Aussie telcos dial in to family violence action plans

For women escaping domestic and family violence, mobile phones can be a lifeline or another weapon of abuse.

Perpetrators of violence can use shared accounts to cut off phone or internet services or potentially to track their victims.

As violence against women spirals, six of the biggest telecommunications companies, including Optus and TPG, have committed to delivering domestic and family violence action plans as part of the Telco Together Foundation.

Created in consultation with the government, the online watchdog, domestic violence not-for profit Our Watch and other organisations, the plans will help support customers and employees at the telcos who are experiencing violence.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant warned of the dangers posed by modern technology that can bring so much convenience to daily life.

"Our devices are powerful tools for both good and harm. They can be a lifeline to essential support networks and weapons for round-the-clock abuse," she said.

Julie Inman Grant
Australia's eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant has pointed to the dangers of modern technology. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

About one in five Australians have experienced partner violence or abuse since the age of 15.

Between 2022 and 2023, the Australian Institute of Criminology recorded a 28 per cent rise in the number of women killed by an intimate partner compared to the year before, from 0.25 homicides per 100,000 to 0.32.

Telco Together Foundation CEO Kristy Kelly said it was essential that people had access to telecommunications services and privacy measures.

"Telcos are often one of the first ports of call for people experiencing domestic and family violence," she said.

Optus, for example, has established a Specialist Care team for vulnerable customers.

Other members of the industry have used their action plans to broadly improve support and reduce instances of abuse in accordance with the size, reach and impact of their organisations.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland welcomed the action plans.

"It's encouraging to see Australia's telco industry taking transparent action to support vulnerable customers," she said.

Ahead of the 2024/25 budget, to be handed down by Treasurer Jim Chalmers in mid May, the government announced women escaping violent partners will get up to $5000 in support payments.

Minister for Women Katy Gallagher said Australia also needed to address gender equality more broadly.

"We recognise we can't deal with the epidemic level of violence against women unless we're dealing with other issues like gender equality," she said.

"An economy that's better for women and is better for men, but it's also safer for women as well."

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