WEL NSW Annual Report 2018-2019

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WOMEN’S ELECTORAL LOBBY NSW ANNUAL REPORT 2018-2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This report covers the period September 2018 (when we held our last Annual General Meeting) to September 2019. WEL NSW’s core campaigns focus on the big issues holding women back - we want to end violence against women and ensure women have full reproductive rights. WEL NSW plays a central coordination role - in the last 12 months we led WEL’s national work,  led the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance on the decriminaisation of abortion campaign, strengthened our relationships with MPs and decision makers, made robust submissions to parliamentary inquiries, met with foreign delegations to share WEL’s experience, and hosted public events. Our social media reached a growing audience, painting a picture of how women’s issues intersect and benefit from being discussed in broad daylight. We worked hard in the NSW and federal election campaigns to communicate the issues affecting women’s lives and to hold politicians accountable in relation to WEL’s policy positions on those issues.

This has been a year in which we, in coalition with other organisations and thought leaders, have made progress toward achieving our objectives. And we are still a long way from achieving a world in which women and men lead, participate and are rewarded equally, sharing the paid and unpaid work fairly.

A major and historic victory was won this year, with the passage of the Reproductive Health Care Reform Act 2019, with 15 co-sponsors across political parties. This Act provides for pregnancy terminations to be regulated as a medical procedure and decriminalises abortion. It allows for termination on request by a woman up to 22 weeks of pregnancy. Thereafter, a termination would be lawful if two doctors believe it should be performed in light of the woman’s physical, social and psychological circumstances. The Act makes it a criminal offence for unauthorised persons to carry out terminations.

WEL has led the campaign to remove abortion from the NSW Crimes Act for several years now. WEL formed the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance, attracting the support of more than 70 key organisations in legal, medical, women’s health and other organisations. NSW is the last Australian jurisdiction to decriminalise abortion. The NSW Crimes Act provisions have been used against a woman and against a doctor as recently as the last 15 years.

The ongoing importance of ensuring women have access to legal abortions is underlined by developments in the United States of America. During 2019, nine States passed bills to limit access to abortion, as part of a rising challenge to the constitutional right established in 1973 in Roe v Wade, which provided that abortion is legal usually up to 24-28 weeks. The Trump-Pence administration has enforced a gag rule in relation to Title X, the national program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care, making it illegal to refer patients for abortion and blocking access to care through the program at Planned Parenthood (which continues to resist and attempt to reverse the very many attacks on abortion rights around the country). It reminds us that apparent progress can be reversed, with catastrophic consequences for women. 

Heightened focus on women’s experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault has continued around the world this year with broadening involvement in #MeToo. Harvey Weinstein is scheduled to go to trial in September 2019. There has been a lot of discussion about the possible consequences for men of sexual harassment claims. Some of the complexities were demonstrated in the Geoffrey Rush case. The #MeToo movement was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize 2019. The first international #MeToo summit was opened on September 24th in Iceland by Katrin Jakobsdottir, Iceland's second female prime minister. The three day summit explored ways to end sexism, harassment and violence against women, on the eve of the #MeToo movement's second anniversary. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces is ongoing, and hundreds of submissions received have been published by the Commission. 

Through WEL Australia, we participate in two national women’s alliances: the Equality Rights Alliance (ERA) and Economic Security for Women. The alliances bring together a wide range of women’s organisations, to share information about their plans, campaigns and activities including identifying opportunities to work together. The alliances also prepare submissions for endorsement by members, thus sharing the workload and extending the impact of the submissions. The organisations provide input for Australia’s national reporting to the United Nations, including on Australia’s progress on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. WEL supported the petition of WEL member, Alexandra Samootin, to the United Nations Convention on Eliminating All Forms of DIscrimination Against Women Petitions Team, regarding their inordinate delay in dealing with her petition.

WEL cannot achieve our goal of gender equality flying solo. We deeply appreciate the opportunities we have had in the last 12 months to partner with specialist organisations, individual experts and the brave women willing to share their stories, because genuine collaboration is the only pathway to enduring social change. Our annual report names and thanks some of the many people WEL has worked alongside this year. 

CAMPAIGNS

Reproductive rights 

Since 18th October 2016, when the Decriminalisation Round Table first convened, WEL has worked intensively to decriminalise abortion in NSW. On 22nd November 2018 the WEL Executive endorsed the Round Table’s proposal for a 2019 campaign to remove abortion from the Crimes Act. WEL, Family Planning NSW and Women’s Health NSW then agreed to fund and support a professional campaigner and to work in partnership to run the campaign. In March 2019 the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance was launched as the vehicle for the campaign.

Six elements developed over 3 years have underpinned the WEL and Pro-Choice Alliance campaign.

 

  • Expert collaboration, trust and a disciplined approach 

 

The WEL Round Table was representative of medical and legal peak bodies, together with expert individuals able to guide and plan the reform process. 

Wendy McCarthy AO, a distinguished Australian, WEL co-founder, social entrepreneur, business woman and seasoned women’s reproductive health activist agreed to chair the Roundtable. Wendy felt an urgent need to complete the still unfinished business initiated by Women’s Electoral Lobby and other groups such as Women’s Abortion Action Campaign almost 50 years previously.  Through the Round Table process she established an environment of trust and generous, robust exchange, where members agreed to abide by Chatham House Rules with an expectation that a successful campaign would take some years to develop.

Leaders from the following organisations contributed to the WEL Round Table and have provided direct and indirect expert support to the Alliance campaign:

  • Family Planning NSW
  • Women’s Legal Service NSW 
  • NSW Council of Civil Liberties 
  • Women’s Health NSW
  • Australian Medical Association, NSW Branch
  • Women’s Abortion Action Campaign
  • NSW Nurses and Midwives Association 
  • Australian College of Nursing 
  • Marie Stopes Australia 
  • The Human Rights Law Centre 
  • Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG)
  • Julie Hamblin, medical lawyer and Nicola Hepenstall,  communications expert. 

The Round Table also drew on advice from People with Disability Australia, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and the Australian Medical Students Association. In addition a number of distinguished and expert individuals have given specialist advice and guidance. They include: Elizabeth Evatt AC, Nick Cowdery AO, Dr Janet Vaughan (RANZCOG), Dr Kirsten Black from the University of Sydney, Dr Philip Golding from Marie Stopes Australia and Dr Deborah Bateson from Family Planning NSW.

 

  • A campaign driven by commitment 

 

Almost all of the substantial, underpinning work undertaken by the WEL Roundtable members and supporters throughout 2017 and 2018 was voluntary, unpaid and pro-bono.  WEL particularly acknowledges the contribution of the Human Rights Law Centre which has provided acute and indispensable legal advice and campaign guidance to the Alliance and also to the Round Table.

Chair Wendy McCarthy’s contribution is immense. When the way ahead seemed lost in the sometimes byzantine twists and turns of NSW politics, Wendy has fostered strategic and long term thinking and helped identify the next steps towards our goal. She has never faltered or taken her eyes off our goal.

Women’s Health NSW has acted as a bulwark for the Pro-Choice Alliance campaign. The extraordinary network of women’s health centres across metropolitan, rural and regional NSW has given us a relevance and a perspective unusual in many city based campaigns.

The contribution to the Alliance from Family Planning NSW’s media, research, medical and communications specialists has helped us tell the stories we want to tell, creating a solid evidence base, an ongoing narrative and conversation and made an  irrefutable case for reform to MPs and the community.

 

  • Consensus on the need for removal of abortion from the NSW Crimes Act.

 

Participants in the first WEL Round Table meetings in 2017 quickly reached consensus that abortion was a health matter and should be removed from the NSW Crimes Act. Medical experts and service organisations provided many examples of the negative impact of continued criminalisation in NSW. They agreed that the current laws contributed to problems with access, generating stigma, confusion and a fear of prosecution that could discourage doctors and facilities from providing a full range of reproductive health services, and make it difficult for women to access the healthcare they need. Significantly, they also noted that criminalisation has a particularly devastating impact on women from disadvantaged or rural and remote communities who lack the financial means to pay for an abortion or who need to travel long distances to access one. 

 

  • Clear legislative goals and a finishing line

 

The WEL Round Table had researched and developed a legal framework, based on the 2008 Victorian legislation.  Organisations participating in the Round Table took the framework to their governing bodies and most adopted it in principle. The framework included provision for abortion to be available on request up to 24 weeks gestation, with two doctors consulting with each other after 24 weeks, and for conscientious objection to be permitted on the part of medical and health practitioners, with their obligation to refer.

We agreed that we wanted to achieve decriminalisation as soon as possible in the first parliamentary session following the March election. At worst we envisaged achievement of our legislative objective by October/November 2019. This timeline has also shaped our budgetary planning and fundraising.

 

 

  • Non-Party political

 

The WEL Round Table and the Pro-Choice Alliance want to acknowledge the commitment, tenacity and strategic foresight of the NSW MPs who have worked so hard to reform abortion law in NSW. Our campaign is designed to support their efforts and those of all pro-choice MPs. We particularly acknowledge members of the cross party working group, chaired by Alex Greenwich MP. We pay special tribute to Penny Sharpe MLC and Trevor Khan MLC for the trail blazing Safe Access Zones legislation and Mehreen Faruqi MLC  (now Senator Faruqi) for being the first NSW MP to put up a Bill to remove abortion from the Crimes Act.

WEL and the Pro-Choice Alliance have worked with community groups, expert organizations and MPs irrespective of political affiliation. Underlying our work is our trust that the democratic legislative process can deliver legislation based on the exemplary laws in Victoria and Queensland and on the latest medical research and practice, rather than on political, religious or ideological considerations. We had faith that most NSW MPs would support this approach and legislate in the interests of the health of NSW women and to reflect majority opinion in our state and in Australia as a whole.

 

 

  • Shared values and principles 

 

The WEL Round Table’s statement of values and principles listed below have framed the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance campaign. They signal the values and principles we wanted articulated through any legislation drafted to regulate abortion, following removal of Sections 82-84 of the Crimes Act:

  • Abortion should be regulated as a healthcare matter
  • The law should promote the health, dignity and freedom of women, including the freedom to choose what happens to their bodies, and equal access to quality and safe health care
  • The law should align with international human rights obligations relevant to abortion, including affordable, safe access to abortion services
  • The law should be consistent with contemporary clinical practice and public health standards and regulation.

WEL and the Pro-Choice Alliance are confident that the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill produced by the Cross Party Committee reflects these values.  

Moving onto a campaign footing

Soft advocacy

In the latter half of 2018 Round Table members and supporters began to advocate quietly within peak professional bodies and with some politicians sympathetic to reform, for the legal and values framework for abortion law reform. The November 2018 passage of the Queensland legislation which, along with the Victorian law was consistent with the Round Table’s legal framework and values, bolstered members’ and supporters’ confidence in the possibility of reform in NSW.

An Open Letter: First public statement to MPs

WEL and Round Table members worked with the campaign organisation Fair Agenda and the Human Rights Law Centre to coordinate our first public statement to NSW MPs released to MPs and the media on December 10 2018. 

The Open Letter put our first clear public case for decriminalisation. It described the inequality and suffering women undergo as a consequence of the threat of prosecution and the risk run by health practitioners and providers. The statement and letter was endorsed by thirty three legal, medical, community and service organisations. Responses to this open letter indicated some movement in party and leader positions on abortion law reform. 

The NSW Labor Party’s new leader Michael Daley confirmed that he supported referring abortion law decriminalisation to the NSW Law Reform Commission should the ALP win office in 2019. In a signal of her likely support for reform, Gladys Berejiklian, the leader of the Liberal Party and Premier declared herself to be open-minded on the issue. ...’This is one of those rare issues where every woman in NSW is likely to have their own view – and I want to ensure those views, along with those of the experts, are known and understood by all decision-makers before any changes are made.’ Both major parties at the national level supported greater access to reproductive health services, including terminations.  

WEL Round Table to WEL Pro-Choice Alliance: January -September 2019

WEL has always brought knowledge, experience and a broad perspective - a long view - to our campaigns. We contribute a strong reputation built through our history of non-partisan feminist advocacy, feminist alliances and well established and new social and political networks. The Round Table’s effectiveness as a vehicle to get abortion law reform on the political table drew on this resource, especially through the contribution of WEL member and co-founder Wendy McCarthy AO.

Communications experts and organisations allied with the Round Table advised us that we needed to move quickly into a sustained, wide ranging, highly focussed and professional approach if we were to win this campaign. The strength of WEL partnerships with Family Planning NSW, Women’s Health NSW and Human Rights Law Centre encouraged donations and pro-bono support. This meant that the Pro-Choice Alliance could finance and plan a campaign whose scope and depth would have been quite beyond WEL’s capacity acting alone. 

Recruiting a Campaign Manager

In December 2018 and January 2019 WEL, Family Planning NSW and Women’s Health NSW constituted ourselves as a campaign management group. We were fortunate to be able to recruit Sinead Canning as Campaign Manager. Sinead is an experienced campaigner who had helped deliver the final passage of the Queensland legislation, following the Queensland Law Reform Commission Report. 

Sinead’s energy, experience, coordination skills and knowledge transformed our campaign capacity. Family Planning NSW supported her work with excellent research and specialist media and communication advice. Women’s Health NSW provided an office and a meeting area for the campaign. Sinead also worked closely on digital and media strategies with WEL’s membership, engagement and fundraising coordinator, Amanda Keeling and with specialist members of the WEL Executive.  

Negotiating and adapting to a complex and volatile political environment

WEL, Family Planning and Women’s Health NSW supported Sinead to design an approach which took account of one of the most complex and volatile NSW political environments in memory.  In the first quarter of 2019 the NSW and the Federal election campaigns overlapped and there was significant distraction in the media and the broader political environment. With our managing partners we made a decision to run a soft low key campaign leading up to the state election in March and then to launch digitally and in the media several weeks before the first parliamentary sitting. 

The Pro-Choice Alliance devised scenarios to work with either a Coalition or Labor Government and with various types of minority government. We were confident that we could win decriminalisation of abortion with almost all of these political combinations.

 

Our goal on the horizon: a Bill within reach

As the March 2019 election came closer, we also learnt that the independent member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich MLA was planning a Private Member’s Bill, together with some other MPs. This meant that we were able to concentrate on the likelihood of a draft Bill as a focus of our campaign, rather than having to start from scratch or advocate in a vacuum. 

In his response to the Federal Labor March 7 2019 launch of a national sexual and reproductive rights strategy, Greenwich publicly announced his interest in a Bill. The Labor policy announcement simultaneously provoked a promising response from the NSW Government.  A spokesperson indicated support for a conscience vote ‘should a private member’s bill be introduced to the NSW parliament to repeal these offences.’

Pro-Choice Alliance Campaign launch

The Alliance Manager Sinead Canning had worked since February 2019 with WEL, Family Planning NSW and Women’s Health NSW to create a new campaigning brand, with WEL in the lead. The ‘NSW Pro-Choice Alliance’ would continue our narrative on the damages caused by retaining abortion in the Crimes Act and transition into an equal and positive emphasis on  regulating abortion as a reproductive health care matter for women. 

The Alliance launched publicly on 2 May 2019, two weeks before the Parliament was due to sit for the first time after the election. The launch included announcements and sympathetic stories on multiple digital platforms, with the WEL website hosting the Pro-Choice Alliance page and leading through to the Alliance Facebook. Over 70 organisations, including almost all the core Round Table member organisations endorsed and added their names to a letter to MPs personally signed by the CEOs of Women’s Health NSW, Family Planning NSW and Wendy McCarthy representing WEL as the Chair of the Alliance. This letter set out the Alliance objectives and our statement of the values and principles which we believed should inform legislation regulating abortion as a healthcare matter.

Supporting the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019

An evidence based campaign

From mid-July 2019, two weeks before the introduction of the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill, our campaign manager and partners worked intensively to prepare materials, media plans and lobbying strategies to support its introduction.  The Pro-Choice Alliance Campaign is scrupulously evidence-based, with fact sheets for MPs, FAQs and expert medical and legal voices. The campaign to support the Bill has also been complemented by some personal case studies sourced from service organisations and providers. Fair Agenda software and support enabled messages to be delivered to all MPs mail boxes. 

The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill is tabled

Professional media support from Family Planning NSW helped launch the NSW Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 story framed in our terms, rather than those of the opposition to the Bill. In the early days of the Bill, Murdoch press papers as well as rural and regional newspapers also included good quality factual coverage.

The Alliance worked with other feminist activist organisations and Fair Agenda to stage a series of rallies in front of Parliament House. Women’s Electoral Lobby co-founder and Pro-Choice Alliance Chair Wendy McCarthy became the campaign’s chief spokesperson.  Wendy’s first point of reference in interviews and speeches was always WEL and the early battles for abortion law reform.

Expert lobbying across the political spectrum

In the frenetic days between the Bill’s release on 30 July and tabling in the Legislative Assembly on the 2 August, the Campaign Manager drew on a group of Round Table and Alliance experts to meet with MPs and respond to their questions. She coordinated experts from the Human Rights Law Centre, Council of Civil Liberties, RANZCOG, Family Planning NSW, Women’s Health NSW and Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia. Many of the Bill’s fifteen co-sponsor MPs across political parties supported and escalated our efforts.

The Pro-Choice Alliance Campaign responds to a political firestorm - furious opposition influenced by US-style tactics

Opponents of abortion law reform inside and outside the Parliament claimed to have been shocked by the Bill’s appearance, despite it being mooted before the election. Their stalling tactics within the Liberal party and in the Parliament created frequent delays and at times appeared to threaten the Bill itself. Liberal Party supporters of the Bill, including the Premier have remained firm, despite coming under vitriolic attack and being threatened with destabilising political retribution both overtly and covertly.   

Opponents proposed a raft of amendments drawing on populist and extremist legislative ideas incubated in the US and designed to turn the Bill into a wish list for every ‘pro-life’ activist.  Knowing that the Bill would pass the Legislative Assembly on a conscience vote, they insisted on a Legislative Council Inquiry, then two days of debate and then a further delay until September 17 to consider amendments. The Bill passed the Legislative Assembly on 8 August with a comfortable majority of 28 votes.

MPs and supporters celebrate the passage of the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill by the NSW Legislative Assembly September 2019



Positive messages from The Alliance 

The positive tone and expert basis of the Pro-Choice Alliance campaign appears to have deepened parliamentary support for the Bill and countered the opposition.  Together with representatives of the Alliance, member organisations provided substantial submissions and a wide range of distinguished expert witnesses to the Legislative Council Inquiry. Faith community members from the Uniting Church NSW and the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle have articulated a clear Christian theological case for abortion law decriminalisation, which counters efforts by other religious leaders to impose their church edicts into the sphere of secular law.  

Family Planning NSW media experts and our Campaign Manager have continued to manage a barrage of media stories, briefings and case studies. In particular medical and legal members of the Alliance have provided expert backgrounders on the dangers of many of the proposed amendments, especially those concerning sex based selection and late term abortion.

Strategic interventions to support the Premier and moderate supporters of the Bill

The Alliance made a significant strategic intervention into the political process through releasing opinion poll research on the morning of the 7 September Liberal Party State Council meeting. The research confirmed substantial majority support for decriminalisation and for treating abortion as a health matter, irrespective of political party preference. It illustrated the accuracy of the Premier’s observation in the August 24 Daily Telegraph that ‘The quiet voters are with me.’ 

The Pro-Choice Alliance led a final push on the weekend leading to the resumption of debate in the Legislative Council on the 17th of September.  We held a large demonstration on Saturday 14 September and released statements of support from influential public figures. The Alliance, led by Sinead Canning, staged  an innovative street theatre “suitcase march” on Monday 16th September before Parliament returned, representing women who have had to travel from country NSW to Victoria to access terminations. 

Final passage of the Bill

The NSW Legislative Assembly has the reputation of being one of the most conservative parliamentary chambers in Australia. The Alliance has supported the MPs moving the Bill through five sitting days, over thirty hours in committee and ten hours of other debate, one hundred and two attempted amendments and twenty six divisions. This was the third longest debate in NSW Upper House history. 

Our opponents resorted to every parliamentary tactic to delay passage. Yet the numbers remained steady, with twenty six MPs supporting the third reading vote in the Legislative Council and fourteen opposed. We anticipate that on the 26 September, when the Bill returned to the Legislative Assembly it was passed on the voices without a division. 

Twenty five amendments were made to the Bill in the Legislative Council, in addition to the seven made in the Legislative Assembly. WEL is disappointed with some of the amendments. However we do  not believe they seriously compromise our achievement of the objective of our campaign to decriminalise abortion in NSW, nor constrain the enhancements to women’s access to abortion which the (now) Abortion Law Reform Act will foster over time.

Acknowledgements

WEL acknowledges the extraordinary contribution of our co-founder Wendy McCarthy AO to this campaign. She has remained generous, steadfast and unstintingly committed to WEL and is doing everything in her power to see ‘the arc of justice’ completed for NSW women. 

We also thank our trusted partners in the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance: Adjunct Professor Ann Brassil, CEO of Family Planning NSW and Denele Crozier, CEO of Women’s Health NSW for  their sustained support and commitment over the long haul in this challenging fight to extend the reproductive rights of NSW women. 

Participants at Safe Access Zones rally,  Parliament House 2018

Lorraine Slade, Wendy McCarthy and Jozefa Sobski at abortion       Pro- and anti-Choice demonstrators at Parliament House September 2019

decriminalisation rally at Parliament House September 2019

Amanda Keeling and Sinead Canning at abortion decriminalisation rally, Mary O’Sullivan, protestor, Tim Crakanthorp MP, Renee Carr and September 2019 Amanda Keeling at abortion decriminalisation Parliament House rally, Parliament House, September 2019

Ending violence against women and girls

The Ending Violence against Women (EVAW) action group this year focused on state policies, programs and funding. The national Women’s and Children’s Safety program continues to be a priority, but the objectives have been reviewed. The group reviewed its campaign strategy in July, 2019. We accepted that our Keep the Lights on in Women’s Refuges campaign had run its course. 

Representations to Government: We wrote to the Treasurer, Dominic Perrotet and then met with his Deputy Chief of Staff raising the inadequacy of the NSW Housing and Homelessness Strategy with respect to specific domestic violence initiatives. This Strategy was a requirement under the bilateral National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) with the state. We stressed that specialist services need to be differentiated from general homelessness services and outlined the differences. In the NSW environment where the Going Home Staying Home reforms had stripped much of the specialised knowledge and services from the emergency housing sector, more targeted funding and transparency is required about key elements of the Specialist Homelessness program to ensure it addresses the needs of women and children fleeing domestic violence. As a result of the meeting, we corresponded with the Treasurer, focussing on funding of women’s refuges and domestic violence support services. There was no response to this letter to the Treasurer before the March, 2019 State Election and no response after the election.  

Safe State Campaign: We met with representatives of the NSW Women’s Alliance in November 2018 and indicated our support for the Safe State campaign. Significant issues were discussed, including the reliability of the cost estimates contained in their document; the proposed communications and lobbying approach including social media and the need to expand the diversity of groups advocating for funding for this sector. 

Submissions: We prepared a submission on behalf of WELA to the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (on WEL’s websitew) while also supporting the Unions NSW submission. Jozefa Sobski (WELA National Coordinator) and Rachel Francois (WEL NSW Executive member) appeared before the NSW Law Reform Commission inquiry into consent in current sexual assault laws dealing with definitions of consent and the onus of proof, as a result of WEL NSW’s submission to the inquiry. The report of that inquiry has not yet been finalised. 

State election: EVAW made support for the Safe State campaign a plank of WEL NSW’s election policy scorecard – acting to end sexual assault, domestic and family violence. 

State budget: The State Budget 2019-2020 paid little or no attention to domestic violence initiatives and the budget papers did not allow for a disaggregation of program funding to ascertain whether there had been any increase to domestic violence services as part of the Specialist Homelessness program. WEL issued a media release lamenting the fact that the Safe State initiatives and recommendations were accorded no attention or reference in the budget. There were no additional or new funds allocated to address the critical shortfall in crisis accommodation or expert specialist services and support required by women fleeing domestic violence.

Review of EVAW priorities and activities: In conjunction with letters of congratulations to the new Minister for Women, Bronnie Taylor and Attorney-General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Mark Speakman, the EVAW action group members reviewed our policy and campaign priorities including a closer examination of the efficacy of the Safe State initiatives. We agreed that we need to carve out what the key priorities will be for the remainder of 2019 and into the future. WEL members can contact the group via the WEL website as it takes many hands to make an impact on this complex issue.

Roses commemorating women victims of domestic violence - Candlelight vigil attended by WEL members,  25 November 2018, Martin Place Sydney

Think WEL before you vote – Election Action Group

 

With NSW and federal elections in 2019, WEL’s Election Action Group started regular meetings from March 2018 to develop strategies and partnerships. Our campaign slogan Voting is my superpower is based on the fact that women decide elections - statistically we are the majority of the population and outnumber male voters in most electorates. 

 

Women were definitely a target audience in both the NSW and federal elections in 2019, particularly in the NSW election where the Liberal Party targeted ‘working mothers’ (35 - 54 yr old women with children) via an unconventional social media campaign. According to post election media analysis “Working mothers, many unpaid, in 20 marginal seats would have a big influence on how their adult children and husbands voted. They were the key to power (in NSW election)” (AFR 1/4/19).  Essential Media polling ahead of the federal election found women to be less engaged in the election and less likely to have firm views about it. In one survey 52% of women were paying little or no attention to news, advertising and election updates compared with 41% of men (SMH May 11/12, 2019). 

 

Therefore WEL’s election campaigns have two target audiences: 

  • Women voters via our Think WEL before you vote workshops and election scorecards. WEL wants to make sure that women’s votes count and women are well informed voters.
  • Our second audience is the candidates standing for election - we communicate the concerns of WEL members and supporters to candidates and rank parties’ policy announcements.

 

Our election campaign work started with Mimosa Paul designing a qualitative online pre-election survey in late 2018 which attracted 600+ respondents and guided our priority issues and culminated in May 2019 with a media launch of our federal scorecard by Verity Firth, UTS Centre for Social Justice, Executive Director Social Justice. Our free voter education sessions for women were delivered in partnership with Liverpool Women’s Resource Centre, the Older Women’s Network, Indian and Arabic community networks and women’s groups on the Central Coast, Penrith and the Blue Mountains. We heard that women voters feel vulnerable because of gender based violence, high housing costs, working full time hours on casual contracts, high electricity, child care and petrol costs.  Participants very much appreciated having a safe space to discuss our parliamentary system and having their questions answered so they could think about their vote in advance. It was very clear in every session that the women present deeply valued the opportunity to cast their vote. Thanks to Sinead O’Connell, Wendy Backhous, Menaka Cooke and Heather Bailey for facilitating the sessions. 

The Election Action Group is exploring ways to scale up our voter education sessions to reach more voters. Sandy Killick is supervising groups of students at Macquarie University and the University of Technology Sydney to explore how to take our voter education sessions online. 

 

Heather Bailey with participants in the Lakemba Muslim Women’s Association election session




FUNDRAISING AND EVENTS

More and more, WEL is looking for ways to bring members together as our own community or with other groups of women. In recent years WEL’s Annual General Meeting has become an event for members to receive an overview of our work, hear from experts on vital issues affecting women, and mingle. In 2018 we were very fortunate to be welcomed to Gadigal land by Aunty Joan Tranter, followed by an insightful panel on migrant and refugee women’s health: Mary Karras (Ethnic Community Council CEO), Professor Jane Ussher (Western Sydney University) and writer/film director Dr Paula Abood. Such exchanges deepen WEL’s policy work and also shine a light on women’s experiences and needs. We were very pleased to be able to provide a forum for this knowledge exchange. 

 

WEL celebrated women’s rights across 2019 International Women’s Day events. Stand Up For Women's Rights was the theme for the Sydney rally. WEL is one of the organisers of the IWD rally and march, which is an inclusive march for all women, we welcome supporters and allies of all genders. WEL worked alongside Unions NSW and an alliance of workers’, students’ and women's organisations to make the 2019 events positive and powerful. WEL participated in International Women’s Day activities, contributed to social media management for the event and had a large representation of members at the march on March 9. We attended with our WEL banner, placards and t-shirts. WEL especially encouraged women to stand up for women’s reproductive rights, consistent with our leading role in the abortion decriminalisation campaign. WEL hosted a 'crafternoon' event with Our Bodies, Our Choices before the rally to make sure our reproductive health messages were clear. WEL executive committee members delivered IWD speeches in various communities. We collaborated with other women’s climate action groups in the Women, Democracy and Climate Justice event on 9  March. 

 

Many women heard about WEL for the first time through our free voter education sessions which were delivered from February to May in various parts of NSW. WEL members connected with Zonta clubs about our voter education sessions. The meetings provided opportunities to discuss issues of concern and shared values with other women’s organisations.

 

Our film nights were highlights on our collective social calendar, giving current members a chance to gather and former members an opportunity to reconnect. US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was our feminist star this year. We had strong turn outs for the RBG  documentary film as well as the biographIcal film On the basis of sex. The documentary event was well attended by 180 members and supporters, raising over $5775 for WEL’s campaign to decriminalise abortion in NSW. Thanks in particular to our guest speaker Gina Rushton, Buzzfeed journalist, who has courageously shared women's experiences and stories, covering reproductive healthcare and law reform. A big thank you to Ruth Bader Ginsberg for being an inspiration for all of us at WEL, reminding us that on “The emphasis must not be on the right to abortion but on the right to privacy and reproductive control.” And for the very solid advice of  “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” In September 2019, we hosted a screening of Ride like a girl, celebrating Michelle Payne’s historic Melbourne Cup win, with opening remarks from Moya Dodd, a former FIFA Executive Committee Member, about issues for women in sport.

 

All WEL’s lobbying, campaigning and education work relies on membership fees, donations and bequests. We do not receive any government funding. Our leadership of the Pro-Choice Alliance for decriminalisation of abortion was made possible by significant donations from members and supporters. WEL’s fundraising team is working on a bequest education program, and a prospectus to share our work with major donors and philanthropic organisations. We welcome any advice or interest from individuals or organisations willing to support our work. WEL also raised funds through an end of financial year appeal, encouraging tax-deductible gifts to WEL through our supported organisations status with National Foundation for Australian Women. Our Mother’s Day appeal raised funds in the name of loved ones for Mother’s Day. 

 

WEL thanks and acknowledges all our supporters, partners  and donors. In particular, we thank the Zonta Club East for donating $3000 to support WEL’s voter education sessions for women, and the Lakemba Muslim Women Association, Older Women’s Network, Liverpool Women’s Resource Centre, Indian and Arabic community networks, and the Mt Druitt WASH House  for hosting voter education sessions. We thank Sally Watts from ChitChat Design for graphic design and Gemma Pitcher for copywriting skills on WEL fundraising documents, and thank Mary Karras (Ethnic Community Council CEO), Professor Jane Ussher (Western Sydney University) and writer/film director Dr Paula Abood for speaking at our 2018 AGM. Thanks to The Chauvel, Paddington and Dendy Opera Quays for hosting our first two exclusive film events, and to the Verona, Paddington for hosting the third.

 

SUBMISSIONS AND REPORTS

WEL made a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission Inquiry into sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace, and, with over 100 organisations and individuals, endorsed the ACTU-led Joint Statement on sexual harassment at work.

WEL made a submission to the South Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry into Abortion. WEL also made a submission on the West Australian Safe Access Zones legislation. WEL made a submission to the Parliamentary Health Committee, on the Queensland Termination of Pregnancy Act, in 2018. WEL also made a submission to the NSW Law Reform Commission review of consent provisions in relation to sexual offences. WEL is contributing, as a member of the Advisory Group, to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre Review of the  NSW Anti-Discrimination Act. WEL made a submission to the Independent Commission Against Corruption Inquiry into the regulation of lobbying, access and influence in NSW. WEL also made a presentation to the Gender Pay Symposium, Sydney University Policy Lab, 28 September, 2018.

We contributed to the National Foundation for Australian Women’s Gender Lens on the Budget Report. We participated in the Budget Lock-up after a public outcry when we were excluded from it. The budget report expressed deep concern about the lack of measures to address housing affordability and accessibility. The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement received no additional funds. The budget was also very disappointing in the level of new money for ending violence against women.

POLICY

WEL continued developing and updating its policies, and endorsing policies we support that were put forward by other organisations, and publishing policies on our website. We worked on policies on schools, vocational education and training, childcare, work and family, pay equity, housing, paid parental leave, retirement income and superannuation, ending violence against women, support for women’s refuges, reproductive rights, women’s health. We continued our support of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and joined other organisations (including NFAW, ERA and the Human Rights Law Centre) in calling for the abolition of ParentsNext, because of its burdensome requirements on participants. We also supported the ERA/Economic Security for Women submission calling for a substantial increase to Newstart, and other reforms.

DEPUTATIONS

  • Tanya Plibersek, (then) Shadow Minister for Women regarding women’s policy, including pay equity.
  • Penny Sharpe , ALP MLC, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, regarding abortion and related issues.
  • Bronnie Taylor, NSW Minister for Women, regarding women’s policy



DELEGATIONS

  • Senior Delegation from the Special Administrative Region China, Hong Kong, 19 October 2018
  • Senior Delegation of Women, Afghanistan, 11 March, 2019

Senior Delegation of Afghanistan Women, March 2019: WEL is regularly invited by DFAT to host delegations

 

AMPLIFYING PUBLIC COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA PARTICIPATION

Since September 2018, WEL has committed to increasing communication of our evidence-based policy development, prioritised lobbying issues through increased advocacy activity, and leadership of key issues impacting Australian women.  WEL has implemented a planned program of proactive and responsive communication using our social media platforms, proactive engagement with Australian media outlets, and direct communication to members of our growing supporter base and community. 

During this period WEL aligned our advocacy of key women’s rights and policy issues to the Federal Budget, NSW Election and Federal Election, with targeted campaign activity, and proactive distribution of WEL’s policy statements, and contributions to media commentary across TV, online, radio and print news, social affairs, women’s rights and current affairs journalists and media programs. This amplified the audience’s recognition of the impact key political decisions and issues were having on women in Australia and NSW, and their appreciation of WEL’s non-partisan expertise.

This activity increased key media outlets’ recognition and use of WEL’s expertise in daily media coverage of issues as they relate to Australian women, increased the community’s recognition of WEL as a leader in women’s rights and issues, and helped to reinforce WEL’s reputation, so supporting the planning and implementation of the abortion reform legislation campaign in NSW. 

A year on year comparison of WEL’s participation in media from 2017-2018 to 2018-2019 financial year has seen a 518% increase across media platforms, with a share of voice (quoting WEL’s expertise, knowledge or spokesperson) increasing exponentially. 

WEL has recorded 489 news and feature media articles mentioning WEL, of which 49 featured WEL’s expertise and supported WEL’s position in a positive context. This coverage was read by a combined audience of 1.5 million  unique people, and more importantly featured in leading national opinion making media platforms. This coverage was then shared by a proportion of these audiences across personal social media platforms to amplify recognition of WEL, our opinion, leadership and expertise on women’s policy and advocacy issues. 

WEL’s leadership voice has also increased since February 2019, with recognition of WEL’s advocacy for inclusion in the Federal Budget lockup, and our Electoral Scorecard attracting the most attention, until the extensive recognition of WEL’s leadership of the Pro-Choice Alliance in the abortion decriminalisation campaign in NSW. 

WEL is committed to increasing our participation and recognition of our expertise over the coming 12 months across all communication channels, with investment in building our volunteer communication program for social media, and training of our key subject experts for participation in highly visible media programs. This is strategic investment in all of our advocacy and lobbying activity, as well as a demonstration of value to members, supporters and the broader community. 

It is worth noting that the ABC’s gender equality initiative launched in 2018 was timely for WEL’s strategic communication objectives. WEL NSW strongly supports the ABC’s commitments in all areas of this program and will continue to work closely with the ABC and other dedicated media who are committed to fair and balanced representation of issues impacting women in Australia. 

Social media growth

During the same period, WEL increased our social media share of voice and recognition. This was achieved due to the investment in part-time staff with this expertise, as well as actively securing social media endorsement and support from high profile media outlets, women and feminists across social media, who have increased their acknowledgment of WEL’s social media activity as a source of subject matter expertise and contribution to the public discourse. 

WEL’s social media footprint and influence in this time period is recorded in the following graphs. The growth spikes in the line graph align to significant campaign activity including the Federal Budget lockout, the WEL Election Scorecard and the NSW abortion decriminalisation campaign. 

TWITTER - 6,293,157 audience reach

Overall footprint on Twitter

General activity chart tracking peaks of activity associated with campaigns and advocacy points

Facebook At the height of WEL’s Facebook activity over the past 12 months, the greatest number of people in a single point in time reached was 801k in February 2019. People 35-44 years old are the most frequent users of WEL’s Facebook page. 

 

Overall Facebook reach snap shot by gender

TREASURER’S REPORT 2018/2019

WEL NSW acknowledges with gratitude the ongoing support of the Council of the City of Sydney and the Older Women’s Network through their provision of rent-free accommodation.

 

Overall income in 2018/2019 was $101,673 a substantial increase from the previous financial year by over 101% or $53,311. Membership revenue of $16,425 increased by over 52% or $5,635. Donation revenue of $30,577 included donations from WEL Australia in acknowledgment of work carried out by WELNSW on their behalf. The donation revenue exceeded the previous year by 23%. Substantial donations were received through the year for WEL NSW’s Reproductive Rights Campaign and a campaign coordinator was employed from January 2019 till 30 June 2019, as well as expenses for the campaign. The major fundraising event for the year was On the Basis of Sex Film Night, and WELNSW wishes to thank all those who assisted and participated. WEL NSW’s preferred donor fund with the National Foundation for Australian Women allows donors to donate through this and receive tax concessions. This year the fund was accessed more often by donors and WEL NSW thanks them for their support of our campaigns.

WEL NSW expenditure exceeded income by $6,938 during 2018/2019, a better position than last year. There is expected to be ongoing expenditure on the Reproductive Rights Campaign. WEL NSW finished 2018/2019 with a cash position of $4,688 and investments of $137,549.

The Executive Committee remains committed to a strong online presence for WEL. As such an ongoing major expenditure for WEL NSW is an employee to fund raise and maintain the online position of WEL.

On behalf of the Executive Committee I would like to thank Jann Skinner for undertaking the role of Honorary Auditor for WEL NSW. I would also like to thank her for her support and advice.

Toni Milne, Treasurer

 

WEL MEMBERS AND SUPPORTERS

Heather Bailey and others at the Women, Democracy and Climate Justice event, March 2019

Equality Rights Alliance meeting May 2019

 

PEOPLE

Amanda Keeling has driven our membership engagement and social media and worked with the WEL executive on fundraising.  Amanda moved to a new job as Executive Officer of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties in August 2019. We wish her every future success and record our deep appreciation of the skills and commitment she has brought to WEL since 2015.  In September, Sky Anderson joined us as Fundraising Coordinator, and Zoe McClure started as Membership, Engagement and Fundraising Coordinator, and we warmly welcome them.

The WEL NSW Executive is Philippa Hall (Convenor), Jozefa Sobski, Mary O’Sullivan, Lorraine Slade, Jane Bullen (Deputy Convenor), Rachel Francois (Secretary), Sandy Killick, Toni Milne (Treasurer), Menaka Cooke (from July) and Josefa Green. Heather Bailey left the Executive during the year. WEL acknowledges and appreciates her diverse and valued contributions. Toni Milne is concluding her term as Treasurer, and WEL recognises the great skills, commitment, patience and hard work she has given WEL during a demanding period of change. Executive member Mary O’Sullivan and former executive member Helen  L’Orange were recognised in Edna awards for their contributions to making a feminist difference over many years.

Julia Ryan, Jozefa Sobski, Philippa Hall, Helen L’Orange, Edna’s 2018 Mary O’Sullivan, Edna’s 2018

Jann Skinner carries out the role of Honorary Auditor, and Jenny Foster is our Public Officer.

WEL continues to strive to be an inclusive, effective, and relevant feminist lobby group. We are committed to ensuring that WEL has a diverse appeal so that it can rightly represent women from a range of backgrounds. We rely on the support of our members. Financial, in-kind and practical support is vital to our flourishing into the future.

The Executive acknowledges and appreciates the support and contributions of members and supporters. They ensure the organisation can continue as a feminist, non-profit, self-funded, non-party political lobby group dedicated to creating a society where women’s participation and potential are unrestricted, acknowledged and respected and where we can all share equally in society’s responsibilities and rewards.


Women’s Electoral Lobby NSW Inc.
8-10 Victoria Street, Newtown, NSW 2042 ABN: 50 242 525 012
EMAIL: wel@welnsw.org.au WEBSITE: http://www.wel.org.au

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