House debates

Thursday, 28 August 2014


Domestic Violence

4:40 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was pleased to see the launch of the No More Deaths campaign in Melbourne this week by a coalition of groups seeking comprehensive political action in response to the scourge of men's violence against women in our community. The scale of men's violence against women in our community is shocking. It does not respect wealth, age or ethnicity, but hurts women in all walks of Australian life. One in three women in Australia have experienced physical violence. One woman is killed by a partner or a former partner in Australia every week. Think of these statistics; think of all the women that you know and just imagine.

Speaking on behalf of the No More Deaths Coalition, the CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria, Fiona McCormack, outlined a series of concrete measures that government can take to protect women and children from this violence. Ms McCormack wrote:

It is not just violent men who have failed at-risk women and children in Victoria. Our systems and responses are riddled with gaps and contradictions.

She is right. Our failure to protect women from violence reflects on all of us in this place.

In an era of partisan rancour, it is, however, notable that our response to men's violence against women has retained strong bipartisan support. At the last sitting, I congratulated the government on continuing the Gillard government's National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Childrenthrough the launch of the Second Action Plan. Unfortunately, despite its exceptional political status, so far the response to family violence has not delivered exceptional results for Australian women. That is why I recently hosted a roundtable on this issue with the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, and experts in this area. This roundtable gathered key advocates, including many members of the No More Deaths Coalition, who understand the causes and the impacts of men's violence against women in our community. It included national bodies, such as White Ribbon Australia and the Foundation to Prevent Violence Against Women and their Children, as well as local service providers from Melbourne's west, who see every day what men's violence against women does to individuals and families in our community.

What was clear from the roundtable is that we need a coordinated long-term response to this issue that links up primary prevention, early intervention and crisis response policies. For example, one of the early objectives of the national plan was to ensure that women were confident enough to report incidents of violence to the police. Research suggested that around two-thirds of women did not even contact police after being the subject of an assault. In light of this, the First Action Plan of the national plan aimed for an increase in the rate of women reporting domestic violence and sexual assault. Thanks, in part, to increased community awareness and important changes in the way that the media has approached these incidents, reporting rates have, as intended, increased since the launch of the national plan in 2010. Yet, despite this success, a failure of policy and resource coordination across government and portfolios has meant that we are still failing vulnerable women. Women's Health West, a major service provider in my electorate, has seen the number of referrals received from police increase by 286 per cent since the launch of the national plan in 2010, while their funding has increased by barely 50 per cent in this time.

Similarly, while reporting rates have gone up, reoffending rates remain high. The men's behaviour modification counselling programs that offenders are referred to by our courts have not received the increased funding needed to respond to this hoped-for increase in demand. Even worse, many who have confronted the fact that their behaviour is threatening their families and have themselves sought help from these programs are facing waiting lists of many months to seek this assistance. We have also seen the impact of cuts affecting our community legal centres and legal aid, which provide important support for women who are vulnerable to this kind of violence.

The rare bipartisan support for addressing this issue does present us with an opportunity to offer a better coordinated response to this issue than many other wicked problems facing our community. The challenge for policymakers is to convert the extraordinary bipartisan support from politicians into extraordinary progress on this issue for women.

The Leader of the Opposition said at the round table last week that he wants to start a national dialogue on family violence. We will not stop speaking out until this scourge is eliminated. But we need a chorus of voices to join us if we are going to achieve lasting change. We heard repeatedly today in the context of international terrorism: 'There is no more important obligation for government than to keep its citizens safe.' This is a worthy principle. However, all of us need to honour this sentiment with respect to the terror that is being inflicted on women and children in homes across Australia every day of the year and in every one of our electorates all across the nation. I call on members of this chamber to join with me in speaking out on this issue, not remaining silent, and supporting the important work of the No More Deaths campaign currently being undertaken in Victoria.