National push for assault law consistency

Grace Tame wants nationally consistent definitions in state and territory sexual assault laws.
Grace Tame wants nationally consistent definitions in state and territory sexual assault laws.

Australian of the Year Grace Tame will ask state and territory attorneys-general to make definitions contained in various sexual assault laws consistent across the country.

The child sexual abuse survivor was one of dozens of speakers at a two-day national summit on women's safety, which ended on Tuesday with a statement calling for a concerted effort to "stop violence before it starts".

The summit participants called for a long-term and bipartisan commitment to achieve cultural and behavioural change, and for services involved in prevention, intervention and recovery to be properly funded.

They held a minute's silence in the final session "to stand united for those who were not with us today, and who inspire us in our work and are at the centre of our work".

Ms Tame said nationally inconsistent laws were a hurdle to properly dealing with abuse and violence.

"We have nine different definitions of grooming and, in fact, in some jurisdictions grooming isn't even defined at all," Ms Tame said on Tuesday.

"We also have nine different definitions of the age of a child. We have nine different definitions of the age of consent to sex and we have nine different definitions of sexual intercourse itself.

"And we wonder why we don't have a consistent solid understanding of each of these concepts."

Ms Tame flagged a public campaign and upcoming meeting with the nation's attorneys-general to push for consistent definitions.

She noted the offence against her was described as "maintaining a relationship with a young person", while in another state it was known as "persistent sexual abuse of a child".

"Language is key and that's something that we have to look at," she said.

She said in some cases language "softens the reality, and thereby enables and emboldens perpetrators who capitalise on every loophole there is".

Ms Tame and other survivors have accused the Morrison government of hypocrisy during the summit.

But Scott Morrison said everyone involved in the summit came to the table "to do our best".

"What we have to do ... is start accepting each other's good intentions in this," the prime minister told Sky News.

"No one has a mortgage on good intentions when it comes to dealing with these very difficult issues."

He earlier acknowledged pervasive violence against women meant they were not safe at home or work, including in federal parliament.

But the government remains under fire for its handling of sexual harassment reforms, notably the failure to put the onus of prevention on employers.

Anger also continues to reverberate over former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins' alleged rape by a colleague inside a minister's office.

"We've seen a proven track record, unfortunately, with this government in its inability to actually understand these issues, its inability to address the fundamental issue of women's safety within parliament itself," Ms Tame said.

The summit was convened to help with the updating of the national plan to reduce violence against women and their children, which began under the Gillard government.

Australian Associated Press