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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 699

Senator O'SULLIVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (19:01): I have made a decision that, amongst all the other things that are important to me as a senator, and, in the hierarchy of importance, I want to raise awareness of, promote debate on and stimulate consideration of solutions to what is a very, very serious problem in our nation, and that is domestic violence. It is one of those subjects that I think is of concern to every member of parliament—here in the federal parliament, here in the federal Senate, as well as in state governments—and to people in organisations everywhere that are involved, either directly or indirectly, in the delivery of services that try to create a safer environment for women, children, the aged and the disabled, who are four cohorts of Australians who are seriously vulnerable to this cultural scourge on our nation.

Australians one and all would cringe at the thought that we are a nation where, annually, almost 30,000 women need to make an application to a court because they are fearful. All other avenues to resolve their domestic situation exhausted, they turn to the court system to afford them protection from whatever threat it is that they consider is at the heart of their issue. Of those domestic violence orders—26½ thousand, in fact, to be accurate—that are issued, almost 12,000 of them, or 44 per cent, are breached. Those breaches require contact between a person ordered by the courts to stay away from the applicant and the applicant, and of course most of these orders are for women and most of the offenders who breach the orders are men.

We lose a woman almost each week in this country—36 a year. In my own home state, there have been three domestic violence deaths this year alone, just in Queensland, and all on the Gold Coast. There have been three violent domestic related events where women have died, on the Gold Coast alone, in the month of January and this part of February.

We now have the shame of stating that domestic violence is the leading cause of illness and preventable death for women aged between 15 and 44. The largest, the leading, cause of illness and preventable death for women aged between 15 and 44 is not cardiovascular; it is not to do with smoking; it is not to do with cancers; it is not to do with obesity; it is to do with domestic violence.

Yet I observe—and I do not make this a criticism; it is simply an observation—that we spend more time in this place and in the other place, and in governments generally, talking about other matters of importance to our community—for example, terrorism. That is significantly important; it is important for our nation to feel safe. In fact, we have invested $1.5 billion here in the last couple of sittings, last year—as we should—to support the military effort, in protecting women and children in the Middle East.

Half a billion dollars has been invested in upgrading and resourcing our security services and their partners in this country to make us feel safe. And we have had tragedies. We lost two people to terrorism. That seemed to be an event confined to an individual, but nonetheless no-one is going to split hairs over the incident where we tragically lost two Australians. But in the same year in which we lost two people to terrorism—and that remains rare, and I hope it remains rare for the rest of our natural lives—we did not invest $1.5 billion in measures that might in some way mitigate and neutralise the impact of this insidious domestic violence in Australia.

The statistics, as alarming as they already are, need to be put into context: there have been credible peer-reviewed studies that suggest that almost 80 per cent of women who have had an event that constitutes an assault or an act of domestic violence did not report it to the authorities. So, as we draw upon these statistics and try and make sense of them, we do so with the knowledge that the problem is much worse than it appears—much worse than it appears.

In my own experience and from the research that my office has assisted me in compiling, it would appear that, in most instances where a woman or a child is killed in an act of domestic violence, the event was potentially foreseeable and, in some instances, it would have been graded as a probability. Yet our society, right across Australia, does not seem to have the ability to curb this terrible affliction. In fact, we do not even regard the perpetrators as suffering from a psychotic condition. It does not have its own grade of psychosis. It does not discriminate in respect of perpetrators. This is not something that can be traditionally sheeted home to the low-socioeconomic end of things. Some of the people who commit these offences work in the community as doctors, dentists and carers of others. But when they get home, in the privacy of their own home, they inflict psychological, sexual and physical harm and damage to their partners, to their parents, to their children—the strong over the weak.

I have said it before, I will say it again and I intend to increase my tempo. As we consider everything we consider in this place—and this will not be applicable to everything, but we need to put it to the test—such as legislation or adjustments to social supports, we need to consider if any element of it needs to be looked at through the prism of trying to reduce domestic violence, and increasing and resourcing the protection of women, children and other vulnerable cohorts within our society. We all have to start talking about it because, in my mind, it is one of the most serious priorities for our nation. What are we if we are not a nation of people who can protect the vulnerable? What are we if we are not a nation of people who respect the relationships we have with those who are meant to be our nearest and dearest, our loved ones, and afford them protection in our own homes? We have to concentrate on this in everything we do. Thank you.