Concerns regarding the SA Government's management of their domestic violence campaign
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
One in Three Campaign

The following speech was made by the Hon Stephen Wade MLC in the South Australian Legislative Council on 23rd June 2010.

DON’T CROSS THE LINE WEBSITE

The Hon. S.G. WADE (15:59): I want to speak today about my concerns regarding the government’s management of the domestic violence campaign. Our society is becoming increasingly intolerant of violence—including domestic violence—against women. Like a number of members of this chamber, I am a White Ribbon ambassador, a movement of men to urge men to speak out against violence against women. A White Ribbon survey found that 98 per cent of Australian people today say that domestic violence is a crime, compared with 93 per cent in 1995.

I am sure members throughout the chamber would share my concern regarding anything that would undermine progress and allow anyone to diminish the importance of dealing with violence, including violence against women. It is in that context that I express my deep concern about the government’s management of the Don’t Cross the Line campaign website.

In September last year, the state government launched the Don’t Cross the Line campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence. In the same month, Men’s Health Australia wrote to the Office for Women expressing concern at what it perceived as a selective use of statistics which it considers overstates the impact of domestic violence on women and understates the impact of domestic violence on men. I asked a question of the Minister for the Status of Women on Men’s Health Australia’s concerns in October and, in response, she said:

I acknowledge that there is research and data from a wide range of different sources and there can be different interpretations of such data. However, I am advised that the data on the Don’t Cross the Line website is sound.

We did not hear anything from the government until yesterday, when the Minister for the Status of Women made a ministerial statement in which she admitted that the Office for Women has been found by the Office of Crime Statistics and Research to have distributed misleading information. Further, the minister advised that the Ombudsman is investigating similar concerns about the website. She indicated that it would be inappropriate for her to comment while the Ombudsman’s investigation is underway.

I am concerned that the minister’s statement is not clear. When she says the OCSAR report was sought—and I quote—‘following concerns by some individuals’, was she referring to Men’s Health Australia only or to other complaints as well? Does the Ombudsman’s investigation relate to the Men’s Health Australia concerns? What is the scope of the Ombudsman’s investigation? Considering that she does not think it appropriate to comment while the investigation is underway, what matters are within the scope, such that it would be inappropriate for her to comment?

I am concerned that the government often tries to use investigations as shields against accountability. We have seen it in relation to Burnside council. Of course, it would be inappropriate for the minister to pre-empt the findings of the investigator. However, the minister is still responsible to this house and should be accountable for the costs and time lines, especially in terms of what she is doing to make sure that voters have the facts they need.

Likewise, in relation to the Don’t Cross the Line campaign, it is inevitable that the OCSAR report and the Ombudsman’s investigation will increase the scrutiny of the government’s management of the program. I assure the council that the opposition will not be deterred from pursuing the important matter of the promotion of safety for women against domestic violence because the government may choose to use an investigation as a shield against accountability.

Also, I am concerned that this incident raises an overarching concern about the level of public ethics under this government. From base level public servants to the Premier, the Rann Labor government needs to lift its performance in communicating with the public. We need to make sure that we raise the standards so the public can be completely confident that when they are getting public information they are getting reliable information. It is very worrying that the effectiveness of important public information initiatives—such as the domestic violence campaign—could be undermined by the distribution of misleading information.

The public expects government information to maintain the highest standards of truthfulness and accuracy and, often in campaigns such as this, public health and safety depends on it. I have no doubt about the sincerity and the depth of minister Gago’s commitment to eradicate domestic violence. I call on her to do whatever she can within the government to repair the damage done to the campaign and urge her to that end to maintain full and frank communication with this council and with the public.

Article originally appeared on One in Three Campaign (http://www.oneinthree.com.au/).
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