Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2015


Domestic and Family Violence

6:54 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to talk tonight about the issue of domestic violence in Australia. In Australia, almost two women every week die at the hands of a current or former partner. One woman in three has experienced physical violence, and that physical violence starts to come into play once that young woman turns the age of 15. One in five women has experienced sexual violence. One woman in four has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. Women in Australia are three times more likely than men to experience violence at the hands of a partner. More than half of the women who experience violence had children in their care when the violence occurred. Young women between the ages of 18 and 24 years experience significantly higher rates of physical and sexual violence than women in older age groups.

There is growing evidence that women with a disability are more likely to experience violence. Some say 90 per cent of Australian women with an intellectual disability have been subject to sexual abuse. And, of course, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience disproportionately high levels of family violence. These women are our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, our grandmothers, our great grand-daughters and our nieces. They are women in this place. They are women who are politicians. They are women who work in the Australian parliament.

Physical and sexual abuse of children is also more common in households where there is domestic violence. Intimate-partner violence is the leading contributor to ill health and premature death in women under 45—more than any other well-known risk, including high blood pressure, obesity and smoking.

There is a cost to the economy, which I will go into a little later. But ultimately it is about gender inequality. It is about social norms, it is about social practices and it is about the structures of our communities. When we start from very early on to socialise young girls and young boys, young girls are always pretty but are never smart, and young boys are always tough and strong. All around them these images are portrayed.

One of the areas that I am really pleased about is Our Watch, Changing the Story. Yes, it is critical that we have the services on the ground—refuges where women can flee. We need to make sure that our law enforcement agencies respond much more quickly and appropriately. We have some good models in Australia, but not nearly enough. But we necessarily need to change the culture. That is one of the roles that White Ribbon plays in trying to change the culture of men in how they behave towards women.

But we all have a responsibility to change the culture, if we are to stop domestic violence in our society. It is not as if these statistics are new. They are not. Those statistics I read out have been published since the early 2000s. In fact, in some of the publications I looked at, those statistics have not changed—they have not improved and in fact they have worsened—since a major report in 2009.

We have had a Senate inquiry into domestic violence. What I want to see us do in this place is set targets. Having almost two women killed every week in Australia at the hands of the person they love, at the hands of the person they trust in their family home, is simply not good enough. We have to stop that violence.

When I board a plane, I look down the plane and I know that most of the women on that plane have been victims of domestic violence, because the rate is so high—it is one in three. We also know that men are perpetrators of that. When you are in a closed environment, they are the sorts of issues that I certainly start to look at.

What happens when Rosie Batty is no longer the Australian of the Year? What a tragic event it was that brought Rosie Batty into the spotlight—an ordinary woman living in rural Victoria raising her son; a woman who was proud to be a mother and thought it was the best and most blessed thing that had ever happened to her. She had a history with a partner who was violent toward her, and yet, ultimately, the system let her down when her son Luke was murdered by her ex-partner. That is what put Rosie Batty in the spotlight. Despite being an amazing and articulate woman, no-one in this place, not any woman in this chamber or anywhere in Australia, would want to swap places with Rosie Batty. What will happen when her tenure as Australian of the Year ends? This is something that the chair of the Senate inquiry, Senator Gallagher, raised. What will happen then? Right now, Rosie Batty is keeping this issue it at the forefront. She has set up a foundation and she has set up the website Never Alone, and that is contributing a well.

This is the year when we as a community and we as a country said, 'Rosie Batty is our Australian of the Year.' This is the time for us to really act together, to be bipartisan, on this issue, in the same way that we have been on Close the Gap. We do need a similar approach to stopping violence. This is where we really need to focus. Everyone in this parliament needs to join together and start saying, 'We are going count. We are going to really evaluate, as a parliament—as parliamentarians in this place—together. We are going to take the party politics out of it, and we are going to act collectively.' Wouldn't it be a good start to begin to publish what happens in terms of domestic violence in Australia and to set ourselves some achievable goals? What are we able to achieve in the next year? What tribute and what lasting effect can we put in place to ensure that what has happened to Rosie Batty and women like her never happens again, so they are free of domestic violence and their children are safe?

The other horrible statistic is that children witness a lot of this violence. We have known for a very long time that when children grow up in violent homes that is how they respond, because that is all they know. Those of us in here who have children would never want them to be subjected to that sort of violence, yet we know it goes on in many homes. In homes in the streets that we live in there are very high levels of domestic violence.

I would urge the parliament, the Senate, to adopt the recommendations supported by all members of the committee that looked into domestic violence in Australia and to start to say, 'Let's put aside our political differences.' Domestic violence is an issue—like Close the Gap—that we can be bipartisan on and that we can all sign up to. There is enough common ground out there now that we can all get behind our watch and cultural change. We can start to measure that. We all get behind White Ribbon Day and some of us here are ambassadors. So we are all able to get on board with that. Let's really make it count. Let's focus as a parliament on the issue of domestic violence. Let's start to evaluate what matters and get those deaths down. There are almost two deaths a week. Somebody loses a loved one—a mother, a sister, a grandmother, a niece—who is killed each week because of domestic violence at the hands of their partner or their ex-partner. That is clearly not good enough. That is an appalling statistic. I urge those opposite and those on this side to look at that report and to work out what we can do together—and let's really start to stop domestic violence in this country.