He has also vowed to stop the high rate of Indigenous incarceration and put Indigenous female equality at the top of the Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) agenda.
Mr Shorten released a series of Indigenous justice-related election promises on Wednesday as part of a passionate speech delivered at the Melbourne Law School, where he pledged his devotion to right wrongs with a ‘Closing the Gap’ justice package.
While battling against fluctuating leadership polls, the Opposition leader promised action on both domestic and family violence and education equality for females of all ages throughout the country.
The Labor domestic violence package lacked any mentions of new money. However Mr Shorten restated a previous commitment to restore $50 million in legal service funding, including $4.5 million specifically allocated to Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Services.
“Crime and incarceration affects the safety of the whole community – and the solution belongs to the whole community,” Mr Shorten said at the University of Melbourne on Wednesday evening.
“Of course, we can never talk about community safety, without addressing the scourge of family violence. Violence against Aboriginal women is at the very core of the national shame of family violence in Australia."
He stated family violence was the number one cause of Aboriginal children being removed from their families and communities, and subsequent trauma and disruption.
"Violence against Aboriginal women is at the very core of the national shame of family violence in Australia."
“…Every woman living in fear must have access to safe and culturally appropriate legal support, no matter where they live.”
The ‘if elected’ package would provide a U-turn on domestic violence funding policy, given that the federal government announced it would cut $21.5 million from Legal Aid Commissions and $13.4 million from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, earlier this year.
However, these cuts were announced by the Turnbull government around the same time that it provided the nation with a $100 million anti-domestic violence package.
“I know every dollar of this money is desperately needed – and I know it will be well spent,” said Mr Shorten.
“Particularly when the presence of accessible, culturally-appropriate support can be the difference between Aboriginal women seeking help – and suffering in silence.
“I know in some conservative quarters it’s fashionable to say: ‘money won’t solve the problem on its own’.
“But cutting funding won’t rescue family violence survivors – full stop.”
The National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum (National FVPLS Forum) welcomed the federal government's funding, delivered earlier this year, but said it was disappointed it did not include a focus on improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victim/survivors access to essential frontline legal services.
“Family violence impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at vastly disproportionate rates and has devastating impacts," the National FVPLS Forum said in a statement.
"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence and almost 11 times more likely to be killed as a result of violent assault than other Australians.
“...For too long the impacts of family violence in our communities have been hidden.”
The advocacy group called for a dedicated national program to ensure all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victim/survivors can access the holistic frontline services.
Until then, “we fear Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family violence will again be marginalised”.
Pledge on equality for all Australian women
The federal opposition leader also guaranteed to provide “equality for Australian women, regardless of who they are or where they live” if elected.
“And we cannot close the justice gap, the family violence gap – without closing the gender gap for Aboriginal women and girls”.
According to Shorten’s figures, less than six in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female students complete secondary school as opposed to over eight in 10 for non-Indigenous students.
Over 50 percent of Aboriginal mothers have their first child while they are still teenagers.
Mr Shorten also promised:
- That his government would partner with Stars Foundation, to build on their existing programs in schools in the Northern Territory, to engage many more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls and young women across Australia.
- The Stars program provides full-time mentors and using extra-curricular activities, including sport, to improve school attendance and Year 12 attainment, and addressing health issues and social and emotional wellbeing.
- An $8.4 million investment to create 7155 new places in the Stars Program for girls across Australia.
- The domestic violence and equal rights for women Shorten package forms part of an overall policy initiative working towards specific Indigenous justice targets.
Other Opposition election promises:
- A Shorten government will “be guided by the people who live the reality of the justice gap: community leaders, Elders and Aboriginal representative organisations”.
- It will provide the resources for a long-term study of justice reinvestment in Bourke, to see what Australia can learn.
- It will work with communities who are committed to this approach, and with the states and territories, to select three more launch sites: in a major city, a regional town and a remote community to roll out a local-power model for community safety.
- Through COAG, the ALP will create a national coordinating body for collecting data and measuring progress.
Over a year to come good before an election
Australia has over a year left before going to the polls with an election to be held on or before 14 January 2017.
Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion said in an October press release that the government’s Indigenous affairs policies were strong while the opposition’s approach are ineffective.
It recently announced a new Indigenous Advancement Strategy and is currently consulting communities on the policy.
“Under Labor’s approach to Indigenous Affairs, it was nearly impossible to see where funding was going or if it was effective,” said Minister Scullion.
“Labor was never able to report on the number of Indigenous programmes or details of individual grants across the various portfolios providing Indigenous specific funding.
“I am proud of the reforms that we have delivered in Indigenous Affairs, getting kids to school, adults into work and making communities safer. These are the hardest areas to tackle, and we are not shying away from our commitment to improve the lives of our First Australians. The results we are seeing, out on the ground, speak for themselves.”