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TACKLING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN MUST BE A NATIONAL PRIORITY - OPINION PIECE

First speeches in the Australian parliament by those newly elected usually provide an interesting insight into the person, their background, values and beliefs. But the moving and vivid details bravely recounted by the new Member for Lindsay, Emma Husar, as she described her heartbreaking experience of domestic violence, struck a deep and pressing chord.

"Whilst the blows that landed on my mother during my childhood didn't land on me physically – they may as well have. The trauma inflicted was the same. I recall it vividly and in great detail."

As she told her story she wept openly, and many in the House joined her. It was a moment in Australian politics where the magnitude of an issue overcame the usual partisan antics, and it was recognition that domestic violence is still a major public health problem in Australia. Emma’s story is one of many and highlights the long term and profound impact domestic violence has on the whole family.  

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, between 80 and 100 Australian women die at the hands of their male partners every year, and a woman in Australia is more likely to be killed in her own home by her male partner than anywhere else or by anyone else.  In addition, one in four Australian women will also experience physical or sexual violence committed by an intimate partner.  

These women are not just numbers; they are our mothers, sisters, friends, neighbours and workmates. They are women trying to live their lives every day, going to work, raising children, and sharing moments with their families and friends. It is likely that you may know one of these women, and the uncomfortable truth is you may also know the perpetrator. 

Violence against women does not discriminate between suburbs, cultures or ethnic groups. It is an international pandemic. Statistics from the United Nations show one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence, overwhelmingly by an intimate partner. November 25 marked the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the start of Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Campaigns such as UNiTE highlight violence against women as a serious obstacle to development and the need for sustainable funding. 

While these awareness-raising events have attracted widespread recognition in recent years, the underfunding of frontline services that support women and children to flee violence continues. Domestic violence shelters, counselling centres and legal aid services deal with the brutal results of domestic violence every day, but since 2104 the Australian Government has cut many of these services to the bone. A 30 per cent funding cliff faced by Australia’s community legal centres in July next year will further exacerbate the problem. 

Withdrawing funding from the essential services that provide protection to women leaves families ,who already face significant difficulties in their daily lives, exposed to greater risk of violence and exploitation. And promised funding doesn’t help those already going without, and still falls well short of repairing the Coalition government’s cuts. The ongoing effects of these cuts on families will be felt throughout Australia for years to come. If we are serious as a nation about tackling domestic violence then why won’t the Government prioritise adequate funding for these critical services? Politicians’ lip service and wearing a white ribbon is not nearly enough. What that white ribbon stands for needs to be carried through with government funding policies that help end the violence.  

Labor has committed to action, and has pledged to implement reform and increase funding. Our policy will amend the Family Law Act 1975 to compel a judge to consider, when domestic violence is alleged, whether any vulnerable witness should be protected during court proceedings. To implement this policy, Labor would commit $43.2 million to legal aid services over four years, to ensure both parties in a domestic violence case can be adequately represented, without the need for personal cross-examination. Labor will also continue to advocate for the inclusion of domestic violence leave as a universal workplace right, giving families the ability to find accommodation and deal with legal issues, while still maintaining their income and connection to their community.  These actions in Australia will support and complement the global community’s commitment to end violence against women. 

It is a harrowing statistic but we must all stand in solidarity and recognition of the 68 women in Australia who have been killed this year. Because their stories are much more than just a horrifying statistic. As a nation we are failing to ensure our country is a safe place for all and we are at crisis point.  

When Emma Husar MP so bravely shared her story in the Australian parliament, she gave hope for women across the country that things will change: “I know there are a lot of women out there who suffer in silence. Today I stand in solidarity with survivors, with those women afraid to speak, and I will use my story, told in this place to advocate for the change we need.” 

I look forward to joining Emma and other policy makers to help make this much needed change a reality in the hope for a future free of violence.  

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au or call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. In an emergency, always call 000.


This opinion piece was first published in the The Mercury on Saturday, 17 December 2016.