House debates

Thursday, 30 October 2014


Charlton Electorate: Domestic Violence

4:49 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Charlton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a tragic reality that domestic violence continues to plague our communities. And, whilst efforts to bring the topic into the open are having a positive effect, our work is not done when it comes to stamping out this terrible crime. There are some individuals and organisations in my electorate of Charlton making a difference. Anita Barker, from the Toronto Aboriginal Community Justice Group, is a renowned activist within the local Indigenous community. She tells me that, some years ago, she realised family violence was not being spoken about enough within the Aboriginal community. Anita says:

When I realised we weren't talking about this, I felt that this was part of the crime.

So she created the Koori Love Shouldn't Hurt domestic violence forum, which is now in its fourth year of delivery. The one-day forum features panel-style discussions and guest speakers, some of whom are perpetrators and victims of domestic violence. Community and service providers are also involved, raising awareness of support services available and the process around reporting domestic violence. Each year, ambassadors are appointed, such as Aboriginal sportspeople and prominent local identities. They talk about how young men can become good partners and spread the message that violence against women has no place in the Aboriginal community or our society more broadly. Anita describes it as a 'having a conversation' within the Aboriginal community about domestic violence. She says that, when the aunties tell their survival stories, there is not a dry eye in the house and so many say that they simply 'accepted the violence as part of love'. Anita's goal is to change this acceptance—hence the name 'Koori Love Shouldn't Hurt'. It is a tribute to the Koori Love Shouldn't Hurt program that the Toronto Aboriginal Community Justice Group was nominated in the 2014 Aboriginal Justice Awards, which were presented at a ceremony in New South Wales Parliament House last night. I congratulate Anita on this deserved recognition, and I take this opportunity to express deep appreciation for the work she does in making our community a better place.

Of course, this is just one initiative that is helping raise awareness of domestic and sexual violence against women. The White Ribbon Day and Reclaim the Night events are familiar to us all, and the Westlakes Domestic Violence Committee is actively involved in both these annual activities. I will be proud to join the committee again this year to take part in their annual Reclaim the Night march, which will take place tomorrow at the Warners Bay foreshore. I spoke about the activities of this group in this place last year, and, in conjunction with White Ribbon Day, I took the pledge to never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women. This was more than a personal sentiment. As members of parliament, it is incumbent on us to ensure our response to this issue is both strong and unwavering. Our laws must provide the most appropriate framework within which we can tackle this problem. When they do not, we must not remain silent about it.

Recently, I met with a young woman who fled a violent relationship, moving interstate to escape the abuse. Like many in her situation, she maintains contact with the father of her children in order to satisfy access arrangements. When her partner's intimidatory behaviour continued, she found that the legal safety net that is supposed to protect her—an apprehended violence order—could not be adequately enforced across state borders.

In the civil system, there are mechanisms to serve subpoenas outside of the jurisdiction in which the matter is going to be heard, and I have written to the Attorney-General to ask about extending similar exemptions to a situation like this. Policy decisions such as these, made both here and by our counterparts at a state level, have perhaps the greatest effect for organisations working in the social and community sector.

The New South Wales government has embarked on the Going Home Staying Home reform package, which seeks commercial tenders from organisations to deliver specialist women's domestic violence and homelessness services. Whilst the extra funding tied to these reforms is indeed commendable, the unfortunate consequence is that smaller organisations—such as the Warlga Ngurra Women and Children's Refuge in Wallsend—will miss out on funding because they simply cannot compete with larger organisations. The changes also stipulate that services are to be delivered across the board to women and children, as well as men. When so many women at risk of homelessness are fleeing a domestic violence situation, eliminating women-only services could be a very real barrier in a woman's choice to seek help. I note the state government has made concessions in this area, and I applaud that, but, unfortunately, they do not extend to the Hunter yet.

Speaker, as lawmakers we have a responsibility to make sure our laws and our policies are helping stop the terrible crime of domestic violence. We must support the work of those organisations on the front line in our community. As the recent father of a daughter, I know how important it is to raise not just daughters but sons in domestic-violence-free environments so that they can go on and set fine examples for their children.

As Anita Barker says, not to speak about these issues is dangerous. But not to act, when we have an opportunity to, is unforgivable.