Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2487

Senator WATERS (Queensland) (20:43): I rise tonight to speak about a confronting issue, one that has been taboo because it is so awful and so unjust that Australians would prefer to pretend that it is not happening. But it is time that all of us faced the awful truth about the scourge of violence against women and children happening right here in our homes, our streets, our cities and our nation.

It has been in the media a lot lately: the escalating numbers of women and children who have lost their lives through violence by men. So many women, so often. Those horrific stories have left the community shocked and outraged, and yet the cases that get reported are only a fraction of what Australian women face. Domestic violence is insidious, pervasive and mostly hidden.

Each year, May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month. The reported statistics, themselves bound to underestimate the real extent of the problem, are that one in five women have experienced domestic violence by a partner since the age of 15. In Australia, two-thirds of all women who are murdered are killed by their husband or live-in partner. Domestic violence is more than just physical or sexual abuse, of course; it is also about control. Domestic violence is about social, financial, emotional and verbal manipulation, and control to make women powerless.

It scares me that it can be so difficult for women to get out of situations of domestic violence. After years of abuse, a victim will often be isolated from their friends and family, cut off from financial support, have no options for alternative housing, and may be emotionally dependent on the person who has manipulated them into the situation. The work of organisations such as White Ribbon, which encourages boys and men to lead social change in the anti-domestic violence movement, is so important. Because of the prevalence of abuse in our society, we are going to need a significant cultural shift if we are going to curb domestic violence. Many men are aware of domestic violence occurring within their communities, and I applaud all those men who have stood strong amongst their peers to stop violence against women. And I encourage all men to do so whether at the pub, at work or in the home. It is vital we end this pattern by breaking the silence and speaking out against controlling or sexist behaviour and violence.

The Greens strongly support the White Ribbon campaign for working with men to try to deliver lasting cultural change. But it is also time for women to break the silence. We need to help our sisters, mothers, grandmothers and friends speak out against domestic violence, and support them in seeking help. We need to make the taboo public, to face its prevalence and to bravely say enough is enough. As one small contribution to domestic violence prevention month, I have started a social media campaign to encourage women to anonymously share their stories so that we can help increase awareness of the prevalence of domestic violence in our society. I committed to sharing those stories to make sure they get heard. And they are heartbreaking. I only have time to share a couple of them tonight. Obviously, they have been edited and the names have been changed.

A young woman in her 20s wrote to me. Let's call her 'Eve'. She said:

I have been with my now ex for almost 12 years. I have suffered at his hands, beatings, floggings, verbal abuse, emotional abuse.

I remember meeting him at 17. At first our relationship was great. Looking back, I realise the little things he did slowly made me lose confidence and gain fear for upsetting him.

He grew up thinking violent attacks on your partner were normal; I did not. By the time I wanted to get out of the relationship I was heavily pregnant and my family didn't know how to support me. I was so scared, I stayed. Being pregnant certainly didn't stop the violence. I can remember at eight months being whipped with a metal dog chain; survival and protecting my stomach were my only concerns. The lows were followed by the sorries and affection, the promises that never seemed to be fulfilled,

I loved the nice caring person he could be but feared the person he could become, drugs and alcohol making him a much more violent and aggressive person.

The violent beatings continued for years. Eve escaped and he followed. One night he beat her, kicked her and assaulted her two-year-old, for which he at least received a year in jail. She lost the baby that she was carrying due to the assault. After being in the relationship for 12 years, Eve, finally, permanently separated from her husband after escaping a particularly violent episode. She says:

I cannot live my life waiting for the day he decides to kill me. My kids need me.

Three weeks after the episode, she felt ashamed to go out in public because of her bruises. And when she did go out in public, she was judged. She was asked what she did to provoke him. It is up to this parliament to make sure that people like Eve get the support that they need and it is up to every Australian to ensure that women are never blamed for the abuse perpetrated against them.

Another story I will share tonight is from a woman that we will call 'Joanna'. She is worried that domestic violence is wrongly seen as a problem that only affects a certain type of person. She was brought up in a normal family, she had a normal social life with friends and she was happy with her body and with her life in general. When she was in her mid-twenties she met a man and, shortly afterwards, moved away from her home town to be with him. He turned out to be a heavy drinker. She said:

It was not long before he started telling me that I was overweight and had me scared to eat. I was only a size 8 and weighed 53 kilograms. Eventually he hit me, not once but a few times. He would hold my head up against the tiles in the shower and make me swallow water until I was choking. I left him; he was not happy. He threatened that he would make my life a misery if I did not go back to him, so I moved back in.

One night after he had been drinking with a mate at their home she says:

He asked me to come into the bedroom. He began to use my head and my body as a punching bag, throwing my head up against the heavy brick walls. I was screaming and begging for help but his mate stayed in the lounge room and ignored my pleas for help. Eventually, two off-duty policemen that lived upstairs came to my rescue. He ran off and they took me to hospital. I had a face like the elephant man and my nose was broken.

His mate was horrified when he saw me but he had sat by while it happened. This is where the problem lies: the acceptability of this type of behaviour amongst men. I moved out, he found me and threatened to kill me. I kept moving and, thankfully, he gave up. Twenty-five years later, I still cringe when I walk down the main street in case I see him.

As Joanna says, the problem lies with the acceptability of this type of behaviour amongst men. While the government's election commitment of $1 million for White Ribbon is welcome—assuming it is indeed in the budget papers tonight—much more is going to be needed to drive the deep cultural change needed to tackle domestic violence. The total federal budget for women's safety, which includes the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, was just $29½ million in this current financial year. By way of comparison, when the then government in 2011 decided to prioritise improving services and social awareness and acceptance of mental health issues—another deserving issue—they put $2.2 billion towards the problem.

The Greens support the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children but we share the concerns of many groups working in the sector that the plan needs to be implemented more rapidly and it needs to be funded. The Greens are committed to supporting women's shelters; funding integrated domestic violence response programs; increasing the Newstart allowance and single parenting payments—unlike what we saw tonight—and addressing the rental affordability crisis that sees women and children escaping violence condemned to homelessness because of the shortage of up to half a million affordable and available rental properties. We also need to ensure that there is real affordable and available access to legal justice for women and we need to address the even greater amount of domestic violence that Aboriginal women face. We need to double the funding for Indigenous family violence prevention programs and to increase the funding for Indigenous legal services.

We need to give women and children the support they need and give them the ability to escape from an abusive household. They then need to be able to afford to stay free from violence. A budget that does not do that is a budget that continues the silence on domestic violence and condemns those women and children to violence. The Greens and domestic violence prevention experts across the country will be scrutinising the budget papers released tonight to see where this government stands when it comes to stopping the scourge of domestic violence in our communities. When a government decides to spend $12 billion on joint strike fighters, it had better find some more money to help women escape violence and to make preventing domestic violence a national priority.

During this month I will be seeking to hear more from the organisations working directly with women and children impacted by domestic violence and to learn more about what our governments and the broader community need to do. I will be visiting victim support centres and be briefed by community organisations working in Queensland, and I encourage all senators to do the same. No-one should live in fear and enough is enough. It is time for all of us to be the answer.