Senate debates

Tuesday, 24 November 2015


White Ribbon Day

8:49 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

Tomorrow, 25 November, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It is celebrated across the world and in Australia as White Ribbon Day. In a statement by UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka:

Across the world, violence against women and girls remains one of the most serious—and the most tolerated—human rights violations, both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality and discrimination.

On this day, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, she says:

It is not acceptable. It is not inevitable. It can be prevented.

Echoing those words last year, our then Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, said:

Violence against women continues to be one of the most prevalent human rights abuses in Australia and around the world. One in three women in Australia will experience violence in her lifetime, one in five will experience sexual violence.

On this day we also look at many statistics. It is important to remember just a few. In the year between when Elizabeth Broderick made her statement and today, in Australia, more than 78 women have died—78 fatal victims of gendered violence. That is as counted by the wonderful group Destroy the Joint, who continue to remind us about women and inequality in our society. ANROWS, Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety, in their latest data revealed that one in three women have been physically attacked in their lifetimes and the attacks were most likely to have been in the women's own homes. Women are also more vulnerable to sexual crimes. One in five reported they had experienced sexual violence, compared with one in 22 men.

This day also focuses a number of reports, because people use it as a day to draw attention and to raise awareness. The report produced by VicHealth and Our Watch released only yesterday said that we have a high price to pay: the economic case for preventing violence against women. The cost of pain, suffering and premature mortality constitutes the largest proportion of the total cost of all violence at 48 per cent, equating to $10.4 billion. Governments, both state and Commonwealth, bear 36 per cent, or $7.8 billion, of that cost in order to deliver health services, criminal justice and social welfare. Prevention strategies have a proven effect on all levels of violence, and this report points out that, if we engage the whole community in prevention and give them the skills for respectful relationships, we will reduce the costs associated with violence.

On the international day, we remember these stats. We think about them, we think about our own loss and we think about violence in our community. We remember the women and the families who have been the victims. But one of the core elements of White Ribbon Day is that it is a day of hope, and we have much to be hopeful about. We can be hopeful that the seed of awareness is growing and spreading the complexity of knowledge and the knowledge that we can make a difference. Only today in this place we had a statement called Media Stand up against Violence Towards Women and their Children. Mainstream media gathered together to acknowledge that they have a role to play to raise awareness. They reflected on principles taken from Our Watch's Reporting on domestic violence. They talked about naming it and they talked about safety. They talked about knowing the law and they talked about respecting the victims—not laying blame but respecting the pain and loss. They made a statement together, as the media that work in this place, that they will stand up against violence and they will name it and ensure that the truth is put out there—not excuses, not any kind of covering up or dismissal but the truth. So there is hope that there will be awareness and strength in the community.

That feeling of hope is also represented by the wonderful work by our Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty. No discussion of this issue could be complete without acknowledging the way that she has inspired, challenged and informed us, not just about her own loss and pain but also about the flaws in our system—challenging each of us to make a difference, look at what is occurring and not run away but move forward. She is not afraid of taking this message to governments at all levels, to parliaments, and making sure that we know that being Australian of the Year is more than just a title; it is an opportunity to lead and to challenge. Rosie continues to do that.

We also have hope that the focus on family violence will shift the people who are victims to know that it is not their fault, that in fact they are the victims and they have had crimes committed against them. That is one of the most important issues that we need to understand. We need to work with people who have lived through the issues of family violence and acknowledge that they should not be blamed for having had this particular experience.

The hope also extends to the fact that tonight, tomorrow and on Thursday night the ABC is showing a series of documentaries focusing on family violence in Australia. Tonight and tomorrow night, a program by Sarah Ferguson looks at family violence issues across Australia now. Sarah went into the court system. She went into domestic violence shelters. She listened to women talking about what had occurred in their lives. She debunks some of the myths about the way family violence operates in Australia. One of the things that have been around the community for a while is a sense that family violence is somehow restricted to areas of dysfunction. We have heard various commentators labelling areas where family violence occurs. This very dangerous myth is debunked by the ABC program tonight and tomorrow night. In that program, Ms Ferguson talks to a magistrate from the Sydney area who talks about people saying that somehow it is only in poor, dysfunctional, remote communities that family violence occurs. He says:

I work in courts around the city. It's not confined to any particular postcode. It's not something where we can comfortably assume it's part of an underclass phenomenon. There are people who appear regularly in court; others are professional people, well educated, financially well off but who for one reason or another are inclined to violence in their homes.

Again, there is hope that that myth has been debunked and we can acknowledge that family violence is not restricted to any particular area. We cannot make presumptions about this.

We can also have hope that we can look at research into exactly what causes violence against women, exactly what causes people to hurt each other. In our Senate report into domestic violence that was released earlier this year, we looked at the need to have effective research and to work with the ANROWS organisation to have very specialised research into what causes problems to occur. We need to work—and I say this over and over—with people who understand, to ensure that we have that knowledge and learn from it and look at changing our society into the future. Consistently the need for education in our schools is raised, and we cannot run away from that. We have to be open about working with young people to ensure that not only can we change this element of saying that we can hurt each other but we can work with young people who have themselves been victims of family violence. One of the core issues is: when there is violence in the home, children often see things that they should never see, and the impact of that lives with them throughout their lives. That should be acknowledged, and we can move forward.

Again, there is hope that we can offer genuine options so that women will be able to leave abusive relationships and know that there will be support there. One of the myths raised consistently came out again in the domestic violence program that will be showing on the ABC. There still continues to be this element of questioning why, if there is violence in the home, women do not leave the house where they are being harmed. That is an invasive issue that colours people's considerations of the process.

There are many answers to that question but, again, I think that there is hope that people are not accepting simplistic arguments any longer and that they are demanding that there are options placed in our society. There are issues around effective housing, effective legal support and re-education in our communities. All these are now on the agenda. Twelve months ago when Elizabeth Broderick made her statement there was not the general focus on the issue that we will see tomorrow when we have the international day. So I believe that there is hope in that process as well.

When we do commemorate White Ribbon Day, which is tomorrow—the campaign that started in 2003 through UN Women and which then came forward in 2007 to become a foundation—we will give people the opportunity to make public statements about their rejection of violence in our community. I think that is something that we seem to understand is not just linked to our Australian community, although it is important that the national focus tomorrow is on the Australian elements that we know. But this international day looks at violence across our world. Addressing issues of violence against women in Australia does not meet the need to address issues of violence in our world. We need to acknowledge that the issues of gender inequality and the issues of violence occur across the world. A snapshot of the community as put forward by the UN indicates that we have problems everywhere and that we need to work internationally as well as locally. That must be part of the acknowledgement in our Parliament House and across Australia tomorrow.

Not only do we look at the issues around the victims of domestic violence—and I use the word 'victim' in a sense that is not making a judgement—but there also needs to be consideration of the people who actually commit violence: the perpetrators. As I said, the ABC is showing documentaries across three nights. The first two nights are work done by Sarah Ferguson, looking at the elements of women working through the process and the various challenges they face. On Thursday night the ABC is showing a program called Call Me Dad. This particular documentary was shown last night in the theatrette here in Parliament House, and it looks at the work being done in a session of counselling with male perpetrators who have voluntarily chosen to be involved in the program, acknowledging their own behaviours and actually accepting that there is a need to change.

This is an exceptionally confronting documentary, and it is one that I offer to people—to take the opportunity to see and to learn. The documentary shows that there can be hope. It does show the despair, it does show the violence and it does show the frustrations that surround men who have acknowledged that they have committed violence against their partner and for whom there is the possibility of committing violence against their children. Again, that gives me a genuine sense of hope—that people are prepared to come forward and share that situation with other people in the hope that they will be able to learn from it.

Bringing together the elements of how we address the issues of violence in our society, these documentaries look at the lived experience of people—not only those who have suffered under violence but also those who have publicly acknowledged that they themselves have caused violence.

When we do go through the series of events that will be here in the parliament tomorrow, and also the many events that are on the calendar for White Ribbon across Australia tomorrow, they do give us the opportunity to take a moment to think about our own experiences and to think about people who we have known who have been lost into what I call the scourge of family violence. We can remember and we can acknowledge the loss. But as I have said, I really hope and I truly believe that the message of hope should be the overwhelming element that we take away from the process. If we do not accept the challenge to make change, if we do not learn, as I have said, from the various experiences in our community and if we do not acknowledge that we can make a change, then the work that has been done will fail. And I am not ready to accept that we have failed. I think that we owe it to the women and families who have suffered through domestic violence to make that change. And that is one of the elements of White Ribbon.

But White Ribbon is not just one day. It gives us the public opportunity tomorrow to wear the ribbons and to keep that awareness going. But we do have, I think, the challenge of taking that further. In fact, tomorrow is the start of the UN 16 Days of Action Campaign to eliminate violence against women, which leads off from 25 October to Human Rights Day in December. On each of those days I think we can focus on one element of what we can do to change the world. And it is not that hard to do. We can concentrate on an element a day.

The UN program is based on orange—the orange light; orange making the change. I think that we can be part of that. I know that the Victorian parliament house is a very active member of this campaign and has made that commitment to follow through with the process.

The element of challenge is part of the White Ribbon challenge and, in terms of the 16 Days of Action Campaign, it would be useful, valuable and exciting if we actually took up that challenge for the 16 days and made a commitment each day to look at knowledge, to look at awareness, to look at change and to look at education. Those are the things that we know can make a difference.

So as we go into the 16 days of change from tomorrow, we have the inspiration of the words that I have quoted, we have the statistics about the problems that we have in our society and we have the awful statistics of the number of women who have died as a result of violence at the hands of people who they thought they could trust and with whom they thought they shared love. I think that we then remember, again, the words of head of UN Women, who I quoted earlier, saying that violence is not inevitable. Violence can end, and we can make a difference.