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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 52


Senator KIRK (1:32 PM) —Last Thursday, 25 November, was White Ribbon Day, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. White ribbons are worn on 25 November each year to encourage people, both men and women, to speak out about violence against women.

White Ribbon Day was a particularly poignant occasion in Adelaide this year. Just one week earlier on 17 November a woman was shot by her estranged husband in the Myer department store in the city. On Wednesday, 17 November 61-year-old Carole Schaer arrived for work in the shoe department of Myer in Rundle Mall, just as she had done for the past seven years. Carole Schaer had separated from her husband, 69-year-old Simon Schaer, eight years earlier. She was in another relationship and was getting married in January next year. Ms Schaer had filed for divorce. The papers were to be served on Mr Schaer on 19 November, and Ms Schaer had planned to be in Port Lincoln on that day. Instead, the divorce papers were delivered early. On the morning the papers were served, 17 November, Simon Schaer burned down his home in Magill. He then made his way to the Myer Centre in Adelaide city and shot his former wife, Carole Schaer, at close range with a hand gun. Newspapers reported that former neighbours of the couple in the leafy suburb of Kings Park in Adelaide were shocked at the murder and described the Schaers as a lovely couple.

I give the Senate this example today of this tragic incident that occurred just a few weeks ago in my home town of Adelaide to illustrate the extent to which violence against women can bring about tragic consequences for innocent women. I extend my condolences to the family of Carole Schaer. Violence against women is not a problem confined to one particular social class or age group. Elderly women, young women and pregnant women are all victims of violence. It happens in small towns, in the outer suburbs and in the most affluent neighbourhoods. It might even be happening in my street or to someone that I know.

The South Australian government recently published a statistical profile of women in my home state. It confirms that, statistically, women have more to fear from their partners and husbands than they do from strangers. Police records show that, in 2000, 77 per cent of South Australian women who reported being physically assaulted were assaulted by an intimate family member, and in the same year the figure for sexual assault was 97 per cent. Australian research also shows that more than one million women have experienced violence during a relationship. Of these women, 60 per cent said they lived in fear during the relationship, 67.7 per cent of women who suffered violence said that their children had witnessed the violence and 20 per cent of women who suffered violence were pregnant when the violence first occurred.

Family violence generates enormous health and legal sector costs in our communities and is second only to traffic accidents in the use of police resources. Earlier this year here at Parliament House I participated in Amnesty International's launch of its campaign Stop Violence Against Women. On this date Kate Gilmore, Executive Deputy Secretary-General of Amnesty, made a speech. She gave these quite startling statistics: internationally more women die as a result of violence than are killed by cancer, road accidents or malaria; worldwide, one in three women is a victim of violence, including beatings, rape and attack; and 79 countries have no law against domestic violence.

It is sobering to consider that just a few generations back violence against women in Australia was viewed by many as normal behaviour. At the beginning of the 20th century an Australian husband could legally beat his wife. A magistrate infamously ruled that a man could beat his wife, but with a stick no thicker than his thumb—hence the expression `rule of thumb'. Back then rape was a crime, not against the woman but against her father.

I take this opportunity today to express my condolences to the family of Carole Schaer. I am raising the issue of violence against women because it is important that we reflect on the tragic situation many women find themselves in. I also commend the work being done by groups such as Amnesty International and UNIFEM. Praise should also go to the many small community organisations who are working towards a reduction in violence in their local areas.

In October this year, I participated in an antiviolence rally in Port Noarlunga in Adelaide's south which was organised by people who are involved in the Seeds of Nonviolence project—a community initiative aimed at men in the city of Onkaparinga region. The project offers counselling as well as community programs to support men and their families who are moving away from violence. It was most encouraging that day to see so many people prepared to take a public stand against violence. I want to say a public thankyou to the organisers of that event and to share with the Senate my belief that it is grassroots projects like that, directed at men, which play a key part in violence reduction. I urge the government to investigate and direct further funds in this direction.

Violence against women is often hidden. Women are too afraid or too ashamed to report it, and often when they do it is not taken seriously. On White Ribbon Day, we make a pledge to speak up against violence against women. We say that violence will not be tolerated, and that we will do all we can to work towards offering support and counselling to both men and women who have the courage to say `enough is enough' and ask for help.