2020-2021 WEL NSW Annual Report

Read for full report with images HERE

WOMEN’S ELECTORAL LOBBY NSW ANNUAL REPORT 2020-2021

 

INTRODUCTION

This report covers the period September 2020 (when we held our last Annual General Meeting) to September 2021. WEL NSW’s core campaigns focus on the big issues holding women back - we want to end violence against women and ensure women have access to decent housing that meets their needs. WEL NSW plays a central coordination role. In the last 12 months we led WEL’s national work, and made robust submissions to parliamentary and other  inquiries. We worked with a range of organisations and people working on issues WEL is involved in to identify common cause and shared actions. Our social media reached a growing audience, painting a picture of how women’s issues intersect and benefit from open and broad discussion. 

This has been a year in which we, in coalition with other organisations, have made some 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. This year brought a greatly enhanced public recognition of just how prevalent and damaging sexual assault still is - with 23% of women over 18 reporting sexual violence, according to the ABS Sexual Violence - Victimisation survey. Of 10,000 Australian women over 18, 2,990 experience sexual violence, 390 report it to police, and fewer than 6 perpetrators are convicted. The improved visibility was led by very courageous young women, Grace Tame, Australian of the Year, Brittany Higgins, Saxon Mullins, and Chantel Cantos. These young women squarely put the focus on holding the men who assaulted them accountable, and rejected any attempts to blame the victims of the assaults. Over 100,000 women and allies from all over Australia joined the Women’s March for Justice.

Meanwhile, implementation of the recommendations of the comprehensive report by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, [email protected]: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report 2020, following extensive consultations and submissions, has been slow and limited. Notably its key recommendation, that employers be held accountable for eliminating sexual harassment from workplaces, has not been accepted and is not included in the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021, now before the Senate. We look forward to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s report into the workplace culture of national parliament, due in November. What we have heard this year about the workplace culture of parliament has been deeply shocking. The recommendations of the Foster Inquiry (including a few hours of voluntary sexual harassment training) are unlikely to solve those deep problems.

This has been a year of immense disruption and devastation for many, with the COVID-19 global pandemic and associated lockdowns and border closures. The effects for individuals, households, businesses and other organisations are likely to be long term. WEL has been very concerned about how COVID-19 and government responses to it have been affecting women. The support of JobKeeker and the COVID supplement to JobSeeker have now been withdrawn. But many women missed out on that support, as casuals with under 12 months, or overseas students, those on temporary visas, or unpaid carers without income support. Women on disability or aged pension did not receive the supplement. Boosts in funding for domestic and family violence services (still well below what is needed) have benefited many women.

Women’s jobs were disproportionately affected by lockdowns, especially in retail and hospitality, and many women have left the labour force.  Women have taken on much of the additional work required under lockdowns, especially home-based schooling. The gender pay gap has widened, as men's earnings (especially in construction) have risen faster, reflecting government programs to increase activity in the building sector, and the absence of programs to support female dominated areas such as childcare.  The experiment with free childcare was over in three months and childcare was the first area to lose JobKeeper support. 

Federal and State budgets were deferred and heavily affected by expenditure required for the pandemic, with effects on government spending priorities. A really significant missed opportunity was to make much needed investments in social housing and in the care economy.  While the Royal Commission into Aged Care shockingly set out the deficiencies in the funding and in the model for aged care (most notably in the for-profit sector), the necessary investments in staffing and training and in upgrading the pay, conditions and employment security of workers in the sector, the majority women, have not yet been made. While there were some welcome funding announcements on women’s economic security and women’s safety, the packages are well below what is needed to make a real impact on the issues they are addressing, especially when it is recognised that the funding is spread across several years, and spread nationally. It remains to be seen how effective the new Ministers (Women’s Safety, Women’s Economic Security, Assistant Minister for Women) will be in achieving resources and real change.

The ongoing worldwide mobilisation of the Black Lives Matter movement showed widespread rejection of racism and police brutality, and demands for recognition of the human rights of indigenous people, black people, and people of colour. WEL supports Black Lives Matter and the Uluru Statement from the Heart and remains very disappointed in the lack of commitment to achieving much needed institutional and constitutional changes. 

Through WEL Australia, we have participated in two national women’s alliances: the Equality Rights Alliance (ERA) and Economic Security for Women (which has been advised that its funding will cease). 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 member organisations, thus sharing the workload and extending the impact of the submissions.  WEL welcomes the announcement of a new alliance focused on women with disability. This year, WEL Australia elected as national convenor Jozefa Sobski, AM. 

WEL’s work on building and engaging membership, securing donations, meeting with politicians and other decision makers, holding fundraisers and other public events, and networking and building relationships with other organisations has been curtailed again this year, because of the pandemic.

WEL cannot achieve our goal of gender equality alone. 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. 

Philippa Hall

WEL NSW Convenor


CAMPAIGNS

 

Ending violence against women

The WEL NSW Ending Violence against Women (EVAW) group has not directly led a campaign on domestic and sexual violence issues this year, but advocacy work continued on a range of fronts. Work has been undertaken mainly by EVAW members Menaka Cooke, Jozefa Sobski and Dr Jane Bullen with assistance and advice from Cat Gander, CEO of DV West and Hayley Foster, former CEO of Women’s Safety NSW and now the Chief  Executive Officer of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia. Relevant information was sent to all members during the year including developments at the state and national level. At the national level the most noteworthy was the ending of WESNET’s management of the National Women’s Alliance tender for Australian Women against Violence Alliance. AWAVA is now managed by YWCA which has also won the tender for the Equality Rights Alliance – ERA. At the state level, it was the absorption by DV NSW of Women’s Safety NSW, following the departure of Hayley Foster to her new role. 

 

Women Ageing Well campaign and advocacy 

In 2020-2021, WEL NSW continued our campaign and advocacy focus on women’s homelessness, with a primary focus on NSW. This is consistent with our organisational focus and also with the fact that NSW has been experiencing the steepest increase of all states and territories in both general homelessness and women’s homelessness. There were some changes in Executive members focussed on this work over the year. Members during this time included Dr Jane Bullen, Jennifer Muir, Josefa Green, Menaka Cooke, Mary O’Sullivan and Lorraine Slade. 

Our work encompassed housing issues for women of all ages resulting from domestic violence, low and insecure incomes, high rents and a lack of social housing, especially for women disadvantaged by income, discrimination and other factors. In particular we focused on the crisis of insecure housing and homelessness among older women, and the threat, intensified by COVID, that following generations of women would similarly experience housing problems in older age. We also worked to highlight the specific impact of domestic violence in creating housing insecurity and homelessness for women and children. 

WEL has worked with our allies at both state and commonwealth levels to improve women’s housing security. We continued to participate in Ageing on the Edge, a coalition of over 60 organisations and individuals working to address homelessness and inappropriate housing among older people (mostly women). Core members of this group include Women’s Housing Company, Older Women’s Network, Uniting, Council on the Ageing NSW, Mission Australia, Mercy Foundation and Housing for the Aged Action Group. We welcome Ageing on the Edge’s significantly increased capacity to advocate for older women due to philanthropic funding to enable the employment of an Advocacy Lead from May 2021. WEL also consulted with a range of other stakeholders including academic experts, Domestic Violence NSW, Women’s Safety NSW, Homelessness NSW and the Nurses and Midwives Association (on insecure housing for essential women workers). 

WEL collaborated with other relevant organisations and individuals through participation in events including:

  • Monash University seminar ‘Two Critical Issues: Women on Temporary Visas and Housing and Homelessness’.
  • Australian Association of Gerontology/Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ageing Advisory Group forum ‘Integrated and Culturally Sensitive Service for Older Aboriginal People. Practical Solution or Pipe Dream?’.
  • NSW Parliamentary Friends of Homelessness Group online Forum chaired by Older Women’s Homelessness. 
  • ‘Setting the Agenda: Achieving Meaningful Reform for Women in NSW chaired by Jenny Leong.
  • Older Women’s Network Anti-Poverty week event: Resilience in the Age of Covid: Older Women's Take on Poverty and the Way Forward’. 
  • We also raised issues about women’s homelessness and Women Ageing Well at a panel on women’s housing at the ALP Rank and File Conference and at the ALP Clovelly Branch Politics in the Pub. 

We analysed and commented on State Budgets regarding women’s housing and homelessness (details of press releases below). WEL NSW prepared a submission on the Housing Strategy for NSW discussion paper, noting that it did not canvas the needs of women in particular, disaggregate data on housing disadvantage by gender nor propose options for meeting those needs. This is of particular concern in the context that women’s housing disadvantage has been a matter of public discussion for some time and the subject of a number of research reports. 

We also participated in the National Foundation for Australian Women’s Gender Lens on the Budget 2021-22 work on housing and homelessness.

WEL continued to highlight housing insecurity and homelessness among women on our social media. We made the following media releases, available on our website: 

  • 17 November 2020 – NSW Budget falls short on women’s housing and homelessness
  • 22 June 2021 – Housing security missing in Budget – State Budget Response
  • 31 July 2021 – NSW fails thousands of homeless women during pandemic (Homelessness Week)

WEL also participated in preparing several media releases about UNSEEN and women’s homelessness. These are on the UNSEEN website.

We spoke with a number of journalists for briefings and radio interviews both arising from WEL’s media releases, and resulting from our partnership on UNSEEN. WEL also hosted a project by Macquarie University students to prepare background material for WEL on the impact of coronavirus on women’s economic and housing futures. 

At national level WEL continued to support and promote the Everybody’s Home campaign for a better housing system including a national increase in social housing. We also supported and promoted the petition asking Scott Morrison to invest in more social housing for women and children who have experienced domestic and family violence, following a report by Equity Economics on the benefits of providing long-term social housing to women escaping violence, in the leadup to the National Women’s Safety Summit.


UNSEEN

WEL partnered with Belinda Mason of Blur Projects to produce UNSEEN, a collaborative arts project which shares the hidden experiences of women’s homelessness and housing insecurity. Belinda is a human rights social documentarian who has conceptualised, produced and presented high quality socio-cultural engaging multimedia projects for national and international audiences which focus on the topics of sexuality, disability, identity and violence. UNSEEN offers women who have experienced, or are experiencing homelessness an opportunity to engage with artists and advocates to increase public awareness of the impact of homelessness on their lives. UNSEEN is also an opportunity to inform the general public and our political representatives about women’s homelessness, in particular the hidden nature of many women’s homelessness, that we hope will lead to better responses.

To enable UNSEEN, WEL applied to the City of Sydney and was successful in being awarded a CBD City Activation Grant, COVID-19 of $50,000 for 2021. The project plan was that one week per month from March-December 2021, UNSEEN would present performance, writing and visual-art by women who had experienced homelessness, using a mobile gallery in the city to generate awareness of women’s homelessness. The gallery is in the form of a tiny house, which highlights the need for home and the lack of affordable private rental and social housing. UNSEEN also uses a chromed car – so that it is unseen, like a mirror - with Belinda’s photos of some of the participants in the windows, to emphasise the hidden nature of women’s homelessness, and how some women have to live in their cars. 

The project was also supported by partners and donors who gave in kind and financial support and facilitated the involvement of women experiencing homelessness. In addition, volunteers from WEL, Blur and Soroptomist Australia helped support the event. In particular, WEL and Blur appreciate the contributions of women with lived experience of homelessness who created art about their experiences and spent long periods attending and supporting each event. 

The first four UNSEEN events, in March, April, May and June were all resounding successes, with more and more women who had experienced homelessness coming forward and participating in the project each month, and hundreds of passers-by engaging with the project daily, with many stopping to discuss women’s homelessness. The first event in March, which coincided with International Women’s Day received extensive media coverage.  

WEL was also successful in applying to exhibit the work from UNSEEN at Fountain Court, NSW Parliament. In addition Belinda was successful in having UNSEEN accepted as part of Vivid Sydney 2021 and the ARTPark Sculpture Walk.

Unfortunately, from July onwards the monthly events in the city have had to be cancelled due to COVID restrictions, as has the Vivid festival and the Fountain Court Exhibition. The cancelled events will be held when restrictions allow. In the meantime the Chrome Tiny House (which is now all chrome) and Chrome Car are still on display at Pier 8/9 Walsh Bay as part of ARTPark Sculpture Walk, and the women involved in the project have continued to work on their art exhibits. 

Additional information about UNSEEN including information about the UNSEEN artists, partners, sponsors and supporters, as well as a photo gallery are available at https://unseen.house. There have been many thousands of views of the website.


ELECTION ACTION GROUP

WEL has been campaigning at elections on a reform agenda for women since its foundation in 1972. Women are the majority of the population, and the majority of voters in many electorates. Women decide elections. During this year there has been increasing attention on women’s experiences and needs as it has become obvious that sexual harassment and sexual assault are still prevalent, the gender pay gap is worsening, women lost jobs and hours in the pandemic at a greater rate than men, the paid and unpaid work of caring (for children, old people, people with a disability) falls disproportionately on women and the care economy is underfunded and severely compromised by poorly conceived models of service delivery .

The Election Action Group began meeting in February 2021, and has met regularly since then, face to face and by zoom. We have been reporting on the group’s work in the WEL newsletter, WEL Informed, and several members have joined the group as a result. Initially the EAG thought an October 2021 election was a distinct possibility but is now expecting an early 2022 election. 

We identified some key policy priority areas, recognising that we can’t cover everything, and we need to keep our work focused. The areas identified are: ending violence against women, housing and homelessness, women’s health, work, decent incomes for everyone, strengthening women’s representation, education and training, childcare. In each policy area, we have defined specific ‘asks’, which will be the basis of the scorecard WEL prepares closer to the election. The scorecard will rate political parties on the basis of their published policies in relation to WEL’s ‘asks’.

When our election policy document is complete, we will send it to MPs and interested organisations and individuals, and we will seek discussions about what we are advocating and why.

We are developing an online survey canvassing the views of members and supporters on the priority issues. The results of the survey will form part of our campaign, along with the election policy document and the scorecard. At the 2019 election campaign, WEL’s scorecard and agenda attracted significant attention and we are working for that in this campaign in order to focus the attention of political parties on women’s needs and experiences.


REPRODUCTIVE  RIGHTS

26 September marks the second anniversary of the historic passage of the NSW Abortion Law Reform Act 2019.  WEL led this successful campaign which marked  a major step in the achievement of one of the key planks of our 1972 founding election platform. Abortion is now removed from the criminal codes of all states and territories. WEL’s work in leading the abortion law reform campaign was recognised in Alex Greenwich’s Community Recognition Statement in the NSW Legislative Assembly 18 March 2021.

Since the Act commenced on 2 October 2019 women in NSW have had legal access to the full range of pregnancy options. Medical and health practitioners are able to support women without fear of prosecution under the Crimes Act. WEL is conscious that there remains unfinished business before we can claim full reproductive rights for women in NSW: in particular limited access for women in rural and regional NSW and the failure of public hospitals to provide abortion services other than for late abortions. Since passage of the NSW Act the South Australian Parliament has decriminalized abortion and in August 2021 Western Australia was the last state to enact safe access zone legislation. 

COVID related restrictions threatened to have a devastating impact on women’s access to reproductive health services. In 2020, as a COVID emergency measure the Federal Government introduced Medicare funded telehealth services covering a broad range of  medical  consultations including reproductive health. After the government’s 2020-21 budget inexplicably excluded reproductive health services from support through  telehealth, WEL supported our partner organisations’ campaign to reinstate the service. The 2021-22 Budget has extended telehealth for reproductive health services until the end of 2021. WEL will campaign to make this a permanent budgetary provision.


DEPUTATIONS  and  DELEGATIONS

Menaka Cooke, Cat Gander and Jozefa Sobski met with Senator Jenny McAllister, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communities and the Prevention of Domestic Violence on 2 March, 2021 covering issues related to WELA’s Submission to the House of Representatives Inquiry into Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence, outlining WEL’s policy and priorities and raising issues such as the paucity of funding for the Federal Office for Women as well as the process of review being undertaken by the ALP for policies it will be taking to the next Federal Election. 

Senator McAllister was keen to understand different service models in each state and what issues faced services in NSW. Cat Gander organised for Senator McAllister with local member Trish Doyle,  to visit several women’s refuges managed by DV West. Menaka Cooke highlighted issues faced by CALD women and how these differed from other women and the culturally appropriate responses required from services. 


WEL FUNDRAISING AND EVENTS

This past year our events and fundraising activities were curtailed by COVID-19. We relied on online communication and fundraising to reach our many members and supporters. 2021 saw the relaunching of a regular WEL Informed newsletter which allows us to report on our lobbying activities and recent developments of interest.

Our social media activities have increased since we have been able in May 2021 to employ our part-time Membership Engagement and Fundraising Coordinator Erina Finau. Our supporters have generously responded to our fundraising initiatives which included an end of financial year appeal. We increased the number of regular donors as well this year, a particularly helpful way of ensuring our ongoing capacity to advocate for women’s equality in a wide range of areas. 

We are hoping to return to a full program of events as COVID restrictions lift. Our AGM will be one opportunity for member engagement, though unfortunately still a zoom event given the current lockdown, with a panel of invited speakers Hayley Foster and Kittu Randhawa, chaired by Jozefa Sobski AM. 

Thank you to all our members and supporters whose activism and financial support allows us to continue our work.


SUBMISSIONS AND REPORTS

Menaka Cooke, WEL NSW Executive Member was subsequently invited to appear before the Committee to give evidence and respond to questions on 23 February 2021. The report of the Committee was released in June. It made 23 recommendations. Among other issues, it recognised the importance of more funding for domestic abuse and housing services; improving policing of domestic abuse, and education and training for frontline staff. All issues which were raised by WEL in its submission. Specifically, it called for targeted community education campaigns for LGBTQI+, Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander and culturally and linguistically diverse people and those with a disability. It recognised that coercive control affects these communities in different ways. 

The NSW State Budget was analysed by WEL NSW Executive members Jozefa Sobski and Dr Jane Bullen on its tabling and a Media Release was issued on one of its major funding deficiencies: ‘Housing Security for Women Missing in NSW Budget’.


WEL ADVOCACY IN RELATION TO GOVERNMENT BILLS

Federal Religious Discrimination Bills

In Australia and the United States some conservative governments are sponsoring  religious freedom legislation which conflates protective reinforcements of the doctrinal power of patriarchal religious leaders with more covert rollbacks of women’s reproductive rights and attacks on the  rights of LGBTI+ people. WEL supports discrimination protections on the basis of individuals’ religious beliefs and practices but not to the extent that religious rights can override other rights.

WEL made submissions on the Morrison Government’s first and second consultation drafts of the Religious Discrimination Bills. We argued that the Bills would have serious implications for women’s reproductive rights and those of LGBTI+ people, as well as for the employment of the tens of thousands of women who work in the religious charities which the Federal Government uses to deliver community services, including employment, health and care services. 

Under pressure from groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby the Government has made a commitment to put a third version of the Bill in the remaining weeks of the Spring 2021 sitting.  WEL will update members and followers through our newsletters and social media once the Bill is put.

NSW Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms ) Bill

In 2020 WEL made a submission to the NSW Parliament’s Joint Select Committee Inquiry into One Nation’s Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020. The Bill, if enacted, will undermine women’s reproductive rights and reinforce the powers of service providers managed by religious charities to discriminate against clients including women fleeing violence and LGBTI+ people. 

In November 2020 WEL participated as a witness in a Committee hearing with our allied organisations Women’s Safety NSW and NSW Women’s Legal Service. We issued a joint media statement which also included Women’s Health NSW and Family Planning NSW as signatories. 

During 2021 WEL has worked closely with organisations such as the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Equality Australia to discuss strategies and to make the case against the Bill on the grounds that it is incompatible with other protections under the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act. 

WEL has stated that there is a pressing need to review the Act as a whole as it omits many groups from protections, places the onus of complaints on the victims and is complex and daunting legislation inaccessible to many of those who most need protections in workplaces and public life. 

Parental Rights in Education Bill 2020

In February 2021 WEL made a submission  to the NSW Parliamentary Education Portfolio Committee  Inquiry on One Nation’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020.

We warned that the Bill would undermine the critical role schools need to play in developing children’s and young people’s understanding of and capacity to prevent bullying, sexual assault and domestic violence, and to develop their capacity for relationships based on equality, consent and respect. We asked that urgent consideration be given to strengthening the provision and delivery of respectful relationships, sexuality and sexual health education in NSW public schools and to making such provision mandatory.

Most peak secular legal, expert and community organisations have opposed the Bill. It attracted strong support from Catholic Schools NSW, The Australian Christian Lobby and some but not all independent schools advocates and religious authorities.  The Committee, chaired by One Nation (who also proposed the Bill) has yet to report to the Parliament and is now outside the 8 July timeline. There is  no indication from either the Government or the Opposition on their position should the Committee recommend the Bill. 

NSW Crimes Act (Offences Against Pregnant Women) Bill 2020

In January 2021 WEL made a submission to the Attorney General’s Department on the Exposure Draft of the Crimes Legislation (Offences Against Pregnant Women) Bill 2020. We drew on expert advice from a range of women’s health and service organisations to  question the need to provide further legal recourse to those who lose pregnancies due to criminal acts, given the already robust legal measures in place,  with very heavy penalties for offences against pregnant women. 

Our submission stated our concerns that a number of the amendments could, in effect, invoke ‘foetal personhood’ - with the pregnant woman’s personhood as subsidiary to that of the foetus. We urged the Government to stop searching for more definitive legal remedies to satisfy the very diverse constituencies who have suffered pregnancy loss through criminal road accidents. We suggested that they should instead give greater consideration to strengthening administrative and other avenues to assuage grief, such as additional compensation, funeral costs and much more extensive and individually tailored support services. The Government has given no indication regarding when (or if) an amended version of the Bill will be issued. 


FORUMS and MEETINGS

WEL NSW was represented by Jozefa Sobski at a forum organised by the Greens ‘End Gendered Violence: Enough is Enough’, held on 8 June 2021. It was presided over by Sylvia Ellsmore. Speakers included: Saxon Mullins, Senator Mehreen Faruqi and Abigail Boyd MLC. Saxon spoke about her rape trial experience which has been very influential in securing a commitment to amend the law to clarify consent. 

WEL made a submission to the NSW Law Reform Commission (LRC) inquiry into sexual consent laws and WEL Executive Members Jozefa Sobski and Rachel Francois appeared before the Commission at one of its Sydney Roundtables on 31 May 2019. Mark Speakman, Attorney General, announced on 25 May 2021 that a Bill to give effect to the reforms recommended by the NSW LRC would be introduced in State Parliament later in 2021. An earlier Bill introduced in March 2021 by Jenny Leong (Greens) the Crimes Amendment (Enthusiastic Consent) Bill has lapsed. 

Erina Finau represented WEL at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre forum on the Anti-Discrimination Act on the need for review and reform of the Anti-Discrimination  Act, continuing WEL’s long term interest and advocacy for protection against discrimination to be as accessible and effective as possible.


AGED CARE

Since February 2021 Tabitha Ponnambalam has been representing WEL NSW on the NSW Aged Care Roundtable. The NSW Aged Care Roundtable consists of a group of approximately 20 organisations covering medical groups, nurses’ unions, advocacy groups like WEL and Older Women’s Network and regional organisations like Country Women’s Association.  At present, the Aged Care Roundtable is actively campaigning to ensure that all aged care facilities in NSW are staffed by a nurse 24/7. At present, nurses need to be present only during standard working hours ie Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association points to the inadequacy of this as the elderly do not only fall sick during standard working hours. 

Although aged care is a Federal Government matter, the Aged Care Roundtable met with staff from the NSW Government Health Minister Brad Hazzard’s office to lobby for changes to the NSW Public Health Amendment Act to require aged care  facilities to have nurses on site at all times. The issue concerns the NSW Government as not having nurses on site imposes more onerous responsibilities on ambulance staff who are then called and have to take patients to hospital, imposing further costs on the health care system when these costly hospital admissions may not be necessary if a trained nurse were present on site to care for the resident.

In August we met by zoom with the Aged Care Commissioner Janet Anderson to discuss issues in relation to the establishment of the Serious Incidents Response Scheme at aged care facilities. She acknowledged it would take some time for the new Aged Care Act to be enacted as recommended by the Royal Commission. It is disappointing that the residents in these facilities are unlikely to see any improvements for some time. 

Following the Aged Care Royal Commission, the Federal Government is mandating that staff spend a certain number of minutes each day with each resident in aged care facilities. This appears to be a positive response for the residents but it adds another level of regulatory burden on staff who are already under pressure. Time will tell whether the mandated minutes with each resident or mandated staffing ratios based on the number of residents in a facility is the better option. The concern is that staff at the Aged Care facilities will be asked to do more without the overall staffing numbers being increased.


WEL’S COMMUNICATION AND ENGAGEMENT 

WEL’s communication and engagement since September 2020 has been focused on supporting WEL’s priority advocacy projects and campaigns to build awareness and participation across the community and to reinforce and coordinate activity with WEL’s stakeholders and feminist alliance organisations. 

Over the past 12 months WEL’s strategic communication approach has been to celebrate, promote and raise awareness of critical issues impacting on women through WEL’s policy and lobbying lens, and to ensure that this is contextualised with the impact of COVID. 

At the end of September 2020, we mourned the passing of one of WEL’s founding members, the Hon Susan Ryan AO, with a celebration of her life, her extraordinary achievements, and her lifelong commitment to furthering women’s equality and participation in all aspects of life. Due to COVID many in the community marked this moment by leaving messages on WEL’s social media platforms. Susan will be forever remembered for her tenacity and drive, and her forthright commitment to women’s equality.

Since September 2020, COVID-19 has impacted on traditional participation in WEL’s face to face activities and engagements. WEL has used this as an opportunity to innovate and change the style, frequency and type of content it shares, resulting in a quick and sustained increase to WEL’s online and social media audiences, as well as engagement on key issues.

The team has maintained daily social media communication, as well as re-introducing WEL’s regular newsletter, WEL Informed. There have been conscious efforts towards regular social media communications with particular efforts in visual communication, as well as linking with posts of affiliated feminist organisations. The most significant engagement on social media platforms by supporters and members, as reflected in the graphs below, was in March. This was in response of the heroic speech by Grace Tame on government  inaction on sexual harassment and violence against women, an endemic issue that has clearly provoked significant rage in the community. 

WEL NSW’s monthly newsletter aims to provide  a comprehensive run down on key projects, links to major developments on lobbying work and updates to policy platforms, and cross promotion of projects and campaigns by like minded groups and individuals. Pleasingly, the ‘open rate’ which represents viewer engagement with the newsletter has been steadily increasing to an average of 30%. According to Nationbuilder statistics this is double the regular standard of 17% open rate of most businesses and organisations.

The communication team has also spearheaded fundraising for end-of-financial year, specific project support and regular giving. As WEL is entirely self funded, our fundraising efforts are critical in allowing WEL to continue its advocacy activities for women. 

Key communication highlights included: the celebration of outstanding women such as Susan Ryan - their extraordinary achievements and inspirational moments; the creation and promotion of a feminist music playlist on Spotify; the extensive promotion of WEL’s Women Ageing Well and the UNSEEN project in partnership with Blur Projects; the March on Canberra and in all capital cities for ENOUGH in response to the workplace violence and sexual harassment in Australia’s Parliament and across all workplaces, and urgent advocacy for women being adversely impacted by the COVID pandemic. 

WEL’s communication and engagement team will continue to increase this activity, while providing strategic support to priority campaigns, lobbying and engagement across policy priorities and the upcoming federal election in 2022. 


MANAGING WEL

Reconciliation Action Plan 

WEL has contacted Reconciliation Australia and formally advised our wish to prepare a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).  The existing RAP templates are tailored for organisations with a workforce, rather than volunteer organisations like WEL, but Reconciliation Australia is moving to develop approaches that would be suitable for other organisation types. WEL is currently examining approaches to reconciliation by other non-government and not-for-profit organisations and will discuss with Reconciliation Australia the most relevant process or framework for us.

Reserve policy

WEL’s Audit And Risk Committee developed a Reserve policy, adopted at the NSW WEL Executive meeting in November 2020, setting out a target amount to retain, equivalent to two years’ running costs, and to guide decision making about finances. 

COVID Plan

WEL developed a COVID-19 Safety Plan, including obtaining and using a QR Code for check-ins for face to face meetings.

Transgender issues.

WEL developed and published its inclusive policy on transgender issues.


WORKING WITH WOMEN’S ALLIANCES

Jozefa Sobski is the National Convenor of WEL Australia (WELA).  WEL NSW members on the national coordinating committee are Menaka Cooke and Philippa Hall.

WEL Australia was a member of two national women’s alliances up to the period when new contracts were issued by the Federal Government. We will remain a member of Equality Rights

Alliance with its new emphasis on women’s economic security and leadership and we will apply to join the new National Women’s Safety Alliance which has replaced AWAVA. Economic Security for Women was not re-funded although this organisation is planning to continue in some form.

During 2021, Jozefa Sobski attended ERA meetings via Zoom and one face to face meeting in Sydney. Reports of the outcomes of these meetings were circulated to the WELA National Coordinating Committee members. A major contribution by ERA has been its extensive work on Gender Responsive Budgeting.

Philippa Hall represented WELA at the Economic Security for Women’s alliance. The alliance works with its 32 members and 20 partner organisations on policies and campaigns to improve women's economic wellbeing and financial sustainability. The alliance has worked with economist Stephen Koukoulas to produce  white papers analysing the dynamics of economic insecurity and developing proposals to address them, through improvements in childcare, superannuation, education, jobs, and financial literacy. The alliance held various roundtables and meetings remotely over the last year. Its website has many valuable resources on women's economic security. Updates on the alliance’s meetings were provided to the WEL NSW Executive.

WELA also contributed to the National Foundation for Australian Women’s Gender Lens on the Budget 2021-22 in the areas of education and training, violence against women and women’s health.

A new WEL South Coast Branch formed during the year. It is likely to work closely with the ACT branch. 


PEOPLE                                                                                                                                                                      WEL welcomed three new members to its Executive - Terrie Roberts, Jane Sharkey, and Tabitha          Ponnambalam.  They joined Mary O’Sullivan, Josefa Green, Jenny Muir, Menaka Cooke, Jozefa Sobski, Lorraine Slade, Margaret Mackie, Jane Bullen and Philippa Hall. 

Sarah Judd joined us as Membership Engagement and Fundraising Coordinator in December 2020 for a brief period before moving to a position much closer to home, and we wish her well. WEL also welcomed our new Coordinator, Erina Finau in May 2021. Lorraine Slade represented WEL NSW on the board of the Older Women’s Network. The Executive has shared the role of Secretary since the position remained unfilled. Thanks especially to Josefa Green, Jane Sharkey and Lorraine Slade for their work on minutes. Thank you also to Amanda Keeling (our former Coordinator) who has continued to assist WEL with social media, on a voluntary basis.