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Anne Ruston heeds calls for standalone National Plan to Reduce Violence against First Nations women

Rachael Knowles -

The Federal Government will develop a "specific and targeted" National Plan to Reduce Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children after calls mounted at this week's Women's Safety Summit.

Taking place virtually on Monday and Tuesday, the Summit heard calls from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous attendees to develop a standalone Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander National Plan.

"I heard loud and clear that the solutions for Indigenous women and children, particularly those in community, are going to require a whole heap of different initiatives and actions if we want to make a difference," Women's Safety Minister Anne Ruston told the ABC.

"We are working with them to develop a plan that is specific and targeted to the needs of their women and children."

One of the leading voices advocating for an Indigenous-specific plan is the National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Forum (National FVPLS Forum).

The National FVPLS Forum, which represents 14 front-line legal services, were not issued an initial invitation to the Summit and so launched a campaign for a seat at the table. In response to their staunch advocacy, the National FVPLS Forum received an invitation.

They also were "excluded" from the National Plan Advisory Group (NPAG) and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council.

"It is essential that we are part of this important conversation," said Antoinette Braybrook CEO of Djirra and National FVPLS Forum Co chair.

"We will continue to fight for a seat on the NPAG and Advisory Council. First Nations women have fought for a long time to have our voices heard, and we won't stop now."

The Forum believes mainstream plans do not support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Braybrook notes that despite the current National Plan, rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women continues to rise.

"Mainstream national plans create an invisibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children. They often do not take in the diversity of our people and our communities. The principles of self-determination are not front and centre in mainstream plans," said Braybrook.

"We must see this national crisis of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women end. The only way we can do that is by having our own dedicated national plan."

In his keynote address, Prime Minister Scott Morrison noted his sadness about the barriers blocking women seeking justice and the importance of self-determination.

Braybrook said these barriers are exacerbated for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

"We experience poor and unsafe police responses. Historically, the legal system has been used as a tool of oppression against our people and has been something to fear â€" it's hard to see the legal system as something that can help," Braybrook said.

"This is why there must be an investment in Aboriginal community-controlled specialist family violence services that provide culturally safe services to victim-survivors of family violence."

The push for a standalone, Indigenous-specific plan was backed strongly by many experts, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, at the Summit.

"It is evident that First Nations women deserve a standalone National Plan, not a plan that is an afterthought to another policy," said June Oscar AO on Monday's panel, titled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' experiences of family, domestic and sexual violence.

"The National Plan and its iteration has led to unintended consequences for First Nations peoples. It does not work for us. Nobody listens to us," said Professor Dr Marcia Langton AO.

"They talk over the top of us. The women's safety program across the country has become an industry."

Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Services (QIFVLS) Principal Legal Officer Thelma Schwartz also pushed the need for a specific plan.

"For so long Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children have not been seen. They have been silenced," she said.

"I want people to talk the talk and walk the walk. I want a standalone National action plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children. I want investment, long-term generational change."

Despite Minister Ruston's comments on a "specific and targeted" plan being developed, anti-violence campaigners are concerned that opportunities for self-determination will be denied.

"We are calling for a dedicated National Action Plan FOR us and BY us," tweeted national Aboriginal-led justice coalition Change the Record.

"We have the expertise, experience and solutions for our own safety and the safety of our communities. What we need is the government resourcing and support."

"The National FVPLS Forums' exclusion from the NPAG and the Advisory Council is a good example of how self-determination is being denied," said Braybook.

By Rachael Knowles

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