to our next appointment, he seemed a bit disappointed!

12.30 pm     Caroline had to leave to drive back to Melbourne but not before she had another meeting with her local politician, Catherine King.  Catherine has agreed to make mention of our visit in Parliament so that our efforts are recorded in Hansard (for posterity!).  Great!!

12.30 pm     Meeting with Carmen Lawrence, Fremantle, WA.
              President of the ALP.

Carmen was rushing to prepare a speech for the afternoon session of Parliament but took about 10 minutes off to talk with Marie, Veronica and Betty in the reception area of her office.  As always, Carmen was totally on-side and let us know that she was very pleased to see our group taking action and fronting up to politicians with these crucial issues.



Nicola Roxon, during our meeting with her, made a point of impressing on us the importance of following up our visit with a letter reiterating the points we made.  In discussions among ourselves over the three days, delegates came up with the following suggestions for follow-up action:

A.  Write a follow-up letter to key people:

. Mark Latham, Leader of the Opposition,

. Nicola Roxon, Shadow for Women, and

. Trish Crossin, Chair of the ALP Status of Women Committee

The following letter was sent to Mark Latham on 31 March with copies to Nicola Roxon and Trish Crossin (and Catherine King, who was seeking an opportunity to make a speech about our Canberra visit in the Parliament):

Dear Mr Latham,

Representatives from Women Australia would like to thank you for your time in meeting with us on March 22. We hope that we have succeeded in raising awareness of issues of utmost importance to women and the culture of Australian society.
We take this opportunity to remind you of some of our key points:

1. We call for work towards cultural change at a broad level that promotes equality and respect for women and regards women as citizens of equal worth. This upholds Australia’s obligations under international covenants to which it is a signatory, which promote women’s rights as human rights. We advocate for equal opportunity for women’s participation in national and international decision-making and urge the Labor government to sign the Optional Protocol to CEDAW as a matter of priority once it is in power.

2. We ask you to promote a zero tolerance approach to violence against women and children in the private and the public spheres. This involves an integrated approach which includes the criminal justice system, the family law system and the broader community.

3. We ask that you prioritise issues of safety for women and children and recognise that homes need to be places of safety for women and children. We remind you that one in four Australian children have witnessed violence perpetrated against their mother or step-mother and ask that you develop policies which guard children against having to witness or experience this violence.

As a male in a powerful position in this country, we have an expectation that you and other men in positions of power will stand up and say no to violence against women in all its forms and that you will do this at every opportunity, because men listen to men. We support promotion of healthy and positive male role modelling for the development of respectful relationships.

4. We ask for a community awareness strategy to be developed to promote respectful and non-violent relationships in order to not only address the problem, but to reduce costs associated with responses to domestic violence after it has occurred.

5. We ask that you consider the amendments that have been made to the New Zealand Guardianship Act which prioritise the rights of children to safety in family law matters. This includes use of a rebuttable presumption of no contact where there is violence.

6. We ask that you address necessary law reform in relation to all levels of the criminal justice response to child and adult sexual abuse with a particular focus on law reform issues that have been recognised and documented as discriminatory, such as the High Court's reinforcement of the corroboration warning as a standard warning to be given in all sexual offence trials, regardless of context; and the continual subverting of legislation designed to curb cross examination of women and children around their alleged sexual history. The introduction of sexual history evidence and the application of the corroboration warning have been identified consistently in research across Australia, as a significant barrier to fair treatment of victim/survivors in sexual offence proceedings and has been recognised as discriminatory and sexist.

7. We remind you that you can use women and women’s organisations to inform policy development and trust that you will avail yourself of the opportunity for ongoing dialogue with Women Australia and other women’s organisations with which we are involved or with whom we have contact.

Once again, we thank you for the opportunity to meet with you and look forward to seeing the Labor Party’s Policy Platform giving priority to the safety of women and children.

Yours sincerely,


Dr Betty McLellan                                    Veronica Wensing      
PO Box 688                                          c/o WESNET
Townsville Qld 4810                                     PO Box 1579
Ph 07 4772 6060                                      Canberra City 2601                 Ph 02 6248 0607 -- Email:


Dr. S. Caroline Taylor                               Marie Hume, B.A. M. Soc Sc
Post Doctoral Research Fellow                     Counsellor/Consultant
University of Ballarat                               PO Box 380
P.O. Box 663                                        Mannum SA 5238
Mt. Helen  Victoria 3353, Australia                 Ph: 0429 404 987
Ph: +61 3 5327 9732                                Email:


B.  Produce a form letter which f-agenda and elsa list-members can use to send to their local politicians informing them of our visit to Canberra and of the issues we raised.

C.  Encourage individual members to request face-to-face meetings with their local federal politicians for the purpose of presenting the issues raised in Canberra.  Where possible, members should go in two’s or three’s, with prepared presentations (5-minutes each) on one or more of the issues.

D.  Encourage individual members to write letters to the editor about these issues on a regular basis.

E.  Write up the ACTION in detail and post it on the feministagenda website so that interested members of f-agenda and elsa will have ready access to it.  Also, it is hoped that, by writing it up in detail, our Canberra action will serve as one “model” of political action on women’s issues.



The four of us who were privileged to go as delegates found the whole experience exciting and exhilarating (even if somewhat exhausting!).  We worked very well together and were pleased with the way we fed off each other to bring the issues together in a convincing and professional manner.  A bond quickly developed between us, and our respect for each other’s commitment and ability to present the issues clearly and concisely grew stronger over the three days. 

We agreed that this was a very important action and that all who supported the action (all members of f-agenda and elsa email lists) ought to be proud of ourselves for going ahead with it.