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Thursday, 15 May 2014
Page: 3984

Mr WATTS (Gellibrand) (10:42): Since the last time this parliament adjourned, a woman was murdered on a busy lunchtime street in my electorate in front of her son by a man. The woman's name was Fiona Warzywoda, and her death, while shocking for its public nature, is depressingly, heartbreakingly common in every other respect. Police allege that Fiona's murder was not a random attack, but was committed by her former partner. If true, this would make Fiona the twenty-ninth victim in Victoria in the past year of what police call domestic homicide, but is more appropriately described as men's violence against women.

As my community struggled to come to terms with Fiona's death, a local, Sophie Dutertre, quietly resolved with her friends and family to hold a silent protest. She wished to honour Fiona's life on the street in which she was killed and to publicly condemn men's violence against women. The following week more than 600 people assembled on Devonshire Road in Sunshine on a cold, wet and blustery autumn evening to join this silent protest. Members of Victoria police, community services groups, the Sunshine Business Association and elected representatives from all levels of government and all political parties, including the member for Maribyrnong, joined these community members in this show of support. It was a moving event. The organisers should feel proud of the community solidarity that was on show, and political leaders should understand the message that was sent.

After this protest I spoke with a friend who has been working to stop men's violence against women in our community. I told him I had been struck by the strength of the community response and naively expressed hope that the public nature of the murder, while particularly horrific, might act as a catalyst for change and that the moment would produce the sustained media and political attention necessary to stop the appalling growth of this violence in our private spaces. He was highly sceptical. He said that we had seen moments like this before and little had changed. I am bitterly sorry to inform the House that so far he is right. National media attention quickly moved on from Fiona's death to the royal tour and then the lead-up to the federal budget. The Victorian and Commonwealth budgets have since come and gone with little response to this growing horror in the life of so many members of our communities. There has been little public outcry at this disinterest.

It is not that governments are doing nothing in the face of the growing incidence of men's violence against women. The previous government undertook significant work to provide a holistic policy response to men's violence against women across health, housing, policing, justice, education, employment and community services. This approach culminated in the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, in which the federal and state governments agreed to a comprehensive policy response to men's violence against women. In the 2013 budget the previous government provided important funding for domestic violence programs, including $5.2 million to establish the Foundation to Prevent Violence Against Women and their Children and $7.6 million to train health professionals so they are better equipped to identify and deal with victims of domestic violence. The national plan places a heavy emphasis on long-term generational change. It focuses on teaching our boys responsibility for their actions towards women and for creating a society for our girls—our daughters—that is less threatening to them than it was for their mothers.

However, the reality is that we have not yet seen results from these initiatives. Unlike most other forms of crime, men's violence against women is rising. There has been a 42 per cent increase in intervention orders granted to protect women who are at direct risk of harm from men in the past five years. Breaches of these intervention orders by men were up 40 per cent in 2013, and 820 were breached by men more than three times. In Melbourne's west, services responding to men's violence against women have seen a 35 per cent increase in client numbers over the past year. In fact, Fiona's death was the latest addition to the 29 domestic homicides and 60,000 family violence incidents recorded in Victoria in the previous year. Can you imagine the media and political response there would be if there were a lone serial killer on the loose in our community who had murdered 29 women in the past 12 months? Yet we cannot sustain the public or political attention to keep this issue at the forefront of our national political debate.

There is no silver bullet for ending men's violence against women, yet there are many things that we should be doing that at present we are not. The message for this House from the silent protest held in my electorate in honour of a woman that our society and our government failed to protect is clear: we can no longer avert our eyes and throw our hands up in the face of this issue. We all need to start taking responsibility for men's violence against women. We need to make men's violence against women a national issue at the top of our political agenda until this stain on our society is eradicated.