House debates

Thursday, 27 February 2020


Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020; Second Reading

10:35 am

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | Hansard source

Last night, I, with many of our colleagues here in this chamber, attended a very important event. At that event, many of us held candles just like the one I'm holding. This candle was from the vigil that we held last night in honour, in mourning and also in celebration of the lives of Hannah, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey. But this candle actually also represents the lives of so many women and children who have lost their lives to domestic violence every week, every year, throughout Australia.

Our condolences as a parliament, as people, have been expressed by the Prime Minister, the leader of the Labor Party—so many of us—and many of us last night. And of course I express my condolences to Hannah's family, their friends and the friends of her children. But I also want to express some deep concern about some of the reporting of that event. We've all expressed our concern that domestic violence continues to happen and be a scourge on our society here in Australia, but part of dealing with that—part of combating that—also has to be that reporting of these events is clear; that reporting of these events acknowledges the important things that have happened and doesn't skirt round the gravity of actions that have been taken by people that have caused harm and in way too many circumstances death.

On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner in Australia. One in three Australian women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15. One in five Australian women have experienced sexual violence. One in four Australian women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. Australian women are nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner and they are nearly four times more likely than men to be hospitalised after being assaulted by a spouse or partner.

The litany of statistics, unfortunately, goes on and on—I have over a page of them. I encourage all people to look at the Our Watch website and view those statistics, because they are truly troubling. In particular, last year, 61 women died through domestic violence. This year already nine have died. And refuges across the country commonly tell us that, for every woman and family that they are able to help, two, three or four are turned away.

In my electorate, the electorate of Burt in the south-eastern suburbs of Perth, we have the highest rates of domestic violence in the metropolitan area. In the Armadale policing district, in the decade to last year, we saw family assaults increase from 746 to 1,899—that's a 154 per cent increase. Threatening behaviour against a family member increased from 66 to 367—a 4.5 time increase.

When I had the honour of becoming a lawyer, one of the things that I took on was joining the board of Starick services. Starick is a domestic violence service operating in the south-eastern suburbs of Perth. I had the great honour of being the chair of that organisation for some time and also representing it on an industry representative group to government. Starick provides two refuges in our south-eastern suburbs. It provides outreach services. It provides services in police stations and it provides assistance to victims of domestic violence in courts.

I want to read the story of one of the women that Starick has assisted. This is Anne's story:

When I first got married, I thought that I was going to have a wonderful life and fulfil all the dreams a newlywed could hope for. As an A-grade student throughout high school, I went on to run my own business, had just planned an around-the-world trip and was excited about life and the prospect of sharing that life with another.

I thought I'd met a man who was handsome, adventurous and brave but, instead, I was introduced to a crazy world that I could never have imagined or prepared myself for. I had no idea the transformation that was to follow over the next 14 years.

I didn't understand that domestic violence is like a little microscopic worm that sneaks into your mind and slowly kills you from the inside. You do not realise you are dying until it is almost too late, or someone comes and rescues you from an early grave.

I always thought the worm would look like a big, unkempt, nasty, thug that swore and punched holes in the walls but instead it was quiet and cunning and deadly.

I never fully understood the danger I was in until after I got out.

It started with my partner being disgruntled and a little bit unpredictable. He was not considerate and he was a fraction selfish. I thought this was nothing unusual. After all, newlyweds have their settling in period and I was sure I had a few things he didn't like, either. I decided to just try a little harder to be a better wife.

Well, to him being a better wife meant I should really spend less time with my friends, give up my business and be a stay-at-home mum. He said that most women would be envious of that privilege, and not to worry about my family too much since they clearly didn't understand what being a good wife was. After all, he said, they were divorced, so what would they know about how to overcome marital issues? He wanted me to sell my car because he said we needed only one and it was better for us financially.

Slowly but surely the worm continued to eat away at my common sense and freedom until one day, many years later, I had given him my $30,000 of savings, completely cut off all of my family and friends, attempted suicide and let him kill all my beloved pets.

He had sexually abused my daughter, groomed the others, smashed down every door in the house, made me miscarry, beat me up more times than I can remember, threatened to kill us all and stole the beautiful vivacious girl I once was from within me. I never laughed. I never smiled. I was a dead woman walking.

But still I wouldn't have labelled myself one of 'those women' who experience domestic violence. How can a normal, healthy, happy girl be reduced to a shadow of a person and not see anything wrong? Because the worm was eating me away. With each bite, it was making itself bigger and stronger and I was getting smaller and weaker.

Eventually, to my horror the authorities stepped in. What for, I thought? I'm a good wife. I'm looking after my kids. I don't drink or take drugs or live like a vagabond. I'm married. I'm a good person. I had NO IDEA that all the life had been sucked out of me.

But, fortunately for me, it was the first time a law was passed that enabled a magistrate to take out a Violence Restraining Order WITHOUT my permission, on my husband, to protect us all from this unreasonable and unpredictable man.

It was only then that I began to heal. I needed space and silence.

I didn't appreciate fully at the time the beautiful people who came along and walked every step by my side to support me and be my strength in times of complete weakness. I thought that they didn't really know my situation or understand, but they actually did. They knew my predicament better than I ever knew and if it wasn't for their continued support, encouragement and protection I would most definitely not be here today, and my seven precious children would be dispersed among the community, trying to make sense of it all.

I will remain eternally grateful to all the domestic violence support workers who have carried me over the years, in the courtroom and out, particularly the staff at Starick.

I am so very thankful for the women's refuges throughout Perth, the police who see the destruction first hand yet continue to care in the wee hours when nobody else can help, the magistrates who watch our declining culture day in and day out but choose to protect us, still, by putting boundaries in place, and all the people who become a voice for those who have lost theirs.

I wish to add my voice to those who are standing for those people who have lost theirs.

There are so many other stories like that. It is just but one of the compelling stories that I can tell from my electorate. But, as we stand and sit in this place and consider what we have seen, as we reel listening to these stories and the circumstances that we have seen reported in the news, it is incumbent on us to actually think about: 'What next? What can we actually do?' I think we need to remember the example in Victoria, where they held a royal commission into domestic violence. That royal commission in 2016 made 227 recommendations. One hundred and forty-three of those recommendations have already been implemented. I reference this not because I think we should have another royal commission; I reference this because there are now 227 things that every other state and the Commonwealth can think about doing, that we should be actually turning our minds to and making sure are implemented across this nation.

From my observation, from my work in this field and from looking at the recommendations of the royal commission, there are a few things that this parliament, this government, any federal government and any state government can look at doing. We need more refuges. We need more places in refuges. We need more refuges that can support families, not just individuals. We need more places in refuges that can support families and their pets. But we need more of them. We need more funding for those services. We can't just be funding the buildings. We need to assist in funding the services and expanding the services. It's not just about accommodation and homelessness, though that is exceptionally real; it's about the legal assistance services, the counselling services, the empowerment, the support in court and the support with police stations. We also need much more transitional housing, because it doesn't matter how many refuges we build if there's no place for people to go to then take their life back. They get full very quickly. We need more transitional housing. We also need more social housing.

All of these things are things that the federal government, a federal parliament, can be involved in funding. I'm not absolving the states of any responsibility in this, but this needs to be done together. We need to be doing it now. We've talked about it for too long. We also need governments to provide certainty in funding. Too often we have seen here funding that is announced for several years—and that is commendable—and then it is left to the absolute death knell or, in fact, after that funding has run out for governments to confirm only a one-year extension to that funding or program. Yet again another pilot not followed by ongoing funding, despite the proven efficacy of those programs.

On this side we have called for a national domestic violence summit. I think that is an important start. It's an important start because coordination at a state and federal level is absolutely necessary. We have seen some work on this in terms of the application of restraining orders crossing borders. Too often we see that even by leaving your own state you are not safe. But that is merely the beginning. Our state and federal governments need to work much more strongly together to ensure that there is an actual plan that picks up on all of the research, the inquiries and the royal commissions, what they've already recommended, and make sure that they become a reality. Not because it allows us to tick a box and not because it allows us to make some great announcement, but because it should allow us to look all Australians in the face and say that, as their elected representatives at a national or a state level, we are actually doing the things that will make a difference in keeping people safe; in making sure that we do not have unnecessary death, violence, emotional violence; and in making sure that people can feel safe in their own homes and that children are not traumatised by the people who are there to love them. This is something I know we are actually all committed to. I look forward to working with everyone here to make sure that this becomes an actual reality in our nation. It's for everybody that this candle represents.


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