Welcome everyone, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. I pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.

Just 250 days ago, give or take a day, NOW Australia came into existence. Fuelled by our collective determination to ensure every Australian is able to work in workplaces free from sexual harassment, intimidation and abuse. Fuelled by our imagining of a future in which anyone who experiences workplace harassment is informed and empowered if they choose to seek support or justice.

We all came together as a result of the tremendous passion, determination and commitment of Tracey Spicer AM.
This is an organisation that would not exist without Tracey’s vision and her burning determination to make a difference. We know that contribution has come at great personal cost and we pay tribute to Tracey for her bravery and courage.

We launched in the media spotlight as #metoo continued to pick up speed. We came together as volunteers to map how we too might work together to drive the critical changes we deserve as women, and that every Australian deserves regardless of race, colour, status, gender or creed.

We were and are conscious of the fact that diversity can and must be a priority – that many of us on the Board and the founding members enjoy a position of white privilege and that our experience of sexual harassment in the workplace is dwarfed by the horrors endured by our siblings in the CALD community, the LGBTQI community, the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal communities and those with access issues.

This is why we have worked at boosting the diversity of our Board and our Steering Committee as well as our Ambassadors and why it will and must continue to be a focus. We must make sure we are centring the diversity of the mainstream Australian population. There are lessons to be learned from how we have managed this to date. We didn’t do as well as we would have liked as a Board and it is our commitment to you to do better to live our values including being inclusive.

In addition to identifying our challenges and achievements this afternoon, I also want to take you through the next steps and the Board’s vision to ensure that NOW Australia is here to make a difference not just for the next year but for the years ahead.

It’s easy with the benefit of hindsight to see where we were laying challenges for ourselves – hindsight is a marvellous thing.

Much of my time was spent going back to shore up and/or establish the structures that are critical to NOW Australia being a sustainable organisation with the necessary governance and reporting frameworks in place. This has required on average 25 hours a week of on my part and often more – something that is not sustainable as a volunteer.

This commitment challenge is one repeated across the other Directors and for you our volunteer members and Steering Committee members. Diaries fail to align, priorities change, life gets in the way. And before you know it, deadlines slide. This is why the decision to hire an Interim Executive Director on a part-time basis was critical. The scope, complexity and sensitivity of this sector need a dedicated and experienced hand at the tiller. The hiring of Kristine Ziwica in June on a six-month contract has allowed us to identify those areas where we were lacking and those areas that needed reinforcement.

The period from launch to present has focused on how NOW Australia can best contribute to ending workplace sexual harassment and assault and the kinds of programs that we can develop, given our finite resources to achieve maximum impact. Setting up an organisation like ours would normally see scoping and cementing of relationships prior to the public announcement that we exist. We didn’t do that and so the recent ‘discovery’ phase where we explore how and where NOW Australia fits has been extremely important.

More than 60 key stakeholders and experts in the women’s services and legal services sectors have been consulted – organisations including the AHRC, DSS, 1800Respect, Australian Women Against Violence Alliance, Justice Connect.

These stakeholders have overwhelmingly reinforced the importance of NOW Australia being a trauma-informed organisation and the fact that anything less is not acceptable. They have also raised concerns about the proposed telephone service – concerns about the necessary scale of infrastructure required; the need for a large team of individuals answering the calls to be qualified legally and from a counselling perspective; and the importance of a service of this nature being supported/provided by Government to ensure the funds necessary to scale the service to meet demand.

Kristine has also attended the Consultation of the 4th Action Plan of the National Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women, the National Council of Women Conference, a roundtable on sexual harassment law reform which she helped organise with Victoria Legal Aid and the AHRC Melbourne consultation of the National Inquiry, all valuable opportunities to connect with key stakeholders/ potential partners and scope NOW’s inquiry response and
proposed activities, including the triage service.

Key themes that have emerged thus far:

  • There was a lot of goodwill expressed to work collaboratively and in partnership with NOW Australia, but NOW Australia must proceed on a more consultative, collaborative basis in order to ensure that NOW Australia positions itself at the heart of a “movement” and is essentially a vehicle through which many feel they can collaborate and work collectively towards change.
  • If NOW’s strategy (including “theory of change”) and corresponding programs are not informed by evidence and consultation, there is a risk that NOW’s reputation will suffer as it will not be seen to be a credible/ expert thought leader, impacting on its ability to form strategic partnerships and gain funding and support for its work. Going forward, NOW Australia must seek out additional expertise on its Board, Steering Committee and staff.
  • As part of the AHRC inquiry process, many suggestions are being tabled to take the burden off women to end harassment by taking a complaint, including a new enforcement regime that creates duties on employers to take more meaningful steps to prevent harassment (comparable to Work Health Safety laws), a positive legal duty, and other broader “primary prevention” work. There was a desire to see an organisation like NOW Australia take a leadership role in advocating for law reform and these kinds of systemic changes.
  • Those who already operate a service providing telephone or online counselling or legal triage (1800 Respect, Safe Steps, DV Connect, Justice Connect, Vic Legal Aid, VEOHRC, the various Working Women’s Centres — Kristine will speak to JobWatch and Wire) were all consistent in their advice that the resources and proposed structure in the Business Plan would be woefully insufficient. Three staff (one ED, one lawyer and one counsellor) could not service the volume of calls NOWAustralia, with a national footprint on a very high-profile issue, is likely to receive. They all pointed to
    the cautionary tale of 1800 Respect, which was only answering 30 percent of calls for a significant period of time when it was managed by one service provider.
  • There was overall support to expand the remit of 1800 Respect to include sexual harassment (the NSW Unions and RDVSA are exceptions due to ongoing tensions following the decision of RDVSA not to contribute to support 1800Respect as part of a panel of service providers for various reasons), as they already have the infrastructure and the relationships with existing service providers. But there was general agreement that NOW Australia and others will need to play a role in ensuring that the counselling model is bespoke to sexual harassment and ensuring that there is funding for state services to develop and provide specialist sexual harassment support services that 1800 can refer to (there is a paucity of sexual harassment specific referral pathways, while sexual assault services struggle to meet demand with existing funding). NOW might also provide support for the development of such bespoke sexual harassment services in the form of an Outreach Grants program, as Time’s Up have done.
  • The Board is also exploring whether this support could be provided through an expanded 1800Respect service.
  • Re legal triage, all legal stakeholders felt it was unrealistic to endeavour to provide a national legal triage for everyone who wants or needs it without placing any means test or developing criteria to ensure NOW Australia manages its finite resources and prioritises support for those most in need.
  • Justice Connect already provides triage services for pro-bono legal support, but it has criteria to manage demand and prioritise who gets support. One Justice Connect lawyer can roughly manage 200 requests a year (they need to take enough information to ensure the case has merit, meets its criteria and match with a pro bono provider), successfully triaging 60 cases to their network of pro-bono service providers. One staff member at NOW Australia could, on this estimate, manage 200 calls and 60 referrals. It’s safe to assume NOW Australia will get more than that based on the volume of contact NOW’s Founder has had in one year.
  • As a result of this feedback, discussions have moved on to creating a more targeted Legal Defence Fund in partnership with a respected organisation (such as Justice Connect) so NOW Australia can benefit from its existing legal triage expertise and infrastructure. This would need to take a more targeted “strategic casework approach”, prioritising support to those who need it most and on the kinds of cases where, for example, a win might set a precedent that benefits many. Time’s Up have also been very clear and transparent that the Fund is not “for everyone” and
    published the criteria in advance.
  • Legal advice has also since raised questions regarding whether the provision of this kind of service, which is broad, would meet the criteria for DGR PBI status, which may have been part of the original calculation in focusing NOW’s activities on this kind of service provision, as opposed to education and advocacy.
  • There was a lot of goodwill expressed to work collaboratively and in partnership with NOWAustralia , but these concerns must be noted and NOW must proceed on a more consultative, collaborative basis with more resource devoted to both in order to ensure that NOW Australia positions itself at the heart of a “movement” and is essentially a vehicle through which many feel they can collaborate and work collectively towards change.

NOW Australia also has very significant limitations due to its current funding. The reality is that NOW Australia is simply not in a position to launch the service outlined in the initial Business Plan – even if that were appropriate which we now know from our consultations is not.

In line with the Time’s Up experience in the US however, NOW Australia Australia can evolve into a collaborative model, working closely alongside and in partnership with the many organisations already active in the space. This is critical in terms of NOW Australia having a meaningful impact and in terms of providing complementary reinforcement rather than duplicating existing resources. The creation of a  legal defence fund as per Time Up’s fund and an Outreach Grants Program to support the work of others and ensure better collaboration across the sector has been a focus.

Additionally, there has been a focus on ensuring the appropriate governance structures, policies and practices are in place.