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Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Page: 7285

Senator LUNDY (11:18 PM) —Today, 25 November, is White Ribbon Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, adopted in 1994, stated:

For the purposes of this Declaration, the term “violence against women” means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly declared 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Governments, international organisations and NGOs were invited to organise activities to raise public awareness. Today is the day when men and women say no to violence against women. Our Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, has described violence against women as ‘the great silent crime of our time’.

Nearly half a million Australian women suffer violence in a one-year period. In the year 2005-06, about 70 women in Australia were killed for motives classified as domestic. In the ACT alone, police attend approximately 3,600 identified domestic violence matters per year. They report that the overwhelming majority—92 per cent—of offenders are male. In New South Wales last year there were 27,000 domestic violence related assaults, representing 30 per cent of all assaults reported to the police and about 35 per cent of all police work in that state. In the 12 months to June this year, there were 29 domestic violence related murders in New South Wales, representing a 10-year high in these statistics. We know that domestic violence is an underreported crime. When we consider the extent of the problem in Australia, together with the human costs and economic costs of this behaviour, we realise that action is long overdue.

The White Ribbon Campaign has a focus of community education for cultural change, with the ultimate aim of eliminating violence against women. To this end, male community leaders have united in becoming White Ribbon ambassadors. The patron of the White Ribbon ambassadors is Sir William Deane, widely respected former Governor-General of Australia, and vice patrons are two other former Governors-General, Sir Ninian Stephen and Sir Zelman Cowen; the Governor of Western Australia, Dr Ken Michael; and former Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Impressively, the federal Attorney-General, the Hon. Robert McClelland, and all of the state and territory attorneys-general have also become White Ribbon ambassadors. There are well over 500 ambassadors, prominent in all walks of life—academic, business, community organisations, the law, police, defence, professions, the Public Service, churches, both union and employer organisations, youth groups, sport, media, entertainment and, of course, politics.

Currently in this Senate, White Ribbon ambassadors include Senators Evans, Ellison, Fielding, Humphries and Ludwig. They join other distinguished ministers and members of the House of Representatives, led by our Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd and including Mr Albanese, Mr Burke, Mr McMullan, Mr Garrett, Mr Arch Bevis, Mr Billson, Mr Crean, Mr Debus, Mr Dutton, Mr Dreyfus, Mr Ferguson, Mr Georganas, Mr Gray, Mr Hayes, Mr Hockey, Mr Hunt, Mr Oakeshott, Mr Neumann, Mr Pyne, and Dr Washer. They are joined by state and territory politicians including the Premier of NSW, Mr Rees, and, in the ACT, our Chief Minister, Mr Jon Stanhope, and Ministers Andrew Barr and Simon Corbell and John Hargreaves. And I would particularly like to acknowledge the hard work by former MLA Mr Mick Gentleman. I pay tribute to their commitment and congratulate all of them on their stand. I have not mentioned all of them. It is a long list and a truly commendable one.

We need to change community attitudes and, as the Prime Minister has said, we need to change the attitudes of Australian men. In terms of community role models and shaping community attitudes, those White Ribbon ambassadors prominent in sport and in the media and entertainment areas may well have a vital influence. Over 40 great achievers in different sports are ambassadors: sportsmen such as Neal Bates, the Australian Rally Champion; Hazem El Masri and Benji Marshall, from the NRL; Michael Long and Gavin Wanganeen, who lead a prestigious group of AFL players; and Kostya Tszyu, in the sport of boxing. All of them are great examples of sensational role models for young men.

A report just released, An assault on our future: the impact of violence on young people and their relationships, issued by the White Ribbon Foundation, examines how violence against women affects children and young people. According to the report, one in four teenagers surveyed reported domestic violence against their mothers or stepmothers by their fathers or stepfathers. Children and young people are also victims of direct violence by adults. The education and employment prospects of children and young people are damaged as a result of domestic violence. Young men who have experienced domestic violence are more likely to perpetrate violence in their own relationships, although the majority do not. The causes of men’s violence against women and girls are categorised in the report as coming under three headings: gender roles and relations, social norms and practices—violence can be seen as ‘normal’—and lack of access to resources and support systems. The report endorses the focus of the White Ribbon Foundation’s campaign on the positive roles that men and boys can play in combating violence against women. Although the majority of perpetrators of violence are men, the majority of men are not perpetrators. We need this majority to become less silent, and more visible, in portraying a positive role as the norm.

The report also recommends improvement in service responses for all families affected by violence, pointing out that violence against adult women is often accompanied by violence against their children. It is important also that programs and strategies for males and females should collaborate and complement each other. Particular programs need to be developed to address problems of young people specifically and to improve their perceptions of the issue. For those who seek help to break the cycle of domestic violence, programs and services are available. Mensline Australia is a 24-hour phone counselling service, and internet counselling is provided by Relationships Australia. Locally, the Canberra Men’s Centre provides anger management programs, counselling and peer support. A director of the centre, Mr Greg Aldridge, sees the problem of violence against women as one which transcends income, education and cultural boundaries.

After 11 years of relative inaction on this problem of violence against women, we have a government committed to a national strategy to combat this great silent crime. The National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, set up by the Labor government, has been working on a national plan to reduce violence against women and children. The chair of the council, Libby Lloyd, recently briefed the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General on the progress of the plan, a draft of which is expected by the end of the year. The national plan aims to enable all levels of government, and the community, to better support victims of violence, to ensure that the legal system is effective and to reduce violence for future generations.

The government has also announced that it will invest about $2 million in research into and analysis of Australian community attitudes towards violence against women. This project will be carried out in partnership with VicHealth, the Social Research Centre and the Australian Institute of Criminology. I commend the work of the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children and that of the organisations working to understand and combat this problem. I would particularly like to acknowledge all of those men who have put their hands up as White Ribbon ambassadors, and to acknowledge all in the Australian community who have worked so hard to raise this issue in the awareness of the public and to campaign against these terrible crimes.