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Tuesday, 31 August 1993
Page: 646


Senator NEWMAN (3.31 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Family Services (Senator Crowley), in response to a question without notice asked by Senator West this day, relating to violence against women.

I will not accept the minister's attempt at myth making or rewriting history which her government seems to be turning into a fine art. The minister tried in her answer to suggest that bipartisan support from the opposition for action on domestic violence is new. She suggested that the opposition has newly discovered the subject of domestic violence. I must put it on the record that this is totally wrong and a complete fabrication. The minister's misrepresentation of the opposition's position is, to my mind, utterly disgraceful. Let me give some examples of why I say that.

  Over a year ago the national strategy on violence against women was publicly released. Immediately, Dr Hewson on behalf of the opposition made a strong statement of bipartisan support for action to be taken to implement the strategy. Our policy confirmed that. Last year during the `reclaim the night' marches both Dr Hewson, as the Leader of the Opposition and I, as the then opposition spokesman for the status of women, sent messages of support to those people who were marching around the nation in an attempt to reclaim the night so that women are able to go out safely.

  The real point is that the minister was simply taking a cheap shot. She was just being the smart alec that she is. I think her nose is out of joint because last Thursday the federal women's committee of the Liberal Party put on an excellent day-long conference on domestic violence. It was a very practical, useful and well attended conference. Dr Hewson and Dr Wooldridge made excellent speeches at the conference, both of them demonstrating great sensitivity to this serious matter and to the concern of the opposition about this canker in our society. It was quite obvious from the minister's demeanour during question time that she had not read either of the speeches; she has staff to read things for her. If the minister had any decency, she would return to this chamber and apologise. I seek leave to incorporate the speech of Dr Hewson, which was referred to in the minister's answer.

  Leave granted.

  The speech read as follows

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE—IT'S GOT TO STOP

It is fitting that the National Liberal Women's Conference is devoting today to the issue of domestic violence.

Domestic violence is one of the most significant problems facing Australia today.

Domestic violence has to stop.

Open discussion and debate about this issue will not just raise community awareness. It will also send a very important message to the wider community.

We must all get involved.

No one group, institution or individual can act alone.

Stopping violence against women and children, depends on the total community.

There is no escaping the fact that Australia in 1993 is a society

  -afflicted by unacceptable levels of violence.

In June of this year, Professor Duncan Chappell of the Institute of Criminology gave us an overview of the violence in our society:

.violent offenders in Australia are overwhelmingly male and between 18 and 30 years old;

.infants are the age group at greatest risk—the overwhelming majority of child victims are killed by their parents or relatives;

.most homicides and assaults are committed by persons known to the victim;

.victims of violence tend to be either: men who become engaged in altercations with other men, and women and children who suffer at the hands of men with whom they have been living;

.men, especially those who are young, single and unemployed, are at greater risk of becoming victims of all forms of violence than are women, except for the categories of sexual assault and domestic violence;

.Aboriginal Australians face a much greater risk of becoming the victims of violence than do other Australians;

.the financial costs of violence to the community are huge—the Institute of Criminology estimates them as involving hundreds of millions of dollars;

.the most striking feature of violence against women is that it is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men.

The data on domestic violence is hard to come by because of the conspiracy of silence—the "scream quietly or the neighbourhood might hear you" syndrome:

  -this conspiracy is being broken down but it is being broken down very slowly.

The available statistics do, however, verify that much of the violence we hear and read about is perpetrated in the home—domestic violence.

The fact is that women and children are the prime casualties of thousands of domestic battles fought out in homes in every city, town and region in this country.

A Saulwick poll, conducted in Victoria earlier this year, produced some startling results:

.an estimated 322,000 Victorians are direct victims of domestic violence and more than half a million said they knew someone in their immediate family who was a victim;

.1.3 million said they knew someone outside their family who was a victim of domestic violence; and

.more than a quarter of a million women or one in eight in Victoria alone had been victims of sexual assault.

Quite frankly I find these figures alarming and staggering.

In NSW, the victims of domestic violence are conservatively estimated to total nearly 100,000 per year.

On any given day, it is estimated that as many as 2,000 women and children seek shelter in refuges;

  -and the great majority of these are victims of domestic violence.

The latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health show that just under 50,000 cases of child abuse and neglect were reported to and investigated by State and Territory Welfare and Community Services Departments in the year up to June 1991.

45 percent or just over 20,000 cases established clear evidence of abuse and neglect.

The highest casualty rate was amongst children aged 14, followed by children aged 4, and children under the age of 1.

Young girls were the victims in 75% of all sexual abuse cases.

Both sexes were the victims in a nearly equal number of cases of neglect, physical and emotional abuse.

These are the cold statistics:

  -but in terms of the suffering and the trauma inflicted on innocent people, the costs are incalculable and catastrophic.

I do not need to remind any of you here today of the appalling recent incidents of violence in our community against women and children.

I know that each reported incident has sickened all of us.

We are sickened not least because we know that for every one of the stories of violence and abuse against women and children that gets high-profile coverage:

  -there are thousands upon thousands of other instances that blight the lives of individual Australians, but that no-one ever hears about.

This violence impacts not only on the individual but on the whole community—directly or indirectly, acts of violence affect us all.

In a civilised society such as ours, this violence should never be accepted or tolerated in any form.

Violence against women, young and old, and children in particular, be it physical, sexual, psychological or emotional is a social evil that is simply intolerable.

But we have to face the fact that the causes of domestic violence are many-fold.

None of us here today would pretend that there is a single cause or a single solution.

We know there are aspects of the breakdown of social relationships that are the cause of some of the violence in our community.

We know that the media's glorification of violence also plays a part.

We know about the impact of economic pressure on families.

The recession and high unemployment have had a devastating effect on the personal lives of millions of Australians.

It is no coincidence that divorce and family breakdowns have increased over recent years; community concern about the incidence of petty and major crime continues to grow; and that homelessness has increased.

The economic pressure on ordinary Australians has been enormous—and in many cases, that pressure has translated into violence—domestic violence against women and children.

A recent Saulwick poll asking people about the main causes of domestic violence saw financial problems, alcohol and unemployment identified as the three main causes.

More than 40 percent of respondents blamed domestic violence on financial problems while 33 percent blamed alcohol.

But domestic violence is part of a broader pattern and the underlying causes of violence against women affect their everyday lives.

The psychological impact of violence on women is, in many ways, as destructive as actual physical violence.

The fear of violence and assault means that many women will not even go out at night or even with other women.

As a result they are often denied the amenities that are an essential part of our quality of life—cinemas; theatres; restaurants; or even strolling along the beach on a balmy summer's evening.

And for those who work on a night shift or take school or university lessons at night, there is constant apprehension about safety.

Last year, in recognition of women's fear of violence, the Coalition sent messages of support to thousands of women across the country who marched to "Reclaim the Night".

I should also say, in the context of violence against women, the type of conduct which can be properly regarded as violent, and is certainly seen by many women as violence, in the sense of violating their rights, making them feel insecure and subordinated, is far broader.

It includes the manner in which women are regarded more generally—the way they are looked at, or whistled at, or are made the object of sexual remarks.

There are a number of significant organisations and bodies committed to doing all they can to end violence against women and children.

The National Committee on Violence Against Women, established in 1990 with bipartisan support, committed itself to the on-going consideration of legal, policy and program issues and to conduct a series of community education and assistance programs in relation to all forms of violence against women.

For the last eighteen years, funding for women's refuges has had bi-partisan support in the Federal Parliament.

In 1990/91, the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments jointly provided funds for 263 women's refuges or shelters, 50 counselling services and 61 services for young women.

In 1991, with bipartisan support, the National Child Protection Council was established to assist governments to better identify and deal with cases of child abuse and neglect.

In October 1992 the National Strategy on Violence Against Women, with the full backing of all Parties, set out the principles of:

.reducing the incidence of violence in the community, including all forms of domestic violence;

.changing attitudes to domestic violence;

.encouraging a co-operative and co-ordinated Commonwealth/State approach, through such programs as the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program to issues relating to violence against women;

.creating a national data base to collect and collate information on violence against women and children;

.developing a comprehensive network of support and crisis services for victims of domestic violence; and

.promoting community awareness through educational programs.

These principles provide all levels of Government with a base from which to address the problem of violence and child abuse.

As I said earlier, domestic violence does not have a single cause. It manifests itself in a variety of ways. Therefore there must be multiple policy responses.

We must deal with symptoms while putting into place long term strategies and awaiting their benefits.

If we are serious about saying that domestic violence must stop, we have to face up to the fact that this depends on action on the part of both governments and the community.

Government policies that aren't supported by community values, that aren't consistent with the way individuals behave, are likely to be of very limited effect.

Government can preach against violence through the most sophisticated multi-media campaigns, but the impact of the message depends upon the willingness of members of the community to play their part as well:

.to educate their children to respect the right of every person to live without fear;

.to confront their own behaviour;

.to challenge the violence of others and clearly indicate that such conduct is unacceptable; and

.to support the victims of violence.

Corporate citizens also have a responsibility to actively promote a culture of mutual respect between their employees.

I refer here to the widespread problem of sexual harassment, a pattern of conduct which can include violence.

If managers do not find the moral argument for dealing with sexual harassment compelling, then they may be persuaded by the fact that it also makes economic good sense—sexual harassment is disruptive, adversely affects productivity, and forces good employees to leave.

All spheres of government have a role to play.

In the case of local government, for instance, while only a small proportion of sexual and other violence against women is committed by strangers in public places—the streets, parks, shopping centres, it does impact fundamentally on women's behaviour and enjoyment of life.

Therefore local government has a key role to play in the provision of lighting and other town planning aspects that deter offenders because of the likelihood of detection, and thereby encourage women and others to make use of public places in the evening as well as during the day.

State governments have primary responsibility for the criminal and related laws, particularly those dealing with domestic violence, and the systems set up to administer them—the police and the courts.

I believe that the provision of adequate and appropriate legal protection to women either threatened with, or victimised by, acts of domestic violence is crucial to a national response to violence against women.

Different laws on domestic violence apply within different States.

Within the last seven years all Australian jurisdictions have passed legislation with the objective of providing more adequate statutory responses to domestic violence.

However, while the main features of various State legislation are the same, problems are caused, for example, by the fact that restraint orders do not operate across jurisdictional boundaries.

While police have gained increased powers in the area of domestic violence, the effectiveness of restraint orders, particularly their power to protect women who have been "stalked", is constantly under the microscope.

In NSW alone, it is estimated that every week, over 150 women report breaches of restraint orders.

And a very recent and shocking case in NSW has heightened the need for greater powers to be given to the police to ensure safety for women who are clearly in danger and at risk.

Our laws must be strong enough to protect those in our community when they need effective protection against violence.

I call on all governments, Commonwealth, State and Territory, to work together with a renewed sense of urgency to ensure that everything is done to provide maximum security and protection to the community, particularly to women and to children.

I pledge the Federal Opposition's support for a bipartisan commitment to achieve these goals and I welcome and endorse yesterday's announcement by NSW Premier Fahey of the introduction of tougher restraint laws and arrest provisions in crimes of domestic violence.

We cannot accept a situation where some women and children in our community are reduced to living in absolute fear of their lives with pitch forks and knives under their beds—and they are as seen on television earlier this week—because of their fear of violent men.

If our system cannot protect them from violent men who have perpetrated a series of shocking crimes against them, then we must seriously question who the "system" is serving.

Recent controversial comments by some judges in sexual assault cases have raised the issue of whether the legal process, including the role of the judiciary, should be put under scrutiny.

I believe these issues are entirely legitimate and should be pursued.

We should ensure that the views of victims and other members of the community are heard: and that necessary reforms are made.

It is also important that the views of a small number of individuals, sometimes taken out of context, not be used to stereotype all judges everywhere.

We cannot accept complacency and indifference on this issue.

But we should not respond with knee-jerk reactions and flavour-of-the-month responses.

To that end, my colleague, the Shadow Minister for Justice and Consumer Affairs, Senator Amanda Vanstone, recently put a motion before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee to investigate:

"whether recent publicity surrounding judicial comment in sexual offence cases is a proper reflection of a failure to understand gender issues by the judiciary; and

the appropriate response to any such failure.

I believe there is no question that our laws can be better, that our courts can be more effective and that governments, working with the community, can do more in addressing violence against women and children.

At the same time we cannot ignore the economic dimension. We need economic policies which can create jobs and reduce unemployment and thereby significantly reduce the social pressures that result in domestic violence.

.We need jobs for women, so that they are not forced to stay with violent men because of economic dependence, nor forced to go from refuge to refuge due to the lack of affordable public housing; and

.we need jobs for men, to reduce the anger and stress created by poverty and loss of self-esteem which often triggers violence.

I do not believe, given that violence against women and children is on the rise, that we are doing enough as a society.

It is not enough to leave it to the professionals, the counsellors, the police and the social worker.

We all have to be involved.

The fact is that if we are to move forward in solving this problem, there must be a full partnership between governments, community groups and ourselves as individuals.

At the end of the day, if we as individuals and as a society do not also change our attitudes towards women and violence then the situation will not change.

We must commit ourselves to ending sexism and prejudice in our society.

They breed the contempt, the arrogance, the domination and the disrespect—which all too often give way to domestic violence.

To stop domestic violence, these things must be stopped.

Can I congratulate Joan Hall and members of the Federal Women's Council for their initiative and formally open this conference.