House debates

Monday, 26 November 2018

Private Members' Business

White Ribbon Day

12:31 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On 23 November, we commemorated White Ribbon Day, and on 25 November we commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, set by the United Nations.

By now, I imagine we're all pretty familiar with the statistics: one in five women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime and, tragically, currently on average one woman is being murdered each week by a current or former partner. Although community awareness of domestic violence has greatly increased over recent times, this longstanding and very complex issue, domestic violence, remains a major issue in most of our communities. I know that 50 per cent of all assaults reported to my local police are domestic violence related. I'm also aware that 60 per cent of boys growing up in abusive households are likely to become abusers themselves. What I find very, very confounding is 50 per cent of young women growing up in abusive households are likely to take an abuser as a partner, and, therefore, the cycle goes on.

Domestic violence remains one of the principal causes of homelessness for women and families. Adding to this and the far-reaching social ramifications to our communities, the cost of domestic violence is estimated presently at more than $21 billion a year. If the social costs don't alarm everybody, there is an economic cost—an imperative as to why we must act in respect of domestic violence. These statistics make it clear that on domestic violence, we cannot afford to put our heads in the sand and simply say, 'This is a matter for the authorities.' This clearly is a matter for all our communities. We must all work together to help develop an integrated and coordinated multiagency response.

For me, the issue is personal. As you know, Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, I'm married, I have a daughter and, of my 10 grandchildren, six are girls. For me that becomes very personal because according to that statistic, one is likely to become a victim of violence. Violence against women is real; it's happening in our neighbourhoods. It involves women no matter how successful, strong and resilient and no matter their ethnic or religious beliefs. Still we see a very staggering underreporting of domestic violence cases, probably principally out of fear of reprisal or harm to children. We need to empower women to be able to engage with the authorities, deal with our police and certainly hold people accountable. In fact, we need more men standing up and saying, 'This is not acceptable.' We need more men promoting education within our communities about violence against women. In fact, we probably need just more real men.

Today we should remember those women who have lost their lives to domestic violence, and also their grieving families. Tragically, so far this year 63 women have been killed as a result of domestic violence. It's not enough to simply give speeches around White Ribbon Day. It is an imperative for our community to take responsibility, to look out for families and friends and workmates and neighbours. Over the past week I've had the opportunity to attend a number of White Ribbon functions in my electorate, including at Liverpool railway station, organised by Ragini Naidu; at the Bonnie Support Services candlelit vigil for victims of domestic violence, put together by Executive Officer Tracy Phillips and her team; and at a school assembly at Prairiewood High School, initiated by Gemma Evans and the student leadership council.

While I was unable to attend today's White Ribbon Day walk in my electorate, I'd like to thank all the volunteers for their tireless efforts in coordinating this and, in particular, Superintendent Peter Lennon and his team of the Fairfield Local Area Police Command. As a White Ribbon Day ambassador, I urge all men to take the oath never to commit, never to excuse and never to remain silent when it comes to violence against women. Take the oath but live by the pledge. We must break this cycle.

12:36 pm

Photo of Chris CrewtherChris Crewther (Dunkley, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today, I stand in support of White Ribbon Day. Today, I pay my respects to those who've experienced or have been a victim of harm or abuse at the hands of another. I pay my respects to the—as at 15 October 2018—55 women who have been killed by violence this year alone in Australia. As the father of a daughter and as a husband, brother, son and grandson, it has always been instilled in me to do whatever I can and need to do to help end men's violence against women, to be an example in myself, and to oppose violence more generally, whether it's against our young boys and girls, our elderly men and women, or others.

Abuse and violence can occur in many different ways, not just physically. It can involve emotional or psychological abuse, verbal abuse, financial abuse and, unfortunately, sexual abuse in some cases as well. It isn't just contained within the home; it extends to social settings and workplaces. It can happen anywhere and often many don't see it. Abuse and violence of any kind often result in psychological and physical harm. This issue has always been one of great significance to me, particularly as my wife and I are about to bring another child into this world. It is another opportunity for me to reflect on the history of violence against women, as well as to envisage a world without it and hopefully a world without violence altogether.

I am sure many of us here today, as members of parliament, have at some point been involved in situations where constituents have come to us about domestic violence, whether for help, advocacy or direction. Some of us may have experienced domestic violence ourselves in our own households now, or as children. It is through these situations where we are in a privileged position to be able to refer them to the appropriate departments, organisations and pathways. These situations show us firsthand not only the level of harm that domestic violence does but also the long-term effects and the impact of dealing with these experiences.

I want to acknowledge, specifically, the great work done in my local electorate by many who are working to tackle domestic violence. When I hear the statistics, it often gives me chills. As I read in the motion moved by Ms Husar, one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, perpetrated by someone known to them. One woman on average each week is killed by a current or former partner, and domestic and family violence are the principal causes of homelessness for women and children. These statistics are and always have been too high. In my opinion, our work is not done until the statistics are zero.

As a society, we need to continue to do more. We have made a lot of progress in relation to education, raising awareness and changing attitudes. We have also taken away the stigma of calling out inappropriate remarks or harmful actions, raising the standards of respect expected. We need to stop all domestic violence, as highlighted by White Ribbon Day, against women in particular, but against anyone, whether they be children, the elderly, men or women, people of different faiths or backgrounds, people with different ethnicities and so on. I stood in parliament last year and do so again this year, and I stand firm in my position of condemning those who commit, excuse or stay silent about violence against women in Australia and around the world. Those who would condone violence against anyone should be condemned. I take the oath that I will always stand up, speak up and act to prevent men's violence against women, and I will never be a bystander.

12:40 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of this motion. White Ribbon Day, followed by the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, provides all Australians with an opportunity to step up and to stop and think about the scourge of domestic violence that is in our community. Like a lot of people in this place, I've been a proud White Ribbon ambassador for a very long time. I was one of the first ambassadors in South Australia. Like all of us, I deplore acts of violence against anybody but particularly acts of violence towards women.

Statistics show that, despite all the efforts, the message is just not getting through, and it is a stain on our nation. We have seen far too many cases this year where women have been killed in random acts of violence and attacks where the victim had never interacted with the culprit before. We've heard some horrendous stories. These kinds of attacks increase the already intensified fear that women have of simply walking by themselves or being out late at night—all simple acts of living and all things that most men almost certainly never stop to think about. I personally can't remember the last time I thought, 'I'd better not walk a certain way for fear of my safety.' I can't remember the last time I thought, 'I'd better pretend to be speaking to someone on my phone in the hope that it might deter unwanted attention.' And that's not because I'm special but because it's largely not an issue for men. These random attacks are all too regular, but what's more shocking and truly frightening is that, on average, one woman is killed by a current or former partner every single week. One in five women will experience physical or sexual violence from the age of 15. This is what our statistics show. This is absolutely disgraceful and it needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

To address this problem of violence against women, we need to deal with the source. It's about the attitudes that some men have towards women. It's about the examples that parents set their children and the examples that fathers set their sons. It's about the way children see men treating women. And it's not just about seeing violent behaviours. It's also about seeing how men treat women as the more inferior sex in some cases and hearing people using sexist and demeaning language such as, 'You throw a ball like a girl,' or 'Don't be such a girl,' or 'Don't cry like a girl.' They're some of the things that we hear, and those seemingly innocuous comments matter. They all matter because they affect the thinking of children and provide them with the false impression that boys are better than girls. This starts at a very early age.

The other important issues that need to be addressed, and I think they needs to be addressed by all of us, are the frequency of sexual harassment within our community and the importance of calling it out—in particular, the importance of men calling it out when they see it. Almost all the women I know in my life have some kind of story of having experienced some form of harassment. Most of us men do not have such stories. I think we, as men, have a big role to play in calling out harassment when we see it and in setting the right example. And I'm not saying that all men behave like this, but, clearly, we are hearing far too many stories and seeing far too many statistics, and it's up to us to do something about that. We need to call it out and not just be bystanders when we see these actions, which are unacceptable. We need to continue to work hard to ultimately eliminate violence against women. It is something we all need to be involved in. We can lead it from this place, but, ultimately, all of us as individuals right throughout society need to be involved in this. I am certainly committed—as are, I know, many others in this place—to ensuring that this happens.

12:44 pm

Photo of Cathy O'TooleCathy O'Toole (Herbert, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have spoken many times in this place on the terrible statistics regarding violence against women. I think we all know the statistics. We all know the rates at which women are being killed and/or are living with debilitating injuries, physical or emotional, as a result. We all know the incredibly low statistics of how many women actually report the violence that they have experienced. We all know the statistics about the impact that violence against women has on children. The statistics are in our face on a regular basis.

But what do most of us know about the stories of these women? Chances are everyone does know a woman who has been or is a victim of violence but has never told her story. So today I want to share a story with you. For the purposes of protecting this woman's identity, I will call her Sarah. Sarah is an amazing woman. She has two children, both in their teenage years. Sarah has a law degree and an excellent professional job. She has a vibrant, warm and bubbly personality and can fill the room with laughter. I have known her for only a few years, but a couple of years ago I was saddened and horrified to discover that she was the victim of domestic violence by her now ex-husband.

Sarah has described some of the attacks she endured. She was repeatedly beaten within an inch of her life, and the final straw came when she was thrown across the room and knocked unconscious, but the beating continued. She woke up in hospital, and the first thing that concerned her was the safety of her children. Thankfully they were both safe. The second thing she thought about was how she was going to explain the broken bones and bruises to her work colleagues. Her make-up could not hide it this time. Sarah left that relationship, but in the years to come, whilst going through the divorce proceedings, Sarah would lose multiple jobs. She lost jobs because she had to take time off from work for Family Court responsibilities and to fight for the custody of her children. She lost multiple jobs because her ex-husband would come to her workplace and threaten her work colleagues as they were leaving. She lost multiple jobs because she was forced to constantly move, because her ex-husband would eventually track her down and find her new location. Two years on, and after 50 breaches by her ex-husband of his AVOs, Sarah has finally been able to move on. Her ex-husband was finally arrested. He was imprisoned for a physical altercation with another male, not for the multiple attacks he had made on Sarah. But, either way, Sarah now has some sort of peace.

As difficult as it is, I tell her story in this place so that we can understand the human stories behind the statistics—not just that this is an issue that has become an epidemic but the actual turmoil that women and children, sadly, face, often every day. When I asked Sarah about the services she sought when she needed assistance most, I wasn't shocked to hear that it was the same organisations that I hear of so often being utilised in Townsville. The Women's Centre was the place Sarah first told her story. The Women's Centre is a place that has been a continual source of refuge for Sarah, as it has been for many other women in my community of Townsville. But, like most services, the Women's Centre struggles on in a building that needs desperate renovation, and the funding for the services that it offers has been reduced or cut. It is not good enough for us to acknowledge the statistics that are associated with violence against women. It is not good enough for us not to consider that those services require ongoing support and adequate funding. They also need to have facilities that are up to standard for services being offered in 2018 in any community across this country. I commend the work that the Townsville Women's Centre does and I pay my deep respects to those women who have survived domestic violence and have made a safe life for their children. I hope that, as a community, we pay deep attention to the stories of these women, not just the numbers that make up the statistics.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 12:49 to 16:03