Senate debates

Tuesday, 4 December 2018


Domestic and Family Violence

7:47 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I want to talk about the fact that we have a national security crisis in Australia and the terrorists are in our homes.

Seven weeks ago I started moving motions acknowledging the number of women killed by violence between sittings of the Senate. Since 17 October, 16 women have died by violence in Australia. It's very welcome, but, sadly, very unusual that there have been no reports of a woman killed by violence since the Senate last sat one week ago. Earlier today, I moved a fourth motion where the Senate, again, agreed—and I thank the chamber for its support—that this was a national security crisis. But where is the action?

So far in 2018, 63 women have been killed as a result of domestic or family violence, and already this year more women have been murdered by a partner or former partner than in the whole of last year. We're all used to that figure of one woman a week, but it's been a lot more than that in the last few weeks and months. The deadliest month in this year was July, when eight women were killed. That's twice as many as the usual toll that we're used to. If these deaths were from sharks or strawberries then something would have been done by now. These figures are imperfect: they don't take into account the children killed in these acts of violence and they don't take into account the damage done over the long term.

This is a national security crisis. We need to have a conversation about what's driving domestic violence. The experts have told us time and time again that gender inequality is what's driving violence against women and their children. There are a whole range of factors that can increase the likelihood of violence, but it all starts with rigid gender norms that devalue women; that devalue their time, their points of view and their unique contribution to the world—including their reproductive and caring work. Is it any wonder that we see this epidemic of violence when our institutions of power are still dominated by men?

We are doing very poorly in our federal parliament; women take up barely 30 per cent of positions and yet we are 51 per cent of the population. Most women are still fighting for pay parity. There are so many everyday examples of the inequality that women are subjected to, and the biggest of those inequalities is not being listened to or believed. We know how to solve this domestic security crisis that has killed dozens of women this year alone. Researchers, social workers, nurses, doctors and teachers have all told us time and time again how to address this murderous wave in society. In the immediate term, fund frontline services, invest in prevention and education and give proper resources to crisis response. In the medium term, invest in affordable housing, provide for paid domestic violence leave—not unpaid, as the current government is now doing reluctantly and belatedly—and pay for lawyers and advocates to help women escape from harm and build their lives anew. Yet the men who call the shots still don't listen.

The Prime Minister tweets about sport more often than he tweets about the dozens of women who've been murdered in their homes by men overwhelmingly known to them. There is this creeping silence from people in positions of power about the issue of violence in society. Over the last generation, campaigners and frontline workers have succeeded in making women's lives count and changing the view of domestic violence from family trouble to criminal acts which have serious consequences for the health and wellbeing for women of all walks of life—rich, poor, migrant, Aboriginal, young, old, queer, straight, you name it. They are more likely to suffer violence coming from a person they already know in their own homes than from a stranger in a public place, which is the form that violence against men more often than not takes.

We know that men are more likely than women to perpetrate intimate-partner violence and more likely to use frequent, prolonged and extreme violence. Men are more likely than women to sexually assault their partner. Men are more likely than women to subject their partner to controlling and coercive behaviours. Women are more likely than men to suffer physical harm, including injuries requiring medical treatment, time off work and days in bed. Women are more likely than men to be the victims of domestic homicide, and yet the latest National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey found that there's been an ongoing decline in awareness that men are more likely to commit domestic violence and that women are more likely to suffer harm from it.

The survey also made some incredibly disturbing findings: that one in seven Australians do not agree that women are as capable as men in politics—I mean, LOL—that one in five Australians believe domestic violence is a normal reaction to stress and sometimes a woman can make a man so angry he hurts her without meaning to; and that one in eight Australians believe that if a woman is raped while she is drunk or affected by drugs she is at least partly responsible. This is what we have to work towards changing. We need a whole-of-society approach, but we need it to be led from the top. So far, all that Australians are seeing here is sexist slurs across the chamber from a sea of male faces swimming in blue ties.

The thing with sexism is that it devalues women's lives, it trivialises the lives of half the world and, ultimately, it kills. The connection between sexism and domestic violence is clear. Intimate-partner violence causes more illness, disability and deaths than any other risk factor for women aged 25 to 44—more than traffic accidents or cancer or heart disease—yet the men who call the shots still don't listen.

We fundamentally believe that women's lives count, that people's lives should be protected from harm, but perhaps we should speak in terms that satisfy the reasoning of those who only understand or care for dollar signs. In 2015-16, the financial cost of violence against women and their children in Australia was estimated at $22 billion by KPMG. Let's put that in perspective. Australia spends about $35 billion per year on defence. The mining industry receives $4 billion worth of federal government subsidies and concessions each year. Family and domestic violence is a social and economic problem of huge scale. Family, domestic and sexual violence happens repeatedly. More than half of the women who currently experience partner violence have experienced a violent incident before. One of the leading reasons why women stay in unsafe relationships is economic hardship or lack of an effective advocate who can help them navigate an expensive, complex legal system that often doesn't take seriously women's fears for their safety.

Violence in Australian homes is a domestic security crisis—there's no two ways about it. From 2012-13 to 2013-14, about one woman a week and one man a month were killed as a result of violence from a current or previous partner. This figure is rising in the face of inadequate responses. Women have the right to be free from violence and harassment, to get equal pay for work of equal value, to have the freedom to choose when it comes to their own bodies and to have equal opportunities for housing, financial and workplace security. Despite the many advances that women's rights and reforms have achieved, there is overwhelming evidence that women still do not have the same rights and privileges as men. Women's right to safety is not guaranteed in one of the 20th wealthiest countries in the world.

The Greens want to see action that rewrites the rules for women's financial and economic security, for their safety and wellbeing, and to build an Australia where women are safe, respected, valued and treated as equals in public and private life. We should start with a moratorium on violence so that next year, when we meet again in this place, we can finally say, 'No woman has died at the hands of an intimate partner since we last sat.'