The minister was announcing revolutionary changes to the way Water Corporation was working with people in financial hardship.
We were thrilled to support it. Water Corporation, led by the minister, recently undertook a review of their financial hardship policies and in consultation with financial counsellors in WA introduced a raft of changes to more actively support people who are struggling.
They started by sorting out customers who 'can't pay' from the customers who 'won't pay' and realised that they needed to incentivise and support 'can't pay' customers rather than tie up precious resources in debt collection from people who don't have the money.
Staff at the Corporation personally visited these customers and offered an opportunity for them to retain their water connection by paying a monthly amount on a regular basis. If they then stick to the arrangement their debts would be considered paid.
This is such a great initiative, widely supported by community services and financial counsellors, who try to mediate resolutions for people in financial hardship with all the utilities. The work that the Water Corporation has been doing is unprecedented and sets a great example for other providers.
We agreed to hold the press conference at our venue, a humble building in East Perth where we operate the National Debt Helpline. As we were waiting for the Minister to arrive we saw all the media arrive. Every Perth news channel, online news, radio and print. I was thinking, this is great, such a positive response.
Then I remembered that the Minister for Water was also the Minister for Fisheries and had hit the headlines that morning on a story on WA's white shark population.
I quickly thought, oh that's why we have so much media, but never mind — at least we will have some positive news with the Water Corporation story first.
The press conference started, with the Minister and one of our financial counsellors, Seema D'Cruz, poised to answer inquiries on how the new changes were working for customers.
This went reasonably well, with some brief, unremarkable questions from the journalists.
As soon as that part of the press conference was over, the Minister indicated he was happy to take questions. The hounds were unleashed.
They quizzed the minister relentlessly about 'what are you doing to keep people safe at the beach?'
This part of the press conference lasted considerably longer.
It became very clear that the Water Corporation announcement was a necessary inconvenience, so the journalists could talk to the Minister about sharks.
I have to say the only sharks I was seeing was in the pack of journalists circling the minister.
I screamed in my mind, MORE WOMEN DIE AT THE HANDS OF THEIR INTIMATE PARTNERS THAN ALL SHARK DEATHS IN AUSTRALIA – NINE WOMEN THIS YEAR SO FAR BY IF ANYONE IS INTERESTED!
How could so much attention be given to shark bite incidents (albeit shark bites being very distressing) when we know that the scourge of family violence in this country is rife?
Women are injured, maimed and killed at an unimaginable rate and yet this pack of journalists was more concerned about what the Minister was going to do about sharks swimming in their own natural habitat.
Is this really what we have become? How obsessed we are with counting shark numbers, tagging sharks, setting up aerial patrols, drum lines, shark nets, surf lifesaving, warning systems and the like? Spending money on public servants who then spend time managing the "problem", developing policy and programs?
The media frenzy every time there is a shark sighting is incomparable to any other type of death.
I think we would drain the ocean if as many Australians died of shark bites as women do at the hands of violent partners. Forty-nine women in Australia in 2017, if you are interested.
I looked at media on Saturday hoping to see the story on the amazing changes from the Water Corporation. Nothing, not one word.
The shark comments made headlines, though. Big stories, small stories, comment pieces telling us 'the science is in', we have double the number of sharks than the east coast, never mind that we have warmer water and a bigger coastline.
They told us of the 15 fatal shark bite incidents in WA in the last 17 years. Yes, let's not forget the numbers!
How's this for numbers? Two women died between Christmas and the New Year in WA alone at the hands of their partners. Where is your outrage on that? Where is your front page and editorial and questions to the Minister responsible for the Prevention of Family Violence?
I am certainly not unsympathetic to those people and families affected by shark attacks and deaths.
However, let's have some perspective. If we want a debate about 'safety' in Western Australia let's start talking about the impact of violence against women and children, violence we know leads to horrific consequences for this generation and future generations and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
And as a last comment, and the whole reason for the press conference, let's applaud the Water Corporation and its minister for addressing the needs of the most financially vulnerable in the community by developing a dignified and realistic way forward and raise the challenge to the other utilities in WA to follow suit.
This article was written by Bev Jowle, the Executive Officer for the Financial Counselling Association of WA and has been copied from here.