House debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Grievance Debate

Domestic and Family Violence

5:46 pm

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On the afternoon of 5 July, John Edwards of Normanhurst murdered his son and daughter, 15-year-old Jack and 13-year-old Jennifer, in West Pennant Hills in my constituency. Later that night, Edwards took his own life. The nightmare that Olga, Jack and Jennifer's mother, has gone through in the last few weeks, and the pain that she will carry for the rest of her life, are unimaginable. My thoughts are with her at this time.

The weeks since that night have been a difficult time in my community as we've tried to come to terms with what happened. We've all been asking ourselves the same question: how could something like this have happened in our peaceful community? The ripple effect of this tragedy has been significant throughout. Many people from all parts of the community have been affected, and much has been done to help. In particular, I've been concerned about the students and teachers at the schools that Jack and Jennifer attended and other surrounding schools in my area, and I've been in touch with the principals and directors of education and offered my support. I know the schools have provided counselling and support for Jack and Jennifer's friends and peers and other students and that this will need to be ongoing. I've been speaking with their next-door neighbours, Mr and Mrs Bruce Wilson, who've been supporting Olga during these most difficult weeks. They're the sorts of citizens who make me proud to represent our Berowra community. They're tough and resilient through adversity and, in the great Australian tradition, they're always there to support and comfort their neighbours in time of need.

The exact story of what happened on 5 July is a matter for the coroner, and we'll hear in due course their findings. But people have expressed concerns about how a man with the reportedly violent history of Mr Edwards had managed to get hold of the gun. At Hornsby, in my electorate, there exists one of the few shooting ranges in Sydney. It is vital for the training of police and military and maintaining Australia's reputation as a world leader in sporting shooting. I was pleased to read media reports that the Ku-Ring-Gai Pistol Club in Hornsby declined to issue Mr Edwards with a firearm. It will be a matter for the coroner to determine how such a man, with his violent history, nevertheless managed to get access to firearms. One of the neighbours has written to me expressing his thoughts about gun control. His words were powerful, questioning whether guns should leave the premises of gun clubs. I have passed his thoughts on to the appropriate New South Wales ministers.

The murder of Jack and Jennifer Edwards seems to have been an incident of domestic violence. Unfortunately, domestic violence exists in every community. Let me begin with some statistics to demonstrate just how pervasive and devastating domestic violence is in our society. In Australia, approximately 23 per cent of women have experienced at least one incident of domestic violence at the hands of a partner during their lifetime. On average, every week, more than one woman is killed by her partner in Australia. In New South Wales in 2016 there were over 3,000 people serving prison sentences who were family and domestic violence offenders. That's 24 per cent of all prisoners. On average, approximately 18 children are killed by a parent every year in Australia. Since September 2017 there has been a 68 per cent rise in the weekly contacts to the domestic violence hotline 1800RESPECT. These are disturbing figures, and we have a responsibility as a society, as a parliament and as individuals to confront them.

While there's clearly a long way to go, the government is working hard to address this deeply-rooted problem in our society. Firstly, we're combatting domestic violence at its roots. Secondly, we're working to ensure that we provide protection and support for the victims. The government's currently implementing the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. That plan has seen the government invest $20 million in primary prevention and early intervention initiatives; $15 million for frontline services to respond to violence experienced by women and children; $30 million for frontline legal assistance and family law services; $25 million towards Indigenous family violence; and $10 million towards responding to sexual violence.

Research has demonstrated that children who experience violence by a family member, or who witness it in their home between other family members, are more likely to later experience partner violence as adults. For example, one in three women and one in six men who experience abuse before the age of 15 were three times more likely to experience partner violence as an adult than women or men who'd not experienced such violence or abuse before age 15. Around one in eight women and one in 10 men who, before the age of 15, witnessed violence towards their mother by a partner were around twice as likely to experience partner violence as an adult than those who'd not witnessed violence before 15. What these figures confirm is the vital importance of early intervention and prevention services. The government has invested in the $30 million national Stop it at the Start campaign. The idea behind this campaign is to educate people about the harmful anti-women attitudes that researchers have found are strong forces driving violence against women. These initiatives build on the $100 million Women's Safety Package.

But the people who make the greatest difference in the domestic violence space are those who work at the coalface. In my electorate there are two shelters for women fleeing domestic violence: there's the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Women's Shelter and there's The Sanctuary—The Hills Women's Shelter. I want to take this opportunity to commend the amazing people who work so hard in these facilities, who've dedicated their lives to protecting women and children from violence. Both shelters are part of the Women's Community Shelters network with their outstanding CEO, Annabelle Daniel, and my former constituent, Kris Neill.

The Sanctuary opened in March 2016 through the hard work and determination of The Hills Shire community. The Sanctuary has a team of specialists who work 24-hours a day supporting people who are in a time of crisis in their lives. They have a child-focused case worker who is a specialist in dealing with childhood trauma. The Sanctuary is also one of the few shelters in New South Wales that can provide services for people with disability, as well as women with larger families. To date, 86 women and 154 children have gone through The Sanctuary. Ninety-five per cent of women and children who've gone there have transitioned away from violence; the sector norm is only 50 per cent. I commend the hardworking team at The Sanctuary and their board chair, Yvonne Keane.

The Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Women's Shelter has housed 267 people since it opened. They help people from a range of different cultures, religions and ages. The oldest person who sought refuge is a remarkable 83-year-old lady. The shelter deals predominantly with people facing domestic violence but also with people facing other issues like homelessness, and it regularly deals with more complex issues like mental health, addictions and medical issues. I want to commend the work of Sallianne McClelland, the president of the shelter, who is also the 2018 Hornsby Woman of the Year.

Every day women and children arrive in such shelters with bruises, black eyes, scars, cigarette burns, and breaks and fractures, and these amazing people take care of them and help them rebuild their lives. To those who work at the coalface every day, thank you for what you're doing. The government must also do more to augment the work of these shelters by providing more temporary accommodation for victims of domestic violence whose lives and safety can be uncertain.

There are other people doing good work in the space of family break-up. I particularly want to commend Parents Beyond Breakup and both Dads in Distress and Mums in Distress. The groups work with parents who are struggling with family breakdown. I had a chance to visit a Dads in Distress group in my electorate run by Campbell Lennox and to see firsthand the work they do in sensibly navigating people through issues that confront them in the family law system.

The experience of going through the Family Court is incredibly stressful. It often causes parents and children a lot of pain. It's becoming clearer to me that the adversarial system is not the right tool for managing most marriage breakdowns. I want to commend the Attorney-General and the Chief Justice of the Family Court—and I acknowledge in the chamber today the member for Corangamite—for the good work they've been doing to address these issues.

Finally, I think it's also important to point out that, while women are most commonly the victims of domestic violence, many Australian men and boys also suffer violence at the hands of family members. It's important to break down a stigma and ensure that all sufferers of domestic violence are protected and that all family violence is equally condemned.

The purpose of society is to civilise the basic human instincts, particularly that instinct to sort out conflict with violence rather than appeal to reason. In his famous documentary, Civilisation, which aired 50 years ago on the BBC, the historian Kenneth Clark finished the series by making some comments on what the achievements of civilisation actually meant. He said:

I believe that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction. I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology. I believe that in spite of the recent triumphs of science, men haven't changed much in the last two thousand years; and in consequence we must still try to learn from history.

… I believe in courtesy, the ritual by which we avoid hurting other people's feelings by satisfying our own egos. And I think we should remember that we are part of a great whole. All living things are our brothers and sisters.

It's only when we remember this as a society that we overcome those basic instincts which lead to domestic violence.

To Olga Edwards, to her broader family and to the community at West Pennant Hills, I offer the sympathy of our community and the national parliament on your unimaginable loss.