Jason Clare announces student action plan to target gender based violence, including new ombudsman

Ellen RansleyNCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

A national watchdog will be created to deal with growing safety concerns and rife gender-based violence on Australia’s university campuses.

State education ministers met with federal counterpart Jason Clare on Friday, where they agreed to an action plan to address gender-based violence in higher education, developed in response to the Universities Accord interim report.

The final report will be handed down on Sunday.

Ahead of the release, Mr Clare announced the establishment of the national student ombudsman, which will allow all higher education students to escalate complaints about the actions of their provider, including those regarding sexual assault, harassment, and violence.

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If legislation is passed, it would allow the ombudsman to consider whether decisions and actions taken by providers are unreasonable, discriminatory, or otherwise wrong; recommend a provider take specific steps to resolve the complaint; and offer a “restorative engagement process” between the student and university.

Camera IconA national action plan to crack down on gender-based violence in higher education will include creating an ombudsman. NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw Credit: News Corp Australia

Mr Clare said universities weren’t just places where people worked or studied, but often lived, so there was a real need to ensure they are safe.

“According to a recent survey, 1 in 20 students experienced sexual assault since they started university and 1 in 6 have been sexually harassed,” he said.

“Not enough has been done to tackle sexual violence in our universities and for too long students haven’t been heard. That now changes.”

He praised the advocacy of groups including End Rape on Campus, the STOP Campaign, and Fair Agenda, who have been fighting for the reforms for years.

Sharna Bremmer, founder and director of EROC, said it was “hard to know” what to say in the wake of the announcement, admitting to having “so many mixed emotions”.

“Today we have an action plan to address gender-based violence in higher education,” she said.

“I’ll never be able to adequately acknowledge everyone who helps us to get to this moment. There are simply too many of them, because this has been a battle fought over decade.”

Camera IconEducation Minister Jason Clare said not enough had been done to tackle sexual violence on campus. NCA NewsWire/Tertius Pickard Credit: News Corp Australia

The action plan also includes a requirement for all higher education provider to embed a whole-of-organisation approach to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, led from the top.

The federal government will also strengthen provider accountability by introducing a new national higher education code to prevent and respond to gender-based violence; as well as enhance the oversight, standards, and accountability of stand-alone student accommodation providers.

Governments and providers will also “work together” to identify opportunities to introduce legislation and regulations focusing on the safety of victim-survivors in responding to reports and disclosures of gender-based violence.

Originally published as Jason Clare announces student action plan to target gender based violence, including new ombudsman

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