Tuesday, 16 October 2018
Prevention of Violence Against Women
Last February in this place I paid tribute to each and every one of the 49 women who were murdered violently, usually by someone they knew, in 2017. To our great shame, we have already surpassed this figure in 2018. Fifty-five women have already been brutally murdered so far this year, and we're in mid-October. We still have 2½ months to run before the end of this year.
The impact this is having on communities across Australia cannot be overstated. I'd like to share with the House a message I received last Thursday from Nova for Women and Children. It's a really important community based service organisation in my electorate of Newcastle that works tirelessly to support women and kids who are at risk of homelessness or are escaping family and domestic violence. Before I read that message to the House, I want to note that the women involved in this organisation have decades and decades of collective experience working in this area. These are women who have really dedicated their lives to trying to stop the scourge of violence against women and kids. Last Thursday, as I said, out of complete exasperation they reached out to me and sent me this message, which I'd now like to share with the House:
Australia would be up in arms.
When I read that message my heart stopped a few beats, because I know how incredibly strong the women of this organisation are. When they are feeling that deflated, that demoralised, then it's time for action.
Fifty-five women have been slain in Australia already this year, with seven women losing their lives to domestic violence in an eight-day stretch this month alone. This is intolerable by any measure. But what's perhaps equally appalling is that this catastrophic tragedy looks set to pass with barely a blip, let alone an urgent call, and response, for national action. If anything else was killing Australians at such an alarming rate, our airwaves would be filled with community fury. Imagine if 55 young men had been murdered by terrorists, or struck dead with single punches as Nova for Women and Children suggested. Quite rightly, there would be unbridled fury, which would quickly force action. Experts would be enlisted, inquiries would be launched, legislation would be drafted and resources would be allocated. Governments would report daily on how they were turning things around.
Their fates would rest on the effectiveness of these responses. Indeed, that is exactly what's happened when these events have occurred in the past. But, despite seven women being murdered in the last eight days of this month alone, this is not happening. It is utterly baffling. There is a palpable lack of urgency about what is unquestionably a dire national crisis. This is so demoralising and so utterly disrespectful of every woman who has been killed and of their families, of their loved ones and of every one of us who have known a woman whose life was tragically taken at the hands of violence.
This is a national emergency, and it should be treated as such. No more excuses. No more delays. It's time to step up and stop this scourge of violence against women and children. It is unconscionable that, while the number of homicides in Australia is decreasing, the number of women and kids killed by partners or former partners has been growing. The 2016 Personal Safety Survey by the ABS found a 13 per cent increase in domestic violence against women since 2012. Each year Australian police deal with around 264,000 domestic violence matters around the country. It's almost an unfathomable figure. It's more than a quarter of a million calls each year that Australian police men and women have to go out and confront. That is 5,000 cases on average every week, or one case every two minutes. At the end of this speech that would have represented five call-outs on a domestic violence case. That means that today police in Australia have probably already dealt with around 550 domestic violence matters. That is worth thinking about. It is worth understanding the profound consequences not just for those women and those children but for each and every one of us and for our communities we live in.
In my region, local government areas of Cessnock, Maitland and Muswellbrook have each recorded domestic violence related assault rates in the top 25 per cent of the state, according to the data from the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. This brings me back to where I began: on the impact that this has for frontline workers in our communities. Nova for Women and Children, along with a number of other women's organisations in our region, are now organising a rally in protest of these horrendous crimes. It will take place in Newcastle on 27 November. Regretfully, the federal parliament sits on that day, so I will be here in Canberra, but I can assure every single one of those women that I will be with you in spirit on that day. Moo Baulch, the CEO of Domestic Violence New South Wales, will be the guest speaker and John Gralton from the New South Wales Police Force will give a presentation.
What needs to happen? It is simply unacceptable for there to be a continuation of inaction and inactivity on this issue. Yes, we need to have programs that really address the kind of imbalanced gendered relationships that currently exist in Australia. We need to be able to build respectful relationships in our schools and in our communities, from when kids are as young as possible, to understand those important boundaries and how to have respectful relationships with men and women in Australia. These are programs that must deliver cultural change. We've got some important law reforms going on in family law in a bid to try and stop the cross-examination of domestic violence victims in court. I welcome that. The government has agreed with Labor's policy on that front, and that's a welcome achievement. We've got to seriously invest in legal services. We've got to ensure there are adequate housing options for these women, as well as counselling services and support. Ten days of paid domestic violence leave is essential. We should aspire to be a nation where women and their children live free of all forms of violence. (Time expired)