Safety, Security and Hillary
21 June 2018 at 8:51 am
National security is both important and challenging, but governments need to recognise that safety and security is about much more than international threats, writes Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie.
Keeping citizens safe is one of the highest priorities of any government.
This week the personal safety of women has emerged as a critical national issue, largely in response to an horrific fatal attack on a young woman in Melbourne.
While we can applaud the outrage and the public commitment to support change, thousands of women in Australia face ongoing violence in their own homes daily. In 2016, an average of around one woman per week was murdered by her current or former male partner in Australia. Around three million Australian women report having experienced violence at the hands of a male partner or parent.
You would think the ongoing attacks on women and girls would be a national priority of the highest order. It isn’t.
The last federal budget provided $54 million in new funding for “women’s safety and welfare” – most will be spent over five years as part of the “addressing elder abuse” program.
While discussions about women’s safety occupied the media, CCA spent much of this week making submissions and appearing before the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security.
CCA is trying to ensure charities that collaborate internationally will still be able to advocate publicly without the risk of having to go on a register of foreign agents – and all the additional work and fees that involves.
The emotive and important discourse about women’s personal safety provided a stark contrast to the government’s approach on national security.
The federal attorney-general talked about the urgent threat to our upcoming federal by-elections and the need for new bills to protect our country from espionage and foreign interference to be finalised in this sitting of parliament.
National security is apparently a political winner for the government. This is despite the fact that the ALP has voted in favour of every government security bill. For its part the government has been willing to compromise, which is why well over 100 amendments have been made to national security bills under the Abbott/Turnbull government.
Australia’s national security is so important that it requires a super ministry with superpowers and a super budget. We spend close to $40 billion on national security each year.
The safety of women requires significantly less attention and is apparently all about culture change through education. It isn’t.
Violence is more common amongst the marginalised, the dispossessed, the poor and the discarded. Australia’s approach to addressing some of the underlying issues informing violence is, at best, ad hoc and poorly resourced. Many charities that work with these communities are themselves facing a struggle to survive. In-depth sustained work with families at risk is the exception.
In one of the richest nations on earth, our attitudes to offering support to those in need is partly framed by ill-informed notions about “deserving” and the “non-deserving poor”. This overtly judgemental “them and us” viewpoint reverberates in parallel with the “it is the woman’s fault” framing of sexual violence.
The public and political discourse about national security is all about pervasive threats that must be addressed at any cost – even if there is collateral damage done in reducing the capacity of charities to collaborate with international organisations. But what if our national security debate was informed by the need to keep all Australian women safe? How much more would we, could we do?
I am not the first writer to link discussion of women’s safety to national security. In fact, the connection between national security and the safety of women has a name: the Hillary Doctrine.
It first gained international prominence in 2010 when Hillary Clinton, speaking at a surprise TEDWomen Talk said: “Give women equal rights, and entire nations are more stable and secure. Deny women equal rights, and the instability of nations is almost certain. The subjugation of women is, therefore, a threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of our country…
“It was no coincidence that the places where women’s lives were most undervalued largely lined up with the parts of the world most plagued by instability, conflict, extremism, and poverty. This was a point lost on many of the men working across Washington’s foreign policy establishment, but over the years I came to view it as one of the most compelling arguments for why standing up for women and girls was not just the right thing to do but also smart and strategic… the correlation was undeniable, and a growing body of research showed that improving conditions for women helped resolve conflicts and stabilise societies.”
When CCA framed the values for the Australia we wanted to live in and developed measures for each value, the key measure for having a safe society was “how safe people feel working alone at night?” Australian men felt safer than the OECD average, but Australian women were below the average – in fact Australian women were in the bottom 10 out of 37 OECD nations for feeling safe.
Last year Jane Gilmore published an article in the Sydney Morning Herald which ended with the following paragraph: “If the Turnbull government was truly concerned about saving Australian lives, rather than shoring up the notion that the left is soft on terrorism, they would be moving some of the national security resources onto the genuine threat to our national security – men who commit violence against women and children.”
National security is both important and challenging. There are thousands of Australians working to preserve our freedom and safety from international threats. They deserve acknowledgement and support from all of us. But governments need to recognise that safety and security is about much more than international threats.
If governments focused more attention on the safety of women and less on curtailing freedoms in the name of national security, Australia would not only be safer, but more like the Australia we all want to live in.
About the author: David Crosbie is CEO of the Community Council for Australia. He has spent more than 20 years as CEO of significant charities including five years in his current role, four years as CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, seven years as CEO of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and seven years as CEO of Odyssey House Victoria.
David Crosbie writes exclusively for Pro Bono News on a fortnightly basis, covering issues of importance to the broader not-for-profit sector.